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.

No comments:

Post a Comment