Though author Ian Fleming’s name appears below the title of Nightbird (Titan Books), the latest collection of James Bond newspaper strips from the 1970s, the fact is that it’s less a byline than it is a brand name — like Walt Disney — at this point. Though the earliest Bond strips were devoted to adapting Fleming’s spy novels into comics, at this stage in the game the story work was in the hands of solid British comics pro Jim Lawrence. Nightbird contains three Bond tales (plus a snippet of an uncompleted one for the fanatics) from 1976-77, more than a decade after Fleming’s death. All three full stories fit comfortably within the James Bond world, however, even if two of ‘em strain credulity almost as much as the movie version of Moonraker.
Opening tale, “Hot-Shot,” is arguably the most successful in this set. It even features the return appearance by one of 007’s first egomaniac antagonists. (Though the story’s intro acts as if there is a big reveal, in actuality, one of the bad guy’s henchmen speaks his name three days into the continuity.) The still-current storyline features the evildoer’s attempt to foment Middle Eastern unrest by using a heat ray to down a plane carrying the U.S. Secretary of State and blaming it on Palestinian Arabs. Our hero hooks up with a shapely Palestinian agent whose main role is to get kidnapped and dangled over a tank full of sharks. In the best 007 tradition, the story ends with Bond victoriously holding the girl and promising to “delve into certain aspects of the Palestine situation.” Some things remain evergreen.
The remaining two entries, the title story and “Ape of Diamonds,” prove less believable even by the loose standards of double-oh storytelling. In the title tale, a criminal mastermind engineers fake alien abductions to enact revenge on the lab responsible for his Phantom of the Opera disfigurements. Why fake aliens? Because… um… I don’t know? In the last, a villain uses a large gorilla to capture an OPEC mover and shaker, leaving the reader to wonder whether scripter Lawrence had been watching an old Monogram horror flick the night before he started outlining this rascal. Though he struggles to provide a convincing explanation for the super-smart beast’s abilities to pull off the kidnapping, we never really believe it.
If the last story proves fairly silly, Lawrence and artist Yasolav Horak (with a brief guest stint by “Modesty Blaise” artist Neville Colvin) never give in to the urge to wink at the reader. The Bond strips were clearly aimed at a less prudish readership than you’d get in the U.S. The violence is fairly straightforward (in the ape story, for instance, we see a woman get tossed from a hotel window without — as in the movie Diamonds Are Forever — landing in a pool), while the Bond Girls aren’t afraid to appear topless on-panel. The character of Bond is true to Fleming, while Horak’s penwork captures the more serious version of the character beautifully. Even at their most contrived, these resurrected strips remain a treat for fans — certainly more fun to experience than the “funny” version of Casino Royale.