Since 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes has become one of the most recognized and widely known fictional characters. In fact, he's got a World Record for it as the most "depicted literary character of TV and film," with over 250 on-screen appearances by over 75 actors. Today, the most prominent have been by Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's Sherlock TV series and Robert Downey Jr. in the Sherlock Holmes film series. It's very rare to come across anyone who hasn't at least heard of the intelligent and eccentric fictional detective, and the character has had a huge influence on literature and the mystery genre.
Though Sherlock Holmes has remained a compelling character all these years, over 130 years later, recent iterations have started to expand on his universe by focusing on secondary characters within it.
The first of these is the Netflix original movie, Enola Holmes, which focuses on the titular genius sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, who uses her detective skills to outsmart her brothers and find their missing mother. The character was introduced in 2006 by Nancy Springer in The Enola Holmes Mysteries series and the movie adaptation has a star-studded cast featuring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin and Helena Bonham Carter.
But that's not the only Holmes spinoff fans are getting this Fall. On October 6, Viz Media will be releasing the English-language translation of Moriarty The Patriot, a psychological mystery that follows Sherlock's greatest enemy, James Moriarty, and uncovers his twisted origin story. When Moriarty's upper-class family adopts two orphans from the lower-class, they are subject to harsh cruelty by their new family. This ignites a spark in the cunning Moriarty, who has a deep-seated hatred of the nobility he was born into and desires to build a new world free of evil -- starting with his own family. While Sherlock is a consulting detective, the series provides insights into how Moriarty became a "consulting criminal." The manga is also receiving an upcoming anime adaptation that is scheduled to be released on October 11 in Japan.
It's by a strange Sherlockian coincidence that these Sherlock Holmes spinoffs are being released in close succession, which is sure to garner attention from the character's fanbase -- especially as these spinoffs are surprisingly rare. While a Sherlock adaptation is hardly anything new, Enola Holmes and Moriarty The Patriot stand out by having Sherlock play a supporting role. In Enola Holmes, he acts as a mentor and helps tell her story, while he plays the antagonist to Moriarty in Moriarty the Patriot, who is the hero of his own story in the way that Enola is.
It's a new and interesting concept to see Sherlock relegated a supporting character in his own world; used only to further someone else's story. With this new set of adaptations are building upon a potentially expansive universe, the only question left to deduce an answer to is... for what purpose? Without Sherlock as the focal point of a series, a cynical answer is that it's simply a marketing tool to squeeze untouched juice from an aging property. Or it could be an experiment to test an audiences' interest in other characters.
Whatever the reason, and from a more positive perspective, it is an exciting new way to develop an old series by bringing in new perspectives. Enola Holmes achieves this through the eyes of a young female detective in the 19th century as she proves that she is very much as capable as her brother -- maybe even more so. Moriarty the Patriot does this by showing the journey of a man venturing down the dark side that will end in him coming to rival the world's greatest detective.
The success of Sherlock Holmes really is one to marvel at as it's incredibly rare for a character to be more loved and recognized than ever over a century after their creation. Enola Holmes has been positively received by critics and viewers alike and there is already speculation about a potential sequel. The manga of Moriarty The Patriot has proven popular enough for it to be published in multiple languages, and if the upcoming anime is well-received, it could birth a successful franchise offshoot. If these new adaptations continue to be successful, then this new era of spinoffs could open the door even wider for more other creators to further expand the Sherlock universe without the detective front and center.