The James Bond Omnibus 002 (Titan Books)

A collection of vintage 1960s comic strip retellings of Ian Fleming’s classic Bond novels.

 

344 pgs., B&W; $19.95 (each)
(W: Ian Fleming, adapted by Henry Gammidge & Jim Lawrence; A: John McLusky, Yaroslav Horak)
 
James Bond is the very definition of a steadfast character—in fact the Dramatica theory of story structure uses him as an example of that type, along with Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive fame. No matter what situation James finds himself in, no matter how clever the villain he faces or the geopolitical complexities involved, you can be sure James will always triumph and will always remain James. Like Sherlock Holmes, he has a multiplicity of talents equal to any situation which always allow him to come out on top. Unlike Sherlock, he’s quite the man with the ladies as well and always manages to work in a few conquests while saving the world from—well, whatever it needs saving from.
 
Bond has appeared in a variety of media, most famously Ian Fleming’s novels and the films adapted from them. But he also appeared in a series of comic strips published in the Daily Express and then the Sunday Times beginning in the late 1950s. Seven comic strip versions of Bond stories are reprinted in the second Titan Books collection of these strips: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, The Living Daylights, Octopussy, The Hildebrand Rarity, and The Spy Who Loved Me. They offer a real trip down memory lane, both because of the format—these are old-fashioned two- or three-panel strip comics—but also because they were created in the early to mid-1960s and totally reflect the societal mores of those times. The Bond in these strips is much closer to Sean Connery’s interpretation than to Daniel Craig’s, and the female and non-British characters also reflect the time in which the strips were made rather than our hopefully more enlightened times.
 
Personally I have no problem overlooking those sexist, xenophobic attitudes because they’re part of the era (and I’m not sure our current popular culture has anything to brag about in the cultural sensitivity department anyway) and because their very old-fashionedness is part of what I find so charming about these stories. I also have a lot of admiration for the economy which Gammidge and Lawrence display in condensing entire novels into 200 or so strips each and getting most of their storytelling done through the dialogue. Granted, the characters’ speech can be a bit stilted at times ("OK, Ramon—case his room! I’ve got a feeling about that Limey!") and the exposition over-obvious ("Bond checks his ‘traps’—a pulled-up suit pocket lining—carefully arranged handkerchiefs with indelible dots—") but the format required that the story be laid out clearly and quickly and they certainly managed that. Besides, this is popular culture, not high art, and I bet kids of all ages back in the 1960s were thrilled to be told how a secret agent checks to see if his room has been searched, just as they enjoy watching that sort of thing portrayed in movies and television today.
 
The first two stories in this collection were illustrated by John McLusky, the remainder by Yaroslav Horak, and while both are effective, there are clear differences in their styles. McLusky’s work looks more old-fashioned, with lots of screens, and he also includes more "establishing shots" which show you the whole landscape (which is not a bad idea, given that glamorous locations are one of the appeals of the Bond stories). Horak uses cross-hatching to create the illusion of greys and has a very clean line which allows him to show more detail and also gives his work a more modern feel. Neither is much for varied facial expressions or other character details: instead, we have lots of manly men with strong chins and luscious babes with pursed lips and, of course, the villains tend to be less attractive than the good guys. Maybe that’s not how one would choose to draw such a series today, but it works perfectly well given the era in which these strips were created.
 
There are no extras in this volume except for the nifty chapter headers, which feature enlargements of frame details with stylized halftone dots. You can see a preview of The James Bond Omnibus 002 here: http://theincrediblesuit.blogspot.com/2011/04/book-review-corner-james-bond-omnibus.html. | Sarah Boslaugh

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