You can tell I have no pressing writing deadlines when I have time for more fanciful pursuits such as this. In between a bunch of reading for the consulting gig, I decided to add another entry to this irregularly recurring blog feature, even though the previous installment was just a couple of weeks ago. I know…daring, amirite?
For those new to this bit of distraction, “Tied Up With Tie-ins” is where I take a look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. This usually means something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place decades ago. Examples include novels based on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, Planet of the Apes, and Space: 1999 among others. I’m not snobby about newer stuff, though, as I’ve previously written about novels based on one of my favorite TV series of the 21st century, 24.
For this latest installment, your mission — should you choose to accept it — is to take a trip with me down Memory Lane as we revisit the handful of novels tying into Mission: Impossible…both the classic TV series as well as the feature films….
The original Mission: Impossible television series, created by Bruce Geller, premiered on September 17, 1966 on the CBS television network. Produced by Desilu Studios, it was one of two prominent new series which debuted that year. You may have heard of the other one: Star Trek.
The show ran for seven seasons between 1966 and 1973. Its basic premise varied very little over the course of the show’s life, with a team of government agents, the “Impossible Missions Force,” undertaking assignments to protect the United States from threats posed by rogue governments, clandestine intelligence organizations from other countries, and organized crime. Along the way, there were several cast changes including the lead. Most people who are casually familiar with the show recognize the line uttered in most episodes, “Good morning, Mr. Phelps,” referring to Jim Phelps, leader of the Impossible Missions Force and played by iconic actor Peter Graves. More devoted fans know Graves didn’t join the series until its second season, with Phelps’ predecessor, Dan Briggs, portrayed by actor Steven Hill. These days, Hill likely is far more recognizable for his role as Adam Schiff on the original Law & Order.
As for Mission: Impossible and the reason we’re here, the original series did spawn a handful of tie-ins. Dell Comics published five issues of a comic book inspired by the show (and the fifth issue was actually a reprint of #1). This dearth of comics was accompanied by a similarly paltry offering of tie-in novels. The first of these, simply titled Mission: Impossible, was written by author Walter Wager under the pen name “John Tiger.” It was published in January 1967 by Popular Library and took its lead from the show’s first season, with Dan Briggs leading the IMF team.
The remaining three novels in the Popular Library run, published between 1968 and 1969, adapted (more or less) to the show’s cast changes, with each book prominently featuring Peter Graves as Jim Phelps on the covers. The second and third books, Code Name: Judas and Code Name: Rapier, were written by prolific author Michael Avallone under his pseudonym “Max Walker.” Walter Wager and his “John Tiger” alias returned for the fourth novel, Code Name: Little Ivan.
Like most tie-in novels of the day, these were slim volumes, written in a pulp fiction style similar to noir thrillers or “men’s adventure” novels popular during the 1960s. Also consistent with such books spinning out of popular TV series were stories and characterizations which often harbored (at best) passing resemblance to their parent shows. Books like this were typically written very quickly and without a much time for research, and it wasn’t as though DVRs, home media, and streaming were options for reviewing key episodes. Tie-in novelists were lucky if they got scripts, and even then those usually were earlier drafts which differed greatly from the final, televised episodes.
And yet, novels such as these possess an undeniable hokey charm as artifacts of the era in which they were created. It’s weird, but that’s part of what makes tie-in collecting so much fun.
Whitman Books, known for a series of hardcover novels aimed at younger readers and based on various popular TV series (Star Trek, Bonanza, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and others were represented), published two of its own Mission: Impossible novels, The Priceless Particle in 1969 and The Money Explosion in 1970. As one might expect from books aimed at “children” of the period, the stories were a bit on the odd/simple side, and the characterizations were…let’s just say, “less than accurate.” Still, both books do a decent job capturing the general feel of the show’s premise, even if some of the plot “twists” are a bit off from what you’d expect to see on TV (even considering how out there some of the episodes could be every so often).
Mission: Impossible returned to television in 1988 in the form of a new series once again headlined by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps. Developed in response to that year’s writers strike which prevented new scripts from being commissioned, the original plan was to use scripts from the original show, suitably updated to utilize new actors. The strike ended soon after the series began production, and only five of what ended up being 35 episodes across two seasons were actual remakes of stories from the original series. Nowadays, the new show is viewed as a continuation of its 1960s predecessor. Helping to solidify this idea, actor Phil Morris portrayed IMF agent Grant Collier, the son of original agent Barney Collier and played by Phil’s father, Greg Morris. While the younger Morris was with the show for its entire run, actress Lynda Day George also appears in one episode, reprising her role of IMF agent Casey from the original series.
This new show didn’t spawn any tie-ins, but it’s hard to write about Mission: Impossible and not mention this iteration, so forget it. I’m rolling.
1996 brought with it a big-budget feature film reimagining of the premise in the form of Mission: Impossible, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tom Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. The film was a box office hit, and to date has spawned five sequels. A seventh film is coming in (as of this writing) May 2022 and an eighth is in pre-production with an announced release date of July 2023.
(I don’t mind saying that over the course of 25 years these films have been released, more often than not my answer to the question, “Which one is your favorite?” ends up being the most recent installment. That’s such a rare thing when it comes to movie sequels I think the phenomenon needs its own name. Let’s work on that at some point, all right?)
As for the original film, it received a single issue prequel comic from Marvel Comics as well as a novelization of its screenplay, penned by author Peter Barsocchini and published by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books. As novelizations go, it hits all the usual checkboxes for such books written during this period, featuring scenes not in the film (either as a consequence of the author working from an earlier draft of the script or else something ultimately cut from the movie itself during the editing process), but also gets to dive a little into the heads of the characters in a way only a novel can do.
And here’s where things get weird.
Apparently, this new take on Mission: Impossible along with its novelization was supposed to kick off a series of original tie-in novels based on the Ethan Hunt character, presumably undertaking missions of the sort an IMF team might face on an episode of the earlier television series or – as it happens – something along the lines of what we’d later see in the film sequels. While gathering notes for this piece, I came across listings for three additional M:I novels:
The Aztec Imperative by James Luceno
Ring of Fire by Tom Filbin
The Doomsday Summit by Filbin
I certainly don’t remember seeing any of these in bookstores, and neither had I ever even heard of them until I sat down to write this article. The books were (apparently) given ISBN numbers, which means contracts were signed and money changed hands, and at least outlines or something similar were written, if not actual manuscripts. Not a single cover image is to be found anywhere in the webosphere, and the books don’t look to be included with their respective authors’ list of novel credits. I’d love to hear the story about this and what happened to them. Were they actually published and no one remembers them? Is this like some crazy inversion of the Mandela Effect? It’s weird, right? Not just me?
UPDATE: Down in the comments, friend and fellow word pusher James Swallow dishes a little dirt on these, including the very real possibility that Ring of Fire and The Doomsday Summit are actually two proposed titles for the same book. A little more Googling shows the ISBN numbers for the books appear to be the same. No telling which one would’ve been the final title, but my money’s on the latter.
Unfortunately, none of the other Mission: Impossible films have spawned tie-ins, either novelizations of their screenplays or original novels based on the premise of this updated (and entertaining if wildly divergent) take on the premise of the 1960s/1980s series. I doubt that’ll change with either of the two upcoming movies, but I’ve learned to never say, “Never,” when it comes to this sort of thing.
This blog entry will self-destruct in five seconds….
Previous entries in this series:
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
Planet of the Apes
The “No-Frills” Books
Alan Dean Foster!