Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Spy Things To Look Forward To In 2018

The year is already in its fourth quarter, two months before it passes its mantle on it for the year following it. It had its share of spy installments, related topics concerning names heavily involved with the genre, as well as franchises experiencing evolution. Let's summarize with what we've had so far, and what there is to look forward to in 2018.

We'll start with the best thing there is when it comes to the genre of spy fiction, which brings us to Ian Fleming's secret agent, James Bond and his play in the world of comic books. Dynamite Entertainment has had a very glorious year of delivering comics based on the character that neither have resulted in disappointment nor a brief dissatisfaction on behalf of any fan.

Picking up the writing duties from Warren Ellis, American novelist Benjamin Percy scripted the third story arc in Dynamite's James Bond series, entitled Black Box, with the interior art delivered by Rapha Lobosco. When asked about the development of the storyline, Percy told us all that while he wanted to keep in touch with the spirit of the novels by exploring Bond's psychology, he also said that his take on the character and adventure was to be a love letter to the Roger Moore (Rest his soul) era films. Putting him on the trail of chasing an evil megalomaniac, Bond teams up with a freelance lady spy named Selah Sax to secure and destroy a black box containing worldwide information of intelligence secrets that could put the entire globe at risk of international security and political unrest. It ran from January to June, published in six issues, with a collected edition in hardcover format scheduled to be published later this month.

Cover artwork by Gabriel Hardman
At the same time, we've had the first Bond spin-off in years since Electronic Arts' 2004 video game, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent and the Ian Fleming Publications-commissioned spin-off trilogy, The Moneypenny Diaries (2005-2008) by Samantha Weinberg, which starred a character other than Bond, published over the course of six months in tandem with Black Box. Entitled Felix Leiter, it starred the eponymous character famous for being 007's CIA ally in the field, it marks the first time the character has been fleshed out into his own personality rather than being a two-dimensional nobody. Written by James Robinson and illustrated by Aaron Campbell, the story sees Felix Leiter going to Japan under contract by Tiger Tanaka of the Japanese Secret Service in order to investigate the whereabouts of a Russian spy called Alena Davoff, with whom he has been in love with, once upon a time. Things get catastrophic, however, once the same trail that had Davoff pinned onto, tied her to a massive terrorist attack in Tokyo that oversaw a genocide. Leiter and Tanaka race in time to stop the madness and reclaim the weapon used by the perpetrators. Like other Dynamite installments, Felix Leiter will be collected and published in hardcover format on the same day as Black Box makes its arrival.

Additional entries include a one-shot called Service by Kieron Gillen and Antonio Fuso, released in May, which oversees a story inspired by the political climate of the recent events as well as Britain's relationship with the United States of America, given the turnouts and the change of courses in government administration that differ in ideology than before. Another one-shot as well as a spin-off, featuring M's secretary and personal bodyguard, Moneypenny, was published three months later in August, simply titled Moneypenny, written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Jacob Edgar.

Cover artwork by Greg Smallwood
After its brilliant conclusion of work in Hammerhead in March, with a hardcover edition of all the issues seeing a release in May, Andy Diggle and Luca Casalanguida both returned for yet another Bond triumph, entitled Kill Chain. The duo's efforts are both the most highly regarded comic books in Dynamite's run of the series, with Kill Chain still being published, having already released four of its six issues, with the fifth scheduled to come out in two weeks. In comparison to their first collaboration, Diggle said that while the first one was of the [1964 film] Goldfinger's spirit, the second one will be inspired by the template of From Russia with Love, hence pitting James Bond against a revived SMERSH. It's rather interesting that both SMERSH and SPECTRE have been reactivated in Dynamite's contemporary comics, which opens up various possibilities for Agent 007 to battle the two of his sworn enemy societies in the future, or even having both of these chaotic criminal organizations either team up or lock horns over a fight and conquest of power. Andy Diggle, as usual, delivers helluva of a narrative when it comes to James Bond thrillers, and Luca Casalanguida's work is enormously sensational as ever.

Future plans for Dynamite's Bond comics include the already-announced The Body by writer Ales Kot, whose premise offers a rather unconventional pacing for a Bond story, as he is being checked up by a doctor at the Shrublands (first seen in Thunderball) health clinic, examining 007's scars, with each of them being discussed and how Bond acquired them separately on different assignments. Luca Casalanguida, of course, returns to illustrate the interior art for the third time, which, in my opinion, is the highlight of the entry. It's unclear so far whether The Body is part of the main James Bond saga, or just another standalone miniseries featuring the character like Hammerhead and Kill Chain, but it is scheduled to debut in January 2018. There's also a one-shot "Christmas special" Solstice by Ibrahim Moustafa (both writing and illustrating), which is due to come out later this month. A graphic novel adaptation of Casino Royale that stays faithful to the book rather than updating it will be delivered by creators Van Jensen and Dennis Calero at an unspecified date.

There are also plans for a separate timeline set in the time period of 1941-1945 under the working title James Bond Origins: The War Years, featuring Bond at the beginning of his spy career long before the events occurred in the first of the Ian Fleming novels. It was to be originally seeing the light of the day during Fall 2017. Presumably to avoid overkill, Dynamite pushed the title back to Spring 2018 according to Comic Shop News, with senior editor Joseph Rybandt talking about it in the following:
"We're doing a mix of both [standalones and longer series]--and it was always planned as a mix. We had some things in our schedule that took our main series offline for a bit, but we're coming back strong in 2018 with a new miniseries in January [The Body] and then our most ambition Bond project in late spring or early summer [War Years]."
Shifting from Dynamite Entertainment to Ian Fleming Publications, Anthony Horowitz will become the first continuation novelist in the Bond series since Raymond Benson to write yet another installment in his tenure after having his first effort, Trigger Mortis meet positive reviews back in 2015. Still untitled as of yet, Horowitz revealed that the book will come out in Fall 2018, with its story taking place before the events of Casino Royale, which begs the question whether Dynamite's War Years will be in connection with it, as well as the Young Bond counterparts, with all three forming canon in the literary universe of the James Bond adventures.

There has been a lot going on with the James Bond franchise in the literary and comic book worlds, while the film series is still offline, apart from the announcement of Daniel Craig reprising his role as James Bond for possibly the last time, wanting to "go out on a high note." Neal Purvis & Robert Wade are returning to pen the script for the 25th installment in the series, which is set to come out in theatres on 8 November 2019. Other than hefty rumors, no other concrete revelations have been unveiled yet, including the distributors of the motion picture as well as the film director.

Close but no cigar, now we give a transition from Bond (almost) to another spy franchise, Eon Productions, under the management of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who have been producing the James Bond films since 1995, are set to produce a different spy thriller based on a novel by Mark Burnell, titled The Rhythm Section, which itself is the first book in a series centered on Stephanie Patrick, whom actress Blake Lively is announced to play. In this story, Stephanie Patrick is on the path of self-destruction after the death of her family in a plane crash. After discovering that the crash was not an accident, her anger awakens a new sense of purpose and she rises to uncover the truth by adapting the identity of an assassin to track down those responsible. The film will be directed by Reed Romano and distributed by Paramount Pictures, set for release on 22 February 2019, almost nine months before the next James Bond film comes out in theatres.

Blake Lively will star in The Rhythm Section as Stephanie Patrick
Erik Van Lustbader published his latest installment in the Jason Bourne series back in June, titled The Bourne Initiative, which is the fourteenth book in the Bourne saga created by Robert Ludlum, and the eleventh to be written by the author. Talking about a sequel to the 2016 film, however, Matt Damon, who plays Bourne in the film series, cast a doubt upon a new entry starring him in the role, saying "people might be done with the character." You never know, however. Never say never... again!

Official Artwork by Philip Tan
After its glorious release back in 2016 in episodic format, Hitman by IO Interactive finally had a retailer full video game release in January, earlier this year. David Bateson reprised his role as the titular character Agent 47, marking his sixth time lending his voice to the masterful assassin. Despite several downloadable content arriving every now and then, Square Enix, that published the segment labeled as 'Season 1', sold its rights completely to IO Interactive who have been developing the video games since the first installment in the franchise. While 2017 does not feature new story contents in the planned 'series', the developers that have gone freelance and detached from Square Enix, announced that 'Season 2' will be arriving in 2018, which they will publish. But, that's not all. Far from it.

We're back to comic books, yet again, and with Dynamite Entertainment nonetheless, that are one of the best (if not the best!) comic book companies of today. Debuting in November, Agent 47: Birth of The Hitman, interconnects with the events of the aforementioned video game, while delving deep into 47's past and his first official assassination, as well as his association with the shadow client from the video game's 'Season 1', whom he looked up to as a brother. The second issue is set to come out later this month, which is said to set up the upcoming events in 'Season 2'. It also explores further into the background of 47's closest ally and his missions handler within the ICA, Diana Burnwood, at the beginning of her career and rise above ranks. The comic book is written by Chris Sebela and illustrated by Jonathan Lau.

Back in September, the world saw the release of the long-awaited and demanded sequel to the critically acclaimed 2015 spy extravaganza film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, a gory and violent love letter to the cultural impact that the spy fiction on the screens left upon, including the James Bond films, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (itself adapted to film in 2015) and The Avengers (no, not the Marvel Comics superheroes) with John Steed and Emma Peel.
Entitled Kingsman: The Golden Circle, this sequel expands upon its predecessor with an original story by Matthew Vaughn (who returns to direct) and Jane Goldman (who also worked on the screenplay of the first). Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Mark Strong reprise their roles as Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, Harry Hart and Merlin respectively, who team up with their American counterpart organization called Statesman, after their very own spy committee, Kingsman, was destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth by the villainous Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) and her henchman, Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft). It also stars Jeff Bridges as Champagne, the charismatic head of Statesman, Pedro Pascal as Jack Daniels, a Statesman agent, and last but not least Halle Berry as Statesman's technician and quartermaster, Ginger Ale. It also features special appearances by Channing Tatum, Poppy Delevingne and Elton John. Although, not as successful as the first film, The Golden Circle was welcomed by the fans of both the films and the comic book, as well as the general audience.

Cover Artwork by Leinil Francis Yu
Of course, the film was not the only thing that came out around the same time. A sequel to the original comic book (after its reinvigoration as Kingsman: The Secret Service) by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, was released under the creative forces of a new team. Kingsman: The Red Diamond puts Gary London on a mission to prevent a terror plot and rescue Prince Phillip from the hands of a criminal organization called The Red Diamond. Written by Rob Williams and illustrated by Simon Fraser, the six-issue miniseries made its debut in September, published by Image Comics. The third issue is due to come out next week. To celebrate the release of the film, as well, Playboy also published a mini-comic in its September issue, entitled Kingsman: The Big Exit, which is set in the film's continuity and features Eggsy rather than Gary London. A novelization of The Golden Circle was written by Tim Waggoner, released around the same time. Two separate mobile games based on the franchise also made it to the surface: One that is turn-based match-3 roleplaying combat game by Korean mobile game company NHN PixelCube, which is available on iOS and Android. Another that is yet to come out, being developed by American company YesGnome for both the aforementioned operating systems, albeit the game is available as an early access on Android. It is an action-adventure construction-simulator, different from its other counterpart.

Kingsman: The Secret Service by YesGnome
Another thing to look forward to, next year, is the sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible film series, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, IMF's most effective agent as he embarks on a personal mission to protect his wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Of course, he is joined by a few of the IMF regulars, his best friend, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) as well as freelance spy and former MI-6 agent, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who returns to help Hunt battle against his nemesis first encountered in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the former leader of the now-defunct 'The Syndicate', a rogue nation and a criminal organization made of disavowed agents from across the globe. Christopher McQuarrie is currently directing the film, having previously been at the helm of Rogue Nation, and has also written the story as well as the screenplay. Alec Baldwin reprises his role as Alan Hunley, the new Secretary of IMF, and joining the cast are Henry Cavill and Angela Bassett. The film is scheduled to be released on 27 July 2018 by Paramount Pictures.

If I could bring it to a highlight and help introduce to the mainstream spotlight, earlier this year, a video game company called Artplant, purchased the rights to Project I.G.I., a tactical first-person shooter video game series developed by Innerloop Studios. The franchise consists of two video games, one simply titled Project I.G.I.: I'm Going In (published by Eidos Interactive), and the other called I.G.I. 2: Covert Strike (published by Codemasters). While the publishing rights to the first video game remains with Square Enix, which obtained every intellectual property that Eidos Interactive had in 2009, the second video game is made available to download on Both the games see an agent of I.G.I. (acronym for Institute for Geotactical Intelligence), David Jones, a former SAS officer, embark on a mission to prevent an international crisis provoked by rogue war-mongers.

Promotional Art for Project I.G.I.: We're Going In
Artplant, itself a video game developing company founded by former employees of the now-defunct Innerloop Studios, announced back in August that they have been already working on a third game, entitled Project I.G.I.: We're Going In, which also sees the return of David Jones in the field. Not much is disclosed about the video game, other than the setup that will "feature the freedom the video game has become known for." As a huge fan of the first two video games, especially the second, I am very thrilled to hear about this franchise coming back to light, again. The world has changed a lot since 2003, and the nostalgia is bound to be relived in a manner that takes one back in time, yet remaining in the present day. The way the spooks of one's survival was made to feel in the second game alone (its military strategy consulted by Bravo Two Zero's Chris Ryan) makes the experience worthwhile, adding to that composer Kim Jensen's haunting score for each level made anxiety run in the player's veins. An outstanding experience.

Video games company 3D Realms is known for franchises like Duke Nukem and Rise of The Triad, both of which have been part of the culture that revolutionized the world of video games during the 1990s as First-Person Shooters, following the footsteps of Wolfenstein 3D, a franchise that was used to be part of the spy fiction before Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) changed courses for it. Recently, 3D Realms announced that they were working on a new video game, their first in years, called Shadow Stalkers, a video game that is aimed for gamers from Generation X. Its content is said to be of the flavor circulating around James Bond and Hitman.
Official title logo for Shadow Stalkers
With many big names in the video-gaming industry involved, like Scott Miller, Bernie Stolar and Jordan Freeman (of ZOOM Platform, who also are working on the game alongside 3D Realms), apparently Bond actor, Pierce Brosnan is also rumored to be linked to the project, who previously has lent his likeness to the James Bond character in the 2002 fan-favorite video game, Nightfire, as well as voicing the character in Everything or Nothing. With hints by Freeman that indicate the game has a bearing resemblance to Nintendo 64's 1997 smash hit, GoldenEye 007 (regarded by the majority as the best James Bond video game), the main character is believed to be a spy of sorts which is presumably prepared to be voiced by Brosnan himself. A treat for various people alike. It's set to come out sometime in 2018 on Windows PC, Mac and PlayStation 4. Further information as well as a first-look to the video game is yet to be showcased.

Before it goes a case forgotten, after its latest appearance on the screen four years back, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan character is given a comeback in TV series format, sponsored by Amazon's streaming services. First announced in September 2015 as a project by Paramount Television, televised by former Lost showrunners, Cartlon Cuse and Graham Roland, and co-financed by Michael Bay's production company, Platinum Dunes, as well as Skydance Media, Amazon commissioned three scripts for the Pilot episode, after which stage a ten-episode straight-to-series was ordered. Directors Morten Tyldum (Passengers) and Daniel Sackheim (The Americans) were brought on board, with Tyldum directing the Pilot, and Sackheim handling multiple other episodes as well as producing the series.

Succeeding in the shoes of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, the latest actor to portray Jack Ryan was announced to be John Krasinski, with his version said to be "a contemporary take on Tom Clancy's character." Despite this, however, the series is said to be heavily influenced by the Harrison Ford films, Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), which might be an indication to feature a more experienced field agent-like Jack Ryan than just another CIA analyst paving his way to rise above ranks in his career. Abbie Cornish joined the regulars cast as Cathy Muller, Ryan's fiancee. Actors Peter Fonda, Timothy Hutton, Mena Massoud and Wendell Pierce also co-star in the series. Titled Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, it's set to premiere on Amazon Video sometime in 2018.

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