“This is meant to be Fleming’s Bond.” – Warren Ellis, Orbital Operations newsletter, Nov. 1, 2015.
“It would be more accurate to compare a novel by Fleming to a game of basketball played by the Harlem Globetrotters against a local team. We know with absolute confidence that the Globetrotters will win: the pleasure lies in watching the trained virtuosity with which they defer the final moment, with what ingenious deviations they reconfirm the foregone conclusion, with what trickeries they make rings around their opponents.” – Umberto Eco, “Narrative Structures in Fleming,” 1965.
With the first issue of Dynamite Entertainment’s James Bond series, writer Warren Ellis’ stated objective is to capture the qualities of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. The implication of this statement is that the series will more closely match the aesthetics and structure of Fleming’s Bond novels rather than subsequent cinematic interpretations of the character. While Ellis’ script accomplishes this, he also brings a modernity to the character and setting that the art team of Jason Masters and Guy Major render with great skill.
Umberto Eco was one of the first literary critics to recognize the artistic merits of Fleming’s work. In his study “Narrative Structures in Fleming,” Eco examines the repetitive plot structure of Fleming’s Bond novels, and recognizes that Bond and supporting characters have a limited depth and complexity. However, Eco finds that Fleming skillfully distracts readers from this lack of depth and the character’s sometimes unbelievable feats with a fast-paced narrative and an intense focus on realistic details that ground the story and make it more believable.
Ellis and Masters do the same in this first issue. The comic opens with a fast-paced chase and fight sequence in snowy Helsinki, but the reader can’t help but notice the sharp details provided by Masters – the cost of fuel at a local gas station is as prominent and intriguing as the person that is running through the street at night, and the dirt under the fingernails of Bond’s foe is just as captivating as the blood that flies from the enemy’s body.
The comic follows the structure of a Fleming novel neatly, with Bond’s boss M crisply giving him an assignment while setting up the next challenge – a new drug is having strange effects on its users, and the British government wants to put an early and permanent end to it. A mysterious and sinister villain takes measures to stop Bond. The conflict is being set up, to be resolved in future issues.
Masters achieves with his art what Fleming did with his prose – he gives great detail to the mundane and the quick action scenes are more easily accepted by readers as a result. Ellis’ script does the same – Bond’s conversations about his frustrations with British bureaucracy may seem out of place in an action comic book, but the action is more believable because Ellis makes Bond’s world more believable.
Colorist Guy Major uses a palette to accentuate the action and excitement of the story, and his colors work with Masters’ art to give the comic a gritty, realistic look, but also a cinematic flair.
The first issue of James Bond is a fast, engaging comic that should appeal to readers that are unfamiliar with the character, as well as Bond aficionados.