Sherlock Holmes—The Final Problem
“Sherlock Holmes—The Final Problem in the hands of Hannes Binder is a must for any collection of Baker Street investigations, opening new awareness of the impact of this classic in its time . . .”
Ignore the any “young readers” alert where this book is promoted or displayed for sale: Hannes Binder’s graphic novel version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale, The Final Problem, is a masterpiece of dark significance and foreboding. To a Holmes fan or collector, each page offers an art-embedded insight into a story that once shook thousands of readers, as Doyle attempted to escape the burden of writing more about the noted detective.
The 1893 story called “The Adventure of the Final Problem” began with an abrupt appearance by Holmes at the private consulting room of his ally, Dr. Watson. Binder’s graphic version begins at the same point. Then, however, an adventure opens in compressing the retelling of this tale into a slender “picturebook” format. This will be most appreciated by readers already familiar with Doyle’s original and with the impact of the story in 1893 (and through the next century). The intense and detailed illustrations—which vary from full-page, to two-page spreads, to boxed sequences like an old comic—convey at times even more than the original text.
For example, a haunting triptych offers the smoke curling from (probably) Holmes’s cigarette, rounded contours of a brain’s “white matter,” and an ominous arachnid gripping a globe that echoes the mind of the arch criminal—or does it belong to Holmes himself? A glaring embedded eye later views Watson’s tortuous maneuvers to escape Moriarty. Mountainous landscapes, fierce skies, and storm-torn waters deepen the degree of threat and terror.
Binder, a seasoned creator in this form, is noted for his scratchboard illustrations. Here, in haunting detail, they are printed in a deep blue that exerts more impact than a black-and-white might have. Glaring faces and ominous oncoming weather nestle among views of rocks and rivers. The smallness of Holmes and Watson, compared to the enormity of Moriarty’s evil and related network, emerge in ways beyond the wording of the original text, yet without distorting it in any way. So when the pair of sleuths approaches the Reichenbach Falls, you can see both their attempt to be casual and their vulnerability. The inevitable closing of the story, conveyed with a bold series of waterfalls and desperation, is suddenly tremendously moving—as the story must have affected its first-time readers more than a century ago.
Sherlock Holmes—The Final Problem in the hands of Hannes Binder is a must for any collection of Baker Street investigations, opening new awareness of the impact of this classic in its time, and even today, as new forces of evil confront humanity. If we could illustrate the chaos and threat of our times as Binder has done here, and present it to each available reader, perhaps it could act as a deterrent to the end of the world as we know it
At last, it is Watson’s words that echo with the well-paced return of the drawings to urbane England: “Two years have passed, but I still feel the gap that Holmes’s death has left in my soul.” Most readers will know that, under pressure from readers, Arthur Conan Doyle found himself forced to pick up the narrative of Sherlock Holmes once again. But this graphic version conveys the agony of the years “in between,” and offers a new impact to what could never be reduced to a mere series of detective fiction.