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"A gnarled walking-stick; a missing boot; a neglected family portrait; a convicted killer on the loose; and the ancestral curse of a phantom Hound. The great detective Sherlock Holmes needs all his powers of elementary deduction - as well as the staunch support of his devoted friend Dr Watson - to solve the terrifying mystery of his most famous case..." The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel is a 2009 adaption of the famous story by Ian Edginton (writer) and INJ Culbard (art). This is a surprisingly enjoyable graphic novel version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Holmes adventure and a decent find if you can get it cheaply. The most salient reason for its success I think is because the art of Culbard is wonderfully assiduously atmospheric and really captures the spirit of the novel and the essence of the characters. One other thing I really like about the book too is that it is a reasonably faithful adaption of the story without the (sometimes tedious) reinvention that television adaptions of this novel in particular can never seem to resist. Some of Watson's musings when he is alone for a portion of the story are cut back and dispensed with but apart from that all the classic images and lines that one associates with The Hound of the Baskervilles are present and on the whole it feels far less diluted than other versions of this enduringly popular tale. If you don't know the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles by now you should be ashamed of yourself as this was one of Conan Doyle's greatest ever stories (and written of course at a time when he had just killed his famous creation in The Final Problem). Dr Mortimer visits Baker Street to acquire the services of the master detective Sherlock Holmes for a very puzzling and very spooky mystery. Mortimer fears that the death of Sir Charles Baskerville is a family curse passed down from sadistic ancestor Sir Hugo Baskerville. Legend has it that a ghostly demon hound lurks in the wilds of Dartmoor to reep a terrible revenge on generations of Baskervilles.
"A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smoldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog..." Holmes seems disinterested in the case at first and rather dubious about the myth of a ghostly pooch wandering the moor looking for Baskervilles to pounce on but eventually agrees to investigate and meet young Sir Henry Baskerville - the new heir to Baskerville Hall and the next person due for a visit from this spectral canine. The detective has obviously found something of interest in the case and already his razor sharp mind is making more calculations than Gary Kasparov at a chess tournament. Holmes says he has urgent business to attend to in London but will send Dr Watson to Baskerville to watch over Sir Henry and start the investigation. The lonely wilds of Dartmoor and the most famous case of Sherlock Holmes await. Given how descriptive the novel is and the fact that there are about twenty-five million film and television adaptions of this story already in existence you might be forgiven for thinking that a graphic novel adaption might be superfluous or even redundant, at the very least bungled by its conception. Happily though this is far from the case here and any fan of Sherlock Holmes and comics should be relatively pleased with the results. This is part of a series of adaptions of classic works of literature and an accessible window into the work of some great authors that younger readers might well enjoy. I think the vaguely supernatural and mysterious nature of the story is appealing to all ages. Culbard's clear line art style is superb and reminded me very much at times of the great Herge and Tintin.
It's very glossy though (in a good way) and each panel looks like a still or freeze frame from an animated film. He captures Holmes wonderfully and pitches him somewhere between Basil Rathbone and the character described in the novels. The early London scenes at the beginning are excellent. The looming Victorian facades of the city, the cosy rooms at Baker Street where Holmes and Watson await another case. The detail right down to Holmes' wallpaper is impressive. The characters are drawn as caricatures but they have a real sense of personality and life. Some of the thoughtful poses and expressions that Holmes adopts at Baker Street as he ponders the case and asks Watson what he makes of it are wonderful. The depiction of Holmes is vaguely reminiscent of the manner he was illustrated in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 1 but more comic book and vibrant. Very distinguished and elongated and every inch Sherlock Holmes pottering about in his dressing gown with a violin, his brain whirring away as he begins to formulate his theories for the incredible tale that he has just been presented with. Where the art really comes into its own though is when the action is transplanted to Dartmoor and Watson ventures out onto the lonely moor (Watson is drawn too exactly as you would expect, a robust but kind looking gentleman with a most impressive tache). Culbard is especially adept at use of silhouette and his shocked red skies and craggy rocks are beautifully done. I love the flashback scenes involving the hound at the start. A huge ghostly outline of a doggy beast with glowing eyes. The subplot involving the convict loose on the moor is also faithfully executed and the artist's rendering of the bullet headed and haunted looking convict is well up to the standard set by the illustrations in the rest of the book.
The desolate but beautiful countryside will never be quite as evocative as images inside your imagination reading the novel but I enjoyed seeing a comic adaption tackle this story and location and always love the scenes involving the Grimpen Mire. "A false step yonder means death to man or beast... it's a bad place, the great Grimpen Mire!" All of the supporting characters who feature in The Hound of the Baskervilles are vividly brought to life and the interiors of Baskerville Hall as it sits in majestic isolation in this rock strewn outpost are also enjoyable. The Hound of the Baskervilles is of course the story where Holmes is "offstage" for a bulk of the action as Watson investigates alone. It is almost (I stress almost) Watson's story as much as it belongs to Holmes but this section of the plot feels less developed than that of the novel and some of the film/tv versions I've seen. Many of Watson's longer ramblings and vignettes are scaled back or excised but the best stuff still remains and I think it was probably wise in what was the start of a tentative Sherlock Holmes graphic novel series of adaptions not to have the central hero absent for too long. On the whole I enjoyed The Hound of the Baskervilles a lot and what could have been a somewhat pointless exercise is actually a very affectionate and surprisingly effective comic adaption of the classic story. The beautiful interiors and sinister backdrops of Culbard alone make it worth a look if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes and graphic novels. The Hound of the Baskervilles runs to 128 pages and at the time of writing costs about £10. I have seen it for cheaper than that so I would wait for a better deal to surface.