James Bond 007
The Golden Ghost

Author: Jim Lawrence
Artist: Yaroslav Horak
Titan Books
RRP: £11.99
ISBN 1 84576 261 4
Available 21 April 2006

When SPECTRE offers MI6 information about a soon-to-be-launched nuclear-powered airship,
The Golden Ghost, Bond is sent to investigate. Is the craft really in danger, or is Madame Spectra luring 007 into a trap...?

This compilation of newspaper strips shares its title with the first story in the collection, The Golden Ghost. It's not a very Bondian title, unfortunately. I would have gone for one of the later strips' titles, such as Starfire or Double Jeopardy.

This tale recycles the keelhauling sequence from Live and Let Die, but also pre-empts several subsequent Bond storylines. A brutal fight in the galley of The Golden Ghost is not dissimilar to sequences in the movies Never Say Never Again and The Living Daylights (though to my mind, the one in Daylights remains the grittiest). An airship would, of course, later be used in A View to a Kill: I couldn't help thinking of John Barry's "Airship to Silicon Valley" music as the craft takes to the skies.

The sexual content of this tale is relatively risqué, with the love interest, Velvet Lee, getting her tiny minidress ripped during a confrontation with the villain, Felix Bruhl, revealing her underwear. In line with the Bond films of the time (1971), Bond utters a double entendre regarding the heroine's name at the end of the story.

A strip-club dancer is apparently attacked by a man with a blank metal face. Meanwhile, Bond seeks to clear the name of fellow agent and former lover Briony Thorne, who is accused of betraying secrets to the Chinese...

Fear Face sees the first appearance of a female double-0 agent, Briony Thorne, 0013. However, 007's decision to take the word of this suspected traitor on the basis of the flip of a coin is rather worrying!

His insubordination is somewhat more stimulating. The punching of Bill Tanner makes his behaviour in Licence to Kill seem restrained by comparison.

Writer Jim Lawrence appears to be a fan of the classic TV show The Avengers. Not only does this story make use of humanoid automatons that closely resemble John Steed's recurring robotic foes, the Cybernauts, but Briony Thorne briefly assumes the alias of Belinda Thorsen, a variation on the name of Tara King actress Linda Thorson.

Two of artist Yaroslav Horak's villains look unfortunately similar to one another, but otherwise this is an enjoyable strip.

M sends Bond to Morocco on the trail of Fritz Kumara, also known as "Mister K", Red China's top gun. But the agent stumbles upon a SPECTRE plot to replace high-ranking officials with surgically-altered duplicates...

Though not as far-fetched as Fear Face, Double Jeopardy shows further signs of the newspaper series aping the fantastical elements of the Bond films. Here we see 007 using a briefcase that fires bullets and (two years before a similar sequence in Live and Let Die) doing a spot of hang gliding. As in Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever, SPECTRE employs plastic surgery to create doppelgangers.

American author Lawrence experiences some difficulty writing British speech patterns for Bond. The previous two strips had the agent calling people "luv", while in this one he describes a woman as a "bonny bird"! Not for the first time, the author's plot hinges on an unlikely coincidence. Not that this is uncharacteristic of 007's exploits: many of Ian Fleming's novels, such as Goldfinger, relied on improbable happenstance.

Talking of Goldfinger, now the villains are having a go at witty one-liners. SPECTRE agent Pujar borrows one of Sean Connery's famous utterances as he informs Bond that his electro-torture will be "quite shocking".

Meanwhile, Bond has a go at flashing the flesh this time, as he spends more than half the strip in just his swimming trunks.

A series of victims are apparently slain by supernatural fire brought down by cult leader "Lord Astro". When a CIA agent is killed, Bond's investigations reveal that the truth is at once more down-to-earth and more complex...

Like The Golden Ghost, Starfire (note that the title is one word, unlike the erroneous two-word spelling used by Titan in the introduction to this story) begins with a suggestion of the paranormal. In the The Golden Ghost it was a doom-laden prediction made by the witch Bridget Penwyn; here is it the "astral fire" that is supposedly summoned by Lord Astro. In both cases, there proves to be a rational scientific explanation. The X-Files' Agent Scully would be proud.

Lawrence still struggles a bit with his use of British English. Bond uses the American term "airplane" and says "inquire" (whereas a British speaker would most likely say "enquire"), while Tanner uses the adverb form "backward" (when a British speaker would more likely use the form "backwards").

In all important respects, however, this is a strong story to end a fine collection.

This volume also includes an introduction by Richard Kiel (who played Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, and so unfortunately has lots to say about the comic-strip versions of those stories but practically nothing to say about the strips featured here) and an article about the various cars that Bond has driven in the novels. But these are just the icing on what is already a rich confection.

In a disclaimer, Titan is at pains to point out that the material reproduced here is exceedingly rare, so the quality of the printing is variable (especially during Double Jeopardy). Like Mr Kipling's cakes, these four original Bond adventures are also exceedingly good.

Richard McGinlay

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