The Valley Of Fear – completing a quartet of sublime Holmes graphic novels

Published On June 15, 2011 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

The Valley Of Fear: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel

Adapted from the original novel  by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard, text adapted by Ian Edginton


Oh, this is a joy. An absolute joy. I’ve enjoyed every one of Edginton and Culbard’s Holmes adaptations so far – The Hound Of The BaskervillesA Study In ScarletThe Sign Of The Four. And this fourth is no disappointment, in fact the only fault I can find is that, since it adapts the last of Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels, we may have reached an end of these adaptations.

Can I add my voice to what I hope will be many asking that Edginton, Culbard and SelfMadeHero have a good look at adapting some of Conan Doyle’s other, shorter Holmes stories? It would be a  terrible shame to stop now.

The first half of The Valley Of Fear is a great procedural investigation piece, as Holmes investigates some troubling occurrences in London and quickly, brilliantly, deciphers a cryptic message that leads him to suspect the hand behind the mystery is that of his nemesis – Professor Moriaty. The fun we have in watching Holmes pick apart the mystery is everything here, and Edginton and Culbard are quite magnificent at setting exactly the correct pace and tone…. as we learn of the mystery of “Douglas and Birlstone”:

(The perfect figure work, the to-and-fro between Holmes and Watson, the sharpness of his tongue, and then that glorious “Ah!”, so full of pride and pomp… and behind that we have Culbard’s totally gorgeous backgrounds… even the wallpaper looks good here.)

The trail leads them to a Mr Douglas of Birlstone House, and right into a classic English country house murder mystery. We have a body with its face destroyed by a shotgun blast, in a seemingly locked room, full of incongruous details – a missing wedding ring, bloody footprints leading to an open window, a single dumb-bell missing its partner, a card with mysterious initials, and the mysterious brand on the man’s arm.

It all fits together into the perfect mystery, and one that Holmes relishes, his excitement almost palpable throughout the investigation.

(Those looks of first concentration and then utter glee on Holmes’ face – that’s everything that’s so great about this adaptation – it so easily transports you into Conan Doyle’s greatest creation’s world.)

The country house mystery is solved just over half-way through “The Valley Of Fear”, and the remainder of the story, just as in “A Study In Scarlet”, is given over to the denouement, as we venture forth into the realms of hard boiled American fiction, and unpick the actions and motivations behind the murder.

Edginton’s adaptation really can’t be faulted, the pages almost turned themselves –  it seems such a simple thing, to adapt a work, but the key is to be almost unseen as a writer, and it’s through Edginton’s clever, subtle writing that we get to experience all the brilliance of Conan Doyle’s story and characters. And these words, this great story, coupled with Culbard’s rather beautiful artwork, a mix of great expression and perfect characterisation; loose and relaxed, makes a great read, a perfect adaptation in words and pictures.

The Valley Of Fear is quite simply the perfect ending to a perfect quartet of graphic novels that very simply distill everything that is so very good about Conan Doyle’s detective masterpiece. All four of these Sherlock Holmes volumes by Conan Doyle, Edginton and Culbard deserve a place on your bookshelf.

And to end with, here’s Sherlock himself, in the final, beautifully evocative panels from The Valley Of Fear….

Give him time. Fantastic last line.

And SelfMadeHero, Ian Edginton, INJ Culbard – please tell us this isn’t really the end? There’s more Holmes stories out there that you could adapt. For a start there’s that man Holmes is referring to – I want to see you tackle those stories. And I don’t think I’m alone. Encore. Encore.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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