Original run: TV21 #158 – #160
Artist: Mike Noble
Writer: Angus P. Allan
After the fairly dry “Observatory Network”, Captain Scarlet found its throttle with “Earth’s Communications”, a story so tightly-wound and superbly compact that it didn’t have the space or time to put a foot wrong in terms of quality. That Mad Max: Fury Road-esque nature spills over into “Secret Mission”, a story as deadly as it is dandy.
In the space of three issues, Angus P. Allan mixes science fiction, political espionage, and thrilling adventure in a surprisingly topical story that’s perhaps too grizzled to appear on the television. However, the end result is one of the best stories TV21 ever did.
“Secret Mission” opens with a curiously out-of-place character motivation for Captain Scarlet – he’s assisting Professor Loot, a scientist aligned with World Government, in crossing the Bereznik border. It’s out of place because we’re so used to seeing Scarlet fight the good fight of Spectrum, with no reference to any life for any Spectrum agent outside of Spectrum itself.
It’s a mystifying portrait of Scarlet’s non-Spectrum adventures, and an interesting development of his character. Is Paul REALLY prepared to further political tensions between the infamously volatile Bereznik and the World Government just to help out an old friend?
Unsurprisingly, Bereznik troops discover Scarlet and Loot’s attempts at safe travels, and unleash hell on them. The resulting battle appears to catch hold of the Mysterons, who use an unsuspecting Scarlet to create something of a civil war on Earth between the World Government and Bereznik.
In these three issues, Allan doesn’t get a lot of room to explain much of the logic behind “Secret Mission”‘s plot. Why were Scarlet and Loot trying to cross the border? How did the Mysterons know Spectrum would attempt to protect the Bereznik president when the president explicitly told them NOT to enter Bereznik soil? Surely doing so would only break an already-tense relationship Bereznik has with the rest of the civilised world, which Colonel White gives Scarlet a telling off for anyway because of his shenanigans with Loot?
But I digress. If I spent my time criticising the lack of logic in Captain Scarlet, be it in TV21 or the TV show, I’d be here all day!
What “Secret Mission” may lack in sensible plotting it makes up for with intense pace, slick action, and palpable danger. Captain Scarlet rarely got this political in other forms of media, and it’s a testament to TV21‘s fearlessness that editor Alan Fennell would give this story the thumbs up for publication.
“Secret Mission” also stands as a riveting antithesis of what the Century 21 TV shows stood for in terms of themes and representations of our future. The worlds of Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds depicted a Utopian landscape, where mankind unites together in the name of technology, peace and alien invaders. The various World Security groups even found time to befriend underwater or outer space creatures and civilisations, extending their grabs of friendship.
With Captain Scarlet however, everything goes a bit pear-shaped, and “Secret Mission” personifies this. Bereznik is shown to have a fully functioning army, capable of being deployed in what seems to be mere moments, without a great deal needed to trigger them into action. Scarlet’s unexpected responsibility for assassinating the Bereznik President is a reflection of Captain Black’s unexpected responsibility for being the cause of the Mysterons’ hatred of Earth, and the war that ensues.
There’s a sublime menace to the Mysterons in this strip. They may have been the nemesis of Spectrum, but here, they pretty much just sit back and let humanity nearly wipe itself out. Many a plot-hole has been discussed regarding why the Mysterons didn’t simply wipe humanity out in one blow, but stories like “Secret Mission” lend the Mysterons some gravitas.
“Secret Mission” parallels how the Mysterons appeared to progress in the TV series, whereby they observed human nature and seemed disgusted by it. This culminated in “The Heart of New York”, where the Mysterons effectively punished mankind for its obsession with greed. Here, they do the same, but instead of greed, it’s war.
When I mentioned three issues wasn’t a great deal of room for Allan to deliver sensible plotting, I may well have been mistaken.
“Secret Mission” easily stands alongside “Unity City” as the best Captain Scarlet strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures. Where “Unity City” gave us a seemingly unstoppable adventure for Scarlet and the Spectrum crew, “Secret Mission” feels far more substantial a read with its themes of politics, war and brutal tone.
There’s good reason why folks bought TV21 like hot cakes back in the day, and why they remain such a popular read. “Secret Mission” isn’t just good – it’s fantastic.
Is “Secret Mission” one of your favourite Captain Scarlet strips? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Secret Mission” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!