James Bond 007
The Man with the Golden Gun

Authors: Ian Fleming and Jim Lawrence
Artist: Yaroslav Horak
Titan Books
RRP: 10.99, US S16.95
ISBN 1 84023 690 6
Available 20 February 2004

James Bond is dead! Or so his employers at MI5 believe... until he mysteriously returns, brainwashed by the KGB, and attempts to assassinate M. With his conditioning removed, Bond has only one shot at redemption: a suicide mission against the deadliest assassin of them all, Francisco Scaramanga, "The Man with the Golden Gun"...

This is the first in a series of reprints of the classic James Bond syndicated newspaper strip, which began in the Daily Express way back in 1958.

The Man with the Golden Gun, which first appeared in comic strip form in 1966, may seem like a strange place to start, especially since it picks up from the end of the previous story, You Only Live Twice, with an amnesiac Bond, missing presumed dead, heading for Russia. However, Golden Gun, which marked the start of the strip's third series, is in many ways where things began to get really interesting.

It sees the debut of a new writer, Jim Lawrence, who, unlike his predecessor Henry Gammidge, was not averse to "tinkering" with Ian Fleming's plots. This is a good thing in this case because the original novel, barely completed before Fleming's death, is one of the author's weakest. Its plot rehashed the Caribbean location of Live and Let Die and Dr No, and the hoods' convention from Goldfinger, with a little bit of Live and Let Die's voodoo thrown in. The eponymous villain is little more than a vicious hoodlum, a far cry from criminal masterminds such as Dr No, Goldfinger or Blofeld, or even the suave anti-Bond played by Christopher Lee in the movie version.

Lawrence augments the narrative with a new sub-plot, in which the recuperating Bond meets an old friend, a crippled victim of Scaramanga's sadism. This provides 007 with an additional motivation for taking on the villain.

The strip is also the first to be drawn by artist Yaroslav Horak. His very detailed, slightly exaggerated line work, together with his dynamic range of close-ups and action shots ensure that his work stands the test of time better than that of his predecessor, John McLusky.

Interestingly, just as the movie producers developed a tradition of not immediately revealing the face of any new actor playing 007, Lawrence and Horak keep their "new" face of Bond hidden until the eighth panel.

A melancholy Bond faces another sharpshooter: a KGB sniper, from whom 007 must protect a double agent as he crosses the Berlin Wall...

This volume also contains an introduction by Ian Fleming's niece, Lucy, background notes by Bond historian Paul Simpson, a handy checklist of syndicated James Bond strips, and Lawrence and Horak's adaptation of the short story The Living Daylights.

Unlike the movie version of Golden Gun, which contained few similarities to the novel of the same name (apart from certain character names and the occasional line of dialogue, such as the phrase: "tight in all the right places"), the 1987 Daylights film contained a very faithful translation of the short story, and the rest of its plot was built around that. Working along similar lines, Lawrence takes the original story as his starting point, and adds details to the backstories of double agent 272 and the KGB sniper Trigger. However, as Paul Simpson notes, this strip, in which Bond is feeling bored and insubordinate, would have fitted in better between Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, during Bond's long and fruitless search for Blofeld (reflecting the publication date of the original story), than after The Man with the Golden Gun, when 007 would presumably have a strong desire to take revenge on the Russians.

Nor is Titan's choice of image to illustrate the Living Daylights chapter opener very sensible. Admittedly, most Bond fans will already know the identity of Trigger (no, it's not that bloke from Only Fools and Horses), but this image will spoil it for anyone who doesn't.

Despite such imperfections, this is a fantastic collection, and hopefully Titan intends to reprint every strip on its checklist.

Richard McGinlay

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