Requiem for a TV tie-in novel

David McDaniel’s The Dagger Affair

Once upon a time, when a television series debuted, it was accompanied by “tie-in” novels. Writers were hired before the series was out so the novels would be on sale when the TV show was on.

One of the most successful series of tie-in novels were commissioned for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68). More than 20 were published under the Ace brand.

One of the novels, in particular, still has an impact today.

That would be the fourth novel, The Dagger Affair by David McDaniel.

McDaniel was an actual fan of the show and came up with an origin or the villainous organization, Thrush. In McDaniel’s tale, Thrush was once an acronym, the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity and had ties to Sherlock Holmes foe Professor Moriarty.

The thing is, many fans liked McDaniel’s take more than what clues were presented in the show.

A second-season episode, The Adriatic Express Affair, featured Thrush official Madame Nemirovitch (Jesse Royce Landis) claiming to be the founder of the organization. Other than that, the show itself didn’t provide a lot of details about how Thrush got started.

The more colorful McDaniel version got repeated in U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction. In fact, it has been repeated so often, it’s virtually accepted as canon, even when it’s not.

For example, there was The New York Times’s 2016 obituary for Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo in the series.

But no character (Vaughn) played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americas tuned in weekly to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a superagent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.

Among first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans, McDaniel (1939-1977) is considered the best of the tie-in novel writers. He wrote other novels in the Ace series. He also penned an unpublished U.N.C.L.E. story, The Final Affair, which sought to tie up loose ends from the series, which was abruptly canceled in the middle of its fourth season.

The Marvel/U.N.C.L.E. crossover (sort of)

Cover to Tales of Suspense No. 80

As a result of some banter on Twitter (thanks @AgentSoloUNCLE), we discovered how Marvel Comics and a popular line of Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels shared a similar McGuffin.

That would be a cube. But not any cube. The Cosmic Cube (introduced in Tales of Suspense Nos. 79-81) and the Power Cube (in the U.N.C.L.E. paperback The Power Cube Affair) were sought after bad guys seeking world domination.

The Cosmic Cube came first, in 1966 in a three-part Captain America story by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

The story brought the Red Skull, a Cap villain from World War II, into the “present day.” The villain is such a part of Cap history, he was made Cap’s foe in the first Marvel Studios Captain America movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, in 2011.

In the 1966 story, the Skull was found by a villainous organization (Adanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M.) and revived from suspended animation.

The group is developing the Cosmic Cube, an “ultimate weapon,” which can generate objects from mere thought. A.I.M. thinks the Skull is working for them but, being a Nazi, has his own ideas how to use the cube.

Eventually, Cap has a showdown with the Skull. Despite the fearsome weapon, Cap prevails. The Skull appears to have drown while wearing golden armor he wished into existence while wielding the cube. But Stan Lee, understandably, couldn’t resist bringing the Skull back in other stories.

The Power Cube, based on reviews by David Munsey of the U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperbacks on The Fan From U.N.C.L.E. website sounds very similar.

Cover to The Power Cube Affair

The Power Cube Affair was the 19th of 23 U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels published by Ace. The novel, one of three in the series written by John T. Phillifent, came out after the Captain America story.

Here’s how David Munsey described the proceedings in his review:

In this one there is a hunt to find and assemble 27 parts of a power cube that would give the possessor-what else?- world domination. This is familiar enough, it reminds one of Dr. Who’s hunt for the six segments of the Key to Time and the Red Skull’s quest for the Cosmic Cube. (emphasis added)

By the time the novel was published, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series was running out of gas (it was canceled in January 1968). The Ace novels were published in the U.K. and The Power Cube Affair was the 15th published there.