Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The World's Greatest Detectives

I recently picked up a comic that featured The Batman and Sherlock Holmes, arguably the two most famous fictional detectives of all time. The story is an extra long Anniversary issue (Detective's fiftieth!) which was written by Mike W. Barr, with Art by Alan Davis, Terry Beatty and Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino and Al Vey, E.D.Cruz (and a Pinup by Dick Sprang!). Colors by Adrienne Roy and Carl Gafford, and letters by John Workman, Romeo Francisco and Todd Klein. It was a team up that was too good to pass up, and this cover is definitely what prompted me to buy it, without looking at the interiors.

Aside from Holmes and The Dynamic Duo, we also get other DC detectives Slam Bradly and the ductile detective himself The Elongated man.

The story opens Philip Marlowe style, (or more appropriately Sam Spade style?) with Slam Bradley mourning his recently deceased partner in his lonely office, whereupon two sets of visitors, one a dapper Londoner looking for his missing fiancee, the other a set of gun wielding crooks, find their way into Slam's office. Slam and his new client escape into the alleyway, and are cornered, but are rescued by the dynamic duo Batman and Robin!

Batman does something here that immediately made me freeze in my tracks, however. A crook fires an automatic weapon at The Dark Knight, who quickly shields himself with the body of a thug he was walloping in the face. That crook HAS to be dead and as we all know, The Batman does not kill! (The panel of Batman just cold-cocking the thug over and over is amazing though.)

The other thing I noticed, not surprisingly, is what an amazing artist Alan Davis is. I am particularly taken with the way he draws the boy wonder himself, Robin! His expressions fit the character, and his grace and fluid movement in disabling crooks is amazingly depicted by Davis. Look at the joy as he effortlessly takes down all those thugs. These drawings of Robin might be my favorite iteration of the character in how he is depicted visually, at the very least it is one of my favorite aspects of this comic.

The comic is book-ended by the Alan Davis drawn sections with Batman and Robin, in the middle we get stories featuring Slam Bradley, The Elongated Man, and Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The Slam Bradley section opens with another direct reference to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (the first being Slam's dead partner in the beginning).

Slam does some fairly action-movie/comic booky detective stuff, including throwing a gasoline can at some approaching armed crooks and shooting it from afar to make it explode, distracting the thugs so he can run up and punch them out (if he was that good of a shot couldn't he have just shot them all? He shoots someone at the start of the comic...). Slam also discovers that his client is a descendant of the evil Dr. Moriarty, and the kidnapped fiancee was actually a descendant of Dr. Watson! This leads to a story with The Elongated Man, who just happens to be in London. He is walking by 221b Baker street, when Sherlock Holmes' former lodgings are assaulted by Moriarty's other descendant, this one following the family tradition more closely, who is looking for a lost manuscript of one of Sherlock Holmes' unpublished cases that could ruin his CURRENT plan to blow up the Queen and launch some missiles. I wish I enjoyed the middle section as much as the Batman start and finish, and there are plenty of references to the classic Conan-Doyle Holmes stories to clue the reader in that Barr knows his Holmes, but for me the Holmes story in this just falls flat and makes me see how great Sir Arthur C0nan Doyle's original stories really are.

An insane SPOILER ALERT to a comic published in 1986, the final baddie is apprehended by none other than the ORIGINAL Sherlock Holmes with some Baritsu (this is a reference to the martial art Holmes used to defeat Moriarty when they were locked in mortal combat over Reichenbach Falls in the original stories). Holmes sustained his long life "thanks to a proper diet, a certain distillation of Royal Jelly developed, in my beekeeping days, and the rarefied atmosphere of Tibet,where I keep my primary residence". This is pretty nuts, but in a way, totally appropriate. as Batman has said "Batman and Robin will never die" the same can be said for Sherlock Holmes, a multi media phenomenon of a character who is still having movies and television series made depicting his adventures today. It reminded me of the ending to Paul Pope's Batman Year 100 (MORE SPOILERS), where it is heavily implied that the Batman featured in Pope's story is still Bruce Wayne, even though he would be unbelievably ancient or dead in the time period that tale takes place.

The sense of fun, the art work and bevvy of classic Sherlock Holmes references are all here, I just wish I liked the comic a little more, and that the mystery made a little more sense. Anytime I get to see Sherlock Holmes and Batman depicted by Alan Davis, however, is an opportunity I would never want to miss.