If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a very strong chance that you’ve seen BBC’s Sherlock, the modern day re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective. It’s a fantastic show that’s made Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman into international superstars. But it’s not the most natural property to become a comic book.
And yet here we are with Sherlock #1 from Titan Comics, but that’s a bit misleading. This is actually a manga adaptation of Sherlock that was first published in Japan by Kadokawa. The comic script is almost word-for-word from Steven Moffat’s “A Study in Pink,” which was itself was an adaptation of “A Study in Scarlet,” the very first Sherlock Holmes story. If you’ve seen the episode, you know the story. That’s why the bulk of this review is going to center on Jay. (with a period), the artist behind this manga.
Some of the visual choices were already made for Jay. before the manga was even started, but there are certain aspects of that episode that don’t translate well into this format. The opening pages are especially disorienting when reading manga style right-to-left as the serial suicides plot is established. The cuts that worked in live-action are less effective in this medium and it can be confusing to the reader even if the story is already known to them.
If you’re looking for photo realistic renderings of Cumberbatch, Freeman, and the rest of the Sherlock cast, that’s simply not the style that Jay. employs. His renditions of the characters are recognizable, but his strength is conveying emotion rather than a strict recreation of real life actors and actresses. There’s a particularly good sequence early in the book in which the torment is clear on John’s face after he relives another Afghanistan nightmare in his dreams. The sadness in John’s face and body language says everything about him. Freeman’s performance on the show relayed that to the audience, and Jay.’s performance on the page pulls off the same trick, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Jay. is quite skilled when it comes to faces, even though he occasionally leaves out the details of faces in the background. His sequential skills are also impressive, especially in that previously mentioned dream sequence with John and its immediate aftermath. The issue really takes off about midway through when Sherlock Holmes is formally introduced into the story and John gets a new roommate and the closest thing he’s got to a partner and friend. The same jokes about Sherlock’s inability to recognize Molly Hooper’s obvious romantic interest work on the page in the same way that they did on screen. In fact, Jay. gets to cheat a bit and linger on Molly’s longing looks as Sherlock beats a corpse with a riding crop.
There is a downside to this adaptation: it doesn’t really offer anything new that you couldn’t get simply by watching the pilot episode of Sherlock again. Jay. is so faithful to the TV script that he’s almost too faithful. There’s not a lot to distinguish the experience of reading the Sherlock manga. Jay.’s pages have a visual flourish and a sense of excitement, but this is still a story that was better told in another medium.
If you’re looking for anything surprising or moments that weren’t in the show, there really aren’t any. For hardcore fans of the series, this could be a fun way to relive the experience of watching Sherlock. But a better justification for this manga is simply an appreciation of Jay.’s artwork.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
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Images: Titan Comics/Kadokawa/BBC