James Bond 007 and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Dynamite Entertainment and Ian Fleming Publications
In case the fact that I tried to stream ALL the James Bond video games a while back didn’t clue you in (the series is NOT dead; just on hold!), I am a HUGE James Bond fan. And the thing is, I’m a relatively new fan despite being such a big film nerd as I had only seen the Craig films, Dr. No, and From Russia with Love until I was what, twenty-five? Sure a lot of them have aged poorly (even the REALLY good ones like The Man with the Golden Gun and Diamonds are Forever are full of cringe), but I’ve always found the character to be endearing and most importantly a character who can grow and change with times he (and hopefully soon “she”) is in. Now yes, James Bond has dabbled a bit in comic books throughout the years, but they were all adaptations of the Ian Fleming books; even the VERY long running newspaper comic strips which are certainly interesting to look back on, but it wasn’t until Dynamite got the license a few years back that we got some genuine new adventures with James Bond in that format. So since I, like everyone else, is basically stuck at home for the next few months (and Humble Bundle was so gracious enough to give me most of these books for a mere fifteen bucks!), I’ll be looking at a few of the series they came out with; starting with James Bond 007 which is their most recent run with the character! Let’s get started!!
Issue 1 (November 2018)
The issue begins at an undisclosed location in Singapore where a Russian man with a rolling suitcase is meeting with a group of men for what I can only assume are EVIL reasons, but the meeting is cut short by the deadly chops and crushing kicks of a mysterious man in a bowler hat. Dude tears through the party like tissue paper, and yet in all the confusion the Russian man manages to escape to the elevator and gets off at the casino floor below where you know who has staked out a spot at the bar!
Now at this point Bond seems to have no idea what just happened on the roof of this building and is simply keeping an eye on the Russian dude from a strategically placed… Poker table? I’m actually not sure what they’re playing since it LOOKS there’s a Texas Hold’em flop, turn, and river on the table, but all the players have more than two cards. Heck, maybe this that Baccarat thing I’ve heard about! That’s hardly important though. What IS important is who decides to sit next to him and get all chummy; the assassin from earlier (sans the bowler hat) who is also after The Russian. It seems clear that our mystery man has an idea who Bond is, but it doesn’t take long for him to suspect our new friend named Mr. Lee is up to something. I’ll tell you what he’s up to! Charming the pants off of Bond AND the reader, because Lee is an AWESOME dude! Okay, he trying to horn in on Bond’s action, but the man is witty, fun loving, and darn good at his job (aside from letting the Russian guy escape), and you get the impression that Bond is just as smitten as we are! These two having their little secret agent man-crush is easily the best part of this entire story, and if the covers of future issues are to believed we’ll be getting PLENTY more of it!
Eventually Bond sees The Russian being taken to the kitchen to presumably escape and so he excuses himself from the game and his good friend Mr. Lee. However, Bond seems to have left a betting chip behind (or Mr. Lee is pretending he did) and follows him into the kitchen just as a hail of bullets starts raining down on him. Most of the bad guys have escaped, but one has a gun to Mr. Lee’s head and tells Bond to drop his weapon. Without a second thought Bond turns around and walks out which for anyone else would be a terrifying decision for the person taken hostage, but Mr. Lee is merely amused and gets himself out of the jam no problem. It’s at this point that the pretenses are dropped and the two of them start to REALLY get into this little game they’re playing! Seriously, James Bond has usually been a character that works best alone but I would pay SO much money to see Mr. Lee in whatever Bond movie they make after Craig finally splits the franchise!
[JB007-1-3 – And so they fight and fight and fight; the Russian dude being the furthest thing from their mind as they show off for one another in a beautiful ballet of violence! Lee is definitely the better fighter, but Bond proves to be craftier; getting the upper hand with a low blow and a knife. He dives to recover his gun, but when he stands… Mr. Lee is gone! So the Russian dude escaped AND the rival agent escaped. Probably not the peak of Bond’s career, but he managed to get a recording of their fight and plans on finding out who this mysterious Mr. Lee in the next issue; along with the Russian dude and whatever dastardly schemes are underway!
The plot is fine for what’s there, but without the hook of Mr. Lee this would only be about average. Bond is well characterized here and I believe him to be the character if not a specific recreation of one of the previous incarnations, but in an issue that was otherwise a slow burn, it had that one firecracker in it to catch my interest and keep me engaged!
Issue 2 (December 2018)
So the low hanging fruit that they hadn’t gotten around to in the last issue is that this new Mr. Lee guy is this comic’s version of Oddjob; one of the most endearing characters in the entire James Bond canon. Having held back JUST long enough to not seem entirely desperate to give us that bit of fan service, this issue BEGINS by flat out telling us that this is the new Oddjob. We get a story from some dude named Agent Edmundson who tells us of his one encounter with Oddjob back in… well I GUESS it would have to the eighties, and it turns out that this new guy Bond fought uses the EXACT SAME moves. I’m sure we’ll get more to this story later on, and more than likely some scenes with the original Oddjob, but for now the point has been made.
Speaking of references to the franchise, Moneypenny had a brief appearance in the last issue but has a more prominent role here and appears to be based off of her most recent incarnation as portrayed by Naomie Harris in that she’s basically a 00 agent herself in all but name. M is on hand as well as seems to be about the same as other versions of the character, and while there’s no one here referred to specifically as Q, there’s a guy who looks like an extra grumpy John Cleese called Armourer so I’m going to assume that’s the guy. I don’t know why they don’t just call him Q; maybe this is supposed to be R and Q will show up later. ANYWAY! M wants Bond to go after the Russian guy AGAIN, and this time to not mess it up by making moon eyes at Mr. Lee who is no doubt going to show up if he’s half as good as they think he is. So why is the Russian guy so important? Well apparently the case has something of VITAL important to some terrorist organization known as ORU who had recently murdered A THOUSAND PEOPLE IN BARCELONA for NO DISCERNABLE REASON. Sigh… okay, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that there IS a reason here and it’s some awesomely convoluted James Bond Villain plot, but just having Bad Guys who are bad because they’re Bad Guys is not what I’d call great writing. Still, the stakes are clear; stop Russian Dude from delivering his suitcase at all costs; and by all costs I mean that Bond is ordered to shoot him dead! He also has similar orders to not let Lee distract him from his mission which… I mean have you LOOKED at the guy?
MI-6 manages to track down Russian Dude (still no name on the poor bastard) who is still in Indonesia but is at some tourist trap fishing town and is being escorted by a woman who I can only assume is working with ORU to get him where he needs to go. Within SECONDS of Bond tailing him, Mr. Lee shows up with the biggest smile and explains that he needs the Russian alive to get more information out of him, and on top of that the Russian’s case has a bomb inside connected directly to his heartrate. If he dies, the bomb goes off and it could be anything from a bunch of M60s duct taped together to a dirty bomb. Money Penny who’s got a mic in Bond’s ear says she’ll look into it, but he’s not about to be outdone by Mr. Lee (first name John as he helpful informs us in this scene) and so starts firing at Russian Dude. Lee futzes with Bond’s aim so he misses, which sets off a HUGE gunfight between Bond and a bunch of mercenaries who were on the boat that Russian Dude and Escort Lady were just about to get on. From there we get a motorboat chase to rival that of Face/Off as Bond and Lee are still trying to outmatch each other while under a hail of bullets, but he eventually shakes Lee just long enough to land his boat on a shore somewhere and shoot a bunch of dudes. Then we get… another not so great plot point.
One of my favorite things in basically ANY form of media is henchmen. Just the idea that you’re someone who’s day job is to work for someone outright EVIL and how just one unlucky day lands you in the path of a James Bond or a Brock Sampson. The Venture Bros has been the definitive examination of this trope, I thought that the recent movie Bloodshot had a decent selection of them especially with the twist halfway through the movie, and I’d even argue that Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun is himself a henchman! He kills the person with the actual plans about halfway through the movie, and then the latter half is just about him selling off the super technology to remodel his island and killing Bond for the sport of it! Having the henchmen being mind-controlled into doing their job takes away their humanity which sure makes it easier to kill them I guess (though for all the wrong reasons), but it also means we can’t really have any fun with them. It makes them about as interesting as… well a terrorist organization that has no discernable motives. A bunch more of the pointless goons surround Bond, but Lee comes in guns a blazing and the two of them finish off the henchmen before turning the guns on each other. Lee offers a tentative truce for the next time they meet; they capture Russian Dude together, Lee gets to interrogate him, and THEN Bond gets to kill him. Seems like a decent plan that Bond agrees to (to the consternation of Money Penny), but it appears that this was all just a trick, and Lee runs off to a high vantage point to take aim at Bond! Oh no! Is this the end of our hero a mere two issues into the series!? Well you can all breathe easy because Bond finally manages to get a genuine upper hand on Lee as instead of going to his own boat he steals Lee’s boat to escape, and blows up the one he was driving so Lee is stuck there! BOND SHOCK!!
As important as the character himself is to the franchise, a lot of what makes the James Bond movies work is the style and aesthetic. The really great cinematography, the performances, and ESPECIALLY the iconic music, none of which was going to translate into a comic book and so they need something to really hook the reader in; something they can’t really get in the movies. John Lee as Bond’s rival is definitely that secret ingredient, and that’s not to say that this book would be BAD without him, but his personality and the way Bond acts around him is easily the best thing about this book. Other than that, I’m not the biggest fan of this kind of art style (I’m more of a toon guy myself), but they get a lot of mileage out of the characters facial expressions and the action is VERY easy to follow which is more than I can say for OTHER books I’m reviewing. It’s definitely a good start held up by a fun and likable new character, but let’s hope that they can flesh out the plot and the villains some more because EVIL TERRORISTS with MINDLESS HENCHMEN isn’t exactly doing it for me. I mean it’s better than say some dude who’s Bond’s adopted brother spending his whole life trying to mess with him and Bond at no point ever suspecting that to be the case, but who would be silly enough to write THAT story!?