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Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Volume 1

Believe it or not, Alan Moore wasn't the first writer to bring 19th century literature characters to life in the comic book format. He wasn't even the fifth.

Comics and literature have had a long, and somewhat shaky relationship throughout the years. Classics Illustrated in the '50s and '60s retold a great deal of the stories from H.G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, Johann Rudolf Wyss, and a slew of other great authors in comic form; thus making it infinitely easier for English students to fake there way through a book report or two (as my mother has admitted to doing in her days of whimsical youth).

In more modern times, writers like James Robinson have incorporated characters from Oscar Wilde's illustrious imagination into his Starman series, as well as nodding at Charles Dickens with his portrayal of The Shade. Even Warren Ellis snuck 19th century references into Planetary before the Moore brought us The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

My only point in bringing this all up is to show the link between literature and comics that is almost always overlooked when in comparison to the comic book-movie connection. And the fact that it ties into my review in some way doesn't hurt either.

Before LXG Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen garnered themselves an Eisner for their portrayal of probably the greatest detective in fiction: Sherlock Holmes. (If you said "Batman!" crack the spine on something other than a graphic novel this weekend; you'll be a better person for it).

In "Scarlet In Gaslight," Powell pits Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master detective against not only his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty, but the great and powerful Dracula, and in his second tale, against the Invisible Man in "A Case Of Blind Fear."

Both stories are quite good and it's easy to see why it earned the Eisner. Powell seems to have mastered the Master Detective's style, thought process, and speech as his deft writing brings Sherlock Holmes to life. Obviously a fan of the original books by Doyle, Powell fills each tale with detailed conversations referring back to Holmes and Watson's many cases.

While this is a little disconcerting to the reader who knows nothing about Sherlock Holmes (characters who are from various short stories and cases from other books appear as if they were a natural part of the story, but are never really explained in-depth) it's not distracting from the overall plot arc. In fact, if you are a Doyle aficionado, this comic will be a continuity buff's treasure, as Powell provides reference points on where each of his stories fall in-between the many Sherlock Holmes stories.

"Scarlet In Gaslight" is the stronger of the two stories, and not just because of the interesting mix of characters. Powell takes the time and fleshes out these literary characters that can often simply slip into self-parody, giving each one an interesting take on their current situation. Moriarty is a bastard without doubt, but we do get to see his sentimental side when he seeks a cure for his daughter's ailment from the Count, or when we hear him lamenting the loss of his former life, before that of criminal mastermind, of being a math tutor. Dracula himself receives a fair treatment and Powell addresses certain feelings that are often left to the wayside, like Dracula's ever encompassing feeling of loneliness, which feeds his desire to make pretty women enthralled with him.

And in his take on Holmes (probably the best I've ever seen) he is dead on accurate. Holmes' first confrontation with a vampire leaves him dumbstruck, bordering on the edge of catatonic, because it is simply something that he cannot apply logic and reason to. The supernatural is something that does not fit well into Holmes' world, and Powell remembers that.

"A Case of Blind Fear" is less energetic than Scarlet, but it delivers another solid detective tale, and also gives the reader a demonstration of just how integral Watson is to Holmes' creative process. We also get some great characterization with Watson: with everything from learning he has a family, to knowing he spent time in a war as a medic, to discovering that he and the Invisible Man were college roommates.

I'm kidding (kind of).

And kudos goes to Makinen for his spectacular drawing stlye. It's very reminiscent of the E.C. Horror comics house style, with thick black inks and an appropriate amount of grotesque imagery, but it seems finely tempered by some modern influences since he doesn't scrunch up the faces of his characters or make them too similar. Expressions of fear, hate, love, and others are all made clear with his drawings and need no textual help to convey the emotion of the scene. The panels do flow, but I wonder at times if they had to reformat the pages for the collection, as they seem to break from one storyline into another at odd spots (halfway through a page, sometimes only one panel into a page, etc.) Again, it's doesn't really hurt the book, but it does make me wonder.

I preferred "Scarlet" to "Blind" but both of these stories collected in the first volume are well worth a read. Moonstone Books may not be publishing it too cheaply at $18.95 a pop, but you are getting 200+ pages of story for a good price. Enjoy this offspring of the literature and comic book mediums and then go out and write a book report.

You cheaters. Go read the book, too.

Editor's Note: As always, the opinions expressed by Mr. Sparling do not necessarily reflect those here at Fanboy Planet. We believe that it's not so important to read books as it is websites like Fanboy Planet.

Robert Sparling

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