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Comic Book Review
The Japanese Sherlock manga comes to the UK and USA for the first time ever! Adapting the episodes of the smash-hit BBC / Hartswood Films TV show that sees Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and John Watson (Martin Freeman) tackling brain-teasing crimes in modern-day London, this stunning manga is presented in its original right-to-left reading order, and in the full chapters as originally serialised. #1 kicks things off with a 48-page special, as a spate of mysterious suicides appear to be connected. Meet Holmes and Watson for the first time… all over again…!
As an English translation of a 2012 Japanese comic book adaptation of a 2010 television reimagining of a Victorian novel, there was a danger that this new edition of A Study in Pink might end up being pretty far removed from the source material – is it an adaptation too far?
In fact, this feels more like a homecoming, as the adventure returns to its native language, in so doing driving home just how closely artist Jay. has adhered to the scripts of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Occasionally the sequence of events differs from the way in which they unfolded on screen – for example, this episode opens with the first three apparent suicides and the press conferences regarding them, rather than our introduction to John Watson, which happens later in the comic – but essentially this series tells the whole story in full detail.
In contrast to the comic-book adaptations of screen works that we tend to get in the West, which seldom exceed 64 pages, this comic runs to 40 pages of strip just for this opening instalment. This allows time to include every line of dialogue from the television script, as well as moments of quiet reflection, especially from the baffled and traumatised John. Regular visitors to this site may have read my comments about Titan’s Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor mini-series, which I have criticised for being too slow-paced and lacking in action. There’s no contradiction here. When your comic is 22 pages, as Western comic books usually are, the story needs to develop quickly otherwise the issue is over and nothing much has happened – but when you have 40 pages on your hands, you can afford to pause for a moment as John gazes sadly as his walking stick or at the empty page of his blog (the point of that scene, after all, is that nothing ever happens to him) or as Sherlock slowly cracks a smile.
The likenesses of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have been ‘manga-ised’, but remain immediately recognisable. On the other hand, Detective Inspector Lestrade is sometimes hard to tell from John, while Mrs Hudson doesn’t look much like Una Stubbs, but is nevertheless unmistakable due to her personality and location.
The art is presented in its original black and white, and reads from right to left. That can be disconcerting at first if you have never read manga before, but you soon get used to it. In fact, I think Titan could have gone one step further and had the book read from back to front in the Japanese style. There are a couple of occasions where an image extends across a double-page spread (when we see the fourth victim reaching for her pills and when we first see the living room of 221B Baker Street) and, because this edition reads front to back, those images get split into two.
The speech bubbles are quite an unusual shape for containing English dialogue, which is an inevitable result of translating from Japanese. The sound effects (“Blam”, “Whack!”, “Scribble scribble”, etc) are part of the art, so the English words for these tend to appear in the spaces beneath the frames. Sometimes these sounds seem superfluous to our understanding of what is going on visually and it can become irritating to read the likes of “Turn”, “Grip” and “Smile” (yes, I can see that he’s smiling, thank you), but this is more a criticism of the original manga than the English translation.
Despite some awkwardness in translating the visual tics of a television show into the visual tics of a comic, and in translating the textual tics of Japanese manga into English, I am looking forward to the rest of the story. “Want to see some more?” as Sherlock asks John at the end of the episode. “Oh god, yes.” The game is on! Smile.