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Graphic Novel Review: Holmes by Omaha Perez

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The hero of Omaha Perez's black-and-white graphic novel piss-take on the world's greatest detective, Holmes (AiT/Planet Lar), is far removed from the familiar deerstalker capped brainiac we're accustomed to seeing. This Sherlock Holmes is a half-crazed dope fiend more concerned with looking good in the press than in actually solving the case. Prone to paranoid drug-induced delusions and the occasional half-murdered hooker, he's a comic disaster as a detective and an even worse human being.

Other writers have attempted to take Conan Doyle's condescending model of ratiocination down a peg, of course — Nicholas Meyer's Seven-Per-Cent Solution gave us the image of a Holmes going cold turkey, while Billy Wilder's much-bowdlerized movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes centered on the image of the famous misogynist falling in love — but few have done it with as much gusto as Perez. He even shoves friend and companion John Watson into the mire, presenting him as an enabler and the most unreliable of narrators. "The baser instincts of man are not to be found in Sherlock Holmes," Watson states, just before we're given a scene featuring the shadow of the great man's shlong being dangled before a freaked-out prostitute. "I'm a teetotaler myself," he tells us after we've already seen both our narrator and an in-drag Sherlock getting snockered at a "rough establishment." Turns out Watson's not even that good a doctor, declaring one character dead when she's very much alive.

The largely irrelevant crime to be solved in Holmes (originally serialized as a four-issue AiT comic book) has to do with the theft of Joseph Haydn's skull, an artifact that we're led to believe was originally removed from the great Austrian composer's grave by eager phrenologists and put on display in the British Museum. In between stops at the local brothel and opium den (complete with a great over-the-top hallucination), our detective hero makes half-hearted stabs at determining the culprit, jumping to the conclusion that his possibly imaginary nemesis Moriarty is being guilty of the crime. He hounds an innocent museum employee under the mistaken belief that he's Holmes' arch-nemesis in disguise. "That man would have been committed long ago if not for his brother Mycroft's lofty position in her majesty's government," Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade states, and, for once, this famous fictional foil has it right.

Perez's art runs the range from finely detailed, especially in the long shots of Victorian era London, to rushed, yet oddly seems appropriate to this broadly dark parody. Too fine an art style would work against his story's calculated moments of crassness (it's the same principle that allows the South Parkers to get away with any number of grotesque outrages). His covers/chapter headings are deceptively well wrought, though: labor intensive scratchboard pieces that are only replicated during the opium den hallucination sequence. The rest is serviceable cartoonwork, even if the niceties of wearing a hat regularly seem to elude the artist.

As one of the most recognizable figures in western literature, the brain of 221B Baker Street has seen more than his share of affectionate parodies and pastiches over the years. I can't see a lot of hard-core Holmesians accepting this rowdy funnybook mistreatment of the holy canon, but to anyone who's ever felt that the great detective was way too full of himself, The Adventure of Haydn's Head may prove just the right tonic.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.