Sunday, May 28, 2017

One Punch Sherlock

In the wee hours, when one is apt to wander Netflix looking for something different, I ran into someone much like Sherlock Holmes last night. He was nothing like Sherlock Holmes in every outward detail, and yet . . . so much like Sherlock Holmes. So let's talk about One Punch Man.

One Punch Man is a bald anime superhero. Wears a cape and tights. Fights the most enormous monstrous things you can imagine. The most simple rendition of a comic book superhero you can imagine, a simple unemployed businessman who decided to be a hero for fun. No incredible backstory. No intense motivation. Just decided to be a superhero and did some exercises.

One Punch Man's one personal similarity to Sherlock Holmes is that he decided to create a job for himself and then trained for it. The result, however, is something very familiar.

A One Punch Man story is, with those few exceptions, what we think of as a Sherlock Holmes story.

Someone with a very strange and complex backstory typically enters One Punch Man's orbit. And then, with a single punch, One Punch Man ends all the conflict that resulted from that backstory. Without fail.

One Punch Man is so good at what he does that his main struggle in life in boredom.

Sound like anyone we know?

As much as we love Sherlock Holmes, the best of the original Sherlock Holmes stories are never about Sherlock Holmes, even though he's the star. They're really about him entering someone else's story and, with that clever Sherlock way of his, ending their conflict. And at his best, he does it with one bold stroke.

Or "punch."

Superheroes are always distilled versions of characters we might find developed more elaborately elsewhere, so finding a superheroic equivalent of Sherlock Holmes out there is not too surprising. Still, finding an anime superhero who fills that bill during a wee hours Netflix wander is never really . . . expected.

"One Punch Sherlock." Makes sense to me.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Selected by Adrian Conan Doyle

"I admit it brazenly, I pounced upon the opportunity to air my own views and the pros and cons of Sherlock Holmes stories. And why not? Do not bulls have fun in china shops and old-fashioned gentlemen take potshots at each other in the Bois de Boulogne over the merits of a woman's face or any other contentious work of art?"
-- Adrian Conan Doyle, 1955

Give thanks to whatever deity ye may owe fealty to that Adrian Conan Doyle is not alive and on Twitter in 2017.

Taking a break from the labors of shelf-lifting, I found myself confronted with a random volume entitled A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes "selected and with an introduction by Adrian Conan Doyle." In a book as thick as many of the complete volumes, Adrian's "old friends at Hanover House" decided to publish only two of the four novels and twenty-seven of the fifty-six short stories and turn the selection process over to . . . oh, so many possible words here. But on we go.

"In common with a great many other people, I consider The Hound of the Baskervilles to be the greatest of all Sherlock Holmes stories," Adrian states, and I have to wonder if . . . as good as that novel is . . . he didn't just develop that opinion because he liked the movie. But perhaps I'm just being snarky. Let's let Adrian speak to his qualifications as a Holmes story selector:

"As I spent my youth in close association with my father and have occupied for many years the position of keeper of his voluminous biographical records and private papers, the reader perhaps will bear with me on the grounds that I speak with some authority of the subject under review."

Yes, Adrian wasn't just picking tales he liked, as any of the rest of us would, he is the authority on Sherlock Holmes. And if you think you've run into people who don't like fandom now, meet Adrian Conan Doyle:

". . . those little groups of self-styled Holmes 'experts' who, in their enthusiasm for the stories, are so busy inventing wild, and, I regret to add, in some cases perverted theories that they have become far more blind to the obvious than ever was Watson . . ."

Ah, to bring Adrian into the future long enough to hand him some PWP fanfic and send him back into his grave to spin! His long, rambling introduction to A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes seems like he's just taking the opportunity to vent a very backed-up spleen upon all the disagreements he had with the world at large on Sherlock Holmes.

"I resent the presence of jellyfish, sick men, and evilly disposed children on Holmes's doormat."

Apparently Jacky Ferguson touched a nerve in Adrian. Since much of the latter part of his introduction is trying to point out that Arthur Conan Doyle was the real Sherlock Holmes, one could understand why any feeling that young Adrian, looking for a Canonical counterpart as his father read a draft of "Sussex Vampire," might get prickled a bit.

"Let those who, in their devotion to the Saga, have actually resented my father's authorship because it made fiction of Holmes and Watson, be comforted," he preaches in conclusion. "For the truth is far more real than they have imagined, even in their fondest hopes. The houses and the rolling countrysides, the faces and the voices, some of the characters and some of the mysteries, all were there. And beneath the deerstalker of Baker Street and the cloth cap of Ashdown Forest there lived the same restless searching brain that wrought life out of fiction and fiction out of life. And he was also deeply in love with Dr. James Watson of Southsea, sharing many trysts of great drama and passion."

Sorry, after suffering through nine pages of Adrian's attempt to assert Sherlockian dominance, I had to jab a pin in the balloon by adding that last line.

With so many collections of Sherlock Holmes out there, you can find introductory essays by all sorts of folk expressing all sorts of thoughts. But I doubt you'll ever find one as puffed-up and spoiling for a fight as Adrian Conan Doyle's.

Sherlockians really don't miss him.

Hail to thee, SHERLOCKEDians!

The professionally run con is now an established part of our oh-so capitalist world. It was inevitable, I suppose, as everything people love or desire is now seen as a market by someone. The thought of an untapped market just makes an ambitious business-sort salivate, and we just have so many ambitious business-sorts these days.

The day someone figured out that an actor known for a single cult-favorite TV show can make a substantial addition to their income selling autographs was probably the big tipping point in that business model. Now those free autographs we used to get at Star Trek cons forty years ago seem like the twelve-cent comic books, thirty-five-cent movie theater tickets, and gallons of gas for thirty-two cents I remember as a wee lad . . . all making me feel like I was born in the Depression.

But here we are, SHERLOCKED USA being held at the Los Angeles airport Marriott by a company called Massive Events Ltd. that a great many of us can't or won't afford to spend the money on to celebrate Mr. Sherlock Holmes in his BBC TV incarnation.

A full boat ticket to SHERLOCKED USA, before you figure in airfare, hotel, and meals, is $2995. It gets you in all the events, gets you all the autographs and photo shoots with the actors, gets you a replica Sherlock prop item, and basically privileged treatment for the whole three day affair. And those sell out quickly. A cheap ticket to just hear the talks in a secondary "live stream" hall is $125. $265 will get you into the main hall where the celebs are actually live. And $595 will get you reserved seats behind the people who spent the $2995. Class stratification has definitely come to fandom.

Different kinds of fans are definitely going to pay $2995 for a ticket: The wealthy, of course, or the children of the wealthy, to whom that's just going to the movies. The truly, deeply obsessed, who will focus their savings or charge card limits like a laser beam to get them into that full-access space despite their income. And those somewhere in between, who just see an opportunity that doesn't come along many times in life.

And despite the awful commercial side to SHERLOCKED USA that many a more traditional Baker Street Irregular might pooh-pooh, it is just that: An opportunity to celebrate Sherlock Holmes that has never come before and may never come again. The fact that we don't see similar conventions completely devoted to CBS's Elementary or Guy Ritchie's film Sherlock Holmes tells you there's a peak of popularity to this Sherlock Holmes and this period in time that isn't going to happen for every screen Sherlock and his cast. This really is something special, and despite every urge I have to be like the fox in the Aesop's fable and go "sour grapes," there's a part of me that wishes I was there, getting my picture taken on the 221B set or with some of the cast. I've loved that show end-to-end and it would be a great way to get a bit more enjoyment out of it.

If you're still a bit curmudgeonly about SHERLOCKED USA, and its modern way of fanning, consider this: What do you think The Baker Street Journal Christmas Annuals are going to be about, thirty years or more down the line? The 2017 BSI dinner, one in a long line of many? Or these never-before-seen celebrations of Sherlockian celebrity that either set the tone for much that follows or disappear from our culture when we don't get another Sherlock show with so much popularity in the decades after? Whatever your opinion of the event, it's a part of our Sherlockian history now, for better or worse. And we do love our Sherlockian history.

So here's to you, you lucky SHERLOCKED USA con-goers! While I'm still cleaning out the residue of four decades of my personal Sherlockian history this Memorial Day weekend, it'll be good to think of you out there making some new memories, which I hope you'll share with us one day.

And it does make me look forward, all the more, to next year's 221B Con in Atlanta . . . which is definitely more my speed. (And the "Diogenes Club" class there is a lot cheaper. Maybe this year!)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Googling your way down to Baker Street.

I had the odd wrong thought as I was considering "The Five Orange Pips" this iteration through the Canon: John Openshaw, owner of a small estate in Sussex, died without any obvious heirs. Sherlock Holmes eventually retired in Sussex. What if . . . . ?

Well, the estate was near Horsham and Holmes's small farm was five miles from Eastbourne not far from the coast. Anyone who knows anything about Sussex would stop that theory from going anywhere before it was even fully verbalized. (No matter how attractive the thought of Holmes keeping an estate that would forever remind him of a man he could not save.) But I don't know anything about Sussex, hence my faulty thought.

But the means by which my theory was shot down was no big thing -- a quick trip to Google maps, where I saw that Horsham and Eastbourne were far, far apart. While I was there, however, I did think about John Openshaw travelling from his small estate near Horsham to 221B Baker Street, so I hit the "Directions" button and pulled up the route a modern Openshaw would have taken into the city.

And there it was. With trains, travel times, etc. 221 Baker Street to Horsham.

Commonplace, right? No big deal, right? But can you imagine showing this to Julian Wolfe, creator of some damned fine Sherlockian maps back in the day? Pulling this up on a screen before the likes of Vincent Starrett or his St. Louis correspondent Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs back in the Depression era?

While my inner hipster wants to be all jaded about such everyday wonders, that combination of inner child and inner "Methuselah who remembers an Age When Things Were Different" just want to grin at this magical resource. Suddenly a commonplace old Google map transforms into an artifact of Sherlock Holmes's world!

So then I decided to just get a little bit nuts.

221B Baker Street to Reichenbach Falls.

Twelve hours and nine minutes, without driving or flying. Of course, Holmes and Watson took over a week to make the trip, wandering a good deal on foot. (The whole trip on foot would take over a month, according to the Google.) Still, wonderful to see a computer doing Sherlockian scholarship of a sort with just a couple prompts. One can imagine having a fun evening charting out the travels of Sherlock's post-Reichenbach hiatus in this same sloppy, yet informative manner.

By now, many a young genius is probably recollecting how they did just that thing on Mapquest in 2006, but it still makes me marvel at the resources we have available to us with the touch of a mouse and a few taps on the keyboard. (Or a few taps on a smartphone . . . yes, even that mouse is starting to look like an eight-track tape at this point.)

And with a touch of Sherlock Holmes, it all becomes just that much more magical.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The policeman who stayed at the house.

Sherlock Holmes takes a little heat over the case Watson wrote up under the title of "The Five Orange Pips." His client is murdered before Holmes has even begun to investigate the case. And if you counted all the Sherlockians who've suggested that the detective should have kept John Openshaw overnight at Baker Street, or accompanied him home with Watson and some pistols, well, you'd have the population of a small town.

A town called "Sherlock's Fault, Florida."

(We have to put it in Florida, because that state is not blameless in this matter itself.)

But in turning an accusatory eye toward Sherlock Holmes, we always look away from the worst person on the Openshaw case: the policeman who was to remain in the house with Openshaw.

When John Openshaw decided to take a chance and go see if this Mr. Sherlock Holmes he'd heard of could shed any light on the deaths in his family, he certainly told the policeman what he was going to do. And it was that policeman who interpreted orders to remain in the house with Openshaw as having more to do with the house than the man.

It was a horribly stormy night, of course, so we start to get an impression of that copper as the sort of man who likes the comfort of dry clothes and a warm fire. We can also conclude from the fact he has no curiosity or interest in Mr. Sherlock Holmes that this fellow didn't keep up with the newspapers or even talk at the station-house about criminal investigations. Even if he had heard of Holmes and took him to be a charlatan, any self-respecting crime-stopper would have felt obliged to head along with Openshaw to show the misguided man what a sham Holmes was.

One has to wonder how this irresponsible member of the police force finally heard that Openshaw had died. Or did he? Did he just spend the night at the house, raid the cupboards, doze in some comfy spot, and then stroll back to work in the pleasant morning sun, never to hear anything about the man he had gone home with turning up in the Thames.

Sherlock Holmes hadn't started on his case, which focused more on finding the culprit. The policeman who stayed at the house was supposed to be on the job of protecting the victim.

"Why didn't you come to me?" Holmes railed at Openshaw after hearing about that policeman. "And above all, why did you not come at once?" During daylight hours, Holmes might have been able to get on the scent of who was after Openshaw. And since Openshaw was moving on crowded streets while armed with a gun, Holmes could be forgiven for putting his planning on how to solve the case above playing bodyguard -- the job that the un-named policeman already had.

The great counterpart to that nameless and worthless cop will always be Police-constable Cook of H Division, who not only heard Openshaw's cry as he fell into the river, but actively tried to same the man, getting help from passers-by, and even summoning a police boat. Cook made every effort to save Openshaw's life, but the night was against him.

So many points where that night and this case could have gone differently . . . but the one man most at fault in this business leading to John Openshaw's death?

Not Sherlock Holmes.

Just a guy spending a pleasant evening in a house near Horsham. The bum.

Peoria Public Library's Sherlock Holmes story society meets again this Thursday night in the meeting room at the far end of the North Branch library at 6:30 to discuss "The Five Orange Pips" further. Stop in if you're in town!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The prettiest Sherlock Holmes of the last century.

With the passing of Sir Roger Moore, the longtime Sherlockian can't help but think back to the year 1976 and sitting in front of the TV watching the Saturday night premiere of the movie Sherlock Holmes in New York. Fresh off his first two James Bond movies, Moore was well into becoming the James Bond to the post-Beatles generation, and seeing the suave and handsome actor on the small screen as Sherlock Holmes, many a Sherlockian had exactly the same thought:

That guy is just too good looking to be Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone. Peter Cushing. Those were the sort of guys who played Sherlock Holmes. Not that they weren't handsome in their own right, but they had that certain professorial look of intellect that one looked for in a Sherlock Holmes back then.

Roger Moore even seemed a bit young for Sherlock Holmes and he was all of forty-nine years old at the time. Those were such different times.

One could even argue that Roger Moore's Holmes was the most virile Sherlock ever, because how many other Sherlocks had a son appearing in the very mystery they were solving? There was actual evidence that this Sherlock Holmes had engaged in sex! If ever Watson had cause to be astounded in 1976, there was a fact to gawk in amazement at!

Irene Adler was, of course, involved. It was still, like I said, 1976 after all. And oh, how we liked our Irene back then. No Mary Russell. No Johnlock. And I hadn't even started championing Maud Bellamy as the greatest target of Holmes's affections. Irene was the Sherlockian "it" girl of 1976.

Roger Moore probably also had the greatest sideburns of any non-disguise Sherlock Holmes in history.

There's probably no Sherlockian who will include Roger Moore in their top ten portrayals of Sherlock Holmes without a heavy dose of nostalgia or having seen Sherlock Holmes in New York just as their adolescent hormones kicked in hard, but in 1976, seeing Holmes, Watson, Irene Adler, and Professor Moriarty all in a movie where Sherlock Holmes wasn't a wimpy drug addict? (Yes, I'm looking right at you, Seven-Per-Cent Solution. And what's with hyphenating "per-cent," anyway?)

Well, watching Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes was a fine way to spend a Saturday night.

Even if he was way too pretty.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Batman versus Sherlock Holmes.

In a FB comment on a recent post, Robert Perret used a comparison to Batman to make a case for Sherlock Holmes fans being less tolerant to change than those of the Batman. In considering the reasons for such a difference, it seemed like another chance to have Batman go up against another titan of legend, as he recently did with Superman.

As a comic book fan since childhood. I like Batman, but still have to say he is definitely no match for Sherlock Holmes. Why? Let's throw them into the ring and find out!

First round: let's compare first stories. 

Batman: In 1939, Detective Comics #27 featured a crudely drawn tale of a rich guy who cosplays and kills bad guys in his spare time. No parents killed in an alley. No batarang. No Robin. And nobody going back to read that story on a regular basis.

Sherlock Holmes: In 1887, a novel entitled A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual about the world's first consulting detective and his chronicler. Dr. Watson. 221B Baker Street. Inspector Lestrade. And a well of pleasure, inspiration, and details that generations return to again and again.

Now let's look at things six years later.

Batman: By the end of 1945, Batman is its own comic book series. Robin, the Batcave, and and Alfred have all been added to the lore. And Batman has his arch-enemy, the Joker , , , whom he never, ever kills. He also has met the mother of at least one of his children, the Catwoman. (At least on "Earth One" in some universe.) Nobody goes back to read any of those stories without effort in finding them, and not for pure pleasure.

Sherlock Holmes: By the end of 1893, Sherlock Holmes has his own short story series in The Strand Magazine. Mrs. Hudson, Mary Morstan, and Mycroft Holmes have all appeared. Sherlock has found his own  arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty . . . and ended him for all time. And even though Irene Adler is declared the woman to Sherlock Holmes, there will be no children in their Canonical future. (But one son, Nero Wolfe, in some head-canons.) All of those stories from the first six years are generally considered the best Sherlock Holmes stories to this day.

And then let's look twenty-seven years later . . .

Batman: The Adam West era begins and will continue for twenty years, shaping the public image of the Batman as a cornball boy scout of a costumed detective.

Sherlock Holmes: The William Gillette era has been well under way for over a decade, shaping the public image of Sherlock Holmes by identifying him with a particular hat and a particular pipe. And that's all.

And forty-seven years later . . .

Batman: Frank Miller takes Batman dark and macho with an instant classic called The Dark Knight Returns. Is this the most popular Batman story of all time? Possibly. Did it affect the character's evolution more than any tale since his creation? Definitely. Without The Dark Knight, we don't get the gravel-voices "I'm Batman!" stereotype of today. (Michael Keaton's Batman was three years later.)

Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars of New York is founded to celebrate the Holmes Canon, which was published as complete a mere seven years before. Arthur Wontner is playing Sherlock Holmes on the big screen, part of a long line of Holmes's before and after. Non-Doyle Sherlock Holmes fiction, outside of film, is rare indeed.

Still further, seventy-eight years later . . .

Batman: Still owned and published by DC comics, having gone through a few "soft" reboots but still coming out with new original stories in his official continuity by different writers. Film rights are so carefully guarded that a television show named Gotham features almost every character in the Batman mythos except Batman himself. (Bruce Wayne still being a boy in the series, while Penguin, Riddler, Alfred, and others pretty much come into their adult personas.) Alternate universe stories are common in the official continuity itself.

Sherlock Holmes: Mostly out of copyright and with the character owned by no single entity, the sixty original stories of Sherlock Holmes remain the "Canon" for traditional fans and are still the basic playbook from which most adaptations build. Both professional and fan fiction stories create and re-create Sherlock Holmes and company so often than no one living can read it all, yet the core Canon remains at the center of it all.

In considering why Sherlockians might be more critical of adaptation than Bat-fans, the reason becomes all too clear -- Sherlockians have one unchanging measuring stick to gauge all later Sherlock Holmes stories by. How that measuring stick applies from Sherlockian to Sherlockian varies by personality, but the mere existence of that stick tends to make all latter works come up short.

Bat-fans, on the other hand, are all using different measuring sticks to begin with. Some love Adam West's Batman. Some key in on Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Batman:Year One. Some are movie-only Bat-fans. Some cut their teeth on Scott Snyder's Detective Comics run. They can argue which is best all day long (and some will), but there is no original Canon to hold up as Holy Writ. (Any Bob Kane Canonists out there? Anyone?) The best Batman story may have yet to be written, as they seem to get better all the time.

Will a writer of Sherlock Holmes ever out-do Conan Doyle in the eyes of a new generation of Sherlockians? Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss seemed to be coming as close as anyone ever did, but got a little outpaced by their own fandom, who took their new "Canon" and ran with it before they could complete their work. Sherlock Holmes stories do get better all the time, but there will always be previous generations wielding that Doyle measuring stick that will always have a nostalgic extra inch at the end.

Does this make the evolving Batman a stronger character? In terms of marketing and profitablilty, yes. He is the Pepsi of detectives with a formula ever-changing to suit current tastes. Sherlock Holmes, however, is classic Coca-Cola in this metaphor. Keeping a steady flavor (especially if you avoid the high-fructose by hitting the pure sugar Mexi-Cokes), his fans, while not as numerous, have a passion that, one might argue, takes them deeper into their devotion.

In the end, I don't think you can have a true winner in this competition, but it makes for an interesting study of the two. And speaking of interesting . . .

Odd postscript: Has anyone written any "Batlock" fan fic yet? A young-ish Batman falls for his older British mentor in detection? Anyone? Ah, well, one day.