Sax Rohmer’s Dope was originally serialized in the Eclipse anthology magazine in the early eighties, which makes a lot of sense. It’s not paced for a single reading, not with the final “reveal” (which isn’t pertenant by that time) and the long blocks of exposition.
The early eighties origin also makes the ickiness of the adaptation make more sense. Dope, the original novel, is from 1919. It’s British. Having not read it, I’m just going to go ahead and assume all the racism in the adaptation is from the original as well as the gentle misogyny of it all.
It takes a while to get to it–again, why it would read better serialized–but the story is about a police detective investigating a murder and a missing person. Dope’s very convoluted in the setup. This person meets that person, then visits that person with an acquaintance and on and on (there’s a lot of society stuff in it).
And adapter and artist Trina Robbins does great with that society stuff. She paces out these long conversations in a couple panels, word balloons crowding one another, the dialogue briskly paced. Not so with the exposition blocks, unfortunately. When Robbins is doing exposition, it all just hangs. There’s so much text. And none of it is particularly good. The source novel is mostly unknown pulp, after all. There’s none of the efficiency Robbins brings to the dialogue.
The second half of Dope, which reads a lot faster, is this police inspector investigating. I’m still not sure how he solves the crime. It’s on page, but there’s no explanation for how or why it works (or he would think it would work). He’s not a particularly likable character either. No one in Dope is particularly likable. The society men are all shallow jackasses, the women are deceptive dope addicts or unfaithful wives; there’s the one good woman, but she’s just a vessel for an exposition dump.
Dope is an interesting piece of work, but it’s too much for one sitting. The finale is this incredibly tedious (and racist) trip to London’s Chinatown so it’s not like the comic builds to anything. Serialized, it’d probably read a lot better. The ick factor wouldn’t be as relentless and the weak characterizations would play episodically, not as de facto character development.
It’s rather disappointing, actually. But clear from early on it’s not going to be able to overcome the source material. Or particularly interested in overcoming it.
Adapter and illustrator, Trina Robbins; publisher, IDW Publishing.