8th August 2016
How does the first adventure in the new series of 007 titles by Dynamite Comics fit in the James Bond canon?
The first thing to mention is the overall graphic design of the comic book. It's sterile and geometrical, but I've always appreciated that. It neatly fits my idea of a "5 minutes into the future" spy thriller. Many places we visit, like safe houses, labs, hotel rooms and airport roads are clean, perfectly outlined, almost futuristic and aseptic. The action is edited almost like the film cuts in 'Quantum of Solace'; we don't get those fluent panels leaking into other panels and only rarely do vibrant colours signal a sudden act of violence. It all happens in a mostly clean cut way, but I'm really fond of that. Speaking of violence, and there's a lot of it, I like the fountains of blood gushing out of a man's head or neck without covering half a page in crimson red. Again, while such visceral moments are typically splattered all over the panel to instil shock, VARGR maintains a sharp contrast between, for example, blood and the environment with an almost surgical precision. Given that this is a Bond comic book and not the next 'Army Of Darkness' or 'Kick-Ass', I really appreciate this approach. Also, the fancy "sonographic images" of a bullet through a person's body are not artistic obnoxiousness but quite entertaining in a more polished version of what 'Romeo Must Die' did 15 years ago.
Secondly, I love how the writers have tried something new. They take much more from Ian Fleming's literary canon than they do from the movies, but perhaps that's wise. Bond was barely safe for work in the 1950s, and so is VARGR today. This isn't a James Bond who, like Batman, detests violence and who, like Moore's Bond in 'For Your Eyes Only', lectures a girl on digging two graves and whatnot. This is the shoot-first-ask-questions-later Bond, but amped up to eleven. This man will break your neck, chop off fingers, shoot you in the head and pierce you with a sharp bit of glass. In that sense, we're getting the Daniel Craig Bond from 'Casino Royale' after spending three years of training with Christopher Nolan's version of Bane. There are times when his relentless fighting felt like Bond was out of control. Nowadays a bit risky to make our hero an almost maniacal killing machine at times, but Bond was always a game changer and amidst so many contemporary 'heroes' who prefer to talk rather than throw a punch, who will drag folks to prison rather than shoot them on the spot, this version of Bond stands out. This is the Dirty Harry of MI6: protect the innocent, kill anyone who threatens their safety and well-being and stuff ethics, bureaucracy and "good manners."
Kudos to the writers for leaving some of the obvious stuff at home. We don't get a Bond who sleeps with another woman every ten pages amidst an overdose of silly gadgets and HAHA! puns from the world's silliest "lines for tension breaking" phrase book. While some flirting with Moneypenny and impish conversation with Q ensues early on, they are kept well within the boundaries of what is acceptable. Speaking of which, Moneypenny looks like Naomie Harris, Q looks like a serious version of John Cleese on a good day and M looks nothing like any M we've ever seen. Leiter (in the next story Eidolon) is a younger version of Jack Lord but with Crockett's hairdo from the first season of Miami Vice. The villain of VARGR showed an uncanny resemblance to Dieter Laser's menacing Dr. Heiter as seen in The Human Centipede. Whether or not the henchman is supposed to be some kind of diabolical blend between TeeHee and Renard remains an undecided matter for me.
As for Bond himself, he feels like the MTV version of Fleming's Bond: a rock star in the spy community, a bit cheeky but more than adequate, with a good sense of humour and amazing skills, handsome and dark, sometimes surly and sometimes playful, and with a scar! One can try to see him as a young Connery mixed up with a young Lazenby, but I doubt that's what they were going for. I rather see him as an easily accessible, typical cartoon James Bond, a few years older than James Bond Jr., but with an attitude that ping-pongs between Jack Bauer and Han Solo. He looks nothing like Craig and that means he's less intriguing, visually, but seeing how this is a different medium and that Fleming was obviously the source, I don't mind. Also, this Bond smokes. A lot. Get over it, politically correct world!
The story of VARGR plays like the '24' version of James Bond or rather the James Bond version of '24'. We move fast, fight some red tape, and stack a pile of dead bodies who probably have all the answers but weren't allowed to live long enough to give them. This isn't about Bond doing some fishing after missing nukes in the Caribbean or hitchhiking a ride to a space station. It's a Bond for the modern times - the book even calls it out: we're no longer fighting enemy countries. The enemy has become far more subtle. Luckily, we're not buying another ticket into a "knowing who to trust is everything" melodrama between Bond and M(other). M hands out the orders, Bond selects the ones he likes and doesn't worry about breaking some rules if it means surviving, and we can all feel a bit safer at night knowing this superspy is out there watching out for us.
I applaud Dynamite's efforts with these Bond comics so far. Our 007 has evolved way past the adventure and exotic magnetism of 'Serpent's Tooth', and has reached more cynical, grounded-in-reality ambitions. It's a reboot in the sense that comics like these examine what Fleming might have put on paper if he had been alive and kicking today if he had been a 9/11 veteran instead of a WWII one. While I still hope our Bond movies will return to the glorious days of 'Goldfinger' or 'Thunderball', a comic book can, as far as I'm concerned, be a little more experimental. Not only will I endorse this book, I'll happily keep on reading to the subsequent adventures for I love what I'm reading, how it's presented to me visually and how it fulfils my Bondian needs in these uncertain times between films.
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The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MI6-HQ.com or its owners.