Comics

Farewell to the Inspiration for the Hellfire Club and Austin Powers


This is Foggy Ruins of TIme, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of “Seinfeld” will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).

Reader Bruce P. wrote in to note the passing of a major British pop culture icon who also ended up playing a major role in the introduction of the Hellfire Club!

Peter Wyngarde was one of those celebrities that you don’t really get to see any more in the internet age, which is that no one really knows WHAT the heck happened to him during his early life. He told so many conflicting stories about his background that people aren’t even sure that the age he gave upon his death a few days ago was the correct one.

In any event, late in the 1960s, Wyngarde began to make a real career out of notable guest appearances in British TV series, including playing the main villain in the 1966 Avengers episode, “A Touch of Brimstone,” where Emma Peel has to go undercover as a member of the Hellfire Club, of which the leader, Honorable John Cleverly Cartney, is played by Wyngarde with all the over-the-top pomp and circumstance that you would expect from an underground “Sin” club…

John Byrne and Chris Claremont were both teenagers when this episode came out and, probably much like many teenage boys at the time, the episode (particularly Diana Rigg in a corset) likely left a very much lasting impression, as years later, they adapted the Hellfire Club to the pages of the X-Men….

(Oops, just noticed I didn’t have a single sample of anyone in a corset, which seemed like it was 90% of the reason for the existence of the Hellfire Club…

)

After his success as a guest actor in the late 1960s, Wyngarde was given his own series, where he played the over-the-top international man of mystery, Jason King, in Department S.

King clearly seems to be a visual inspiration for Mike Myers’ Austin Powers (King even said “Groovy, baby” in one episode of his series).

Wyngarde’s Jason King character was also the visual inspiration for Mastermind’s new look as a member of the Hellfire Club, as well as his new name, which was a combination of the Jason King character and the Peter Wyngarde actor to become Jason Wyngarde…

Farewell to an actor so great at being over the top that he left an impression in a multitude of media!

Thanks to Bruce for the suggestion! If anyone else has a suggestion for a future edition of Foggy Ruins of Time, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!



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