[Editor’s Note: This review is written by guest writers, Justin Turnblom & Kyle Bachman]
Similar to the previous Bond collection by Titan, this is a tip of the cap to the publisher for displaying a similar level of creativity. Bond. James Bond. Fewer names in popular fiction evoke the same imagery as the famous British secret agent. For over fifty years since his inception by Ian Fleming, James Bond has thrilled audiences with his brand of action and adventure. He is among the most enduring characters to emerge from 20th century fiction.
The strips in this volume were published in the late ’60s and early ’70s in The Daily Express, a daily British tabloid that specifically approached Fleming to adapt the novels into comic form. They are faithful re-tellings of the novels in the sequential format, but do nothing to expand the source material. Each story arc takes place across an average of 150 panels. Illustration by Yaroslav Horak is steeped in a world of dark contrasts, detailed scenes and is a great counterpart to the narrative. But what can be overlooked once in favor of the content itself cannot be overlooked twice.
After all, you only live twice.
For fans of the literature, this volume contains exclusively Fleming’s lesser known works. Some of the story lines have made appearances in the films but under different titles and scenarios. The reader is left with the peripheral canon of James Bond, small stories that flesh out his world. This is of itself very interesting, and if the editors had cared they might have included information on this, or presented the content in a way that highlights this quality. Perhaps even provided an introduction or epilogue. It also would have been a great chance for the publisher and editors to include stills from the films and provide commentary where moments from these stories have wound up on the big screen.
Unfortunately, fans of the film franchise and the original novels may find themselves less intrigued by this publication. It’s not that the content is lackluster, but its presentation displays little to no creativity on behalf of the publisher. The choice to preserve these strips almost as an artifact rather than an active story hinders the success of this volume. First of all, these comics were never meant to be read this way. Without a weekly structure the redundant exposition bogs the reader down and inhibits the narrative, and the action, from flowing. Would the purists be outraged if Titan took the sharp high quality artwork and colored it? Or if they tried innovative panel structure or even footnotes that contained facts about Bond’s world, the films or even the novels themselves. The sales made off this book are directly linked to the cinematic phenomenon of James Bond. Ignoring the link in what is supposed to be a great collection seems to show an astounding lack of imagination. Nevertheless, these stories and images are unique because they are Bond before the image of him from the movies had saturated the public consciousness. In essence, here we are seeing James Bond for the first time, panel by panel, story by story. The strip itself stands alone here, a glimpse into the time when it was published; it shows a world that is full of threat, uncertainty, and a sense of danger and intrigue inherent.
But for all the quality work of the actual weekly strip, it is lazy publishing that is most likely to grab the eye here. Who is this collection for? It would seem that the publisher’s target demographic is a grandparent who purchases this book for their grandson because it has James Bond on the cover. An accidental purchase that will no doubt suffer a regifting come Secret Santa time. Or perhaps sales are driven by people who diligently read the comic in its weekly form when it first came out in 1960, and can’t wait to snatch up the Omnibus collection. No doubt the collected works of Prince Valiant or Rex Morgan MD are also flying off of bookshelves at a breakneck pace. If one were to look past the flimsy construction of the book itself and gaze inside its covers, if they weren’t instantly taken with the art, there would be little reason to leave the store with it.
This publication seems akin to the Hollywood studio who does a remake just so they can retain the rights. It’s a monument to what could have been. Imagine a collection with half as many stories, but more blown up and colored images, editorials and facts by experts or critics. The cover art is only moderately better than the previous installment, if only because the gun actually looks real and the print model is wearing a tuxedo. Why not run with a panel from one of the stories? Something that lends itself to Bond’s actual world. If you are going to have the audacity to label something as an “Omnibus” one might think that the services of an editor or writer might have been retained to flesh out this world, give it context and meaning.
One year from now people will walk past stacks of these books collecting dust amidst the whirlwind of an all purpose bargain shopping center.