I like to check in with Dynamite‘s James Bond line of titles, because so far they’ve been very good at attracting top notch talent to their collection of books following the adventures of Ian Fleming’s 007 and his allies. Some of the stories have impressed me, others less so, but overall the line of books have demonstrated an effective and coherent approach to telling Bond stories in the modern age that don’t copy the Eon film series while still capturing the stripped-down lethal vibe that has reinvigorated that franchise. The James Bond: Service one-shot, by writer Keiron Gillen and artist Antonio Fuso effectively captures the cold ruthlessness of the world’s greatest secret agent, even as the story is more comfortable with having a sense of humor than other titles. However, the limited page count that comes with a one-shot means that the story itself is a fairly predictable and simplistic plot without a tone of twists or surprises. Gillen and Fuso do make up for this by injecting a timely social commentary element to the story, but even this inspiration isn’t enough to make the story feel anything more than serviceable.
There’s a new US Secretary of State visiting London, and his view of the special relationship between the US and the UK is simple; Great Britain has nothing to offer America anymore. This stance of course rankles Bond, who finds himself assigned to investigate a credible threat against the visiting Secretary. Forced to operate unarmed within England’s borders, Bond sets out to accomplish his mission, seeing it as an opportunity to also remind the Secretary exactly how useful MI6 and England can be.
Given the current political climate of the globe, with the US having recently elected a populist leader with heavy nationalist leanings, as well as the rise of darker white nationalist and xenophobic groups scuttling out of the shadowy fringes, Gillen and Fuso certainly couldn’t have picked more timely and resonant themes to explore. Their story may have even greater relevance than they could have predicted, what with the news earlier in the week that President Trump had revealed classified secrets to the Russians, data collected apparently by a foreign intelligence service and illustrative of just how much the US does rely on the work done by allies such as MI6. There’s certainly a ton of meat on those bones, and these issues would provide enough foundation for a bevy of espionage thrillers.
It’s a bit of a shame therefore, that all this richness of material is put in service of a really basic adventure with James Bond: Special. Being a one-shot and therefore having a limitation on the space the team has to tell their story is definitely a factor, of course, but there’s certainly enough room to provide at least one twist or turn to the story. I like the little touches that Gillen employs, such as an unarmed James Bond having to utilize his guile as opposed to his trusty Walther, and the final action set piece revolves around Bond making the most of obsolete weaponry, which is a nice twist. But Gillen has Bond follow a pretty basic straight line from point A to point B, and 007 never really seems challenged or over his head for even a second. In fact, the whole reason why 007 is in the right position to even try to save the day relies on the baddies choosing not to kill him but rather cart him around for no reason whatsoever. I know Bond villains are famous for coming up with convoluted reasons to not simply kill Bond, but at least they try to offer a reason.
Thankfully, Fuso’s art on James Bond: Special doesn’t disappoint. Like most of the Bond Dynamite titles, Fuso provides a hyper-really, grounded and lean approach that really keeps things focused on the action and the pace. But there are some more inventive touches on display, the best sequence being one showing Bond actually doing some investigating legwork, a thing we rarely see him do anymore. But Fuso and Gillen don’t depict the montage using dialogue, but instead utilize a pictographic approach that is more interesting and entertaining than the same old, same old.
So, while I appreciated much of James Bond: Special, including the timely concerns of the piece, the satisfying art, and the novel approach to a Bond limited by hardware and therefore forced to be clever, the basic and uninspired threat and plot served to make the story feel more functional than its good points deserved. 6.5/10
James Bond: Special will be released May 24, 2017.