Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Avenging Evil

By David Marc Fischer

AUGUST 17, 1998:  What do we talk about when we talk about "The Avengers"?

Setting aside the Marvel comic of the same name, do we talk about the initial 1961-1969 run of the British television series? Do we discuss only those episodes shown in the United States during that period? Do we select a particular stretch of episodes - say, the Emma Peel years - that represent the series at its finest? Or do we simply talk about everything having to do with "The Avengers": the music, the fashions, the books, the fans, "The New Avengers," plus the new movie starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, and everything else that Avengeploitators might send our way?

Toby Miller's "The Avengers" is a scholarly book that demonstrates just how difficult it can be to generalize about this most stylish and enduring of spy shows - and, by extension, any other serial collaboration that, like "Star Trek" and the James Bond series, seems to retain a consistent identity despite multiple, significant and improvised changes over a stretch of years.

Until this summer, for example, Patrick Macnee might have proven a constant as John Steed, but his co-stars ran from Ian Hendry (Dr. Geoffrey Brent) to Honor Blackman (Catherine Gale), Diana Rigg (Peel), and Linda Thorson (Tara King). And that's just the inner ring of the carousel. According to Miller, the 161 original episodes involved no less than sixteen designers, thirty-seven directors and fifty writers. Analysis becomes even more complicated if, like Miller, one discusses "The New Avengers," which teamed Macnee with Joanna Lumley (Purdey) and Gareth Hunt (Gambit) for two seasons in the 1970s, as if it were inarguably part of a universal Avengers "text."

Rather than advance his study episode-by-episode, Miller divides it by theme - History, Pop, Fashion, Sex, Genre, The Postmodern, and Following - and tosses an assortment of facts and opinions into each section. His academically breezy discourse is strong on trivia (in 1968 Macnee reportedly lost weight using a crash diet of lentils, crushed oyster shells and prune juice), but weakened by bursts of jargon (deictic, diegesis, diegetic) as well as chronic superficiality: he rarely alights on a point long enough to probe it. And even though his book includes 100 photographs, they are not necessarily the ones that would best advance his arguments - a situation that can make for unpersuasive reading for all but the most earnest Avengerphiles.

The Avengers
Toby Miller
BFI Publishing/Indiana University Press, 192 pages,
100 b/w photos, $19.95

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