Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Titan’s The Prisoner Original Art Edition, out now in hardcover…
The Prisoner Original Art Edition
Writers: Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart
Artists: Jack Kirby & Mike Royer, Gil Kane
The chain of events by which Marvel commissioned not one but two different first-issues of a series based on Patrick McGoohan’s TV show The Prisoner in 1976, and then shelved both of them before giving up on the whole idea, isn’t fully spelled out in Titan Comics’ new Original Art Edition—because it looks like no one really remembers. Steve Englehart writes an essay about his work on one version, inheriting the job from Marv Wolfman and drafting a script overnight for Gil Kane to draw, before Englehart promptly left Marvel altogether. But he can’t shed much light on how Jack Kirby came to write and draw a different first issue, or corroborate Jim Steranko’s theory at the time that it was Stan Lee who had given Kirby an assignment already in play elsewhere, and then also Stan who spiked both versions. What’s certain is that Kirby and Kane drew two typically idiosyncratic versions of the same material, applying their respective mid-1970s art styles to adaptations of Arrival, the series’ first episode; and both are collected in this new volume reproduced directly from the pencils.
The Kirby pages, a handful of which were inked by Mike Royer before being abandoned, are as muscular and foreboding as any Kirby from the period, although the plot is almost entirely build-up, conversational and violence-free. The layouts are strict regular grids, the better to constrain the Prisoner as he wanders around the mysterious Village he finds himself in, and Kirby-esque technology only appears when Number Six enters the surveillance control room of his jailers. But the themes are a fine fit with Kirby’s interest in personal freedoms and liberty, not to mention the fate of a man who resigns from his job in high dudgeon. Mike Allred has coloured the story’s only two-page spread for this volume, a flavour of what might have followed.
Gil Kane and Steve Englehart’s version moves at a different pace, that pace being about 100 mph. The artist’s frantic layouts and extreme angles make for the opposite of a sedate mood, and the writer cuts whatever corners are needed to traverse an hour’s worth of TV in 18 pages while still hitting the show’s iconic moments. Englehart’s essay is careful to mention twice that Joe Staton did uncredited layouts for the story, but the pencil work on display seems very much 1970s Kane, full of emphatic close-ups and staged punch-ups. A version lettered by Rick Parker is included, helping to put Englehart’s work into context although inevitably covering up some of Kane’s.
Opportunities to scrutinise Kirby and Kane pencils are always welcome, especially when they (plus Englehart) are springboarding from the same raw material, and even more so when both artists were deep into a 1970s style that marked a development of their work a decade earlier – to mixed reception, in Kirby’s case. The fact that Marvel lunged towards an adaptation of something all-but unadaptable, which ultimately failed to appear at all, might also make the book a capsule incarnation of the company in 1976 and Marvel’s famously chaotic year of three editors-in-chief, on top of everything else.
The Prisoner Original Art Edition is out now from Titan