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Comic Collection Review: The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002 by Ian Fleming and others

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“Based on the novels that inspired the movies,” the cover states — which is a bit of a stretch since only four of the seven stories could reasonably be called novels. But I was intrigued by the second volume of Titan Books’ collection of James Bond comic strips, since the set opens on one of my favorite 007 flicks, the much debated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Titan Books must have been aiming for readers like me with this attractively packaged 344-page trade, as they plaster that story’s ironic tagline, “We’ve got all the time in the world,” prominently on the back cover.

Reprinting newspaper strips from 1964-68, the omnibus represents an era in Commander Bond’s career that — let’s be blunt — could be pretty damn variable in terms of storytelling. Service and its follow-up, You Only Live Twice, are strong enough, but things quickly grow dicey with original author Ian Fleming’s Man with the Golden Gun — which manages to bobble a great opening premise (amnesiac Bond has been brainwashed by the Russkies!) with one of the most rushed resolutions possible. By the time you get to the book’s last entry, The Spy Who Loved Me, you can’t help wondering whether Bond’s creator had just grown tired of it all. The story reads like something Fawcett Books would have rejected back when it was pumping out cheesy soft boiled novels like the Matt Helm books.

Too, those Bond fans primarily familiar with the movies will definitely be nonplussed by the stories that “inspired” them. “The Living Daylights,” for instance, is a no-frills short story about our hero’s mission to stop an assassination attempt, while the plot of “Octopussy” only appears as a back story in the movie. There’s nary a trace of the flick’s cult of octopus tatted femmes in the original story or strip. Looking for Tattoo in “Man with the Golden Gun”? Sorry.

That noted, the strips collected herein do capture the essence of the written 007. Scripters Henry Gammidge and Jim Lawrence (who’d ably take the strip into original stories in a few years) have a firm hold on the personality of their ruthless hero, though their treatment of the villains can be variable. Big-name baddy Blofeld shows up in the first two installments, of course, along with his burly henchwoman Fraulein Bunt, and they’re both fun. But golden gun holder Scramanga proves much less menacing in his comic strip incarnation, while the remaining collection of antagonists barely register. Of the Bond Girls, the only one to make an impression is the doomed Tracy Draco, but that’s probably as it should be.

John McLusky and Yaroslav Horak’s art does a strong job capturing both action and locale — two essential ingredients in any Bond tale — though occasionally the newspaper strip format can get a bit confining. The McLusky drawn ski chase in “Secret Service” is neatly recreated (though, as with the movie, it stints a bit on the avalanche aftermath), while Horak’s treatment of the skin diving scenes in “Octopussy” and “Hildebrandt Rarity” provide examples of how comics can trump movie storytelling: where the movies’ underwater scenes can come across a bit sluggish, the comic strip can imply more frantic movement.

As for the artists’ rendering of our hero, though the range of stories cover the history of Bond actors, the face the strip most recalls is one-shot George Lazenby. Seems apt to this Secret Service loyalist. Third volume in the omnibus series, set for later release in 2011, begins collecting Lawrence’s original stories, along with an adaptation of Kingsley Amis’ one book attempt to carry on the franchise after Fleming’s death, Colonel Sun.

As I noted in a review of a later collection of Lawrence and Horak Bond strips, the non-Fleming strips are enjoyable even if they do occasionally stretch the bonds of credibility. For purists, though, the first two volumes in this Bondnibus are the way to go.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.