Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Greg Hatcher Legacy Files #77: ‘Mosaic Friday’

[This post went up on 7 July 2007, and it was so long ago Greg hadn’t coined “Cross-Hatchings” for the columns he did that were a hodgepodge of smaller topics. That’s a great name, you have to admit, so it’s nice that he eventually came up with it, but back in ’07 he was still trying some other names out. You can find this on the Wayback Machine here, where you can see Johnny Bacardi, our own John Trumbull, Pedro Bouça, and Perry Holly show up. Fun stuff! Enjoy!]

Sometimes I don’t have a whole column’s worth of stuff to say about something, but it still rates a mention here. Those miscellaneous items generally get put off to one side until enough of them stack up together to make a column’s worth, and this is one of those occasions.

So. Bits and pieces, today.


Earlier in the week the mail brought us Murder By Decree, one of my very favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

I saw this in the theater the week it premiered, back when I was in high school, and I hadn’t seen it since; for some reason it’s never rerun on television. Julie hadn’t ever seen it at all, so this was a real treat. It was as much fun as I remembered, and we enjoyed ourselves enormously … but what struck me, watching it, was: why the hell hasn’t anyone ever been able to make Sherlock Holmes work in comics?

Because the story, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, really seemed like a superhero crossover-event story of sorts. Back when I did the column about superhero prototypes someone took me to task for not including Holmes, and certainly pulp writers and comics writers have stolen dozens of riffs from Conan Doyle’s stories over the years. The weird thing is that the various Holmes pastiches and tributes and homages and so on that turn up in comics from time to time have generally been more successful than the real thing.

To recap: we all know that the three most successful and widely known fictional heroes of all time are Tarzan, Superman, and Sherlock Holmes. There are lots of Tarzan and Superman comics … but very few featuring Holmes.

DC took a swing at it in the 1970’s. Denny O’Neil and E.R. Cruz did some nice work, but the book was canceled after one issue. That’s right — one issue. For crying out loud, Brother Power The Geek got a better chance at a tryout from DC than that.

Cruz did a little more work on Holmes, pages that eventually saw print as a flashback in the anniversary issue of Detective where Batman met Sherlock Holmes. (This was a very cool book, by the way.)

Weird – Cruz did nice work in this issue – which is very cool, as Greg notes – and then Greg shows … an Alan Davis page!

And Marvel did one in the 1970’s as well — a very well-done two-part adaptation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for Marvel Preview #5 and #6, from Doug Moench and Val Mayerik.

Marvel and DC both did Holmes pastiches, as well. DC had Holmes go up against the Joker (sort of) in a charming little done-in-one adventure during the Joker’s short-lived tenure headlining his own book.

And Marvel did a couple of stories with Hodiah Twist, a Holmes knockoff whose cases always involved the supernatural. He had outings in Vampire Tales and Marvel Preview.

Nothing that really set the comics world on fire, but on the other hand, I think Hodiah got more tryouts at Marvel overall than Holmes did. Another comics snub for the Great Detective.

In the 80′s a couple of different indie comics publishers took a shot at the world’s most famous detective. Deni Loubert’s Renegade Comics put out some nice illustrated-prose efforts — though, strictly speaking, you can’t really call them comics.

And Malibu/Eternity put out some reprints of the Holmes syndicated comic strip — which, to be fair, had a respectable run in newspapers for some years, though that success didn’t really translate into comic book sales.

None of these efforts really caught on. The most successful Holmes newsstand comic was probably Scarlet in Gaslight, a cleverly-plotted crossover mini-series pitting Sherlock Holmes against Count Dracula. This one did well enough to get a trade paperback collection that made it into bookstores.

Now, this was hardly the first time anyone had thought of doing that particular crossover.

But it was new for comics. That’s the part that baffles me. It seems like there should be more overlap there somehow. Because Sherlock Holmes fans are every bit as much into their continuity and crossovers and pastiches as comics fans are. Seriously.

You think us old-school DC Earth-2 scholars are geeky? I assure you we are mere dillettantes [sic] compared to a hardcore Baker Street Irregular getting his nerd on. They are all about shared-universe storylines and reconciling continuity gaffes and so on. Hell, Irregulars have argued about what is and isn’t Canon for decades. And they don’t do reboots, either. They’ll take on everything that’s been written about Holmes since 1887 and come back panting to index more.

At any rate, to me Sherlock Holmes seems like a natural for comics but somehow he never really has been. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.

Maybe it’s just a right-place, right-time thing. As I recall Ruse actually was doing pretty well before CrossGen imploded, though for me the fun of the book left with Mark Waid. And of course League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a Holmesian flavor of sorts. But those efforts demonstrate that a Victorian-type mystery/adventure book could work.

Maybe it’s time to give the Great Detective another shot at a comic book. Something fun, all-original, with a sort of freewheeling pulp-adventure air to it. The thing that has plagued Holmes in comics since the beginning is that so many people who try it are scared to do pastiche, they always want to adapt Doyle’s originals. Those make for bad comics; the originals, particularly the later ones, really aren’t very good stories, it’s only the reader’s affection for Holmes and Watson that carries them. Doyle himself regarded most of his Sherlock Holmes efforts as annoying day-labor jobs he had to churn out to pay the rent, stuff that took time away from his ‘serious work.’

On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes pastiches done with love by talented writers are a continuing joy, and there are bookshelves full of them. And some of those guys write comics, too; Michael Reaves, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon. I suspect there are enough Holmes aficionados among working comics pros that it’s an assignment they’d fight over. And if an enterprising comics publisher gave the Baker Street Irregulars something new to chew on, I bet they’d show up for it. Just a thought.


Speaking of crossovers, I have been very vocal and rude about how painfully bad the current DC ones have been. So it gives me great pleasure to tell you about one I just read that I thought was terrific.

The DC Universe paperbacks have been very hit and miss with me. Alan Grant’s Last Sons I thought was just okay, but then I really don’t care that much for Lobo. Devin Grayson’s Inheritance I thought had some nice character bits, some weak plotting, and a couple of spots where it was getting uncomfortably close to slash fan-fiction. And I’ve talked about Denny O’Neil’s Helltown here at length — I adored it, but the book read more like a straight Question novel, part of the personal oeuvre of Denny O’Neil instead of a DC Universe book.

But Jeff Mariotte’s Trail of Time is easily the best of the lot. As a story, it’s just plain fun. It’s a time-travel, alternate-universe story featuring Superman, Lois Lane, the Demon, the Phantom Stranger, Jonah Hex, Zatanna, El Diablo, Bat Lash, and others going up against the triumvirate of Vandal Savage, Mordru, and Felix Faust.

It’s a grand adventure, but really, as a crossover is where the book shines. The plot of the novel is a virtual template for how to do a crossover story right, which is why I thought it was worth mentioning here. To sum up quickly, without giving too much away, it involves the three villains altering pivotal points in time to eliminate the arrival of the heroic age and leave them in control of Earth. So we get glimpses of an alternate DC universe without heroes, a dystopian fascist state where a powerless, timid Clark Kent is finally motivated to take action by the government-sanctioned murder of his wife Lois … and the story takes off from there and ranges across space and time and even detours once through Hell itself.

See, that’s what you want from a Big Crossover Event. The stakes are high enough to plausibly involve a widely disparate group, you get to see the heroes interact in ways they never could in the regular books … and in the end, no irreversible damage is done to the characters and it’s a satisfying ride. That’s how event books SHOULD work, but somehow almost never do.

So I thought I’d point this one out for those that enjoy this sort of thing when it’s done well. And if you like this, you might even check out Jeff Mariotte’s other books, like Desperadoes.


And finally, just for fun: this is one of those little questionnaire meme things people send me from time to time, and I thought it would be amusing to use here in the column one of these days. Feel free to play along at home.

Five Questions — Nerding Out!

Nerdiest book you own?

THE nerdiest? How can I single one out? I think for sheer unabashed gee-whiz fanboy writing, coupled with subject matter that would make people on the bus point and laugh, I’d go with Mark Cotta Vaz’ Tales of the Dark Knight.

Hey, I love this book! Does that make me (gasp) a nerd?!?!?

Nerdiest DVD you own?

Tough call. I own some pretty nerdy DVDs. I enjoy them all too, God help me. Probably Dan Poole’s Making Of “The Green Goblin’s Last Stand”. Runner up would be David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury.

The thing others find nerdiest about you?

Apart from the books and the DVDs? That’s not damning enough? This varies. But Julie is vastly amused by my index of back-issue comics I am hunting for. Because it’s big, it’s an actual bound notebook; and when I acquire new books they are crossed off the list. “And now, zee ritual of zee crossing off,” she always says when she sees me do it. [Edit: Julie, as always, is awesome.]

The nerdiest thing about you that you are proud of?

That I am able to occasionally turn my nerdy expertise into cash money. Teaching classes on comics, writing articles about comics or pulps, and so on. That’s right — it’s my JOB. Sometimes, anyway. Suck on that while you’re ringing up those rude people at Wal-Mart, you high school jock bullies. [Edit: Wow, Greg went vindictive there for a second, and I am here for it!]

The nerdiest thing about you that you wish you could get rid of?

I have to pick one? Probably my involuntary need to rate the “canonical” accuracy of film and television adaptations of books or comics I like. I no longer do this out loud, and I don’t let it ruin a movie for me, but there is still the voice in the back of my head that pipes up, “oooh, they got THAT wrong.” I don’t think you ever shed that once you start doing it. It’s a curse really.


And that’s all I’ve got, this time out. See you next week, fellow nerds.


  1. Julius Schwartz once made the same point, that the Canon doesn’t adapt well to comics. I agree with him and Greg. Maybe even a new Holmes story would have trouble unless they got un-Holmesian.
    For a comics crossover I loved, Tarzan vs. Predator at the Earth’s Core shouldn’t have worked but Walt Simonson made it work anyway.
    The Adventure of the Peerless Peer was one of the worst Holmes pastiches I’ve ever read, despite the crossovers. Closely tied for Manly Wade Wellman’s Sherlock Holmes War of the Worlds.

    1. oh, Wellman’s Holmes/WotW – he wrote that with his son, iirc, and while it may have been a nice bonding ritual, I gave up on it (the book) pretty quickly.

      I think that Holmes is difficult to comicify because he’s such a cypher (I’m sure I’ll be lynched by the Baker Street Boys for that)… It seems that when you try to instil some kind of personality, you’re drifting away from Holmes. Just imagine making a comic of Jeremy Brett’s Holmes – all the tics, the vocal intonation – none of that what makes it work is just not translatable.

    2. Le Messor

      The worst for me – and I haven’t read very many – is Sherlock Holmes and The Phantom Of The Opera.
      It’s the The Phantom Of The Opera novel with an extra character inserted, and Sherlock makes absolutely zero difference to the story.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Re: “Weird – Cruz did nice work in this issue – which is very cool, as Greg notes – and then Greg shows … an Alan Davis page!”

    Well, as Greg explained in the comments to the original post, ” I just thought it was too cool a page not to put up.”

  3. Le Messor

    While Holmes certainly had an influence on superheroes, mostly Batman (who he’s met, as shown in the article… I thought that page looked like Alan Davis’ work), I wouldn’t put him in that category, even as a prototype. He doesn’t have a secret identity (Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel), he doesn’t have powers (Hercules). He’s just a detective.
    So I won’t be one of those taking Greg to task for not including him.

    The Sherlock Holmes bit could’ve been its own article!

    One of the closest friends I ever had was the jock type, by the way. It surprised me that he wanted to be friends with me.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    James Robinson inserted a very Holmesian Hamilton Drew into Starman, which worked quite well.

    I think if you did original stories, it would work better than Doyle. It lets you flesh him out more (which Murder By Decree did, as well as The Seven Per Cent Solution) and give him something new to investigate. I also think mixing in other parts of the period adds to it all. Kim Newman does stuff like that in his Anno Dracula stories, which are filled with literary and pop culture easter eggs that make them a treat. Plus, he concocts new ideas, at of old material and blending them with other ideas, like the Angels of Musik. Imagine Charlie’s Angels, in the Victorian Era, where Charlie is erik, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Angels are Irene Adler, Trilby O’Farrell and Christina Daae; or, Eliza Doolittle, Gigi and rima the Jungle Girl. Now, have them investigate a criminal conspiracy, with Josephine Balsamo (of the Arsene Lupin stories) at the center, plus Charles Foster Kane assembling a group of master criminals and power brokers, to divide up the world, at his casino, in Roayle le Eaux, where Kane has also created his American theme park, Euro-Xanadu, while his restaurants sell beef patties, on buns, with the Golden K logo above the restaurants. Or, Imagine Prof Moriarty and his assassin, Col Sebastian Moran, as Consulting Criminals. Thats the kind of stuff you can put Holmes into and go nuts.

    With the meme thing:

    Nerdiest Book: The World Encyclopedia of Comics, ed by Maurice Horn
    Nerdiest DVD: The Space Sentinels/Freedom Force set
    Things Others Find Nerdiest about me: knowledge of pro wrestling stars and history
    Nerdiest Thing I am Proud of: I have copies of every Looney Tune, from 1937 to the end of the studio production
    Nerdiest Thing to Get Rid of: Making lists of things I want to acquire or write about,

    1. Le Messor

      Charlie is erik, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Angels are Irene Adler, Trilby O’Farrell and Christina Daae; or, Eliza Doolittle, Gigi and rima the Jungle Girl.

      Interesting that they make Erik the good guy here. And Irene Adler, come to that.
      I don’t know who Trilby O’Farrell is? (Or ‘Rima’, but I think the phrase ‘The Jungle Girl’ tells me everything I need to know. :D)

      Charles Foster Kane assembling a group of master criminals
      Charlie’s Devils?
      (Who is Charles Foster Kane? I think I’ve heard the name?)

  5. Trilby O’Farrell is the woman transformed into a singing star by Svengali. In the original novel she was a scandalous figure, an artist’s model who smoked, swore and posed naked.
    Charles Foster Kane = Citizen Kane.
    Rima was a South American jungle girl in the book Green Mansions by WH Hudson. Had a brief series at DC in the Bronze Age.

      1. I’ve seen the Svengali movies but I haven’t read the novel, which is actually called Trilby. I know about it from a history-magazine article some years ago discussing what a sensation the eponymous character sparked by pushing the envelope for female roles (though she dies at the end, thereby supposedly balancing the scales for not being pure as the driven snow).

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