If you’re a fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, then you need to have Titan Books’ James Bond SPECTRE: The Complete Comic Strip Collection in your library.
I still remember my first introduction to James Bond. It was Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me when I was but a mere stripling who could barely comprehend the camp and droll that was Roger Moore’s mainstay. But it was the drama that hooked me. There was a dark and sinister world of international espionage, sci-fi gadgets mixed in with a playfulness that a ten year old could appreciate and fully enjoy.
But that wasn’t the original Ian Fleming creation that was originally written in 1964.
You see, Ian Fleming was actually a staff officer in British Intelligence in World War II. During the Cold War he started to pen his world-famous stories about a British Intelligence officer that was based upon his experiences, his qualifications and his extrapolation of what international relations would be like in the latter half of the twentieth century after World War Two. By the standards of the 1960’s these plots were the stuff of conjecture, but by the 21st century it’s actually a bit eerie to think how much international terrorism and world plots have become the frightening present fears in the world today.
It’s also difficult for millennials to understand but the Cold War was a time of intense espionage and stories about this stuff were more than entertaining, they actually related to world politics. Somehow the relative disappearance of the threat of nuclear annihilation, the fact that the USSR no longer exists and that Communism is just a buzzword that applies to China alone seems to have relaxed the Western World’s feeling of mutual security.
What’s sad about this century is that with the absence of the threat of Soviet Communism, we now have lost a rich source of entertainment. This book takes us back to a time when world security was the stuff of fiction, Communist Russia was the enemy and Toronto was actually an exotic location in the world.
James Bond was a reactionary response in entertainment to the polarization of international relations. If you lived on the West side of the Iron Curtain then you were able to appreciate the “Us vs. Them” paradigm. If so, then James Bond was your champion, regardless if you were a Son (or daughter) of the Empire.
But this Son of the Empire was a soldier who also protected the western world. While communism was a subversive real threat that lurked in the shadows of the world, the collective subconscious of the democratic minded peoples of the Western World were both fascinated and terrified by the imaginary threat of SPECTRE that Ian Fleming conjured up.
James Bond: SPECTRE: The Complete Comic Strip Collection ran between 1961 and 1966. We are returned to that time of ultimatums and international criminal masterminds and it is an awesomely insightful and fun romp through those years of cold war tensions.
The art structuring by John McLusky and Yaroslav Horak totally supports the intensity of the original scripting by Fleming. The intensity of the original stories (The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) is reflected by the short, staccato action in the frames. It’s an exciting exercise to compare the comic to the stories for their accuracy while at the same time be entertained by classic Bond adventures.
In the novels, Bond is vulnerable – worn down by the stress of his career and the excess of his after-work life. His vices are veritable necessities in order to depressurize and regulate his life. When one works hard, one plays hard and while the excesses of his life may have been characterized by Roger Moore’s or Pierce Brosnan’s performances, we see regret on the part of Bond who laments the over-use of bourbon the night before.
But gone is the dashing playfulness that was characterized by the Bond of my youth. Also, while one may see the rugged brutality and stone face of Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, there is an awareness of his own fallibility that is not present in any of the Bond film actors’ realizations of this character. Fleming’s Bond knows his weaknesses and we see them wonderfully visualized in this collection.
What’s also remarkable about this is the absence of gadgets. While advanced and fanciful technology exists (ie: experimental Canadian RCAF fighter-bombers – which actually mirrors the actual development of the Canadian AVRO Arrow, interestingly enough), Bond relies on police work, style, his training and his personality. When James Bond is forced to improvise a wrist-watch into a knuckle-duster instead of a miniature jet-propelled tranquilizer dart gun, then you know you’re back to the basics.
It’s a book that insists on adherence to the original Bond. If you are intensely curious about this, then be warned that this is not the Bond from the films. Despite the proximity to the release of Thunderball or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is not Hollywood. In fact, the original storyline to The Spy Who Loved Me may surprise you if you are merely a film fan and haven’t read the original work.
The foreward by John Logan, screenwriter for SPECTRE, is remarkably insightful. It serves as a wonderful introduction to the collection and reminds us of those original Bond values. Logan says that he kept Fleming in mind when creating SPECTRE and serves as an excellent ambassador to welcome a reader to those days when Bond was far simpler than how the films had portrayed him. Bond was in service to Her Majesty’s Government and was about getting the job done.
In short, this James Bond comic strip collection is a must-have for any lover of classic comic strips and 007. The sense of period, the glamour and Fleming’s own story-craft are all imaginatively, graphically portrayed. The essence of Bond is in these comics and they remain true to Fleming’s original envisioning.
Perhaps a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, might be a good complement to your reading.