With the impending release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (July 31), I had decided to pull out my copy of Marvel Presents Paramount Comics Mission: Impossible issue 1. The one-shot, released in May 1996 to coincide with the release of the Brian DePalma film, serves as your standard, 90’s movie tie-in. Featuring a cover by Rob Liefeld (creator of Deadpool), the two featured stories are written by Marv Wolfman, with art by Pino Rinaldi, Rod Whigham, Andrew Wildman, and Liefeld. I remember quite fondly when this issue came out and of the moment I found this at my local comic shop in Forest Hills, NY – Royal Collectibles. Almost 20 years ago, I was just a seven year old boy and Mission: Impossible was at the top of my list. Having a comic based on a film I had just seen was exciting and the most hilarious aspect about it was for quite a few years I had awaited a second issue. Little did I know what a “one-shot” was back then. Also, while I’ve picked up these issues over the years I’ve come across them, I had long been in the dark regarding a very interesting fact concerning Mission: Impossible #1 and Marvel.
“Through A Mirror Darkly” is the first and main story contained in the Mission: Impossible one-shot. Starting with a title page, complete with the burning fuse, we’re introduced to the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) along with the trademark line, “Good morning, Mr. Phelps.” The story, complete with a few simple twists, primarily feels closer in tone to an episode of the television series than with the Tom Cruise movie. Mr. Phelps, bearing a similar hairstyle to Jon Voight but with no resemblance, has a mission to stop a former Soviet general and retrieve a missile, along with its software. We get a reliable scene, much like the introduction to the IMF in the DePalma film, and we meet Claire Phelps, Lofficier, Calvin, and Ethan Hunt.
This is where the Mission: Impossible comic gets interesting. According to mycomicshop.com:
Rare, only a few copies exist, the rest having been destroyed by the publisher. When Paramount and Marvel Comics teamed up for this one-shot Mission Impossible comic book based on the 1996 film (starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt), Marvel did not have the rights to use Tom Cruise’s likeness, so they depicted Ethan Hunt as an average brunette action hero. After the issue was finished and had gone to press, Tom Cruise read his advance copy and expressed concern that Ethan looked too feminine in two panels on page three. As a consequence, Marvel ordered the printing destroyed, but as is often the case, a few copies survived. Except for the two panels previously cited, “B” copies will be identical to the 2nd printing “A” copies (see A and B page 3 comparisons).
Upon further research, not many copies of this book are still available, however, you might still be able to find one in the wild. As of May 2015, CGC had graded 2 copies of the unedited variant (one 9.6 and one 9.4). CGC marked this as an “Error Version” with “Unedited panel on page 3” noted on the slabbed label. These appear to be rare with only a handful of copies ever sold, mainly through mycomicshop.com (Lone Star Comics). By February 2015, Lone Star have sold, or brokered the sale of, around 7 copies, all in low grades (5.0 or lower), with the exception of the top CGC 9.6 copy that sold on their site for $810.99 in February 2013. Thanking the seven year old that’s still in me, I am so glad to have a few of these one-shots. I’ll be sending them out immediately and no, I don’t plan on selling them.
The IMF teams heads to the Ural Mountains in Russia and begin their mission. It’s on this page that we are greeted with our first advertisement to the first film. It’s amazing to think of the incredible cinematic legacy the Mission series has. A striking 19 years later, we have five films, all starring Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames, and considerably getting bigger and better. This is where the Marv Wolfman one-shot does excel. He’s created a suitable story that fills in a time that existed shortly before the first film and wrote each character in a way that suits the onscreen performances. It’s a worthy one-shot whereas so many of the film tie-ins were unnecessary.
Claire is drawn in an overly contrived and cliched way, but then again, the 90’s depiction of sexiness in comics was always rather on the nose. I’m not sure who particularly drew her as “Through A Mirror Darkly” features three artists. She meets with General Anatoli, the IMF’s mark, and pretends to have escaped from two men that attacked and tried to rape her. Upon rereading this, the word “rape” seems extremely bold to use in a comic and stands out. The idea of how sexualized Claire is, mainly due to the art, doesn’t seem to work too well and considering the overall idea of her having to be supposedly rescued by the general, only to seduce him later, seems to not work that well. It’s easy to overlook here, but considering the terrific sequence in 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the scene could have been written much better. But, mind you, this was a comic in the mid-90’s so let that say what it will about comics.
The story does improve and is a typical Mission: Impossible fashioned story. The whole plot revolves around conning General Anatoli into believing he missed a peace conference and convincing him to give up the location of the missile he had terrorist allies steal. But, there’s a twist and that’s where the story reaches it’s high moment. As a lead up to the film, it’d be hard to precisely know what the Mission: Impossible one-shot is setting up. Having seen the film, the story does introduce us to the dynamics of the team Brian DePalma gave us, especially in Agent Ethan Hunt, “the IMF expert in disguises and voice impersonations.” We also learn of a shadowy figure in the IMF named Kittridge. That’s the high level IMF official played by Henry Czerny that haunts Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt throughout the picture.
Near the end of “Through A Mirror Darkly”, we get the big set piece of the script and it’s of Ethan Hunt, shirtless, chasing after the villain (who I won’t spoil) by using his shirt as a means to zipline to a monorail. We also get a fun, but cliche line that has Ethan saying “Maybe it’s trying to live up to my name, but I don’t stop the hunt till I get what I want.”
Ultimately, the first story plays very well into the themes of the Brian DePalma Mission: Impossible, which many fans rank alongside Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol. While the story is largely forgettable, the comic that is, it is worth giving a read. It’s amazing to think of this particular movie tie-in that not many fans probably know exists. The same could be said for Tom Cruise fans. Speaking of Mr. Cruise, it’s also worth mentioning that since Marvel did not have the rights to use his likeness, Ethan Hunt doesn’t appear that much in the issue. When he does, he is usually in disguise. It’s also interesting to consider the legend that Mr. Cruise had concerns over Ethan’s depiction in the issue as he is given a bigger action scene near the end; more notable that this chapter features three different artists. What that suggests is worth considering the legend all the more so.
The second and final story, “Should Any Of Your Agents”, features Rob Liefeld and Extreme Studios as the artists and follows another script by Marv Wolfman. This one, while breezy, comes across more significant when considering the historical perspective. Rob Liefeld has created a sincere name for himself in the industry and has given pop-culture one of the most enduring characters – Deadpool! The Mission: Impossible comic not only features him as the artist in it’s second story, but he also gave us the iconic cover that is instantly recognizable as the Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible and is the only artist to have given us an Ethan Hunt comic book cover. Side note: I spent much of my youth tracing this cover. I loved it and still do!
“Should Any Of Your Agents” follows the story of how Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) were disavowed from the IMF. It also provides another setup for Kittridge, and ends with “To be continued in Mission: Impossible The Movie!”
I greatly enjoyed re-reading Marvel Presents Paramount Comics Mission: Impossible #1. It’s a fun story to read and a must have for any self-respecting Mission: Impossible and/or Tom Cruise fan. As I am that person, I gladly have this issue (3 copies) and with the unedited panel. If you are able to track this down, I suggest it. You should not have to pay more than $5 for it. If you see it going for any higher, please refer to completed listings on Ebay. And, as always, should you or any of your agents have interest in comic book speculation, please defer to Anthony, Mel, and the folks at www.comicsheatingup.net