The Prisoner: Titan Comics Mini-Series


The only decent art in the series

Delayed from its original July date, the fourth and final part of Titan Comics’ The Prisoner mini-series is now available and it confirms what I’d long since surmised: it’s a piece of shit and anyone who thinks this remotely worthy of the original series hasn’t got a clue about the original series.

I am, admittedly, a very harsh taskmaster about such things, but I am old enough to recall the series going out and this has been a ridiculous piece of work on all levels, starting from the rough and inconsistent art by Colin Lorimar and going up to the nonsensical story by Peter Milligan, who is talented enough to do better. Beyond the superficial trappings borrowed for the look of it, there is nothing that Patrick MacGoohan would recognise as being related to his vision, and the final issue introduction of a Number One of sorts is an insult to the original. Even Deam Motter’s ‘Shattered Visage’ of thirty years ago did better with its empty philosophic of “Does the presence of a Number Two necessarily require a Number One?”

What we did get was a penny-plain spy story that mistook convolution for complexity. Breen, an Agent of the Unit, under section, loses fellow and temporary lover Agent Carey in the Middle East, believed taken by The Village, defined as a completely independent organisation beholden to no-one. Breen is ordered to steal a vital but undefined secret (named Pandora, fairly banally but you could have just said The MacGuffin for all the real importance it has) in order to attract extraction to The Village.

He undergoes interrogation, finds Carey has first defected to The Village, then she’s assisting his escape, then she’s the new Number Two by murdering her predecessor, then she’s electrocuted then she’s a Unit Agent with no hostility to him who’s never even seen The Village. Which one do you believe? Unfortunately, to believe you have to care and I didn’t.

The great revelation, which I’d leave out if I could, is that Number One is a punch-card driven old supercomputer acting totally at random. You can tell that Milligan is just punching the clock because he pretends to offer randomness as a Political system of serious merit.

The climax features Breen accepting employment as the new Number Two and having section kidnapped and installed as Number Six. Very witty.

The problem is that Breen’s a cypher, Carey’s a cypher, and Section’s a silly ass cypher. Lorimar finds it difficult to make people look the same two panels running – his Carey is a different woman every single time you see her – and the minimal plot is weighed down with so much faux reality that it chokes any effort to equate it to a series that was the complete antithesis of reality: surreal, glittery, absurd, constructed out of iconic imagery and above all clean. A twenty-first century grim’n’gritty Prisoner is a contradiction in terms, and if there’s a sequel series, I shalln’t be acknowledging it without a complete change of every creative person associated. The editor and original plot provider is David Leach: I’m sentimental enough to hope he isn’t the one I used to know in UK fandom in the Eighties because I liked him.

You may bid for the set on eBay as from Sunday, though I can’t in all conscience recommend you do, unless you feel sorry enough for me to want to help me recoup the money I spent on this, or maybe even turn a small profit. A large profit would be even better.

 

The New Prisoner Comic 2


In which we see that Peter Milligan and especially Colin Lorimer do not have “have the chops to create the feel essential to making (Titan’s new The Prisoner comic) a success.”

All issue 2 is is 21st century ultra-cynical espionage without any new ideas or individuality, wrapped loosely in the clothes of the Village, and a piped blazer. Any resemblance to The Prisoner is a name.

The New Prisoner Comic


I am extremely protective about certain things, as my commentary about Doomsday Clock demonstrates. You cannot get away with doing them unless you do them exactly the way I want them to be. On that basis, Titan’s new The Prisoner comic, written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Colin Lorimer, is on an AI, triple-decker, double-secret hiding to nothing.

It’s a six-issue limited series of which issue 1 has been published with no less than six different covers. I chose cover 3, which is an image taken from the legendary unpublished Jack Kirby Marvel version in the mid-Seventies.

This is the third attempt at a Prisoner comic, after Marvel’s two failed efforts (the other was by Steve Engelhart and Gil Kane) and DC’s mid-Eighties ‘Shattered Visage’ by Dean Motter. The first were attempts to adapt the series’ opening episode, ‘Arrival’, the second a deeply inadequate attempt to bring the Village into contemporary times which tied it to British Intelligence.

That introduced a new, female central character, whose name was coyly revealed to be Drake, who was led to the location of The Village, where Number Six had chosen to remain after it was opened up. That story was a mess but it’s greatest crime was turning Number Six into nothing more than a cantankerous contrarian.

On the strength of issue 1 alone, ‘The Uncertainty Machine’ takes a similar approach to ‘Shattered Image’: contemporary setting, new central character, Breen, an espionage milieu pertinent to the Twenty-First Century, and by the last couple of pages, Breen is in the Village.

There’s not enough to go on to decide whether this is going to be any good or not. If anything, issue 1 reminds me more of Person of Interest, and John Reece’s black ops background, for all that Breen in part of MI5 (in a section called The Unit). Breen and his (female) partner Carey are caught in a trap, he gets out, she dosn’t, he wants to rescue her, refuses orders to terminate her.

This time, the concept of The Village is that of an ultra-mysterious independent organisation, whereabouts unknown, ‘loyalties’ random. Whether they have a physical location seems to be in doubt. Nothing is known about their controller, Number One. It’s suggested that they may have taken Carey, whose knowledge is vital, hence the orders to kill her.

Instead, Breen steals Pandora, an unknown, highly-guarded object, to attract the attention of The Village, and he gets it. He is gassed, wakes up in piped blazer, polo neck and slacks and In The Village.

The true test is going to be next issue, when we’ll see if writer Milligan and Lorimer have the chops to create the feel essential to making this a success. Milligan certainly the ability but this is my first exposure to Lorimer and I’m not impressed. His art is functional, rough-edged, unexceptional. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

There’s not enough even to guess at yet, especially not as to whether Number Six will appear. I’d prefer it if he didn’t: I have a sneaking suspicion that if he does, he will appear as Number Two, or even Number One. That’s iconoclastic enough for Milligan, but it would kill the whole thing stone dead if that’s what he’s got up his sleeve. We shall see.

So no rush to judgement on this issue alone because it’s all set up, and the all-action C21 running, jumping and shooting espionage stuff need not pertain to the hopefully archaic times inside The Village. That’s what I’m hoping to see. Time will tell.

Dan Dare at Titan Comics: He Who Dares


The first in the latest attempt to revive Dan Dare for the present day is now with us in it’s entirety and it’s time to assess its success. As with the generally successful 2007 Virgin Comics effort, it’s in standard American comic book format, this time from Titan Comics, and the first four-issue mini-series leads only to a sort of cliffhanger and a little ‘End of Book One’ box. More is therefore intended, subject to the commercial success of the four issues to date, and the inevitable collection already billed for April.

It’s hard to assess what is no more than an introduction: it’s a bit like trying to come to an opinion on Lord of the Rings after the end of Chapter Two of ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’. And I am one of those who are fiercely protective of Dan Dare, who will not at heart accept anything that is not directly based in Frank Hampson’s work, his world and its exceptional parameters.

I was surprised at myself for being willing to accept the Virgin Comics version, as a kind of left-handed, Earth-2 version of the character. That was the work of Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine, the latter enough of a photo-realist as an artist to make a worthy attempt. The Titan version echoes the last in selecting a writer, in Peter Milligan, who is also an iconoclast that you wouldn’t expect to see writing the Pilot of the Future, and drawn by Italian artist Alberto Foche, in a sketchy, cartoony style that pays no homage to Hampson’s world.

Nor does Milligan pay too much attention to the past. We have Dan, of course, and Digby, Professor Peabody and Sir Hubert and, of course, the Mekon, but this time we do not have a Prime Minister mocked up to represent Theresa May selling Earth out to the Treens. Instead, we start with the Mekon actually being elected President of Earth (via mind control, but not entirely mind control). Dan starts the series in flashback form as a terrorist, exposing electoral fraud and getting the Mekon sent to rehab on the Moon.

And, would you believe it, it takes!

Dan’s the only one who really believes it, despite the ever-mounting evidence that it’s real. Everyone else, including his two constant companions, Digby (reinvented as an engineering expert) and the Professor, and especially Sir Hubert believe that it’s nothing but a long con. But Dan is determined to believe, and events mount up that support his faith. He even makes a best friend and ever-helpful consultant out of the erstwhile green monster.

There’s just one drawback so far as Dan is concerned: the removal of the Mekon has turned Earth into a peaceful paradise for the first time ever, and Dan’s bored. Bored enough to pray for some kind of threat to Sol System, just so he can be ‘Dan Dare’ again.

Which of course he gets. In the form of an ancient, massive Treen ship, an Empress class, entering the System, en route for Earth, and pausing on the way to completely obliterate Triton, a moon of Neptune. Dan goes out to meet it with Digs (yeuch) and Peabody in a re-designed ‘Anastasia’  and ends up teeming up with Au Taween, a sexy blue-skinned alien with a mad-on for Treens and no respect for Earthmen, who gets right up Peabody’s nose.

With long-distance assistance from, yes, the Mekon, the Empress ship is brought back to Earth for examination. By the mind best equipped to understand it, namely, you got it, the Mekon. This triggers Au Taween’s see-a-Treen, kill-a-Treen reflex and when Dan tries to prevent her, she nonchalantly decides to shoot through him. Except that the Mekon buts him out of the way, takes the shot himself, and dies.

Straight up: laserbeam through the chest, cooked Greenie.

Dan’s the only one to seriously mourn, though being Dan he tries to save Au Taween from execution for her cold-blooded murder. At least it’s proved his point: the Mekon had reformed. The greatest force of evil in the Galaxy found good within himself and embraced it. The only thing that eventually saves Au Taween is that, despite everything, the Mekon isn’t actually dead, just in some form of self-induced cryogenic suspended animation whilst he repaired himself.

So, all’s well that ends well. Au Taween departs, leaving Dan wedded to his duty to Earth, but longing to go with her.

And then, after multiple occasions on which he could have escaped, multiple actions aiding Earth, even saving his most hated enemy’s life (more than once), the Mekon hops it. He’d been fooling Dan all along. For explanations, see book two, whenever.

On the proviso that I’m going to treat this as something like the Earth-4 Dan Dare (Earth-3 was an Earth where everything was similar but opposite, meaning it’s Dan would have to be a villain), I shall continue into Book Two, assuming it ever appears. This isn’t Dan Dare, not as I know him, but it isn’t like those 2000AD and New Eagle versions that may possibly have been halfway decent SF adventure series if they hadn’t had the Dare name hung on them, but which had no relation or relevance to Dan Dare himself. This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s an Introduction, a Prelude. It’s too bloody short, nothing really happens and it hasn’t got anything remotely resembling an ending: it’s all set-up and no shoot-out (I actually had a different metaphor in mind then, but I’d rather not use that one).

As for Foche’s art, it’s inoffensive and that’s about all you can say about it. Dan’s got his eyebrows, Dig’s plump, Peabody’s a woman, Sir Hubert’s older than everyone else and the Mekon’s got a big head, but in no other respect does he try to draw anyone who looks like the original (Peabody’s blonde, for pete’s sake!)

So, a cautious C+ is all I’m giving it. Try it by all means. But set your expectations low. It’s better than the Grant Morrison one, but so’s mould on cheese.

 

Fifty Years After The Prisoner


Titan Comics have announced a publication date for the first issue of their new comics series of Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. The series – apparently open-ended – will debut on April 25, written by Peter Milligan, who’s smart enough to maybe pull it off, and drawn by Colin Lorimer, about whom I know nothing (a quick Google art search suggests he might also pull it off).

I’ll be there to but it and here to comment about it. I’m not exactly looking forward to it: the only other Prisoner comics series was an unmitigated disaster. And it is neither McGoohan himself nor 1967.

But we’ll see when the time comes. At least I’ll be fairer to it than I ever will to Doomsday Clock

Dan Dare: Pilot with Another Future


Perhaps if I’d got this cover…

It’s a decade now since the surprisingly successful Virgin Comics attempt to revive Dan Dare in a form acceptable to the contemporary age, and now Titan Comics have discarded the habit of a lifetime, of only publishing comics that have been successful for other people, and have hired Peter Milligan to write and Alberto Foche to draw a new series.

This time, we’re looking at four issues, so that if it’s a disaster, at least it will be brief. Today’s visit to Forbidden Planet included the first issue, so I want to record a few immediate impressions.

Garth Ennis, ten years ago, seemed an improbable writer for a traditionally ‘straight’ character who was born out of the desire to present a truly clean-cut cut, moral yet still quite human hero for young boys, yet he understood the ideals of the Pilot of the Future came from and respected Dan Dare, and his version was worthy of revival.

Milligan, on the other hand, has always been an iconoclast, an underminer of all things established, and a trickster of a writer. I’ve read very little of his work, it just not being to my taste, so I was doubtful of the choice from the moment I heard of this.

His set-up does, at first, promise a different approach. For one, there is no Prime Minister appearing as a veiled depiction of David Cameron or even, thanks all the ghosts of Spacefleet, Theresa May. On the other hand, we have the Mekon: of course we’ve got the Mekon, we always have the Mekon. It’s like only ever having Doctor Who face up to the Daleks.

Milligan’s included a lot of the old cast already: Dan, Digby, Peabody, Hank Hogan, Sir Hubert, Flamer Spry, though he’s jumbled some of them around. Digby, or ‘Digs’ is now an engineer and openly calls his Colonel ‘Dan’, Peabody’s a Special Science Advisor who walks around in uniform and carries big guns, and Dan only ever calls her Peabody. Hank’s had one line so far, and already sounds out of character.

Then there’s the Mekon. Milligan’s story, subtitled ‘He Who Dares’ actually starts five years ago, with the Mekon as the democratically elected President of Earth and Dan’s little band declared terrorists. That is, until they expose the hypnosis machine by which ol’ Greenbean has cooked the result.

He’s been in rehabilitation for five years, concentrating his supreme intelligence on growing food on the moon. Even when a Liberation Army comes to free him, he orders them to disband and hands them over to Dan for incarceration.

Can the Supreme Brain overcome the Genetic engineering that made him into a power-crazed overlord? Has he? Milligan’s certainly come at things from a previously unexplored angle (for what it’s worth, I’m going for No).

But the only problem is, if the Mekon is beaten for good, there are no enemies left. No obstacles to Galactic peace and harmony and progress. Nothing for Dan Dare to be Dan Dare for, and Dan’s actually praying for something for him to do, to get back into space for.

Which is when a dirty great spaceship appears out of nowhere, Crypt-like, and destroys one of Saturn’s moons, just like that. Dan’s prayers have been answered, or so it seems. No hint yet as to whether Tharl and his empire exist in this Future, though again I’m going for No.

Apart from this bit about Dan Dare wishing for violence and enemies, which is not, never has been and never will be any part of any legitimate version of the character, it’s reasonable enough so far. Certainly worth suspending judgement over until we see more.

As for Foche’s art, I’m always going to start off by looking askance at anything not authentically Hampsonian, and it’s fair to say that this art in no way draws from the master. Apart from a token effort with Digby, and an even more token one with Sir Hubert, oh, and of course Dan’s eyebrows (that’s all anyone ever cares about: get the eyebrows properly crinkled and it’s Dan Dare, no matter how wide of the mark everything else is), Foche makes no effort whatsoever to follow any existing design work.

And his Mekon, redesigned to make the big brain a bit more organic, has immediately become less frightening, less distinctive, less alien. Even at his most evil in the flashbacks, this guy just doesn’t look in the least bit evil: Hampson’s Mekon, indeed his Treens, were unnatural. It’s why they worked so bloody well in the first place.

But I won’t judge until the series is over, unless it takes an irreversible nosedive into the sludge to the point where it’s obviously a schtumer. There are two pages of Foche’s designs featuring half a dozen and more characters we’ve not yet met, none of whom thrill me with anticipation, but we’ll see. It won’t take long, at least.