Growing up in the 80’s I don’t think there was a TV show that I loved more than “MacGyver.” Like everyone else, I loved seeing all of the crazy inventions he’d come up with each week to get himself out of impossible situations. His antics also instilled in me a love for on-the-spot ingenuity, for seeing how people could turn a situation around using their wits and the items at hand, that I look for in characters and stories to this date. Now, I have gone back and watched the series again in recent years, and on an objective level the storytelling certainly hasn’t held up. The good news is that the core of the series -- the character’s ingenuity and Richard Dean Anderson’s charisma and good humor in playing the character -- have aged remarkably well. It’s these elements that make “Fugitive Gauntlet” an entertaining read, provided you’re a fan of the series too.
We’re reintroduced to MacGyver on a trip to Kenya to visit his old biology professor who is on the verge of a remarkable breakthrough. Professor Cornwell has come up with a seed that will allow crops to be grown in saltwater land, but he’s concerned that his sponsors will put profiteering from this idea over feeding the world. His fears are almost justified when an assassin breaks into his compound to kill… MacGyver! To the troubleshooter’s surprise, it turns out that someone has put a time-sensitive seven-million dollar bounty on his head. Though Mac survives the assassin’s entrance, the professor does not. While his bodyguard blames Mac for this, the real culprits soon make themselves known and the seed data is stolen. Now on the run with an AWOL Interpol agent, Mac has to get the data back and make sure the people behind the professor’s death answer for their crimes.
The best thing that I can say about this comic is that I can easily see it working as a multi-part-arc on the TV series, or even as a TV movie. (Of which two were made. The first one, where Mac gets involved with the hunt for the treasure of Atlantis was good fun. The second was not so much, though it did have a scene where he defuses a nuclear bomb with help from a tennis racket.) It has the same globetrotting action that the series trafficked in as well as its socially conscious agenda as well. Though this MacGyver may not look exactly like you remember him (more on that later), his sense of style, humor and ingenuity are instantly recognizable. I could hear Richard Dean Anderson’s voice in all of the character’s dialogue, and that certainly makes me a happy camper.
Of course, the real appeal of any “MacGyver” series is going to be in the inventions and creative solutions he comes up with to get out of trouble and “Fugitive Gauntlet” does not disappoint in that regard. Things start off simple with him using a bunsen burner and screen cleaner to fend off an attacker, and a metal tray with his jacket to break out of a cell. We do get more complex creations as he improvises caltrops during a chase, creates a smoke bomb from ping pong balls and a coffee bag, and (my personal favorite) makes a cell phone charger from some live phone cables and his belt. Even if some of the things here seem worthy of “Mythbusting” they generally come off as pretty credible and again, wouldn’t seem out of place in the TV show.
Now if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool “MacGyver” fan like me, then all of this is great news. For those of you who are approaching this as a comic with things like logical plotting, then you’re going to have some issues. Assuming you can suspend disbelief to allow for the existence of such a “magic seed” at the heart of the narrative, your patience will likely be sorely tested by the amount of contrived twists the plot takes and hackneyed situations the title character winds up in. While there’s a sizable number of the cast who wants MacGyver dead, they tend to love talking to him about that rather than shooting him in the face. Again, this is stuff that happened all the time on the TV series so that’s an (admittedly small) part of the book’s charm for me. That said, don’t expect this to be nominated for any Eisner awards next year.
Particularly for the art. Though artist Will Sliney was a last-minute replacement for Becky Cloonan after her workload precluded her involvement, knowing that she was almost involved in this project really makes you wonder about what could’ve been. As for what we got, Sliney is a capable enough artist and the story flows well enough with his art. The man’s style, though, is very “chunky” and really lacks finesse on the page. You’re left with the feeling that he’s still trying to find a style that works for him and hasn’t quite hit upon one yet. Sliney’s Richard Dean Anderson likeness could also have used some work too. I realize that the character’s trademark mullet is more laughable than anything else these days, but giving him a constant five o’clock shadow doesn’t make him resemble the actor more. Strangely enough, Sliney does manage to get it right on the very last page of the story and gives us a MacGyver that’s recognizable enough to make me wish that he had gone back and re-drawn everything to make it all line up.
This isn’t all, though, as the volume is bookended by a foreword from the show’s producer Mike Greenberg, and a lengthy afterword from its creator Lee David Zlotoff who also co-wrote this comic with Tony Lee. While Greenberg’s introduction has some amusing showbiz anecdotes about his work and the show’s genesis, it’s Zlotoff’s afterword that’s the real find here. He gives us a rundown of his showbiz career and the circumstances that led to his meeting with the men who would be the show’s producers, Henry Winkler and John Rich, who wanted him to write this great new show called “Hourglass” for them. (Think “24” minus the serialized story.) That show ultimately never got made, but the writer gives us a great story instead about how we got “MacGyver” out of it. I love these kinds of behind-the-scenes stories, and while this one isn’t about the comic at hand it still makes me wish that we got more of them about the comics themselves at the end of each volume.
Ultimately, “MacGvyer: Fugitive Gauntlet” isn’t a series that transcends the appeal of its source material, but for someone like me that’s okay. It captures the essence of the show’s appeal and provides a good example of why I liked it so much in the first place. This collection isn’t likely to create any new “MacGvyer” fans though I can certainly say that this will definitely be appreciated by the converted.