Weekend Shorts: X-Men and Watson and Holmes

It’s comics time! I’m still sloooowly making my way through those back issues of X-Men and I’ve got a new take on my old friend Sherlock Holmes. What are you reading?

X-Men #8, by Brian Wood
X-Men #8Back to these crazy hijinks! There’s a break-in at the Jean Grey School, and one of the vaguely ethnic and also telepathic X-Men chases the intruder down but fails to catch her. Said intruder, our pin-up from last issue, makes off with a box of apparently Everything, including a live sample of our friend Arkea from the first story arc. Turns out our villains are super interested in Arkea and her powers, enough that they’re willing to venture to BFE Norway and team up with some other character I don’t know anything about (Enchantress, apparently a foe of Thor?) to get said powers. Meanwhile, lesbian subplot? I don’t even know. How many more issues until I can quit this thing?

Watson and Holmes, Vol. 1, by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi
Watson and Holmes, Vol. 1I am a sucker for a lot of things Holmes-related, and this modern-day story wherein both Watson and Holmes are black dudes in Harlem seemed like a pretty easy way to up those diverse reading numbers while not having to stray far from my comfort zone. But in a strange turn of events, I found myself a little frustrated when things from the Sherlock canon made their way into the narrative.

That seems unfair, probably, but really it’s a testament to how engaging the story was that every time something Sherlock came into it — Afghanistan, 221B Baker Street, Irregulars, Mycroft the gourmand — I was like, yes, yes, I get it, this is a Sherlock Holmes story. A little detail here and there, sure (I mean, really, where else is Sherlock going to live?), but I think the author could have trusted his characters and us as readers just a little bit more.

In this version, Watson is drawn in by the case of a kidnapped girl and sticks around after solving that one to find the fellows who had held her captive and who subsequently started murdering other people, as you do. There’s the requisite hyper-observation on Holmes’s part, as well as the disdain of of the police (led by Leslie Stroud, what what), but there’s also a surprising amount of gunplay and action sequences. This Holmes puts practice with his theory, and I like that a lot.

I wish it were a super lot, but the clunky references were bad and the penchant for bolding seemingly random words (my absolute least favorite thing in comics) kept it from making that leap. But it’s got a good story and strong characters and I have faith it will hit its stride as the series continues. I will definitely be picking up the next volume when it comes out.

RIP TV: Elementary

elementaryI promised to watch lots of TV for this year’s RIP, and I have to admit that so far it’s been super easy because Scott and I have been catching up on Elementary (which I didn’t even put on the list!) on demand. We had watched the first few episodes when they aired last year, but then we ended up doing other things and not having a DVR (so glad to have a DVR now!) and it fell off our list of things to watch. We won’t make that mistake again!

When the show first came out, I heard a lot of people whining that it was ripping off Sherlock, which, I mean, no. One, Sherlock Holmes has always been awesome and has informed basically every mystery show, so whatever. Two, you really cannot compare three 90-minute movie-type episodes to 20-whatever mystery-of-the-week 44-minute episodes. They are both, in my opinion, equally fantastic.

What I really very much love about Elementary (and let me state here that I am not done with the first season DO NOT SPOIL ME) is what they’ve done with Watson. Not just that they’ve turned him into Lucy Liu, which is amazing on many levels, but that they’ve given Joan Watson much more agency. The Watson who chronicles all of Holmes’s exploits and tags along and helps out when needed is pretty cool. This Watson, who doesn’t bother proselytizing the Church of Holmes (though she is certainly still a member) and becomes a pretty observant detective in her own right, is awesome — except for the part where she refuses to wear practical footwear. I know the woman owns tennis shoes. She should wear them more often.

I also, of course, love the mysteries, which are suitably insane and requiring of a consulting detective. There was the murder apparently committed by a woman in a coma, the robbery of a mostly-impregnable vault, the guy who thought he was somehow given an incurable genetic illness, the years-old bomb set off by pager… all strange and seemingly unsolvable cases but all of course solved by the right word or the right clue at the right time. And there are references to the Holmes canon cases, including the Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, which is like the weirdest case ever and which makes me a little bit sad that they came up with brand-new cases for this series. Just a little bit, though.

If it’s Sherlock Holmes, I’m in, but this is an especially good Sherlock Holmes, so I’m sticking around. How about you?

A Study in Sherlock, ed. by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

A Study in SherlockI may have mentioned before that I quite adore all things Sherlock, from books to movies to old computer games that I remember my dad playing when I was a kid. He may be a prat, but he’s just so smart and therefore so cool to me.

I’ve never really gotten into non-Doyle Sherlock books, for whatever reason, and even though I’ll watch any of the film and television adaptations I can get my hands on. Maybe I just have lower expectations for films (or maybe the new BBC version is the most amazing thing ever)? Whatever, the point is that I can’t even remember reading any non-Doyle Holmes before falling in love with “A Study in Emerald” during the Fragile Things readalong last fall. So good, and I don’t even know Lovecraft! So when I saw this collection of stories inspired by Sherlock and Doyle, and also saw that it had a second Neil Gaiman Holmes story in it, I was like, yoink!

And then I remembered what I dislike so much about short story collections, which is that they always contain super awesome fantastic stories and also stories where I think to myself and to others, someone got paid to write this crap?

There is such a piece of crap early on in the book that I read, and stared at, and wondered if maybe I shouldn’t keep reading if all the stories were going to be like that, and then I remembered I was reading it on an airplane and I might as well keep going. Thank goodness for airplanes.

I’m not going to call out the stories I hated, because there were plenty that were awesome and thus deserve my words more. In order of appearance:

“You’d Better Go in Disguise”, by Alan Bradley
Of course the creator of Flavia de Luce is going to get a place on this list. It’s practically fate. Bradley presents the opening story of the collection and it gets quite to the heart of the matter — we meet a mysterious man who meets a mysterious man and they get to profiling people in the park for fun and perhaps profit, and the reader wonders whether one of these men might be Holmes, of course, and what the point of this conversation might be, and it is all very intriguing and delightful.

“The Startling Events in the Electrified City”, by Tom Perry
This might be my favorite of all of these stories, as it recasts the assassination of President McKinley as a case for our favorite detectives, one that was put away in a box for many years until the characters involved were long gone. I don’t know terribly much about McKinley’s assassination outside of what I learned from Sarah Vowell, but the interesting circumstances presented by the story — the World’s Fair, other assassination attempts, weird Italians — have me searching the internet for more info.

“The Mysterious Case of the Unwritten Short Story”, by Colin Cotterill
I was sure this was going to be one of the stories I would hate when I started reading it. It’s in a pseudo-graphic-novel style and is super meta, with the author explaining how he came to write this story (and confusing Laurie King with Larry King) and then telling the story he is trying to write but interrupting with complaints about how much effort it takes to appease the nitpickers in the audience and it all seems so whatever except then he does actually finish the story he’s writing and it’s kind of adorable and amusing. Cotterill wins this time.

“The Last of Sheila-Locke Holmes”, by Laura Lippman
This is a sweet and sad story that I think everyone can relate to. It starts off all happy-like with our hero Sheila being a detective like Holmes or Harriet the Spy (but definitely not Nancy Drew, who’s totally stuck up), and it’s all fun and games until Sheila uncovers a secret that she doesn’t like or really understand.

“The Adventure of the Concert Pianist”, by Margaret Moran
Look, I just really like Mrs. Hudson, who narrates the heck out of this story, in which she and Dr. Watson team up during Holmes’s dead period to solve a case of poisoning. I would like this kind of story to show up in the next season of Sherlock, if they haven’t already written all those episodes.

Recommendation: Definitely check out at least a few of the stories, if you like Sherlock and things based on Sherlock.

Rating: 7/10

The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (? — 30 December)

I’m finished! Woohoo! I started reading this book shortly after I bought it in 2007, and then left off for two years, and then finally picked it up again… sometime earlier this year, and then ignored it again… goodness. But I have been making my way through the bulk of it over the last two weeks, and I can now say that I sort of know what this Sherlock Holmes fellow is about. Sweet.

I had read A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four in my mysteries course senior year, and The Hound of the Baskervilles a few months back, and found them delightful, but I wasn’t really prepared for these short stories. In both the novels and the stories, Holmes gets called on a case, checks out the scene, makes some deductions, and solves the matter in a rather quick fashion, but in the stories, that’s it. There’s not a narrative to go along with the detecting; Holmes just does his thing and Watson reports it.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the stories. I just had to get used to them. 🙂 And… I don’t have much else to say about them! If you want a quick little reminder of how incredibly stupid you are, I recommend finding a Holmes story or two online and enjoying.

Rating: 7/10
(Baker Street Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong, by Pierre Bayard (4 September — 5 September)

I don’t remember where I heard about this book, but it was promised to be a re-examination of The Hound of the Baskervilles that gave proof of a different killer. And… it was, sort of. I guess.

Bayard spends about a quarter of the book summarizing the novel, and then some pages establishing his process of “detective criticism”, e.g. not just finding fault with the book but then figuring out what really happened. Then he spends another quarter of the book talking about the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle (in a word: antagonistic), which doesn’t really have much bearing on the question posed by this book.

And even when Bayard is actually working with the question of what really happened in The Hound of the Baskervilles, he spends more time saying “We must disbelieve this!” and “The only thing we can do here is question that!” which might be true on a can basis but certainly not a must.

What I found really odd and frustrating about this book was that Bayard’s concept that Holmes is wrong and his eventual declaration of a different murderer are really quite reasonable and believable ideas, but so many of his facts are mistaken or just plain wrong that you wonder how he managed to get a decent thesis in the first place! This might be because of the fact that Bayard is French and read a translation of Doyle and then wrote this book and then someone else translated it into English, and in fact there are a couple of translation things noted in the footnotes. But I don’t know.

There’s also a quote at the beginning from my beloved Jasper Fforde, whose concept (well, it’s probably not his, but it’s the one he uses in his books) of fictional characters doing whatever the heck they want while not on the page is referenced often by Bayard as the reason there’s a different murderer. Which just doesn’t make sense, because Bayard offers evidence from the novel that I think very well proves his alternate murderer theory, and he certainly doesn’t need to think that Thursday Next (or some other character) popped in to the novel to cause Doyle’s murderer to be accused. Does that make sense? Probably not. I don’t know what to make of all this.

Rating: 5/10
(The Baker Street Challenge)

See also:

[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle (2 September — 3 September)

I’m finally getting a start on that Baker Street Challenge I’ve been neglecting! Yay! (And it’s a mystery and kind of creepy, really, so I’m gonna throw it in with RIP as well.)

This is one of those books that I’ve never read but that I feel like I’ve read because I saw a version of it on television, though it was many many years ago and it was the Rescue Rangers “Pound of the Baskervilles” and I don’t remember it very well but I don’t think it was much the same. 🙂 It might have been, though.

In the novel, a Dr. Mortimer seeks Sherlock Holmes’s help in a supernatural mystery; Mortimer’s patient and friend Sir Charles Baskerville has died in mysterious circumstances that fit in with the family legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles. This Charles was declared dead of a heart attack, but Mortimer believes that a large hound was involved, judging by some footprints a ways away that the police didn’t care about. If that wasn’t bad enough, the last remaining Baskerville, a Sir Henry, is on his way to take over the estate and Mortimer fears for Henry’s life.

Holmes, as ever, does some deducting and sends Watson out to the moor with Sir Henry to watch over him and report back. While there, Watson encounters some rather odd things that make him wonder if there isn’t a spectral hound out to get the Baskervilles!

So, now I have read this book, and it was good! And, I will admit, the atmosphere and the case were just creepy enough that I was a little jumpy toward the end of the book and in fact was briefly scared by Scott holding a Wiimote over my head. And then I was just confused. 🙂

Rating: 7/10
(Baker Street Challenge, RIP Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.