The time is World War I. An aviator known as "the Black Eagle" crashes his plane behind enemy lines on purpose to set up an espionage network. He does much good work for the war effort, and when the war is over, fakes another plane crash to go on hiatus in a remote part of the world and come back again later in yet another identity . . . a master of an Asian "itsu" martial art with the ability to cause great fear in criminals.
But let me digress for a moment.
One thing that has always bothered me about the original Star Trek series were all the epsiodes where the crew of the starship Enterprise would make some incredible discovery -- something in the water that grants super speed. An injectable that gives a person telekinetic abilities. All sorts of very useful things. And then on next week's episode, they're back to struggling with some enemy and not even mentioning that they could try that thing they discovered the week before.
So upon reconsidering "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" this week, I entertained another thought: What if H. Lowentstein was onto something, and his work with animal serums did eventually have the ability to restore youth and strength? And what if Sherlock Holmes, a chemist who wanted to turn his studies to Nature in his later years, took that ball and ran with it?
Remember that mystery man out of World War I from the opening paragraph? He was always carrying a strange vial of purplish liquid that gave him strength immediately when he drank it.
And another thing Holmes ran across in his adventures . . . the devil's foot root, with its ability to cause great fear in a person. What if Holmes distilled it further to a more useable form he could have as another weapon in his arsenal for dealing with criminals?
Great fear as our mystery man caused.
Said mystery man also was said to wear a unique piece of jewelry given to him by a head of state. Sherlock Holmes had a unique piece of jewelry given to him by a head of state . . . and we know how tales change in the telling.
Where am I going with all this, if you're not well versed in pulp culture to have seen it coming a mile away?
Just look at what we find Sherlock Holmes telling John Watson at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman," the very last Sherlock Holmes story to appear . . . in 1926.
"But is not all life pathetic and futile? Is not his story a microcosm of the whole? We reach. We grasp. And what is left in our hands at the end? A shadow."
Sherlock Holmes's life was a masterful, ingenious back-and-forth with crime and mystery, and in that statement you can see frustration. He tried letting Scotland Yard do its thing, have the credit, but they were always lagging behind. What if a revitalized Holmes decided to start a direct war on crime and create a new legend for himself in a newer country, where crime ran rampant? He had visited there before World War I, after all, and had seen how much such a legend might be needed.
Could Sherlock Holmes have been the 1920's crime-fighter known as "the Shadow," immortalized in pulp magazines and radio shows?
Well, it makes as much sense as "The Adventure of the Creeping Man," and if Holmes actually kept and developed all the things he came across in his cases, perhaps he could have pulled it off.