“I Am Not A Number, I Am A Free Man!” – Reviewing The Prisoner #1

by Richard Bruton

Oh, The Prisoner. Mysterious, imaginative, surreal, thrilling, and downright strange. The show was first broadcast on Canadian and UK TV screens in 1967, the USA in 1968. It was a surreal spy-thriller co-created, written, directed and starring Patrick McGoohan. And for the 50th anniversary, Peter Milligan and Colin Lorimer take us back to the Village for a thrilling, claustrophobic, spy tale.

It’s now 50 years on from the debut of the TV series, and for the anniversary, Titan Comics are launching two very special comics for the occasion. Coming in July, The Prisoner: Jack Kirby And Gil Kane Art Edition, finally brings the incredible Jack Kirby and Gil Kane artwork for Steve Englehart’s script for the long-lost, previously unpublished The Prisoner comic. But before then, we have the debut of Peter Milligan and Colin Lorimer’s all-new comic.

For those of you not aware, firstly, go see the series (there’s plenty on You Tube, try this for an idea), or at very least, the first episode. But for a very quick idea behind just what’s in store for you, here’s part of the blurb for this first issue:

“It is perhaps the intelligence community’s darkest secret, aligned to no one political system or state, an autonomous institute, free of state manipulation.

The identity of its controller, the mysterious Number One, is unknown.

It is a place so secret, some believe it to be a myth.

It is The Village.”

I was too young to appreciate it the first time around, but even catching it on repeats at an early age I was thrilled by the idea, the strangeness, the whole unreality of it all. From those iconic opening scenes, to the surreal nature of The Village, to the giant bubble chasing down Number 6. Oh, it all resonated so beautifully.

I remember being so excited to read the DC Comics version back in 1988. The Prisoner: Shattered Visage, written by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith, illustrated by Dean Motter, wasn’t perhaps everything I was after, but it did a fair job of continuing the themes and even tying some things up.

So that was then. This, the first issue of The Prisoner, is very definitely now.

It begins explosively, with a spy bursting through a window, an MI5 agent on the run, his image already all across the national press, headlines screaming “TRAITOR”, and the agent, Breen, desperate to get clear of those pursuing him.

The action continues with Breen packing up, shifting identities as he escapes his pursuers, heading through London, and out to Tuscany, to his bolt hole. All the while, Milligan’s voiceover revealing his thoughts, creating a sense of intense claustrophobia, perfectly pitched for the ideas behind TV series and comic.

“Since my cover’s been blown I’ve been gripped by a vertiginous sensation.
As though my life were spiralling into absurdity.
I mean, what can be more absurd than changing your identity?
Some facial characteristics. A few documents. A history.
At first, the shifting personas of this job can make you wonder who the real you is.
After a while it stops feeling so strange.
The absurd becomes normalized.
After a while, it feels like there is no real you.
And no reality.”

Identity plays a huge part here, with Milligan quickly establishing characters and story, Lorimer’s art keeping up all the way through. The secrets are slowly unveiled, teases, glimpses of a past op in the Middle-East, compromised by someone, somewhere, again, the sense of agencies working in secret comes through so strongly.

Back in time, we see what brought Breen to this, what we know will take him to the Village by the issue’s end. But knowing where we’re going here isn’t a problem, especially as Milligan and Lorimer make that journey so engaging. We hear of Pandora, the obvious MacGuffin, a secret thingy that Breen infiltrates a base to steal, we revisit the Middle-East op, see Breen’s fellow agent lost, and hear tell of some of the things the Village might just have been up to as he’s debriefed.

Breen wants to go into the Village to rescue his lost comrade, his controller has other, more terminal, ideas. And from then on, it’s simply a case of when, not if, Breen will wake up in his posh new jacket, inside the Village, where all those troublesome spies go to be contained.

“In all its “known history” only one agent has managed to escape from The Village.”
“Then… Then I’ll be number two.”

Oh, not much chance of that. We hear Number Two is already taken. Milligan has put the plates in the air, and is spinning them beautifully for all he’s worth.

And before you know it, we’re in the Village.

Just as we always knew we would be…

But cleverly we’re not quite sure why Breen’s there. Has he been taken, did he allow himself to be taken, has it all been set up to get him inside, with MI5 or higher trying to uncover the secrets of this most secret place? And then there’s the question of what’s happened to the Village itself in the years that have passed. It’s looking decrepit, revealed in a stunning two-page spread with Lorimer excelling, where the sheen of what we knew has gone, where time has taken it’s toll.

All in all, The Prisoner Issue 1 gets the tone just right. Effectively it’s Milligan and Lorimer homaging the opening credits of the TV show. But they do that beautifully, alongside setting up more complex issues of identity, of loyalty, of multiple threads, multiple agencies, all wanting to uncover the secrets of the Village. An excellent first issue, that ticks the most important box pretty much from the start… I knew within a few pages that I was into this, and was going to be wanting to see where subsequent issues took me. That’s exactly what a great first issue should do.

Definitely one for the buy-list.

The Prisoner Issue 1 is released on April 25th from Titan Comics. Written by Peter Milligan, art by Colin Lorimer, colors by Joana LaFuente, letters by Simon Bowland, and editing plus original plot by David Leach.

As you’ve come to expect, there are multiple variant covers:

Cover B: Photo cover:

Cover C: Jack Kirby, Mike Royer. Colors by Mike Allred

Cover D: Colin Lorimer. Colors by Joana Lafluente

Cover E: John McCrea. Colors by Michael Spicer

Cover F: Mike Allred Black and White Variant.

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