Friday, April 16, 2021

Stories that speak to us

 The thing that gets miss a lot in new Sherlock Holmes stories is that a story isn't just moving familiar characters around a familiar stage. It's about connecting with other people on a level that speaks to them in a way that they can relate to. A good story teller can tell you a story about something they don't even know about, simply because shared human experiences can be the same at their core, even if the paint job is different.

Case in point: I found this week's episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to be about the Sherlockian experience. Yes, Marvel Comics superheroes, going through their trials and tribulations and super-battles, actually spoke to me of in a familiar sort of story of being a Sherlockian.

If you're not familiar with the Falcon or the Winter Soldier, having not watched the first two Captain America movies or what came after, here's the simple explanation: Both characters, one younger, one older, are guys who worked with a living legend who set the standard for all folk of their set that would come after. The new story being told in the series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is about when that living legend is gone and those who come after him are left to carry on his legacy.

Oh, the powers-that-be try to conjure up their own version of that legacy, to define it and use it to their own ends, but that ultimately fails. And it's left to the show's two leads to figure out what the legacy they were handed means, and how they will move forward with it.

Sherlock Holmes fandom is definitely a fandom with a legacy. The Sherlockians of the first half of the last century were much like our hobby's Captain America. They inspired, they set traditions, they made people want to be like them. The thing about people who get looked up to as heroes, though, is that nobody can ever be the same people those were. We never got a "new Christopher Morley" or a "new Vincent Starrett," though we did see attempts. We saw the ACD estate designate a new "official" writer of Sherlock Holmes to carry on Doyle's original work, just as ACD's son had attempted with The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. We've also see attempts to build preserve Sherlockian legacies in amber, with archives and histories.

But the legacy of a happening, an event, a movement, is a complicated thing, which is where I come back to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Sam Wilson, the Falcon, is a black man. A man whom a whole lot of people see as unable to carry on the legacy of Captain America due to his color. But despite being a disenfranchised American, he still knows that the basic ideals that Captain America stood for need to be carried forward as best he can. And as the story progresses, he decides to try, despite what society, history, and a whole lot of white folks, don't want to see him do.

But it is a different age. Legacies have to be carried on in different ways.

So instead of "black Captain America," let me use the words "female Christopher Morley."

Just like Sam Wilson decided to pick up Captain America's shield and do the needed job, despite what the government and those entrenched in the past would have wanted, I think there is more than one woman out there who has picked up Christopher Morley's legacy and brought Sherlockians together for light-hearted fun without any backing from our institutions, so worried about the past and not really thinking about what the original Sherlockians were actually doing.

After watching this week's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I really felt like I was seeing a familiar story play out, on many levels. Just one of those levels was Sherlockian, of course, but that's what a good story does -- makes us think, makes us see ourselves and our friends in a slightly different light, and maybe inspires us to do some good.

It was a good story. And as messed up as things seem right now, we need good stories to help us along, and I as glad to see a tale that echoed good things I've seen in our own hobby. And made me glad for those who have picked up the shield, so to speak.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The guy Sherlock Holmes caused to retire?

 I was finishing out an article on Dr. Watson's Paddington days tonight, when a find that's definitely worthy of another article popped up as I read through the 1937 An Encyclopaedia of London, edited by William Kent.

When you're writing on Watson, and the book that's nominally not about Sherlock Holmes mentions Sherlock Holmes, alarm bells go off. And when you find that there was a private detective who lived less than a mile from 221B Baker Street who retired to Brighton in 1884 at the tender age of 56, well, those alarm bells turn into bellowing foghorns.

"Paddington" Pollaky, known as "Ritter Von Pollaky, Kriminalsrath" on the Continent, was apparently a very popular private detective, even celebrated in song by Gilbert and Sullivan because he was just that well known. "His name was frequently in the Personal column of the first page of The Times." The guy was apparently doing quite well for himself. The 1937 article on Paddington where I first encountered him said he retired in 1884, but Wikipedia says he closed his Paddington office in 1882 and gave up private investigation forever.

Sure, he was only 56, but that is definitely an age where one feels one's self slowing down, especially if there is some bright young thing nearby operating at a much higher speed. (Am I speaking from experience here? Yes, I am.) And given the year was 1882, we all know who started doing business less than a mile away from Pollaky's office at number 13 Paddington Green just the year before: a very bright young thing named Sherlock Holmes.

Never had a man a better reason to take his life's savings and retire to the beach, I think. It would be fascinating to explore Pollaky's doings circa 1880 to see if he might have encountered, or even been approached by an aspiring student of detective. Or was Pollaky just the bar that Sherlock Holmes set to raise himself above?

But I've got too many other things cooking to follow that trail at the moment. If you decide to take it up, let me know what you find . . . or if some earlier enterprising Sherlockian has followed it already. Because it certainly seems a trail too good not to follow.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The year 221B Con was in my basement, 2021

 There should be no doubt that 221B Con is one of my great Sherlockian event-loves, especially if you've ever read this blog in pre-pandemic springtime. From the never-before-seen throngs at the very first one to the . . . well, every little thing at our last time in Atlanta. After losing last year's incarnation to 2020, the monster year that took Godzilla sized bites out of every part of our lives, with 2021 not quite reliable in April . . . well, there was really only one route to go for this year's con.

It's been a year of Sherlockian Zoom meetings and symposiums. Nothing new there. And they were. . . . okay. Some nice side benefits of extending our reach, meeting new people, but as this weekend approached and my attention turned to a Zoom version of 221B Con? Well, I'll be honest, I started getting worried and a little depressed. I really didn't want this to be just another Zoom.

Without the reserved time of vacation days and a trip to Atlanta, my Friday workday wound up running later than the opening panel, and at the evening was mostly breakout rooms. And my past experience with breakout rooms, combined with all that comes from being a natural introvert (even after years of practicing pretending I'm not), I eventually wrote Friday night off. Taking vacation days, being present in the hotel where it's happening, well, you can't help but venture out, perhaps see the right person in the hotel bar, and get the social-brain going. Being at home, with all the normal routines? Not helpful.

Side note: Also just happened to be the week of the hundredth episode of the Watsonian Weekly podcast, which added another layer of duty and distraction. I should be editing that right now.

But Saturday came, all obstacles cleared, and I clicked on the Zoom link.

And there were Taylor and Crystal. Some other folks, too, just hanging out in the lobby, but those were the first two, quick to say "Hi!" and start talking about who had said what the night before and that my favorite movie came up, and . . . well, suddenly my weekend changed. Crystal explained navigating between the rooms of the Zoom, which somehow became easier than any other major Zoom event I had been to. And I went over to the "Imposter Syndrome" panel, one of the con staples. And things started to actually feel a little like 221B Con and not like a Zoom, just a little, but it was getting there.

I am a huge fan of 221B Con's five-track system, a veritable buffet of programming with something tasty every hour, usually so enticing that you sometimes can't take an hour off for actual food. And in a first attempt at a Zoom con, the 221Bee-keepers provided plenty of rooms but kept a single content thread, almost a sampler version of the con with less non-Sherlock-Holmes side dishes. A wise choice, I think, and hopefully we'll be back to a five-track live situation next year, but if we're not, I wouldn't mind seeing more tracks in not just this event's Zooms. If the rooms are available, why not use them?

But I do understand, not everyone is as wandering-brained as I. 

The panels, the return of past guests David Nellist and Ben Syder, the flash-fic writing, the watchalong of "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs" . . . I could go on about the content, but when all was said and done, the content wasn't the most important part of 221B Con.

It was the Bees.

Folks have talked about the Sherlockian community and its wonderful welcoming nature for decades. Outside of a few assholes and bad policy choices, it's a warm and wonderful place. But something about the community-for-a-weekend that a single-hotel con builds in hard to match. And when one considers that same community-for-a-weekend has been built over and over for nearly a decade? Like living in any small town, you may not know all the names, but you know the faces, you know the personalities.  I don't know when we started calling the population of 221B Con "Bees," but the name has stuck.

The Bees were wonderful Zoomers. Yeah, somebody always slips up on muting their microphone, but for the most part, everybody was lovely. We weren't sitting in rooms at a hotel, but once someone mentioned that you could move the Zoom boxes to line up the panel people on top, well, that worked pretty much the same. And with a whole weekend, we didn't have to spend that mandatory first fifteen minutes of every gathering talking about vaccines, or whatever else the current state of Covid world was.

I really should have taken a couple days off on either side and just cleared everything out. Set aside a 221B Con room in the house and just immersed myself in it completely, and learned Discord and Gather. Because even though it wasn't the actual big wonderful live-and-in-person event? The spirit was there. I would never have believed that the magic would be quite the same. The Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend, back in January, while better than nothing, hadn't had quite the same feel as a trip to NYC. But 221B Con? It may not have been the full dose, but it sure as hell was a booster shot of the real deal.

When I say that 221B Con is one of my event true loves, a place and a people that have been an important part of my life, it's not just a pose. It's deeply heartfelt, as in, yes, something I actually feel in my chest, and has been since that first year blew my mind by going beyond any Sherlockian event that I had ever known. And next year is the tenth anniversary. 

However it winds up being held, it's going to be a helluva of a time. Because if 221B Con could work its magic over Zoom? Oh, hells yeah, getting back to Atlanta is gonna be a time.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Make-do Sherlocks: The January Man

 The year was 1989. Sherlock Holmes was history's greatest detective. History's.

In 2021, the idea of a modern day Sherlock Holmes is no surprise. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, we know what how a Sherlock Holmes existing in the modern day world. 

Back in 1989? Very few people believed Sherlock Holmes would work in the modern day. "Soldiers don't carry handkerchieves in their sleeves any more," they would say. "You don't get mud spatters from riding in hansom cabs." Sherlock Holmes was too tied to the Victorian era. And why not? Jeremy Brett was riding high on Canonical adaptations back then.

Despite Rathbone's W.W.II modern Sherlock, then long past, was so black-and-white old movie Sherlock that he might as well have been Victorian. So what were we getting instead of a modern Sherlock Holmes?

Nick Starkey in a movie called The January Man.

Not a regular cop? Check.

Brother in the government? Check.

A Watson whose main thing is a creative skill? Check.

In 1989, Kevin Kline's detective felt as much like a modern reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes as we were going to get. Only this time, he seemed to have a certain emotional intelligence as well as logical intelligence. Alan Rickman has been proposed as a capable Sherlock Holmes many times, but in The January Man, his Watson is a very unique, yet perfect match for his Bohemian Sherlock.

"We don't need Sherlock Holmes after all," his brother states at a turning point in the movie, identifying that Nick Starkey is their Sherlock Holmes in this tale. The official force thinks they've solved it, as they always do. The villain is almost working a crime spree with a pattern that 1966 Batman would have loved. And this is far from a perfect movie.

A serial movie with a comedic climax? A modern day Sherlock who fistfights a blackface serial killer down every staircase in an apartment building. Critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the worst movies of all time." But, y'know, it has its charm. The cast is full of fabulous people. And it's best watched on Hulu or somewhere else that doesn't edit out the adult parts.

But in 1989, The January Man was as close as we got to a modern day Sherlock Holmes.

Because it was going to be nine more years until Zero Effect came out. And that's another story.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Irregulars -- Where can it go from here?

 Has it only been a week since Netflix's The Irregulars came out?

Ah, but the time does fly of late. For those of us that made it through already, the question is now, "Where could it go from here?" I was discussing this last Sunday with a savvy Holmesian who pointed to the British television model where a series told a story and often just left it at that, where in America we are very used to our shows flogging a concept until it's an unwatchable pulp of the original.

The Irregulars had a very definite story to tell, and there's going to be spoilers in the next part, so step out of the blog post if you need to.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

Okay, so with Sherlock Holmes out of the picture now, with the rift between the living and the dead sealed, and all the monsters caused by it gone, what is left to know, what story left to tell?

Well, for starters, the Bea and Watson detective partnership has just truly begun. What do they investigate?

Remember how the Linen Man mentioned he had a son? Yeah, killing his father might not set well with that ipsissimus. And you know how much trouble an ipsissimus can be.

And, yes, it seems like Leo has given up Bea to go marry another royal, but guess what? We still don't know who Bea's father is. Maybe we're going to learn that she qualifies as "another royal" in some way that might keep Leo in the picture . . . as well as add plot elements to whatever supernatural thing that royal family is into.

That said, there's more to each of these characters to lend itself to a new story, but finding that story, well, finding the story in anything is what separates the truly talented from the rest of us. There have been successful sequels. Do the storytellers behind The Irregulars have that talent? I hope so.

And a second season of The Irregulars is, curiously, the only place I'd rather not see Sherlock Holmes. If he pokes his head back out of a rift, there had better be one excellent reason.

In any case, it was good to see The Irregulars in the "Top 10 in the U.S." Today on Netflix. It didn't hit that last week, because it probably wasn't promoted enough. Hitting that rank this weekend, however, shows that the word of mouth on the show is good enough to have an effect, however much certain folks in certain Sherlockian circles have complained. (And a few of them sure are out racists.)

Sequels are always risky, but I'd like to see a little more of Spike and Jessie, Bea and Watson, and even Leo and Billy. (Those aren't all ships, but you can make your own call.) Just not Sherlock Holmes, this time. Unless it's yet another new Netflix show. In that case, go for it!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

SPOILER POST -- The Irregulars on Netflix

" I may not be the hero of the story any more, John. But I can at least help."

-- Sherlock Holmes, Netflix's The Irregulars

"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

-- John Watson, Netflix's The Irregulars

Okay, let's get down to business. Don't read this unless you've already watched all of The Irregulars on Netflix, or are silly enough to decide you're just not going to. While it might seem like a tale of five teenagers, supernatural shit, and a topcoat of Sherlock Holmes brushed over it, there's a lot of deeper stuff here, and stuff that hits at the core of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.

So stop right here, because I'm immediately getting into it.

I loved the story that The Irregulars had to tell, and I loved it as a Sherlockian most of all.

The Irregulars is a tale of people broken by love and loss. John Watson's love and loss.

This Watson has no interest in any Mary Morstans. He loves Sherlock Holmes, completely.

So when Sherlock falls in love with a woman named Alice (which is straight out of William Gillette's play, an excellent touch) and the three of them face a crisis where John must help Sherlock save Alice, but is too focused on saving his own love to do the job, everyone loses.

Sherlock loses his love. As he disappears into his broken, drugged state, John loses Sherlock. Sherlock's daughter and step-daughter lose any chance at traditional home and family. The hill that The Irregulars climbs is dealing with every part of those losses, while dealing with the villains created by and taking advantage of that situation, a situation entirely created by John H. Watson.

Even though, as always, Watson isn't the focal point of this story, he is the spark that ignites the fire of the plot, and, in the end, literally the steady hand that says, "You aren't alone against this."

It's a John Watson story that way. The Irregulars, formed in the ashes of a failed previous team of Irregulars, are about a group of people supporting each other and holding life together in ways they could not alone. Yes, the story has monsters and magic, but that's just the set-dressing for that heart-felt core of the story this show tells. Anyone who says "This isn't a Sherlock Holmes story!" has never thought long and hard about the subtitle of Christopher Morley's 1944 Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship. Yes, Sherlock Holmes is the flashy attention-getting part of the team, but is Watson and the friendship he brings that creates the Sherlockian Canon itself.

And by putting that relationship at the core of its story, The Irregulars becomes a Sherlock Holmes story more true than many a cold pastiche of observation and deduction. Somebody thought about this for a while, and it shows.

I don't know if The Irregulars will be popular enough for a sequel, or what that story would be. It certainly won't have Sherlock Holmes in it. But John H. Watson finding a new friend, a next generation Sherlock (or Sherlocks) to commit to, seems to give his character a place to grow in a second season. Like many a current series that tells its story in one arc, there's always the question of where the characters go when the story they were originally built to exist in is done. Do they have other stories to tell?

The Irregulars just might. John Watson definitely does, as ever.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Mandatory blog post on Netflix's "The Irregulars"

 Bea, Jessie, Billy, Spike, and Leo . . . the new Irregulars.

No Wiggins, Cartwright, Simpson, no last names at all. And they were all a lot younger and cartoonier in the Dark Horse comic upon which it is based. 

Beatrice is the lead Irregular, the detective, the main character, if there is one, hired by an arsehole of a John Watson, to use Paul Thomas Miller's perfect word for him, to investigate supernatural crime. Billy and Leo are the romantic interests for Bea, the brawn and the knowledge. Jessie sees visions.

As much Stranger Things, X-Files, and Lovecraft Country as Sherlockian Canon. The closest predecessor is probably the Downey Sherlock Holmes, if it actually turned out that Lord Blackwood was supernatural. Except this isn't a Sherlock Holmes story at all. This is the story of Bea and her friends. Sherlock Holmes is just another mystery to chase, with Watson blocking their path.

As I made my way through it, and saw darker versions of all our usual Canonical friends appearing one by one, it started to see like a "Mirror, Mirror" universe to that of Sherlock Holmes, to use the classic Star Trek trope. And indeed it is. Where Sherlock Holmes's world is one of science and logic, the universe of these Irregulars is one of magic and monsters . . . a reversed image.

First names instead of last names. Magic instead of science. Watson more dominant than Holmes. 

Yes, these Irregulars are not anything close to Holmes's Baker Street urchins. But there's something worthwhile here. And some new things to explore about the old and familiar.

Oh, wait . . . there are unseen Cartwrights here, working for Mrs. Hudson. And an Alice that I think may have come with Hatty Doran from San Francisco. At least that's the way my headcanon is starting to weave it.

Of course, I'm only halfway through . . . .