We’re currently in the midst of a long-running Sherlock Holmes media explosion, from the Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, to the hit BBC series SHERLOCK, and the American approach ELEMENTARY, however comics have plenty to add to the Holmes mythology, and Leah Moore and John Reppion are poised to release a new arc of their series SHERLOCK HOLMES this Wednesday, December 12, with “The Liverpool Demon” #1 from Dynamite Entertainment. The comics medium may even prove to be a more satisfying approach to the great detective, with its ability to conjure mood, give detailed characterization, and draw on the literary traditions established by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“The Liverpool Demon” takes Holmes and Watson out of their more familiar London setting, and challenges the duo to prove their salt on new turf. Their initial task, to track down a murderess who’s stealing identities from her victims, gives readers a chance to see Holmes and Watson in action, complete with gun fights and street brawls. Illustration by Matt Triano is heavy in atmosphere, rife with historical detail, and takes a fresh look at the grittier aspects of the Victorian period, often all too romanticized in films and comics alike. Moore and Reppion focus on Holmes characterization that’s bound to satisfy knowledgeable fans, bringing in nuance and continuity with Doyle’s original portrayal of the character. When Holmes is knifed with a nasty Spanish blade by the struggling murderess, he pauses to comment on the make and workmanship of the blade rather than attending to the gash he receives: this is classic Holmes, with his brain continuing to process information in contrast to any more basic human needs.
Unlike the original Holmes stories, however, “Liverpool Demon” allows readers to view events happening outside the perspective of Holmes and Watson, laying clues for the reader to assemble in the developing plot. This often highlights social factors, like violent conflict between the police and lower classes, and introduces lesser characters who appear later in the story. This essentially gives the reader a jump on Holmes, and the chance to grasp the challenges Holmes is up against before we see him in action. When a conversation between Holmes, Watson, and some colleagues turns to the supernatural, readers get a chance to hear Holmes’ circumspect thoughts on the matter, thoughts which become a major theme for the “Liverpool Demon” arc: what “seems inexplicable” is deemed “supernatural”, but for Holmes, the “impossibly is merely a diversion from the real facts”. But what will Holmes make of a visible, fiery-eyed and leaping figure striking dread into city inhabitants? His reaction, intriguingly, is to rush toward the unknown. When Watson asks Holmes if he actually saw the creature with his own eyes, his only answer is “perhaps”. He, of course, wants more “data”.
“The Liverpool Demon” #1 creates a finely balanced introduction to a storyline that promises to pit Sherlock Holmes against something that even he isn’t sure he believes exists. For those who love the Doyle Hound of the Baskervilles novella, this story takes scientific inquiry into the supernatural one step futher. Hardly “elementary” stuff. The pacing of the story is solid, with an excellent attention to visual detail, a careful consideration of historicity, and, perhaps most importantly, it creates a driving sense of curiosity that keeps readers, like Holmes, in pursuit of the truth.
Leah Moore and John Reppion have provided the Beat with some exclusive insights into their work on SHERLOCK HOLMES, and “The Liverpool Demon”, as well as some hints of things to come.
HM-S: Sherlock Holmes has become such a multi-media figure over time from the original stories to TV, films, and comics. What elements of Sherlock Holmes tradition have influenced you the most?
Leah Moore &John Reppion: We’ve tried to stick as close as possible to Conan Doyle’s original stories in terms of the era, settings, and characters of our own Holmes stories. We both really love the BBC Sherlock series and thought the Guy Richie films where really good fun but we wanted to bring the classic Victorian Holmes and Watson back to life on the comic book page.
HM-S: Have you always been big Sherlock fans? What makes you particularly want to work on a project like this?
LM&JR: Prior to working on The Trial of Sherlock Holmes back in 2009 neither of us would have categorized ourselves as Holmes fans really. As it turned out though, we were both much more familiar with The Great Detective’s work than we’d imagined. As well as having each read a smattering of Holmes’ adventures, we’d both seen much of the wonderful British ITV television series and listened to many a radio adaptation. We’d just finished work on The Complete Dracula when the opportunity to write The Trial came up, so we were already steeped in Victorian research. Les Klinger’s New Annotated Dracula was an invaluable resource for the Stoker adaptation and his Annotated Sherlock Holmes proved no less so for The Trial. I certainly wouldn’t class us as Victorian experts, or Holmes experts but we’re “enthusiastic amateurs” who have amassed a really good lot of reference material.
HM-S: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a strong interest in the occult, didn’t he? What do you think it is about the original Holmes stories that lends itself to bringing in “weird tales” elements and the supernatural?
LM&JR: Doyle was a Spiritualist, a member of The Ghost Club (the oldest extant paranormal investigation group in the world), a believer in fairies, and notoriously fell out with his friend Harry Houdini because he refused to believe that the magician did not possess genuine powers. Holmes on the other hand is about the most skeptical character that one can imagine. Perhaps that’s why Doyle got so fed up of writing him that he decided to kill him off – maybe Holmes’ ability to see through even the weirdest and most unlikely of circumstances to the cold hard facts began to grate on him?
The weird, the supernatural, the Gothic; it’s all there in tales such as The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Sussex Vampire but Holmes always cuts through all the atmosphere and sees the naked crime at the heart of it. In this first issue of The Liverpool Demon we’ve come at this idea head on, giving The Great Detective a nice little speech on the matter:
“That which seems inexplicable, supernatural… that is my business, sir. And I have never yet met either wizard, demon, or ghoul. The impossible is merely a diversion from the real facts”.
HM-S: The art style and color palette of “Demon” really depicts the gritty reality of life in the Victorian period, and there’s a strong emphasis on violent conflict. Did you have a particular goal in working against the romantic views people often have of the period?
LM&JR: Our first Holmes series was set in London and dealt with royalty, government, and politics. There was a bit of down and dirty poor London in there but it was still very much the accepted and expected London setting of many a Holmes tale. With this second series we wanted to take both Holmes and the reader out of the that London comfort zone and make things a lot grittier and dirtier and generally more hostile. We want it to be a tense, scary place and Victorian London sometimes feels too overdone, too familiar, to be genuinely menacing.
Matt Triano is doing a fantastic job of rendering Victorian Liverpool despite having never been here. Lots of the buildings and locations featured in the story are still extant and pretty much unchanged so it’s fun to see these familiar (to us) places crop up on the page.
HM-S: Any hints or teasers for audiences about what they can expect from the rest of the series?
LM&JR: Well, in the best British tradition, once the newspapers get hold of the demon story there’s bound to be a bit of a panic… who knows what might happen next…
Also, readers (and Holmes) can look forward to meeting Thornton – a no nonsense Irish copper whose on a one man mission to clean up the mean streets of Liverpool.
HM-S: What other projects are you all currently working on?
Damsels, our Dynamite Entertainment ongoing, is currently on its third issue with number four coming out in the first week of the new year. Damsels is a fairy tale/fantasy series in which we get to play with all the established characters and stories of the entire folk/fairy tale world and put our own twist on them. We’re following Rapa – a dread-locked, tattooed, wanderer – as she tries to piece together her own story whilst trying to contend with all manner of monsters and people who seem to want to get in her way. It’s great fun to write and people seem to be really enjoying it. Aneke, our artist, manages to create such wonderful, bouncy, art without ever overstepping the mark into full on Disneyness.
HM-S: Thanks, Leah and John, for feeding my own personal Sherlock Holmes addiction in such a compelling way and taking the time to discuss SHERLOCK HOLMES: “The Liverpool Demon”.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.