Review: The James Bond Omnibus (volume 3)
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Bond is back; but this time he’s looking a little bit drawn...
I have to admit... I've never read the previous 007 omnibuses, nor have I read the comic strips when they were first published in the Daily Express (they came out a bit before my time; and since I’ve only read a couple of Ian Fleming’s novels, the only comparisons I can make really will be with the Bond movies. As such, this review will simply be about this book alone, ignoring any further influences that may cross my path...a difficult undertaking considering I grew up watching Sean Connery and his subsequent jet-setting replacements saving-the-world.
The James Bond Omnibus: Volume 3 contains seven Bond stories (naturally) - The Harpies, River of Death, Colonel Sun, The Golden Ghost, Fear Face, Double Jeopardy and Starfire. They are based (to my knowledge) on Ian Fleming works with the exception of The Harpies, Double Jeopardy and Starfire, which were written by Jim Lawrence, who also adapted the other stories with the artwork courtesy of Yaroslav Horak. It’s the usual 007-espionage formula of bad super villains, exotic locations, beautiful babes and of course the man himself saving the day (and getting the girl) in his own imitable way.
However, the comic strips follow a notably different route to what many fans have seen in the movies, including yours truly. The films themselves were toned down from the original novels, and following the same pattern the comic strip tones things down further. If anything the presentation has been paired to the bone.
This new Bond look is certainly different, and for those fans who grew up watching the movies, reading the omnibus for the first time might be a tad disappointing to them as its far removed from the exploits of Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig. Those who have read the Tintin and Asterix albums - or the graphic novels for The Walking Dead and 300 - may also have their expectations slightly dampened.
Admittedly, I found that too, but once past the format it actually became much more enjoyable than expected. I can only ask fans to put aside what they’re familiar with and read the omnibus with a brand new perspective. Basically this is Bond presented in a different context. Had the stories been adapted as a graphic novel, it would have been a fantastic, over-the-top adventure very much on par with the movies. All the colourful action scenes, spectacular stunts and exotic locations would be written and drawn in a flowing style and filled with plenty of tongue in cheek humour. However, being a serialised comic strip for a popular tabloid, the stories would have to be toned down within the strict limitations imposed by this type of comic strip format.
Don’t expect any outrageous gadgets from Q Branch!
But it works extremely well - in fact better than I expected. The James Bond Omnibus: Volume 3 is a very stylish effort that forms an important part of the James Bond franchise. Shame they didn’t have much room for Q, but then he would look very out of place for very obvious reasons!
What I found unique about the omnibus was the economy of the drawings, dialogue, and the emphasis on plot and character development, obviously due to the limitations of adapting it as a comic strip for a newspaper. The monochrome artwork gives it a much darker edge that owes much more to John le Carre’s style. The Bond elements are all there, but the tone is decidedly cynical. If anything that makes it much more refreshing, almost like rehashing all those classic old Bond clichés and turning them into something new.
But for the obvious change in style, content and format, Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak have gone to great lengths to keep James Bond within the context of the movies. It’s easy to get too diverse with a very popular character but their Bond retains the same subtleties, the same aggressive nature and the same egocentric swagger. Only on this occasion the humour is very black - no tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore antics here (perhaps it’s because the strips were published before Mr Eyebrows assumed the 007 mantle). Although Bond’s appearance is influenced by Sean Connery, the character is well rounded and perhaps a little more realistic, which is ironic considering he’s a comic strip character! The tightness of the stories and dialogue has allowed Bond to expand a lot more.
The same applies to the supporting characters. Once again the limitation of this type of format has been used to advantage. Because only a handful of characters can appear in a comic strip, much more emphasis is placed on them; so really there is as much drama as there is action and tension.
Ye or Ne...a license to thrill?
Overall, The James Bond Omnibus: Volume 3 is an enjoyable entry to the 007 universe. It successfully tries to do something different with the tried and tested formula, but retains the essence of how Bond works. It should impress both fans of the character and those who love their comic books.
The professionally bounded omnibus is beautifully presented with a stark black and white photo close up of bond holding his famous Walter PPK. Although this is a first published edition, the stories were originally published in the Daily Express between 1968 and 1971, and have been put together for the first time, making this a very valuable addition for any avid collector of Bond Memorabilia.
As a point of interest and one provided by a good friend of mine as a nice little titbit, The Daily Mail has never reviewed any of the James Bond novels. There was a good reason too. Apparently, an Fleming had an affair with the wife of the newspaper’s then owner, the second Viscount Rothermere. Certainly something worthy of 007 but hardly advisable when it came to promoting your books!
So get your vodka martini (shaken, not stirred, naturally!) at the ready for an enjoyable read. As for me, I'll stick to a good beer...preferably unshook.
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