[18 February 2014]
British pop culture’s most famous export—excluding the Beatles or One Direction—has a lot in common with its second most famous, but James Bond doesn’t have the same versatility as the beloved Doctor from Gallifrey. Both are men out of time, infinitely adaptable, updateable, and malleable, and both have been portrayed by different actors across a half century or more.
Excluding Moonraker, Bond is forever tied to our world, and for much of his life, his non-novel adventures were indebted to their source material, the novels and stories of Ian Fleming. As wonderful as those are, we’re lucky there’s only so many of them. Breaking away from Fleming’s works gives creators an opportunity to flex Bond the character’s muscles, but no matter where their imaginations take him, the tropes will always remain: exotic locales, women, food, and gun play.
All of these found their way to the printed page when Bond first appeared as a comic strip in 1958, in the Daily Express, some four years before Sean Connery’s iconic role in Dr. No. The strip continued until 1984 during the waning years of the Roger Moore era. Earlier volumes of Titan’s James Bond Omnibuses have featured adaptations of familiar Fleming titles like Casino Royale, Dr. No, and Goldfinger. These titles are embedded in the Bond mythos through their film successful film adaptations, but here, in Volume 005, we’re treated to the Bond we know in adventures we don’t.
These stories, written by Jim Lawrence and illustrated by Yaroslav Horak, are short, bite-sized Bond tales which remain true to the spirit of the films and Fleming’s novels without being held captive by it. The familiarity we feel when we hear the first notes of the Bond theme is always there, though, providing a soundtrack as we read.
The first story, “Till Death Do Us Part” begins with an exciting car chase that, despite being composed of static images on paper, is fast-paced and outlandish enough to match up to the best of the films. The plot involves Bond kidnapping a woman named Arda Petrich in order stop her from divulging MI-6 secrets to her fiance, Stefan Radomir, who also happens to be a Russian agent. Petrich remains topless for the first several scenes, an unusual sight given the typical “Bond girl”, on film, at least, has always been about the tease, pushing playfully against the sexual mores of the day.
There’s playfulness here, too, in seeing how long Lawrence and Horak can keep Petrich topless. After their escape from Radomir’s Austrian chateau, Petrich and Bond retreat to a swank hotel. When Petrich finally decides to dress, the KGB storms the hotel grounds and Bond tells her, “There’s no time to get dressed—just grab a coat!”
The next story, “The Torch Time Affair” takes a similar tack. Bond finds Carmen Perez buried up to her neck on a Mexican beach. After he digs her up they retreat to his bungalow to discuss what happened to her. “We’ll see about some clothes in a moment,” he says, offering her a drink. Perez accepts the drink and shrugs off the offer of clothing. “I am a model…being unclothed does not disturb me!”
This is not exactly surprising given Bond’s history with women. Even strong characters like Pussy Galore are still called “Bond girls”, and one way or another they either end up in his arms or dead. At least the women here are given names that don’t call attention to their genitals.
Other stories feature henchmen running around dressed like The Venture Brothers’ Moth King, and some patented Bond puns, like when he fires a grappling hook to “(get) a line on the action.” Lawrence’s stories are never subtle or slick. Like any great adventure strip they’re fast paced, visually arresting and not overly concerned with exposition. Terrorists want to kill the US Secretary of State; sensitive information is in danger of falling into the wrong hands. What more do you need?
The compact, four panel structure of the strip gives the expository sections a speed and narrative economy which compels the reader to read just one more page. Or one more.
The strips appear here as they did in their original newsprint run, but it would be nice to see Horak’s work presented in a larger format. His work is generally very good. There’s an electricity to his drawing which brings the action to life. At times it’s rough around the edges, with extraneous lines creating a kinetic effect in every panel, but there are times, too, when the action can feel crowded and muddy, as if one panel is doing the work of two.
Reading these strips is an excellent bridge between the worlds of the films and the books. It’s maybe not the best of both worlds, but it’s pretty damn close.