The Sign of the Four
Sometimes, I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. I was recently on an episode of Comic Beat Insider where we talked about The Extraordinary Adventures of Adêle Blanc-Sec. The other guest was Ian Culbard, an artist whose work I was unfortunately unfamiliar with. When I looked him up later, I discovered that, among other graphic novels, he’d done versions of the four Sherlock Holmes novels, adapted by Ian Edginton. (He’s credited for that work as I.N.J. Culbard.)
Just my luck, they’re out of print, but that’s what libraries are for. (You can, however, get the comiXology/Kindle version of The Sign of the Four at a super-discount price right now.) I started reading with The Sign of the Four because I was overly familiar with A Study in Scarlet.
I loved it! Although there’s plenty of action in the story, The Sign of the Four begins with the classic moment of Holmes shooting cocaine because he’s bored while Watson worries over him and tries to encourage him to take better care of his health. Holmes criticizes Watson’s writing before showing him (and the reader) how observation and deduction work, going too far when it comes to Watson’s watch and what it reveals about his brother. It’s logic and emotion and nostalgia, and the changing tones of the interaction are beautifully captured through gesture and expression, particularly when it comes to the drawings of Holmes’ hands.
The two men, bickering in their flat while waiting for adventure, is a pure distillation of why these characters have been remembered and reread for so long. Edginton does an amazing job hitting all the high points in only 120 pages, while Culbard’s characters are well-drawn. Watson is a caring British gentlemen (although a bit ginger here), while Holmes is the languorous Bohemian. The only thing I quibble with is how Culbard gives Holmes a matinee idol chin, huge and blocky.
Then Miss Mary Morstan shows up with a tale of mysterious pearls and a long-disappeared father. Watson’s intrigued by the woman, Holmes is happy for the mystery. The weird Thaddeus Sholto and his twin brother have a valuable treasure and more information. There’s the dog Toby and the Irregulars and a boat chase on the river (much, much shorter here than in the book, which is not a bad thing).
The comic format means less deduction from Holmes, but it also means less of the “exotic” backstory of betrayal and determination and murderous grudges. The one plot point that could have been expanded is Watson’s romance. We see Mary at the beginning and again at the end as part of the happy ending, but his growing interest in her and his corresponding uncertainty that he is worthy of her doesn’t make it into this shortened version. Overall, though, this version of The Sign of the Four is an excellent read.