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Warren Ellis is a great writer, and a perfect fit to adapt James Bond into comic book form. He’s got a facility with conspiracy and with the kind of fetishistic qualities of the Bond series, both as a film franchise and in the original literary form as written by Ian Fleming. He’s skilled at constructing action set pieces, and is one of the best comic writers around when it comes to structure and shape, especially when effectively crafting a compelling plot for a single issue. So, why did James Bond #8 fall flat for me?
The issue follows 007 as he tries to protect diplomatic worker Cadence Birdwhistle from various different forces out to kill her. As they travel from Los Angeles to London, Bond and Birdwhistle enjoy the kind of relationship Bond typically has with the women he crosses paths with (albeit with a kind of novel twist) and find themselves under attack from all sides.
The plot is pretty standard James Bond, frankly, with very little happening that you wouldn’t see in your average Bond story or film. Frankly, if you want to enjoy engrossing, complex and original tales of espionage you’re probably better off with John Le Carre or Len Deighton than Bond. What you go to Bond for is the style. Even if you eschew the cinematic version of Bond, with his exotic locales, flashy costumes and ambience and ever-present whiff of goofiness, the literary Bond still has a tone all its own. As Ellis is clearly drawing more from the Fleming novels (or at the very least, the 21st century Daniel Craig Bond films), then the issue should have a cold, ruthless elegance to it. Bond should feel like a shark in an expensive tailored suit, using his obsession with the finest material things to compensate for his lethal existence. While not every issue needs to plumb the depths of the character, that elegant and cool tone should always be there.
And James Bond #8 feels neither cool nor elegant. If Ellis is going for a more blasé, real-world feel to James Bond, that’s certainly an approach to take. But if you’re going to dispense with the surface pleasures of Bond, then I’d say you need to really have a compelling and captivating story going on. As it happens, everything in this issue feels familiar. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s also not a standout. It’s a solidly unremarkable plot, and if you’re going to have a bog standard James Bond narrative, is it too much to ask that you pack the story with atmosphere? As it happens, we get a hotel room, an airport and an office. I know not every issue is going to be set in hidden volcano lair, but this issue didn’t say James Bond to me. It did say secret agent, but it didn’t capture what sets Bond apart as a character that’s lasted for over fifty years.
A lot of that has to do with the art, I’m afraid. I don’t hate Jason Masters‘ art, but I’m not sure he’s a great fit for the material. There’s very little technically wrong, but the blandness of the issue does spring as much from the art as the writing. There’s not much Masters can do about the settings of the issue being a hotel room, an elevator and an office. But he could have designed the locations to be way more interesting than the frankly bland and nondescript ones that we get. Masters excels at the issue’s big action sequence, and emphasizing the efficient lethality of 007 is without a doubt the highlight of the issue. But the rest of the art feels flat and lacking in ambience or atmosphere or tone.
James Bond #8, to me, misses an essential part of James Bond. When Ian Fleming went into glamorous detail about the brand of vodka Bond liked, or the car he drove or suits he wore, it had a purpose. The exotic locales and fetishistic obsession with the sensuous pleasures of Bond’s world served to make him stand totally apart from the shabbier adventures of Graham Greene’s or Le Carre’s spies. With a solid but unremarkable plot, and really only a great action scene to buoy up the issue, one can’t help but keenly feel the absence of effective tone, wit and atmosphere. That’s why I have to give the issue 4.5/10.