James Bond 007
Casino Royale

Authors: Ian Fleming, Anthony Hern and Henry Gammidge
Artist: John McLusky
Titan Books
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84023 843 7
Available 25 March 2005

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

I have previously criticised Titan for the apparently random order of these classic reprints of the James Bond newspaper strip. This, the fifth such volume, takes us right back to the beginning, with the adaptations of Ian Fleming's first three novels, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker. But could there be some method in the apparent madness of Titan's release schedule? This collection is in fact quite well timed, coming hot on the heels of the announcement that the next Bond film will be called... Casino Royale. Did Titan know something we didn't?

As you might expect, the art is less refined than that of later strips. John McLusky's work in Casino Royale is more Jane than James Bond. Anthony Hern, in his only script for the series, tones down Fleming's infamous carpet-beater torture sequence, which is understandable considering the medium in question.

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 the subsequent stories, and adopts the unusual device of having Bond narrate the 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 (who writes the introduction to this volume), apart from the 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, when it was spoken by Kamal Kahn. In fact, this version of Drax proved 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 very 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 she 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.

All in all, this collection is a fascinating look back in time, showing the early development of the comic strip series.

Richard McGinlay

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