Steed and Mrs Peel volume 2: The Secret History of Space

By Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang, Ron Riley & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-340-2 (TPB)

The (other) Avengers was an incredibly stylish, globally popular British TV show which blended espionage with arch glamor, seductively knowing comedy and deadly danger with elements of technological fantasy. It ran from the 1960s through to the beginning of the 1980s. A phenomenal cult hit, the show (and sequel The New Avengers) is best remembered for Cool Britannia outreach, stylish action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, uniquely English festishistic trappings, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”.

Enormously popular all over the globe, the show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime thriller Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrilling and sophisticated drama/lampoonery with suave, urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

The format was a winner. Peel, as played by Dame Diana Rigg, had replaced landmark character Cathy Gale – the first hands-on fighting female on British TV history – and took the show to even greater heights of success. Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented into the nation’s psyche the archetype of a powerful, clever, competent woman: largely banishing the screaming, eye-candy girly-victim to the dustbin of popular fiction.

Rigg left in 1967, herself replaced by another feisty female: Tara King (Linda Thorson) who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s. The New Avengers saw glamorous Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as partners and foils to agelessly debonair but deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games and collector models; a pop single, stage show and radio series, plus audio adventures, posters, books and all the myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation. The one we care most about is comics and naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either.

Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus the Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced.

This ran until #771 (September 24th 1966), and the dashing duo also starred in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic with #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until #1077 in 1972.

In 1966, Mick Anglo Studios unleashed a one-off, large-sized UK comicbook, and two years later in America, Gold Key’s Four-Color series published a try-out book using recycled UK material as John Steed/Emma Peel – since Marvel had since secured an American trademark for comics with the name “Avengers”. Although a constantly evolving premise, fans mostly fixate on the classic pairing of Steed and Peel – which is handy as the Avengers title is embargoed up the wazoo now.

There were wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Seasonal trade, beginning with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967-1969: supplemented by a brace of New Avengers volumes for 1977 and 1978.

Most importantly, Eclipse/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige miniseries between 1990 and 1992. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with supplementary scripting from Anne Caulfield. That tale was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios: a notional pilot for the later iteration under review here.

The Adventures of Steed and Mrs. Peel began with issue #0-3 (August 2012), reintroducing the faithful and newcomers to a uniquely British phenomenon and saw the grand dames of Spy Fi tackle old (TV) enemies The Hellfire Club at the height of the 1960s.

After quelling last volume’s A Very Civil Armageddon, the intrigue resumes here and now with Steed and Peel clearing up loose ends by attending a highly suspect gala soiree in ‘Ballroom Dance Fu’ (by Caleb Monroe, Yasmin Liang & colourist Ron Riley). The scoundrel du jour under investigation is wealthy rogue Lloyd Cushing, but the true target is scurrilous brainwasher Mr. Blackwell – the sinister mindbender who facilitated the Hellfire Club’s schemes and previously warped Mrs Peel into their Queen of Sin.

Sadly, despite a minimum of murders and the defeat of their foe, our heroes are left little wiser, and blithely unaware that the schemes of a hidden mastermind are still proceeding apace…

Main event ‘The Secret History of Space’ then kicks off with the abduction of British Air Chief Marshal Trevor Seabrook’s wife in opening gambit ‘Steed Drifts Off into Space’. The hidden villain’s ultimate aim is achieved when the distraught airman – head of the UK’s Space Program – hands over an item long stored and forgotten in a research facility. Investigating the extortion, Steed and Peel are baffled to learn that the top-secret booty is a decades-old empty glass jar…

Diligent investigation leads the Derring Duo to a warehouse where old enemy Dr. Peter Glass (another TV series recruit) has been continuing his deadly experiments into optical lasers. It’s quite the conundrum since Steed clearly remembers killing him…

The answer is forthcoming as ‘Time Flies’ reveals a bit of chronal meddling from the bonkers boffin’s future assistant Jamie upsetting the timeline and risking things from beyond our comprehension getting dangerously close to humanity. Thankfully, even a gang of time-duplicated henchpersons are no match for Mrs Peel in full assault mode…

With normality restored, our heroes then voyage to small Welsh mining town Abergylid, where an unlikely cluster of suicides (24 in one month) has the Ministry deeply concerned. After both almost simultaneously succumb to manic death-urges, simple deduction leads to an outside influencer callously operating with malign intent and methods in ‘Tawdry Little Endings’.

Wry, sharp and wickedly satisfying, these classy cloak-&-dagger dramas are sheer delight for staunch fans and curious newcomers alike and this volume also includes a wealth of covers and variants gallery by Joe Corroney & Brian Miller; Drew Johnson, Mike Perkins, Barry Kitson and Davis (all coloured by Vladimir Popov), Lorena Carvalho and Chan Hyuk Lee.
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