Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sherlock Frankenstein and Detective Chimp.

This week's trip to the comic shop turned up a book whose title meant it was a must-buy: Sherlock Frankenstein and his Legion of Evil.

Both the title, the art, and "From the World of Black Hammer" betrayed that it probably had little to do with Sherlock Holmes, but still . . . . "Sherlock Frankenstein?" If I've got $3.99 in my pocket, I'm buying anything with that name, at least the first time I see it.

The character has origins in Victorian times and his corporate empire's name will make anyone who understands basic shipping laugh. It's "Frankenlock Worldwide." And he's a super-villain. We know that from the start.

But here's the problem: Sherlock Frankenstein doesn't appear in the first issue of his own comic. Not really. The daughter of a superhero (the aforementioned Black Hammer) is looking for him to see if he can tell her what happened to her father. And she's talking to old friends and foes to see what she can find out.

It seems like a really good story . . . or that it will be a good story, over a six-issue arc. Which is the problem with a lot of comic books these days. Many writers seem to have lost the ability to tell a story in a single issue, preferring to lay out a tale for a trade paperback comic (a.k.a. the "graphic novel). Thus, Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil seems more like the prelude to a comic book story than the actual story itself. (Unlike this week's Batman #33, which is as complete a tale as you could want and still is chapter one of what looks like a great tale.)

Don't know if I'll be back for issue two of that, but this seems as good a place as any to mention that Bobo, the Detective Chimp, the ape who dresses like Sherlock Holmes, made a brief appearance in last week's Metal #3, as Superman passed through the Oblivion Bar, where Bobo is known to hang out. It was just enough to make me realize how much I missed him since his days in the Shadowpact comic.

So two weeks with two marginal comic book references to Sherlock Holmes. By next year, I think we'll all be more than ready for Will Farrell in the part, just for something Sherlockian in major media.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A day at the theater.

This afternoon, the good Carter and I drove down to St. Louis, now called "Saint Louise" by the latest reincarnation of Siri, to see a play. Ken Ludwig's stage adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, simply titled Baskerville, has been playing all over the country and this was our first experience with it.

And honestly? It was glorious.

Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, written for a Sherlock Holmes, a John Watson, and three other actors who must play the rest of the parts, is a remarkable play to start with. But when performed by a cast with the talent to pull it off right?

A thing to behold.

At this point in my forty-some years as a Sherlockian, I have to tell you: Adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles bore me to death. The story is so familiar that I can't help but get snoozy.

What made this one great was a Sherlock Holmes played by John O'Hagan who immediately clicked into place as Holmes. (Post-play, he mentioned he was going for a more Rathbone style of performance, but his look was definitely his own and fit Sherlock perfectly.) His Watson, played by Kent Coffel, was a solid Watson, as Watson should be. And around the core of those two characters, the other three actors, Elliot Auch, Ed Reggi, and Gwen Wotawa whirled and cavorted through a variety of personas that both brought the story to life and added comic bits that fit into the tale perfectly, keeping the story a true Holmes story and not heading full steam into farce.

(The good Carter noted that she didn't think an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles with comedy was possible before this . . . then remembered the Dudley Moore Hound. I reminded her that that didn't really count as a comedy, despite my late neighbor's consideration of it as such.)

Gwen Wotawa went from Mrs. Hudson to Cartwright (now an Irregular) to a gender-swapped version of cabbie John Clayton (a favorite of many a Peoria Sherlockian) to Beryl Stapleton, adding a lively spark to each character that was much enjoyed. Elliot Auch's prancing Jack Stapleton was the definite stand-out of his over a dozen characters, which also included such notable performances as his Dr. Mortimer, portrait of Hugo Baskerville, and Barrymore. Converting Henry Baskerville from Canadian to Texan made sense for the play, and Ed Reggi took that part, as well as Lestrade, Sir Hugo . . . and most notably, Daisy, the non-Canonical Baker Street housemaid . . . and made it great fun.

It had been quite a while since I'd been to a play done so well as this one, totally absorbing me with it's pace and performance, and we had a delightful afternoon with it. Director Maggie Ryan and the Insight Theater Company deserve much applause for putting Baskerville together, and I hope it does great box office during the rest of its run.

(Added note: New author Rob Nunn was in the lobby signing copies of his book The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, and I picked one up. I had hoped to hang out with Rob for a while, but he had to do some podcast interview that I'll have to track down eventually.)

The disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars.

Things being a bit slow here at Sherlock Peoria, I've been doing a bit of walking through the fall weather and contemplating whatever impulses my brain thinks to muse upon. This morning's walk brought me back to a thought a Sherlockian named Alan King shared with me a long time ago, which has probably been written up somewhere by now, and that's the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars.

In Watson's first two novel-length works, the street urchins who scour the city for Holmes are featured quite prominently. They even get their own chapter title in The Sign of the Four. They "go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone." And get their pay in shillings.

But after that? One of them, named Simpson, shows up to watch an old man in "The Crooked Man," and we never hear of the rest of their lot again.

"The Crooked Man," according to my calculations, occurs in 1887. Something else that occurred in 1887? The publication of Watson's first write-up of a Holmes case, and one of the only three mentions of the Irregulars, A Study in Scarlet.

And after 1887, Sherlock Holmes's use of the Irregulars abruptly stops. At least as far as we know.

Watson's publications and the rise of Holmes in public popularity seems to go hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the Baker Street Irregulars from Holmes's work. And that coincidence makes perfect sense when you think about it.

The younger Holmes of the 1880s probably found it easier to work with kids as he wasn't so far from being one himself. And, as he said, nobody noticed street kids hanging about.

Until, of course, some accounts of Sherlock Holmes's doings started growing in popularity, at which point, anyone who suspected Holmes of being on their trail would go, "HEY! What's that kid doing here? Is that one of Holmes's?" And then things would turn very nasty for the lads.

One hopes that Sherlock Holmes saw this possibility coming once Watson's works hit the public press and disbanded the group before one of the kids got hurt. One hopes it wasn't the tragic fate of one of the kids that made them disappear from the writings. Or that Watson himself just saw the danger and quit writing about them.

But disappear they did, and Sherlock Holmes seems to have voluntarily lost on of his best tools for searching London, fairly early on in his career.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lestrade and Holmes, 1887.

Now that Rob Nunn seems to have given up his prosecution of Ms. Hatty Doran of "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor," and the Sherlock Holmes Story Society is about to have a meeting on that very tale next Thursday, perhaps it's a good time to look at a few other folk involved in that little matter.

This case has many a fun path to explore, with so many relationships intertwined throughout the tale -- perhaps that's even part of what makes it so enjoyable. One that definitely bears exploring is evoked in a single line from Lord St. Simon's letter to Sherlock Holmes before the case even begins.

"Mr. Lestrade, of Scotland Yard, is acting already in the matter, but he assures me that he sees no objection to your cooperation, and that he thinks that it might be of some assistance."

The year is probably 1887. Sherlock Holmes has already attained enough prominence in his profession that Lord St. Simon has not only heard of Holmes, he knows that the consulting detective's help is something to be sought after. St. Simon is plainly the one who brought Sherlock up in talking to Lestrade about the case. (And Lestrade was obliged to go along, social rank needing to be obeyed and all.)

Inspector Lestrade's comment that Holmes "might be of some assistance" is something I imagine was more than just being agreeable or pure narcissism on the Scotland Yard man's part. He knew Sherlock Holmes could be of assistance and was probably delighted at the chance to bring Holmes in without having to lost any face in the matter. ("I had no choice . . . Lord Robert said so!")

Lestrade walks into Baker Street in this case without being announced, and Holmes immediately invites him to have a glass of whisky and a cigar, then comments on the inspector's emotional state. Sherlock knows Lestrade is struggling with the very case he has announced he has solved to Lord St. Simon, and even if he's being a little cryptic, Sherlock Holmes is actually trying to help Lestrade . . . for a bit.

But the inspector has a problem, and it's one that any one of us might have had . . . a clue that is just too tempting to let go of. The missing bride's clothes contain a note with the initials of the groom's ex-girlfriend. How could anyone not go after Flora Millar with such a bizarrely coincidental clue? It's almost a little amazing that Holmes doesn't go talk to her about where Hatty Doran got off to.

But the hotel bill on the reverse side of the note gets Holmes's mental gears going, and happy cigars-and-whisky time is quickly done. Lestrade is stuck on that "F.H." and Holmes is anxious to start checking hotels . . . it's kind of sad, really.

I mean, I kinda wanted Sherlock to invite G. to the fancy dinner at Baker Street that night . . . or at least send a note out to him after Lord St. Simon stormed out and there was an extra place setting.

But after that little display of cross-purposes that didn't get to whisky or cigars, Lestrade is never seen again in "Noble Bachelor." And possibly not again until he calls Holmes in for "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" or Holmes calls him in for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The relations between Holmes and Lestrade were, in those early days, peculiar, to borrow a phrase from Watson's later words. But there was definitely an interesting relationship there, and that's just one of many on display in "Noble Bachelor."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

221B Con Panel Suggestion, Shotgun Season.

221B Con panel suggestion season is still upon us, so it seems time for another round of "choneling."



Trying to combine "channelling" and "con panel" into a word and it just ain't happening. Anyway . . .

I've already sent one off tonight, entitled "A particular set of skills." I love Sherlock Holmes's methods and the idea of him going full tilt ala Liam Neeson has always intrigued me. (Yes, I'm sure many a writer things they have written him going all out, but I really don't feel like I've seen it yet.) But I want to pump out a few more, because the committee has to have some choices to bat around -- and it's fun to do, anyway. So here goes another session of choneling;

A Canon Lost In Time -- What would happen if every story in the original sixty was set in a different time period and Sherlock and company were time travelers jumping to solve each one in its era? Which story would take place in which era, and what historical figures might replace the Canonical ones?

American iDoyle -- If Apple created an AI of Conan Doyle that you could wear on your wrist, what purpose would he serve? (Yes, I just liked that title and have no idea what a panel on it would do.)

Unshippables -- Are any pairings too rare to even exist as a thought experiment? Are any combinations of characters too fractious to get along at all?

Favorite Pizza Orders From Baker Street -- I still contend the "large flat box" from "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" was a pizza. Who is ordering what on their pizza at Baker Street, and what do the assorted clients/villains who visit ask for when they're there for pizza time?

England is England Yet -- What parts of London can you visit today to see something that's pretty much what Victorian Sherlock Holmes saw?

Captain James T. Calhoun -- When the Lone Star was lost in that Atlantic storm, and Captain Calhoun was transported to the future via the Bermuda Triangle, what did it take for him to reform and change his name to Kirk?  (Yeah, they can't all be winners. And you probably thought the iDoyle thing was the low bar . . .)

Podcast Familiars -- We're getting to know the voices in our heads a little too well these days, as podcasting lets people open up to strangers all over the world. What are the upsides and downsides to getting so familiar with the distant voices on podcasts? What sorts of personalities do the communities growing up around podcasts demonstrate?

Mycroft IS the British Government -- How exactly did that work? What do we know about the British Government and how could he even fit in there?

The Lords and Ladies Fancy Folk Hour -- Put on your favorite title of nobility and come for a panel of fancy folk discussion with a lifted pinky and an air of St. Simon as we discuss how badly Sherlock Holmes treated all of his betters in the original Canon. Horrendous chap! Someone should have said something!

The Game Afoot Is You! -- Planning to murder some relative for their inheritance? How do you foil Sherlock Holmes when you know Lestrade is going to bring him in? What do you plan ahead? What do you do after?

Okay, that's enough for one evening. Not a banner crop, but we'll see if they get better with a little age. Feel free to use any of them to springboard your own submission or steal them outright and send them in, as it's all about getting ideas in to stir the creative juices at 221B Con, which we'll all enjoy.

Still plenty of time left, and the more input the con-creators have, the more powerful the final line-up!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Orville Peoria

Howard Ostrum, a current king of Sherlockian stage and screen buffs, posed the following puzzler this weekend on Twitter:

Rathbone, on the right, looks pretty much like Basil Rathbone always looks, but the guy on the left?

No idea. I'm hearing whispers that it might be Jeremy Brett, but failing the terms of Howard's post, I found that it must be time for me to finally hang it up, give up Sherlockiana as my aging intellect becomes too slow for this crowd, and move on to something simpler.

But what?

Well, before Sherlock entered my life, there was Spock. Yet Star Trek fandom is too old and established with its own whiz kids, some of whom actually are rocket scientists at this point, so I decided to turn to something new. 

And then I remembered The Orville. What Solar Pons was to Sherlock Holmes, The Orville is to Star Trek: an easy pastiche to sink into, not far from the original, and easy enough on the brain to feel like a comfy couch to an old Trekkie. Or "Orkie" as I have now decided to christen my lifeboat fandom.

Now I just have to wait for mo' Orville. 

Funny,  that looks just like "Mo-orville" as in Moorville, Kansas, which is one of my favorite Sherlockian towns. There are stories about Moorville I've always wanted to tell, and a folder on my hard drive with hints of them. Oh, wait . . . .

Moorville! I just realized . . . that means Garridebs . . . and that means . . . .

Okay, I'm applying for new Sherlockian credentials. Always good to see what the current ones look like. I'm suspecting they have Cumberbatch/Freeman art these days, and that slash isn't accidental.

(Add if you think the blogging has gone a bit sideways here, just wait . . . )

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The thing that connects Sherlockians.

This week I got the gift of perspective that is having one's smartphone become useless for a day while alone and away from home.

I still had a laptop, wifi, a hotel room phone . . . so not too big a crisis, of course, but even with all that, it was an interesting little experiment. The regular checking in on Twitter, the constant stream of podcast voices during morning rituals like shaving, the ability to find a particular store while driving around an unfamiliar town, and more, all gone. A host of trivial things missing, yes, but the feeling of just being disconnected with life itself was amazing.

When we think of Sherlockiana, a lot of times we think of books about Sherlock Holmes, art depicting Sherlock Holmes, knick-knacks that evoke Sherlock Holmes . . . the things of Sherlock Holmes. It can be an analytical article or a movie adaptation, a party favor or a fannish song. People collect Sherlockiana. But is that really Sherlockiana itself, or the residue from the actual thing that is Sherlockiana?

Google "definition of Sherlockiana" and the search engine pulls up

"Definition. People interested in Sherlock Holmes and who enjoy sharing their interest with others are baptized sherlockians or holmesians. Their purpose is to keep green the memory of the detective. The literary activities of the sherlockians is called Sherlockiana."

Google is pulling that curious combination of thoughts from a site called The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, which gets a part of it, but doesn't really dive deeply enough.

Are activities a part of Sherlockiana? Are clubs a part of Sherlockiana?

While writings, art, and objects are things we call "Sherlockiana," what are they really, if not just ways Sherlockians connect with other Sherlockians. Just like societies, conventions, and mailings. Even the simple act of wearing a T-shirt with Sherlock and John on it is a means of broadcasting your love of the boys in the hope that someone will see it and, even in their head, just for a moment, connect with those feelings.

Getting my phone up and working again and resuming my connections with all the data streams it brings, I suddenly had a lot of Sherlockiana once again available during any given moment. And it wasn't just "literary activities," as the ACD Encyclopedia site defines the word. It was the verbal web of a multitude of Sherlockians sending out their quivers of thought for other spiders on the web to pick up. (If you think "spiders" is creepy, I could have went with a tendrils/feelers sort of metaphor and had Sherlockians be Cthulhu-like tentacle beasties. At least Moriarty metaphors aren't Cthulhu horrific.)

Losing and regaining some of my connections this week gave me a new definition of Sherlockiana, not as a collection of things, but as the connections that are the reason for those things. Fanfic kudos. Membership certificates. Movie reviews. All residue of the true network of shared loved of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson.

Thinking of Sherlockiana as a network of shared love really makes clear what our goals as Sherlockians should be, too. Not to define boundaries, act as gatekeepers, or promote our personal brands, but to share joy as much as we possibly can.

Okay, I've got to reign it in a bit before I become a little too sweet about this hobby I've enjoyed for my entire adult life. But you get the picture. Stay connected, with whatever media you favor.

Because we're all out here, waiting to hear from you, even if it's just via t-shirt.