When Warren Ellis revealed his initial approach to James Bond he emphasized the influence of the original novels, but five issues in, the shadow of the films looms large. Ellis and Masters' Bond is composed of espionage sequences forming the connective tissue between cinematic car chases and fist fights. But more than that, James Bond: Vargr has paced itself like a film with each issue feeling less like insular story segments and more like chunks of a Bond film. Issue five for example sees Bond return to HQ only to have an attempt on his life escalate his interest in his mission and propel him towards an explosive finale. It's the act before the final act in a Bond film, and its beats feel familiar if fairly effective. Unfortunately, this pacing continues to feel a little stiff and lifeless in practice, which is a disappointment after last month's excellent issue. Issue five opens up strongly, showing Bond escaping the villain's trap with a method that would make the shark-slaying Sherriff Brody proud. Much as in the films, Bond's survival is never in question, but it's an effective, silent action sequence, and also the high point of the issue. Bond spends the rest of the issue in England which feels like a misstep in a couple of ways. Firstly, having Bond back on friendly terrain destroys much of the tension the last few issues built up. As Bond's mission doesn't seem to have gone anywhere, the first few issues retroactively feel inconsequential. Secondly, Bond works best on his own (by his own admission), and paired with his handlers he feels less powerful. This last may be on purpose as this issue continues the theme of Bond over-estimating his own importance and talent, but if so, it's a somewhat dully made point.
The central problem for James Bond Vargr remains it's lack of a hook. Ellis brings a certain amount of his wit to the classic characters of a Bond story (Q, M, Moneypenny, etc.), but none feel truly memorable (much less definitive). Similarly, the villain, action set-pieces, and central mystery are all competently set-up, but do not seem hugely original or iconic. I complained in my review of issue three that the design for Bond feels generic when it would, ideally, establish a specific, iconic take on the dashing 007. More and more the whole book feels this way, as if it's opting to take a safe route instead of mapping out new territory.
As with the last issue of Vargr, Masters does some excellent work here on hand to hand fights. In these sequences as Bond spits barbs that are crueler than witty while barbarically assaulting his opponents, come alive in a way the rest of the book doesn't. It establishes Ellis' Bond as a fundamentally brutal man: an animal describing his inner monstrousness with tuxedoes and banter. This is an interesting approach to build a comic around, but the rest of the comic remains a little underdeveloped.
I remain hugely excited to get to the heart of Ellis' inaugural Bond story, specifically the villain's horrifying drug/disease plotline which is mostly not touched upon here. All the pieces are in place for the sort of exciting, creative spy piece that Ellis is currently mastering with Declan Shalvey in 'Injection'. For the moment, I am not sure all these pieces will come together, but if the worst case scenario is a decent but unmemorable addition to the Bond franchise, it will at the very least be better regarded than this summer's 'Spectre' and the myriad of other mediocre Bond stories.
James Bond #5 Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: James Masters Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 3/16/16 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital