Saturday, November 26, 2016

Bond and Beyond: 2016 in The Fictional World of Espionage

The very first post on this blogger webpage overviews an article that looks back at the significant territories in media the genre of spy fiction made its conquests upon in 2016. From motion pictures to other media including comic books, novels and video games.

For the fans of the spy genre, last year had a brief revival of a twelve month period longevity of the aptly named "Spy Craze", arriving on the hot spot for the first time since the 1960s, beginning with Kingsman: The Secret Service, significantly followed by the fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise as well as a film adaptation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which itself is a period piece set in the sixties, and wrapping the run with the long-awaited twenty-fourth entry in the James Bond series, Spectre.

A panel from James Bond 007: Hammerhead, art by Luca Casalanguida and Chris Blythe
A James Bond novel from Ian Fleming Publications by famed novelist Anthony Horowitz also arrived on the shelves that year, titled Trigger Mortis, which is canonically set two weeks after the events of Fleming's seventh novel, Goldfinger and as such sees a reprisal appearance from Pussy Galore, meeting a positive reception from readers for which Horowitz is asked to pen a second James Bond novel revealed to be a period piece, once again, taking place before the events of Casino Royale, estimated to come out in 2018. Meanwhile, Erik Van Lustbader continues to pen Jason Bourne novels, with the latest to come out in the series being The Bourne Enigma in June 2016.

2016's biggest expectation in the spy arena regarding the field of cinema has been the return of Matt Damon in his most significant role for the fourth time, conveniently denominated Jason Bourne, which debuted in August earlier this year with a $415.2 million gross in worldwide box-office, second only to The Bourne Ultimatum, which stirred the minds of the audience back in 2007. It met mixed reception from movie critics overall, most of which submitted complaint towards the story that didn't move forward and posed as an epilogue to Ultimatum.

Other spy films released this year include the comedy-oriented Central Intelligence starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, and lest we forget, the second adventure in Gerard Butler's Mike Banning Secret Service adventures, London Has Fallen, earning enough success for the producers to commission another sequel, revealed to be titled Angel Has Fallen. Furthermore, Jason Statham returns as the world's deadliest assassin, Arthur Bishop in Mechanic: Resurrection, featuring an ensemble cast consisting of Jessica Alba, Michelle Yeoh and Tommy Lee Jones. For those not aware, the film is a sequel to the 2011 adaptation of The Mechanic, made famous by the beloved actor for action lovers, Charles Bronson. And then along came yet another spy comedy, Keeping Up with The Joneses, starring Jon Hamm, the celebrated "Mad Man" (mind the pun?), as a Bond-like secret agent, paired up with Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, the lady spy. Director Robert Zemeckis delivered yet another outstanding film under his helm set in World War II, with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard equally cast in the lead roles of intelligence agents with a directive to take down a Nazi ambassador in Casablanca. Titled Allied, the story centers on the life of the two spies and their love story in the time of war, as both come to struggle with conspiracies that loom over them like shadows. It was met with positive reviews.

James Bond #1 Exclusive Cover
by Timothy Lim
Drifting away the highlight from movies, the world of comic books have been boiling since November 2015 when comics publisher Dynamite Entertainment releasing the first issue of a serialized spy thrillers with James Bond in the central role, officially licensed by Ian Fleming Publications. The first story arc, called VARGR, was collected in a hardback and released in June 2016, written by Warren Ellis of the Planetary fame, and illustrated by Jason Masters. As a part of an ongoing series simply titled James Bond, Ellis and Masters returned for a second story arc under the epithet Eidolon, which concludes in December 2016 by the release of its last issue and is expected to be collected in a hardback in March 2017. The collaborative work of the aforementioned creators met with a positive outcome, especially the characterization of Bond himself being an update of Fleming's literary hero who no longer is said to sound like a relic from the Cold War. The serialized James Bond title is announced by Dynamite to be soon picked up by writer Benjamin Percy who is estimated to release his follow-up to Ellis' installments sometime in 2017.

Meanwhile, in October 2016, Dynamite released a separate James Bond comic book in the vein of the generic incarnation of the cinematic series, entitled Hammerhead, by writer Andy Diggle and artist Luca Casalanguida, both of whose works in terms of storytelling and art direction were praised. The comic consists of six issues and acts on its own, unrelated to the ongoing series as cited above. Additionally, the publishers have been planning on a faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, soon to come out on its own as a graphic novel rather than a serialized comic book. But, a first look at the title is yet to be previewed.

Video games have also been strongly contestant within the media industries, nowadays and we had important releases this year that should never miss the spotlight of spy fiction lovers. Earlier this year, Maximum Games placed Alekhine's Gun on the shelves, which itself is a period piece taking place in 1963 around the same time as the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy occurred, which plays a key element in the story as KGB agent and former SMERSH operative, Semyon Strogov is set to uncover the scheme executed by a surviving Nazi leader orchestrating a nuclear war from the shadows between The United States of America and The Soviet Union. The game is the third installment in the Death To Spies franchise, but disowns the title as such, making no references to the past of the chronicles other than its protagonist. For the James Bond fans, the game itself is a great experience and loads of jabs at the Bond series have been made throughout the experience.

Later on, the long-awaited sixth entry in the Hitman video game franchise also arrived, but rather than overseeing a full release, the game is episodically debuted every month as its developing studio IO Interactive puts a level in the market every month. In difference from the previous installments, the game, simply titled Hitman, is campaigned in the way of a television series, running its course from March to October 2016, with a retail version set to come out in January 2017, labeled as Season 1. No talk has been made of a supposed Season 2, as of yet, but it's rather obvious it is in the pipeline. The story deals with a shadow client setting the fuse to a war provocation between ICA and Providence, a secret society that covertly controls important world affairs, while Agent 47 and his handler and trusted confidant, Diana Burnwood carry out the bloodwork while investigating the mystery behind their hire.

2016 has been quite a ride for the spy fiction genre overall, with several media formats welcoming in original titles and sequels in parallel, and filling in their own importance within the industries while the superheroes keep smashing the box-office and gaining the primary attention. And this was the first article published in this very weblog, more to come soon with every announcement in the open.

Thank you for reading and welcome to The Secret Agent Lair!