Is Batman a modern-day Sherlock Holmes? The two characters are similar in some ways. First, one of Batman’s titles is “The World’s Greatest Detective”. This has been somewhat forgotten in recent years with the emphasis in the Nolan films of Batman, or Bruce Wayne, really, being “The Dark Knight” or “The Caped Crusader”. And I’m not saying those films are bad – I loved them (see reviews elsewhere on this blog) but it’s a different emphasis on the character. And the comics now, with the newly introduced “Batman, Inc” plot (which I’ve only partially read, I’m working my way through the graphic novels, having read: Final Crisis, Batman: RIP, Battle for the Cowl, Long Shadows, Time and the Batman, and The Return of Bruce Wayne), make Bruce the CEO of a Batman franchise, rather than a solo hero. But originally, Batman was a detective. He was a character in DC comics, that’s detective comics, and the early Batman books (or books set in the early era, such as the wonderful The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, or Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One), Batman used his detective skills to solve crimes.
Second, one of the most notable aspects of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories was the incredible yet unlikely friendship between Holmes and Watson. This friendship is what keeps readers and fans of Sherlock Holmes (like myself) returning again and again to the stories. It’s also why Sherlock Holmes can be lifted out of the Victorian era and still be successful in the BBC’s Sherlock. Without going too off track – Sherlock is a brilliant series that modernizes Sherlock Holmes. There’s modern equivalents to Victorian items (Holmes sending text messages instead of telegrams; Dr. Watson keeping a blog, rather than writing memoirs, etc) and references to some of the original stories but besides the brilliant, clever writing, what makes the show work as modern Holmes is the friendship of Holmes and Watson, and the chemistry between Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
How does this relate to Batman? Especially solo, pre-Robin, Batman? Because, even in the pre-Robin era, or, more precisely, stories set in the pre-Robin era, Batman was never alone. Not nearly as alone as he thought he was. He may have protected the streets of Gotham City by himself – but he had Lt. Gordon (later police commissioner) on his side. He had Lucius Fox coming up with tech for him and running interference with Wayne Enterprises. And most of all, Bruce had Alfred. Sir Alfred Pennyworth, with experience as an OSS officer during World War II, and as an MI6 officer after the war. Alfred – the only person in the entire DC universe to have any idea what Bruce was like prior to his parents’ death. Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler, but also his medic, his best friend, his “parent”, his sounding board and his anchor. I’ve always loved the relationship between Alfred and Bruce. Alfred is the only one who can stop Bruce when he starts to go too far. It was Alfred who gave Bruce the tickets to the circus and urged him to go – therefore introducing him to Dick Greyson, the first Robin. Alfred who’s sardonic, intelligent, and caring, and the Yin to Bruce’s Yang (or is it Yang to Yin?). Without Alfred, Bruce may have well become another of Gotham City’s costumed villains, rather than a hero. Alfred can easily be seen as Bruce’s Watson. Alfred provides balance, and a humanity that sometimes, in his worst moments, Bruce lacks. Hum, just like Dr. John Watson.
So we have a great detective, with a loyal partner, what else?
Well, like Holmes – Batman uses the latest technology but also his brain to solve crimes. Bruce, like Holmes, isn’t going to dismiss a crime-solving technique because it’s new technology. (This is why, in Sherlock, I have no problem with Sherlock Holmes using smartphones and laptops; I also have no problem with Batman using Crey computers, DNA analysis, or driving a tank or flying car – all things to appear in various modern updates of Batman, and all things that didn’t exist in the 1940s, when Batman was created. Or in the case of the flying car from the newest Batman books or the TV series Batman Beyond – something that still doesn’t exist). But Bruce, also like Holmes, isn’t a slave to technology either. Holmes, in one story proves that the thumbprint that Lestrade finds at a crime scene is meant to throw the police off the scent and to frame an innocent man. More famously, in Holmes we have “Silver Blaze” and the curious incident of the dog in the night time. Watson: “But the dog did nothing in the night time”. “That,” says Holmes, “Is the curious incident”, he then goes on to prove that someone in the household stole the horse, or otherwise the dog would have barked. Batman/Bruce is also able to use his intelligence to realize when a villain such as the Joker is laying false clues.
So, is Batman a modern-day Holmes? He could be!