Friday, March 7, 2014
And now for something slightly different...
I've written about Tiny Titans before, the Art Baltazar/Franco Aureliani book about the sidekicks of superheroes as little kids in Sidekick Elementary. Well, this week I'm writing about a webcomic, the first one I've ever specifically recommended. It's called JL8, written and drawn by Yale Stewart, and when I heard about it, I thought it was going to be similar to Tiny Titans, only featuring the Justice League. But it's something else entirely, and something really great at that.
JL8 centers around the students at Schwartz Elementary (named for DC Editor Julie Schwartz, the editor known to be principally responsible for the Silver Age at DC Comics), and their adventures in and around school. It's a blend of schoolyard hijinks, character pieces, comedy, and a little bit of action here and there. Stewart does a great job in balancing the humor with the character, like many a good comic strip does. The characters are all eight years old, and the plots maintain a threat level that works with small kids; the main nemesis we've seen the young heroes deal with is a schoolyard Legion of Doom, but we'll get to them later.
The principal cast of the strip are most of the traditional Justice League, and read perfectly like younger versions of those characters. Clark (Superman) is kind and thoughtful. His best friend, Bruce (Batman), is brooding and a bit standoffish, but is a great friend to Clark. Barry (Flash) is always in a hurry, and talks faster than he thinks. Hal (Green Lantern) is swaggering and confident. Diana (Wonder Woman) is sweet, but maybe the toughest of the kids. J'onn (Martian Manhunter) is the transfer student from Mars, still learning what it's like to be an Earth kid. The one main cast member who isn't one of the original JLA is Karen (Power Girl); it's nice to have another girl in the cast to give Diana a girl friend to talk to. She's spunky, and loves ponies.
Stewart's webcomic works like a classic comic strip, where each installment stands on its own, but if you read for a little while, you get caught up in the larger plotlines that he's been building for some time now. The strange little kid "romance" between Bruce and Karen has been going for a while, with Bruce revealing he likes Karen, and her being interested since he has horses. Or the various scenes of J'onn learning about what it means to be an Earth kid.
There have been a couple of major arcs over the course of the series. In one, Bruce, Clark, and Hal save a grandma from a mugger, and when the paper calls them "kids," they get tough new costumes to show what big guys they are (costumes that funnily resemble the New 52 versions of their costumes), but there's a lesson about heroism and what it means to be a grown up that is smartly done. There's also the story of Diana's birthday party, where we see a lot of typical kids party tropes, mixed with a bunch of party chaperones who are Amazons and a clown that Bruce really doesn't like.
There are some strips that really stick out for me. A personal favorite of mine is strip 27. In the previous strip, Bruce left Clark at Clark's house, and after seeing the warm welcome Clark got from his parents, Bruce walks away looking sad. So the next strip picks up right after.
That little bit of character there, developing the relationship of Bruce and Alfred, is not just heartwarming, but it does a good job of fleshing out Bruce, who is often portrayed a grumpy and a know it all.
Aside from the well thought out plotlines and cute young versions of the Justice League, the series is littered with DCU cameos and easter eggs for those who know their DC Comics. Julie Schwartz, who I mentioned earlier, is the kids teacher, Darkseid is the gym teacher (a better job than his lunchlady gig in Tiny Titans), and Neil Gaiman owns the local bookshop. Other DC Comics characters pop up in the background or in cameos, and there have been a couple of great ones from Mikey and Ted (Booster Gold and Blue Beetle). In the same vein, if you know your "Bwa-ha-ha!" era of Justice League, then this strip is worth a good laugh.
The other recurring group of characters are what I think of as the Lil' Legion of Doom. They're all recognizable, but I have to admit, I love the version of the Joker the most (not exactly shocking, huh?). Not a clown yet, he's still the Red Hood, made clear by his red hoodie, which is a great touch. Aside from Joker, we get Lex Luthor, Cheetah, Captain Cold, Toyman, Poison Ivy, and Solomon Grundy.
JL8 is a webcomic that does so many things right. It takes advantage of the serialized format, and does fun things with characters that you wouldn't see in DC Comics. It's an all ages strip that you can share with your kids to help foster a love of these great characters, and isn't that something that we all should do?
JL8 is updated usually twice a week, and can be found HERE. You can also follow the strip on Facebook and Twitter.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Superman and Batman as a gay power couple (The Authority): Ellis ported Superman analogue Apollo and Batman analogue Midnighter from Stormwatch to The Authority. In their new book, the two were revealed to be a gay couple. Back in 1999, this didn't happen all that often, and so the book received a GLAAD award. Arguably these two paved the way for other gay couples in comics such as Northstar and Kyle Jinadu, Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, and Wiccan and Hulkling.
Right-tool-for-the-job expert-dispatch service (Global Frequency): This 2002-04 Wildstorm book may be the best example of what happens when Ellis favors concepts over characters. Global Frequency was a 1,001-member organization (about on par with Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers cast) of the world’s foremost experts in their field, who are called in as crises warrant based on field of expertise and proximity. In a way it was like a super-serious version of G.I. Joe, with a mix of military, intelligence, scientists, ex-cons and the like all working to save the world, except the characters didn’t stick around long enough for anyone to decipher who the Shipwreck and Roadblock analogues were. Even the artists changed from issue to issue. Also it was almost a TV show.
The guy who buggers cars (Two-Step): In 2003-04, Ellis wrote a quickie three-issue miniseries for Wildstorm with Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti about a bored, cheeky London camgirl named Rosi and a zen gun-for-hire named Tony who run afoul of a gang whose trademark is having artificially large wedding tackle. Among their number is a Baby Huey of a man named Ron who enjoys having sex with cars to the point where they explode. According to TLC’s My Strange Addiction, this is a real thing.
Having Iron Man inside you (Iron Man: Extremis): In 2005-06, Ellis got to tinker with Iron Man's origin, tying the creation of the first Iron Man suit to the war in Afghanistan as part of a six-issue arc that introduces the concept of Extremis, a nanotech virus that allows fir the constant healing and enhancing of the body in the latest attempt to re-create the Super Soldier Serum that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. Tony infects himself with Extremis and in so doing becomes one with Iron Man, allowing parts of it into his bones and give his brain a complete upgrade. Elements of the Extremis story were used in the Iron Man movies, including the updated origin story.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Beware the Batman #5
Story: Mike W. Barr
Art: Dario Brizuela
Oh, Beware the Batman... Just as it was hitting it's stride on TV, it gets cancelled, and the DVD that had the two unaired episodes left it on a cliffhanger. But even with that, there were two issues of the comic left, and this was the first one of those. It's a great little comic for many reasons, but the first thing that grabbed my attention about it was that it is written by Mike W. Barr. I've written about Barr's run on Detective Comics before, and once I finally dig out the rest of the issues from the move, I plan to talk about his tremendous Maze Agency. He's one of the best writers for a good mystery, and this issue is exactly that, a fun play fair mystery (for those unfamiliar with the term, a play fair mystery is one where the clues are laid out and you can figure out whodunnit). The plot involves someone posing as Katana, a character Barr created for Batman and the Outsiders, and killing people. We are presented with three suspects, and while Batman goes to hunt down Tobias Whale, gangster, Katana investigates the suspects. After a well orchestrated action sequence, Batman deduces the identity of the killer. I won't give away who or how he figured it out, but it makes perfect sense. This is a fun comics, and shows what this series could have been if it weren't cut tragically short.
Story: Ed Brisson
Art: Johnnie Christmas
Sheltered has been building slowly over the course of its seven issues so far in the best possible way. After killing their parents, the kids in a survivalist encampment have been degenerating into a Lord of the Flies-esque community. After last issue, when adults arrived and the kids went off half cocked and started shooting, things are happening fast. Lucas, the leader of the community, is doing his best to maintain control. The hunt through the forest for the one adult who managed to escape the shooting is drawn beautifully. It's an intense sequence, and brutal; artist Johnnie Christmas keeps the sequence intense with shadows and you feel sympathetic for both the poor schmuck who is being chased through the woods by automatic weapon wielding kids, and for the kids themselves when things start going south for them. Meanwhile, back in Safe Haven, Victoria, the series protagonist, finally escapes the bunker that she was imprisoned in a few issues back and goes out to have words with Lucas. The character development on the series principal characters is continuing really well, and the supporting cast is feeling more fleshed out with each issue. The high concept of this series and writer Ed Brisson are what got me to try it out, and while it isn't one of those major Image releases, the ones that get all the press, it should be; it's a quality comic getting better with each issue.
Friday, February 28, 2014
This past Monday, Hollywood lost one of its great comedic minds. Harold Ramis was an actor and director who appeared in, or was responsible for, many great comedies, including Groundhog Day, Meatballs, and Stripes. But for many like me, his greatest role would be in Ghostbusters, the 1984 classic about a group of scientists and their friends and allies fighting all manner of spook, spectre, and thing that goes bump in the night, where he plays Dr. Egon Spengler, my favorite of the Ghostbusters. It is one of my favorite movies of all time, one of those movies that every time you see it on you have to stop and watch, and has spawned toys, video games, multiple animated series, and more than a few comics over the years. Today, instead of my standard recommended reading, we're going to look back on the history of The Ghostbusters in comics (apparently, there was a long running Marvel UK series, but the majority hasn't been reprinted here in the States, so I'll not be addressing that here).
Just on the outside chance you have never seen Ghostbusters and are unfamiliar with the characters and concept, the Ghostbusters started out as three professors and paranormal investigators who, after being thrown out of academia, start a business to trap and contain various ghosts. Peter Venkman is the mouth of the Ghostbusters, the public face, always with a smart comment, played by Bill Murray. Egon Spengler, played by Ramis, is a scientist and paranormal researcher, a big brain with not a lot of social graces. Ray Stantz, played by Dan Aykroyd, is also a scientist, responsible with Egon for making the Ghostbusters proton packs, PKE Meters, and various other ghost fighting tech, and is the heart of the team. Winston Zeddemore, played by Ernie Hudson, is the fourth man on the team; he is not a scientist, hired when the business picks up, but smart and full of common sense, something that Egon and Ray are often lacking, and Peter just doesn't care about. Along with Janine Melnitz, their trusty receptionist, and Slimer, a ghost they keep around for testing and who is a sort of mascot, they make up the Ghostbusters.
The Real Ghostbusters (NOW Comics)
The Real Ghostbusters was the animated series based on the film. Many a great voice actor appeared on the show, notably Lorenzo Music,best known as the voice of Garfield, as Peter Venkman, Frank Welker, best known as Megatron from Transformers and Fred from Scooby Doo, Arsenion Hall as Winston, and Maurice LaMarche, best known as The Brain from Pinky and the Brain and numerous characters on Futurama, as Egon. The show was very smart for its time, with some episodes written by the likes of J. Michael Straczynski, J.M. Dematteis, and Michael Reaves, and despite the animation not being as strong as modern cartoons, the stories hold up extremely well, incorporating all manner of world mythologies, as well as the Cthulu Mythos. With a successful cartoon, it was only a matter of time before the license was sold to comics. NOW Comics was a publisher in the late 80s and early 90s that focused mostly on licensed properties. The comic series did a good job of staying in the flavor of the animated series, with the same sort of tongue and cheek sense of humor and intelligent stories. Many of the comic stories were tied together by common antagonists; a personal favorite of mine was Nurtog, a freakin' ghost T-Rex. Let's be fair, aside from The Dresden Files, where else are you gonna find an undead T-Rex? NOW also published a three part mini-series adaptation of the film sequel, Ghostbusters II, done in the style of The Real Ghostbusters, which is a fun little oddity. With the exception of that adaptation and a couple annuals, this series was recently reprinted by IDW Publishing in two omnibus volumes.
Ghostbusters: Legion (88MPH Studios)
After a drought of many years with no real new Ghostbusters content, fledgling comics company 88MPH Studios picked up the license and presented a four issue mini-series called Legion. Set firmly in the continuity of the movies (although resetting the movies in early 2004 instead of the '84), Legion, set six months after the events of the movie, has the Ghostbusters dealing with a new outbreak of paranormal activity that they track back to Michael Draverhaven, a friend of Ray's who studied with Egon, Peter, and he in college, and who was caught in an accident that linked him to the spirit world and to a sort of hive ghost called Legion. It's a pretty intense story, very creepy, and has an emotional core of Ray dealing with what happened to his friend. 88 MPH was supposed to follow this mini-series up with an ongoing, but the company folded before it could. The series was collected in trade paperback, although that is long since out of print.
Ghost Busted (Tokyopop)
Ok, this is the one book discussed here that I haven't read, and simply discovered through research for this piece. It's a manga size/style book published by Tokyopop in 2008. It's an anthology of connected short stories, and it's something I'm going to have to track down for the completist in me, something none of my fellow comic book fans know nothing about, I'm sure...
The Other Side (IDW Publishing)
The same year Tokyopop released their one Ghostbusters related comic, IDW Publishing started releasing comics in what is by far the most successful run of Ghostbusters comics to date. The first mini-series published was The Other Side. The Ghostbusters run afoul of the ghosts of some of America's most famous gangsters, including Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel, who are running a pipeline to get spirits out of the afterlife, and wind up being displaced from their bodies and sent to the afterlife themselves. The Ghostbusters are on the run from beings on the other side who are after them because of them being, well, ghostbusters, but find a little help from some of America's greatest gangbusters; if you're a fan of gangster movies and true crime, you'll get a kick out of seeing so many legendary G-Men and Mafiosi tossed into one ghostly caper.
Displaced Aggression (IDW Publsihing)
Displaced Aggression is a story that, while using the classic Ghostbusters designs, hearkens back to some of the fun and over the top storytelling of The Real Ghostbusters. Written by Scott Lobdell, whose run on Uncanny X-Men you you might have read about here recently, the series splits the Ghostbusters up and sends them on an journey through time, with each one in a different era: Peter is in the Old West, Ray is in medieval times, Egon in the distant future, while Winston is in the present, fighting the good fight against Koza'Rai, the father of Gozer, the Sumerian god the Ghostbusters defeated in the first movie. This story is very much a comic book story, with big action scenes and crazy designs that you couldn't pull off on the budget of most movies.
The Miscellaneous IDW Ghostbusters
Before getting into the discussion of the main IDW ongoing Ghostbusters series, I just wanted to touch on some of the one shots and crossovers IDW has done for Ghostbusters. Aside from Halloween, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and Comic Con specials, the Ghostbusters have taken part in three of IDW's intercompany crossovers, throwing different franchises together. In Infestation, the Ghostbusters must fight an interdimensional zombie outbreak in a story that ties in to IDW's own Covert Vampiric Operations, or CVO, comics franchise. The Real Ghostbusters had to deal with Martian Ghosts in Mars Attacks The Real Ghostbusters. And just last month, the Ghostbusters met The Lone Gunmen of X-Files fame, finding there was something even the Lone Gunmen have a hard time believing, in X-Files: Conspiracy- Ghostbusters. None of these are essential reading (although Infestation does have some threads that play out in the ongoing I'm about to talk about), but part of the great fun of comics are crossovers between characters you never thought would meet, and these definitely fall under that category, because lets be frank, whoever thought they'd see Frohike of the Lone Gunmen hit on Janine?
Ghostbusters Ongoing (IDW Publishing)
After two successful mini-series and some one shots, IDW decided to give the Ghostbusters their own ongoing. Two volumes in, the series is going incredibly strong. The series has been written by Erik Burnham and drawn, with only a couple of guest pencils, by Dan Schoening, along with other writers and artists doing back-up stories.
The series is set in continuity with the movies, set after the events of Ghostbusters II, with the Ghostbusters comfortably doing their ghostbusting with the unfortunate government oversite of their old nemesis, Walter Peck, now head of the Paranormal Contracts Oversight Commission, or PCOC for short. The use of Peck shows one of the huge strengths of Burnham's writing; he is clearly a huge fan of all versions of the Ghostbusters, and draws in characters and aspects from all of them. Along with the main cast and movie characters like Peck, Kylie Griffin of the spinoff Extreme Ghostbusters series shows up working in Ray's paranormal bookstore, The Rookie and Ilyssa Selwyn from the recent Ghostbusters video game both pop up, and Burnham takes characters from earlier comics, keeping Tiyah Clarke, a love interest introduced for Winston in the "Tainted Love" Valentine's Day one-shot, and deepens their characters. He has also created some new characters, including Ron Alexander, a sleazy scientist who is Peter Venkman if he didn't have Ray and Egon to keep him on the straight and narrow and who has been forced to work with the Ghostbusters, and Melanie Ortiz, an FBI Agent who serves as the Bureau liaison with the Ghostbusters. Expanding the cast has allowed different aspects of the Ghostbusters to show that you wouldn't see when they're just interacting with each other, like Winston's romantic side with Tiyah or Ray's paternal streak when it comes to Kylie.
With Burnham having been working on the series now for nearly thirty issues, he has been able to really get a great feeling for the characters. Reading the stories, you can hear the dialogue in the voices of the actors who portrayed them on the big screen. The series is funny, having the same sense of humor as the films. It also maintains the stakes; while the comic can be fun and the characters get off plenty of zingers, the ghosts they encounter have an air of menace that could be lost if the writer decided to play the setting more for laughs.
Over the course of the two volumes of the Ghostbusters ongoing (the first one ran sixteen issues, the second is currently on issue thirteen), Burnham has set plenty of challenges before the Ghostbusters. The stories have included adventures that took them on a cross country good will trip to bust ghost in various cities, or dealing with the Ghost-Smashers, a team of second rate Ghostbuster knock offs with tech even more unpredictable than the Ghostbusters own. The first arc of the second series had the Ghostbusters trapped in another dimension; Janine had to fill in along with some of the supporting cast that had been built over the first series, allowing those characters time to shine. Egon had to travel into Janine's mind to save her from ghostly possession by one of her ancestors while the others were on a ghostly pirate ship. And the most recent arc took the team through the holiday season, as bogeyman activity in New York grew. The most recent issue, which was released just this past Wednesday, begins, "Mass Hysteria," an eight part story written to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Ghostbusters franchise, which will not only bring everything that Burnham has been plotting to a head, but reintroduce Dana Barrett and Louis Tully, two important characters from the films, into the comics.
Dan Schoening's style is perfectly suited to this comic. His characters are expressive, a bit quirky, and every page just exudes energy. His designs for the ghosts are genuinely creepy, with many truly terrifying scenes. Schoening is clearly also a fan of all eras of Ghostbusters, evinced by his design for Janine's new boyfriend, who resembles the animated Egon, down to his massive blond pompadour haircut. His art has just the right balance between comedy and horror to work on a property that treads that line so well.
IDW has been collecting the Ghostbusters comics in trade, so they should be easy to track down, with each mini-series in its own trade, as well as all of the holiday themed one shots, along with a new story, collected in a volume called Haunted Holidays; theer is also an omnibus edition collecting all those stories. The ongoings has been collected in six trades, with a seventh on the way. However, all sixteen issues of the first volume are about to be released in a deluxe hardcover called "The Total Containment Edition."
And that's the comics history of Ghostbusters, one of the greatest pop culture franchises of all time. Harold Ramis was a great director, actor, and writer, whose work has touched legions. This final piece of art is from Ghostbusters artist Dan Schoening's DeviantArt page, and is one of the best tributes I've seen to Ramis. May he live the same day over and over again in the next life, and may it be the best day ever.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
A New Kind of Family: Fantastic Four Runs/Issues Not Featuring All Four Members of the Fantastic Four
Monday, February 24, 2014
Animal Man #28
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
We're near the end of Jeff Lemire's excellent run on Animal Man, and this issue is the big confrontation between Buddy Baker, his family, his allies, and Brother Blood and his allies and agents. A lot of the issue is combat, with Buddy facing down the last Totem of the Red, the beings who empower him, who has betrayed the others to create a new agent on Earth, Brother Blood, while his daughter Maxine is fighting Blood himself. But within all the grand comic book battles, drawn amazingly by Rafael Albuquerque, we get a lot of character. Maxine shows that she has the biggest heart, willing to sacrifice her power to save her friend, the Shepherd, and Buddy proves that his family and his love for them are his greatest strengths. Maxine's quest to resurrect her brother comes to its end, the only one it really can. Kids don't understand death, at least not in the way grown-ups do, and Buddy must have a hard conversation with her. Ellen Baker, Buddy's wife, isn't left out in the cold, and shows that she is as brave as her husband and daughter. The last page reminds readers of the deal Buddy made to save his family, and that things might be as happily ever after as it appears. Next month, the series will end, with an issue both written and drawn by Lemire, and it's going to be missed as the most mature series to come out of the New 52.
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee
And this volume of Daredevil comes to and end with a perfect coda to everything Mark Waid has been doing for thirty six issues. There are SPOILERS ahead, so beware. The end of last issue was a big one, a major moment, when Matt Murdock reveals in open court that he is Daredevil. After spending so long hiding and trying to put that particular cat back in the bag, this is a huge deal. The reasoning behind it is perfectly laid out, and it works brilliantly. The speech Matt gives in court about why he tried to hide his identity after the Daily Globe revealed his identity is a powerful speech, and it is a speech a Matt Murdock by any other writer since Frank Miller introduced Elektra couldn't make. This is a Matt Murdock who has finally, truly, grounded himself again and doesn't have the same raw, bordering on insane, edges that he has for thirty years. Waid has had Matt grow as a character. It's wonderful that Matt does what he does not just to protect his friends and himself, but because it's the right thing to do to protect the law. For all his manipulations, Matt is a lawyer who really believes in the system, and the perversion of the Sons of the Serpent, a hate group, planting members in the institutions of New York, is something that Matt can't take. The final fight in the courtroom between Matt and the Serpent foot soldiers is a literal representation of what Matt has been going through since the Serpents plot began, with him fighting them in every way he can. The final pages are both sad and heartwarming, as Matt must pay for the years of half truths and lies he has had, and plans to set off on a new life. It all flows perfectly from what Waid has been doing, and is one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time. Next month, a new volume of Daredevil begins from the same creative team, with a new city and a very different status quo for Matt Murdock, and I'll be a long for the ride. If you haven't tried out this book yet, it's going to be a great jumping on point, so don't wait any longer.
The X-Files: Conspiracy- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Story: Ed Brisson
Art: Michael Walsh
Every year or so, IDW Publishing does a crossover between its various licensed properties; in the past they were the two Infestation crossovers. They're not bad, they're not great, but they're sure fun. This year, instead of using characters that were created within comics as the connective tissue, the connecting characters are The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files. After receiving a fax from the future, The Lone Gunmen are travelling, attempting to gather the components they need to develop a cure for a plague that will wipe out millions. The plague and everything is a mcguffin to just get The Lone Gunmen to meet the Ghostbusters, Transformers, the Crow, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This issue is the TMNT issue, and is by the creative team of Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh, who did one of the most underrated Image mini-series of the past couple years, the time travel noir Comeback (seriously, track it down. If you saw and liked the movie Looper, this is right up your alley). I'm not reading the current TMNT series, but I didn't feel the least bit lost in this issue; everything I need to know about the current Turtles status quo is easily explained. It's really a Leonardo story, where the Turtles leader is getting stir crazy while the Turtles hide from their nemeses, The Foot Clan. The Lone Gunmen and the Turtles run afoul of an old X-Files nemesis from one of my favorite episodes of all time, "Bad Blood," written by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. I won't spoil what that particular creature is if you haven't seen it or don't remember it, but it's one of the funniest X-Files episodes and an equally amusing use here. It's well worth checking out the issue, even if you aren't reading the crossover or either of the current comics if you remember that episode. Aside from that, we get a good Leonardo story, some forward momentum on the crossover, and some great art by Walsh, who drew the initial arc of The X-Files: Season 10 and who is fast becoming a favorite artist of mine. Conspiracy nuts and ninja turtles: what more could you ask for?
Friday, February 21, 2014
I'm about to speak a blasphemy as a Batman fan, but the world's greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes (Batman is a close second). He's been portrayed by more actors than pretty much any fictional character, has more pastiches written about him in more formats than anyone else, and is still feverishly discussed by legions of fans. I've read the complete canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes stories more than once, and have read a lot of pastiches, so picking up this collection of a European Holmes comics, Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London published by Dark Horse Comics, was a no brainer.
Sherlock Holmes is one of literature's ultimate rationalist heroes; he lives in a world of the mind where everything is answered through deduction and forensics. Modern writers have often paired him with the supernatural. Some of the most famous Holmes comic stories have him fighting Dracula, Mr. Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, and even zombies. But if you put Holmes in a world where his skills don't matter, where magic is the rule, he loses his relevance; he isn't Batman, who has all those cool gadgets and can work with magic or a magician, and accepts that there are things in the world that can't be dealt with rationally. However, a judicious use of the supernatural, in a setting where Holmes can use his knowledge, insight, and not inconsiderable physical skill to fight them, makes for a truly intense tale.
The story opens during the period where Holmes is thought to be dead after his fateful encounter with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. While in Paris with his brother, Mycroft, Holmes is attacked by things that can only be vampires. After dispatching them, Holmes does his research and waits for them to make their next move. Holmes is surprised to see a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Irene Adler, one of his greatest nemeses and the one person to ever outsmart him, but knowing that it can't be her, he knows that a trap is waiting. After demonstrating a brilliant way to avoid being turned by the vampires, Holmes finds out their leader in London seeks his aid, and so he sets off with Joyce Middles, the vampire who is Adler's double, to meet this leader.
These early scenes with Holmes are juxtaposed with a vampire slaughtering his way through London's upper crust. His intentions aren't made clear until Holmes confronts Selymes, the leader of the vampire nation. It seems Owen Chanes, one of his vampire subjects, has gone rogue and is killing people distantly related to, or close acquaintances of, Queen Victoria, in an attempt to draw the Queen's ire on Selymes, and it's working. Holmes is tasked with finding and disposing of Chanes before the queen sends her forces after the vampires, and if he is unsuccessful, not only will Holmes die, but so will Watson and Watson's wife, Mary. So Holmes makes a deal with the devil to protect his friend, and the game is afoot.
What follows is a game of cat and mouse, with Holmes being at times cat, and at times mouse. He hunts Chanes, while trying to figure out his motives for these very public killings. The story nicely mixes all the aspects of Holmes. He must be in disguise to hide the fact that he still lives from both his friends and the remainder of Moriarty's men; he spends his time researching and doing chemical experiments, meeting with informants, and laying traps for Chanes. Joyce Middles follows him as his vampire contact, and works as Holmes's sounding board. All the while, Chanes continues to kill, and the Queen's patience grows ever thinner, as does that of Selymes, who is by no means a patient employer. By the end of the story, tragedy has struck, Holmes learns the truth, and a great conflagration occurs to claim the evil. And, true to Holmes in the original books, Holmes in the end chooses to do what is right, since justice and the fostering of the "humane side of the criminal," is more important than simply acting out of what would be legal or what would be expedient.
Writer Sylvain Cordurie has a wonderful feel for Holmes as a character. His voice is usually dry, rational, and analytical; observing everything around him. Cordurie gives him flashes of emotion, especially when Watson and Mary are in peril. The story is actually narrated as a journal Holmes is writing to leave for Watson in case of his death during the adventure, and while Conan Doyle did write a couple of stories from Holmes's point of view, Watson remains the narrator of most because his voice is more relatable, more human. Still, the fact that Holmes is slightly out of his depth in dealing with these supernatural creatures allows him to be read as such an insufferable know-it-all and pushes the mystery forward.
Since the book is a product of European creators, the art has a very different feel than most of the comics you'd find on the racks. Laci's art is thoroughly detailed, with gorgeous Victorian backgrounds and perfect period costumes. His faces are expressive, especially when it comes to fear and the darker emotions. He is clearly an artist with a horror background, as writer Cordurie said he decided to use a traditional vampire model, with all the spectacular powers and the ability to change into a bat monster to play to Laci's strength as an artist. His Holmes is drawn from the classic stories, resembling the original illustrations, and is a treat for the Holmes aficionado.
Sherlock Holmes is one of literature's greatest characters, and vampires are the monsters that have haunted the nightmares of people for generations. This mix of the two makes for an action packed story, good for both the long standing Holmes fan and the newcomer brought in by the current crop of film and TV Holmes. The choice to pick it up is, well, elementary.
Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London is a hardcover graphic novel published by Dark Horse comics, and is available at all good comic shops, bookstores, and on-line.