Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (a parody), by Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton

It's an intriguing idea for a mash-up: Take the severely reserved characters of the incredibly popular Downton Abbey ITV (and PBS) television series, and re-imagine their story (already tinged with political overtones), changing many of those characters to secret agents. Seems like a can't-miss premise for wacky genre fun, right? And it almost is.

While it's primarily the working-class characters who get to be secret agents, the upper-class characters are almost invariably portrayed as superficial simpletons (Richard Crawhill, Earl of Granville, being the most ridiculous of the ridiculous here). This characterization helps sell the class-conscious narrative, of course, although the parody does descend to some very silly depths. For instance, the inheritance question lying at the center of Downton Abbey here gets an additional wrinkle: if the Crawhills' pregnant dog Sweetsie has a male pup, he will inherit Devonton, and then Lady Margaret won't need to marry Cousin Martin after all. And so on.

Artist Kyle Hilton's character likenesses are usually spot-on, so much so that, except in rare instances, it really does look like you're "watching" a lost episode of the series. Alas, writer Camaren Subhiyah's script isn't content simply to mash-up two genres; instead, it adds strong science-fiction and fantasy aspects to the plot as well, involving elaborate pseudo-scientific gadgetry, the Philosopher's Stone, special mental and physical powers, and more. Oh, and Gates & Co. manage to avert the onset of World War I in the bargain.

It all just seems a bit too over-the-top. The SF aspects threaten to divert the plot too far from parody into, dare I say it, originality. I guess I was looking for something a bit more comfortable in this parody. Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey might have been better served by disguising its Downton-debt and simply telling its original story on its own merits. Although I wonder if it would have been published at all in that case...

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (A Parody)
by Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton
Andrews McMeel 2013
ISBN-10: 1449434347
ISBN-13: 978-1449434342
128 pages, $14.99