In hiring the services of the world’s first consulting detective as part of their push to increase their share of the market, Dynamite have made a very smart move. Even with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen established as a pillar of the comics industry, it’s still hard to think of any out-of-copyright figure that could exert such a strong pull for readers and be as suited to a serial format. On the strength of this first issue, it does not appear that this golden opportunity has been wasted.
Returning from an involuntary excursion into the country, John Watson M.D. finds his friend in a combative mood. The capital seems to be swirling out of control, with a bombing in the east end giving rise to a rash of anonymous threats on the eve of a visit to England by Baron Lothair. The detective, however, is in no doubt as to where his priorities should be. The strongest element of the book is clearly characterisation, with Leah Moore and John Reppion creating a superb Holmes in particular. There are none of the usual crutches in their portrayal, with the violin, chemicals and cocaine completely absent. The writers instead give us a fiercely intelligent figure, tackling the world around him with extraordinary energy. It’s a very minimalist conception of the character, and instantly puts paid to fears that clichés would rule the roost. The writers’ Watson and Lestrade are also well crafted, if more traditional, and are complemented by a distinctive and memorable supporting cast of original figures. The creators have made a commendable attempt to solve the problem of ongoing (lowercase) detective comics, that of sustaining audience interest until the dénouement, though the unusual step of placing Holmes in peril as a result of the main crime of the issue. This approach is taken with intelligence- rather than selecting the full-page spread of Holmes being caught with a smoking gun as the cliff hanger, the story is allowed to roll on for a short period afterwards, ensuring that a satisfying amount of plot is present in this first issue.
The impression the book leaves is of some careful consideration having gone into its conception. The introduction of Inspector Davis of the Special Branch, a good decade before the founding of M.I.5, allows for espionage and anti-terrorism to be woven into the plotlines, providing a contemporary and vibrant feel without introducing anachronistic elements. Also laudable is the decision of the writers to clearly date stamp events as taking place after ‘The Empty House’, resisting the temptation to keep the Moriaty card in reserve. The book’s only slight weakness is in the art. For the most part, Aaron Campbell does an exemplary job, performing miracles in keeping a cast of overweight moustachioed men instantly distinctive. However, backgrounds are obviously not his strength, with the blank walls that many scenes are played out against noticeable contrasting with Conan-Doyle’s atmospherically described settings.
Dynamite’s publicity drive for the book, with John Cassidy providing covers and ringing endorsements from a raft of distinguished creators, is justified. If the comics-buying public do feel like venturing back a hundred years, they will be very richly rewarded.