Review: James Bond #1

Like a lot of people my around my age, I first encountered 007 as the pixelated protagonist of the Nintendo 64 hit, Golden Eye. From that classic shooter, a slew of other folks and I learned that to be a 00 mostly took finding the right gun for the job, or failing that, judo chopping the shit out of Oddjob and the rest of those Spectre thugs. Since that introduction to Bond, I’ve seen most of the Brosnan, Craig, and Connery films as well as a few of the others whenever Spike TV had on a marathon, and I wasn’t able to find the television remote. Pumped for the upcoming Spectre movie, purportedly Craig’s last Bond film, I was intrigued when I saw that Warren Ellis would be adapting the character for an unrelated comic near the movie’s release date. Ellis, along with artist Jason Masters, execute an exciting premiere issue here that simultaneously grounds Bond in a manner that few of the film adaptations have while maintaining the charm and cold-blooded killing efficiency that’s become ubiquitous with this 00. Similar to Craig’s Casino Royale, this issue starts us off with a chase sequence that erupts into a brawl once Bond catches up with his target. Unlike the movie’s daylight chase through the streets of Madagascar that features some great parkour sequences, the comic opening’s chase is set at night in Helsinki with Bond nowhere to be seen and his target running about looking terrified at whatever is lurking right outside the panel. Even when Bond is first seen, he’s little more than a silhouette, and gleaming teeth with Ellis more interested in establishing him as a person that regularly uses violence in his line of work than as a debonair espionage agent. Ellis and Masters closes out the scene with Bond announcing his name to his target and the reader in full clear view for the first time, ruthlessly looking on at the man who needlessly killed his colleague 008.

From there, things shift to a flophouse in Brixton where a few musician types are trying out a drug they picked up while in Europe before taking us over to MI6 headquarters where Bond encounters franchise staples Moneypenny,  M, and Q. M assigns Bond 008’s caseload, including one that’s likely related to the earlier flophouse scene as M tasks Bond with finding a means to “dissuade a drug importer from doing business in the United Kingdom.” Newly equipped by Q and briefed on the case by Chief of Staff Bill Tanner, Bond is off to Berlin next issue to get to work on finding the drug importer, and, let’s be honest, most likely killing the guy in the fashion that blunt instruments often do.

JamesBond01-Cov-A-ReardonWhat I most like about this take on the Bond character already is that his charm is simultaneously effective on me as a reader while off-putting to the other characters he interacts with. For instance, when Bond arrives at MI6 headquarters and briefly chats with Moneypenny, M’s assistant, his playfully sarcastic comment that her gun cleaning is “daintily secretarial” causes her to solely respond, “I remember when you were charming.” The effect this has is that it gives the impression that those who most often engage with Bond actually find his ‘suave’ demeanor somewhat tiresome, and it’s great to see Ellis subvert the usual assumption that most people would want to banter with this guy. When he then moves into M’s office, and is ordered to sit down by his superior, Masters breaks the page up into four horizontally separated panels that help to establish M as the one in charge in this room in spite of Bond’s flashy spy ways. Over four panels, M sits reading over the files of Bond’s murder of 008’s killer while Bond sits fidgeting and waiting for his boss to open the floor for conversation. Even Q gets in on knocking Bond down a peg or two, insulting 007’s trademark Walther P99, calling it a “prostitute’s shooting instrument.” The overall impact these interactions has is that it makes Bond a more interesting character since it shows that even at his least violent, he remains an unlikable character that those around him seem to mostly put up with because he’s fairly decent at his job.

In addition to giving greater dimension to Bond, this premiere also grounds the world of MI6 through its visuals as well as severely limiting Bond’s tools of the trade to more closely resemble a more ordinary law enforcement agency. This version of the Bond world really appeals to me as a person who prefers his spy stories to occupy a reality more similar to our own and less rife with lasers and invisible cars. In this comic, MI6 resides in a beautiful glass and concrete building, yet Masters adds the small details of flying trash in the foreground and fading paint on one of the building’s structures to indicate that this place is not the gleaming sentinel of British resolve shown in some of the film adaptations. This utilitarian aesthetic extends to Moneypenny and M’s office, which are both inornate and merely feature the fixtures expected of any ordinary office space (chairs, desk, filing cabinet, and a lamp or two). Even more so than the relatively grounded Craig films, this adaptation further distinguishes itself from some of the more fantastical takes on the franchise by making Q’s mission-specific gadget an advanced ammunition that likely has some real-world counterpart. Plus, there’s the very funny conversation between Bond and Tanner that takes place in the headquarters cafeteria where the dapperly suited Bond and friend sit in folding chairs with other colleagues in a fluorescent-lit room. Through the compounded effect of these visual distinctions by Masters, Bond’s world ends up feeling more like our own, which gives the feeling of greater physical stakes for the character as we become accustomed to the idea that in this story he’s unlikely to be saved by a well-timed watch missile, or good ole’ fashioned jet-powered ski shoes.

While the action of this comic is limited to the great cold opening, Masters shows that he’s more than capable of balancing the suspense and badass fighting one would expect from a Bond story. When Bond does some pretty gruesome things with a shovel, it’s clear that tonally this series won’t be shying away from the type of punless violence that would make Brosnan vomit out last night’s martini. As my first entry into the world of Dynamite comics, this one shows them as a publisher with keen insight about pairing creators with brands that could do with trying a new spin on a classic cocktail. For both new and old Bond fans, Ellis and Master’s comic does a wonderful entry into the franchise, especially for those who prefer their Bond tales less grim than the Craig movies have been. So long as the action remains part of the story and not the whole bit, I’ll be checking this one out. And please, no appearances by Christmas, nuclear physicist.

Score: 3/5

James Bond #1 Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Jason Masters Colorist: Guy Major Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/4/15 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital