Saturday, December 14, 2013

Scarlet In Gaslight!

Where and exactly when I picked up Scarlet in Gaslight I don't recollect. But this masterful story of Sherlock Holmes facing off against Dracula made a huge impression. I first read the story as a collection from Malibu Comics from 1988. This slightly smaller version of the tale does some injustice to Seppo Makinen's elegant and vibrant artwork but the tale remains intact.

There have been many stories written pitting Arthur Conan Doyle's supremely logical consulting detective against Bram Stoker's supremely evil lord of the undead, but in this comics telling Martin Powell gives adds a flavorful dash of humanity to Holmes and oddly enough to Dracula too. Both are rich personalities with specific motivations and particular worldviews. In the case of Holmes, his confrontation with the startling reality of the undead rocks his world of reason and carefully groomed intellect and his mind falls into disorder. In the case of Dracula, his craving for control is frustrated by evil folks who seek use him as a weapon in their battle against a peaceful world. Both of our protagonists overcome their conflicts and that makes this story hum so effectively.

Seppo Makinen's artwork in these stories has a real flavor to it. Unlike so much of the comic art produced in the modern day, there is a real style and whimsy to Makinen's supple lines. The artwork improves as the story progresses, suggesting that Makinen gains his footing a bit through the tale, and by the end he is in full control of the storytelling and the textures. This is a black and white story, produced originally for Malibu's black and white "Eternity Comics" brand in waning days of what we now dub the "Black and White Boom". It's a story best told in black and white, not only to preserve Makinen's lush linework, but to retain the frosty atmosphere the story so successfully develops.

The story has proven a success and has been reprinted a number of times over the intervening years by several publishers.

I most recently read the tale in the Moonstone version of Sherlock Holmes story by Powell and Makinen. There are two volumes in this handsome set despite the rather mundane and uninspired cover artwork. Building on the critical success of Scarlet in Gaslight, the two did several more Holmes stories pitting the detective against some very odd foes. I'll have more to say on those at a later date.

But I give Scarlet in Gaslight my highest recommendation. If you have not yet read this stunning tale of reason versus madness then seek it out and give it a go. It's one of the best stories of Sherlock Holmes not written by Doyle and one of the best stories produced in the comic book format ever.

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  1. All right, you had me at Sherlock and Dracula. :)

    That is a great Plastic man cover. It is pretty disturbing.

    1. This was the first Holmes-Dracula clash I ever read, and after this summer in which I read several more by different folks, I still think it's the best.

      And that Plastic Man cover is unsettling indeed.

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