Apr 25, 2018

Comic Book Review: THE PRISONER #1

Titan are off to a promising start with the first issue of their new Prisoner comic, which came out today. Writer Peter Milligan (X-Statix) crafts an intriguing new spy story about a new Prisoner, but begins outside the Village giving us far more background on this modern-day agent, Breen, and his elite MI5 department known as "The Unit" (which evidently operates both overseas and within the United Kingdom). We don't just meet Breen as he's resigning; the entire first issue speedily sets up his life as a spy in a more or less recognizable contemporary world (albeit one with hints of the fantastic). Unlike with Patrick McGoohan's iconic Number 6 in "Arrival," the first episode of the classic 1960s ITC series The Prisoner, we're treated to Breen's final mission as a secret agent before, inevitably, waking up in the mysterious Italianate confines of The Village on the final page of this issue. (Oh come on; that can hardly be considered a spoiler in a comic called The Prisoner!)

The extra information is both the best thing and the worst thing about this new take on The Prisoner. On the one hand, one of the things I love about the original TV series is how little background we're given. We learn bits about Number 6's spy career throughout the series as his interrogators in his mysterious, baroque prison attempt to break him and divine his secrets. We learn as they learn, occasionally glimpsing intriguing flashbacks which may or may not be real. But Number 6 mostly keeps his precious secrets. Of course, the reason that set up worked to begin with is because of the extra-textual baggage McGoohan brought with him having just starred on three seasons (and change) of the popular spy series Danger Man, later re-titled Secret Agent (review here). Fans have argued for fifty years about whether or not Number 6 is, in fact, John Drake, McGoohan's character from Secret Agent, but the fact is that it doesn't really matter. What matters is that McGoohan played Drake, and therefore brought with him for television audiences the world over immediate associations of a world-weary, globe-trotting secret agent with no love for authority. Blurring lines further was the fact that the final two episodes of Danger Man (and only ones to be shot in color) aired in the UK in the exact same timeslot The Prisoner would occupy, in the same season. And they carried over a number of crew members from the earlier show (though not its creator, Ralph Smart; The Prisoner was created by McGoohan and script editor George Markstein).

Titan doesn't have the benefit of a previous comic book series featuring a secret agent who shares the features of our hero, so instead they provide his spy background in the first issue. My biggest problem with Milligan's take on the material is that he spoon-feeds us too much information. Part of me feels like the hero should have been left un-named, and that an explanatory text piece at the beginning demystifies The Village far too much by assuring readers that "it is perhaps the intelligence community's darkest secret, aligned to no one political system or state, an autonomous institute, free of state manipulation." Part of the mystery that compelled viewers in the 1960s was wondering which side controlled The Village. Was Number 6 a prisoner of the East, or a prisoner of his own side because he knew too many secrets to be allowed to resign into free society? (And if that was the case, could that society really be considered "free?") Ultimately, that's not the show's central mystery, but it made a wonderful red herring. Granted, today the world is not so neatly divided, but questions about what power, if any, controls The Village could have still provided mystery and speculation.

All that said, the chance to explore The Village from outside as well as within can also be viewed as a creative opportunity. (After all, what would be the point of a contemporary sequel if it merely tread the same exact hallowed ground as the original?) So far, I'm willing to give Milligan the benefit of the doubt and eagerly follow him wherever he takes us. In the first issue, he sets up an intriguing premise sure to tantalize spy fans. I could be wrong, but it certainly seems like he's using John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (review here) as a narrative device with which to explore The Village from a new and uniquely privileged viewpoint. We meet Breen out in the cold, completely blown and on the run from his own service. In a flashback, we see a meeting with his boss, known as "Section," in which we learn that "in all its 'known' history, only one agent has managed to escape from The Village." ("Then I'll be number two," Breen asserts in a cute bit of scripting.) "The agent who escaped went mad. And you haven't heard what we have planned for you."

"When he tells me what they want me to do," Breen narrates (conveniently skipping over the exact plan), "I only just manage to keep my temper." Whatever Breen worked out with his control, we know for sure that he's actively seeking The Village. There is a personal angle as well as a professional one. Breen's colleague and lover, Carey, has already disappeared, and he believes she's been taken to The Village. Unlike the original Number 6, this agent is on some level aware of The Village, and wants to get himself imprisoned there. That opens up many interesting narrative possibilities in the issues to come, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

Happily, Colin Lorimer delivers the goods in the art department. He didn't blow me away with any uniquely creative artistic choices to match Milligan's narrative ones, but why should he when we're still in the outside world? Presumably subsequent issues set within The Village will offer ample opportunities for trippy, Steranko-esque surrealism. Readers of comics based on licensed properties are all too used to sub-par art, and I'm happy that Lorimer rises well above that, with breakdowns that flow naturally and characters who are consistently recognizable, even in various disguises.

Overall, Titan's The Prisoner comic is off to a very promising start! I'm more intrigued from the get-go than I was by DC's 1980s Prisoner comics sequel, "Shattered Visage," and far more involved than I was by the tepid AMC TV miniseries remake from 2009 (review here). In fact, Milligan seems determined not to fall into the traps that befell that show, and from the point of view of this blog, I was happy that he hews closely to the original series' espionage roots, something the TV remake more or less eschewed. As with Big Finish's well-made Prisoner audio dramas, I am happily surprised and eager for more.

Watch a trailer for Titan's Prisoner comic book here.

Order The Prisoner #1 for Kindle here.

Order The Prisoner #1 physical copy here.

1 comment:

vwstieber said...

I see a page of Jack Kirby's PRISONER here. Has that work been integrated into the book?

Thanks for the review!