Some comics go down in history as masterful examples of the craft and are beloved by multiple generations. Others end up at the landfill. In this series, I’ll be looking back on some forgotten series to better understand what kind of comics our ancestral nerds were reading in the days of rotary phones and record players.
Today’s subject: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1993)!
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a spy show that debuted in 1964 to eventual widespread popularity (things didn’t really get swinging until Season Two). It even spawned a comic book series published by Gold Key. This is not the series I’m talking about today. I am talking about the two-issue comic released in 1993.
Now I may have mentioned a time or two that I’m a big ol’ fangirl for this show, so I know a little about its history. It aired from 1964 to 1968. There was a reunion movie in 1983. In 1986, the series stars had another, unofficial reunion in an episode of The A-Team. An enjoyable, if severely unfaithful, big-screen adaptation came out in 2015. If this comic was released around any of those time periods, I’d understand.
What the heck went on in 1993 that made the publisher think a revival would be well-received? The nostalgia train that brought in the two reunion events had long since left the station, and it wouldn’t return for another 20 years. None of the main actors had recently died or anything. So what gives?
Millennium Publications is responsible for this, but I couldn’t find out much about them outside of what’s on Wikipedia. So, in short, my questions about this series’ origins remain.
I do know that Millennium released a number of licensed comics as it got off the ground, including one for another ’60s series, The Wild Wild West, in 1990. (The big-screen flop wouldn’t come out until 1999.) Maybe writer Mark Ellis just had fond memories of watching these shows in syndication.
Millennium would later produce some original material, but they folded, ironically, at the dawn of the millennium, 2000, after just 10 years in business.
First, a little recap for anyone unfamiliar with the show: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. centered on the fictional United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. U.N.C.L.E.’s top agents were an American, Napoleon Solo, and a Soviet, Illya Kuryakin. That’s all you need to know.
As for this comic, it is just as confused as the publisher. I’ll try not to get too insider baseball, but the continuity is in shambles. Shambles, I say!
It clearly takes place after the original series — Illya mentions U.N.C.L.E. is “primarily an advisory body now,” so time has passed — and yet the characters look as young as they did on the show, and their original boss is still around (the actor died pre-reunion movie and was replaced by a new character). I have no idea why they didn’t just set this in the 1960s.
Then again, the very first panel tells us this story starts on “April 31st,” which is maybe a hint to nitpicky nerds like me that continuity is not their priority. Or a typo.
Okay, onto the actual plot. Despite allegedly no longer having any mortal enemies, U.N.C.L.E.’s nemesis Thrush — specifically, two of its most ruthless and memorable agents from the show, Dr. Dabree and Dr. Egret — has returned. Our heroes investigate and find Egret has merged with Thrush’s Ultimate Computer and embarked on a solo (Dabree was an unwitting lackey) mission to destroy U.N.C.L.E. once and for all. Our heroes blow up said computer, but it’s strongly implied that Egret survived. (She had a habit of doing that on the show, too.)
Solo and Kuryakin are kind of bad at their jobs, as usual. They go to infiltrate a company using their own names and are discovered in five seconds. After that, they are nearly poisoned to death and would have died if not for the timely assistance of one of Dabree’s employees, who was fine with questionable science experiments but draws the line at wholesale murder.
I was never sure why these two are U.N.C.L.E.’s top agents since they bungle things with some frequency. Just how incompetent are the other agents? Anyway, the art (by Nick Choles) is okay, and some of the dialogue is pretty funny. I guess Napoleon and Illya’s real strength is being charming together.
Overall, I’d say it’s a good plot but it feels a bit rushed. They should have extended it to four issues. That would have been in keeping with the series as well, which divided each episode into four parts. The end of the second issue promises another adventure, “The End of the World Affair,” but that never happened.
This comic is a very small part of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.‘s and Millennium Publications’ overall journey. I stumbled across it entirely by accident while looking for MFU novels on eBay, which should tell you how much of an impact it did not make.
I do appreciate the effort that went into this comic: the art isn’t bad, and the writer clearly knew his stuff. There are copious nods to the original show, and even if the continuity is a mess, you have to know the continuity to mess it up this specifically, so that must have been an intentional choice. Millennium had a vision and they went for it. The result comes off a little like illustrated fan fiction, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with fan fiction.
But the thing about fan fiction is that it really only appeals to preexisting fans, not new readers. Maybe that’s why the series only lasted two issues: it didn’t have broad enough appeal.
If you’re a fan of the show, this is a neat curiosity. If not, I wouldn’t recommend starting here. Go watch the series first, especially the first two seasons. It’s dated by now, but good stuff nonetheless.