Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inside The Secret Service – Part 1 of 2

The Secret Service was a 6 issue miniseries

Overview: A six-issue comic book series published by Icon (Marvel Comics) and released April 2012 and finished up this month. The series teams writer Mark Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass) with Watchman artist Dave Gibbons, to tell the story of Gary, a young hoodlum headed towards a life crime until his uncle steps in and offers Gary an opportunity at a better life. Matthew Vaughn, Andy Lanning, and Angus McKie round out the creative team as co-plotter, inker, and colorist, respectively.

Note: Although every effort will be made to keep them at a minimum, any spoiler alerts will be noted ahead of time.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted to start with comics that have been inspired by Bond and what better series than Millar’s The Secret Service to get the dialogue going? Millar intertwines stories that are laced with 21st century concerns and provides a few plot twists along the way while incorporating several Bondian tropes to round out his storytelling. For instance, there’s the suave secret agent, a sporty silver car, gadgets aplenty to rival any Bond film, a beautifully troubled woman, a couple of unique henchmen, and of course a villain. Inspiration from the Bond franchise is readily apparent. In this installment, I’ll start with the Bond spy characteristics and automobile tropes, and in my follow up, I’ll look at gadgets, the villain, and the women of The Secret Service.

London. Jack London…And His Nephew,  Gary

Jack London
The reader is first introduced to Jack London while he is dining with a distinguished older gentleman at a posh London restaurant, discussing a recently failed mission of another secret agent. Jack’s physical appearance is reminiscent of 1960s Sean Connery’s James Bond. Like Connery, Jack is clean cut, smartly dressed, and exudes an air of importance associated with a person who is comfortable and at ease with their surroundings. There is a sense of entitlement arising as a member of the privileged class. The man of mystery façade is soon peeled away when Millar reveals that Jack has a struggling sister and two nephews, Gary and Ryan. An urgent text from his sister leads Jack to step into Gary’s (the older nephew) life and fulfill the role of uncle, and more importantly, as surrogate father, at a crucial juncture in Gary’s life: either he becomes a fully fledged criminal or go to spy school and follow in his uncle’s footsteps.

Gary getting bailed out again by Jack
Gary has moved around a lot with his single mom, Sharon, who is currently in an abusive relationship with an unemployed veteran of the Gulf War (Darren) that is the father of her second son, Ryan. Apparently Darren does not confine his dysfunctional behavior to Sharon and Ryan: he has knocked Gary around, physically and emotionally. They all live in a tiny flat in a poor housing estate in London, so Gary naturally hangs out with a rough crowd, where trouble is Gary’s constant companion. And, each time that Gary gets in a jam, Sharon has reached out to her brother Jack to bail Gary out. And each time, Jack has helped, but this time, he knows that he needs to get Gary out of the estate and on a path in which he can make something of himself. Gary will accept Jack’s help, but climbing out of the tentacles of poverty will prove to be a difficult road.

Gary has a difficult time fitting in with the other cadets spy school. Jack is not surprised that Gary’s street sense propels him to the top of the class. However, Gary's character flaws arising from his education deficiencies to his lack of taste in bourgeois clothing, lead him to be the brunt of criticism by his peers. Is Gary spy material? Several times the school’s superiors compare Gary to Jack. Both grew up poor and carry similar emotional angst. When it seems that Gary will be expelled from school, Jack intercedes with tough love. With his emotional barriers shattered, Gary is guided by Jack through the final transformation of becoming a spy.

Uncle Jack's spy fashion tips
Image appears to be everything in becoming a spy. Jack provides style tips to Gary as his appearance is made over so he can take his place beside Jack as his apprentice. While the fashion components are in line with the James Bond look, giving the reader a “behind-the-scenes” is not.  This is not what you would see in a Bond movie; you might see Bond get outfitted for gadgets, but when was the last time Bond was shown at the local barber on Piccadilly? What is interesting about the makeover in The Secret Service is that regardless of the spy school training, it is the physical image that seems to make the man, not unlike Bond proper.  Gary’s whole demeanor up to that point is of an economically disadvantaged young man playing at spies, but when the mantle of clothing, haircut, and shoes are donned, Gary becomes the epitome of a secret agent. From that point on, Gary steps into Jack’s world and makes it his own. Here, Millar moves away from Bond and makes the physical transformation a pivotal moment for Gary and the larger role he will step into for the rest of the story.

Jack and later in the story, Gary, are typical Bond characters, physically. Image is very important for the Bondian spy. In film and in this comic, image represents control over one’s destiny and a sense of power that seems to position them outside the society that most of us have membership in.  In the case of The Secret Service, Jack acknowledges that although there are great perks to being a spy – the nice car, the gadgets, plenty of women (read: be Bond) – there is another side: a responsibility to helping others, which comes without fanfare. That, according to Jack, is what should matter and what gives a man real value.  It’s a value that Gary reiterates later in the story almost verbatim, and it is here where Millar departs from the familiar Bond tropes and gives emotional depth to Jack and Gary.

A Fine Set of Wheels
Automobiles are not extensively featured in The Secret Service and really, the car that really matters in the series is Jack’s. Like with the Bond films, the car is an extension of his persona and hence, part of his physical image. Just as Bond is a man of mystery, so too is the silver Aston Martin. It may look ordinary (okay, an Aston Martin is never ordinary!), but in fact, Bond’s car is equipped with an ejection seat, rocket launcher and other various sorts of goodies to stop pursuing henchmen. Jack’s car is silver and bears a striking resemblance to Bond’s Aston Martin.  It has the ejection seat, the rocket launcher, an oil spray, is bullet proof, disposable wings for flight, and can be voice controlled (remember Pierce Brosnan’s remote car in Tomorrow Never Dies?):

Jack makes his escape

Although the car is an inanimate object, it is a supporting character to Bond and to Jack. When the occasion arises, the car is at the ready to serve, a trusted steed. Just as gadgets are often a necessary part of being a spy, so too is the car.  The automobile’s sporty and sleek shape make it stand out as unique; not unlike the driver. In Bond’s universe, the viewer does not see a real attachment, but in the series, Jack is very protective of his car. In fact, at one point Gary takes the car for a joy ride and winds up launching a rocket in the city, causing several thousand pounds worth of damage. When Jack talks with Gary afterwards, he’s not upset by the damage, but he is very angry that Gary took his car. While it is a tool for his work, it’s also something more: his pride and joy. This is not something that would be openly acknowledged by Bond (the death scene of Bond’s car in Skyfall may not have affected him, but for car aficionados, that was a true crime!).  

In my follow up next week, I’ll discuss the gadgets – there are plenty – the villain, and the women of The Secret Service.


  1. Ooooo I can't wait until you talk about the women in the comics. I hope there are cutie-leggy girls!

    6 issue series? What you're describing seems really condensed. Unless the bulk of the series is spy school and becomming that man? Sounds like alot of story to tell in 6 issues.

    The story is contemporary - I find it funny to hear that there will be lots of gadgets, but as the plethora of new Bond films, and other associated files (like the Bourne movies) shown, gadjets have been replaced by smart phones and there is a greater emphasis on the hero's own ingenuity and prowelessness. I curious how that factors into Secret Service.

  2. Nick, I too was surprised that the series was only six issues. And if you have noticed, I haven't even touched on the overarching mission instigated by the villain! And yes, while the gadgets in the series seem to give nod to those encountered by Connery's Bond, thinking back on it, I don't believe I saw any smartphones in the comics, as utilized by Brosnan and Craig in the Bond films. I'll make a point of addressing that in part two. Thanks for the comment!


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