Steed and Mrs. Peel #0 Review by Jerry Whitworth
Writer: Mark Waid; Artist: Steve Bryant; Colorist: Ron Riley; Letterer: Steve Wands; Cover Artists: Phil Noto (A), Joshua Covey with Blond (B, C, & E), Mike Perkins (D & G), Joshua Covey (F), & Joseph Michael Linsner (H)
When the slain corpses of the elderly begin appearing patterned after missing Ministry agents, John Steed and Mrs. Emma Peel are brought on to investigate the phenomenon. When a clue emerges linking the murders to the Hellfire Club, the pair must again enter the group’s sanctum and confront the future-obsessed Ian Lansdowne Dunderdale Cartney to uncover the truth.
The Avengers was a popular British action-adventure series brought to America on ABC in 1966, airing the same year and on the same network as the Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward premiered. In reality the show’s fourth season, the Avengers started in the United States starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel, a pair of secret agents for England’s agency the Ministry. The show was marked by several distinct themes including the use of pop art and high fashion as well as the character of Mrs. Peel as a brilliant martial arts expert and chemist (with a high aptitude in various other sciences). Peel would largely become the show’s star, breaking down many barriers at the time as a woman who was as capable as a man (often times, significantly more capable) who was also gorgeous, a fashionista, and employed what was largely the foreign concept of Eastern martial arts (the Green Hornet television series premiered on ABC the same year starring Bruce Lee as kung fu expert Kato).
In the pages of Steed and Mrs. Peel #0, the Batman connection is made as the pair of spies watch a thinly-veiled homage to the television series in a movie theater and later at a dance club featuring “camp.” The issue is largely a sequel to the classic episode of the fourth season “A Touch of Brimstone” (the most viewed episode of the original broadcast in Britain, going unaired in America) which featured the Hellfire Club, a group of affluent or highly-skilled individuals dressed in clothing of an earlier period engaging in hedonism and orgies with plans to seize power by murdering a host of world leaders. The episode is likely most fondly remembered for Mrs. Peel donning fetish lingerie as the “Queen of Sin” as she is given to the Club for one of their ritual orgies. The group would inspire the same-named organization that appeared in the pages of Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne as part of the Dark Phoenix storyline, the dress of Mrs. Peel inspiring that worn by the Black and White Queens.
Regarding the issue’s writing, it’s quite faithful to the kind of stories and character interaction that made up episodes of the Avengers. However, I don’t believe that works well for the medium of comic books (at least, in this instance). For a comic, the pacing was slow, the action was limited, and the tale lacked drama. What’s worse, the art was quite flat, especially considering the source material. Part of the appeal of the Avengers was its use of pop art and innovative use of angles and staging to make watching an episode an experience unlike anything else on television. While the artist captured a fairly similar look to the characters, he largely failed to capture the artistic imagery of the series (an aspect that bugs me is how empty many of the backgrounds in panels were). The dull coloring of the art certainly didn’t help. Honestly, this book would work a great deal better if it was released in 1968 as a subsequent issue of the John Steed, Emma Peel comic put out by Gold Key. Steed and Mrs. Peel #0 was a quick, uneventful read that could appeal to a diehard Avengers fan but to anyone else deserves a pass.