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While all stories can be adapted and changed, with stories in the public domain being the most attractive choice, Holmes' death and resurrection make his character special because they serve to retcon (from retroactive continuity) his fictional narrative, a process that cannot be undone. Once Conan Doyle decided that earlier features of Holmes' story were open to interpretation and mutation, it meant that going forward, almost any feature of Holmes' story could be shifted and reinterpreted. The practice of retroactively altering fictional continuities is common to pulp and serialized stories, and Conan Doyle's detective stories were no different in this regard. This will help explain the natural synergy that arises between the character of Sherlock Holmes and comic books, because Holmes' own magical resurrection and mutable continuity is directly in line with the editorial and narrative practices that would arise within the American comic books of the 20th century.
By bringing Holmes back to life, Conan Doyle effectively made him invincible, because if one death can be retconned, then any death can be retconned. As a result, Holmes was essentially given the ability to transcend his own place and time, because if his story has the space in which he can come back from death, then this means it has the space for practically anything anyone could think of. Thus, Sherlock Holmes might find himself in a story with vampires, or Batman, and it would not be any more extraordinary, because Conan Doyle implicitly gifted his character with immortality when he decided to reverse the matter of death's permanence.
This is important because it demonstrates that the continuity of Holmes himself is more important than the continuity of the stories. As such details can be changed and pasts remembered differently in the service of whatever Holmes is being presented or discussed. This interpretation is in line with Franco Moretti's argument that in the world of Sherlock Holmes, clues are ultimately secondary to Holmes himself, because "Holmes as Superman needs unintelligible clues to prove his superiority," and as a result the details that make up these clues can change at will (Moretti 216). As will be seen, Moretti's comic book comparison is apt, although for reasons that will become clear, it would have been more accurate to say "Holmes as Batman," because Batman is closest superhero analogy to the character of Holmes, so long as one is not counting Holmes himself as a superhero.
If the story can be retroactively changed in order to fit into whatever the most recent Holmes story is, then this means that the story can always be changed, and that new Sherlock Holmes stories, appearing in whatever media, will always find a conducive and comfortable narrative superstructure upon which to rest. This is not to suggest that there are no internal standards or logic to a Sherlock Holmes story, but rather to point out that this internal logic includes within it the ability to change and alter the story as necessary for whatever new story to fit into old continuity. This mutability is not unique to the Sherlock Holmes stories, but Holmes does exemplify this tendency in way usually reserved for fairy tales, folk legends, and comic book narratives.
This is actually what separates Sherlock Holmes from more straightforward detective stories such as CSI, because although in general both share "a similar pretense: a world of incontrovertible evidence where noble sleuths toil to reveal the truth; a narrative of crime told through traces and often substantiated by convenient and detailed criminal confessions," in Sherlock Holmes stories these "traces" are ultimately second to the sheer power of the detective himself (Harrington 366). In the essay just quoted, Ellen Harrington argues that Holmes stories and CSI serve similar functions in regards to their respective nations of origin, and although in general this thesis is convincing, it misses crucial details when it comes to Holmes' transmedial nature, namely, the fact that for Holmes, the details actually matter somewhat less than the character of the detective himself. While both Holmes and CSI serve to reassert the primacy of their respective political contexts (they are both "fighting crime," after all), CSI does this through an appeal to facts and evidence, while Holmes ultimately does with an appeal to genius. While there are clues that play a role in solving the central mysteries, the audience can rest assured that in a Sherlock Holmes story, the sol
Having outlined the major features of Sherlock Holmes' character that seem to make him especially receptive to a transmedia existence, it is now possible to demonstrates these features in some of Holmes' actual transmedia appearances. One may begin with examples that do not transplant Holmes into new temporal or spacial locations, but rather retain the original setting while creating new or different stories. Perhaps the most obvious of this at this point would be the big-budget film Sherlock Holmes, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. As the titular detective.
The 2009 film keeps the setting of Victorian England, and it actually highlights certain details of the character and his compatriots that were gradually lost over a century of radio and television dramatizations. In terms of narrative, the film exploits Holmes' mutable continuity in order to create a new adventure for Holmes and Watson that nevertheless recreates certain scenes and ides from preexisting stories, essentially creating its own continuity that mirrors the original like a kind of 21st-century echo. Furthermore, the film attempts to use contemporary technology in order to highlight Holmes considerable intellectual and observational skills, and in doing so reactivates the idea of Holmes as a cyborg. In particular, during fight scenes, the film slows down so that Holmes can provide a blow-by-blow account of his intended movement, effectively integrating his martial arts prowess and observational skill into the special effects shot, such that Holmes' and the material of the film itself become blended. Once again, Holmes' ability to blur the lines between person and technology allow him to more easily assume a transmedial position, because the film is able to seamlessly blend Holmes' 19th-century character with 21st-century visual aesthetics.
In addition to the 2009 film (and its sequel), another recent text that retains Holmes' 19th-century setting while adapting the character for a new medium is the 2012 videogame the Testament of Sherlock Holmes. Once again, this new iteration of the character features an entirely new story inserted into Holmes' considerable biography, exploiting the existing mutability of the character in order to tell a story of Holmes' being incriminated in the theft of a priceless necklace. What is most interesting about this transmedia appearance, however, is the way that Holmes' powers of observation and intellect are rendered in true cyborg fashion.
Unlike the other texts discussed here, the Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a videogame, and as such it incorporates a player, rather than an audience. Almost immediately, then, one can see how Holmes' cyborg qualities are reactivated here, because the simple act of playing a videogame is effectively and act of cyborgification, as the player blends him or her self with the character of Sherlock through the mediating power of technology. The player and Sherlock become a single, shared persona, as the player directs Sherlock to investigate clues and question suspects. Holmes' own powers of observation and deduction are quantified and rendered here as a central game mechanic, and because these powers are always already a form of cyborg blending, the transition from regular narrative to interactive narrative is seamless.
While these appearances have kept Holmes firmly rooted in the 19th century even as they present that time through contemporary media, comic books have tended to act as a kind of bridge for Sherlock Holmes by locating him in the 19th century but providing him with a way of reaching into the twentieth. There are two notable appearances of Sherlock Holmes in comic books that help demonstrate why he is particularly suited to transmedia appearances. The first to discuss is Alan Moore's the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which features characters from a number of 19th century stories banding together to fight a super villain (who turns out to be Moriarty). Although Holmes is not actually among this group, his brother Mycroft makes an appearance, and in the second volume of the story it is revealed that he is alive and met in secret with Wilhelmina Murray (of Dracula fame).
Even though the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen does not feature Holmes prominently, even this fact is a testament to his mutability and transmedial propensities, because the comic did not need to feature Holmes prominently. By focusing on Moriarty and Mycroft, the story was able to access incorporate the Holmes' mythos into the larger world of the League without having to include Holmes directly. Furthermore, the fact that Holmes faked his death is what makes it possible to include him in the comic, because it is precisely during this time in hiding (when neither the reader nor…[continue]
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