Wednesday, November 15, 2006

British Secret Agent Week: The Avengers: "The Winged Avenger", Part 3

Okay, everyone here? All settled in? Everyone have their snacks? Did you "go"? Do you need to "go" before I start again? Okay, everybody's ready, so let me hit the "unpause" button and let's continue watching "The Winged Avenger" episode of The Avengers!

When Emma returns to Steed, his shoebox model has progressed in complexity and elaborateness, as have his theories: "The murderer inflates a small balloon, he rises up the nearest building, he fires a rocket line across to the penthouse, he drops a trampoline, he bounces on through the window!"

But the news of Professor Poole and his possible wall-climbing boots puts a different spin on things, and not merely the case: in one of the episode's more charming exchanges, Steed passionately laments that such a tool takes all the romance out of mountain climbing and he and Mrs. Peel blanch visibly at the thought of vertical souvenir stores on the side of the Matterhorn. "The last bastions of peace and solitude are threatened!" Steed sighs. It's one of the delightful, very Steed moments: he's no Luddite, but he has a great regard in doing things the old fashioned way: with hard work and fair play. It's why he's one of my heroes, and not simply for his impeccable style.

But all worrying about mountaineering and no investigative work make Steed a very dull boy indeed, and he and Mrs. Peel head out to interrogate Professor Poole. They arrive at his estate, and boy oh boy, isn't this a most iconic Avengers scene: the professional pair, both dressed impeccably, strolling in step up to a British manor house:

Professor Poole isn't in, however: he's out. A bit far out, to be precise:

No, dear reader; I haven't changed the channel on you and that's not Adam West. Poole is testing a set of bat wings intended to help him fly. He's having more than a few difficulties getting off the ground, so he's in no mind to speak to Steed and Mrs. Peel. Steed and Emma rather suspect he may be in no mind whatsoever, because if you thought Sir Lexius Cray was eccentric, Professor Poole appears several steps closer to a padded cell at Bedlam, non-sequiturally riffing on his and Mrs. Peel's name in a wild bird call: "Peelpool!" before demanding shortly "What do you want?" Poole appears to be a few eggs short of a nest as Steed and Emma attempt to question him; it's only when speaking of flight does his crazed manner become thoughtful and seemingly sane when he muses "To watch a man walking is to see a clumsy watch a bird flying is to witness a vision." He shies and skitters away when Steed mentions boots, denying any knowledge of any climbing boots before locking himself in his lab. But as Emma spies when she peers over the transom, Professor Poole may be taking the bat metaphor a bit too personally:

Curiouser and curiouser! There's so many red herrings dangling so far that we may as well be at a fishmongers. "Poole was lying!" Steed points out. "To be strictly accurate," corrects Emma, "he was hanging." Steed contemplates the fact that all the victims were ruthless businessmen. (Well, except Tay-Ling, but we've conveniently forgotten about him.) Perhaps the next victim will therefore be, posits the Daily Mail reading Mrs. Peel, ruthless businessmen Edward Dumayn.

Perhaps you can't tell this from the small screen shot above, but in an age of lorem ipsum newspaper props, there's amazing detail in the mock-up prop newspaper Steed's holding here: the actual text on Dumayn is readable straight down three paragraphs (parallel to the word "Pinnock."). Most shows would only mock up the headline (heck, most comic books only do that). It's a marvelous prop that shows the great care and attention the Avengers creators strived for, because even though it's only shown for a couple seconds and was created in an era before freeze-frame videotapes and DVDs, you can actually read the text of the story straight down to Dumayn's fuzzy mustache. (It also tells us exactly what day this story was taking place on: November 30, 1966.)

Dumayn's the perfect potential victim, Steed agrees, and they rush off in a hurry to find him. Now if you or I were detectives or agents and reacted this way in real life we'd be soon out of a job. "You saw a newspaper story and thought that a random businessman might be the next victim? You're fired!" Thankfully, in the world of The Avengers, a hunch is as good as a clue to Steed and Peel...even better, in fact.

They find Dumayn out shooting on his estate...shooting a pigeon and browbeating his games keeper about the lack of true avian game: pheasants or partridge. Now I'm no expert in scriptwriting but that's some ironic foreshadowing going on there, doncha think? "Flush me out something worth shooting this time!" orders Dumayn. "Flush me out something big!"

Now there's a cue if I ever heard one for this guy!:

To his credit, Dumayn doesn't squeal like a little schoolgirl when the Winged Avenger shreds his elegant hunting jacket and him underneath it. Steed and Mrs. Peel arrive too late to stop the murder but seem to be just as pleased to examine the clues left behind on the scene:

We as comic book fans sit up in our seats at this moment and our clue-alert goes ah-oo-gah! We all recognize a comic book when we see one, don't we?

Steed notices something unusual in the comic book (and he's not looking for Earth-2 references): the body in the artwork bears an uncanny resemblance to the scene of the crime!

Where else to go next than the comic book office of "Winged Avengers Enterprises," where the creators are working on the next issue the way all comics books are created: by posing two actors in costumes to enact the script:

Ah, so Alex Ross is the creator of the Winged Avenger? No, actually, it's scripter Stanton and artist Packer, that famous battlin' duo of fictional comic books, who bicker and argue, threatening each other, while the actor in the Winged Avenger outfit...the same outfit we've seen on the murderer...lurks in the background.

Before the comics blogosphere gets all up in arms and starts a angry letter campaign against poor aging-but-still-more-dynamic-and-attractive- to-the-ladies-than-you-or-I-will-ever-be Patrick Macnee, I wouldn't be too hard on The Avengers for perpetuating the myth that comic book creators pose actors and draw from life. It's a cliché that's used in lots of television and movie portrayals of our fair art, and it actually serves a plot point, because it introduces Steed for the first time to the menace of a stunt man in a bizarre costume with nasty, possibly-deadly talons:

Steed's of course is rather more personally interested in Stanton and Packer's lovely secretary, but business is business, and soon he's back in his flat examining some of the artwork from the comic book. Hey, check out that sound effect on the left-hand side of the panel...DC Comics, alert your lawyers! That's the Blackhawk battle cry! Whoa, now, wait a minute...that's actually a Blackhawk comic book panel with the Winged Avenger drawn over it! The word balloon in the middle says "Here come the Blackhawks!":

Any Silver Age DC fans able to identify what Blackhawk issue that panel came from?

Steed describes the man in the Winged Avenger costume to Emma, and she, charmingly clad in another mod catsuit, sets off for another return midnight visit to Poole—we all know how safe and sensible those midnight drop-ins are! A little patented Mrs. Peel snooping-about reveals that Professor Poole really, really likes hanging around:

"My dear Professor Poole," Emma declares cheerfully. "What are you up to?" In a clever bit of camera-trickery that would make Batman and Robin climbing up the side of a building on the Batrope proud, Poole walks down the side of the wall in his silvery boots. Hey, silvery boots? Where have we seen those before?

Poole explains the secret is a strong magnetic field controlled by a remote control: a magnetic field projected through the boots that is so strong it allows their wearer to walk across walls and the ceiling. Hey, Chester Gould was right after all: the nation that controls magnetism will control the world! Emma confronts Poole about his earlier lie and Poole, flustered, admits he contacted Sir Lexius Cray about the boots but "got a better offer": he sold the only other pair of magnetic boots to an unknown third party. Even Poole doesn't know who has the other pair of boots. Looks like a dead end for Emma. Oooh, the way this case is going, maybe I oughtn't to say "dead end". Sorry, Mrs. Peel! Just when it looks like the case is stalled, Poole does point out he knows where he shipped the boots: Winged Avenger Enterprises.

The next day, in another jaunty outfit, Emma follows the lead back to Winged Avenger Enterprises, just in time to hear writer Stanton and artist Packer arguing violently about the direction of their latest issue. (Well, they got that part right about the comic book industry, didn't they?) Emma gets her first glimpse of the Winged Avenger costume on actor Julian, and teases Stanton and Packer with the promise of a sure-fire merchandising tie-in product: no, no, not chromium covers or action figures, but anti-gravity boots.

Back at casa Steed, Emma wonders aloud if Julian is the murderer. Not a bad hypothesis, but it's ignoring one very important point: right at that moment, Julian is being murdered by another Winged Avenger!

Is it his evil clone? His Earth-2 duplicate? Is this indeed Infinite Crisis of Avengers Disassembled? No, but it's the end of Julian, as Steed discovers when he arrives at the scene of the crime and finds the corpse buried under a gigantic panel reproduction displaying the scene of the crime:

You can almost see the light bulb go on over Steed's elegantly bowlered head as he begins to put the facts together: the artwork from The Winged Avenger comic book is predicting the deaths of the real-life victims! And who's next to be taloned? The answer lies on Stanton's drawing board: Professor Poole is the imminent victim!:

Ah ha! So this little stuffed Avenger right here has the crime all sussed out even before Steed and Emma: it's crazy writer Stanton who's the murderer, scripting the murders and ordering Packer to illustrate them, then taking on the identity of the Winged Avenger and systematically murdering..,

Oh wait. No it isn't. (Shoot! I guess I am not a very good Avenger.) Stanton arrives and together with Steed they discover that Packer has been writing his own scripts and illustrating them...scripts of...da da da da...murder! See, Erik Larsen? That's what happens when artists think they can become scripters and eliminate the writer...they turn into crazed murderers!

Examining Packer's artwork, Steed and Stanton discover a new character in the comic book story: Elma Peem. "I never wrote a character of that name!" protests Stanton. "It's an anagram," points out Steed, and flips over the artwork to reveal the next victim of the Winged Avenger:

Oh no! It's Mrs. Peel! And what better cliffhanger to make you wait until Part Four tomorrow night for the conclusion, same Avenger-time, same Avenger-blog!

1 comment:

The Fortress Keeper said...

So, since the artist uses real-life models like Alex Ross, does this mean Alex Ross could be a serial killer?