Though I prefer reading —and writing about —comics in collections, I do buy comics in single issues. Sometimes I need to know what happens next or can’t wait for the collection anymore. Sometimes it’s idle curiosity or the lure of the pretty. But every once in a while, it’s the potential for all-out crazy.
I picked up Sherlock Holmes and Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Cry of Thunder #1 for the potential all-out crazy.
In this case, the crazy is brought by a Sherlock Holmes and Carl Kolchak team up. And it’s this team up between characters from entirely different milieu—Late Victorian London and 1970s Los Angeles—that makes Sherlock Holmes and Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Cry of Thunder (Moonstone, 2009) as much an example of something that can only be done in comics as The Watchmen >or Asterios Polyp. SHaK:TNS–do you mind if I call it SHaK:TNS?—is an example of the counterintuitive, potentially property-driven, possibly ill-conceived and completely unashamed crazy comic team-up. A crossover that wouldn’t happen, let alone work, anywhere else, even in a SyFy Channel original production. It’s only a question of whether it should be done.
If you’re not familiar with Kolchak, he was the main character in two ABC television movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), both adapted by Richard Matheson, which spun off into a 1974 tv series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Played by Darren McGavin, Kolchak is a newspaper reporter prone to florid prose who investigates paranormally-tinged stories no one else will touch. But he’s no Jack McGee. He works for a relatively respectable paper and so runs into trouble with his editor, who just wants Kolchak to get his more mundane assignments in on time. In SHaK:TNS, writer Joe Gentile and artist Andy Bennett have Kolchak from his overheated internal monologues and overweening self-regard to his seersucker suit and dirty white canvas sneakers.
I’m assuming most readers are familiar with Holmes and Watson. On the comic’s cover Sherlock Holmes resembles Jeremy Brett in the BBC’s 1980s/1990s Sherlock Holmes series, though not as much between the covers. Inside, John Watson’s character, with his service revolver and his smoother manners with the fairer sex, is straight out of the BBC series. So Holmes and Watson have tv feel of their own.
Holmes and Kolchak seem like a match made in the public domain, or at least in the very cheap rights domain. Moonstone’s properties include a lot of old pulp and radio characters like The Phantom; Doc Savage; Mandrake the Magician; Johnny Dollar; and Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons as well as newer characters like Buckaroo Banzai and Kolchak. I understand Kolchak is going after Dark Shadow ‘ Barnabas Collins in one massive 1970s throwdown in Moonstone’s Kolchak: The Night Stalker Annual. But old properties and media tie-ins are nothing new in comics. Dark Horse built their indie empire on tie-ins—without Alien, Predator, Aliens vs. Predator and Star Wars, there would be no Hellboy or printings of Kamui Gaiden and Lone Wolf and Cub. IDW Publishing is doing something similar right now, building their house of artful horror on Transformers, Star Trek and GI Joe.
So should Holmes and Kolchak work together to battle an peril unearthed in the Old West that intersects both their lifetimes? Yes, they should. Not just because SHaK:TN is crazy, but because it works. The book could’ve been just tossed off, though I suppose that Kolchak isn’t the kind of character that moves product all by himself. (Personally, I was excited because I had just rented the Kolchak: The Nightstalker DVD set). But Joe Gentile, Andy Bennet, Carlos Magno and colorist Ken Wolak put a lot of care into making something preposterous work, which is one of the best arguments for the continued existence of comics ever.
In issue #1, newspaper reporter, Carl Kolchak, illlustrated by Andy Bennet, reprises his unhappy dynamic with his managing editor and receives an old journal with a note to him from Sherlock Holmes. I like how the note is drawn, by the way. Kolchak begins to read and the rest of the issue, illustrated by Carlos Magno, follows Holmes as he investigates a murder and ends with Holmes engaged in fisticuffs with members of a criminal syndicate and the fate of the United Kingdom in peril.
The art is careful and the characterizations are thoughtful and vital. The two worlds fit together smoothly. The plot device enabling Holmes and Kolchak’s team-up is plausible–no matter how improbable–and unfolds without Holmes and Kolchak entering a giant, brass-fitted mech suit to stop an ungodly, xenomorphic menace that is unbearable to look upon and leaves no solid evidence behind. That might disappoint some readers—but then, this is only the first issue.
I haven’t decided if I will pick up issues 2 and 3. There’s just something perfect about this issue in itself.
Carol Borden is ready for her team-up.
(This piece originally appeared at The Cultural Gutter on Feb. 4, 2010)