It really pains me to trash a Sherlock Holmes project, especially one written by Scott Beatty. Beatty did some excellent work on the Batman Adventures series of books. He co-created a laudable Wildstorm project called Number of the Beast. He brought back Buck Rogers into an actual likeable form. Sherlock Holmes Year One, on the other hand is just dull, and the second issue is duller than the premiere.
Forensic specialist Watson is still under the employ of Scotland Yard. Holmes appears to be at college engaging in extracurricular activities involving sword fighting, and he serves as the subject of fascination for several young women. Meanwhile, somebody’s killing ham actors portraying Caesar, and this somehow ties into the killing of a well-known ruffian.
The anemic pacing is antithetical to Sherlock Holmes. Most of the Holmes canon consists of short stories that move like lightning. A fascinating mystery nests at the center of each one, and Doyle immediately snatched your interest. I just wanted Year One to end.
The story moseys off with the discovery of a ne’er-do-well’s body, stabbed to death, apparently. Inspector Bratton beats on a lady of the night for a confession. Yeah! Watson goes all chivalrous and he soon catches up with Sherlock Holmes, now inexplicably fast friends. Perhaps they sense each other’s camaraderie in the other universe, where Holmes remarks about Watson’s time in Afghanistan.
At Holmes’ rooms, Watson meets Pippa, one of the many women interested in Sherlock. This isn’t exactly groundbreaking — the much better Young Sherlock Holmes first suggested a heterosexual Holmes in a romance, and more worthy contenders for the deerstalker continued exploring the theme.
Pippa just appears to be in Year One for window dressing. Sophie Ward’s Elizabeth from the Spielberg production participated in the mystery, engaged the viewer with a full, rich character and provided the catalyst for a heart wrenching finale. Maybe Pippa will return for a more meatier role later in the mystery, but I doubt it.
After a throwaway scene in which Holmes gains greater experience in swordfighting, Watson draws Holmes into the homicide investigation. Their vicinity allows Lestrade, here a uniform, to bring another murder to their attention. There’s not really a lot of deduction going on and few clues to the two bodies, but Beatty didn’t inveigle me.
Part of the problem lies in the story’s lack of energy. Holmes cannot easily sit still. He either must dope himself into a stupor or fiddle madly on the violin when faced with boredom. Watson moves about as rapidly as a slug on downers, and Holmes’ single burst arises in the out of place swordfighting. Contrast this to Holmes’ behavior in the Holmes/Kolchak pairing from Moonstone which uncannily captured Basil Rathbone’s vitality.
I’m sorry to say that artist Daniel Indro adds to the overall lethargic atmosphere. He draws Year One to meet Beatty’s passionless specifications. The characters tend to meander. The violence doesn’t arrive in a flurry of activity. Even the slap against the prostitute occurs off screen, and that really could have been something. A display of Bratton’s rage might indicate a hatred of women or specifically her type of woman. As displayed, the scene is almost too dainty. A little “whap” followed by a panel depicting the prostitute on her knees in the background just isn’t enough. If you’re going to remark about Scotland Yard’s unfair and primitive methods before Holmes, Lestrade and Watson, you have to exemplify. The panels fail to build suspense. Rather they fall stoically in a turgid narrative. Year One has one more issue to wow me.