❉ A visually arresting lost adaptation of the cult TV series by Marvel legends Kirby and Kane.
“Gil Kane’s version not only nails the essential paranoia of the original, but is realised in a modish yet timeless style, and therefore perfect for The Prisoner. What’s also innovative about the Kane version is that the events of ‘Arrival’ are told in real time through the Prisoner’s inner voice, something we’d never had any insight into before.”
Of the enigmas left to resolve around Patrick McGoohan’s celebrated psychodrama The Prisoner, perhaps none is more intriguing than the story of the Marvel comic books based on the series that were commissioned but never published in the 1970s. Pages by Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four) and Gil Kane (The Amazing Spider-Man) have been doing the rounds in Prisoner fandom for years, but now Titan Books have gathered together all the extant material associated with the comic strips in one handsome volume – The Prisoner: Original Art Edition.
According to the writer Steve Englehart, who writes a short piece for the collection, what happened was actually very simple: there was a change of management at Marvel who went cold on what one contributor dismissed, with an almost hilarious lack of insight, as the story of “a guy trapped on an island.”
What’s fascinating about this book are Kirby and Kane’s different visual approaches to the first episode ‘Arrival’, the basis of the first comic. In the 1970s Kirby had already adapted Planet of the Apes to visually operatic effect, and his Prisoner is equally striking. The Prisoner character is McGoohan crossed with Batman, a walking block of chiselled, brooding rebellion. The technology of the Village gets a Stanley Kubrick-style upgrade, with wall-sized images of the Prisoner’s past dwarfing him in the famous interrogation sequence, and an almost steampunk, surreally complex feel to the Village control room and control panels.
For me though, Gil Kane’s version not only nails the essential paranoia of the original, but is realised in a modish style reminiscent of Martin Asbury’s slick work on the Garth comic strip: it’s just so-1960s, and therefore perfect for The Prisoner, yet timeless. What’s also innovative about the Kane version is that the events of ‘Arrival’ are told in real time through the Prisoner’s inner voice, something we’d never had any insight into before. The layout is fluid and sympathetic to the flow of the story, while the Prisoner here is an appealing cross between Sean Connery and Roger Moore. If only this version had made it into print.
After this main bulk of the book, there are biographies of Kirby, Kane, Englehart’s contribution, the original ITC press book for the TV series and a two-page production history by Rich Davy. The later is well written and informative but rather redundant; as only hard core Prisoner fans will be buying this book, they’ll surely know the background to the making of the TV series already.
Personally, I think this – admittedly beautifully designed and produced – collector’s edition is rather overpriced. However, as an insight into a fascinating blind alley of what-might-have-been in The Prisoner story it is, arguably, well worth the price of admission.
❉ The Prisoner: Jack Kirby And Gil Kane Art Edition (ISBN: 97817858662878) was published 25 July 2018 by Titan Comics and is available from Amazon and other outlets.
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of The Prisoner: The Official Companion to the Classic TV Series, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’. His biography of the actor Ian Carmichael was one of ‘The Independent’s Top 10 Film Books of the Year for 2011.