Thursday, November 16, 2006

British Secret Agent Week: The Avengers: "The Winged Avenger", Part 4

To heck with Civil War! Fie on 52! Anybody with any discerning taste and style knows that the only cliffhanger worth getting excited about this week is: will Mrs. Peel survive the talons of the Winged Avenger? Will Mrs. Peel survive?

(checks the back of the DVD box, sees that there are several more Mrs. Peel episodes after this one.) Oh. I guess she does.

Well, let's watch the exciting, commercial-free conclusion of "The Winged Avenger" anyway, shall we?

"He's mad!" Stanton explains as Steed drives the frantic comic book writer to Professor Poole's manor, where the Winged Avenger, a.k.a. comic artist Arnie Packer, waits to sink his claws into the unsuspecting Mrs. Peel. "He's power mad!!" You and I might expect the witty Steed to retort "So what else is new for a comic book artist?" but if there's one thing that keeps Steed's bon mots under his bowler and his foot firmly on the accelerator pedal of his classic Bentley, it's the thought that Emma Peel may be in deadly danger. A similar scene happens in many episodes and it's a wonderful touch of Patrick Macnee that the moment his fictional partner's life is in danger, all the witty wisecracking and carefree attitude goes out the window, reminding us very clearly that Savile suit and impeccable appearance beside, Steed is not only very much a man of action but that he cares very deeply about Emma. Awwww.

Not that Mrs. Peel isn't capable of taking care of herself, but even smooth-as-ivory Emma isn't immune to steel claws, and discretion is the better part of valor as she sprints from the frantic Winged Avenger and barricades herself in the dead Professor Poole's study. Inside the feathery suit, Packer proves that he may be mad, but he's not a fool, as he locks the study door from his side and climbs out a window to approach Mrs. Peel by climbing on the wall to trap her with no escape.

Elegant in her blue and pink "emmapeelers" catsuit, our heroine ponders her next move. Say, that's quite a jaunty pink cap you're wearing, Emma! A nice touch of style to a tense scene...but is that all that cap is? Hmmm, let's find out.

Emma's trapped like a mouse by a hawk in the room as the Winged Avenger approaches from outside, until she spots the body of Professor Poole...dangling from the ceiling in his magnetic silver bootys.

All the while Steed and Stanton race to the scene as Stanton flips through a pile of Packer's artwork telling them in...ahem..graphic detail exactly what's happening ahead of them. Don't flip to the last panel, Stanton! Read 'em in order!

This makes The Winged Avenger a bit of a decent Batman villain, doesn't it? Think about it...costumed, winged freak psychologically compelled to leave advance clues to his crimes? Why, he's practically Edward Nigma's brother. And in my best Batman TV show tradition, I now announce: "What's this? Our cornered cutie coveting couture?" Holy Manolos, Mrs. Peel, this is no time to go shoe shopping:

But moments later, when the Winged Avenger breaks in through the window, Mrs. Peel is nowhere to be seen! How'd she escape? (C'mon, I know you can guess!)

"The odds are a little more equal now!" taunts Emma from the ceiling, and ah ha! That jaunty cap is more than just Diana-dressing; it's a vital prop to preserve the illusion that Miss Rigg is actually hanging upside down from the ceiling—if she weren't wearing it, her hair would actually still cascade around her shoulders on the specially designed "upside-down" set instead of falling over her head! Pretty clever, and cleverly pretty! (Note also that the dangling buckle on the shoulder of Mrs. Peel's catsuit now cleverly is pointed, down!)

Now's the time in all good Avengers episodes for either an explanation of the crime or a gob-smackingly good fight scene, and lucky us, we get both! Mad Mr. Packer cackles maniacally, declaring that all evil must be destroyed. Whatever ink he's been using has clearly gone straight to his brain, because he actually believes himself to be the true Winged Avenger now! Ah, this explains an awful lot about the time George Perez dressed up in a flowing orange wig, green contacts and a little metal bikini and went around fighting crime, doesn't it?

Stanton climbs onto the ceiling with Mrs. Peel and we're treated to a wonderful hand-to-hand fight that's the next best thing to pineapple upside-down cake. If Lionel Richie had decided to give up singing for crimefighting, maybe his videos woulda looked like this!:

Steed and Stanton arrive just in time to see the topsy-turvy tumult...

...and, as the Laurie Johnson orchestra plays a riff on a very familiar sounding "na na na na na na na na" theme, it's Steed to the aid by walloping Packer with a few well-chosen comic book panels from the pile Stanton brought along:

BAM! Take that, Grant Morrison...decades before you riffed on the same artwork as sound-effect device in Batman paraphrase South Park's General Disarray: "Avengers already did it!"

The combination of Mrs. Peel's literally high-flying kicks and Steed's omnamontapeic attack sends Packer screaming...yes, like a little girl; how's that for irony?...and flying out through the window to his death on the ground below.

"Packer's really got his wings clipped," Steed announces cheerfully, helping Mrs. Peel down from the ceiling.

One of the most wonderful things about The Avengers is that the adventure is never truly over after the last fight scene: the series is famous for its show-ending tags, light-humored "back at the ranch" slices of life that show Steed and Emma relaxing and celebrating their victory, usually accompanied by some more breezy puns: "It's nice to be the right way up for once," Emma says. "At least you know where you stand!" Steed retorts. And while Emma pops the cork on their traditional celebratory champagne, Steed prepares an accompanying feast of oysters, turtle soup, plus a bunch of lovely-sounding French delicacies which probably this little stuffed bull needn't think too much about. "Where are we going to get all that at this time of night?" Emma wonders. Never fear: Steed's drawn it for her!:

And then, to prove that art is lovely but you can't eat it, Steed wheels out the real feast, declares with a smile "The benevolent Avenger strikes again!" and clangs the dishes together to the accompaniment of one last, and very delicious, sound effect. Cue end credits!

If you're an Avengers fan, and I know many of you are, I hope you feel I've done justice to this comic-book flavoured episode of one of my favourite telly programmes. If you've never seen The Avengers...and a few of the comments this week suggest some of you haven't, you poor deprived souls!...I do indeed highly recommend it as one of the finest, and more important, funnest adventure shows ever aired. If you're lucky enough to have BBC America on your cable dial, set your Tivo, VCR, or wankel-rotary-recording-device to the weekday afternoon airings of The Avengers, or DVD sets of very nearly every single episode of the series (missing only the early first season, lost to history) are available for purchase or rental. I highly recommend any of the Mrs. Peel era color episodes (1967) to start out with, and then move into the earlier Mrs. Peel black-and-whites (1965-1966), the whimsical, sometimes frothy but often delightful Tara King episodes (1968) and the more action-oriented Catherine Gale black-and-white years (1963-1964). Advanced Avengers fans will also enjoy The New Avengers, the 1976-1977 revival which paired Macnee's Steed with two partners, Absolutely Fabulous's Joanna Lumley as Purdey and Upstairs, Downstairs's Gareth Hunt as Mike Gambit. The seventies Avengers are often much campier and sometimes even disco-flavored (!), but the best of them retain the charm, wit, and action of the original. If you want to see "The Winged Avenger" (plus five other classic color Mrs. Peel episodes), pick up the DVD set shown on the right: The Avengers '67, Set 1. (I don't recommend the 1998 movie version: while the plot has some elements of fun including an invisible cameo by Patrick Macnee and Sean Connery dandy in a giant teddy bear costume, Ralph Fiennes is an often cruel and sarcastic Steed, Uma Thurman a cold and chilly Mrs. Peel, and the single best element of the show—the casual but caring banter between the two—is lost to insults and barbs.)

Did I whet your whistle but you can't wait the while? Then savor a few Avengers moments, including the original Emma Peel opening credits, the saucy Tara King closing credits, and that addictively jazzy theme song, all courtesy of YouTube, a device so clever and intricate in its workings it surely must be the plot of an eccentric British mastermind.

Carry on Avenging, Steed and Emma! May your umbrella never buckle, may your catsuit never wrinkle!


Evan Waters said...

I suppose the reason I liked the movie was that I started watching the show with the Tara King years, and so the appeal of it was more the surrealism than the performances.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Thank you ever so much, Bully. I spent years of my life madly in love with Emma Peel. Thanks to maturity, an understanding that "fiction" means "made up," and a couple of restraining orders, I was finally able to put it behind me.

And then you had to go and dredge this up. -sigh-

I guess I'll just have to get the missus to put on a yellow outfit and shoot the cork off of a champagne bottle again. That should do it.



Matthew E said...

I saw the movie in the theatre. I wanted to like it so much, and I could see how hard they were trying. But it was not to be.

SallyP said...

This was lovely. Gosh, Steed was so suave. So was Emma for that matter. I miss suave.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Great job Bully! You did justice to a show that first turned my head on late-night television in the 70s.

Steed and Emma will always be cool!