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Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking Forward to Looking Back, Vol. 12

It was the short story, "A Study in Scarlet", in the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual, which first introduced the world to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, a consulting detective renowned for his intellectual prowess and superb use of astute observation, cool logic, deductive reasoning, and forensic knowledge to solve cases which baffled his clients and police alike. Conan Doyle penned 56 short stories and 4 novels of Holmes' exploits, and he presented nearly all of these tales through the accounts of Dr. John H. Watson, a man who came to Holmes' acquaintance first as a roommate only to become Holmes' best friend and his biographer. The popularity of these tales kept Holmes in the detective business for years despite Conan Doyle's efforts to once kill the character off in the 1893 story, "The Final Problem".

The decision to kill Holmes was not at all popular with the reading public and it wasn't an easy one for Conan Doyle, whose wavering feelings about the character lead him to the work out a stage play featuring Holmes in 1897. Conan Doyle was never content with efforts in England to stage the play, but a rising American theatrical producer, Charles Frohman, secured the dramatic rights to bring Holmes to the stage in the States. Frohman passed the manuscript to William Gillette, a leading American actor and something of a playwright himself when it came to developing roles for himself for the stage. Gillette secured Conan Doyle's permission and rewrote the script to heighten the melodrama and made additions to the plot with elements from several of Holmes' previous tales. This play's premiere in New York, on November 6Th 1899 was a triumph as was the play's premiere in England in September 1901. After such positive public reception in England and abroad, Doyle returned to Holmes and Watson to the printed page with the tale, "The Hound of the Baskervilles", which was serialised from 1901-1902. Soon after, Conan Doyle revealed that Holmes was never really dead after that reported fatal plunge to the bottom of the Reichenback Falls in the grip of the villainous Professor Moriarty. Holmes returned proper in the story, "The Adventure of the Empty House". From there Holmes went on to pursue numerous other cases until Conan Doyle published his last Sherlock Holmes story in 1927.

An enduring fascination and affection for Sherlock Holmes has carried on through every medium of entertainment from those original stories then to the play then to motion pictures beginning as early as 1900 in a mere one reel picture. In 1912, the first significant screen adaptations of Holmes began with the first of four British silent films that miraculously still exist!. There was a silent American film versions of Holmes in 1916 not surprisingly starring William Gillette and another in 1922 starring John Barrymore, adapted from Gillette's play. Next, audiences were thrilled by 14 films(two for 20Th Century Fox and twelve for Universal) of Holmes with Basil Rathbone in the role and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. During this time period, Rathbone and Bruce also completed 220 episodes put of 259 episodes of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which ran from October 2, 1939 to July 7, 1947. In 1958, the Hammer film of TheHound of the Baskervilles, introduced Peter Cushing in the role of Holmes. Cushing would reprise the role of Holmes on television for the BBC, American audiences enjoyed 39 half-hour episodes starring Ronald Howard (son of Leslie Howard) as Holmes. My favourite of the television adaptations of Holmes would be the 1984, Granada television series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which featured Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I'll attempt no further to list the representations of Holmes on screen as The Guinness Book of World Records continues to list Sherlock Holmes as the "most portrayed movie character" with 75 actors playing the part in over 211 films. A list to which we can add this year's movie, Sherlock Holmes, which arrived in theatres this past Christmas day, directed by Guy Ritchie and featuring Robert Downey, Jr. in the role of Holmes. While I'm not entirely sure this new take on Holmes is exactly my cup of tea, I chose to preoccupy myself instead this weekend with plenty of other interpretations of Holmes, and in doing so revisited a number of comic books featuring Holmes.

There have been many notable comic books to have featured Holmes over the years such as Classics Illustrated adaptations of "The Sign of the Four" from "Three Famous Mysteries" from Classics Illustrated #21(1951) and "A Study in Scarlet" from Classics Illustrated #110(1953). In 1961 and 1962, Dell also published two comics of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. However, I have never been fortunate enough to come across any of these early comics. My first memory of Sherlock Holmes in a comic book would be Detective Comics #572, which was a wonderful anniversary issue where Batman and company meet a 135 year old Sherlock Holmes! In this issue, Slam Bradly teams up with Batman and Robin and the Elongated Man to solve a century long mystery and stop Professor Moriarty's descendants from assassinating The Queen of England.. The story ends with Sherlock Homes congratulating Batman on a job well done. Holmes goes on to state his longevity is due to the benefits of a "proper diet, a certain distillation of royal jelly developed in my beekeeping days, and the rarefied atmosphere of Tibet, where I keep my primary residence." Batman tries to light his pipe, Holmes states "Thank you, but I'm afraid the pipe is purely for show these days." As a twelve year old in 1987 this was pretty mind-blowing stuff! I only purchased Detective Comics off and on back then but the cover alone was worth the price of admission! I still find this tale to be quite enjoyable!

This wasn't the first time DC Comics played host to Holmes in their books. Holmes has an appearance of sorts in the Joker #6, as a deranged man believing himself to be Holmes does battle with a Joker who he mistakenly believes to be Professor Moriarty. Also, at the Baltimore Comic-Con this past October, I was lucky enough to find the first and only issue of Sherlock Holmes, a 1975 effort by DC Comics Walter Simonson produced the cover for the issue, and it was written by Denny O’Neil(Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow), with art by Philippine illustrator, E.R. Cruz, (Warren’s Eerie) and closed with a short essay entitled, “The Real Sherlock Holmes”, by Allan Asherman.

Other books I have really enjoyed having in my collection over the years are the collections of the comic strip, Sherlock Holmes, from the 1950s which Malibu Graphics, Inc. reprinted years ago. This short-lived comic strip appeared daily and Sunday from 1954-1956, written by radio scriptwriter Edith Meiser and drawn by Frank Giacola. Malibu also published some new and original horror inspired adventures of by writer Martin Powell and artist Seppo Makinen. The first series the team created together was the saga, Scarlet in Gaslight, a tale in which Holmes and Dr. Watson team-up with noted vampire hunter, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, to of course fight none other than Dracula! The next authorised book the pair did was the story, A Case of Blind Fear which pitted Holmes and Dr. Watson against the Invisible Man. I enjoyed these tales but somehow missed out on Powell's third Holmes project, Return of the Devil. These tales were reprinted though by Moonstone Books, as Sherlock Holmes Mysteries Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Volume 2 is of particular note as it offers a fourth tale that never saw print, The Loch Ness Horror. Moonstone Books had a bit of fun earlier this year publishing a series teaming up Sherlock Holmes with journalist and horror investigator, Carl Kolchak, the Nightstalker. The 3 issue mini-series is due soon in a collected edition. Sher

With the new movie renewing interest in the character, this year was obviously a ripe time for new comic book projects depicting Holmes. London-based graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero published The Hound of the Baskervilles by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Ian Culbard. Meanwhile, in the States, Dynamite Entertainment published the new tale, The Trial of Sherlock Holmes, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art by Aaron Campbell. The hardcover collection is available now and in addition to the story, the book offers a complete cover gallery, a Sherlock Holmes short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many other exciting bonus materials. I recommend it.

I know there's so many noteworthy Holmes appearances or references in comics I'm not going to get to touch on here, but I'd be remiss not to mention Holmes' role in Rick Veitch's Maximortal series, the Holmes appearance Warren Ellis includes in Planetary #13 (Planetary Volume 3 collected edition) or how Alan Moore works many aspects of Holmes' world into The League of Extraordinary Gentleman Series One (LoEG Volume 1 collected edition). Marvel Comics has had its share of comics featuring Holmes too over the years, such as Marvel Preview #5-6 (January-February 1975), as did many other publishers such as Eternity. With the endurance this good detective seems to possess, I can only see there being many more works to come following Holmes' exploits either new or old.



At 12/28/2009 8:38 AM, Blogger Bill at Comix Connection said...

Yeah, there was underground artist Spain Rodriguez' version, Elder and Kurtzman's version for MAD, and of course Guy Davis' excellent genre riff BAKER STREET...

At 12/28/2009 10:03 AM, Blogger Con said...

It's amazing that characters last so long. It's funny that history events seem to not last as long.


At 12/28/2009 8:07 PM, Blogger tom said...

Genius column, Joe! I rather enjoyed the latest Robert Downey Jr. movie; I think it highlighted some of Conan Doyle's aspects of the characters that have been sadly lacking over the years, especially regarding the character of Dr. Watson. I still like Jeremy Brett's Holmes the best, though, but I found Grenada's Dr. Watson character to be forgettable at best--a step up from Nigel Bruce's execrable idiot, but no match for Jeremy Brett's portrayal. JMO, as always. And again, I really enjoyed this latest!

At 1/03/2010 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's another interesting article on Sherlock Holmes


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