Monday 4 July 2011

Rob's Top 5: Detectives

Detectives have the innate ability to deduce fact from the tiniest and most obscure amount of evidence, usually with their partner looking agape at their intuition, only to declare that it’s so simple once it has all been explained. Anyone wonder, incidentally, if assistants sometimes sit there going “Nope, still don’t get it...” as they declare it so simple? Just me? Seems to be happening a lot. Anyway, today E14 takes a look at my Top 5 Detectives. Incidentally, in the interest of stopping the arguments, there are, as always, a few honourable mentions which don’t make the list purely for space reasons. To the list (which, as always, is not in any particular order)!

Sherlock Holmes
Known For: Books, TV series, Movies, Videogames.

The world’s most famous detective is probably not a surprise inclusion to people who know me well, as since his inception in story form, Sherlock Holmes has become synonymous with the detective world, particularly in the media. 221B Baker Street now plays host to the Sherlock Holmes museum (which regrettably I’ve never taken the time to visit), and the outfit for which he is most known is an icon in the genre. Moreover, he has been immortalised in pretty much every conceivable media from movies to games to comic books. Hell, there’s almost certainly several fanfics in which Holmes bangs Watson *and* Mrs. Hudson while Inspector Lestrade watches! In fact…


Oh Jesus…

Anyway, for me, Holmes possesses the kind of searing insight that I’d really like to have, and not just 21st Century insight of the kind that tarnishes Apple’s company message to anyone with…half a brain. “If you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t have an iPhone.” That…someone got paid for that! Sherlock Holmes would be able to guess the first fifty apps that any iPhone user would download within the first year of owning one, and meanwhile some corporate tosspots can high-five each other knowing that there is *nothing* that they can say which won’t become a slogan.

Just wait for “iPad 3 – because fuck you, that’s why.”

Anyway, yeah, Sherlock Holmes. Awesome. What’s more, for my money the definitive Holmes is Jeremy Brett, who brought him to life visually in the series of which I am most fond. I do also rather like the video game version that has come to light recently in the resurgence of “point-and-click” adventure games, but then they can make him look however they want, really, so it’s hardly surprising.

Cole Phelps
Known For: L.A Noire, being played by that guy from Mad Men

A relatively recent addition to my personal favourites, one of the strengths of the detective work in this game is most definitely down to the technical advancements that have been made in the game, and for that Team Bondi must be commended. Where the strength lies in Cole Phelps’ character, however, is down to two things: the performance and the writing, both of which are superb.

Say what you like about the jump from Truth to Doubt in the game, but ultimately the performance by Aaron Staton is a superb one, making the character of Cole Phelps a well-rounded personality. With a good backstory, all of which you’re shown gradually as the game progresses, complex character relationships and above all else a morality which more accurately reflects the morality of the time period than many other things I’ve seen, Phelps feels realistic as you play through. You feel good for him when he succeeds, but when he falls you’re filled with legitimate ire as you want to bring down the responsible parties. It’s a testament to both the writing and performance of the game that L.A Noire could be my game of the year.

Professor Layton
Known for: Videogames, Movies.

With a nod to the most famous detective of all time in his demeanour, while at the same time developing the Englishness of the character, Level 5’s Professor Layton is now one of the most iconic gaming characters, and is one of the most recognisable gaming characters when talking on the subject of puzzles and the Nintendo DS in particular. As a personal thing, I’ve found the puzzles to be pretty fucking involved, as last night I was so tired that I made myself a net of a cube in order to solve a puzzle. That’s right: a video game made me do *actual* arts and crafts.

Maybe it’s the fact that he’s English giving him a little bit of a bump onto the Top 5 list, but I find his character completely engaging. Coming across as a little eccentric, one of the nice things about Layton is that he embodies the more traditional character traits associated with being English (aside from the binge-drinking and casual racism, which are commonly seen as “less than desirable” traits). Always desiring a cup of English tea, and at the same time always seeking to be a proper English gentleman above all else, it’s not hard to see why Level 5 have made him that way; now when American DS owners want to make blanket judgments about English people based on the few arsey people who live *and* work in London (and it’s important that both those are conditions are satisfied in order to truly qualify), they’ll be reluctant hoping to meet someone like the top-hatted man.

Known For: Comic books, TV series, movies, videogames.

No list of great detectives would be complete without arguably the finest detective in all of comic history. Bruce Wayne has been represented in pretty much every E14 medium going, and always manages to get portrayed in at least one awesome instance in every medium without fail. Think about it, can you think of a medium where there’s not at least one great work? In comics, there’s frankly too many to mention, among which one would find Year One, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and so on. In movies, there’s the first two Tim Burton works as well as Chris Nolan’s more recent offerings. Even in games, where usually other media come unstuck in the translation, there’s Arkham Asylum, one of the greatest portrayals of the Dark Knight’s character.

Now, the argument can be made that Batman is always going to be an effective detective because he has the resources to do so. This is a fair point, but one can also argue one simple point: He’s rich enough that he doesn’t have to. I don’t just mean that he’s rich enough that he doesn’t have to be Batman at all, but could just sink money into various projects and so on to clean up Gotham’s streets without lifting a finger other than to reach for his chequebook. I mean that he doesn’t have to do it the subtle detective-style way. He could very easily just invest money in the kind of weaponry that would make the A-Team jizz their pants at the very mention of the serial number.

As Gordon states at the end of Batman Begins, the problem is one of escalation, but Bruce Wayne has the money to advance their technology every step of the way. The fact that he chooses to do it the detective way is ultimately a sign of his absolute intelligence, and this is where the character comes into its own.

Tom Thorne
Known For: Books, TV series.

The star of Mark Billingham’s works, some of the most excellent detective novels in recent years, Thorne is another one of those characters that’s written so well that he comes off like a real person. One of the strengths of the character is the way his personality and backstory are developed. Using little mentions of things like football results serve to broaden the character as a whole, and even more subtle references to personal events that have either occurred in previous books or before the series started.

What’s more refreshing, though, is Thorne’s intensity, which comes across both in the novels and in the TV series, where he is played supremely by David Morrissey. Unafraid to raise his voice, which seems to be a trait lacking in some of the classic TV detectives, Thorne is not afraid to yell at someone to get results, and makes for some of the most uncomfortable TV I’ve watched in recent memory, where he yells at someone with “Locked-In” Syndrome, in order to get a reaction from her visibly. While his intentions are noble, and motivated by trying to help her, it’s certainly different from my other televisual experience with the syndrome, in the form of an episode of House starring Mos Def (which is also worth a watch).

To sum up, then, the best thing about Thorne’s character is simply that he actually *has* a character. With complex personal relationships, demons from his past and previous cases and above all a desire to bring the guilty party to justice even if it means going slightly beyond the usual procedures. There are certainly elements of Holmes’ approach to crime-solving, with similar disdain for figures of authority who are judged to maybe not be there for the right reasons.

Words: Rob Wade

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