Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sherlock Holmes #1 (1975)


Sherlock Holmes #1 (September-October, 1975)
"Chapter One: The Final Problem"
"Chapter Two: The Adventure of the Empty House"
Writer/Editor - Denny O'Neil
Adapted From - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Artist - E.R. Cruz
Cover Price: $0.25

Now for something completely different.  I gotta mention up front, I know a thing or two about Sherlock Holmes... and that's not my cute way of saying I'm an expert... I literally know a thing... or two.

If I'm being honest, most of my Holmes experience comes from the Case Closed (Detective Conan) manga, an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks... and, now, this comic book.

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We open on a chilly Friday night in London... the year is 1891.  We see our man Sherlock as he's nearly run down by a horse drawn carriage.  Diving out of the way, Holmes finds himself stood before yet another would-be attacker... who he handedly beats up, kayoing him with a right.  An officer appears on the scene, recognizes him as Holmes and apologizes for not arriving sooner... not that Holmes needed his aid.


We follow Holmes to the home (ha!) of his associate Dr. John B. Watson... who is quite surprised to see him.  We learn that Sherlock had been gone for three days... which Holmes refers to as the three most important days of his career.  Ya see, he's been laying the groundwork to trap his greatest opponent yet... ya know, that guy.


Suddenly Holmes realizes they are about to be visited upon... keen hearing is vital to being the world's most pompous skilled detective.  We meet a man calling himself Henry Hunter... a law clerk, who needs assistance.  Dude barely gets a few words out before Holmes calls him out as a phony!  Sure enough, "Henry" draws a sword from his cane... and prepares to attack.


Unfortunately for him, Holmes is quite the skilled fencer (he can also bowl a perfect game!).  Sherlock takes the ruffian down with the quickness, while Watson stands by agog... wondering how Holmes was able to figure the fella for a fraud.  Well, duh... it's elementary my dear chap... one look at "Henry's" index finger told the tale... there were no calluses from holding a pen.  Also, "Henry" is wearing too nice a pair of shoes for some law clerk.  While Holmes blathers on explains things, "Henry" flees... Watson locks the door behind him.


It's now that our man decides to come clean and explain everything.  Holmes is very close to exposing and defeating the "Napoleon of Crime" Professor James Moriarty.  He continues, explaining that Moriarty himself visited him that morning... with a threatening message... which explains why just about every bum in London is trying to kill him tonight!


Seeing as though his role in taking Moriarty down is finished... and Scotland Yard can take care of the rest, Sherlock suggests he and Watson go on holiday... and so, a steamer and train ride later, they arrive in Meiringen, Switzerland at the foot of Reichenbach Falls.  Taking in the majestic sight, Holmes is able to get a few puffs off his pipe before a frantic local approaches the pair.  Ya see, there's a very sick woman in town... and she needs Dr. Watson.  Sherlock gives John the ol' thumbs up... and he heads off.


As soon as Watson is out of sight, Holmes calls out to Moriarty.  He knew this was all a ruse to have them be alone at the Falls.  Moriarty steps out... and they begin to tussle, before plummeting into the Falls... presumably to their deaths!


Chapter Two begins... some time later.  If we're still using the short stories, this occurs in 1894... so, three years after The Final Problem.  We watch as a braggadocios gambler named Adair jauntily skips down a cobblestone street, pleased as punch that he won forty quid at cards.  As an officer looks on, the man drops dead!  Shot in the back, with nary a sound!


Shortly, Dr. Watson arrives... which, is curious.  I mean, just because he was pals with Holmes doesn't make him a detective, right?  That's like going to a doctor's poker buddy and asking them to remove your tonsils.  Anyhoo, Watson arrives... and says, yeah... I'm no Sherlock Holmes.  I suppose this does provide him the opportunity to inform us that Holmes is dead though... so, fair enough.


Lestrade informs Watson that the man was murdered with a soft-nosed revolver bullet... though, again... there was no sound of a gun firing.  Watson tells the officers that he's "consider the problem", which is almost certainly code for "get me the hell out of here".  As he heads home, he comes across a vagrant who troubles him for a "ha'pence".  Watson, kindhearted soul that he is, forks over the change.  It turns out that this vagrant was actually... Sherlock Holmes in disguise!  Whaaaaa--???


Ya see, Holmes explains, during the tussle with Moriarty at the Falls, he relied on the ancient martial art of Baritsu (or Bartitsu as it's known in the real world) to flip the baddie into the depths, while he snuck away none the worse for wear.  He decided at this point, faking his own death might be opportune in taking down the rest of the gang.


He continues, explaining that on his way back up... he chose to climb the mountain, rather than risk leaving footprints in the snow.  During his ascent, he was spotted by Moriarty's second-in-command, Sebastian Moran... who attempted to drop a boulder on him. Luckily, his aim wasn't so good.  Sherlock claims that since that point, he took up an alter ego of a Norwegian explorer named Sigerson... biding his time until the Moriarty gang was behind bars.


Well, all but one anyway.  Holmes claims that the most dangerous member of the gang... that same Sebastian Moran... is still at large, and believed to be responsible for the silent Adair murder as well!  The game afoot, he tosses Watson his revolver... and the pair enter a cab... which transports them all the way... around the corner?


Sherlock takes a confused Watson into Camden House... the building directly opposed to 221B Baker Street.  Peering through the window... into the rooms across the way, Watson spies a wax statue of Holmes sitting by the window... moulded by a Monsieur Oscar Meunier.  Watson, as is customary, is confused... and so, Holmes explains... that Moran knows he's alive (hence the boulder drop at the Falls), and has likely been staking out the Baker Street residence.


Sure enough, moments later a man enter the darkened Camden House room, armed with a rifle.  Holmes and Watson crouch in the corner to avoid detection, and watch as this fella aims... and fires, blowing the head off the wax figure across the way.


Holmes lights a lamp... and warns Moran that he's done for.  Moran wildly swings his rifle... knocking poor Watson on his duff.  Sherlock then proceeds to trounce and kayo the baddie... because, he's so much cooler than Watson.


The story ends with the revelation that Moran's rifle is actually an air gun... hence the lack of a "bang"... which was altered to fire revolver bullets.  The pair leave, letting Inspector Lestrade arrest Moran.  We end with the promise that the next issue will go on sale the final week of August... which, given that they didn't list a year, still might come true!


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As is sometimes the case, the story behind the story is a bit more interesting... just a bit though.  Now, most Holmsians (is that a thing?) know that The Final Problem (December, 1893) was originally to be the final Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle... in which Holmes and Moriarty... well, died.  The plummet from Reichenbach Falls was supposed to be the end of it all.  Ten Years later (due to, if the internet it to be believed, fan pressure), he would be brought back in a series of stories under The Return of Sherlock Holmes banner, beginning with... The Adventure of the Empty House (1903).  Hey, that's kinda like comics, right?  I gotta wonder if, had this series been allowed to continue at DC Comics, would Denny O'Neil have started to write original Sherlock stories?  I mean, if we're going straight adaptation... why begin with what was intended to be Holmes' final adventure, right?

I can't claim to be an expert on copyright and public domain (which, by the looks of it, makes me a rarity online)... so I couldn't suggest that perhaps there were issues of copyright that arose, though, I'm pretty sure at least the character of Sherlock Holmes was public domain... though, not all of his stories.  I suppose this wrinkle could've offered O'Neil the opportunity to "go his own way" post Holmes' return... though, I guess we'll never know.  At least he'll meet Batman at some point during the 80's, right?  Hell, he'll even get the chance to hang out with the Joker for a spell!

For the stories themselves... they appear to be fairly faithful retellings of the Conan Doyle originals... though, full disclosure, I am relying on the Wikipedia synopsis' here.  I was unaware that Holmes came across so pompous... or at least, aloof to the point of pomposity.  I mean, this is a dude... if you followed him on social media, you'd probably have to throw on "mute" more often than not.  I found it hard to root for him here... and really hoped for Watson to give him a bop on the back of his head when he got out of line puffing out his chest.

The art here was preeeeetty fantastic.  From Walt Simonson's cover to E.R. Cruz's interiors... this was a damn fine looking book.  Total quality from beginning to end... fitting the tone and time of the stories pretty much perfectly.  Add Denny O'Neil as writer and you get what seems to be an all-star effort... it's kinda surprising that this got cancelled after this single offering.  It's too bad too... as, I think this might be the only way some readers (such as myself) could get into the character and lore of Sherlock Holmes.

Overall, if you come across this issue, I'd definitely recommend snapping it up.  Couldn't imagine it being too terribly spendy... though, it might be a bit tough to find.  To my knowledge, this has never been collected nor made available digitally... which really isn't all that much of a surprise.

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(Not the) Letters Page:


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