Monday, May 2, 2011

Trade Waiting – The James Bond Omnibus 002

James Bond is a character you can get in nearly every media and with a variety of perspectives. There are novels and films and games and comics but there was also the comic strip. It was started in the late 50s and this omnibus collects some of the stories from the early 60s. It’s an interesting way to get your Bond fix but still a very satisfying one for reasons you can’t get anywhere else. Hit the jump to see why this collection is a great addition to your 007 love.

The James Bond Omnibus 002

Created by Ian Fleming
Adapted by Henry Gammidge & Jim Lawrence
Art by John McLusky & Yarislav Horak

This collection collects a smattering of Bond tales as they were adapted in comic strips nearly 50 years ago. The book doesn’t quite put them in chronological order. The first one up is:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is automatically lifted by not including George Lazenby. I’m allowed to say that, I’m Australian. The Bond drawn here by McLusky resembles Sean Connery more than it does Lazenby, for obvious reasons of when it was created.

This tale is serviceable, but it never grabs me. Maybe it’s seeing Bond fall to easily, and too hard, for the girl. Maybe it’s just me needing to get used to the serialised pace of the strip with small scenes enacted every 3 panels, or so. Maybe it was just the slow pace of the narrative as a whole. I can’t put my finger on it but this tale just wasn’t the Bond I came looking for.

The car chases, however, were completely boss. McLusky uses his line work to convey speed and danger and he nails it in every panel. It’s not Bond without a car chase, or three, but it’s difficult to pull off when the panel sizes are well fixed. You can’t get the scope and ultimate insanity of what happens when expensive cars redline along narrow European roads. McLusky does his best, admirably, and comes off the victor. These cars zoom around and the sense of life being threatened with each gear change is ever-present.

All of the previous paragraph goes double for the snow chase scenes. The leap from the exploding train is especially effective. Perhaps it’s too much to expect action sequences aplenty, there must be story, but by the end this story felt like it dragged a bit.

Points must be awarded for the very end, though. They don’t shy away from the intended tragedy and it works well in the few panels it takes. This is a tragedy and the sadness permeates the page completely.

You Only Live Twice

This tale is much more a revenge fuelled romp after the events of the previous tale. Bond, saddened, alone, and angry is given a new mission. Within this mission he is given the opportunity to exact some vengeance against the man who has ruined so much of his life, Blofeld.

This story has a very international flavour as it takes place in Japan. This gives us the opportunity to see Bond using new weapons and tackling different opponents. It’s a fun ride but the best parts are the final fights as Bond comes face-to-face with Blofeld and then loses his memory and ends up almost living the simple life. Almost.

The final strips see Bond continuing into the world, always hungry for adventure, and needing the truth. It’s interesting to see these mammoth tales work to segue straight into the next saga. The overall narrative might be self-contained but the name of the game was a newspaper strip and so you didn’t want anyone thinking it was all over. The next tale was always around the corner.

The Man With The Golden Gun

Set some time after the last tale, Bond finally turns back up to MI6 and the agency hope he can get back on with the job. Then he tries to kill M with a cyanide pistol. It’s a quick and jarring scene but one that works well with a dropped screen protecting M.

Bond is cleaned up and then sent out to stop the titular bad guy. As glad as I was to have no Lazenby earlier, I’m bitterly disappointed that Scaramanga isn’t Christopher Lee. I guess you can’t win them all. Visual reference aside, there is one great wide panel as Bond is categorising the different corporate fat cats he sees. Their heads all appear next to each other with a little caption below them. One guy, the Dutchman, is described as having a ‘bullet head’. I don’t think Bond intends it as a compliment. Though it’s still probably better than the others who get ‘bat ears’, ‘tight mouth’ coupled with a ‘big nose’ (a dreaded combo), ‘thick neck’, and ‘bad teeth’. There is one guy Bond must have been sweet on because he just gets ‘flashy dresser, big diamond’ – I wonder if that last one is code…

This tale finally sells me the sex appeal as Bond loses his shirt for some and his leading femme gets down to nightware, and then is still made to take her slip off. It’s not too risqué but it is in keeping with the level of arousal I expect from Bond.

As with most of these tales, once the climax begins it all ramps forward to deliver you nothing but the best of excitement. The shortened pace of the strip format actually works best in these moments by condensing what is happening and making it feel even faster.

The Living Daylights

This was the first of these tales that I wasn’t very familiar with and I was pleasantly shocked to find how much I loved it here.

The premise is that Bond is given a mission to be a sniper to take out a Russian sniper so as to aid the exodus of a Russian agent over the Berlin Wall. Bond can’t reconcile his cast role as murderer, even though he’s killed many in action before, and he feels this because of the surprise aspect of sniping. It’s interesting to watch him struggle internally with the problem he faces. He doesn’t want to let the agent die but he also doesn’t want to have to kill an unsuspecting enemy. He’d rather do it in fair combat. Bond is truly painted as the warrior poet who yearns for fairness in all he does.

Juxtaposed to Bond, we see the other sniper, Comrade Trigger, who is shown the town and is very much taking this mission casually as opposed to Bond’s internal dialogue of self-loathing. Of course, Bond still enjoys a stiff drink and uses his scope to check out the local talent, becoming quickly fixated on a local cello player. Of course, she must later factor into the story and she certainly does. In quite a clever way, really, though fairly obviously.

The moment arrives and the snipers must dual it out from hidden windows overlooking the patch of wall to be used for freedom. The final moments of this tale are greatly played out but it is Bond’s action, motivations, and reactions that are the true narrative grit.

I wish all the tales were this short, and terse. There’s no room to get lost in these pages because it’s all relevant and interesting. I guess because its source material was shorter it too was afforded the option of confined length. Perhaps the biggest flaw of these adaptations is that they’re too faithful. And I’m reading them collected, imagine how this played out over days/weeks/months, even years?

The Living Daylights stands out as a highlight of this omnibus not just for frantic length but because of Bond’s characterisation throughout.


This strip not only sets the tone with a great flowing banner for the title but then it segues straight into a dead and frozen hand jutting from the snow. That’s a cold open like they all should be. Golden.

Of course, Bond is an old friend of the deceased and the surviving daughter, of glowing hair and stunning looks, calls 007 into the case. It’s like Dan Brown read this intro as a kid and had to have it. The first thing they do is look into the possible origin of the bullets, and the thorough detail used to narrow down possibilities is intriguing and gripping stuff, if not full of action.

While Bond ties a motive to the killing to hidden Nazi gold, another gentleman by the name of Major Smythe is preparing to have his beloved Octopussy (an octopus) battle a scorpionfish in his grotto to see how nature plays out. It’s the usual bad guy schtick but with such a perverse twist as to be intriguing. It certainly leads to one very cool set piece of Bond, Smythe, and the Foo brothers holding a Mexican Stand Off around the sea channelling into Smythe’s living room. It’s the sort of cool sequence modern crime flicks still aim for.

This all runs down to a final set up that goes from heroic to just sad. Smythe isn’t an evil villain, he’s just a guy who did wrong and with his final actions proves himself to be someone committed to his actions, no matter how strange they are. It’s certainly one way to go but even stranger is Bond’s reaction as he goes from holding a corpse in one panel to transitioning into the driver’s seat in the next panel with the girl by his side, a carefree arm thrown around her shoulder, and a warming smile on his face. There’s a lot of action happening in that gutter. It makes the death at the end even weirder.

Octopussy is certainly one of the best tales in this book because it holds interest be it through dramatic research or inventive action set pieces. It also finally feels like an off the wall Bond tale. This isn’t just spy stuff anymore, it descends into spy fu and that’s very much a good thing.

The Hildebrand Rarity

This tale starts with some ‘lads own’ sea faring two-fisted Naval operations. A new robot submarine is being tested but all goes awry and the sub is lost. As always, no matter what the situation, you call in James Bond. I love that he’s the spy no matter what the situation. It could be on the Moon or the bottom of the ocean, it could require sniper fire of sexual intrigue and he’s your man. He really is the greatest superhero.

We then look into the details of Milton Krest, a sea-faring observer and philanthropist who takes photos of life under the water to help justify writing off his boat for tax but then sets about using his time at sea for other nefarious deeds. There are also early hints seeded that he isn’t exactly the best husband in the world.

Bond is brought into the tale seamlessly, as always, by Nyla, Krest’s right hand girl. We get a beach sequence where the two get down to their trunks and show us what they’re best at doing. Once Bond is invited aboard Krest’s boat he instantly stakes his claim as the tough guy by roughing up one of the deck hands. This sets up a very bumpy ride where most of the dramatic action takes place in the needling between Krest and Bond. The acrimony is thick in the sea air and it makes things very interesting. Having Bond interact and cohabitate with his villain offers many terse situations. There is real enmity aboard this ship and it makes things feel quite uncomfortable in parts.

When Bond is set up and caught later in the story it is one of his hidden toys that helps him escape. It is nice to see Bond use some gadgetry as they are relatively unused in this book. He steps back into the tale only to find one of the ladies has dealt a deathly blow behind his back. He doesn’t have time to figure out who was up to murdering this megalomaniacal fool and so he protects both women with his brains and his gun. It’s no surprise to see Nyla turn around so quickly and aid Bond. This is his allure, he can turn any situation to his advantage.

The Hildebrant Rarity closes as a very satisfying tale but one that’s not so much spy, even though a lost government sub is inserted into the story, as it is just oceanic drama. It’s also a good one, to boot.

The Spy Who Loved Me

This tale rounds out the omnibus and it’s finale is a great way to go out. This was the book that Fleming was none too happy with and the film adaptation uses the title alone with no story elements coming through. This comic adaptation is also quite different and it kicks things off with Bond on a stakeout mission as he helps an aeronautical flight pilot who is being leaned on to leak secrets about the new plane.

Bond steps in to be the man’s double, which is kind of ridiculous that he would be the right size and shape, and this fools the opposition for about half a minute and then the bullets fly. It’s an interesting way to kick off this tale but it’s got nothing to do with the novel or the overall story arc, and this disparity shows. While it’s a fun interlude it holds no connect to the rest of the tale and the shift between story beats is dramatic and jarring. It’s easier to take this section of the omnibus in two parts, the first Bond mission, and the later Viv narrative.

The first Bond mission is a decent piece of spy drama, though the local law enforcements that help Bond aren’t given credit as their leader states losing one of the men (killed by gunshot) for the whole mission was worth it. I doubt any operative is so blatantly cold about collateral damage. Gripes aside, it’s fun and probably worked better for the comic than the original origin story of Viv where she loses her virginity and ends up in a compromising position later in her life. We don’t need the heroine built up so effectively to be such a broken character.

When we do open on Viv, we find her working at a secluded motel for a lecherous boss and not enjoying life. Of course, before the motel proprietors leave we get a shower scene with Viv. Much appreciated by many, I’m sure. Then she is left to her own devices, ready to close the motel for the coming winter. Yet when two strange men appear in the night it seems all may not be as she thought.

Sluggsy and Horror are two Grade A goons and they don’t mind getting pretty nasty with Viv. It’s not as overtly explicit as the book but it flies mighty close as you truly feel for this girl’s safety. Well, you would except for the fact we’ve been away from Bond for some time and you know he’s bound to turn up, which he does.

Watching Bond play into this almost suburban horror story is intriguing because he still works completely. It gets you to thinking that maybe Bond could work in any type of tale. Here we’ve seen him in out-and-out spy fare as well as high seas drama, cackling villain annihilation, and now a nasty thriller/horror concept. As much as Fleming didn’t like this story it works on the page in a very thrilling and chilling way. This is a different sort of Bond and one I would be very excited to see portrayed on the screen. Bond has never been taken in a different cinematic direction, at least not in the way that he’s always fighting spy villains be it in the swamps or on the moon, but to see him kick ass in a hostage situation where he just needs his wits and some muscle could be fascinating. Drawing this tale out and playing the silent moments could make The Spy Who Loved Me a stand out movie offering and it certainly made for good comic strip pages.

Verdict – Must Read. You might think Bond in three panel instalments wouldn’t capture the high adventure and awesome feel of this timeless character but the tales are well adapted and the art brings an old school quality to the table. This omnibus offers you the definitive Bond closer to Fleming than many of the movies are. In a time where Bond has been Year One’d this book has never been more prescient as it is more Casino Royale than Quantum of Solace. If you are a Bond enthusiast, or someone sick of the floating cars and watch bazookas then this book is a must read for you. Well written thrillers with great pace and wonderful characterisation.

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Ken Boehm said...

I never heard of James Bond comics until now, but this really peeked my interest.

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