On stands this week is a lovely gem of a classic espionage tale with a modern twist in Warren Ellis’s James Bond VARGR. Or should I say it’s shaken not stirred? Ellis has tackled espionage before with his criminally overlooked Global Frequency comic, and he is back in prime form rejuvenating Bond in a way SPECTRE was unable to do for me.
Ellis had the following to say on the iconic character:
There are very few existing properties that I’d be interested in writing. I like making up my own stories. As far as I’m concerned, that is in fact the job description of “writer”. There aren’t many pre-existing characters that I could be tempted with. I’ve resisted the temptation to do 2000AD properties I remain fond of; I couldn’t do JUDGE DREDD better than John Wagner, and, in fact, neither can anyone else, so I’ve denied myself the pleasure of solving story structures by having a huge bastard in green boots walk in and kill everybody. A JUDGE DREDD/TRANSMETROPOLITAN crossover book was suggested to me by DREDD publishers Fleetway once. I told them that it would be precisely one page long. Spider Jerusalem lights a cigarette. Judge Dredd shoots him. The end.
But if someone asked me to write a James Bond film, you wouldn’t see my arse for dust.
I’ve read most of the Ian Fleming novels, seen most of the films once they’ve come to TV. I’m not a fanatic by any means. But James Bond exerts a terrible fascination nonetheless. I even did an interview piece on how I’d write Bond for a Texan newspaper a couple of years ago. So did Bruce Sterling, who offered a disturbing opinion about Bond as a shaven-headed Ibiza DJ. You’re going to hell for that one, Bruce, and you will discover that Satan is English.
The books are notably less spectacular and far more low-key than the films. Dr No was a crazed guano millionaire and had no nuclear missiles, spaceship-eaters or any of the good stuff we associate with Bond Villains. Tiger Tanaka’s great test of Bond was making him compose a naff haiku. It’s often quite bland stuff, great long travelogues and pages describing banquets and furniture. In the guts of it, though, is Bond as a scarred man with clear psychological damage, often on the edge of being removed from service by M on mental health grounds. It’s made stridently obvious that being on the 00 detail of the Secret Service is a job that fucks you up.
Bond is not a superman. He prevails because he is quite simply nastier and more determined to wreak utter bloody havoc than the next guy. In some ways — and I don’t think Fleming was unaware of this — he is what Allen Ginsberg called “bleak male energy,” causing and taking immense damage in single-minded pursuit of what he wants. At the conclusion of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the front end of his personality essentially rubbed out by torture, drugs, multiple trauma and a sequence of horrible mental hammerblows, there is an almost disturbing glimpse of an amnesiac Bond as gentle, open, devoted, and almost sweet. And his lover dreads the day that he recovers.
He is England’s blunt instrument of international assault — the spiteful, vicious bastard of a faded empire that still wants the world to do as it’s bloody well told.
Most importantly; he beats people up and makes stuff explode.
The films try to recoil from Bond the bastard, most obviously in the later, parodic Roger Moore horrors. But in Connery, in Dalton and even in Pierce Brosnan, Bond’s essential ruthlessness comes through. Wolf-eyed Timothy Dalton had the best shot at being truly frightening, but he was hamstrung by some horrible scripts, and I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. Clive Owen is pretty much the only choice to take over after Brosnan, and I’d assume that a serious overhaul of the franchise would have to accompany that.
I can be contacted via agent Angela Cheng Caplan at The Cheng Caplan Company, if there are any producers on serious medication out there. Because both me and Bruce were right; James Bond needs to reflect his times.
But I wouldn’t make him a DJ.
And stuff would blow up really good.
I think maybe I need another drink now.
(Originally written in 2002.)
The comic unfolds like a perfect Bond movie, with a brutal and engaging mission. We are then treated to Ellis’s take on the supporting characters and details of Bond’s world. Ellis has set the stage for a faithful and fresh look at the master spy.
Be sure to check it out, and let me know what you think of the comic below.