Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sherlock: The Hounds of the Baskervilles

It is my curse when it comes to BBC's Sherlock to not only to have to wait and see it when it shows in America, but so far to catch the first and most of the third episodes but entirely miss the second. Finding the dvds at the Library, finally got to see the 2nd episode of the 2nd season, "The Hounds of the Baskervilles".

When I first saw that was going to be the focus of the episode, I was not enthusiastic. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories and is of a novel length. As such, it's been filmed numerous times, and most of them highlight the problems of adapting a prose story to film, especially a story that Holmes is actually absent for about half of. It doesn't help either in that regard as most also labor under the preconception that Dr. Watson is a buffoon which hinders focusing the story heavily on him. Once Grenada did their excellent and faithful version with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, I felt there should be a moratorium on future attempts.

However, Sherlock also does a great version of the story itself. In this episode, more than any other they manage the balancing act between updating the characters and stories and keeping true to the spirit of the original, presenting the story in such a way that the effect might be similar to the effect the original had with readers without making it a period piece.

It develops along similar lines, that a young man finds that a legendary monster hound that killed his father is rearing its head again, directing its attention towards him. Instead of supernatural origins, the legend of the hound is tied to rumors of an experiment gone wrong at nearby Baskerville government research facilities. There's lots of little nods to the original storyline while developing a moody and creepy mystery that taxes the limits of Sherlock's reasoning.

Using the original stories as guidelines and inspirations, Sherlock is to the works of Doyle what "Man of La Mancha" is to Don Quixote. It's not a straight-up adaptation of a work in one form to another, which allows it more freedom to move and breathe, and capture the spirit of the characters. This is where Sherlock has the edge over the similarly themed Elementary. Sherlock not only feels truer to the characters, but episodes like this are truer to what Doyle was attempting for his audience as well. There was no "mystery genre" with preconceived tropes and conventions for Doyle to write. Thus Holmes' cases ran the gamut of strange puzzles, suspense thrillers, bizarre murders, unexplained disappearances, retrieval of sensitive papers, etc. The stories were titled "The Adventure of..." not "The Case of..." or "The Mystery of..." Here, you have a mystery but it also works as gothic styled horror story. It's not simply a murder of the week procedural story. The requirement for a Sherlock Holmes case is not that a murder or intent of murder be involved as much as it should have an element of exotic color, mood or flair.

There's a lot of little gems in the acting and writing. Digs at people misconstruing the relationship between Holmes and Watson, casting Russell Tory, the werewolf from Being Human as the young man being tortured by visions of the legendary hound.

Might just be my second favorite filmed version of the story.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Elementary - Lisa Edelstein

Probably the most notable thing about the recent episode of Elementary is having as guest-star Lisa Edelstein. Edelstein's most recognizable role to date was that of Cuddy, boss to Dr. House of House. No secret that House was based a lot on the Sherlock Holmes template. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit of the tail wagging the dog in that the portrayals of Holmes since that show started seem to take quite a bit of their cues from the outstanding Hugh Laurie's portrayal of the perpetually bad tempered, edgy, manipulative and unlikeable House.

The episode is better than the last several episodes. A running theme seemed to be that every guest-actor was going to be guilty of some crime apart from which ever ones tied in to the Dr. Watson sub plot of the moment. At least in this episode you do have some people that aren't guilty of anything. There are also some good moments of Holmes really showing off his deductive skills such as noticing the differences in the picture placements on a wall and how they are positioned in a photograph. Sadly, there are also some clunky scenes just to play off later. Such as his honing his observation and memorization skills by following multiple television shows at a time. Impressive by itself and serves as showing how he is different from the rest of us. But, it becomes a little heavy handed when it becomes an actual plot point later on. Just as when Edelstein talks about loving crossword puzzles, what could have been just a nice little personality quirk instead becomes a central detail. It keeps the show from being a bit more organic and naturally flowing as everything is too plot centric. There is a bit of humor in the teasing of sexual tension between her and Holmes as that was an ongoing theme and subplot of House.

A plus in the show is that it at least is taking some advantage of the format. Liu's Watson is portrayed as being capable and good at what she does and a strong character in the face of Holmes' overbearing. The problem with any adaptation of Sherlock Holmes is the Watson Problem. In the stories, Watson serves a specific purpose. His character can be a little bland as he's the narrator, the reader's eyes to the story and Holmes. Doyle does a good job in delineating Watson's character better than many such narrators, even others written by Doyle. Still, once you develop Holmes for tv, plays, movies, you don't need Watson for that purpose. The camera serves as narrator. Watson needs to be developed fully and equally as a character. There's still no reason for the character to be an Asian female, but they do a good job with her as a character. She shows the required will, intellect and backbone that is needed to make the relationship credible. Likewise, Miller's Holmes allows a bit more vulnerability and humanity to peak through the more frustrating aspects of the character. It's doled out to the viewers a little bit each time, much as we'd get those odd moments and flashes of humanity and humor in the books. What's missing is the sense of joy that Holmes gets from having a problem to solve.

Otherwise, the show is still in shake-down mode. As a mystery procedural it's mediocre. Which would be fine if the characters and various relationships had a little more spark and variety to them instead of flatly serious the whole time. You can have the characters be more serious and one note most of the time if the drama of the crimes and suspects are appropriately strong. It has yet to truly find that balance.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The new American made Sherlock Holmes Elementary tv show has debuted. It features Johnny Lee Miller as a tatooed Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson and Aidan Quinn as Captain Gregson.

No doubt looking to the well-received BBC's Sherlock that reimagines Holmes and Watson in modern London, with just three episodes a season and thinking, they can easily outdo that. But, here, they seem to take the tact to see how much they can change and still get away with calling it Sherlock Holmes. What makes Sherlock work is how much they keep. While the setting and style of the mysteries have changed, they stay on point with the main characters, their personalities, motivations, and even their relationships to each other. It's a game with the Holmes fans to spot the allusions to Doyle's works, the play with words of the various titles and stories while still presenting a smart show. And, while no romance between the two leads, there is chemistry.

Elementary is the anti-thesis of all that. Starting with Lucy Liu as Joan Watson. We see right off her going for a morning jog. No time spent in the Middle-East, no bullet wound. She is hired by Holmes' father to basically baby-sit him, to make sure he doesn't relapse into his drug addiction. So, she has to share a flat with him and follow him around 24-7. It is Watson who is the cultured one. Oh, and this all takes place in New York.

Miller plays Holmes much like other actors have recently. Deliver the deductions and reasoning with a lightning pace patter. The faster and more incoherent it comes out, the smarter we'll think the detective is seems to be the thought process. Nor is there any chemistry between him and Liu, even as sparring partners.

Other than bits of dialogue about deducing, a scene with bees and the drug addiction, there's nothing really Sherlockian about the show or characters. The motivations, forces that bring them together and keep them together are all wrong. In fact, it would be a superior show if it wasn't trying to be Sherlock Holmes, if it just found a different angle to hang the procedural show on. Because once you strip away the few bits of Holmes that cling to it, in reality it is a very standard detective procedural. Strip away the pretense of being Holmes and play him as a Holmsian type ala House or Patrick Jane would free up the characters from preconceived restraints. Then you can really explore the co-dependence of the relationship as established in the pilot... him as a struggling recovering addict who finds solace in work and kept on a short lease by his unseen father (what potential could be there), her as a woman driven by the loss of someone to addiction and the need to honor that memory by doing something to fight those struggling with addictions while hating the constant reminders, the loss of her old life, her old vocation. You can take the characters anywhere  you want and open up the stories to being more than just being about him making clever deductions while being insulting to everyone. Do that, and you'll be truer to what Doyle was doing and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Edward Hardwicke RIP

Edward Hardwicke died May 16, at the age of 78. He succeeded David Burke, at Burke's recommendation, as Dr. Watson opposite Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes for the Granada produced series. The transition was eased as he picks up as Watson in "The Adventure of the Empty House" which takes place after the Great Hiatus, when Holmes was believed dead and thus some time had passed for Watson. Thus, an older looking Watson is not as jarring. Interestingly, while Burke's Watson looked quite a bit younger, there was only a difference of two years in the ages of the actors. Hardwicke also played Watson in the series' version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and easily the best of all the versions filmed.

The Granada series portrayal of Dr. Watson was a radical departure from the previous filmed versions and thus the popular view of the character. Instead of the bumbling and slightly comedic though well meaning sidekick, the series went to the actual stories by Doyle and followed that lead, often using dialogue lifted directly from the stories. In some cases, lines said by Holmes in the stories would come from the mouth of Watson in the episodes. The result was a character that was solid, dependable and intelligent and capable in his own way though not at the level of Holmes' genius. His character was empathetic to the needs and sufferings of the clients vs Holmes' indifference. The series and Hardwicke's portrayal highlighted Watson's nature as being understanding and long-suffering to a fault of Holmes' eccentricities, but also a relationship of deep respect and friendship between the two, each aware of the capabilities and faults of the other. In this series, one gets the feeling that Holmes likes and needs Watson as opposed to keeping him around for his own amusement and an easily impressed audience.

Hardwicke was also in the movie Love Actually  playing Liam Neeson's father-in-law. I remember watching in the theater and recognizing him at the funeral in the beginning and kept waiting for something to be done with his character. Why cast a recognizable actor and not give him any lines? Unfortunately, his big and funny scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but can be seen on the dvd.

Edward Hardwicke also appeared in the movie Shadowlands, playing C. S. Lewis' brother opposite Anthony Hopkins. While a bigger role than in Love Actually, it's still a relatively small role for such a good and affable actor, mainly serving as a little insight into Lewis' background and character but not really a fully realized character in his own right.

I wish he had done more, but he will remain one of my favorite Dr. Watsons, helping make a character portrayed two dimensionally for so long into a well-rounded and flesh and blood human being.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Victorian Undead: Doyle and Vampires

The Wildstorm comic Victorian Undead: Holmes vs Dracula draws to a conclusion. Despite its strong beginning and melding of the Dracula story with the Sherlock Holmes mythos, it increasingly became more of a Sherlock Holmes story to the detriment of the Bram Stoker novel and characters. The artwork, clear and concise in many regards became a liability in that Holmes was generic enough looking that he's not readily identifiable apart from any other character that has brown hair which sadly is most of them. The final battle against Dracula is neither horrific nor all that exciting as Holmes never seems to be really at a disadvantage even against a monstrous supernatural foe.

Vampire Stories aka The Vampire Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Robert Eighteen-Bissang and Martin H. Greenberg. This is a great paperback collection with some good historical bits and trivia behind a collection of short stories. However, the title is doubly misleading. One, these aren't really vampire stories, if you're looking for undead blood-sucking fiends, look elsewhere. There are possible ghosts, man-eating plants, an ancient man who's lived for centuries due to a long lost science, several murderous psychic seducers, and a couple of more normal though equally insidious seducers and a couple of con-artists. Two, one of the stories isn't even written by Doyle, but is a modern writer's pastiche of Sherlock Holmes confronting the possibility of vampires! The editor is at least up front about that in his foreword as well as little afterwords of each story, giving a little bit of historical and literary context.

"The American's Tale" is Doyle's second published story and is very anachronistic by today's standards. The story is set in the American West which is presented as exotic and foreign as Burrough's tales of Africa and Mars. Central to the story is the concept of the West having the marsh loving venus flytraps, only large enough to eat a man and thus a danger to the unwary. Doyle also presents the narrator and characters using strong dialect and slang, to the point of slowing the story down to translate from english to english! It's as confounding as an American writer trying to write a character with a Cockney accent. Ah, two countries separated by a "common" language! Other than being one of Doyle's earliest tales and actually having something that survives on consuming blood, there's not much to really recommend with this thankfully short story.

"The Captain of the Pole Star" has more readily in common with Shelley's Frankenstein novel than Dracula as it concerns a strange and driven captain of a whaling ship trapped amongst the freezing seas of the North. Like much of Doyle's fiction, there's the narrator who is at the edges of the story, neither hero nor villain of the piece. Like Doyle and Dr. Watson, he's a doctor, ship's surgeon and as such is presented as an impeccable witness of a scientific and educated mind, thus not easily swayed by the common sailors' superstitions and wild tales. The captain at times seem to be almost Ahab like. He's an able captain, smart and well-liked. But, he also has dark secrets and frequently mercurial in his temperaments, manifesting in sudden conversation and action shifts. As the sailors more and more often talk about odd moaning sounds and a strange figure on the ice, the captain grows more erratic. Ultimately, even the trusted narrator becomes a witness and believer to something haunting the ice as the story builds its foreboding dread. Just what they have found or has found them is never spelled out.

"John Barrington Cowles" is a wonderful story with a sadly mundane and boring name. One might expect it to be a character sketch or pastoral such as Doyle's novel Rodney Stone. Indeed it has some surface similarities to that novel. The narrator is fairly colorless, though likable fellow, while the title character is dynamic with an exotic flair or cast to him. And, in both, while events surround the title character, he's not really the hero of the story. In this case, it concerns mainly with a woman Cowles falls in love with the extremely beautiful Katherine Northcott. By degrees, we get to know her depravity and dangerousness. There's her casual cruelty, manifesting in her treatment of her dog. A former ex-fiance is slowly drinking himself to death, ranting over some hidden secret revealed after falling in love with her, forcing him to flee yet he sees her when he closes her eyes. Later he dies after it's revealed that he had talked concerning her to the narrator. Her own aunt lives in fear of her, fearful of dread punishment if seen talking to others. When attending a show by a hypnotist, the hypnotist seems to struggle when trying to put Cowles into a trance, the narrator clearly seeing it as a battle of will between the hypnotist and Miss Northcott to the point that the hypnotist must make excuses and leaves the stage, talking about a more formidable will than his own. What emerges is a sketch of a truly engaging scary villain and adversary. Ultimately Cowles runs the risk of suffering the same fate as her other lover, once he is completely in love with her, she tells him some secret, something he has to agree to before taking their relationship further. What this secret or task is remains unknown, but the horror of agreeing to it, that he sees it as threatening his soul is evident. Like her former lover, he spurns her and is consumed by his love and hate and horror of her, threatening his own self destruction.

"The Ring of Thoth" is a complete oddball in this collection. With the exotic nature of ancient Egypt and mummies involved, it's more of a mummy tale than a vampire one, although it's not really a mummy tale either. The only mummy involved stays dead. It is the story of a man that has uncovered the secret of eternal life and found that it's not much to his liking and his quest for the cure.

"The Winning Shot" is akin to "John Barrington Cowles" in that it tells of a person that may or may not have psychic powers and becomes a sketch of a fascinating villain. And, like that other short-story, it's ending is a little open-ended, leaving the reader to wonder what happened next, what were the secrets to his abilities and strange nature. It's one of the few stories by Doyle to be narrated by a female, in this case warning people of a dangerous man calling Dr. Gaster and how her, her fiance and their families' befriending him lead to her fiance's death. We know of the death of her fiance up front, so the story is one of mounting impending and inevitable doom. They befriend Dr. Gaster, finding him while out walking one evening and he becomes a guest at her fiance's father's home. Seemingly amiable and sometimes befuddled by English customs and idioms, he becomes more eccentric and threatening as the story progresses. Smitten and soon obsessed with the narrator, his baser nature comes out and the story rockets to its foretold conclusion. Yet, it still manages to end with an element of mystery and horror.

"The Parasite" falls along the same lines as those two short stories. It's a notable departure in that the narrator Professor Gilroy is also the active hero of the story and thus he's portrayed as possessing a bit of a dual nature. He's a scientist, and thus practical and logic minded. He believes nothing that he cannot see or prove or test, but he claims it as nurture over nature as his nature is more of a dreamer. He's dark haired, thin and olive skinned. While his own specialty is physiology, his best friend Wilson's is psychology, a discipline the narrator dismisses. Especially, as one of the things that interests Wilson are hypnotists and other psychic phenomenon.

Things change when he accompanies Wilson to meet with Miss Penclosa a woman of purported psychic abilities though frail in body and partially crippled, in need of a crutch. When Miss Penclosa is able to hypnotize Gilroy's fiance and instill a post-hypnotic suggestion that she unknowingly carries out, Gilroy becomes a converted believer.

Soon Professor Gilroy is allowing himself to be hypnotized by Miss Penclosa in the presence of Professor Wilson and/or Wilson's wife in the pursuit of science, to write down all that occurs to the body and mind as it happens (Wilson himself is impervious to hypnotism). However, as things progress and some sessions are held apart from Wilson, Gilroy becomes aware that Miss Penclosa has feelings for him. Worse, he finds that while under a trance, he feels compelled to reciprocate those feelings through utterances, though horrified at the very idea later. He tries to break things off, to resist her, but finds himself compelled to visit her each night, as if a slave to addiction. In this regard, he is remarkably similar to the classic vampire victims. When she suffers a moment of weakness and he is able to finally make his repulsion and horror known to her while in her presence, she turns into a woman scorned and a dangerous enemy. He is so much in her power that through her will, she can exert control over his actions. He finds himself the laughing stock of the University as he's prone to non-sequitors and ramblings in the middle of lectures, almost arrested for breaking and entering, though with no conscious memory of the deeds. Things come to a head when he almost maims or kills his fiance, thankfully coming out of the trance before doing anything.

Miss Penclosa comes off as a little more complicated of a character than the other two. Her actions seem driven not by lust but loneliness and sadness. She seems genuinely confused when Gilroy professes that he does not and could not love her, as if she doesn't realize that she had been subconsciously manipulating him into the role of a suitor. Thus, the story becomes one of two different types of addiction and obsession. Gilroy's story is of the addict that recognizes his addiction and the cause and even takes different and drastic steps of conquering it, such as that of the Lon Chaney Jr. werewolf who locks himself in at night. He has periods of lucidity where he seems to be winning followed by increasing despair of when he fails. Hers is that of many jilted lovers, obsessed with the lover they cannot have and the fire of love turning into the equally burning fires of hate. Their obsessions and addictions can only be solved by the death of one, and they race towards destruction, but whose will it be.

Thus, the ending is sadly ambivalent and anti-climactic. It may be simply because Doyle could not write his hero actually killing a crippled woman, though monstrous in her mental ability. Or, maybe it's hinting at some subtext or allusion that I'm not getting. Why was Professor Wilson running from Miss Penclosa's home while Gilroy was racing towards it in murderous rage?

The story has other interesting parallels and possible insights to Doyle himself. Like the Gilroy, Doyle was a man of education and science. And, he would be an almost fanatical convert to the beliefs and causes of spiritualism that would seem to be so antithetical to his background. Is Gilroy's first dismissal and then acceptance of the metaphysical world of psychic phenomenon meant to be a map of Doyle's own changing worldviews?

I find it interesting that while Gilroy dismisses psychology as a science, what he accepts and how its treated by him and, through him, by Doyle is not psychology but hypnotism which becomes a gateway drug for psychic phenomenon. Miss Penclosa's first displays are elements of hypnotism and hypnotic suggestion and form the basics of many stage acts. But, the story treats it not as something that can be explained psychologically but meta-physically with the talks of replacing one soul with another and her powers becoming more and more fantastic.

The book finishes up with several Sherlock Holmes stories. Surprising to me, that they could make the case for stories other than "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" as fitting thematically to this book. In addition to that obvious one are "The Illustrious Client" and "The Three Gables" each with allusions and similarities of their own to Stoker's novel and the above short stories. The final story, "The Adventure of the Missing Vampire" is by Bill Crider and concerns a writer coming to Holmes and Watson to investigate a case of a vampire's corpse which has disappeared.

After the short-stories is a bibliography relating other books and tales that feature Holmes and Dracula, or at least some shared characters between the two. A few which I've read, my favorite being Loren Estleman's take on the subject.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: Year One

Sherlock Holmes is having a bit of resurgence in popularity these days. A movie with a sequel being filmed, a tv series re-imagining the character in present day, and a couple of comic book minis by two different companies.

Dynamite Entertainment has one mini under their belt and decided to follow it up with Sherlock Holmes: Year One. This is an interesting conflux of concepts. "Year One" was popularized as a term by Frank Miller in Batman: Year One, where the concept was the first year of Bruce Wayne putting on the costume to fight crime as Batman.  From there, it has been used in various superhero comics, referencing the early days of the crime fighting careers of heroes, usually tying into their origins. Of course with Batman, there was over a decade between the event of his parents getting shot, his decision to fight crime and all his training to the time he actually began his career. Despite that, a "Year One" story isn't simply just stories from that fledgling year, but an origin story of sorts. It lays down a lot of the ground work of who the character is and how he grows into the hero he's generally known as. Thus, with the Batman story, we see why he decides on a costume at all, much less as a bat. We see how his relationship with Gordon starts and grows (the comic is as much his story as Batman's). In short, a "Year One" story is to fill in gaps of the character, the whys and hows he operates and how it all came to be. Somehow, along the way, the term came into such general use that now we have companies like Dynamite using it in titles for their books.

Sherlock Holmes is not a false identity someone takes upon though. Presumably, he's been Sherlock Holmes since birth, and my first thought was a mini-series about his birth and first year as a baby is not what they were going for. But, it is interesting in that it opens up a few different possibilities exactly what a "Year One" tale would cover. One route would be a Young Sherlock Holmes-esque type of adventure, a story outlining the events that would prove so important for Holmes that would drive him and his brother to such extremes of behavior, his desire to see justice done and pursuing all sorts of knowledge and reasoning above all else and disdain for the police and Scotland Yard and humanity in general beyond a small circle of friends.

The second route would be the first year of his career, possibly overlapping his school years and the events of "A Study In Scarlet". In "Study", he meets Watson and they take rooms together, but he seems to already have started his career as a consulting detective, little venturing to the locations of the crimes themselves. In fact, "Study" seems to have the effect of him taking on more direct involvement in cases. One wonders where and why he gained those skills of acting and disguise if before he never planned on leaving his rooms.

Sherlock Holmes: Year One fails to be a "Year One" story in any meaningful way though. First off, it decides to follow a third track and basically throw out "A Study In Scarlet" by detailing a whole new story of how Watson meets Holmes. In it, he's called by the police to help some people that seem to be mostly afflicted with partying too much. One of the young men is Holmes who then outlines that this is more than a party that went out of control but a big criminal enterprise that he managed to foil.

But other than being some new way for Holmes and Doyle to have met, there's nothing particular in it that screams "Year One". Make the Watson character just a nameless police surgeon and you have another adventure of his pre-Watson college years. Doyle himself wrote two: "The Musgrave Ritual" and "The Gloria Scott" but neither of these cover the historical background that's implied by a "Year One" title. Neither does this mystery. Keep the doctor and change the opening script a little bit, and you have a decent stand-alone mystery that could plug in almost anywhere in the Canon.

Thus, the end result is maddening. There's no inherent reason for the contradiction of the Canon, the contradictions are completely incidental to the actual plot. And the contradictions carry no real weight since the story fails to live up to the basic concept of "Year One". It seems tacked on to drive sale and give some kind of metafictional meaningful gravitas of what would otherwise be just a nice little mystery. There has to be more of a point to telling us something we don't know about Holmes than telling us something we didn't know because of the simple fact the writer is changing the actual facts on us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Other Holmes

It is reported that the Doyle Estate has approved a new novel featuring Sherlock Holmes. The writer is Anthony Horowitz, writer young adult novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider. Young adult novels are extremely popular now, but I view this with some trepidation as the tendency for creators working with a property like Holmes is to do a pastiche, which generally requires a dumbing down of their own natural style.

The problem with most of the Holmes books by other authors is they fall in one of two camps. 1) An out and out pastiche which means that the writer is generally sublimating his style to copy the original. This tends to mean leaving things out, limited to solely creative and stylistic ground covered originally. 2) Introduction of a Mary Sue character to replace Watson as narrator, thus excusing any errors in attempts at sounding authentic. Sometimes, it comes across as also being the writer just does not like Watson and will make some snide comments about him.

#1 is true of almost all pastiches. To be a pastiche, one is required to be a mimic for the job is first and foremost one of artifact creation, creating something that will appear to be something else.. This may mean exercising some mental muscles not normally used, but it's still an exercise in fakery. A pastiche is a parody or satire without the creative commentary and self-referential comedy. Done in the best intentions and utmost affection but at best reads false, children playing grown-up. The problem becomes not to tell a good mystery or adventure featuring Holmes and Watson, but trying to create one that feels as if it was written at the time of others. The story is almost a secondary concern in relation to how it gets across its mimicry. In the last Superman movie, the actor was not asked to play Clark Kent or Superman as much as he was asked to play Christopher Reeve playing Clark Kent/Superman. That's a pastiche.

Caleb Carr's Holmes book The Italian Secretary was pure pastiche. It was a fun little diversion, but it's barely a mediocre Holmes book and not a very good Carr book. Instead of doing a Holmes book, I'd just as soon read a good writer use their own characters set during that time period. Unless they have the freedom to use Holmes and Watson as characters, sticking true to their history, but writing in their own style and not trying to recreate Doyle's style. Write it in third person, cover ground and issues that Doyle couldn't have as a man of the time.  This is a tact that's not taken very often sadly.

Of course there is another camp that some Holmes books do fall into, the deconstruction of Holmes. This is where the writer sets out to do Holmes "right". We get some of that with those that choose to downplay or make fun of Watson. But, there are others that want to explore Holmes and Watson's sexual sides, their relationships. Or, to cast one of the duo as the villain, such as a major book that chose to make Holmes Jack the Ripper.

The comic Ruse falls somewhere in between.

The Return of Ruse

Ruse is a comic from the late publishing line Crossgen which has recently been acquired by Marvel Comics. Starting a Crossgen imprint but without the unifying sigil running through the books, a relaunch of the comic Ruse has been announced as a four issue mini-series starting in March. The book was originally written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Butch Guice. Waid will be writing this relaunch with Guice providing the covers. Mirco Pierfederici will be doing the artistic chores on the interior

The title concerns a Holmesian detective called Simon Archard in a fictional Victorian era type setting, though in this world, there is an element of supernatural and magic.  Archard's partner is the beautiful Emma Bishop. In the original series, Bishop had secretive ties and powers as part of the Crossgen's conceit that each title would have a sigil bearer who had powers. He can leave that behind, focusing on two talented but decidedly human characters with new secrets they keep from each other to serve as internal strife between them.

As a Holmesian detective, Archard and Ruse aren't all that bad. But, in interviews concerning the original series, Waid was upfront for his distaste of the Doyle detective and stories. This sets the bar pretty high, as it implies that he thinks he can do it "right". However, his characters and stories aren't all that different than what is found in most pastiches or other Holmesian characters such as Solar Pons. The chief difference is the highly capable Miss Bishop, creating a sexual tension and clashing of egos where Watson was a little more forgiving of Holmes' excesses. Bishop challenges Archard and is a proactive character in her own right. Readers of mysteries set in the Victorian era can find strong opposite gender pairs of protagonists in the fiction of Anne Perry (I'm fond of the William Monk mysteries myself).

Victorian Undead: Holmes vs. Dracula: DC Comics isn't to be out-done. A little late on the Undead bandwagon, they have produced a couple of mini-series featuring Sherlock Holmes fighting supernatural menaces. The first was against revenants. I didn't read it myself so I'm not sure how accurate the lore was. However, considering that what passes for zombies in today's fiction has little to do with voodoo zombies but the creations of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, where the term zombie was never used, the term "revenants" is actually a bit more accurate with many parallels to today's zombies. Usually a revenant was either a wrong-doer in his lifetime or one who feels he has been so-wronged that his desire for retribution allows him to come back to life. Specifics and abilities vary as much as the tales do concerning vampires, and the two have sometimes been interchanged. A special one-shot featured Holmes vs Mr. Hyde. No clue as to how that tied to the "Undead" part of the title.

The current mini features Holmes against Dracula and is in its third issue. The first two issues follow rather faithfully the events of the Bram Stoker novel though from Holmes' point of view in London. There are several references of him against the revenants of the previous mini. The current issue has Holmes and Watson meeting with Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and the suitors of Lucy and getting caught up on the backstory of Dracula. Here, the story departs from the vampire novel in several significant ways. Mina has committed suicide as opposed to living the life of a vampire and one of the suitors has turned traitor in hoping to use Dracula to cure the bloodlines of the Royal Family. This departure opens the story up to whole new directions to take, not having to strictly follow Stoker's plotline.

The artwork is detailed but is in modern style and coloring, a modern comic-book. It's actually a little better than many modern comics in that it doesn't lose the story in the desire to get across detail and setting.  Unlike many artists known for their detail and superfluous linework muddying up the page, the storytelling is clear and concise. While not in the job of creating something that looks like a Victorian artifact, Holmes and Watson are drawn in their cliche looks: Holmes being a little too good looking and average build and Watson the older overweight doctor with white hair and mustache. A small quibble for an otherwise enjoyable read.