Mark Waid is having a career renaissance. First turning out the charmingly retro but somehow still vitally contemporary Daredevil (helped out by a very well-chosen assortment of Darwyn-ian style artists), and now putting on his best Grant Morrison bowler hat for a surreal romp through England. Who knew the old Kryptonophile had it in him?
This debut issue ably carries on the in-joking fervor of the recent BOOM! Steed and Mrs. Peel reprints, and while Steve Bryant doesn’t have Ian Gibson’s giddy flair, Waid has his wits about him 100%. We live in a world where more and more old culture will be ever more quickly absorbed by the voracious Cloud, where charming film and other analog materials can have be reborn to eternity in a digital after-life, and maybe that’s the best time of all for a period piece as stylish as the British Avengers. That particular mix of James Bond, Carnaby Street, old boys and athletic women had something telling to say to its original 1960s audience, and in our current cacophonous information glut, what better than a little Mod severity and a witty way with a bon mot to delight and entrance our wandering minds?
A cursory glance at the issue finds an aged Steed and an eternally youthful Mrs. Peel in conflict with the original Hellfire Club, but when you realize he’s been struck by an aging compound and we’re actually going to be staying in the 1960s, it’s nothing but good news. Waid has taken the approach of the recent Dark Shadows revival (which picked up exactly where the early 1970s soap was cancelled), or any comic pertaining to be about the original Star Trek cast for that matter. Mod is having a moment again and Waid surprises by being so adept at capturing the charming banter that was just one of this duo’s many attractive qualities.
On the James Bond super-spy scale, The Avengers swung the pendulum a little bit away from the big set-piece action sequences and a little bit closer to the amusing verbal barbs and the execution of precise moves with maximum style and dexterity. Waid’s John and Emma have a recognizably familiar and welcome chemistry. It’s a formula that somehow hasn’t aged a day, especially in this issue where they find themselves confronted by the faraway year of 2000 (!?). When there will of course be “flying automobiles, moving sidewalks” and “a tower for controlling the weather.” Steed remains impeccably unimpressed, however, wondering if a decent brandy has been invented yet and why is he still wearing a 35-year old suit?
Mrs. Peel is just as adept with her cultural barbs, commenting on her loathing for the “art with an axe to grind” that covers the funhouse of evil they of course find themselves in, and knocking out a female automaton with practiced ease. If Steve Bryant’s seemingly inexperienced art isn’t quite up to the graceful poise required, luckily Waid tasks him with no major action scenes. His figures are a bit stiff, but his likenesses of Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee are consistently good, and he has a handle on that wacky British invasion style. His simplistic compositions actually recall the comics of the era. It’s a bit like the Morrison Doom Patrol, where Richard Case seemed unlikely at first but ultimately became inventive in the face of the increasingly surreal madness.
The issue comes with the choice of several promo covers (depending on what your shop orders), as BOOM! debuts often do, and while I was partial to those that homage the more famous Hellfire Club of the X-Men (including parodies of Uncanny X-men #134 and New Mutants #39 by Josh Corvey), I ended up picking the cinematic one by Mike Perkins that features the Union Jack. It’s the most like what you’ll find inside.
Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at Cornekopia.net.