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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

A Scandal in Belgravia: Part One (Paperback)


Writer/co-creator: Steven Moffat
Co-creator: Mark Gatiss
Artist: Jay.
Publisher: Titan Comics
RRP: UK £9.99, US $12.99
Age: 15+
ISBN: 978 1 78773 316 9
192 pages
Publication Date: 23 September 2020

Sherlock meets an adversary unlike any he’s encountered before… Daring detectives Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are inundated with boring job after boring job – until they are called to investigate the mysterious Irene Adler and recover the scandalous secrets she holds hostage. This manga adapts A Scandal in Belgravia, the fourth episode of the smash-hit Hartswood Films television show starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as John…

There hasn’t been a new episode of Sherlock on our screens since January 2017. The programme’s co-creators have stated that, owing to the conflicting schedules of their much-in-demand stars, a potential fifth series is still very much up in the air. In a way, that’s a good thing, as it gives artist / adapter Jay. a chance to catch up with his manga series! The episode being adapted here was originally transmitted in January 2012, at the start of Series 2, making this graphic novel long awaited and highly anticipated. However, Jay. hasn’t even got to the end of that instalment, as this compilation (of #1–5 of Titan’s monthly comic book) presents only the first half of the story.

Titan is making a big deal about how A Scandal in Belgravia introduces the iconic character of Irene Adler, who, to the original Sherlock Holmes, was always “the woman”. This volume includes the notorious scene in which she presents herself naked to Sherlock and John, which led to writer Steven Moffat being accused of sexism – though to be fair Sherlock himself is disrobed earlier in the narrative, when his brother Mycroft, irritated at his younger sibling’s lack of co-operation in a sensitive matter involving the royal family, steps on the bed sheet he’s wearing.

Jay. mostly stays true to the television version of Adler’s nude scene, in which her nakedness was largely implied, though this manga version is perhaps a little more explicit, showing the dominatrix’s bare backside a couple of times. Within the narrative, her nudity puts the men rather than the woman at a disadvantage, as it amusingly discombobulates both Sherlock and John, and denies the former any opportunity to detect clues from her clothing.

In addition to its most obvious source of inspiration (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia), Moffat’s script contains allusions to several other Sherlock Holmes adventures. These include the amusing titles of John’s blog entries The Geek Interpreter (a reference to The Greek Interpreter), The Speckled Blonde (The Speckled Band), The Navel Treatment (The Naval Treaty) and Sherlock Holmes Baffled (which was the title of the first-ever film depiction of the master detective, from 1900). There’s also a nod to The Illustrious Client, when Mycroft informs his brother that his latest patron is, “Illustrious, to say the least.”

Other classic lines that you can enjoy again include John’s remark to Sherlock, “I always hear ‘punch me in the face’ when you’re speaking, but it’s usually subtext,” and, after the doctor has dutifully decked the detective (to provide him with a cover story), Irene’s observation that, “Somebody loves you. If I had to punch that face, I’d avoid your nose and teeth, too.”

The artist’s rendition of Adler is instantly recognisable, providing a good likeness of Lara Pulver, the actress who played her on screen. Several sequences, such as the intercutting between Holmes and Adler as they examine photographs of each other in various states of déshabillé and subsequently select their respective ‘battledress’, and the distorted view of Sherlock’s face as he stares up into her intercom camera, vividly recapture the beats and the look of the television episode.

On the downside, a few of the speech balloons appear unnecessarily shouty, especially during the opening swimming pool sequence (which resolves the cliffhanging stand-off with Jim Moriarty from the end of The Great Game). As has been noted before, Jay.’s version of DI Greg Lestrade often looks too similar to John. Further confusion is caused by the lack of a sound effect to signify that Irene has replaced the text alert on Sherlock’s mobile phone with a sigh of erotic pleasure – the reactions of numerous characters to this embarrassing noise make sense only if you are familiar with the television version.

The final couple of chapter endings seem rather random. The penultimate one would have been more effective had the last couple of lines of dialogue been held over until the next instalment, while page 47 (remember that this book reads from the back to the front, Japanese style) would have been a far more dramatic moment to end Chapter 4 than page 42.

I also feel that it would have been preferable to wait and tell the whole of this adventure in a single graphic novel rather than split it into two – or, even better, to tell the tale more economically, as with the previous single-volume entries in this series. As it is, the increased page count of this adaptation means that the opening volume is often relatively slow-moving and low in incident. That’s just my geek interpretation – scandalous, I know.


Richard McGinlay

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