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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

The James Bond Omnibus
Volume 001


Authors: Ian Fleming, Henry Gammidge, Anthony Hern and Peter O’Donnell
Artist: John McLusky
Titan Books
RRP: £14.99, US $16.95, Cdn $21.00
ISBN: 978 1 84856 364 3
Available 01 October 2009

James Bond, the world’s most famous secret agent, has thrilled audiences for over fifty years with his globe-trotting adventures. Now, for the very first time, the original eleven daily newspaper comic strips - Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr No, Goldfinger, Risico, From a View to a Kill, For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball - have been brought together in one mammoth omnibus edition...

The James Bond Omnibus - Volume 001 collects stories from three previous graphic novels, Casino Royale, Dr No and Goldfinger, but this time Titan is reprinting the strips in chronological order.

James Bond is assigned to neutralise a Russian operative, Le Chiffre, by ruining him at the baccarat table and forcing his “retirement”...

Casino Royale takes us right back to the beginning of the James Bond newspaper strip. As you might expect, the art is less sophisticated than that of subsequent strips, in particular the stylised work of Yaroslav Horak. John McLusky’s renderings start off looking more like Jane than James Bond, but his style gets grittier and Bond grows more rugged as the story develops. Writer Anthony Hern, in his only contribution to the series, tones down Ian Fleming’s infamous carpet-beater torture sequence, which is understandable considering the medium.

Moviegoers may notice a possible inspiration for the character of Miranda Frost from Die Another Day, in the shape of the original Bond girl, Vesper Lynd.

007 investigates a gangster, Mr Big, who is believed to be using a pirate’s treasure to finance a Russian spy ring in the USA...

Henry Gammidge takes over the writing chores for subsequent stories, and adopts the unusual device of having Bond narrate the next few strips in the first person. For the most part, this works quite well, but the present tense of thought bubbles might have been preferable during some of the action sequences in Live and Let Die.

Film fans will know that Fleming’s original plot had little bearing on that of the 1973 movie starring Roger Moore, apart from its location and certain character names. However, Mr Big’s trick table remains intact in both strip and movie, while the later films For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill respectively lifted the keelhauling sequence and the shark attack on Felix Leiter (complete with Bond’s subsequent investigation of an aquarium).

Bond looks into a murder case near Dover, where multi-millionaire Hugo Drax is building the most powerful rocket in the world...

Like Live and Let Die, the prose and strip versions of Moonraker have little in common with the Roger Moore film of the same name. However, Drax’s thinly veiled threat, “Spend the money quickly,” eventually made it into the movie Octopussy, during which it was spoken by Kamal Khan. In fact, this version of Drax proved to be more of an inspiration to the makers of GoldenEye (in which a scarred villain plots revenge against Britain for that country’s actions during World War II) and Die Another Day (in which a man from a rival nation disguises himself as an Englishman and constructs an apparently benign weapon).

Gammidge continues to use the device of Bond narrating the strip. In fact, in some frames, Bond actually addresses the reader out of the panel.

The character of Gala Brand comes across strongly in this strip, especially in comparison to the rather feeble Vesper in Casino Royale. Gala proves to be a competent Special Branch officer, carrying out much of the investigation herself, and manages to endure as much hardship as Bond, including being burned by a blowlamp and by steam in a ventilator shaft. 007’s respect for her is evident in his narration panels.

Bond assumes the identity of a diamond smuggler in order to investigate and close down a pipeline operated by the deadly Spangled Mob...

Diamonds Are Forever is a rather plotless affair. The train track sequence feels as though it is the final act, as does the subsequent Queen Elizabeth bit, but neither of them are. Maybe I’m just allowing my knowledge of the movie plot to influence me.

As this faithful adaptation shows, the film retained only small elements of Fleming’s original novel, such as the dentist’s scene, Tiffany’s underwear-clad introduction, the mud baths, and the aforementioned Queen Elizabeth sequence. The next three stories in this collection would also became movies starring Sean Connery, though in their cases there would be far fewer differences between novel/strip and film...

Russian secret service SMERSH sets a trap for 007, using as bait a cipher machine and a beautiful woman who claims to be in love with him...

From Russia With Love marks Gammidge’s final use of first-person narration by Bond. This is a good thing, because here the agent often conveys information and viewpoints that he couldn’t possibly be privy to.

There are a fair few goofs in this strip: in panel 513 Kerim Bey recalls Tatiana’s whitened knuckles, even though she was wearing gloves at the time; in panel 551, one of Bond’s speech balloons points to Tatiana; and Gammidge seems unsure whether the villain is called Rosa Klebb or Rosa Krebs. However, McLusky’s visualisation of Donovan Grant shows how perfectly cast Robert Shaw was in the movie.

Much of Fleming’s characterisation and background information have been ditched in this abridged adaptation. However, the charm of Kerim Bey shines through, and all in all this is a very enjoyable strip.

When two agents disappear in Jamaica, Bond is sent to investigate, and faces everything from poisoned nectarines to killer centipedes...

The very straightforward plot of Dr No lends itself well to the comic strip medium. For this strip only, the adaptation is written by Peter O’Donnell, who would go on to create Modesty Blaise (not that I noticed much of a difference in style from that of Gammidge, apart from the lack of narration).

Not surprisingly, Honeychile Rider is not naked, as she so memorably was in Fleming’s original book, when Bond first beholds her.

Having foiled a gambling scam by millionaire Auric Goldfinger, Bond is assigned to investigate the man’s suspected gold-smuggling activities...

As usual, Gammidge’s script for Goldfinger adheres closely to Ian Fleming’s original novel. Indeed, all of its implausibility has been left intact. The movie version is unique in being more, rather than less, plausible than the novel that inspired it, because it overcomes the coincidental nature of Bond’s first meeting with the villain, and the fact that it would have been practically impossible for Goldfinger’s team to transport the sheer weight of gold from Fort Knox.

The adaptation seems rather tame in places, though. Jill Masterson’s gold-plated demise is absent - instead, her death is reported to 007 after the fact. Pussy Galore’s lesbianism is even less evident in the strip than it is in the movie. A scene in which Bond confronts a knife-wielding Oddjob is censored to remove the weapon. There’s a real mixture of lettering styles in this story, sometimes even within the same panel, which suggests that there may have been a number of last-minute rewrites.

A couple of panels are missing altogether - from the story’s opening, which originally saw Bond saying goodbye to Honey following the events of Dr No. These panels appeared in the Daily Express but were omitted from many syndicated versions.

The comic-strip Goldfinger looks remarkably like the actor Gert Frobe, even though, of course, he wouldn’t appear in the role until three years after the end of the strip’s run.

The collection is rounded off by some shorter serials: Risico, From a View to a Kill, For Your Eyes Only and Thunderball.

Ironically, McLusky’s rendition of Kristatos in Risico looks more like Topol, the actor who played his arch rival Colombo in the film version of For Your Eyes Only. Meanwhile, Colombo more closely resembles Gabriele Ferzetti, who played Draco in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and unfortunately also looks like Kerim Bey in the earlier strip From Russia With Love.

Like Risico, the plot to the short story For Your Eyes Only formed part of the 1981 Roger Moore film. Several sections of dialogue remain virtually unchanged in the transition from prose to strip and movie, including Bond’s cover story as a fiction writer in Risico and his warning to Judy Havelock in For Your Eyes Only about digging two graves before seeking vengeance. However, collected together in the same volume, Judy’s revenge plot is regrettably similar to that of Tilly Masterson in Goldfinger.

In contrast to the other short stories, From a View to a Kill has little in common with the movie A View to a Kill, apart from its French setting. More of a detective story than a spy thriller, it is rather slow moving, despite its short duration. It really drags during panels 962-965, during which it takes Mary Ann Russell almost an entire page to agree to issue a report for Bond!

Though based on a full-length novel, the comic strip version of Thunderball ends up running no longer than a short story, due to the fact that it was prematurely halted by Daily Express proprietor Lord Beaverbrook, who was incensed by the publication of Fleming’s The Living Daylights in a rival paper. No sooner has the treacherous Giuseppe Petacchi hijacked the armed aircraft than Bond and Felix Leiter are suddenly in Nassau and the enemy has been defeated, with two-thirds of the story wrapped up in just one week’s worth of strip! It’s an abrupt end to the volume, but also an appropriate cut-off point, as there would be a gap of more than two years before the publication of the next strip, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

The collection is prefaced by an introduction by Sir Roger Moore, which originally appeared in the previous graphic novel edition of Casino Royale. All the other introductions and additional features that appeared in previous editions are omitted here, including the foreign language versions of panels that were censored or dropped from the Daily Express runs of Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The page format is smaller than previous editions, and the paper stock resembles newsprint, but actually this makes for a more accurate reflection of the strips’ original medium. The flexi binding is attractive, as is the asking price: at 300 pages, this is something of a bargain. All in all, The James Bond Omnibus is well worth catching.


Richard McGinlay

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