By Todd Allen
A couple weeks back, BOOM! issued a “visual press release” about Grant Morrison’s and Ian Gibson’s “Steed and Mrs. Peel.” This caused a bit of a stir as it seems a fair number of Morrison fans weren’t aware of this little gem from the early 90s. A couple of days ago, I stumbled across my copies of the originals, so let’s have a look at what the fuss is about.
First off, Marvel Comics were the second people to use the title “The Avengers.” Over in England, there was a spy television show that dates back to 1961. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a site about it. [Short summary: bowler hat wearing, umbrella toting superspy and faux gentleman John Steed is a counter-espionage agent fights increasingly surreal threats to the British Empire with the aid of a series of ass-kicking female companions, all but one of whom are civilians.]
Way back in 1990, dearly departed Eclipse Comics, in partnership with Acme Comics (from the UK) did 3 prestige format editions of an Avengers comic. Marvel having the trademark for Avengers in comics, they titled it “Steed & Mrs. Peel” after the main character and his most popular companion.
The originals read like it was originally intended to be 6 standard format comics, so BOOM! reissuing it as 6 issues makes sense. If the issues correspond to the chapters in the original, only 4 of them will be Grant Morrison stories. All the art is by Ian Gibson, with the 4-part story “The Golden Game” written by Grant Morrison. Another 2-parter, “Deadly Rainbow” is written by Anne Caulfield.
“The Golden Game,” which I presume BOOM! will lead with is pretty good. Avengers-wise, it seems to take place after the final season of the show and concerns Steed investigating a traitor with a board game motif and calling Mrs. Peel back into service.
Morrison and Gibson completely nail the slightly silly surrealist adventure theme of the later Avengers episodes. The dialogue, especially is spot on. If you’re not into the TV version, we’re talking about light hearted espionage hijinx with eccentric characters. Nothing heavy, nothing gross. Tonally, if Morrison’s ever done anything else this light, it isn’t coming to mind.
If you _are_ familiar with the TV show, you may find this story highly derivative of the episode “Game.” If you wanted to say this was “Game” crossed with Arcade from various Marvel comics, I’d probably even agree with you. I still enjoyed it, though.
“Deadly Rainbow” is a little more continuity-heavy, in terms of the TV show. Steed’s companions rotated out every couple of seasons (not really by design) and at the end of season 5, Mrs. Peel’s husband, presumed lost in a South American jungle, returned and she left to return to his side. Deadly Rainbow picks up where her last appearance in the show leaves off, driving away with her husband. They encounter some problems in the countryside related to his jungle adventure.
Whereas Morrison really nailed the dialogue, this one felt a little bit off. It aims for the more over the top science fiction/fantasy town of late season 5, but misses on the surrealist aspect. This makes it a little more incongruous with Morrison’s surrealism-heavy story. Eclipse/Acme had a chapter of each story in the final two volumes, and I suspect it might read a little better when not juxtaposed with Morrison’s tale, but it’s merely OK.
If you’re a fan of the show, this tale may also feel a little derivative. There’s a heavy dose of “Mission… Highly Improbable” and perhaps a bit of “Small Game for Big Hunters.”
If you like the Avengers TV show or are curious about Morrison doing something light and breezy (if you like this, you’ll like the TV show), then I can happily recommend “The Golden Game” issues of Steed and Mrs. Peel in January. The “Deadly Rainbow” issues, you probably only want to try if you like the first story or the show, and you probably want to read a few pages first.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.