Tony Black reviews James Bond Vol. 1: Vargr…
After a mission of vengeance in Helsinki, James Bond returns to London and assumesthe workload of a fallen 00 Section agent. His new mission takes him to Berlin, presumably to break up an agile drug-trafficking operation. But Bond has no idea of the forces gathered in secret against him, the full scope of an operation that’s much scarier and more lethal than he could possibly imagine. Berlin is about to catch fire… and James Bond is trapped inside.
After quite some time in the wilderness, James Bond makes a stylish, triumphant return in comic book form with Vargr, the first six-part series now available in trade, from writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Masters. It’s the opening salvo from Dynamite Entertainment, having purchased a ten year license from Ian Fleming Publications to produce 007 comics, a body who themselves requested Ellis come aboard and re-introduce Bond in the comic book world. Ellis took a great deal of inspiration from Fleming’s novels when penning his story, while Masters himself went back to Fleming’s own illustrations owned by the estate, plus the work of John McLusky who first drew a 007 comic way back in the 1950’s. The result is a defiantly Fleming-esque collection, resplendent in the black wit of the author and the hard-edged, cold world that Bond inhabited in the early stories, simply given a 21st century sheen with a modern day setting. By degrees nonetheless, these six issues are stylish, sexy and on the whole in the best traditions of Fleming himself.
Not that that stops Ellis from throwing in a few of his own touches that you suspect Fleming would have baulked at, chiefly the first ever black ‘M’ as 007’s boss, with a Naomie Harris-esque black Moneypenny also retained. It allows for a welcome sense of diversity in a story which, by definition, is framed in a very white, European story which indeed hinges ultimately on the concept of genocide. Ellis introduces Bond in near-iconic fashion, chasing down a villain the cold Helsinki before despatching him in ruthless tones; you’ll recall the opening of Casino Royale, the film, and that’s no bad thing.
Ellis though importantly doesn’t try and be too post-modern – this is very much a fusion of the cold-hearted bastard of Fleming with the classic style and suave of Connery or Brosnan, replete with those same moments of flirting shamelessly with Moneypenny or exasperating an older, portly ‘Q’. That doesn’t make it less progressive than Craig’s Bond, rather more sprightly (in the way recently Spectre at the movies attempted to get back to). This Bond isn’t afraid to have a bit of slap & tickle and a stiff drink while getting the job done in very stern, British terms, and while he’s almost a stock representation of what the man may look like, he’s very close to the Fleming interpretation, and that’s how Masters successfully draws him.
Indeed Masters makes sure Vargr as a collection has a sense both of that seductive Bond style we’re used to in the movies, alongside that same penchant for violent nihilism sometimes apparent in Fleming’s books; he’s unafraid to spill the claret and show some serious bloodletting and viciousness in his panels, which complement the sinister ice that Ellis delivers in his villains. Truthfully they’re not among the most memorable of Bond villains but given they’re in the modern day, they have nice inflections of the older, camper bad guys we’ve loved Bond for over the years – whether it’s the openly sex addicted psychosis of lady killer Dharma Reach (a classic Bond Girl name), or the smooth deadliness of bad guy Slaven Kurjak, a Serbian scientist with a scaly robotic appendage; given how he charms Bond before seeking his death, there are whiffs of urbane villains of old such as Hugo Drax or elements of Blofeld which entertain. Ellis does manage to update the villainy within Vargr while keeping everything grounded enough to, much like in the Craig Bond movies and recent novelisations, remain believable to a modern day audience.
The six parts do read well rolling into each other, especially given Vargr does have a relatively slim story, but it does allow Warren Ellis frequently to stop and explore both Bond’s character but give some nice addition and inflection to support characters–such as the MI6 agents he meets at Berlin station–who otherwise might just have been passing figures in a bloated story. There’s a suave style to Vargr which really pays respectful service to the character Ian Fleming tried to create and given how well this trade is collected, festooned with concept art which shows how Jason Masters came to create the myriad of characters within, any Bond fan will be left salivating somewhat for where Ellis & Masters take the character in his next run of stories. Good work, 007.
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