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Tue, March 24th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: March 24th, 2009 at 4:48pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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SHERLOCK HOLMES #1

Sherlock Holmes #1

I picked up one of those complete collections of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes stories a few years back and fell in love with the stories. It takes some time to get used to the particular writing style and the rhythm of the stories, but it's well worth the trip. If nothing else, you'll certainly feel smarter for having read British literature, right?

Now, Dynamite Entertainment is having a go at Sherlock Holmes, too. Coming out in May is "Sherlock Holmes" #1, written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art from Aaron Campbell. There's a lot here to recommend it. Heck, even the drawbacks are more hesitations than outright negatives.

Most importantly, the dialogue feels right. There are times when the cadence of the speech draws me in and makes me feel like I'm reading Doyle's classic works. This is a very good thing since the book is mostly talking heads. Moore and Reppion do a good job in bookending this first issue in more physically eventful scenes, but the bulk of the issue is like the bulk of Doyle's stories: people sitting around, discussing the story. The reader is carried along by either the air of mystery or the edge of the characters. Thankfully, we get a little of both here.

The thing I'm most grateful for is that, so far, the creators haven't chosen to do a mash-up with this comic. There aren't any science fiction or fantasy or horror crossovers in this comic. It isn't "Sherlock Holmes vs. The Werewolf" or something. It's not a "Look at the Drugged-Up Sherlock" book. It's authentic Holmes storytelling in here. There's a mystery. Sherlock is on the case. He's giving Watson a hard time. There's a twist at the end.

And there's no Invisible Man to wreck the whole thing. No cliched violin playing and chain pipe smoking. Nothing over-the-top, no dramatic reinterpretation, no period satire.

Don't get me wrong; I've enjoyed that kind of thing before, but the world of comics relies far too heavily on some of those things. Sometimes, I just want the straight story, without any hints of those Sci-Fi/Horror/Fantasy elements.

By the end of the first issue, we start to see where the plot is going to take us in this particular adventure. We even get trappings of other mysteries, as the first issue ends in a classic scratch-your-head Closed Door Mystery. You know that everything is not as it seems on the surface, but your mind starts working to try to figure out just what's in those gaps. I like the questions this raises, though Holmes' initial emotional reaction seems a bit off to me. On the other hand, the way the calm Holmes who's usually ten steps ahead of everyone else in the game is seen in a panic is a shocking moment to emphasize the enormity of the situation.

Therein lies the drawback of this issue: It's not the complete story. It's not like the literature, where you can plow through to the end of the story. This is a monthly comic book. It's going to be more serialized than that. So it's good news that I've been drawn in by the story and want to read more of it now, but it's bad news that the issue ends just as the story kicks into gear. It's a mystery, I suppose. You need to set things up before solving anything.

Campbell's art serves the story. He handles the action scenes well, and his talking heads scenes are easy to follow and kept varied enough to maintain my interest. His solid black areas give the page weight, and the use of reflections are either an interesting visual hook, or a hint at a larger part of the story that will unfold in the months ahead. Campbell moves the "camera" up and down in the scenes, while restricting himself to the three tier grid for layouts. The art sometimes lacks for backgrounds and has little exciting to show in the foregrounds, but still shows a sense of style and high black and white contrast. It's not the flashiest or showiest art in comics today, but it gets the job done while holding your interest.

I'm reviewing this off a preview copy that hasn't been colored yet, nor has it had a final proofreading. That's OK, though. The black and white art is easy to follow, and the text doesn't appear rough at all. All we have to wait for now is to see if the coloring turns out to be so dark and muddy that it destroys the art. That's a trait that runs true in far too many books, Dynamite's included. (See "Super Zombies" for one recent example of that.)

The first issue of "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes" will be in stores in May. You can order it today through "Previews." If you're a classic Holmes fan, you're going to like this one.

SYMMETRY? OR PALINDROME? IT'S NOGEGON!

There are High Concept comics, Very High Concept comics, and then there is "Nogegon."

You might not have heard of it, but it was published twice in the States at the turn of the millennium. "Nogegon" is part of the "Hollow Grounds" trilogy of titles from Luc and Francois Schuiten, originally published in the 80s. Humanoids first published the series as three beautiful oversized hardcovers in 2001, and then DC/Humanoids put the three volumes together in a smaller trade paperback that I wouldn't use to keep my door open for fear of offending the fine wood grain. The printing was so awful and the line work drained off the page so quickly that it was a travesty the likes of which DC wouldn't repeat until the "Batman R.I.P." publishing program.

Sorry. Back to "Nogegon."

It's a symmetrical comic, no doubt inspired by "Watchmen" #5. We've all marveled over the work Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did there, brilliantly crafting a story whose last panel mirrored its first, penultimate panel mirrored its second, and so on until the center spread became the mirror. The amazing thing Moore/Gibbons did there was to craft a readable story that made sense in a larger context while using this storytelling technique. I'd almost call it a "stunt," but it worked too well to use that pejorative.

"Nogegon," though, while the third part of a trilogy, isn't trying to be a part of a larger story that just happens to be a comic book palindrome. It sits well on its own, but tries so hard to be so perfectly symmetrical that it doesn't care how much sense the story makes. Don't get me wrong; it's a fine effort, and the story does make a certain kind of surreal sense. But there's always the feeling in your mind that the story exists to aid the format, and not vice versa. "Nogegon" takes place on the planet of Nogegon. Everything there is based on symmetry: the architecture, the art, the proper names. Everything. And so when the story starts with a character landing on the planet, you just know it will end with her leaving it.

The attention to detail is remarkable in the symmetrical parts. If the panel in the first half of the book shows us a character with her back turned from the reader and looking to the left, the mirror panel in the second half might have her facing front and looking right. An up angle on a panel in the first half is mirrored by a bird's eye view pointing down in the second.

Check out the very first and very last sequential pages from the book for a relatively straightforward example:

Note the way even the dialogue can mirror itself. ("I've always hated rejects. . . Their chronic asymmetry disgusts me." becomes "As a matter of fact, I have always liked rejects… Their chronic asymmetry never ceases to fascinate me.")

See the way action moves left to right on one page, but right to left on the next. The characters have the same body language, but in the opposite direction in the reverse order.

It's fun stuff.

So what's the story? A woman comes to Nogegon looking for her missing friend who, we're told in symmetrical interstitial diary entries, came to the planet and fell for an artist. She finds the artist and, as symmetry would have it, neatly repeats her missing friends' mistakes. She becomes his new muse, making beautiful art with her naked body -- of course. This is a serious European album with art by Schuiten. There must be nippleage!

::ahem::

It's a fantasy, with the hard and fast rule being that the planet and its citizens believe in symmetry uber alles. That creeps into every facet of their life, and it's interesting to see where it pops up, in areas you might not assume. There's a librarian, an artist, and a policemen who all live within the system and all illustrate different facets of the concept. It is, at times, forced, but it's always a fascinating creative exercise, to see the way the Schuitens work it all in.

It's no wonder that more creators haven't attempted this method of storytelling. Anything longer than a two page story must be a headache to concoct. Every panel you write or draw will automatically determine a panel half a story away. This often necessitates mirror panels that break rules of conventional storytelling.

"Nogegon" winds up being a novelty comic, yes, but a peculiarly entertaining one. It's like a 24 Hour Comic: if your expectations are adjusted for the format the story is in, you're ten times more likely to enjoy it. This isn't a grand scale city-building exercise the way Francois Schuiten's "Cities of the Fantastic" series with Benoit Peeters is. Treat it more as a one-off. It's impressive and entertaining, but the storytelling is more powerful than the story.

PIPELINE PODCAST'S NEW ADDITION

Yes, the Top Ten podcast did show up last week, but we'll get to that in a second.

First, I tried a little experiment on Friday night. I was in the mood to record a podcast, so I posted about it on Twitter and solicited questions for the show. I didn't get too many. I'm still not sure if that's because it was a Friday night and my readers/listeners are a social lot, or because I posted opposite the "Battlestar: Galactica" finale, and everyone had gone off-line for that.

I did get enough to put together a show, though, and I answered all the questions asked.

It was a fun little experiment, giving me a chance to speak off the cuff in response to things people wanted to hear about. I didn't worry too much about pre-planning and researching. It was nice to sit behind the microphone and just talk comics, with a little help from my Twitter friends.

I don't know when I'll be doing it again, but you can bet I will. Keep an eye out on my Twitter feed in the future for the next installment and how you can get your questions in.

You can download the show, which ran under 20 minutes, though I always suggest subscribing to the show through iTunes or your podcatcher of choice.

In the meantime, there was also a Top Ten podcast this week, which likewise ran under 20 minutes. Download it at the link in the sentence above.

Here's what the list looks like:

  • 10. Powers TP Vol 12 The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes Of All Time

  • 9. Adventures Of Blanche HC

  • 8. Zombies That Ate The World #2

  • 7. Courtney Crumrin TP Vol 4 Monstrous Holiday

  • 6. Dark Avengers #3

  • 5. Soleil Samurai Premiere HC Vol 1 Legend

  • 4. Ultimatum #3 (of 5)

  • 3. Potters Field Stone Cold (One Shot)

  • 2. Tor A Prehistoric Odyssey HC

  • 1. Largo Winch TP Vol 3 Dutch Connection

Yes, there are more French translations in that list than traditional superhero books. What a crazy week.

I want to point you all to my photoblog, AugieShoots.com. I've posted what I think are some of my best pictures ever there over the past week. I had one good day at the local bird sanctuary, and got a batch of great pictures to show for it. Birds in flight, birds landing dramatically in the water, lots of great reflections, etc. Once I run out of those pictures this week, I don't know what I'll do to top it next. Maybe more shopping carts?

The Various and Sundry blog missed the "American Idol" writeups last week due to time constraints, sadly, but I'm hoping to do better this week.

My Twitter stream (@augiedb) is like my public e-mail box. I check it daily, looking for responses and new conversational threads. Heck, you're more likely to hear back from me if you ask me something on Twitter than my own e-mail box.

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items this week. It's the best of my daily feed reading, now with commentary!

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than eleven years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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