I love comics, well most comics at any rate. I also love James Bond. So obviously a James Bond comic would be pretty great. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who’d had this thought and back in the late 50’s, the editor of the Observer commissioned a variety of writers and artists to turn some of the Fleming novels into comic strip format for the newspaper. My local Waterstones happened to have a copy of the third edition of the new omnibus edition. I’ll review this one today and then, when I get hold of the other ones reviews of these will follow.
The first thing to say about all these stories is that they are not based on Fleming novels. Indeed, with the exception of Colonel Sun, all of them are original stories. The stories are by Jim Lawrence and the art is by a Yugoslavian artist named Yaroslav Horak. Horak has an unusual style which actually works alright for the strip style. I should probably admit here and now that I’m pretty dull in my comic book art preferences; I prefer the standard “Marvel” style with realistic looking characters and so on and so forth. However I was won over by the character and genuine expression which Horak inserts into his characters.
Before we go any further and actually get on to the stories I will say this is not James Bond as typical fans will know him. It’s hard to put your figure on exactly what it is but something is different about him, he seem just a little rougher round the edges, perhaps a Bond for a wider audience. This being said he is still a ruthless, daring secret agent and I have to admit Horak does draw a damnably accurate Bond. I liked the little references to the novels such as the inclusion of the supporting cast at M.I.6. Headquarters like Moneypenny and Bill Tanner.
The first story in the omnibus is “The Harpies”. This features Bond battling a high tech gang of female criminals. This story is probably my second favourite in the whole book and it is high class stuff. Without giving away too many plot details the story is pretty inventive and he villain, Simon Nero, is great. The plot is gritty, exciting and features a superb fight scene between Bond and a French Foreign Legion Savate Master. In addition to this I found the ending genuinely touching, a pretty tough feat for a strip comic.
The second story is “The River of Death”. This story is of mixed quality. The set of assassinations at the start are pretty unusual if a little implausible. However the piece takes a while to really get going and the scenes in Rio are really not particularly great. Could we not have seen a little of that suspense created by carnivals in the Bond films. Also the villain is not introduced effectively and we never really understand the character; he’s two dimensional and uninteresting. The last part is actually very good, action packed and surprisingly gritty, suitable for any Fleming novel.
The third piece is the odd one out in this omnibus because it’s actually based on a novel, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis. This is the first post Fleming novel and I have to admit to having not read the original. If it’s anything like the comic adaptation I can heartily recommend it. This is, by a long way, the best part of this omnibus and a really Flemingesque attempt at writing a Bond novel. I would say that the villain could do with a little more fleshing out but the fascinating storyline, unusual Bond girl and great setting all contribute this to make first class Bond.
The Golden Ghost is a little strange really. It’s ok but not brilliant. The villain is not menacing in the slightest, the airship is frankly peculiar and the strange side-line witchcraft storyline is distracting but completely unimportant. Saying that the shark attack is reminiscent of Live and Let die and I like the final fight sequence as well. Ok not great.
Fear Face is the most implausible of all the stories !Spoiler warning here because I really do need to make reference to a major plot point! There’s a damn robot. That is all I need to say. This is not a James Bond book. Why did they put a robot in it? To be fair it is an ok story it just shouldn’t feature in a James Bond comic.
Double Jeopardy uses the old cliché identical double idea and does it fairly well I like the setting but the Bond girl isn’t really much to write home about. The time is fairly interesting from an espionage point of view because there is an unsteady piece between NATO and the Warsaw pact. As with no less than 3 of these the Chinese, not the Russians, are the villains. Plus Spectre’s involvement is a welcome reference to the Fleming Canon.
Star fire is the worst of the lot. It’s not too bad an idea per se it’s just there’s something lacking in the writing, it really isn’t suitable for a Bond comic. I think the fact that the action is so low level that it’s a wonder M.I.6 is interested should tell you everything you need to know. Quantrill is pointless as a villain and the technology is implausible; all right as a small time thriller not as a Bond book.
So in conclusion the comics are pretty good considering they’re strip cartoons, black and white and all original stories. I’d recommend most of them to someone looking for a relatively good thriller comic but not for someone wanting a very true Bond image.