Contemplating some recent events in the world of comics as I watched another classic sidekick put through the wringer just to give his hero a story, I couldn't help but think of our Watson.
We never really total up the abuse Watson takes for the sake of Sherlock Holmes from day one.
John H. Watson literally takes a bullet just to meet Sherlock Holmes.
And worse than that, he gets a horrible abdominal illness that wastes him away and ruins his health so that he can do nothing but lay on the couch for months and watch his room-mate. Since he has no medical practice, his true calling, he's readily available when Sherlock Holmes gets a whim to invite him along to his first murder investigation.
Watson cannot have a happy marriage due to Sherlock Holmes. He can't help out his wife's friend without running into Sherlock Holmes and not coming home that night. And when Sherlock Holmes turns out to have faked his own death and needs to come back to London, the great author-god reaches down from the heavens over Baker Street and snuffs Watson's wife. (Or causes something so terrible that she leaves Watson for eight years, your call, neither good.)
Watson takes another bullet to see Sherlock Holmes cares whether he lives or dies. Watson is almost poisoned by deadly fumes just to see Holmes's heart, but never can explicitly tell us what he sees there. And those are just the big hits -- the little zings and stings of daily life with Sherlock Holmes must be accounted for as well.
While Conan Doyle never went so far as to have criminals kidnap, torture, or threaten Watson for their ends, most others who have taken Watson's pen in hand have given into that temptation. Put Watson in a Guy Fawke's bonfire just to get Holmes to save him. Let Moriarty torture Watson to mindlessness just to get Holmes's reaction. Make Dr. Watson the stupidest human in the 1940s just for a weak touch of comedy. Give Watson a failed affair with one of the poorer Mycrofts, just to test Holmes's jealousy. On and on the list goes.
While Sherlock Holmes takes some hits in his life, his personality, looks, gender, age, etc., etc. are never changed so dramatically from appearance to appearance. Does Watson feel pain from such wrenching shape-shifting on a regular basis, almost like the repetitive torments of a soul in hell itself? I certainly hope not. He/she/they has enough pain in the narratives themselves to consider his/her/their suffering in those interim limbos between appearances.
Feeling a great urge to write comfort pastiches for Watson now, where he just gets warm fuzzies and treats during the whole case. Is there a market for worlds where Watson gets to write in loving comfort?
I sure hope so.