"I Was Bitten By A Radioactive Detective" – When Elementary Showed Respect To The Superhero

Here's a novel idea. Making a genre show with an episode set in the comic book industry? Hire a TV writer who worked in the comic book industry. And who doesn't hate his job.


Enter Paul Cornell, who wrote last night's episode of Elementary. A novelist, he's written for the Doctor Who TV show but also the Superman comic.

Last night's episode began with a dead "real life superhero", The Midnight Ranger, in a fashion that didn't mock him, indeed saw the police speak well of his work in the community, and dealing with drug dealers and street thieves. They even genuinely, and without sarcasm, praised the handiwork on his costume design.


For US television drama just that attitude is utterly groundbreaking. Never before done.


The character was not the victim's own, however it was owned by a comic book publisher, Superlative, who may not have been keen on someone taking their fictional character into the real world. So off to the races we go with Holmes, while the police try to crack his secret identity.


So we have a comic book publisher that… well. Actually looks like a comic book publisher. Possibly slightly too many standees, but there have been times…

And so Holmes and Watson, rather than mocking the esoteric knowledge of comic books, compete over their own knowledge of it. It's funny to see them have it it against each other, with such specific details, but it manages to do this without knocking the form itself – even though it's sometimes begging out to be. Looking at superhero origins, Holmes' observation "in what universe are these characters not all dead from cancer" is one made in comics many times.

Oh and we get to meet Geoff Johns.


Sorry, I mean. Al Baxter.


But it's Geoff Johns.


And this is Ike Perlmutter. Sorry, Mr Ikorn. And a planned "reimagining" of the character as darker on the big screen for a modern movie going audience. Coupled with other, rather accurate, desire from comic book publishers to get their comics into cinemas.

e10And underlining with an idea that this Midnight Ranger did good in his community, rather than the butt of any joke or a lunatic.

"On a scale of one to ten, how crazy?" "Not crazy"… he was training to be a social worker.


Equally, researching the Midnight Ranger sees Holmes reach out to the fan community and get the entire run of the comic book. Which he finds some respect for.


Though this line seems to resonate "The attention to continuity is laughable" as did….

Watson: "This is the tenth issue from the 1940s and you took it out of its bag."


Holmes: "How else was I going to read it?"

No ComiXology in the Elementary universe… oh and "I was bitten by a radioactive detective." That will be on T-shirts by the time San Diego comes around.


The episode continue, making many a reference, bat caves, war journals, comic book letter writing, retconning of continuities, multiple deaths, and how Superlative screwed over the original creator of The Midnight Ranger as a major plot point.

But in the end it came down to the admirable ideal of heroism. Or stepping up. Of making a difference – on a small scale.

Plenty of such ongoing crime shows have done comic book industry episodes. But, to a man, they have existed to mock the comic book and those who enjoy then. For the first time, Elementary chose to do one, treating comics – specifically superhero comics – as another aspect of life and culture, rather than a punchline.


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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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