Review: James Bond #9

When Umberto Eco wrote his final novel Numero Zero, he told a story about conspiracy. In his case, it was a conspiracy surrounding the history of Italy—that Mussolini never died but was secreted away and awaiting the day for a secret fascist army to rise up and place him back into power. Within the same year of that novel’s release, a superhero movie told a similar story—one where a supposedly defunct Nazi organization infiltrated the government of the United States and edged the country towards fascism and instability, a little movie called Captain America: Winter Soldier. The infiltration conspiracy has always been an attractive one. Where the villains of history, the bad guys we know and understand, can be blamed for every poor decision our countries’ governments and cultures make. The Illuminati, the lizard people—both explanations and diversions from the naturally chaotic and politically oppressive state in which the world functions.

Only Eco’s conspiracy was operating underneath something very real—a Cold War rumor that became a reality. Operation Gladio was a NATO-led campaign following the end of World War II that placed a stay-behind army in Italy either in the case of an invasion from the Soviet Union or a political rise in communism within the country.

JamesBond09-Cov-AStay-behind armies are a paranoia-inducing notion, one where a foreign country’s army doesn’t leave but rather secretly become civilians within that country, trained and waiting for their call to arms.

Warren Ellis’ current run on James Bond is a story where the rumors and myths of the Cold War haunt the present like specters or a dormant disease.

The revelation last issue that a stay-behind army infiltrated both the MI-5 and the CIA has made James Bond’s return to the United Kingdom less of a welcome home than a new, political battlefield.

In the first issue of this series Ellis introduced a new law passing through the government—one that would keep all British agencies disarmed while on British soil. What could have been a simple reflection of England’s modern gun politics now has a much more sinister tone as MI-6 is left to question if it’s a deliberate attempt to weaken them.

The political espionage paranoia permeates this tension throughout the issue as the first half is turned into a stand-off without any guns. A simple visit from an MI-5 agent with reasonable questions about an assassination attempt on a British citizen has everyone tensely itching for their weapons.

This tension built over the first twelve pages finds its release as the second half turns into a fun action sequence explosion with a gunfight in a train yard. Yet at the same time, this is where the issue also reveals its weaknesses. This story arc, Eidolon, even more so than the last reads like a broken up movie. So when the action sequence finally ends there’s no new revelation, nothing in the issue’s pace that brings me down from the visceral high of the sequence. This creates a tonal dissonance that would be fixed if I was reading a trade collection where I could move forward but here I’m only left with a pit in my stomach that never settles.

This is a symptom of an endemic trend across comic books as they write for long-form stories in a market that publish only in short-form. A trend that frustrated me so much that it stopped me reading single issues altogether for a long time.

Yet this is a Warren Ellis story and what might bother me more in other stories, is soothed over with the little ticks that bring me to his writings in the first place. He’s a tour guide for the weird sciences and forgotten histories of England. A traditional Bond movie might take Bond across a stumbling of beautiful vistas and happenstances that bring him to the villain. Eidolon instead finishes a hook left at the start of this arc.

The suspicious money being moved in issue seven is decrypted and revealed to loop back into England’s “Strategic Reserve Fleet”, a Cold War rumor here turned to reality. The British government during the Cold War expected that, in the event of World War III, nuclear bombs would completely wipe out their electric train lines and in preparation kept a reserve of steam engines underground to reform their lost infrastructure.

There’s a reason James Bond and the espionage genre broke out during the Cold War. There was so much paranoia, so many strange secret operations that we needed characters able navigate and make sense of the uneasiness. In our post-9/11 surveillance and internet age, we wrestle with an ever-present but very different brand of paranoia—one less on the level of nations as it is about a person’s individual privacy.

There have yet to be any standout characters that represent an answer to this reality and despite flirting with it; this series has yet to transform James Bond into that character.  Instead, this is a fusion where James Bond can exist in the present while still married to his Cold War roots, letting him be a savage instrument in a more sophisticated era.


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James Bond #9 Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Jason Masters Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Review: James Bond #8

James Bond has always been a franchise that engaged with science fiction without ever becoming science fiction. It was a series that would gladly play with high-tech gadgets and super weapons but only when they made for a bombastic set piece.   After all, this is a series historically written by and from the perspective of an imperialist and maybe turning that dark mirror of science fiction would require a level of self-awareness that the franchise doesn’t have. Well, that is until Warren Ellis decided to bring the science fiction to James Bond.

Ellis has taken the “blunt instrument” misanthrope of the Fleming novels and dropped him into the setting of a modern Eon film that’s has some of Warren Ellis’ brand of sci-fi weirdness thrown in. His previous story arc, VARGR, involved Bond tracking an influx of heroin laced with a flesh eating virus and which brought him into the path of a Berlin-based cybernetic prosthetic company—and ultimately telling a story about the darkness that’s often found in a human’s beings need for control.

His new story line, Eidolon, has Bond extracting an undercover MI6 accountant with a blown cover out of Los Angeles. A simple plan, right?

JamesBond08-Cov-A-ReardonOne of my favorite things about Ellis’ current run is that he’s eschewed the exotic locales classic to the series and placed Bond in places familiar and undeniably Western. Places we might typically associate with the assumed safety of modernity become horrific mousetraps for Bond to survive through and transforming the Western city into a new type of tomb. In issue eight, LAX and LA suburbs become back drops for tense and brutal action scenes. Action that is totally devoid of clever quips and stay almost frighteningly silent. This Bond’s a killer and nowhere else is this clearer than as Bond snaps an unconscious man’s neck in an airport elevator.

If I sound like I’m avoiding talking much about the characters and story, it’s for good reason. The story is filled with some fun character interaction and thrilling turns and while definitely not a good jumping-off point, James Bond #8 is a solid affirmation of the quality of the series. While I’m disappointed that the series isn’t as idea-driven as the rest of Ellis’ more recent work, it still hits all the notes I want from a Bond story.

For people who are put off by James Bond as that prototypical Western male power fantasy—I can’t say this will persuade you. As much of the DNA in this story belongs to Warren Ellis, it’s still undeniably James Bond. Those previously bothered by the power fantasy aspects about an Imperialist man travelling to foreign places to kill foreign people, sleep with beautiful strangers, only to leave with a path of destruction behind him, this won’t convert you.

But if you’re a long-time fan, Dynamite’s James Bond run has easily been the best James Bond movie I’ve seen in years.

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James Bond #8 Writer: Warren Ellis Artist: Jason Masters Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


SDCC 2016: Diggle To Write Bond "Hammerhead" Mini

It used to be that I would jump to read something Andy Diggle was writing, but not anymore. That and his work at Dynamite in the past is pretty much made it this way so I'm not going to get giddy that they got a British writer to write James Bond... again. From Dynamite:

Andy Diggle -- the British writer who redefined Green Arrow at DC Comics, developed the groundbreaking series The Losers at Vertigo, thrilled readers with an incredible Daredevil run at Marvel, and scripted the critically acclaimed Dynamite tale of international intrigue, Uncanny --now lends his skills to the original international man of mystery in James Bond: Hammerhead, a six-issue miniseries premiering in October! The first issue, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida, features three covers, including new work by Francesco Francavilla (Afterlife with Archie), Robert Hack (Sabrina, The Black Hood), and Ron Salas (Six Million Dollar Man)!

JamesBond-Hammerhead-001-A-FrancavillaIn Hammerhead #1, Bond is assigned to hunt down and eliminate Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has targeted Britain's newly-upgraded nuclear arsenal. But all is not as it seems. Hidden forces are plotting to rebuild the faded glory of the once-mighty British Empire, and retake by force what was consigned to history. 007 is a cog in their deadly machine - but is he an agent of change, or an agent of the status quo? Loyalties will be broken, allegiances challenged. But in an ever-changing world, there's one man you can rely on: Bond. James Bond.

"I have never been more thrilled to take charge of a character. James Bond has been with me from childhood, and his influence runs through almost everything I've ever written" says writer Andy Diggle. "Like all truly iconic characters, Bond remains timeless, reinventing himself for each new generation while remaining true to the core of Ian Fleming's original creation. By bringing the Bond of the novels into the present-day world, with all its challenges and complexities, we get the best of both worlds - Fleming's dispassionate ‘blunt instrument' in a post-Cold War landscape of mass surveillance, drone strikes and WMDs."

"I'm delighted to be working again with Andy Diggle, who is a true natural when it comes to this material," says Joseph Rybandt, Executive Editor. "Also, Luca Casalanguida is one of the best artists to come across my desk in years. It's a wonderful combination and a true artistic and natural expansion to our modern Bond world."

"Andy Diggle's brand of intrigue fits perfectly with James Bond," says Dynamite CEO and Publisher, Nick Barrucci. "When we talked about writers to tackle our first James Bond miniseries outside of Warren Ellis' incredible storylinesVARGR and EIDOLON (from the ongoing James Bond issues #1-6 and #7-12, respectively), Andy's name was at the top of our list. This new mini is the perfect addition to Dynamite's growing library of James Bond!"

James Bond: Hammerhead #1 will be solicited in Diamond Comic Distributors' August 2016 Previews catalog, the premiere source of merchandise for the comic book specialty market, and slated for release in October. Comic book fans are encouraged to reserve copies of James Bond with their local comic book retailers. James Bond: Hammerhead will also be available for individual customer purchase through digital platforms courtesy of Comixology, Dynamite Digital, iVerse, and Dark Horse Digital.