This is the latest in my series of sponsored KO-FI blogs, which I’ve opened up again till the end of the week, so if you wan me to write about something, feel free to go for it.
For a pop culture phenomenon that is approaching its 70th birthday, the history of James Bond in comics has not been a great one.
It does have one iconic series, in the Daily Express newspaper strip that ran from the 1950’s till the early 80’s (after jumping around a few other papers) that stands out for being the first visual representation of the character and for being the first exposure many of the people who worked on the films had to Bond. It’s especially notable for artist John McLusky ignoring Ian Fleming’s suggestion for the look of the Bond and coming up with something that looks exactly like a non-copyright infringing take on Sean Connery, a decade before he played the part. It’s entirely possible this was a major influence on his casting by shaping the public perception of what Bond looks like.
Otherwise though, it has been slim pickings. There have been a few film adaptations, starting with Dr. No, though the unfinished Goldeneye is the most infamous, and a series of very 90’s miniseries from Dark Horse comics. But that was about it.
There is also one particular curio of the Bond licence. Unless it is specifically a film adaptation, the licence comes from Ian Fleming publications rather than EON, and is very specifically in relation to the books rather than films. For which EON are very protective despite having an ownership stake in the literary Bond.
And the films are of course the major influence on writers.
This stands out in the non-Fleming Bond books as though, through the fact that though Major Boothroyd appeared in the book of Dr. No, the idea of him being called Q is an invention of the films. So you will often get what is clearly a Q scene with what is clearly Desmond Llewellyn, where the character is repeatedly and carefully called “The Armorour Major Boothroyd, Head of Q Branch”.
So when Dynamite comics got hold of the licence in the same year SPECTRE was released after close to twenty years since the previous attempt at a Bond comic, they were picking up a rather dusty and unloved property.
Which is where they did something very clever by announcing Warren Ellis as the initial writer.
Ellis is of course a legend in the industry, one of the writers with a lengthy and iconic career and, more importantly from Dynamite’s point of view, a readership who follow him from book to book and would buy whatever he wrote. Coupled with the fact he wouldn’t have been thought of as a licensed guy, nor an automatically easy fit for Bond, suddenly there was a buzz. People wanted to know what Warren Ellis Bond would be like. The titles of his two six series, VARGR and Eidolon, are very deliberately picked to not be typical Golden Death Twice style generic Bond titles, adding to the aura of uncertainty of what would be within the pages.
What was there is actually fairly sensible. There’s an influence from the Craig films (without using anything that would require a payment to EON) in terms of being more grounded than people might expect, with more political shenanigans at MI6 and a heavier amount of UK based action. With the most obvious cues taken from the current films being Monneypenny being a young, black more active agent and the use of SPECTRE in the second miniseries.
The comics happen in a world where the rough details of the Fleming novels happened—Felix is an amputee and SPECTRE are a long defeated enemy—but in a vague timeless sense, not unlike how the 80’s and 90’s Bond novels treated them. Indeed, with a focus on more real politics and relationships between government agencies Ellis is probably closest in style to the aforementioned John Gardner books.
Not everything is grounded and real of course, the first arc has a strong SF element that, amongst other things, is responsible for Felix having a bionic limb that effectively lets him be a full time agent. But there’s a more considered thoughtfulness to these stories than one might expect from the cliché of Bond.
The action, from artist Jason Masters, is also generally top notch, fast, sleek and brutal. By being faithful to Fleming’s original description it does mean his Bond has the distracting misfortune of looking exactly like Archer, but couple with Ellis’ writing you two outstanding miniseries that laid a great foundation that subsequent creative teams have built on successfully. Even branching off into two strands, one pieces set in the book timeline (including a Casino Royale adaptation and a comic about his wartime service) and one following up on the work of Ellis that eventually became an ongoing, starting with an arc featuring a reinvention of Oddjob.
On that score, Dynamite were very clever in their choice of Ellis, grabbing a noted creator didn’t just net them an audience, it gave them a strong series and an even stronger foundation to build upwards from. The spectre of previous Bond comic failures has been well and truly banished.