Aug 29, 2012

Comic Book Review: Steed and Mrs. Peel #0

Like a lot of spy fans, I’ve been waiting a loooong time for this. For the first time since 1998, we’ve got a new, officially authorized Avengers story! Not those title-stealing pretenders who did some work for S.H.I.E.L.D. this past summer; the real Avengers—the TV Avengers. That’s right, John Steed and Emma Peel. My favorite TV spies ever. But just because we’ve got a new Avengers story on our hands, in convenient comic book form, doesn’t guarantee it will be any good, of course. Not by a long shot. (See: 1998.) So it was with trembling hands that I opened this Boom! comic by Mark Waid and Steve Bryant. Would the creators do justice to the wonderful, inimitable characters immortalized by Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg? I’m elated to report that the answer is an unequivocal yes!

Steed and Mrs. Peel #0 is good. It’s very good, in fact. It’s better than the 90s comic of the same name written by Grant Morrison (recently reprinted by Boom!)—and that was a lot of fun itself. But Mark Waid gets the tone of the show and the specific crackle of the best Brian Clemens or Philip Levene banter between Steed and Emma. The cadence of the dialogue feels right in a way that few tie-in writers have ever really nailed before.

As far as I’m concerned, the banter is the number one thing to get right in telling a good Avengers tale, but the story matters, too, of course. This special zero issue is a self-contained one, and Waid manages to cram a proper Avengers episode (or mini-episode, at least) into these 22 pages. “The Dead Future” is a direct sequel to the famous (or infamous) TV episode “A Touch of Brimstone” (though, while it rewards a familiarity with the episode, none is required). The Hellfire Club is back in action, but has changed its focus from the past to the future—or at least a 1960s vision of what the future might look like. In the teaser that strikes the correct balance of stylish spy and impossible sci-fi, a doomed agent is aged beyond his years and “woken up” in the far-flung year 2000. Through trickery, a window displays flying cars and a Metropolis-like cityscape. The club members use this scenario to pick the agent’s mind and then eliminate him. It’s a premise right out of Sixties television, reminiscent to some extent not only of the Avengers episode “Escape in Time” (one of my favorites), but also numerous Mission: Impossible set-ups.

From the teaser, following the pattern of the color Emma Peel episodes, we cut to a brief “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed” sequence, and it was here that I knew I was completely on board with this take. The gimmick by which Steed contacts Emma (which I won’t divulge) is not one the show ever used—but very easily could have been. In a comic, though, this particular gag functions on a meta level that wouldn’t have come across on TV. (And it also manages to sneak in a subtle reference to “The Winged Avenger.”) From there, Steed leads Mrs. Peel to the site of an aged corpse in the clothes of one of their agents—and it’s not the first time they’ve seen this scenario.

The story that follows feels not only like a loving tribute to the TV episodes, but also to the Avengers TVcomics of the time. At one point, Steed battles a bearded “Father Time” wielding a scythe, which is exactly the sort of imagery that popped up in those two-tone comic strips in the Avengers annuals! But the writing here, as I already mentioned, is infinitely superior to most of those stories. 

The artwork is fantastic on a level of channeling Sixties pop art pop culture (in its best moments recalling the work of Mike Allred), but less successful in depicting the series’ stars. I’m guessing that Boom! were unable to clear likeness rights for the actors, because these Avengers look very little like Diana Rigg and (especially) Patrick Macnee. That’s a shame, because a sequence in which Steed is “aged” into his 80s would have been a great opportunity to depict Macnee as he looks today! (One panel comes close.) It also seems unfair that Marvel was able to get away with using Peter Wyngarde’s likeness in their X-Men comics that "borrowed" TheAvengers’ Hellfire Club (as a character named “Jason Wyngarde,” no less), but here in an official Avengers tie-in, a brief flashback of has “Brimstone” character, Cartney, bears little resemblance. Cartney is also at the center of my only real nerdy nitpick about this book, too, and that’s that no character played by Peter Wyngarde would ever “favor rather a D-class fragrance,” as described here! But Mark Waid was prepared for my gripe, and has Emma quickly explain, “Oh, no pinchpenny he. But, it must be stressed, the honourable John Cleverly Cartney did incline sharply toward the vulgar…” And perhaps that can be said of Wyngarde. Okay, Waid, you’re off the hook on that one.

I enjoyed the Hellfire out of Steed and Mrs. Peel #0 (sorry; I couldn't resist!), and heartily recommend it to all Avengers fans. It quenches a thirst long overdue of satisfying like a good champagne. (Another minor nitpick would be that there wasn’t quite enough of that signature beverage consumed in this issue, but again my churlish gripery was quickly abated… this time by the fact that bubbly appears to be Emma’s concession of choice in a movie theater! Nice touch.) I hope it sells well and spawns a long series that lives up to the high benchmark set here.

Follow the link here to read my reviews of some past Avengers comics.

NOTE: If the variant covers depicted here seem odd to Avengers fans, they won't to comic book fans. They're homages to classic X-Men covers from the era when that comic was homaging The Avengers, thus completing the circle of homage.


Delmo said...

I haven't seen the art but it's a shame the artist didn't take it upon himself to do likenesses whether they had permission or not. Do you really think Wyngarde would either find out about it or sue if he did find out? Rigg might.

By the way, I really hate this captcha bullshit.

Tanner said...

Sorry, Delmo. I know the Captcha stuff is a pain. But when I didn't have it, I got so inundated with spam that I had to do SOMETHING. Even with it I still have to delete a fair amount of spam. Just the way it is, I guess.

I hope I didn't come off as too critical of the art, because I really liked the style and it certainly suited the Swinging Sixties pop art milieu. I just, like you, wished that the characters looked like the actors more--which I imagine was probably legally precluded. Emma's close enough for comfort, but Steed isn't at all.

Archaznable said...

this comic book to read looks really cool is it really worth reading it