Today we’re starting off with another great hit from the man I love to hate, Mark Millar, and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service: Kingsman! I really enjoyed the movie, so I was surprised to see that Millar wrote this comic, but as it turns out, the movie is far superior to this six-issue series about espionage and white, cishet boy angst. It’s the Cinderella story for cisgender, heterosexual, poor, white boys. In other words, problematic for all the same reasons Cinderella is problematic for cisgender, heterosexual, poor, white girls.
Plot: A poor thug from London’s streets trains to become a gentleman spy with the help of his uncle.
Warnings: Sexual objectification of women, misogyny, sexism, ableism, language, gore, excessive violence, sexual content, the list goes on
Initial thoughts: While not as bad as some of Millar’s other work, there’s still a lot of problematic content in The Secret Service. I really disliked how MI6 taught its trainees to “bring a woman to orgasm every time” (#2) and are sent on a mission “to seduce these women” (#3). This is especially problematic to me because a woman’s sexual pleasure is used as a means of exploitation and seducing women is presented as nothing more than a mission, like some kind of video game task. In #5, we see this in action as Uncle Jack seduces Ambrosia, and she later confesses to the evil super villain plan post-coital because “I didn’t know I could do things like that. My body feels amazing. My boyfriend only goes down on me whenever it’s my birthday, but it’s never felt like that before.” After admitting that she doesn’t know who she can trust, she confides in Uncle Jack, not because he is a safe person but because his sexual prowess has enlightened her. Thanks, Millar. Good to know the only thing needed to get women to spoil everything is a good dick (or a bad one, if you’re more of a fan of Kick-Ass). Besides, it’s not like there are lesbian, monogamous, or gay male targets, right? Points again to Millar for being sexist and homophobic.
The movie does a lot to include traditionally marginalized communities in media, especially for race and gender. The movie takes precautions to include women as spy trainees from the start, turning Gazelle into a woman, and writing out Ambrosia, the stereotypical villain’s-girlfriend-wanting-to-reform-and-unsatisfied-with-his-penis. Racisl inclusion is also better in the movie. In the book, Gazelle and Ambrosia are the only PoC, and while Gazelle is changed into a women in the movie, Gazelle remains a PoC and Dr. Arnold, renamed Richmond Valentine in the film adaptation, is played by Samuel L. Jackson, a black actor, who has the leading role of villain. While it would have been as good of a thing to reimagine Eggsy or Hart as black men or gender variant, I think these secondary character changes are an improvement to the original source. I particularly dislike the English presentation in the comic because it supports the illusion that all English people are white, when this is definitely not the case.
Itty Bitty Research: This might be fairly obvious, but I decided to look into the MI6. I’ve heard it mentioned in the James Bond series, but I thought it was a fictional department at the the time. Perhaps if it was known by its official name, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), it wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure it out. MI6 stands for Military Intelligence, Section 6, and yes, there was an MI1, MI2, MI3, and so forth. I say was because the MI1 through MI4 branches were shut down, though there were as many as 10 sections in WWI and 17 sections in WWII.These Military Intelligence sections were formed between 1916 and 1918 to structure intelligence efforts in World War I. Many of these sections are now defunct, as there is no longer a purpose for them. According to the MI5 website, “MI4 during the First World War was responsible for supplying military maps, while MI9 during the Second World War helped Allied troops to evade and escape from behind enemy lines,” neither of which serve a purpose today. The only functioning sectors still in use today are MI5 and MI6, and they are no longer officially part of the British military despite the section titles.
The MI6 is dedicated specifically to foreign intelligence, while other sections focus on different kinds of intelligence, like the MI5, which focuses on national security threats. The difference between MI5 and MI6 are the intelligence concerns. While both sections deal with international and domestic intelligence, MI5 is more concerned with national security while MI6 is concerned with international intelligence. Here’s a simple chart listing differences between the two. Though they are not as fancy as media portrayal suggests, there is some truth to some of the secrecy. The MI6 website boasts, “SIS is a secret service. In order to protect its staff, its agents and the intelligence it collects SIS does not comment on its activities,” which is typical of the secrecy and high clearance often portrayed in movies and books. On November 15, 2006, two MI6 officers gave public interviews for the first time on BBC Radio 1, which is truly a testament to the secrecy maintained in the section. While the real MI6 is not as glamorous as its fictional counterparts, the MI6 is still entrenched in that magical secrecy typical of fiction.
References: Millar, Mark. The Secret Service: Kingsman. Art by Dave Gibbons. New York: Marvel Comics, 2014. Print.