In case you’ve missed my series on the James Bond movies over the last 20 days or so, I’m a big fan of Agent 007 of the British Secret Service. Ian Fleming’s original novels have been favorites since I first read them years ago, but I’ve never read the authorized continuation novels by John Gardner or any number of authors. Why read what’s essentially fan fiction when the character stars in a movie every few years? Still, when I heard Dynamite was releasing an official comic written by Garth Ennis of Preacher and Punisher fame, I decided to give it a chance. Having done so, I’m reminded why I avoided the non-Fleming stuff for so long.
Fleming wasn’t a great writer, so much of his work reads as racist and sexist now, but he did make a really complex, flawed protagonist. Ennis’s version isn’t quite that so far. Granted, we don’t learn much about James this issue. In fact, we don’t even see his face until almost halfway through the book, as artist Jason Marsters cleverly builds excitement for the reveal during the opening fight sequence. Speaking of, the art is somewhat more cartoonish than one might initially expect, but it works well. Combined with Guy Major’s clear, often bright coloring and the clean line drawings, the book has a distinctly polished, un-gritty feel. Though that’s not to say it’s all fun and games. The first thing we see our hero do is kill a man.
Bond–still unnamed–disdainfully says that he’s coming after this man because he killed 008 simply for the love of doing so. That’s pretty rich considering how sadistically and viciously Bond pursued him. M even says as much later, bristling after Bond says the assignment didn’t take long because it was, “simple.” And maybe this Bond is aware of that irony in the same way that Fleming’s was. Maybe he even hates killing like the book version, but the comic doesn’t make that clear. In fact, this Bond seems blissfully unconcerned that he’s kind a dick.
Though pretty much everyone Bond works with seems to dislike him and he does come off as an outdated misogynist. Admittedly, that’s what the original Bond character looks like to a modern audience. But the thing the movies and even Fleming always remembered is that the audience also has to want to spend time with this d-bag. He’s got to be funny or charming or something in order for people to want to stick around. So far, the comic hasn’t offered that. And despite the fact that the cover claims this is Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the book actually seems a little confused about which Bond it’s portraying.
The movies are clearly a big influence. Moneypenny is both black and seems to be a former field agent like current actress Naomie Harris’s version. She also seems to be disdainful of Bond’s flirting and condescension in a way the character historically wasn’t pre-1995. Bond isn’t blonde like Daniel Craig, but instead looks like the classic, raven-haired, conventionally handsome version of the character from the old comic strips. Q is a specific person as in the films instead of a branch of the service like in the books. There’s strangely even a recreation of the moment in Dr. No (book and movie) when Q harangues Bond for insisting on using his tiny “gun for ladies.” It’s a surprising mix of traits and while I can’t really criticize Ennis for trying to make the character his own, this version still feels like a poor imitation of the genuine article. Ian Fleming’s Bond this is not.