“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.