Take recently undead Egyptian mummies, charming preppie copycat serial killers, a recently transplanted detective from England who had to suffer the indignities of a sofa stuck in the stairwell, and jumble them together. Sounds like an uncomfortable fit, but that’s what used to work so well for revered author Douglas Adams, and what gets the new IDW comic series of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency off to such a roaring start.
But don’t be fooled by the masthead. This is neither an adaptation of Adams’ two books nor the series that ran in the U.K. (although design cues from that show do inform this venture). Instead, writer Chris Ryall and artist Tony Akins take the spirit of what made Adams’ second-most famous series and attempt to forge ahead with a proper continuation. By most accounts they’ve done well, and Gently stays true to his fictional kin.
No, not Arthur Dent. Adams was known to be very hesitant about giving his ideas up, and if they didn’t work in one format, he’d often try them again in another. Therefore, if Dirk Gently has a “spirit guide,” it would be in the form of Dr. Who. Adams was script editor on the show for a season in the 1980s, and one of his scripts, Shada, got in a lot of shooting time. However, thanks to a strike, the rest of the shooting for the story was botched. After the Hitchhikers Guide phenomenon was established in full, he revisited some of the ideas that laid the foundation for Shada and created the character of Dirk Gently around them.
Just as Dr. Who explores the big universe of space and time, Gently bases his sleuthing expertise on the relationship of “the interconnectedness of all things.” Those things can include how the flapping wings of a butterfly can cause a tsunami halfway around the world, and why they still won’t deliver pizza to your door in England. These things also include the reality that Dirk’s world is a bit darker than Arthur Dent’s, even though his keeps blowing up. Dirk investigates murders, is often after people with insidious intentions in mind, or are dangerously confused. There’s also a hint of the supernatural at play.
All of which Ryall has a grasp of, which is good, and is the hardest task to do. Eoin Colfer, of the Artemis Fowl books, was engaged to continue the Hitchhikers series a few years back and the combination didn’t work out. I believe Ryall understands that there is a need to couch his story in tonal familiarity, but not to be too reverent, and not to get too bogged down by “how Douglas would have done it.”
Tony Akins’ work is nice and bright, and thankfully so considering that so many comics lately are presented in shades of darkness and gloom. The book is bright and cheerful, with rendering that gets just far enough to broad strokes without stepping over the line into cartoonishness.
I hope that the team will continue to tread that line in upcoming issues. I know full well that if you are embarking on a tale about tourist-type thrill murderers, the jokes will not come easily (although I think Adams would approve of the implication of these pretty and pretty-ugly Americans). Still, the comic racks are full of stories of awful people doing awful things for, seemingly, the hell of it. You never seem to run out of blood if it’s on paper. Dirk Gently, like his Gallifreyan ancestor, should encounter these things, but I hope he will be allowed to triumph and not lose more than he gains. I hope that things don’t become too grim.
First issues are incredibly difficult to work with. They’re usually the heaviest in terms of exposition. They have to establish everything this venture will be all at once, and they still have to be light enough so that you actually want more. And when you are jumping in with a well-known character, you also have to do right by the original appearances without duplicating them or bringing rot to the concepts. For a kick-off, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency lands on its feet and is worth a look.