Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man
Leah Moore, John Reppion (writers), Julius Ohta (artist)
January 16, 2019
I’m a persnickety consumer of Sherlock Holmes work. I have great affection (and a scholarly interest) in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and four novels. I tend to have passionate feelings about adaptations, derivations, pastiches, and parodies; I adore The Great Mouse Detective and Without a Clue, but I’m not really here for the BBC’s Sherlock. When it comes to comic books, a medium I treasure, I always hope for the very best but brace for the worst.
The highest praise I can offer Sherlock Holmes: The Vanishing Man is that it absolutely felt like I was reading an Arthur Conan Doyle story. I tend to trust everything Leah Moore produces, because it’s clear to me that she really loves the Doyle canon. I raved and gushed on Twitter about her wonderful work depicting Irene Adler in Gail Simone’s glorious Swords of Sorrow series. Moore is just on point when it comes to the Holmesian world, and she (with John Reppion) serves up the tasty goods with this four-part series. I am going to aim for hyper-vagueness with respect to the plot, because I really enjoyed having no idea where this story was going. I’ll be frank: I’m very easy to surprise. Fiction is my professional bailiwick, but holy biscuits, I can never guess plot twists and turn.
Therefore, I really enjoy mysteries and thrillers, because I’m almost always surprised by the reveal. Unless a writer is overtly signposting, I remain blissfully unaware, and I think that added to my enjoyment of The Vanishing Man, so I want you to be spoiler-free. Savvier readers than me might figure out the twists and turns of Moore and Reppion’s plot, but I was very engaged and entertained throughout. We first encounter a bored Holmes, a Holmes who is indulging in his canonical vice, a 7% solution of cocaine. My first reaction was annoyance: yes, this is a canonical fact, but too often I think contemporary creators latch onto this as a timely way into the character. I should have trusted Moore and Reppion; nothing in this narrative is haphazard or incidental. Rather, readers get a tightly wound knot of a plot that recalls several Doyle stories, including “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” and “The Man with the Twisted Lip.”
As the story starts, we see a violent encounter, and learn that a family man, a trusted clerk at a London law office, has gone missing. Holmes is engaged to solve the mystery, of course, but the situation is not as it seems. I was charmed to see the Baker Street Irregulars show up in a meaningful way as well. I’m always touchy about how Dr. John Watson is characterized, and I shouldn’t have been concerned: here, he is a man of action and principle. The original characters are well-integrated into Holmes’ Victorian world.
The artwork did not light me on fire, but it is straightforward and occasionally lovely, particularly one page which features the smoke Holmes is exhaling as the borders between scenes. Holmes and other well-known figures are drawn more youthfully than I would have anticipated, which lead me to speculate when this story could have taken place within the canon, but all I could gather was that The Vanishing Man takes place well before Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” I would have enjoyed riskier artwork, but I appreciate that, given Moore and Reppion’s twisty plot, the realistic artistic interpretation works. I did really like the depictions of action and fighting. The pace of the panels kept me fully engaged straight through until the end. I do enjoy when Holmes is portrayed as an active, fit, physical figure.
If you are a fan of the Doyle stories, this tale in four parts is for you. The good news, though, is that you don’t have to know anything about Sherlock Holmes to appreciate The Vanishing Man. This short comic series would be a great entry point for Holmesians getting into comic books, and comic book aficionados looking to get into Sherlock Holmes. I hope Moore and Reppion are hard at work on their next Sherlock Holmes mystery.