This Wednesday, get ready to meet the original Avengers, as they face off against the original Hellfire Club. From writers Mark Waid and Caleb Monroe, with art by Will Sliney, “Steed and Mrs. Peel” are back for all new adventures from BOOM! Studios. To find out more, and show off some exclusive art, we chatted with Monroe:
MTV Geek: To start off, have you figured out a way to tell people, “Hey, I’m writing The Avengers!” without a whole paragraph of clarification and explanation right after that??
Caleb Monroe: Ha! I think a single sentence, front-loaded with clarification is the closest I’ve gotten. I usually say, “I’m writing a comic based on the 60s British TV show The Avengers.” That doesn’t seem to confuse anyone too much.
Geek: Seriously though, what’s your experience with the property… Were you a fan before getting this book??
CM: My first exposure was when the 1998 Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman/Sean Connery film adaptation came out. It had a few moments, but while Fiennes and Thurman are both great actors in their own right, they just couldn’t seem to capture the joie de vivre, the “it factor” or the chemistry that Macnee and Rigg displayed as the original Steed and Peel.
When Boom started reprinting the Grant Morrison STEED & MRS. PEEL, I started getting into the original TV series…and it’s amazing! The show totally holds up, I feel like it could be on air today and still do well. I wish I’d come to the series before the film, but we only have so much control over the way we discover things, right? In the end, the discovery’s all.
So I’m a fan, but a fairly recent fan. I hope that translates to the book, that sense of “I’ve just encountered the coolest thing, you’ve got to check this out!” Hopefully our book garners a very worthy show a whole new set of fans. Someone who discovers it through us and, in the end, the discovery’s all.
CM: The humor and the horror of it, and the way Steed and Peel live in the tension between. Humor and horror work on a very similar level physiologically. They’re both basically reactions to the unknown, the unexpected or the out-of-context. It’s one of the reasons horror films lend themselves so readily to parody. While I know the word “horror” might seem unusual when referring to a witty spy-fi show, the truth is spies work and live on the fringes of society and sometimes even perceptual reality. Even the humorous ones.
And while the fringes may be fascinating, there’s a certain amount of darkness there as well. The truth is we live in a strange and unpredictable world filled with dangerous and eccentric people. We can never feel fully at home in it. Which is part of why we love John Steed and Emma Peel so much. The weird, the ominous, the absurd and just plain ridiculous are their native territory. They demonstrate for us that the funny terror of it all is not only manageable but (even better!) enjoyable.??
Geek: What’s your take on them individually here? Who is Steed? How about Mrs. Peel??
CM: I think Steed’s the man we all wish we were. He’s handsome and a snappy dresser, but he never makes a fuss about it. He’s loyal, smart, good in a fight and handy with the ladies. He has the coolest job in the world and the only person he knows who’s as interesting as he is is his best friend Emma.
Peel’s the woman we all wish we were. She’s beautiful, a fashion plate and…oh yeah, a bona fide genius and published scientist. She’s even better in a fight than Steed and an independently wealthy former CEO. What Steed does for work, she does for fun and for the benefit of the general good.?
The brilliance of the original TV show’s feminism was that it never addressed it. No speeches, no proving “anything you can do I can do better.” It was simply presented, with almost no comment, as fact: Emma was smarter, richer and a better fighter. While she found herself in plenty of danger over the years, she was never, ever a victim. It’s unfortunately still a rather uncommon stance.
CM: Rich bored future-fetish prankster sociopaths. For every sweeping technological advance humanity makes and its potential benefit for our species and our planet, there’s someone like The Hellfire Club who just wants to own a cooler house than their neighbors and be entertained doing it. They’re vicious but they’re cunning and absolutely, uncompromisingly selfish in all regards.
Geek: And what about working with Mark Waid? What’s that like for you, and how do you guys split the tasks? Is it mostly Mark barking orders while checking Thrillbent stats on his computer???
CM: Mostly, yeah.
Okay, not really. Mark has impeccable instincts, honed by years at the top of his craft, and it’s very inspiring to watch them go from up close. I’ll look at what he’s written and it seems so obvious, except it wasn’t obvious until he pointed it out. I think that’s how the best writers work.
As with any good collaboration, it can be rather hard to define the exact splitting of tasks. There’s a hundred little gives and takes. Mark very clearly and very cleverly established the series with his #0 issue, and the story of this first arc originated with him as well, as both a natural dovetail and reversal of what he set up in that introductory issue.
The final scripts for these three issues come from my computer. But as for everything between those two points in time, that journey from story to script and back again…I don’t even know how clear that is in my own mind. Mark has pulled some of the best work of my career out of me, and I hope I’ve given as much back. Iron sharpens iron, right?
Geek: There’s kind of a fascinating time thing going on in your book, where it’s set in the ’60s, but you’re writing about “future tech” the way it was seen then, not now. Was there any talk of doing a full-fledged updating, ala the recent Star Trek movie? Don’t know how Old Spock would have worked in your book, but still…??
CM: SPOILER ALERT: Old Spock is the villain! The Hellfire Club, miniskirts; it was all his doing. Now that I’ve pointed it out, it’s so obvious.
A modern take was certainly considered, but you start to change a property a little here, a little there and before long it doesn’t feel like itself anymore and you can’t quite tell where you went wrong. I think at the end of the day it wasn’t broken, so we didn’t fix it. Steed and Peel belong to the 60s as much as the 60s belong to them.
Geek: What about Will Sliney’s art… What does he bring to the project?
CM: Will has taken a real visual ownership of the book. By that I mean I can no longer picture anyone else doing it because he’s made it so much his own. He’s a consummate professional, he’s fast, he’s visually articulate and he has very clear storytelling skills. Pretty much a perfect date, now that I see it written out. Will handles my writerly eccentricities, scripting experiments and mistakes with aplomb and good humor. He’s also great with facial expressions, which is huge on a property like this where so much of the appeal rests as much on what your two leads don’t say as what they do.
In general, he makes me look good. Really good.
Geek: For fans thinking this bunch of Avengers might be a bit quaint, any fightin’ words?
CM: To them I say clever witticisms, peerless wardrobe, stylish action and sexy cars never go out of fashion.
Geek: Any final thoughts? Things you can’t wait for fans to see in the series?
CM: My favorite moment so far comes at the end of issue #2, so I can’t wait for readers to get there. Of course, my goal is to keep topping myself, so hopefully I can say that about every single issue going forward, and hopefully you’ll all agree!
“Steed and Mrs. Peel #1” hits comic book shops this Wednesday, September 26th from BOOM!