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The Avengers in Diana comic: Story One

Part One - Issue 199, December 10th 1966

Written by unknown, drawn by unknown.

Meet the exciting stars of the top ITV show in thrilling new adventures
The Avengers, John Steed, and attractive Mrs Emma Peel, have secretly undertaken to guard the life of wealthy, young Prince Abdul Bey of Arania while on a holiday in Scotland.  The Prince has vast oil interests in the Middle East.  He is a friend of Britain, but there are enemies who wish it otherwise.

The Avengers - Diana #199Steed and Mrs Peel have been requested to act as clandestine bodyguards to Prince Abdul Bey of Arania, an oil-rich country, while he skis in Scotland. They drive up to where he is staying at the Glen Dorchy Ski Hotel, a converted castle north of the River Tweed. After registering, they sit in the main lounge and await his arrival. This is heralded by a convoy of highly-priced cars. An old woman sitting in the corner bemoans the fact that she came for peace and quiet. When Prince Abdul enters the lounge she asks Steed what all the fuss is about, and who is the young whipper-snapper, anyway? Steed tells her that he is ‘the only heir apparent to the greatest fortune in the world’.

The next day, out on the snow, Steed stretches himself and wonders where Mrs. Peel could be. She appears carrying skis and wearing a stylish red ski outfit. They follow the Prince up the mountain on the ski lift. Skiing down the ski-run, Prince Abdul enjoys his sport. Unseen, a stranger places a strange box in a little fir copse. On pressing a button on it, a dense mist appears and engulfs the Prince. Steed and Mrs. Peel see the mist, and realise that it is artificially-created due to the whiff of chemicals it has produced. Mrs. Peel takes off on her skis to follow the Prince.

Prince Abdul stops to clean his goggles, unaware of a shadowy assassin lurking behind him with a knife. Mrs Peel appears, knocking the assassin away and into the mist. They search for the assassin, but there is no sign. The Prince is oblivious to all this.

Later that night, Mrs Peel spies something bizarre from the lounge window. Up on the battlements of the western wing, a ghostly figure of a piper could be seen playing a mournful lament. The old woman has seen it too, and she tells Steed and Mrs. Peel that it is a sign that there will be a death in the castle before sundown the next day.

Part Two - Issue 200, December 17th 1966

Baby, it's cold outside.
JOHN STEED and Emma Peel - "The Avengers" - have secretly undertaken to guard the life of Prince Abdul Bey of Arania, at present on a ski-ing holiday in Scotland.   The Prince is sole heir to a vast oil fortune in the Middle East.  He is a friend of Britain, but he has enemies who want him out of the way.  One night at the ski hotel, a legendary Phantom Piper appears on the battlements - an omen that a death is soon to occur.

The Avengers - Diana #200Mrs Peel wonders whether the Phantom Piper is playing for herself and Steed, but he tells her that they’re too young to die. The Piper’s playing is interrupted by the sound of the weather forecast – sub-zero temperatures are expected in many parts of Northern Scotland. Steed and Mrs Peel head for their rooms, arranging to liase at midnight so they can check on the Prince.

At midnight, they move down the dark corridors of the hotel to the Prince’s room. The door is wide open and the room is empty. There are signs of a struggle. Mrs Peel notices strange ruts in the carpet. Outside, there is the sound of a car starting up. Steed and Mrs Peel pursue it to the ski-lift. Looking up they see the Prince, wearing only lightweight clothes in the intense cold, strapped to one of the chairs and heading up the mountain. His bodyguards have been murdered.

Steed and Mrs Peel jump on to the next ski-lift and start heading up the mountain behind the stricken Prince. In the control room, a mysterious stranger turns off the power for the ski-lift. The pair were trapped in the freezing cold, halfway up the mountain. Ahead, they become aware of a terrifying sight – the Phantom Piper is playing his awful lament.

Part Three - Issue 201, December 24th 1966

Into action with-
WHILE at a Scottish ski resort, protecting the wealthy Prince Abdul Bey from mysterious enemies, the Avengers, John Steed and Emma Peel, are led into a trap.  They are following the Prince up a ski-lift when the lift is put out of action.  Halfway up a mountain and freezing in the bitter cold, the Avengers see the ghostly figure of  the Phantom Piper, the local legendary herald of death.

The pair climb on to the roof of the ski-chair, and then begin to swing hand by hand up the cable towards the top of the ski-lift. They reach the top and discover a light in one ski-lodge and a car sitting outside.The Avengers - Diana #201 Inside the lodge, Prince Abdul is tied to a chair. He is being told that The Brotherhood, enemies of Arania who hate the Prince’s friendship with Britain, are going to dispose of him.

Steed and Emma look in, and seeing that there is only one man guarding the prince they burst into the ski-lodge. Mrs Peel uses her judo expertise to put him out of action. As they untie the Prince, a familiar voice calls out. It’s the old lady from the hotel. She wheels herself into the lodge and instructs them to leave the Prince alone. When the pair ignore her, she produces a tiny bow and fires one of her knitting needles straight at Mrs Peel’s heart. Steed blocks the deadly missile with a leather shield he has grabbed from the wall. Enraged, the ‘old lady’ leaps from the wheelchair and dashes outside. As she goes she disposes of her wig, spectacles and shawl, revealing an agile young man – the chief assassin.

He heads for a helicopter which is waiting behind the ski-lodge. Steed laments that he has got away. However, the deafening roar of the helicopter’s engine brings down an avalanche of snow, engulfing the helicopter and taking the assassins with it.

The next day, as Steed and Mrs Peel are preparing to depart, the Prince thanks them for their help. Mrs Peel asks the hotel manager about the Phantom Piper, believing that he was an actor employed by the hotel, but she is told that he is very very real and has been around for over two hundred years. The pair drive off to the airport in Steed’s vintage Bentley.

by Matthew Bradford

The most immediately noticeable thing about the Diana comics is the artwork. To begin with, it’s wonderfully colored. Since this story appeared in Diana in December of 1966, it pre-dates the first colour episode of the TV series, which debuted the following month! That means this comic was, in fact, the first glimpse of The Avengers in colour in any medium in its country of origin, and the vibrant work of the uncredited colourist certainly does them justice. (In the second story, Emma wears her traditional black leather “Emmapeeler” from the black and white series, so it’s apparent that at least some of the artist’s photo references came from those episodes, even though the colour ones had begun production that September).

The characters themselves are well-drawn, too. Steed looks more like Patrick Macnee than Emma does like Diana Rigg, but both characters look good and are well-proportioned, which is more than can be said of certain other Avengers comics. The poses look natural, which is unusual in licensed comics of this period, where poses in strips based on TV or movie characters often looked awkward in their comic book context due to the fact that they were obviously modelled on publicity stills. Even though the artist here clearly had photo references, he avoids that pitfall.

Most impressive of all about the Diana artwork are the layouts. Emilio Frejo, the artist attributed on this amazing website, but unsung in the pages of Diana, was experimenting with dynamic panel layouts at a time when most comic books were still arranged into simple boxes. I haven’t read a lot of British comics of the period as frames of reference, but in America the only person really experimenting with the medium in that way was Jim Steranko in his extraordinary Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. issues for Marvel. Unlike Steranko, whose elaborate layouts always served the story he was telling, some of Frejo’s wild panels seem a bit arbitrary in this first story. Still, they make for an infinitely more exciting read than the simple block panels in similar licensed comics of the time, like Danger Man or Doctor No. My favorite example comes on the first page of the second installment (the story is divided into two-page installments) where the panel on the lower right is cleverly defined by the outline of Steed’s bowler. Later on, a panel depicting a helicopter crash is given a jagged, explosive outline, emphasizing the violence of the crash without the use of sound effects.

Unfortunately the story here is in no way equal to the art. It’s very difficult to develop an intriguing storyline of any depth in only six pages, especially when those pages are broken up into three meagre two-page segments and recapped at the beginning of each. Given its limitations, the story is understandably simple: The Avengers are called upon to protect a visiting Arab prince (a friend of Britain, naturally!) while he vacations at a Scottish ski resort. Foul play is naturally afoot, and assassins try to eliminate the prince on the ski slopes. In true Scooby-Doo fashion, the villain of the piece turns out to be (surprise!) the only other prominent character in the story, an old lady with poor hearing. Of course she’s not really an old lady, but a young man in drag. This element gives the story enough of a strange twist to make the reader smile, and mark it clearly in Avengers territory, but still… Even the kid this story is aimed at must have seen this coming a mile away!

Where the story does succeed is in doing things that the TV show can’t. The writer takes advantage of the four-colour medium to put Steed and Mrs. Peel in situations that budget simply won’t allow on television. In this case, those situations include a ski chase (just imagine how cheesy the rear-projection would have looked on TV!), an avalanche and a helicopter crash. Pretty impressive!

The characters aren’t dead-on, but they’re certainly passable. Steed wears his bowler hat skiing, which made me chuckle and struck me as quite Steedish. Finally, the unexplained appearance of a ghostly piper puts this story just enough into the realm of the weird to fit in with its contemporary TV episodes. Not essential Avengers by any means, but certainly worth a read for the artwork alone.

Art: ****

Story: **

Back to Diana Index on to Story Two