James Bond 007

Authors: Ian Fleming and Jim Lawrence
Artist: Yaroslav Horak
Titan Books
RRP 10.99, US S16.95
ISBN 1 84023 743 0
Available 21 May 2004

When an old friend's body is found in the Alps more than 20 years after he disappeared, James Bond sets out to find the man's killer, and is soon embroiled in a plot with Chinese Tongs and Nazi gold...

This is the second volume in Titan's series of reprints of the classic James Bond syndicated newspaper strip. The first volume was The Man with the Golden Gun, which may seem like a strange place to start, but in fact this is where the strip began to get really interesting. Having successfully augmented Ian Fleming's below-par The Man with the Golden Gun with a new sub-plot, ghost writer Jim Lawrence added even more to his adaptations of the short stories Octopussy and The Hildebrand Rarity, both of which are presented in this collection.

Required to string out the narrative of Octopussy to 165 daily instalments, Lawrence retained the spirit of Fleming's morality tale, but gave Bond a much more active role, two beautiful females to accompany him, and a couple of extra villains to threaten the agent's life. The women in question are Mary Goodnight, who flirts outrageously with 007, and Trudi Oberhauser, the daughter of the ski instructor whose body is discovered at the beginning of the tale, in whose company Bond remains a consummate gentleman. The additional villains are the murderous Foo brothers, who manage a business front laundering the gold stolen by Major Dexter Smythe, the protagonist from the original short story.

This is a very strong strip, though it does take a while to get going, with several panels merely re-treading Bond's insistence that Smythe is a murder suspect and M's reluctance to accept the theory. Conversely, the final instalment is extremely abrupt, and more time could have been spent rounding off the story. Still, it's a more faithful adaptation than the movie version!

Assigned to track down a top-secret robot submarine lost in the Indian Ocean, Bond encounters a wife-beater called Milton Crest and his hunt for an elusive fish known as the Hildebrand Rarity...

In The Hildebrand Rarity, Lawrence once again preserves the vital core of Fleming's original story, in this case the truly despicable Milton Krest, who remains every bit as loathsome as ever. (He would resurface again in the movie Licence to Kill, with his traits shared out between the characters of Krest and Franz Sanchez.)

The writer does an even better job of beefing up the story than he did with Octopussy, seamlessly grafting on a plotline concerning a missing robot submarine carrying a hi-tech "black box" device called ULRAC (Underwater Long-RAnge Communication). The pace of the narrative never lets up for a moment, while the search for ULRAC notably predates the role played by the ATAC device in the movie version of For Your Eyes Only.

A scuba-diving theme links the two stories in this volume, while Bond's changing attitude towards Germans seems strangely at odds. In Octopussy, 007 has great fondness for his German mentor and the man's daughter Trudi, whereas in The Hildebrand Rarity Bond has little time for Krest's "Kraut" henchmen (also new to the comic strip).

A commendable common factor, though, is Yaroslav Horak's artwork, which leads the eye effortlessly across the page throughout.

Richard McGinlay

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