Thursday, December 1, 2016

James Bond Comic Book Day

Apart from the comic strips that debuted in Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express newspaper in 1958, with Casino Royale being the very first story arc to be serialized and closely adapted from the novel, Ian Fleming's secret agent, James Bond didn't quite make an appearance in the world of straight-up comic books until 1st of December 1962 in an issue of Classics Illustrated, featuring an adaptation of the very first film in the series, Dr. No. As of today, the world of James Bond comic books (and not strips) celebrates its 54th Anniversary, and since it does not get enough recognition as much as the genre of the mainstream superheroes does, it's quite worth to mark this day as International James Bond Comic Book Day, similar to that of the "Global James Bond Day" in October that the producers of the film franchise have appointed in 2012 due to its 50 years of ongoing existence.

Classics Illustrated #158A
Featuring Dr. No cover artwork
by Norman J. Nodel
After the success of the very first James Bond film, Dr. No in 1962, a comic book adaptation of the motion picture (that, in turn, was based on the novel of the same name) consisting of 32 pages that feature the likenesses of some of the actors from the movie, particularly Sean Connery serving as the face of the James Bond character, was published in Issue #158A of Classics Illustrated in the United Kingdom in December that year, and later made its appearance on the American market in DC Comics' Showcase anthology series in its 43rd issue, of which due to the censors at the time, many elements were altered from its British counterpart as well as both have had different cover artworks by different artists. Those being Norman J. Nodel, whose work was more akin to a film poster, and Bob Brown, who delivered a comic-oriented cover featuring a piece from the climax of the adventure. The European reprints of the comic book, which were published under the Detective Stories label of Dell Publishing, used Nodel's artwork rather than Brown's. In the U.S., the comic suffered from poor sales and experienced a lack of interest despite the film franchise going rather strong among the pop culture, DC Comics elected not to use the intellectual property for future publications ever again, despite their possession of the license to publish comics based on Fleming's character up until 1972. Ironically, before Connery's departure from the series, writer Alex Toth and artist Jack Kirby were contracted to work on a James Bond comic book until DC decided against going ahead with the idea.

A panel from the Dr. No comic book, featuring James Bond with Sean Connery's likeness.
It wasn't until October 1981 that James Bond appeared in a comic book, again. But, this time, the comic was published by Marvel Comics, with the first one being an adaptation of the film released the same year, For Your Eyes Only, in two issues. Unlike Dr. No, this comic book was its own rather than being part of an anthology series, adapted by Larry Hama, known for his work on the G.I. Joe comics, and illustrated by artists Howard Chaykin and Vincent Colletta. It was labeled as a Marvel Movie Special, and likewise used then-current actor Roger Moore's likeness of the Bond character. It was followed by an adaptation of the film Octopussy two years later, scripted by Steve Moore (not related to Roger Moore) from Richard Maibaum's screenplay, and illustrated by Paul Neary. The comic itself credits the actors portraying their respectful characters before opening the first panel.

A panel from Octopussy.
A page from the Licence To Kill
comic book.
After Marvel decided not to continue with the intellectual property, the Bond comics were put on hold until the now-defunct Eclipse Comics and Acme Press acquired license to submit publications based on the character, beginning with an adaptation of Licence To Kill in 1989 by Mike Grell, who worked both on scripting it as well as the artwork, which was published as a graphic novel in both paperback and hardback formats, consisting of 44 pages of action and excitement, mirroring the events of the motion picture itself. However, unlike the previous comic book adaptations of the Bond films, the artwork that includes Bond is not drawn to resemble its cinematic counterpart due to Timothy Dalton's refusal to have his likeness licensed, despite the cover art featuring an official still from the film with Dalton in the guise of James Bond.

In the meantime, Mike Grell was working on another comic book based on Ian Fleming's character, but this time it was rather an original story, for which some say it was his primary focus while working on the adaptation of the 16th film in the James Bond series. Titled Permission To Die, it was the first comic in the franchise to feature an all-new plot that wasn't based on any kind of an existing material, published over the course of two years in three issues, with the first two arriving on the shelves in 1989. The third and last issue was delayed and didn't debut until 1991 due to unknown reasons. In the story, James Bond is assigned to facilitate an exchange on behalf of the British authorities towards Doctor Erik Wizialdo who offers England his revolutionary satellite launching technology. In order to validate the exchange, 007 must rescue and deliver Wizialdo's niece, Edaine Gayla, to safety from the Czechoslovakian legal jurisdiction at whose hands she was held a prisoner. As the mission progresses, Bond discovers that there are far deadlier schemes planned ahead than the simple change of hands agreed upon. Creator Mike Grell based 007's appearance on that of Fleming's original depiction of the character in resemblance of "Hoagy Carmichael with cold eyes, cruel mouth and piece of hair falling down over the right eyebrow." Other than Bond, Grell modeled the character of Wizialdo after the famous British actor Terence Stamp. With that out of the way, Eclipse Comics suffered from various problems they chose not to release further comics using the James Bond license.

Bond experiences a brief flashback to his past ventures in Permission To Die.
Ian Fleming Publications, then-called Glidrose Publications had a deal struck with Dark Horse Comics to release comics using the James Bond license, which had become effective in 1992, leading the company to publish several comic books featuring the character, with the exclusion of any adaptation based on any film or novel. Dark Horse's efforts were to make the James Bond comics its own franchise rather than leaning onto the popularity of either the movies or the books, going as far to publish six separate Bond thrillers by several authors. One could argue that the reason their tenure did not include an adaptation was the lackluster of new entries in the cinematic department when the film franchise was experiencing a hiatus at the time. Dark Horse Comics elevated the James Bond comics medium to a new height with its originality, creativity and the reception it gathered from critics.

James Bond 007: Serpent's Tooth
cover artwork by
Paul Gulacy and Egon Selby
The first one from the company to make its debut was the collaborative work of two legendary and overwhelmingly-praised talents, Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy, presenting the wildest and most entertaining James Bond comic book to date that was published in three issues, called Serpent's Tooth. A comic that may have been not based on any film, but had every key element to make it the most satisfying visuals for a James Bond film the escapist kind of fanatic would have wanted to see in the nineties, something akin to the Pierce Brosnan era films [taken to eleven] that arrived three years later. In this adventure, Bond investigates the disappearance of a fellow 00-agent who was assigned to gather information on a crisis that oversaw the abduction of six nuclear missiles from a Royal Navy submarine. Taking up the workload of his colleague, the trail leads 007 to a revealing scheme orchestrated by a madman who believes he is the 'great' serpent, who, if not stopped, would bring Armageddon on the doorsteps of mankind. The adventure itself is the richest, as of yet, of all the comic books that included Fleming's hero, exotic locales and colorful elements thanks to Paul Gulacy's skillful hands that delivered a beautiful art, not forgetting to credit its colorist, Steve Oliff. The comic book, after completing its issue-individual publication, was collected in a paperback, featuring a cover artwork by Paul Gulacy and Egon Selby, not too different from the film poster of Live and Let Die. Those who are familiar with it, might spot a few guises and disguises that might have influenced the 2009 American sit-com, Archer by Adam Reed who admittedly said he based its title character on none other than Bond himself.

The opening title card of Serpent's Tooth done in the vein of the iconic
main title sequences from the film series.

The second entry in Dark Horse's series of James Bond comic books came to be A Silent Armageddon, by creators Simon Jowett and John M. Burns. Out of planned four issues, the publishers only released two of them, thus to this day, the story arc of the comic book remains incomplete. Burns, who illustrated the artwork of the comic, also worked on the covers, having previously worked on Modesty Blaise comic strips, whose titular character is considered to be one of Bond's other spy franchise counterparts. In this adventure, Bond is assigned to protect a teenage computer genius and learn the secrets behind a program she had been developing called Omega, which carried a very valuable possession of all - a consciousness. Originally, the infamous antagonist organization in the franchise, SPECTRE was to play a major role in the thriller, but Glidrose Publications blocked its use, hence an alternative was born instead, called Cerberus. In addition to the rise of a new terrorist organization for Agent 007 to fight, the main villain is not a total stranger to Bond from whom he seeks revenge for killing his mother. Erik Klebb, the son of a dangerous mastermind Rosa Klebb who Bond killed in From Russia with Love. Reportedly, Issue #3's story was complete and the artwork arrived six months after its release date, but Dark Horse chose to cancel the miniseries. The last issue, however, was never finished. Apparently, the final confrontation would have included Bond, aided by a group of mercenaries, going on to raid on the main base of Cerberus and their operation to spread a deadly computer virus across the globe via the Omega program and battle Erik Klebb in cyberspace. The first two issues were published in March and May 1993, and the latter two, consecutively were scheduled for August and October release that year. Plot elements from the story might have been either used or lifted from a screenplay for the proposed seventeenth James Bond film in the series with Timothy Dalton in the lead, by Alfonso M. Ruggerrio and Michael G. Wilson, that was later abandoned.

Dark Horse Comics #10
featuring Light of My Death
cover art by Paul Gulacy
and Egon Selby
The next one to be published by Dark Horse Comics was Light of My Death, written by Das Petrou and illustrated by John Watkiss, and serialized in four issues of the conveniently called Dark Horse Comics (#8 to #11) that included other intellectual properties similarly treated as the Bond title. Unlike the publisher's previous efforts, this comic was set in the 1960s and sees the return of Tatiana Romanova, the Bond Girl from From Russia with Love. This one also was to feature SPECTRE as the primary antagonists, but settled for stand-ins instead. The organization is unnamed, but the main villain, who has many similarities with Ernst Stavro Blofeld, including a white Persian cat, is called Mr. Amos and orchestrates the schemes from his private quarters while his underlings carry them out. Bond is assigned to investigate the death of a fellow agent in the French Alps who was on to expose a plan to abscond a large slice of the US' financial aid at South China Sea and prevent the assassination of worldwide government delegates at a press conference in Egypt. This time, at the height of the Cold War, Bond's pair-up with KGB is officiated as both parties tend the stop the world from delving into chaos. Light of My Death's publication ran from March to June 1994.

Bond slips out of his "homeless man"
disguise as he reports for duty.
In Dark Horse Comics Issue #25, another Bond adventure made its arrival alongside an unrelated franchise, akin to the publication of Light of My Death, it was split to three parts. Doug Moench returns to pen yet another story for a James Bond comic book, and the art was done by Russ Heath who also worked on the cover art, called Minute of Midnight. This time around, there's a first time an element makes an appearance in a James Bond adventure, and that being given an originality when in the opening scene, Bond is disguised as a homeless old man, spying on a meeting via a planted earpiece while fighting a few crooks on the streets to keep his cover clean and intact. His assignment is to deliver an audio tape he recorded while eavesdropping on the conversation he was spying on right down to England when the head of CIA decides to hand over the case to the British foreign intelligence due to the main villain's association with the country and its politics. Calling themselves Lexis, the group of secret society were planning to sabotage nuclear power plants around the world. Despite being the shortest comic book in the franchise, it features one of the most iconic fights ever drawn that resemble the freefall scene from Moonraker's pre-title sequence. It's rather obvious the story was rushed and Dark Horse Comics were willing to publish all the remains of their Bond stories in development due to their license coming close to expire. Otherwise, Minute of Midnight actually comes to be the set-up of a planned ongoing story-arc to a serialized James Bond thriller. Especially when its ending oversaw a Lexis sleeper agent within the British ministry planning the abduction of "M". The issue came out in September 1994.

Up on next in the publication of James Bond comic books, Dark Horse Comics returned to giving each title in its own individual format. Two-issue miniseries Shattered Helix arrived on the shelves, with Simon Jowett, the author of A Silent Armageddon, returning to pen another story and develop his crime syndicate, Cerberus, further. In this adventure, Bond appears to be age older than his norm, assigned to stop the evil organization from getting their hands on a wrongfully flourished disease said to be located at a secret laboratory in the heart of the Antarctic. One of the comic's highlights is a bulletproof man called Bullock, whose skin itself is shaped of a thick body armour, similar to the Marvel Comics superhero, Luke Cage. Since Dark Horse's tenure in the Bond series were nearing to its end, Jowett concludes the chronicles of Cerberus as every remaining member of the organization winds up dead as the disease is released through gas form contained solely in the laboratory at the climax. A few previous mentions, in order to keep up with the continuity, of the events regarding the case of the Omega program (A Silent Armageddon) were made. The artwork was illustrated by David Jackson and the colors were provided by David Lloyd.

James Bond 007: The Quasimodo Gambit
cover artwork by Chris Moeller
The Quasimodo Gambit was the very last comic book to have been published by Dark Horse Comics that fully oversaw a conveniently-paced James Bond thriller, divided in three issues by writer Don McGregor and artist Gary Caldwell. According to McGregor, the story was written and the script was finished six years prior to its publication, which makes it valid for 1989 to cite. By that time, Eclipse Comics had the license to release comics based on Ian Fleming's character, so it's questionable whether this comic was intended for Eclipse rather than Dark Horse. In this story, James Bond is sent to sabotage a meeting between an arms dealer and a terrorist group who were scheming to blow up a business commercial building at the heart of the Rockefeller Center in New York. It is also one of the comics where Bond's loyal ally and CIA agent Felix Leiter plays a large role in the pacing of the plot rather than just being a background noise, in a similar way to Fleming's last Bond novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, released posthumously in 1966. McGregor mentioned in his acknowledgment that he wanted Tracy's death to come back to haunt Bond in a flashback at the near end of the story but chose not to use that element. He was ultimately dissatisfied with the comic book he claimed to have been discouraged due to the changes he had requested have not been made. The third and last issue of comic was published in May 1995 and Dark Horse Comics' era of James Bond adventures came to its final conclusion.
Two of  Gary Caldwell's planned artworks for The Quasimodo Gambit.

GoldenEye Issue #1
cover art by Brian Stelfreeze
When GoldenEye came to hit the theatres in November 1995 after a six-year hiatus that the James Bond film franchise had suffered from, the impact upon the pop culture was rather large it ended up being one of the most iconic Bond films of all time, thus relaunching the series' popularity that was declining in the 1980s, and served as the debut of fifth actor to play the role, Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007. It wasn't too long after the release of the film when Topps Comics had acquired the license to publish comics based on Fleming's hero, and their decided to adapt the seventeenth film in the series to a comic book, keeping the actor's likeness intact for the secret agent. The first issue was released in January 1996, with Don McGregor, who wrote The Quasimodo Gambit, reprising his role as the script writer, while Claude St. Aubin and Rick Magyar worked on the art. According to McGregor, development on the comic began in March 1995 and he was given the film's script to "translate a 150-page screenplay into a 70-something pages of comics," noting that he was excited to get back to working on a James Bond thriller, again. But, due to unfortunate circumstances, the remaining two issues have been cancelled and the true reasons behind forfeiting the publication of the movie tie-in comic were never stated, meeting the same fate as A Silent Armageddon that didn't complete its run. For further reading in GoldenEye, visit Nicolás Suszczyk's The GoldenEye Dossier webpage.

Unreleased cover artworks for the planned GoldenEye Issue #2 and #3

For nearly twenty years after Topps Comics abandoned the license, the character of James Bond in his mainstream and adult form never appeared in a comic, again in an almost two-decade time, other than the reprints of the old comic strips via Titan Books in collected omnibus paperbacks. One spin-off, concentrating on Fleming's hero in his teenage years adapted from Charlie Higson's first book in the Young Bond series called SilverFin, however, was published as a graphic novel by Puffin Books in 2008 with the artwork illustrated by Kev Walker.
Dynamite Entertainment's official James Bond logo
In October 2014, Ian Fleming Publications announced that they extended the license to publish James Bond comic books over to Dynamite Entertainment, who in turn, have revealed that, at least, two separate timelines of long-lasting series were in the pipeline. One that will have a contemporary setting and serve as a continuation to the original Fleming stories that supposedly took place in and around the first decade of the twenty-first century, while the other timeline is said to be a period piece set before the events of Casino Royale with a younger and less experienced Bond in action very shortly after earning his 'double-0 prefix'. Dynamite's senior editor, Joseph Rybandt also mentioned that a graphic novel adaptation of Casino Royale is also in the works that is said to be very faithful to Fleming's book. In addition to serialized comic books, other graphic novels and limited miniseries will join the collective, as well.

James Bond #1 variant cover
by Ben Oliver
Dynamite revealed their first installment in the franchise to be the first story arc in an ongoing series, announced to be simply titled James Bond, which is set in the modern day of espionage. The first story arc is constructed by Warren Ellis of Planetary fame, alongside a wonderfully talented Jason Masters illustrating the comic. Entitled VARGR, the adventure puts Bond in pursuit of a madman distributing a deadly drug who tends to spread it across the world and drown it in a deeply chaotic gorge of virulence. Ellis stated that he was inspired by Fleming's short story Risico while scripting the storyline for the adventure and studied the literary character after going through all the novels, while Masters claimed that his primary influence on materializing Bond's outlook came from John McLusky's illustration of the James Bond character who worked on the comic strips since 1958 and as such was the first artist to give the fictional spy his graphical overview. When asked about the meaning of the title, Ellis explained that "Vargr is an Old Norse word meaning variously wolf, evildoer or destroyer." It was eventually revealed to be the name a decommissioned Norwegian battleship where the main antagonist's headquarters was located at. The first issue had at least nine variant covers in offer by several artists, including one by Masters himself, and was sold with 35,600 copies on the month it was released, which coincided with the North American premiere of the 24th James Bond film, Spectre in November 2015. The arc concluded in the sixth issue of the ongoing James Bond series in April 2016 and was collected altogether in a hardback later in June. The collected edition was translated to several other languages in October 2016.

A few spectacular panels from James Bond #9
by Jason Masters and Guy Major.
James Bond #12 cover art
by Dom Reardon
Warren Ellis and Jason Masters both returned for another story arc in the ongoing James Bond series which directly picked up where VARGR had left off, maintaining its relevant continuity as a brief mention of the previous assignment was made. This story arc was called Eidolon, which is the very first James Bond comic book to ever feature the SPECTRE organization officially in the plot. Its author, Ellis claimed that he concepted the story right after reading Umberto Eco's conspiracy book called Numero Zero, which deals with the supposed exposure of real-life secret societies controlling world affairs ever since World War II. In Eidolon, the infamous antagonist organization from the Bond franchise is given a similar background when a resurgence of SPECTRE is planned after their destruction in the events of the You Only Live Twice novel and the death of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Bond's hands. "Eidolon" is the name given to a group of stay-behinds and sleeper agents whose loyalty lie with SPECTRE, across the globe whose existence dates back to the second world war, similar to the claims in Eco's book. 007 races in time to expose the moles in his own government on first hand to prevent the resurrection of his nightmare, which is the reformation of none other than SPECTRE, taking control of the world with blackmailing, deviltry and extortion. Issue #7 marks the beginning of its arc that debuted in June 2016 alongside the release of VARGR in hardcover. The story is supposed to conclude in Issue #12 which is set to come out in December 2016, while a collected edition is given a March 2017 release date. Ellis said in an interview that he won't return for the third story arc but did not rule out a future comeback sometime later if offered. The Ellis/Masters run on James Bond was universally praised overall, especially due to its originality and medium that differs from the film franchise while staying true to the literary hero's roots to an extent.

James Bond 007: Hammerhead #1
variant cover by Ron Salas
While the James Bond series is on and going, Dynamite announced a standalone limited miniseries featuring Ian Fleming's James Bond in a six-issue comic titled Hammerhead. Andy Diggle had the story written for the comic while Luca Casalanguida, a masterfully talented artist himself, illustrates the panels with Chris Blythe coloring it. The first issue offered four variant covers by several other artists and made its debut in October 2016, meeting with overtly positive reviews. The comic itself, while existing in the same timeline as the ongoing series established by Warren Ellis, is more in the vein of the Classic Bond image seen in the film franchise. As of November 2016, only two issues were released and a third is scheduled to come out the following month with two others solicited in their own respectful months in January and February 2017. In this story, James Bond is sent to expose and assassinate a mysterious figure going by the name of Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has overwhelmingly frightening plans for Britain's newly-developed nuclear arsenal called "Hammerhead". Throughout the venture, Bond will be faced with constant dilemmas that will question his loyalty to the country and the crown, and must figure out if he is being used to protect England or create a terrifying superpower that might be the root to unleash a new world order on behalf of the conspirators. In small analysis, the comic book's opening sequence is very similar to that of the climactic finale in The Quasimodo Gambit, where Bond bursts in to a high building, outfitted with a commando gear and opens fire on numerous mercenaries while dodging bullets and explosions.

A panel from James Bond 007: Hammerhead #2 by artists Luca Casalanguida and Chris Blythe
Next year is not without its solicitations, as Hammerhead would go on to continue its run up until March 2017 as estimated, while back in October 2016, Dynamite made announcements for two separate titles, and one among is the most surprising. Benjamin Percy is set to continue the ongoing James Bond series after the departure of Warren Ellis and Jason Masters, but an artist is not named, as of yet, neither the title of the story arc is mentioned nor its synopsis, so to speak.

Felix Leiter #1 cover artwork by
Mike Perkins
And the surprise announcement later came on to be an upcoming comic book title in the James Bond franchise that not only is a spin-off but puts on an iconic character in the miniseries' lead. For the first time ever, Felix Leiter gets his own adventure operating solo as a private contractor, hired by Tiger Tanaka, the iconic ally from You Only Live Twice (both in book and film, making his third appearance in any format overall, with the second being in Raymond Benson's continuation Bond novel, The Man With The Red Tattoo that was released in 2002), to investigate a terrorist act in Japan while tracking down a woman from his past who happens to be a Russian spy. As the mission progresses, things take turn for the worse as Leiter discovers deadly schemes set afoot in Tokyo and alongside Tanaka, gives pursuit to villainous cultist in possession of a biological weapon. Two issues, as of yet, have been solicited, with the miniseries set to debut in January 2017 on the same date the fourth issue of Hammerhead comes out. The comic book is simply called Felix Leiter, written by James Robinson, who is also at the same time working on his own series, Grand Passion, another Dynamite title itself, and illustrated by Aaron Campbell. Should the title perform commercially and critically well, Robinson revealed in an interview that he has an idea for a trilogy with Felix Leiter in the leading role.

Variant cover for Issue #1 on the left by Gabriel Hardman
Cover artwork for Issue #2 on the right by Mike Perkins

The evolution of the James Bond character throughout the comic books
James Bond has certainly been making appearances in the world of comic books for over 50 years and this article is written to recognize and possibly ignite a celebration day for the James Bond comic books that aren't getting enough attention as much as the novels and films do. So, let us celebrate a great medium that has been existing in the franchise for a long time, and specifically extend a huge thank you to Ian Fleming and his estate for keeping a great character on existence. And special thanks to Dynamite Entertainment for giving the James Bond comics its own spirit and treating the franchise with nothing but care, decency and respect.

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