Sherlock Holmes by Toya Ataka, Vol. 1
Not your usual Holmes and Watson

The past year has seen an unusually large number of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, both in comics and on the screen, but not all Holmeses are created equal. Last night, British viewers got to see the last episode of Season 2 of the BBC’s wildly popular series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (we Americans will get it this spring), and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadowsstarring Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law is still doing well in theaters a month after it opened. So if you’re in a Holmesian mood and wondering what to read next, here’s run down on the Holmes adaptations which have come out or had new installments in the past year. Varying from inspiredly odd to unreadably awful, don’t go to the comic store without reading this first!

First, for the sake of context, let’s start with the live action adaptations.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson
Not Jam Watson, despite appearances.

Sherlock(BBC television series), created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat

Variation on the theme: The characters are transplanted to modern Britain. Holmes is still in his early 30’s and a bit emotionally immature, as well as possibly Aspergers. Watson is highly capable and dangerous, but obfuscates cuddly harmlessness. Sherlock and Mycroft have Mommy issues.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Very, very close and more equal than usual. Not only do they work cases together, they sit around their apartment joking and watching ridiculous television during down time. And apparently in the second season, John is officially Sherlock’s partner in the detecting business, providing publicity through his blog.

Typical case: What do these mysterious symbols terrorizing a young woman mean? Could it be an international crime ring?

Bad CSI villain to Napoleon of Crime Moriarty villain scale: 1 for performance, 7 for setup. In person, Moriarty is a brilliant but murderous lunatic who can’t keep his accent straight and just really, really wants to destroy Sherlock Holmes.

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 6. Sherlock rarely expresses emotions beyond anger, boredom or excitement over a case – these, however, are done with an eccentric dramatic flair. He does let down his guard around John when they’re goofing around together.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 5, About on par with Doyle’s work, except for a certain crime lord going to ridiculous lengths to destroy Sherlock.

Verdict: If you’re okay with a slightly gorier modern sensibility and you’re not looking for costume drama, watch this!

Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
Sherlock Holmes with copious explosions

Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, directed by Guy Ritchie.

Variation on the theme: Sherlock Holmes is an enormous ham, a complete brat, usually on drugs and an emotional mess, practically chewing on the scenery with his histrionic emoting. He’s also extremely charming and genuinely socially capable when he feels like it. This is the kind of Sherlock Holmes who gets into bareknuckle boxing matches and bad drag pretty much for the hell of it. Watson is rakish, capable and dangerous and he makes absolutely no secret of it.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Holmes and Watson are friends, but are having relationship problems. Holmes is wildly emotionally dependant on Watson and is coping very badly with Watson’s new marriage. Watson is getting a bit tired of Holmes’s brattiness and is happy to move out and marry Mary, though he still cares about Holmes and enjoys their cases together. The word partner does not come up – they are Holmes’s cases, Watson is just an extremely useful and beloved friend who helps out.

Typical case: Someone evil wants to Take Over Britain! Scooby doo plot ensues.

Bad CSI villain to Napoleon of Crime Moriarty villain scale: 9, Moriarty and Lord Blackwood are both genuinely terrifying and capable of outsmarting Sherlock on several occasions.

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 10, Wacky Bohemian. Prone to extravagant (if deeply weird) displays of emotion.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 10, a villain wants to blow up Parliament and declare himself the Witch King of Britain. Wait what?

Verdict: A humorous take on Holmes, heavy on explosions and Holmes/Watson banter. The least heartbreaking Reichenbach Falls story ever. If you want Wacky Bohemian Holmes with bonus cross-dressing, this is the Holmes for you.

And now for the comics:

Simon Archard and his Watson, Emma Bishop
Do not tell me this man is not Sherlock Holmes

Ruse: The Victorian Guide to Murder by Mark Waid and Mirco Pierfederici, published by Marvel

Variation on the theme: “Holmes” is named Simon Archard, and is more rich and famous for his successes than in Conan Doyle, but otherwise he’s Holmes. “Watson” is a woman named Emma Bishop.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Emma Bishop considers herself Archard’s partner, although she does recieve a paycheck, and she’s not shy about giving him a piece of her mind when he gets a little too outrageous, or keeps her out of the loop. Archard frequently reminds her that he could hire someone else for her job. But he also trusts Emma implicitly to drive a runaway carriage, win in a fist fight he drops her into and keep up with his spur of the moment schemes and improvisations, and eventually he refers to her as his partner.

Typical case: Lightbourne (apparently a combo of Moriarty and Charles Augustus Milverton) has set out to blackmail pretty much the entire upper class, including the heir to the throne, in order to secretly control the WORLD! Or possibly just win India in a bet.

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 4. Cranky banter and shouting at villains.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 9. Betting India

Verdict: Good solid fun and worth a read. The original incarnation of this comic, which came out from Crossgen, is even better, if slightly weirder. Emma has secret magical powers in it. The most truly Holmesian of all the Holmes comics listed, even if Holmes is called Simon Archard.

Toya Ataka's Holmes and Watson
The one with the eyepatch is Watson and the puppy is Holmes, yes.

Sherlock Holmes (manga)by Toya Ataka, available

Variation on theme: Holmes is has magical powers that assist his detection. Also, he’s naive, adorable and about 14. Watson is an adult with an eyepatch and is slyly world weary.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Watson is Holmes’s amused but caring mentor figure, young Sherlock looks up to him.

Typical case: Someone murdered an operatic soprano using magic while she was onstage in the middle of an opera.

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 8. Cheerful but eerie child.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 7. Small scale murder, but using magic.

Verdict: An amusing but deeply odd read. 

Victorian Undead Holmes and Watson
Let me guess, you like jam?

Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Draculaby Ian Edginton and Davide Fabbri, published by DC Comics

Variation on the theme: Sherlock Holmes fights the undead, as well as solving crimes. Watson appears to be a fat old buffer, twenty to thirty years older than Holmes, and not terribly bright.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Holmes and Watson seem fond of each other, but Watson’s contribution to casework consists of occasionally saying things like “By Jove!” Aside from minor medical skill, he resembles Kate Beaton‘s Jam Watson.

Typical case: Dracula will give Britain bubonic plague if he is not allowed to take over the nation.

Bad CSI villain to Napoleon of Crime Moriarty villain scale: N/A

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 3, Very restrained, but recognizably human Holmes.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 9, Dracula wants to take over Britain!

Verdict: Not awful, but not worth buying.

Sherlock Holmes Year One Watson
I was not making the stalker thing up.

Sherlock Holmes: Year Oneby Scott Beatty and Daniel Indro, published by Dynamite Entertainment

Variation on theme: Sherlock Holmes and Watson are younger and meet in an entirely different way. Holmes has all the personality of a rock. Watson apparently was a cavalry soldier in Afghanistan, instead of a military doctor, and does anachronistic CSI work for the police. No actual detecting gets done, but there are fights. Many, many fights.

Holmes/Watson relationship: Watson meets Holmes by chance, is impressed by his detective skills and… decides to stalk him. Holmes is uninterested in Watson

Typical case: A serial killer is basing his crimes on the Emperors of Rome.

Bad CSI villain to Napoleon of Crime Moriarty villain scale: 2, Math professor with a stupid, nonsensical plan to take over England.

Human robot to wacky bohemian scale of Holmes emoting: 7, Shouty Holmes hits people he gets in arguments with.

Christmas goose to exploding parliament scale of outrageous: 8, a mansion is staffed entirely by criminals.

Verdict: Run, do not walk, in the opposite direction.  Almost as awful as the Syfy original movie in which Sherlock’s real name is inexplicably Robert.

New Watson likes jam. We're very happy.
The dangers of media adaptation.


  1. Kate,

    Thank you for your sweeping generalization review of my book/s. I’ll take it in the light hearted tone I assume it was meant.

    But a few points of note.

    Davide Fabbri was the artist on both series not Glen Fabry.He didn’t even do the covers, they were by Tony Moore, Simon Coleby and Ryan Sook.

    There were two series , Victorian Undead:Sherlock Holmes V Zombies, Victorian Undead:Sherlock Holmes vs Dracula and a one shot Holmes Vs Dr Jekyll & Mister
    Hyde. It seems as though you’ve blurred the two series together but perhaps that just my interpretation.

    Watson is indeed a ‘fat,old buffer’ a nod to Nigel Bruce’s Watson of the Basil Rathbone Holmes films rather than Kate Beaton’s Jam Watson. However, his role in all three of my stories does significantly advance the plot and to my knowledge, he doesn’t say ‘By Jove’. To be fair, I don’t have the books to hand so can’t check. If I’m wrong about the exclamation, I apologize.

    You say there’s no Moriarty? As you appear to have clubbed the first two series together, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that Moriarty was the main villain in the first one.

    Finally, you conclude by damning with faint praise, that the series isn’t awful but not worth buying. In your opinion of course, which I would respect a lot more if you’d done your research and at least looked up the Amazon listings to check the books credits.

    I’m sorry if these appear to be petty gripes, but I feel that I had to at least call you to task for getting the artists name wrong when it was so easy to check. If we don’t defend our work, then who will? Thank you for spelling my name correctly by the way.People always seem to stick an extra ‘g’ in there for good measure.

  2. As usual, the lack of translated european comics in the US deprives english-speakers of a bunch of interesting books.

    Here are a few samples available in France:

    An excellent comics version of the literary Holmes, seen by the point of view of a grieving Watson after Holmes “death” at Reichenbach Falls:

    An excellent affeccionate parody:

    As the series itself says, no woman can resist him! More than six rounds, at least…

    And here is a second bout against vampires:

    In fact, Holmes seems to have enjoyed it so much that the same team next puts him against Lovecraft’s creatures:

  3. I was initially repulsed by Victorian Undead, as I usually am when Holmes encounters real monsters, but the series won me over with solid characterization and fun situations.

    Wonderer mentioned Moriarty, which is fun. I really enjoyed the first story arc.

    There’s also Tony Lee’s Baker Street Irregulars, which published four graphic novels last year. Haven’t actually seen a copy of this, but Lee is usually a reliable storyteller.

    Ty Templeton is doing Holmes, Inc. Two issues are available with Graphicly. Haven’t read this one yet.

    There’s Holmes by Omaha Perez, which casts Holmes as a delusional addict. Avoid.

    Ian Edginton is doing a series of comic adaptations of the cannon. I’ve seen their Study in Scarlet and thought it was pretty good.

    Kelly Jones is illustrating the original stories for IDW.

    While Dynamite’s Sherlock Year One was dismal (I think Kate is even being a bit kind) their previous entry with Leah Moore and her writing partner (whose name escapes me) was pretty good. It was also the debut of Aaron Campbell, who’s going to be illustrating the forthcoming Shadow. Add onto it covers by Cassaday and you’ve got a pretty spiffy package.

    Bret Herholz did a nice adaptation of the William Gillette play last year called “The Painful Predicament of Alice Faulkner.” Think Holmes as drawn by Edward Gorey. A bit raw here and there, but his passion for the character and his sense of atmosphere really worked for me.

    And then there’s “Young Sherlock Holmes Adventures,” which features a motorcycle driving Holmes in his school days. Three issues published thus far. Didn’t think much of this one, to be honest.

    Lastly there’s Sherlock Holmes : Victorian Knights by Bluewater. I haven’t actually seen an issue of this yet, but I’m intrigued by the preview which seems to be set in period but drawing from the playbook of the Downey Jr. films.

    Holmes a plenty out there right now in the comics. As a life-long Sherlockian I couldn’t be happier to see two of my passions come together.

  4. Oops, almost forgot one my favorite current ongoing Holmes comic. Sherlock Holmes : Dark Detective by Black House Comics. Seven issues published thus far, and featuring character designs and covers by Oscar Winner Dave Elsey. The art and coloring is a bit garish, but the writing carries the day and the covers are beautiful. Well worth seeking out.

  5. If you’re in the mood for some prose, Moonstone Books will release SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE CROSSOVER CASEBOOK next month. Basically, Holmes joins forces or clashes with Harry Houdini, Calamity Jane, Professor Challenger, and many other figures from history and literature. About sixteen stories or so in the book.

  6. Ian Edginton, I’m honestly sorry I got the wrong artist on your book. I’ve edited that to correct it. I am not blurring the different books together, however, because the only story arc of Victorian Undead which I’ve read was Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, the volume that came out in 2011 and therefore the title which I listed here.

    Sweeping generalizations? Yes. This wasn’t a terribly in depth review.

    “Jam Watson” is a commentary on the very performance (and others like it) that you’re trying to echo. Is it a tad exaggerated? Yes. And perhaps in the other story arcs of Victorian Undead he played a more important role, I don’t know. I have no problem with your liking for that iteration of Watson, but given that Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula is a published comic, I feel free to comment about it.

    Nothing personal, here. I’m not looking to pick a fight, I’m just commenting on the comic.

  7. I should mention that IDW just released Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes, a trade reprinting various Caliber Press Holmes stories from the 90s, including “Adventure of the Opera Ghost”, a pastiche of Holmes vs. The Phantom of the Opera written by Steven Jones and with art by yrs. truly.

  8. Hey, Kate. No worries, no fight picked here. Just a grouchy author writing in the wee small hours of the morning!

    Thanks to everyone for your comments and for recommending a whole slew of other Holmes books too. There were a couple I didn’t know about!