Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Case of Blind Fear by Martin Powell and Seppo Makinen

Sherlock Holmes is busy in London, tracking down a spate of strange occurrences, from the theft of strange chemicals from a chemist's supply shop, which sent the owner into the madhouse from what he saw, to the taking over of Moriarty's organization by his second in command, Colonel Sebastian Moran, who is meeting with a young man named Norton.

Moran wants something that Norton's wife had, but she has escaped him. Moran isn't pleased, and tells Norton that unless he comes back with what Moran wants, he will die. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes is adding to his "VR" on his wall when he recieves a telegram to go to Ipping. He asks Hrs. Hudson to send a telegram to Watson, asking him to meet Holmes at the Station, but Watson never arrives, which isn't like him. Holmes is troubled.

Meanwhile, a blind vagrant is killed and his only possessions, a begging cup and his clothes, are stolen from him. While in Ipping, Holmes investigates the death of an innkeeper, who died trying to evict a strangely bandaged tenant. Although the room was full of people, they saw him fall down as if he could get no air, and he simply died. But the tenant had disappeared. Holmes goes to see the dead body and finds he died of strangulation, with someone's bare hands.

On Holmes' return to London, he goes to see Watson, who claims he is busy with a sick patient. When Holmes tries to come in, Watson says he is tired of being Holmes' stooge and sends him away. But he isn't busy with a sick patient. He talks with his wife, who asks who was at the door, and Watson says just a peddler, who he sent away. She says she heard Holmes's voice, but he tells her she was mistaken. Then, he goes into a room with a strange, bandaged man, and calls him "Griffin", telling him this must end soon. But Griffin has no intention of ending it any time soon. He claims a new age is dawning.

Meanwhile, back at his rooms, Mrs. Watson tells Holmes that a young man is there to see him. But it's no man, it's Irene Adler, made to look like a man. She tells Holmes that the safety of England is at stake, he must help her... and collapses. But someone is on her trail. As soon as she changes back into women's clothing, she is shot at in Holmes's rooms, and they must take refuge in Mycroft Holmes' club.

Meanwhile, Back at Watson's House, Watson's wife, Mary, is growing less and less inclined to treat their lodger well, especially when she enters his room to talk with him and cannot find him, hearing only the sound of his breathing. After that, she is terrified of him and sends a letter to the paper, presumably for Mycroft Holmes speaking of purchasing things from him, but really intended as a covert message to Holmes, who decodes it and realizes he must come to her rescue.

But in the meantime, Irene reveals that Moran and his men are after the letters that the Prince of Bohemia wrote her. They intend to Blackmail him, but she will not give them up. Yes, she lied about burning them, but she wanted to keep them for financial security just in case something happened. Now, her husband is being blackmailed to give Moran the letters to keep quiet indiscretions of his own, and he's turned against her. But can the brothers Holmes keep her safe while Holmes defeats the plot against the Prince, who, it turns out, is returning to London? And can Holmes catch a man who is completely invisible, after he has attacked and brutalized Watson's wife? For Watson and this man have a surprising link, but can that link survive so brutal an attack on the woman Watson loves, and how can he confess all to the friend he has lied to?

This graphic novel combines the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and H.G. Wells' Griffin from the Invisible Man. Watson here takes the place of Dr. Kemp in the book, and the action moves from Sussex to London. Since we can't necessarily see into Griffin's head here, it's less obvious when he descends into pure madness after being more or less a megalomaniac (he has an over-inflated sense of his worth throughout most of the story, and eventually decides that Watson's wife should belong to him- because he can do it, a sure sign he's passed the tipping point, but exactly when before that it comes is unknown.

I like the way the writer mixed the two stories, Griffin and the story of Moran. The author hits all the high points of the story- the murder of the blind man, Griffin dressing in the clothes of the policeman, the incident in the Inn. Eventually, the two stories collide when Griffin decides he should take over Moran's life, position and possessions, but by then, Holmes is already on Griffin's trail. The story ends much as the original story does, with the added coda of Watson and his wife, and Holmes letting Irene Adler go, with a present from him to her. It was a very nice ending, and I would have loved to see more.

There is another book set after this one, a combined novel in which Holmes takes on the Phantom of the Opera and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and now that I have read this one, I am ordering the next. Sadly, there isn't anything after that. But I like the artwork here, which give Holmes a definite canon look, right down to the (sigh) deerstalker hat, which I've already ranted about way too much.

I liked this story a lot, which had Holmes being much better able to deal with the spectre of an Invisible Man after having had such a near-mental breakdown after being shown that vampires were real in the previous "Scarlet in Gaslight", which I read when I lived in Florida 15 or so years ago. There is a lot to like in the story, and the way H.G. Wells' story was adapted to the time and place of Sherlock Holmes was simply brilliant. Highly recommended.

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