Saturday, January 23, 2016

Four-Color Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes has never been out of style, with the Sage of Baker Street and his "Boswell" making a comeback every decade or so. In the early 1950s a TV series featuring the wonderful Ronald Howard as Holmes and ably supported by Howard Marion Crawford as Watson (but severely hampered by Archie Duncan's over-the-top Lestrade) only briefly caught the public's attention; viewers would have to wait another thirty years for Jeremy Brett to bring the character back to life.
We can't be certain, but it seems as if the Charlton Comics adaptations were either tie-ins to the Howard TV series or an independent attempt to cash in on the franchise. In either case, the series only ran to two issues, perhaps understandably because in these stories Holmes roams 1950s America solo without Watson, using a variety of other minor characters as clueless surrogates for the Good Doctor.

Issue #1.
Charlton Comics, October 1955.
36 pages.
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE.

(1) "The Final Curtain" (6 pages):
"A violinist himself, Sherlock Holmes looked forward to hearing the Great Carini in his last performance . . . but the Maestro's very genius proved to be the weapon that rang down the curtain even before the renowned musician took the stage . . ."
It looks like a suicide in a locked room, but visiting detective Sherlock Holmes has other ideas. Holmesism: "I play the violin as a hobby, so to speak . . ."

(2) "Love Thy Neighbor" (6 pages):
"When Sir Reginald Marston disappeared everyone was certain he had been killed by his neighbor! But there was no evidence . . . not even a body . . . to prove it — until Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, took over the case."
The fact that Sir Reginald purchased a package of petunia seeds will prove all important. Holmesism"Patience and sufficient time are always necessary to trap a killer!"

(3) "Tough Guy" (text only: 2 pages):
". . . he almost saved the state the price of electrocuting him."
(4) "Sherlock Holmes and the Star of the East" (6 pages):
"When the distinguished criminologist was invited to appear at an American university as a guest lecturer, he never dreamed that his famous powers of deduction would be needed to solve a crime that threatened to change the fate of an entire nation . . ."
A ruby is stolen; for Holmes the clue clincher involves how a turban is tied. Holmesism: ". . . the factor all of us must look for . . . that which is obviously true in a crime often is not!"

(5) "Smashing the Spook Racket" (7 pages):
"For years, Doctor Neff has traveled from coast to coast, thrilling and chilling the American public with his combination mystery and ghost show . . . Now meet this actual personage of the stage in a fast fiction adventure . . ."
Doctor Neff was a real-life magician; for more go HERE.

* * *
Issue #2.
Charlton Comics, March 1956.
36 pages.
Online at Comic Book Plus HERE.

(1) "The Mystery of the Doomed Daredevil" (7 pages):
"Five hundred feet above the ground, a steel nerved aerial artist risked his life to perform! But his narrow tight rope wire was safer than the fate planned for him below when Sherlock Holmes raced to unravel . . . The Mystery of the Doomed Daredevil."
A newsreel cameraman's luck at being in just the right place to film disasters doesn't impress Holmes. Holmesism: ". . . perhaps when one deals with front page catastrophes for a livelihood, accidents cease to shock them."

(2) "Sherlock Holmes's Greatest Challenge" (6 pages):
"One man — sought by the Canadian Mounties knew no fear . . . for his was a crime so brazenly bold, so exceedingly clever that he dared stand his ground . . . but when the ace sleuth of the world sniffed at his heels, the criminal fought back in desperation."
Holmes homes in on a killer who makes too many elementary mistakes. Holmesism: "Sometimes it seems crime follows criminal investigators into the deepest cave and calls him by name . . ."

(3) "Double Dice" (text only: 2 pages):
"The machine was stopped and the film run back until that one scene alone appeared on the screen as a still."
(4) "The Overseas Smuggling Racket" (6 pages):
"A fortune in diamonds was being smuggled into our country with each arrival of a great ocean liner! The question of how this was being accomplished baffled our great customs officers! Thus, did our government call upon the services of master detective Sherlock Holmes to solve this most amazing case which is referred to as . . . The Overseas Smuggling Racket."
For the customs officials, it's insoluble; for Sherlock, it's anchors awry. Holmesism: "In my profession one must start from the beginning and work forward!"

(5) "The Danger Run" (6 pages):
"The midnight run out of the Mogul Truck Terminal was no picnic . . . but when Dip Murphy started making his deals . . . every run was a race with death! Al Craddock, veteran driver, got himself into the mess to help his friend . . . but in the end, he faced a prison term and a ruined life!"
No Holmes in this one.

Comment: Because the suspect pool is so shallow, in these little tales whodunit is never in doubt; all of the stories devolve to Holmes singling out the decisive incriminating clue.

It's unfortunate that overall this short-lived comics series did very little to enhance one's appreciation of the Holmes character—and the so-so artwork and avoidable typos didn't help, either.

- Various other comics adaptations of Holmes are discussed HERE and illustrated HERE and HERE.
- Of course, you could content yourself with the original, untampered-with stories HERE (PDF).

The bottom line: "Blame it on the illustrator—he is out of control."
Dr. Watson

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