For a character created sixty-three years ago, James Bond seems to be hotter than ever. The 24th film in the franchise, “Spectre”, has grossed over $752 million worldwide despite a three year gap between installments. Despite his creator Ian Fleming being dead since 1964, the character continues to star in new novels written by others. And now the spy returns to comic books with Dynamite Entertainment’s new mini series, launched last month to coincide with the latest film. This is hardly the first time that agent 007 has starred in his own comics; companies such as DC Comics, Eclipse Comics, Dark Horse Comics and Topps Comics have all held the license going back to 1963. However, most of these were restricted to adaptations of whatever the latest film was. Dynamite’s mini series is instead an original story written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Jason Masters and colored by Guy Majors.
“VARGR” began last month, but while that issue was certainly action packed, it was essentially the comic book equivalent of the introductory action sequence in one of Bond’s films. It is with this second issue that the story as well as the universe which Ellis and Masters have constructed begins to develop in greater detail. Visually, their James Bond looks more like his creator Ian Fleming would have envisioned more than any particular actor. Yet the world around him is decidedly modern, even if Bond himself still represents older times. The film franchise has seemed to struggle to readjust since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and the sense of Bond being both a relic from a faded era who also has to adjust his tactics to an ever changing landscape is covered well within this comic. Not only does he have to deal with villains not being as obvious as they were back in the “old days”, but with bureaucratic regulations such as not being allowed to take his gun on an airplane. This red tape almost gets him killed when what seems like a rendezvous with a contact (and a seemingly steamy meeting with yet another strange woman) almost costs Bond his life before his mission has even begun. 007 is asked with stopping a dangerous new strain of drugs reaching London by making contact with a major corporation in Berlin for some leads. Their head, Slaven Kurjak, is involved in advanced cybernetics (among other things), and knows far more about the attempt on Bond’s life than he lets on.
The plot of the mini series is about standard for a Bond adventure. While some of the trappings are different (such as investigating narcotics or the focus on hi-tech bionics), it will be familiar to many fans for providing an intelligent villain as well as plenty of exciting action scenes. Where Ellis and Masters excel is in crafting a world which thrusts their hero into modernity without making him seem inflexible or nostalgic. Being a spy means adapting to one’s surroundings, and while Bond may often bristle at regulations or legal loopholes, he always flexes with the changes to get the job done (and look classy while doing it). A meeting with the younger staffers at the Berlin station as well as his interaction with the deadly Dharma Reach are among the issue’s highlights. Ellis has a great voice for the character and the artwork by Masters and Majors is appropriately detailed and realistic without being too rigid to not allow for the fantastic. Their depiction of Bond and the world around him only enhances the actual plot, making it more vibrant than it otherwise would be.
With audiences worldwide being treated to blockbuster films every few years, it can be challenging to come up with a comic script which can match those expectations. Yet with their healthy respect of the character while their willingness to update his world for the 21st century, “VARGR” should satisfy even the most critical Bond aficionado.
Below are some honorable mentions from Marvel Comics. All of them are perfectly fine, but they weren’t nearly as smooth as her majesty’s best man this time.
All New All Different Avengers #2: Mark Waid once again weaves a great script with some cracking dialogue and character interaction while Adam Kubert and Sonia Oback draw and color (respectively) an action packed spectacle. Unfortunately, this opening to what Marvel expects to be their flagship Avengers title still reads too much like a slower version of the first issue of “New Warriors” back in 1990. Back then, having a bunch of random heroes stumble into each other before punching out a rampaging alien only took one issue (then priced at a dollar). Nowadays it takes at least three issues (one extra sized) totaling just under thirteen dollars for exactly the same thing. If anyone needs an explanation why nobody under the age of twenty-five is reading print comics with their own money, this is literally it. At the very least, the entire team gathers for this issue, in which a large alien trashes things looking for some MacGuffins and the bluntly named Mr. Gryphon watches a new team of Avengers assemble around him in response. While Miles Morales is happy to be working alongside some legends, Ms. Marvel and Nova are still not getting along and everyone makes sure to announce each other’s name with their title dress as a font. Make no mistake; this is a very well written and excellently drawn comic. It just happens to be offering little surprises and an origin sequence which would be twice as good if it were half as long.
Totally Awesome Hulk #1: A title like that can only mean one thing; Amadeus Cho is back! His co-creator Greg Pak returns to the fold alongside artist Frank Cho and colorist Sonia Oback. After years of serving as the sarcastic super-genius sidekick to both the Hulk and Hercules, this time it’s Amadeus’ chance to bulk up gamma-style! After absorbing the strange radiation of a meltdown off the coast of Kenya, Bruce Banner is apparently out of commission and in need of a replacement. Teamed up with his sassy kid sister Madame “Maddy” Curie Cho and based in a flying food wagon, Amadeus is having a ball bulking up and punching out monsters on beaches around the world. Feeling joyous about relying on his brawn rather than his brains for once, it may be up to “Maddy” to help Amadeus not only focus on the mission, but on not letting his repressed id run wild as it had with Banner. Frank Cho’s artwork is terrific, and naturally Pak’s script gives him plenty of monsters and scantly clad women to hone his craft on. The entire issue has a fun, action packed vibe to it and hardly takes itself too seriously. The only demerit is that it can seem out of place to see Amadeus ditch his smarts in exchange for relying on his inner “frat bro” considering how badly he’s seen that play out in others (particularly Hercules). Some “old”cracks at She-Hulk likely won’t win the series many fans on Tumblr. Overall, however, those looking for a Hulk that offers some light hearted monster punching along with some humorous dialogue topped with great art, this is for you.
Incidentally, the game plan at Marvel Comics, according to editorial interviews and issue solicitations, is for Peter Parker to be the wealthy globe trotting Spider-Man while Miles Morales will be the teenage local version. Yet this week alone sees Miles appear in both Jersey City and New Zealand teamed up with two or more other heroes fighting threats way above his weight class. Go figure.
The Vision #1: Tom King and Gabriel H. Walta (alongside colorist Jordie Bellaire) continue their creepy look at the perils of suburban Americana featuring the longtime android Avenger. Wonder Man’s brother Grim Reaper continues his descent from occasional B-list threat to current D-list annoyance as he is killed off for the second time within less than three years. Only in the Marvel Universe do characters named after the Phoenix remain dead for over a decade while others named for the embodiment of death pass the mortal coil themselves every time they appear. The Vision has always been a robot who sought to become a man, but it seems his attempt to live out the life of a married family man is going to end before it even begins. His wife Virginia is keeping secrets from him, his daughter Viv is injured and his son Vin is having trouble avoiding the urge to strangle people in high school (an urge most readers should be able to relate to). Despite being a longtime superhero, the Vision quickly learns he and his family are not welcome by the principal, and their entire facade could come crashing down at any time. Walta’s artwork is utterly fabulous and King’s sublime and dark toned script captures the true horror of the series, establishing a tone that something truly terrible is just below the surface. The cliche of suburban family life and the nostalgia that it inspires has always been a canard, and having the Vision realize it the hard way is making for some fascinating reading.