The Cultural Gutter

building a better robot builder

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Elementary

Carol Borden
Posted March 4, 2011

muppet sherlock holmes 80.jpg“We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic.”—Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Case of Identity.”

When I wrote about Sherlock Holmes and Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Cry of Thunder, I wrote that I picked up that comic because of its potential for all-out crazy. I’m starting to wonder if some of that crazy and its appeal is tied up in Holmes himself.

In the 1930s and ’40s, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes is quick and arrogant and his Watson a bit of an empty suit expostulating in wonder at the consulting detective’s deductive feats. In the 1980s/1990s BBC television series, Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is possibly bipolar, struggles with addiction as well as social niceties and his Watson is a dedicated doctor, experienced soldier and grounding influence. In the latest BBC adaptation, Sherlock, set in contemporary London, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a high-functioning sociopath and Martin Freeman’s Watson is, as Watson is in Doyle’s stories, a veteran of Afghanistan, though suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a phantom leg wound.

I can’t help wondering if Holmes’ trajectory leads inevitably to my current favorite adaption, Muppet Sherlock Holmes (BOOM! Studios, 2010), with The Muppet Show ‘s Great Gonzo as Sherlock Holmes and Fozzie Bear as Watson.

Written by Patrick Storck with art by Amy Mebberson and lettering by Deron Bennett, Muppet Sherlock Holmes is a four-issue miniseries. Each issue follows one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures: “The Speckled Band”; “A Scandal in Bohemia”; “The Red-Headed League”; and “The Musgrove Ritual,” served with a side of “The Final Problem.”

Accompanied by Fozzie Bear’s Watson, who wears a gentlemanly moustache and tweed suit, as well as Kermit the Frog’s bemused Inspector LeStrade, Gonzo’s Holmes solves mysteries using his method of “look-i-fication.” And just as there is something right about Fozzie as Dr. Watson, there is something just plain right about Gonzo as the consulting detective, someone who, like Gonzo, is the only one in the world who does what he does. Holmes has his strangenesses in both method and behavior and his explanations of his deductions can be improbable.

Even in the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes can sound a little Gonzo:

In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the every-day affairs of life it is more useful to reason forwards, and so the other comes to be neglected. (“A Study in Scarlet”)

Holmes sounds a little more Sesame Street in “The Red-Headed League”:

“As far as you are personally concerned,” remarked Holmes, “I do not see that you have any grievance against this extraordinary league. On the contrary, you are, as I understand, richer by some 30 pounds, to say nothing of the minute knowledge which you have gained on every subject which comes under the letter A.”

And in this passage, I can almost hear Gonzo’s joy in being carried away by balloons and his longing, as he sat around a fire with his friends, to go back there someday in The Muppet Movie:

“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” (“A Case of Identity”).

And so increasingly realistic portrayals of Holmes follows a trajectory for me, from arrogance and sociopathy to “weirdoness,” with the great detective reasoning backwards, discussing minor knowledge of the letter A, in flight and then, finally, to the Great Gonzo jumping on mines to solve “The Musgrove Ritual.”  Possibly a more passionate response to the problem than Doyle’s Holmes would prefer.

But it doesn’t matter all that much because, more importantly, this trajectory leads us to something more elementary than diagnosing Holmes:  It leads to fun. And it is fun to see Gonzo’s explanations of his method that are, in their way, just as sensical as Holmes’ are. It is fun that he has an accordion instead of a violin. And it is fun to see all the Muppets be-wigged to infiltrate the Red-Headed League as well as Scotland Yard’s sketch monkeys, little references to Doctor Who, Thetans and physics via a kitten named Schrödinger. The Muppets’ joy in the forms of casefiles and mystery and investigation, replace a realism that, to rephrase Dr. Watson, it must be confessed, sometimes is neither joyful nor fun.

~~~

There was not one of her methods that Carol Borden did not apply to this inquiry. And it ended by her discovering traces, but very different ones from those she had expected.

Comments

One Response to “Elementary”

  1. NefariousDro
    September 25th, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    I think you’ve nailed it. The fact is that life itself isn’t rational or even sensible is at the heart of why Holmes is both a great detective, and totally isolated from the rest of humanity. Watson is his link to the world of the rest of us, and while his adventures and intellectual convolutions are fascinating and fun to watch, I doubt any of us would really want to be Holmes, even for a day.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims interviews Ed Brubaker about his work on Batman, Gotham Central and Catwoman. “When I look back at [Catwoman], I’m so proud of the first 25 issues of that book, when I felt like everything was firing on all cylinders. I probably should’ve left when Cameron Stewart left instead of sticking around. That’s one of those things I look back at and think “Ah, I had a perfect run up until then!” (Incidentally, Comics Editor Carol’s first piece for the Gutter was about Brubaker’s first 25 issues of Catwoman).

    ~

    At Sequential Art, Greg Carpenter writes a lovely piece about Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. “After only two installments, Schulz had solidified the rules for his comic strip.  Random acts of cruelty would punctuate this irrational world, and Schulz’s trapped little adults would be forced to act out simulations of human behavior, using hollow gestures to try to create meaning in a universe where no other meaning was evident.  If Shakespeare’s Macbeth had been a cartoonist, the results of his daily grind, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” might have looked somewhat similar—each character a “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” until he or she was heard from no more.”

    ~

    The Smithsonian Magazine has a gallery of US spy satellite launches. “Just as NASA creates specially designed patches for each mission into space, [National Reconnaissance Office] follows that tradition for its spy satellite launches. But while NASA patches tend to feature space ships and American flags, NRO prefers wizards, Vikings, teddy bears and the all-seeing eye. With these outlandish designs, a civilian would be justified in wondering if NRO is trolling.”

    ~

    At The Guardian, Keith Stuart and Steve Boxer look at the history of PlayStation.“Having been part of the late 80s rave and underground-clubbing scene, I recognised how it was influencing the youth market. In the early 90s, club culture started to become more mass market, but the impetus was still coming from the underground, from key individuals and tribes. What it showed me was that you had to identify and build relationships with those opinion-formers – the DJs, the music industry, the fashion industry, the underground media.” (via @timmaughan)

    ~

    Neill Cameron has re-imagined the characters of Parks & Recreation as members of Starfleet. (Via @neillcameron)

    ~

    Christopher Lee has released a promotional video for his latest album, Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing.  You should probably watch everything at Charlemagne Productions.

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: