Four Colour Frames flips the traditional 24 Panels Per Second mandate of looking at comics being adapted to film by instead examining film and television properties being adapted to comics. This time, James and David take discuss the first two issues of Dynamite Entertainment’s James Bond 007, written by Warren Ellis (R.E.D.) and illustrated by Jason Masters (Batwoman: Future’s End).
DAVE: As you and I have discussed previously on the podcast, James, Ian Fleming’s famed creation James Bond has had a pretty poor track record in comics, aside from a rather long running newspaper strip. As such, I have to admit that when it was announced earlier this year that Dynamite Entertainment was going to start publishing a new line of Bond comics, I was as apprehensive as I was excited. Dynamite has had a fantastic creative track record in recent years with various pulp characters, including The Shadow, and the idea of a writer of Warren Ellis’ calibre working on the title made it clear that they were not taking a half-assed approach to the property. At the same time, given how frequently Bond has managed to fail in prior ventures into the medium, it was hard not to think that this comic might very well bomb as well.
What about you, James? What were your feelings towards a new James Bond comic prior to getting your hands on these issues?
JAMES: Well, I was pretty optimistic actually. I’ve been wanting a serialized Bond story for a while now, one that explores more of the day-to-day aspects of being a double-O and moves beyond the time-sensitive adventures we see in novels and films. The first pair of issues, though, follow the blueprint established by more than half a century’s worth of Bond—yet, there are little moments that certainly give us a little more of that granular detail heretofore untapped, like Bond having lunch at the MI6 headquarters’ cafeteria with a colleague or the little details of the Berlin outpost in issue #2. But, I’m jumping ahead—on the whole, this is a very good start to an ongoing series. Dave, what are your overall first impressions?
DAVE: On the whole, I am damn impressed by what Ellis and Masters have pulled off with the first two issues of this series. You are right in that the overall structure of the comics thus far follow the beats of a typical Bond narrative — an opening “pre-credits” action sequence of Bond wrapping up a mission, Bond receiving a new mission from M after bantering with Moneypenny, visiting Q branch, etc. — but where the comic shifts from other Bond stories is in its tone and in the details of how the beats play out. The opening action sequence isn’t the escapist fun most Bond films open with, but a brutal manhunt with Bond violently dispatching a man in a one-on-one confrontation; M’s office isn’t the ornate space of the Bond films, but a stripped down, utilitarian room. Even Moneypenny has a slightly different role here: she isn’t just M’s personal assistant, but his last line of defense if MI6 is breached.
Indeed, what is perhaps most striking about issue one is how it is all about setting the tone and character rather than rushing headfirst into a densely plotted adventure. Many Bond stories have paid lip service to the idea of Bond being an anachronistic throwback, but Ellis really takes to that idea to explore a Bond who really does feel like a man from another time. Ellis’ Bond is very much a misogynistic, sexist bastard, and at no point is any effort made to sugarcoat this fact or to try and play these aspects of his character up as being ideal in any way. The people around this version of Bond seem to tolerate him solely because he is good at his job, and have little problem making it clear how they don’t necessarily like him.
What do you make of Ellis’ characterization of Bond, James?
JAMES: It’s very interesting, for sure, Dave. The tone is a big difference as you noted. That opening sequence, definitely, is cold-blooded and brutal—this isn’t the heroic Bond of Roger Moore’s days, and it’s more critical than Fleming. The banter with Moneypenny doesn’t feel playful, but more acerbic. In issue #2, Ellis dedicates some time for Bond and colleagues in Berlin to talk about the station’s coffee—here Bond doesn’t really come across as a connoisseur, but just picky and pretentious. The other bit in terms of tone that stands out is the parallel story involving individuals overdosing on drugs: it’s dirty and grimy and lacks the gloss of a typical Bond storyline. I’m very curious to see how this dovetails with Bond’s investigation. Oh, and I also love that after another double-O’s death Bond has been saddled that case load—his frustration and attitude shows a fraying at the edge.
DAVE: The cutaways to the twenty-somethings overdosing on drugs in London is fascinating additionally not only for how grimy it is, but also for how it actually relates the work Bond does back to his country in a way none of the Bond films—or even Fleming’s novels, for that matter—have. Bond works for Queen and Country, but his world is typically one seemingly endless travelogue, bouncing from one country (and its most photogenic areas) to another, drinking booze and hanging out with the super-wealthy. Here, the average citizen who Bond is ostensibly protecting finally is given space in this tale, and Bond’s mission thus far seems far removed from the poverty found in London.
Of course, given that we are dealing with Ellis as a writer, it is no surprise that elements of high technology and characters looking to change the future via technological development are present in this tale, particularly in the form of advanced prosthetics. Given Bond’s rather…unique history with technology (see Die Another Day), how do feel about Ellis’ integration of these ideas and themes into the tale thus far, James?
JAMES: I’m looking forward to seeing where Ellis takes this avenue, really. The medium offers a lot more room to do these kinds of things convincingly, as opposed to film where it would look stupid if the tone’s not right and a director can’t reconcile the fantastic with reality (say what you will about it, it makes sense at the end of Moonraker that they go into space).
What’s got me itching is the episodic structure—it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve followed comics issue-to-issue, so this has me recognizing the limitations of telling a large story 24 pages at a time. That said, I’m dying to see how this unfolds more.
DAVE: I still tend to read issue to issue myself, but I can understand how the pacing might be a tad bit frustrating for those who prefer to pick up their comics in trade formats. Then again, this series is an ongoing book rather than a limited series, so it will be interesting to see how Ellis utilizes this format going forward. Will he be writing for the trades, or will there be actual subplots and character arcs which will play out over twenty or more issues? Will there be standalone issues, or stories focused on Bond’s supporting cast? For the first time, these feel like real possibilities, and leave me excited to see what we are going to get each month. Here’s hoping that this comic runs a good, long time so that we can see these possibilities taken advantage of.
James Bond issues 1 and 2 are already available for purchase. Issue 3 will be released December 30th, 2015.