How Dynamite’s New James Bond Comic Creates a 007 We Haven’t Seen Before
James Bond doesn’t even show up until you’re surprisingly deep into the new comic book series that bears his name.
The first issue opens with a man on the run. We see this man’s terrified, panicked face. We see his desperation. We don’t see his pursuer, but we soon realize that the man on his tail is relentless and terrifying and will stop at nothing to catch him. When James Bond reveals himself after several pages of dialogue-free cat-and-mouse, it’s with a kind of brutality you’d expect from a horror movie monster. Soon, 007’s target is dead and a murdered 00-agent have been avenged. But it’s a nasty scene. It’s not fun. It’s ugly. Bond has always been a proficient killer across every medium in which he’s appeared, but there’s something different here. Something meaner. Something colder.
Dynamite Entertainment’s James Bond 007 isn’t the first comic series to star Ian Fleming’s iconic spy, but it’s the first in quite some time. They’ve spared no expense: writer Warren Ellis, of Transmetropolitan and Planetary fame, and artist Jason Masters, a veteran of Marvel and DC Comics, ensure that this is no lousy, licensed cash-in. This feels like an event. Their first issue, the first in a six-part miniseries (enigmatically titled VARGR), announces its intentions loudly and early. This isn’t a photocopy of Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. It isn’t even a basic translation of Fleming’s original character. This Bond is its own thing, borrowing bits and pieces from other interpretations, but ultimately standing alone.
After that gruesome opening sequence, the Ellis and Masters take us into a familiar set-up. Bond returns from his mission and swings by the MI6 offices. He flirts with Moneypenny, annoys M, picks up some equipment from Q, and plans for his next mission. But while this template will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the Bond movies, the details leave a very different taste in your mouth.
“I remember when you were charming,” Moneypenny tells Bond, cleaning her gun behind her desk (she is, after all, the last line of defense for the head of MI6). There’s a strain to their banter. She doesn’t seem particularly happy to see him. In fact, she seems a little tired of his suave, debonair bullshit. His meeting with M is equally uncomfortable. Their conversation transforms into a job review – unless it involves killing someone, Bond’s performance as an agent for Her Majesty’s government has been inconsistent. Bond is flippant, deflecting every criticism ... until M assigns him the caseload that belonged the deceased 008. Bond, an employee who was just given actual work, is flabbergasted.
There are shades of Fleming’s Bond here. As written in the novels, Agent 007 was a flesh-and-blood human who had a job to do. He was a company man. So he relished the chance to take assignments that got him out of the office and let him see exciting places and eat exotic foods and drink expensive booze. What Ellis and Masters have done here is place the Bond of our collective imaginations, the cinematic Bond, into the slightly more hum-drum office existence of the original literary incarnation. Here is the most dangerous man in the world, a guy who is so good at killing that he reads like a horror movie slasher, unhappy that his boss has asked him to do his job.
Ellis even goes out of his way to emasculate our hero. Thanks to a new gun law, Bond is no longer allowed to carry a weapon on British soil. His gun is taken from him and sent ahead to his next destination – he can pick it up from the proper authorities when he arrives for his mission.
Who is this Bond? He’s a charming smart-ass, but everyone from Q to Tanner, M’s chief of staff, seems irritated by him. He complains about being forced to go through airport security like a civilian while eating lunch in MI6’s crowded cafeteria. He refuses to wear a more effective holster for his pistol because it will ruin his suit. This is a far cry from the womanizer with a taste for the finer things in life that we’re used to in the movies. He doesn’t showcase the tragedy of Daniel Craig and he certainly doesn't showcase the effortless cool of Sean Connery. He’s an obnoxious co-worker. He’s the most dangerous man in the world, but he’s a working stuff. His one-liners and his fashion sense feel like deflectors – how else is he going to power through the nonsense between globetrotting missions?
No matter his incarnation, Bond is old-fashioned. He’s a dinosaur. What this series does is place that dinosaur in a modern context and let the world react. If James Bond walked into your life and started acting like James Bond, he would try your patience. Quickly. He’s just keeping himself amused until he can get blood on his hands again.
At $3.99, James Bond 007: VARGR #1 is a little pricy for what’s ultimately a prologue to the main story. It’s the kind of comic that already feels like it’s going to read better when collected into a single volume. However, Bond fans looking for something different, something that manages to be even gnarlier and even less romantic than the Craig films, owe this a look. The puzzle pieces look familiar, but the picture is different. One man’s romantic hero is another man’s sociopath.