By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 01/06/2014 1:00 pm EST
Publish date: November 26, 2013 Publisher: Titan Books
Ah, Mr. Bond—welcome back. I don’t mean that blond guy who does a pretty good job of updating such an iconic character. I mean THE James Bond—the Cold Warrior from the novels and short stories of Ian Fleming.
The newest reprint volume from our friends at Titan Books collects three years of dailies from September 1975 to the middle of 1978. That’s almost 800 dailies—nine complete adventures in a beautifully styled package all for only $20.00! These original stories were written by Jim Lawrence and drawn by Yaroslav Horak. I pride myself with being a knowledgeable comic strip fan(atic), but I know precious little about this creative team. So I sought guidance from my bible: American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide (highly recommended for all strip devotees!) by the great Allan Holtz. And since James Bond is a British strip, there is very little information available. But I can tell you that Mr. Lawrence is a journeyman strip writer with multiple credits including Joe Palooka and the last years of the venerable Wash Tubbs, the ground-breaking Friday Foster that featured an African American woman as the main character, and several other licensed newspaper strip features such as Barbara Cartland’s romances and Dallas as well as the second incarnation of Buck Rogers that was based on the TV show.
These nine stories appeared somewhat close to the end of the strip’s run. The middle ‘70s were dark times for our secret agent. Roger Moore was the permanent replacement for Sean Connery and throughout the three years these strips ran, only one Bond movie appeared. These were the years before the Fleming estate gave John Gardner the okay to write new Bond novels. So all us Bond fans had was this strip. The Bond of Lawrence and Horak is a tougher, more realistic James Bond that he is interpreted in the movie blockbusters. This makes for some quite effective stories.
The stories range from exciting and just a bit silly to very exciting and rather silly. Example: The story that begins the edition—“‘Til Death Do Us Part”—involves a chase that goes on for over a month (in newspaper time) Bond and a half naked woman (God bless the British press) are being chased through the Austrian back country. Fortunately, Q has equipped Mr. B with an all-terrain vehicle that not only becomes amphibious when needed, but also sprouts a helium balloon in case the car gets a flat. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with James Bond and are probably not even reading this review in the first place.
Other stories: “The Torch Time Affair” is a double- and triple-cross. How good is this one? Suzi Q—one of MI-6’s top agents in (a negligee, no less) reports: “Ricardo Auza—the alleged gigolo—is actually a Soviet Agent and trained assassin foe SMERSH assigned to Latin America.” Wow! How great is that?? Another highlight is “Hot-Shot,” an exciting and fast-paced story featuring the return of Dr. No (yes, he’s alive and boy is he pissed!). This story has all the ingredients that made the early Bond films work so well. “Ape of Diamonds,” “When the Wizard Wakes,” “Sea Dragon,” “Death Wing,” and finally “The Xanadu Connection” are all competent, exciting, well-paced spy stories.
“Nightbird” is the only real let-down. A lot of the facets of the story—fake aliens, a Phantom of the Opera pastiche, lots of kidnappings and real TIGERS—all come together in a story that makes absolutely no sense. It’s too much of a thing and it just doesn’t work—too serious for parody, too inconsistent to accept on its own terms. But believe me, one clunker—that is still fun to read—out of nine stories is above average for most (but not all) latter-day adventure strips.
There are two drawbacks that need to be mentioned. First, in order to keep the cost low, Titan does not offer the introductory material found in the earlier reprint editions. Secondly, this book—which looks great on the shelf and has a marvelous cover—is smaller than those previous reprints. This means the dailies are a bit smaller. It is a little tough to read these strips with these aged eyes, but you young bucks should have no trouble. Much of the success of the strip—as in the Bond films—is the feel of the exotic locations. Artist Horak does a marvelous job of providing realistic backgrounds that add to the essence of the stories. At this smaller size, some of the artistry is lost, but the reproductions are crystal clear.
For anyone out there who is interested in starting down the comic strip reprint road, this may be a fine place to start. For years, I have been advocating certain strips to be taken as THE strip gateway drug. I don’t care how astute of a comic reader you are, if the first strip you choose to read, based solely on reputation, is Little Orphan Annie or Krazy Kat there is a chance you’ll give up before you get more than a dozen pages in. My recommendations have always been some genre-laden reliable strips like Modesty Blaise and Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson’s terrific run on Secret Agent Corrigan (nee Secret Agent X-9). Modesty Blaise—perhaps the most intelligently written adventure strip ever—was born in the wake of James Bond’s popularity. And even though Secret Agent dates back to 1934 when it was created by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond, the latter day run of the strip is more in debt to Ian Fleming than Sam Spade. These two strips are exciting and readable and are very in-tune with a comic book reader’s taste. After devouring three years’ worth of dailies, I am inclined to include James Bond in this elite category—although both Blaise and Corrigan are far superior strips.
This is a dandy bargain, well worth a spare Andrew Jackson, and if it’s spy stuff you love, the other four omnibuses are quite good too. The first two volumes adapt the Fleming novels and short stories. Make sure your next trip to the strip reprint section of your local comic hop is for more Bond, any of the Titan Modesty Blaise collections, or any volume of IDW’s Secret Agent Corrigan.
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.