by Andy Wolverton
Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black – Karl Bollers, Rick Leonardi, and Larry Stroman (New Paradigm Studios)
With the enormous popularity of BBC’s Sherlock, and two fairly recent Robert Downey Jr. movies (and a third in the works), you might think now would be the wrong time for another incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous characters. Yet the appeal is obviously different here, not only by writing the characters as African Americans, but also placing them in modern-day Harlem. (The original stories, after all, also took place in an urban setting.) Plus, when you consider the fact that the British TV series and the films come out sporadically, a regularly-occurring comic book not only reaches different demographics, but also offers a more dependable schedule. And lest we forget, Holmes and Watson recently fell out of copyright and are now part of the public domain.
Yet this is not Holmes and Watson, but rather Watson and Holmes (collecting issues #1-5). Publisher New Paradigm Studios is doing just that: creating a new paradigm to challenge the Sherlock Holmes conventions and expectations we’ve been comfortable with for well over 100 years. Watson — a hulking, six-foot-tall (at least) medical intern built like a linebacker — gets top billing. With a backstory that echoes previous incarnations, this Watson also served on the front lines in Afghanistan. Yet unlike many former versions of the character, this Watson is no bumbling sidekick. He’s smart, resourceful and can knock you into next week if you don’t watch it. Holmes, sporting dreadlocks and a hoodie underneath his white coat and hat, is as fiercely intelligent and resourceful as previous Sherlocks, and certainly not above bending a few rules in solving crimes.
Written by Karl Bollers (Sonic the Hedgehog; writer/editor for Marvel) with art by Rick Leonardi (Cloak and Dagger, Aliens, New Mutants, Uncanny X-Men, among other titles) and Larry Stroman (Tribe, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, Alien Legion), Watson and Holmes first appeared as a digital comic, financed partially by a Kickstarter campaign. Word of mouth has spread and Watson and Holmes has now been nominated for two 2014 Eisner Awards, Best New Series and Best Single Issue (for issue #6, not included in this collection).
The story arc in A Study in Black concerns several instances of babies being found in Harlem dumpsters. While one infant is brought in to the ER where Watson works as a medical intern, a young man in his 20s is also brought in, suffering several injuries from what looks like street fight, an overdose, or both. It is here that Watson first meets Holmes, as he investigates the injured man’s situation. Are the two cases connected? Are there bigger forces at work?
A Study is Black does far more than simply challenge our old concepts of the Watson and Holmes characters. If that was all it did, the book would still be worth a look, but Bollers has written a solid, compelling story, blending the detective work we’ve come to expect from these characters with a real sophistication combining depth of character, a hardboiled urban setting, and an art style from Rick Leonardi (issues #1-4) and Larry Stroman (#5) that elevates the work from good to very good. There’s a nice energy to the actions scenes and the panels flow well. The artists also create some nice subtleties to reflect character, one of which is how Holmes normally wears white, but is often submerged in shadow.
Supporting players are also nicely done, with police lieutenant Lesley Stroud (Lestrade) and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (“Mike”). These characters are far more than simple nods to the original stories, with Bollers giving them their own distinct personalities and opportunities for development.
The only distractions I had in reading the collection were quite a few typos early on and several awkward placements of bold type for emphasis in dialogue. Those problems aside, A Study in Black is a very good start to a new series that has the potential to become something great.
Get your copy of Watson and Homes: A Study in Black, as well as other works by the creators: