Titan Books is really churning out some fabulous tomes for fans these days.   I’ve been fortunate enough to review their The Art of Drew Struzan and The Art of Hammer Horror, and now they’ve been kind enough to send me The Avengers: A Celebration for similar consideration. I’d hoped to have this done by the holidays, but hey, you’ve got gift certificates burning holes in your pockets, don’t you? If you’re a fan of Mrs. Peel and John Steed, this might be just the thing to spend it on.

And make no mistake – this book is for fans. Fans that know all the episodes, but perhaps not the trivia behind them, the murky origin of the television show, or that Mrs. Peel wasn’t even the first heroine to high-kick in tight leather.   For this clueless American, it was a glimpse into a weird and campy universe that I really didn’t know anything about.  I knew the basics of who the Avengers were (and I’m one of the unfortunates who saw the Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes film in the theater), but I didn’t really know much about the show.  It seems to loom so large over British pop culture that I was stunned to learn what a short (and uneven) run it actually had.

While I’m not familiar with the episodes the book glibly mentions, there is something that’s immediately recognizable to a television viewer – the quality, scope, and mythology of the series.  existed in a universe that was our own, but ever-so-slightly tweaked in order to make the clothes, the villains, and the sets less preposterous.  It’s a format that’s all too familiar to us today, but that was especially exotic and cool in the 1960s.

The heroines too – first Mrs. Gale, and then the legend that was Mrs. Peel – were a novelty. They kicked butt, they were uninterested in sleeping with Steed, and they wore fabulous outfits.   The Avengers kicked off an entire fashion line that tied-in with the series at its height. Marketing tie-ins have never been new, but they were rarely so posh or mature. You could actually buy and wear Mrs. Peel’s boots or John Steed’s watch, and not be considered a kid for doing so. Today, this stuff (and its being hawked by stars) is old hat, but in the 1960s it was new, exciting, sexy and inclusive.  It’s cute to see its origins. So innocent! So free of logos and loud commercials!

Marcus Hearn’s book is definitely geared towards fans – as I said, it works under the assumption you’ll recognize every still and episode title – but it’s lushly illustrated and historically fascinating. If you love all things British, it’s a intriguing peek into a show that captured and guided pop culture into something freer, sexier, and quirkier. If you love television and analyzing the development of it, it’s an important chapter in the development of the modern action show.  If you just love photos of Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg in leather and miniskirts, well, it’s worth buying just for that.  They are quite stunning, I assure you.

The Avengers: A Celebration is in stores now. Thanks for Titan Books  for sending a review copy!