James Bond 007
The Phoenix Project

Author: Jim Lawrence
Artist: Yaroslav Horak
Titan Books
RRP: 12.99, US $19.95
ISBN-13: 978 1 84576 312 1
ISBN-10: 1 84576 312 2
Available 23 February 2007

A secretary's terrifying visions of fire and doom, followed by the assassination of a top scientist, put James Bond on the trail of a vicious arms dealer. But when a young woman and her boyfriend also become involved, will 007 be able to discover the secret of Project Phoenix? Also in this volume, Bond antagonises a bomber known as Mr Ruby by appearing to be having an affair with the man's mistress; kidnaps another villain's lover to prevent her from divulging sensitive information she learned from her late father; and, while trying to locate a missing agent, rescues the man's feisty girlfriend from drowning when he finds her buried up to her neck on a deserted beach...

Titan should keep its press releases up to date! The one I received with the recent Superman graphic novel The Man of Steel - Volume 5 had a pull-quote from a review relating to the writer of a previous volume, For Tomorrow - Volume 2. The release for this latest compilation of James Bond newspaper strips boldly announces that: "The 21st Bond movie has been confirmed as Casino Royale, for release November 2006, with Daniel Craig ... taking over the role of 007." You heard it here last!

In other respects, though, Titan is getting ahead of itself. This graphic novel contains the stories The Phoenix Project, The Black Ruby Caper, Till Death Do Us Part and The Torch-Time Affair. That means we have skipped The Girl Machine, Beware of Butterflies and The Nevsky Nude. This is potentially rather confusing, since Butterflies introduced the female Double-0 agent Suzi Kew, who reappears in both Black Ruby and Torch-Time (though to be fair, the chapter openers do explain this fact). Those two strips also mention SMERSH, the Russian counter-intelligence organisation reintroduced, following a lengthy absence, in Nevsky (though its remit seems to have changed). I do hope Titan will get around to these stories before long.

Ah well, though we don't get to see The Nevsky Nude, there is certainly no shortage of other nudes here! Following the precedent set by Bond's trip to a nudist resort in Trouble Spot, the "Lady Godiva" horse rider in Isle of Condors and the naked ceremony in The League of Vampires, the last three strips in this collection feature almost wall-to-wall female nudity. However, whereas artist Yaroslav Horak previously kept things reasonably tasteful, here bare breasts are clearly visible throughout. Not that I'm a prude, but I'm more used to seeing this kind of thing in the likes of Axa, Jane and George & Lynne than in the world of James Bond.

Despite all the nudity, one bloke's trousers manage to reappear when they shouldn't for one panel in The Phoenix Project. A further shortcoming of Horak's art in this strip is that the characters of Margo Arden and Jenny Starbuck look almost identical to Miss Moneypenny and Suzi Kew respectively. The appearance and Harlem origins of Damara Carver in The Black Ruby Caper are also very reminiscent of Rosie Carver from the movie Live and Let Die, which was released just two years before the strip was published, though Damara is a far braver and more confident character than Rosie.

Some of the plots in this collection even seem similar to one another. Both Jenny Starbuck and Damara Carver wish to exonerate their disgraced fathers. In both The Black Ruby Caper and Till Death Do Us Part Bond abducts the main villain's lover, turning her or using her towards his own cause. However, the tables are turned on him somewhat (without wishing to give too much away) in the cleverly devised Torch-Time Affair. Another flaw is that writer Jim Lawrence seems to forget about his Starbuck plotline until close to the end of The Phoenix Project. And why, in the same story, doesn't Kazim simply deal with Dr Baar's betrayal legally? However, this is otherwise a very original and enjoyable strip.

The book also contains the second and final part of an analysis of the Bond girls from Fleming's stories and their comic-strip counterparts. There's no reason why this feature should not continue in future volumes, turning its attention instead towards the women of the original strips.

Though far from being the best work the Lawrence/Horak team has ever produced, this collection is still a worthwhile project.

Richard McGinlay

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