May 24, 2016

Batman Meets Avengers Steed and Mrs. Peel For Real This Summer

DC Comics' Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel, uniting the Adam West incarnation of the Caped Crusader with the original Avengers, was first announced at Comic-Con last summer. But after that news on the project was frustratingly scarce. In the fall came the surprising news that Batman would next team up with another pair of Sixties tube spooks, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Again, details were scarce, and spy fans were left to ponder whether the U.N.C.L.E. series had precluded the previously announced Avengers crossover, or merely preceded it. Thankfully it now seems clear that DC is intent on a series of Sixties Batman TV crossovers, the issues of which appear to have replaced the ongoing monthly Batman '66 comic, which came to a close just before the U.N.C.L.E. crossover began. The publisher officially announced Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel last month (as reported on Comic Book Resources), with the first issue hitting comic shops July 6 (after debuting digitally on June 8) and the second slated for August 3.

The 6-issue series will be a co-publication with BOOM! Studios, who have held the license to publish Steed and Mrs. Peel comics since 2012, and have done so intermittently since then, along with reprinting Grant Morrison's early Nineties run on the title. BOOM!'s most recent stab at Steed and Emma (for my money, bar none the greatest characters in all spy television) came in 2014 with "Mrs. Peel, We're Needed" by Ian Edginton and Marco Cosentino. That series was originally solicited as being six issues, but was alarmingly truncated to just three (and never collected in trade), presumably owing to poor sales. (A pity, too, because Edginton delivered a great story chock-full of amusing references to The Prisoner, James Bond and other Sixties pop culture spies.) Hopefully a meeting with Batman will give The Avengers the higher profile they need to sell more comics of their own, and Boom! will at least allow Edginton to finish out his 6-issue run and then publish a collected edition to match their previous three volumes of original comics. That seems like a possibility because, happily, Edginton is the writer on Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel! Matthew Dow Smith (whose previous TV-based comics include Doctor Who and The X-Files, and who also drew the very first solo adventure of Mike Mignola's Lobster Johnson) provides the art, and the great Mike Allred (Red Rocket 7) continues his cover duties from Batman '66 and Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Additionally, Cat Staggs will provide a variant cover for the first issue.)

Some fans complained about the artwork because the publisher apparently didn't obtain likeness rights for Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, but I thought DC really knocked it out of the park with Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which will be collected in hardcover in September. I sincerely hope that Batman Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel maintains that high level of quality and fun, and with Edginton (who also penned a quartet of outstanding Sherlock Holmes graphic novel adaptations) at the helm, I'm confident that it will. Furthermore, if I may dare to dream a moment, I hope that the two miniseries are successful enough to warrant follow-ups. I would love to see more U.N.C.L.E. from DC (and I suspect the only way that will happen is with Batman along for the ride), and I would love even more to see some sort of jam-packed hullabaloo with Batman, Steed, Emma, Napoleon and Illya all together! (While I'm dreaming big, such an epic event should definitely be drawn by Allred. He loves hullabaloos.) At the very least, it will be nice to have a pair of Batman '66 superspy crossovers next to each other on my bookshelf by early next year. (The hardcover volumes DC has done with Batman '66 are very attractive indeed.)

I have no doubt that this series will yield an umbrella fight between John Steed and the Penguin, and a catsuited cat fight between Emma Peel and Catwoman. And obviously (judging from the cover for #2), Cybernaughts show up too. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Hellfire Club make an appearance. But here's what we know for sure, in the form of DC's solicitation copy for the first two issues.
BATMAN ’66 MEETS STEED AND MRS. PEEL #1England swings and so does the Dynamic Duo in this historic pairing of two of the hippest shows from 1960s television. DC Comics and BOOM! Studios join forces to bring these iconic characters together for the first time!
As Bruce Wayne shows the beautiful head of a UK electronics company the sights of Gotham, they are interrupted by the felonious feline Catwoman! Unwilling to leave Miss Michaela Gough unprotected, Bruce resigns himself to the fact that Batman cannot save the day. But some new players have arrived in town—though even as the lovely, catsuit-clad Mrs. Peel and her comrade John Steed take control of the situation, nefarious plots continue apace!  
BATMAN ’66 MEETS STEED AND MRS. PEEL #2Gotham City’s police headquarters have been besieged by mysterious metal men, and our heroes are put in an unlikely position: as Catwoman’s saviors. And when even Batman’s best efforts falter, John Steed’s trusty umbrella plays a key role in the rescue! Co-published with BOOM! Studios.
Like Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel will be a digital first comic. This means that the comic will be published digitally on a bi-weekly schedule in advance of its print publication. Each digital issue contains half the contents of each print issue, so digitally it will amount to twelve parts total.

Pre-order Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. here.
Order Steed and Mrs. Peel: The Golden Game here.
Order Steed and Mrs. Peel Volume 1 here.
Order Steed and Mrs. Peel Volume 2 here.
Order Steed and Mrs. Peel Volume 3 here.

Read my review of Steed and Mrs. Peel #0 here.
Read my interview with Steed and Mrs. Peel writer Caleb Monroe here.

May 17, 2016

See the First Mission: Impossible On the Big Screen in L.A.

James Bond movies play the revival circuit all the time, but the opportunity to see early entries in other continuing blockbuster spy franchises in the theater is much less frequent. Los Angelenos, however, will get just such an opportunity next week when the Arclight Hollywood presents the first Mission: Impossible on the big screen. No, I'm not talking about Mission: Impossible vs. The Mob, the film assembled from two episodes of the TV show to play overseas in the Sixties (though that would certainly be cool to see in a cinema!); I'm talking about the first Tom Cruise movie, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary--almost to the night. Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible opened on May 22, 1996; the Arclight screening (presented digitally) happens just a day late on May 23, 2016 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available from the Arclight website. It's kind of amazing that Cruise has been playing the role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt for so long. No actor ever played James Bond continuously for so many years (though Connery returned to the role for Never Say Never Again 21 years after his first outing as 007), though the Mission: Impossible movies have never appeared with the regularity of Bonds, making that feat somewhat easier to, er... accomplish.

When I first saw Mission: Impossible in high school, I came home very disappointed by what screenwriters William Goldman and David Koepp had done to Jim Phelps, beloved hero of the TV show (played there by the great Peter Graves and in the movie by Jon Voight), who I knew at that time only through the late 80s/early 90s revival. But over the years, I've learned to let go a little. Plus, the high quality of the recent entries in the film series has earned some good will on my part toward the first one. While the Phelps twist will never sit right with me, I can now appreciate DePalma's film for the many things it does right. He directs an honest-to-goodness spy movie, homaging the genre far outside of just the Mission TV show or the Bond movies at a time when many believed it to be dead after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His canted angles of twisty European streets recollect Carol Reed, Sidney Furie and Martin Ritt with the same gusto that his expertly constructed setpieces tribute, as always, with DePalma, Alfred Hitchcock. (Though of course the film's most memorable moment, with Cruise dangling from the ceiling of the CIA, actually comes directly from Jules Dassin's Topkapi.) And Danny Elfman's score is utterly fantastic from start to finish, like DePalma taking its musical cues as much from Hitchcock collaborators like Bernard Herrman as from original Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin. For open-minded spy fans, I think seeing the 1996 Mission: Impossible on the big screen again could prove revelatory.
Thanks to Neil for the heads-up!

May 16, 2016

Tradecraft: Thrilling Cities TV Series in Development

Sharp-eyed agents at MI6 (the mega-Bond fansite, not the spy agency) noticed a very interesting item buried within a Hollywood Reporter story about actor Michael Weatherly's departure from the hit TV series NCIS. Musing about future prospects, Weatherly told the trade that his production company, Solar Drive Productions, is working on adapting Ian Fleming's 1963 non-fiction travelogue Thrilling Cities into a possible TV series. That's a very exciting prospect! Evidently, Weatherly thinks so too, telling the trade, "All of it is so exciting, but I'm really not allowing myself to get too excited about it until the final episode of NCIS airs." No further details are provided. Would this be a travel/reality series, or a drama? Would it be set in today's most thrilling cities, or the same ones Fleming found thrilling in the early 1960s? Would it be a period piece? All of these prospects are intriguing. Weatherly founded Solar Drive in 2014, strking an overall development deal with CBS Television Studios on a mission to create  "inventive, adrenalized, powerful hit series in every platform"... which doesn't seem to narrow down the possibilities. It seems unlikely, however, that Weatherly would star in a drama version; he's already committed to another new CBS show, Bull, so most likely he'll be involved only in a producing capacity. Whatever they ultimately come up with, it's important to note that development is a long way from being on the air. Fingers crossed though! I would love to see another Ian Fleming property on screen, even if the final product bears only a nominal relationship to its original inspiration. The property someone really needs to develop, though, is The Diamond Smugglers! Imagine posters touting so-and-so as "John Blaize, the other hero from the creator of James Bond!"

May 1, 2016

Tradecraft: Paul Rudd to Play Moe Berg

Variety reports that Paul Rudd (Captain America: Civil War) will play the legendary baseball player/spy (more legendary as the former than the latter) Moe Berg in The Catcher Was a Spy for Palmstar Media. Since it has the same title, I'm assuming this film will be based on Nicholas Davidoff's 1995 book, and I honestly can't believe it's taken so long for that to make it to the screen. There have been many books on Berg, however (ESPN calls him "the only utility player to be the subject of three biographies"), so it's possible that the movie has other source material. Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) wrote the screenplay and Ben Lewin (The Sessions) will direct.

Berg was perhaps the ultimate Renaissance man. With degrees from Princeton and Columbia Law (as well as studying at the Sorbonne), he was a polyglot and an athlete. During a fifteen-year career in the major league he bounced around between multiple teams including the Chicago White Sox, the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox. An undistinguished record didn't stop him from accompanying the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Japan in the years before WWII, where he covertly photographed Tokyo for the U.S. government, taking films that were supposedly used in planning the Doolittle raid. He went on to serve in the OSS and the CIA, taking on numerous perilous wartime assignments.