The Prisoner: Shattered Visage collected edition.
|Author||Dean Motter and Mark Askwith|
|1988-1989 (individual issues) 1990 (collected edition)|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
The Prisoner: Shattered Visage is a four-issue comic book mini-series based on The Prisoner, the 1967 television series starring Patrick McGoohan. The name is a reference to Percy Shelley's famous poem Ozymandias, which forms part of the introduction.
Set twenty years after the final episode of the television series, Shattered Visage follows former secret agent Alice Drake as she is shipwrecked on the shores of the Village and encounters an aged, psychologically scarred Number Six. While the decades-old conflict unfolds between Six and Number Two (as played by Leo McKern in the TV series), secret agents in London have their own plans regarding the intelligence mine that is The Village, as well as the secret lying at its very core.
The trade paperback included a two-page text piece that explained the surreal final episode, "Fall Out" as drug-enhanced psychodrama designed to break Number Six. However, the story itself regards the episode series as a pivotal point of characterization, as opposed to dismissing it entirely.
Patrick McGoohan and ITC Entertainment subjected the story and art to a thorough evaluation. The likenesses of McGoohan and Leo McKern were featured for their characters’ returns. According to Dean Motter, the notoriously critical McGoohan "didn't hate" the series while McKern was flattered to be a "comic book villain" for the first time.
In London, Alice Drake, adventurer, travel book writer and former secret agent, prepares to embark upon a round-the-world sailing expedition on her boat, the Vorpal Blade. Her daughter, Meagan, is left in the care of her estranged husband and a boarding school.
Alice's husband, Thomas Drake, is a secret service officer concerned about the man known as Number Two. Number Two has written a tell-all book (The Village Idiot) about the Village, the retirement home for spies, which Thomas rewrote to obscure and remove classified information. Number Two was jailed for violating the Official Secrets Act, but his twenty-year sentence is up and he is being released. Thomas fears that Number Two will return to the Village, and that what he does there will break open the secrecy of British covert operations.
Alice begins her sea voyage, but she runs into a storm. Her ship is washed onto the shores of an island, which appears to be an evacuated, abandoned holiday resort. (Earlier scenes showed Thomas Drake and an associate taking efforts to reprogram Alice's navigational computer, and later scenes reveal they intended for her to sail by The Village as an advance scout.) Seeking help, Alice explores the Village. She enters the Number 2 house and finds a giant domed room. In the oval-shaped center chair sits a bearded man, who wears a black suit jacket with white piping. He informs her that she is in the Village, and that she is Number Six. This man is the former, original Number Six.
Alice spends the night in the number six living quarters in the Village. The next morning, Number Six takes Alice on a tour. He is a gentle man who lives a solitary life as the sole inhabitant of the Village. He says that the other Villagers were "free to go" while he was "free to stay". While Six is mysterious and vague, Alice finds him kind as he catches fish and makes them dinner. But when Alice wanders away at night, a giant white sphere (Rover) encloses her and bears her back to the green-domed house to meet the newly returned Number Two.
Alice recognizes Number Two as the initial author of The Village Idiot. He asks if she's seen Number Six, alleging that he wishes to help Six escape. He describes Number Six as a valuable and powerful man, unjustly punished for actions performed on behalf of his countrymen. "The system imprisoned him, interrogated him, broke him, drove him mad," says Two, recounting the events of the TV series. "The man that would not bend, simply broke. Shattered and alone, he chose a number and christened himself Number One." (Fall Out) Alice asks (echoing the series) who Number One actually was, and Number Two responds that she has missed the point. Two explains: "Here's a man who raged against numbering of any kind. To choose any number, even the number one, was a contradiction. He was caught between belief systems. He had accepted. His days were numbered. He was ours, body and soul. We had won!" Alice is appalled at Two's glee and leaves angrily.
Back in London, Thomas Drake and his partner, an American agent named Lee West, prepare a private expedition to the Village. Despite the lack of official resources that Thomas' superiors are willing to commit, Thomas and Lee are convinced that the Village is at the center of someone's manipulations. There have been a series of recent assassinations of Marconi Electrics scientists - Marconi Electrics was the office building of Number Six's superiors ("Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling"). Later, Thomas' mentor, a Mrs. Butterworth ("Many Happy Returns"), is smothered in her sleep. It seems the former operating staff of The Village are being eliminated.
At night, Number Six and Alice walk through the silent streets of the Village. They are confronted by Number Two. Number Six claims to have known all along that Number Two sent Alice as a scout, pointing out Alice's warder's attitude ("Checkmate") and warder's watch (Six, isolated from modern technology, has noticed Alice's digital watch). Alice protests, but is ignored as Two and Six engage in a fistfight. Disgusted, Alice leaves them to it. Two and Six battle in a raging storm, Two calling Six a coward. He says that Six lost twenty years ago (Fall Out) and won't return to the outside world because he'd have to face defeat. Two says that Six's secret information is now worthless and that Six is nothing. Their fight takes them inside an old mill where Two gains the upper hand. Number Six remains defiant, declaring that he is a free man and his life is his own. Two, choking Six around the neck with both hands, answers, "Then take it!" Both fall out the window of the mill, into the water below.
Shortly afterwards, the door to the number six residence in the Village opens. Number Six enters and begins to cut his beard.
Two separate forces soon enter the Village, although which 'side' either represents is uncertain. First, Thomas and Lee bring a small handful of associates. Shortly afterwards, a group of soldiers sent by Thomas Drake's superior, Director Ross of Operations, follow. It is unclear if Ross has been spurred into action by the assassinations, if he is after Drake for disobeying orders in venturing to the Village, or if he is acting on his own. Lee, Thomas and their detail of troopers arrive first, and enter the home of Number Two, ostensibly seeking the secrets of The Village. In Number Two's domed office, Lee triggers the lift below the center chair, lowering them into the underground chambers. Past the jukebox and the "Well Come" sign is an ornate chair (as seen in Fall Out). Sitting in the chair is a figure who speaks of how he will escape and return to destroy The Village, and how he is a free man (echoing the original Number Six). He rises from the shadows, and is revealed as Number Two, saying that Number Six is dead. Lee and Thomas step past him, climbing lower into vertical tunnels ahead. They descend into clear tubes with the word ORBIT printed on them (also seen in Fall Out). Lee and Thomas are now in the heart of The Village, and find housed there several nuclear missiles, still as usable and deadly as ever.
Lee admonishes Thomas for not recognizing the truth behind the Village. "It was all in the files. You just have to read between the lines," Lee explains. "Power. Control. That's what the Village is all about." Unexpectedly, the launch sequence for the missiles is triggered. Thomas re-emerges into the upper level to find Number Two setting off the missiles without opening the silo doors. The Village is destroyed in a massive explosion, supposedly killing all who remain. Beyond the reach of the flames, however, Alice Drake's boat, apparently repaired, is seen sailing away.
Director Ross, back in London, receives a report that indicates all the assassinations have one man in common: a mysterious, top-hatted man with a mustache. (The observant reader will already have noticed this man in the background throughout various pages of the comic.) When Ross takes the report to his superior, the Colonel, Ross finds that the Colonel has been replaced by the same mustached man (in a manner similar to the TV series' Number Two's being regularly rotated). Ross' report is burnt and his resignation demanded. Later that night, Ross is gassed unconscious in his home. He is loaded into a hearse by two men, to be transported, as was Number Six, to whereabouts unknown. This echoes the start of the TV series.
Number Six and Alice Drake are then seen sitting together on a park bench. Six is clean-shaven and tidily dressed. Alice says that one crucial question remains unanswered: who was Number One? Six answers her, and his own, question thus: "Does the presence of Number Two require the existence of Number One?"
Alice then asks about Number Six's secrets, and he assures her that they are safe: "None of us would be here if they weren't," he tells her with a confident smile. Alice, accepting this, remarks that her digital watch is commonplace these days. Six bids her farewell with the Village salute, saying, "Be seeing you." He leaves as Meagan, Alice's daughter, enters the park and embraces her mother.
This happy reunion is displayed on a video monitor, which is shown to be one screen on a domed ceiling of monitors in a new version of The Village's surveillance centre.
On the final page, this new control room is shown to be housed in London's Palace of Westminster...
'Fall Out' Re-examined
Shattered Visage addresses "Fall Out", the surreal, dreamlike final episode of the series, in a variety of ways;
- The trade paperback opens with the text of a classified intelligence report on the Village. This report describes the events of Fall Out as "a theatrical tour-de-force involving actors as well as hallucinogenic drugs," organized by Leo McKern's Number Two. It refers to Number Two's death and resurrection as "staged."
- Later in the comic, Number Two says Six was "driven mad" and finally accepted a number; Number One. In "Once Upon A Time", the penultimate episode of the TV series, a brainwashing device is used to regress Six to childhood and force him to relive various periods of his life. In Fall Out, Number Six is given a ceremony that lauds his revolutionary spirit and the President describes Number Six as "the only individual" and therefore the ideal leader of the Village. Later in the episode, Six unmasks Number One, he sees his own face.
- According to the text piece, the Village was liberated by UN troops shortly after the finale. This suggests the gun battle and helicopter evacuation seen in Fall Out were the skewed perceptions of a drugged Number Six as rescue finally came. The episode Many Happy Returns provided Number Six's superiors with enough information to eventually locate the Village.
- As Number Two recounts the events of Fall Out, two panels show a wide shot of Number Six driving a mini-moke and then a close up of his face behind the wheel. This mirrors the title sequence of the TV series, reused for the final shots of the final episode.
In the final episode, this served as a hint that Number Six had not escaped, or would not be free for long (indeed, in the closing shots of the TV series, the door to what Six believes to be his real-world home opens and closes with the same whirr as that of his Village residence, showing he has not left the village.) The similar driving sequence establishes that Number Six never left the Village.
- When Alice Drake finds Number Six stargazing in the Village control room, she also comes across a mask with the face of a monkey. Number Six removed such a mask from the face of 'Number One' in Fall Out. This means that while the events of the finale episode were hallucinatory, some aspects of them existed physically. This is later reinforced when the comic revisits the underground location of the final episode, encountering the jukebox and the chair.
- Near the end of the comic, a squad of soldiers led by a pair of intelligence agents venture into the underground caverns seen in Fall Out, and uncover a full complement of nuclear missiles, the warheads still usable and deadly, explaining the Village as a covert nuclear arsenal. According to Lee, the idiosyncrasies of the Village were a distraction. "You got so distracted by the surface," Lee tells Thomas, "that you couldn't see beneath the surface. You've got to brush away all that rococo crap and expose the truth!"
The Village Idiot
In Shattered Visage, Number Two has authored his memoirs (after a twenty-year internment), entitled The Village Idiot, which became a runaway bestseller despite the security services' attempts to ban it. The Village Idiot resembles ex-MI5 agent Peter Wright's book Spycatcher. There were several attempts by the British Government to ban the publication of Spycatcher, but was successfully published in a number of other countries.
Topics removed from the fictional The Village Idiot included;
- Project: Operation Pennyfarthing
- Prisoners of Power
- Protect Other People
- Price of Peace
- all references to The Arch-Angels
- Directive 17 - The status of The Prisoner
The shared acronym of the first four topics: "POP", shows up in several places during the course of the program (it was also (literally) spelt out in the episode known as 'The Alternate Chimes of Big Ben.' In this episode, during the end credits, the penny farthing dissolves and turns into a spinning globe, on which the word 'pop' is shown as the globe stops spinning). It is the code word referenced in rough drafts of the original series - McGoohan saying that if humans couldn't "put it all together", (that is, bring our human morals up to speed with our technological abilities and overcome the animal within), we would "POP" and destroy ourselves.
'Pop' had also been featured as a lyric included in the POPular, cryptic and obtuse rhyme "POP Goes the Weasel", a much-used musical-motif in the series, and particularly heavily referenced in the closing two episodes "Once Upon a Time" and Fall Out.
Questions are a burden to others
- The references to the TV show are also quite prominent in the comic, with reiterated lines of dialogue and scenes reminiscent of various moments of the TV series, including the opening titles. There are also recreations of scenes from the episodes in the form of traced stills integrated into the artwork. Many of these appear in the prologue text piece.
- Many guest-characters from the TV series make cameos. Number Six and Alice pass through a hall with portraits of former Number Twos, including Mary Morris and Derren Nesbitt. The character of Mrs. Butterworth ("Many Happy Returns") also makes an appearance. In two scenes, someone functions as The Butler but is unidentifiable, perhaps due to a lack of clearance from Angelo Muscat's estate. However, Alice's boat is launched at "Port Muscat".
- Hidden skillfully throughout the four-book collection are dozens of slightly-out-of-focus illustrations of the classic Village bicycle formed by round background elements. Examples are seen in the layout of Drake's office table, the wall poster of the orbiting space shield, and many others.
- In the final episode of the TV series, McKern's Number Two is apparently brought back from the dead, with his thick beard shaven off. After his rebirth in this fashion, he describes himself as "feeling like a new man". In this comic, Six shaving off his beard could be indicating that he is reborn, risen again, to fight the good fight.
- In Fall Out, Number Two commented that he was once a prisoner like Number Six, but did not resist as Number Six did. In this comic, Number Two states that he sympathizes with Number Six and has returned to the Village to help Six escape. While he mocks and beats Number Six, he also urges him to take his freedom and leave the Village.
- In a nod to both the idea of "I am not a number!" and the episode, "A. B. and C.", the four issues were not numbered, but were rather Issue A, B, C, and D.
Danger Man references
- Former secret agent Alice Drake claims that she retired from "British tourism" and has a civilian identity as a travel writer. This recalls Danger Man, the Patrick McGoohan spy series, in which the spy organization masqueraded as a travel agency.
- Thomas and Alice Drake share the same surname as "John Drake", Patrick McGoohan's character from Danger Man. This may suggest an added level of motive and unspoken familiarity between the protagonists and Number Six. (At the very least, it appears to be a tip-of-the-hat by Motter & Askwith.)
- Some of the aliases and code-numbers Number Six has been known by are listed in this book, including "John White", an alias used by John Drake in Danger Man. The possibility of Drake being the Prisoner has been asserted by George Markstein (script-editor on both Danger Man and The Prisoner) and denied by McGoohan. Many speculate that this denial is due to McGoohan not owning the rights to Danger Man. Potential "proof" that Drake became the Prisoner can be found in actor/character-crossover between the two series' and the authorized The Prisoner novels, among other places.
- Thomas has a similar appearance to actor Rupert Everett who portrayed Guy Burgess in Another Country (1984) 
- In the third chapter, a character is mentioned as having been tutored in interrogation by "Mr. Smiley."
- A funeral scene in the third chapter includes appearances by many other spy/secret agent characters from 1960s pop-culture sources, including John Steed, Emma Peel, the Sean Connery version of James Bond, Napoleon Solo, and Illya Kuryakin.
- Alice Drake's boat is called Vorpal Blade, after the implement mentioned in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky". Indeed, Alice's own name is most likely a deliberate connection to Carroll's signature heroine: The character can be seen buying a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in the opening pages of the story. Moreover, her own journey mirrors the protagonists', as she ventures into The Village, itself referred to as a "Wonderland", both on the back cover of the collected edition, and by Number Two as he describes it to Drake after her run-in with Rover.
Fan audio production company BrokenSea Audio Productions released a 4-episode adaptation of Shattered Visage in 2009. They have also created & released a further 5-episode sequel story entitled Torchbearer, released in late 2010/early 2011. Both are available for free download from BrokenSea's website.