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Is Sherlock Holmes a Superhero?

Written by David Molofsky

Sherlock’s triumphant return last night got me thinking about where the character stands within the superhero genre. At the time of his creation way back when, he was the closest thing around to a superhero and no one can deny that he is at least a prototype for the superhero:  he is a character who uses a unique ability to solve crimes, isn’t directly associated with a police establishment, and even has a sidekick (partner? Whatever.). He is certainly a model for the likes of Batman, but can you really say that Holmes is a superhero?

In addition to Benedict Cumberbatch, we have had two other recent takes on the character, played by Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Lee Miller (what is it with the long names?). Each has certain aspects of a superhero: they are, to varying degrees, heroic, have the unique deductive power, and are dedicated crime fighters, all of which are traits I previously indentified as necessary aspects of the superhero in this chart. But are any of them actually a superhero?

Downey is the most heroic of the bunch, as well as the most physical (he may well be the most violent Sherlock to date). The fact that the boxing scene in the first film his most iconic scene speaks volumes. This is a Sherlock who fights all his own battles, and does so quite happily. His willingness to leap into action is much more in line with the superhero’s hero mentality, while both Cumberbatch and Miller are more inclined to sit back and let the proper authorities handle the rough stuff.

But while Downey may be the best in a fight, his actual deducting skills (the character’s power, so to speak) are the weakest. In this respect, Cumberbatch comes out on top, with both his observational and reasoning skills leaving Downey in the dust (though Miller does come in at a close second). Cumberbatch is much more introspective and is seen to even be completely unable to turn his power off, whether it be in the middle of a crime scene or a Christmas party.

While he may trail behind he contemporaries in the other categories, Miller leads the charge in being the most determined to solve crimes. Cumberbatch is only interested in problems worthy of his skills, as demonstrated most clearly in the montage of dismissed cases in 2×01. Miller, on the other hand, bites at any chance to play the game. For him, cold cases are not only just as interesting as live ones, but also just as important. Cumberbatch and Downey are much more in the moment and need something stimulating to get them out and about.

This leaves us with Downey as the most heroic, Cumberbatch as the most super, and Miller as the most driven to solve crimes. Using some Sherlockian logic of our own, it must follow that each has at least some of each of the three traits. But can we conclude from this alone that Sherlock is a superhero?

In my opinion, the only superhero aspect that all of our Sherlocks are truly missing is the secret identity. Beyond perhaps a deer stalker hat and a long coat, there is no costume, no hidden part of the self (although after last night’s episode, I think one could debate whether Cumberbatch’s long coat is a costume, and even almost a cape). With Sherlock, what you see is pretty much what you get, provided your eye is trained properly.

At any rate, my conclusion is that while Sherlock Holmes may share many traits with superheroes, he is not one himself. However, I do agree that he is a proto-superhero, the mold  in which the original superheroes were cast. And while his modern incarnations may not be superheroes in the true sense of the word, they are all still damn fun to watch.

Do you think Sherlock Holmes is a superhero? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

David Molofsky

David is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of AP2HYC.