The third volume in Titan Books’ omnibus reprints of the James Bond comic strip, The James Bond Omnibus Volume 003, presents the British-made newspaper series at the point where all the original Ian Fleming stories had been adapted—and scripter Jim Lawrence was forced to start producing original material for the comics. Though Fleming’s name remained on the strip (rather like Walt Disney did with the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics), the only adapted tale in this set proves to be Kingsley Amis’ pale pastiche Colonel Sun, which amusingly is still credited as being “by Ian Fleming.”
The shift to original spy tales in 1968 appears to have gone fairly smoothly: scripter Lawrence, having cut his teeth on six of the Fleming stories, had his core cast and the series formula down. Each of the seven episodes included in this book features our hero hooking up with a suitably comely Bond Girl—most memorably a former MI-6 agent who’s been framed as a traitor and an Algerian anti-imperialist beauty who gives 007 mouth-to-mouth after he fakes a near drowning—along with the requisite over-the-top baddies. If some of Lawrence’s plots aren’t as grandiose as the ones in Fleming’s novels, they prove more involving than the low-thrill perils of the written “Spy Who Loved Me.”
Though she isn’t a major presence in these strips, the lady leader of a revived S.P.E.C.T.R.E. puts in an appearance, though not as the primary antagonist. She shows in the volume’s most engagingly outlandish offering, however: “The Golden Ghost,” which centers on the hijacking of a nuclear-powered dirigible, which we’re told “will open a new era in aviation.” Pretty steam-punk for 1970.
Lawrence collaborator, artist Yaroslav Horak continues to capture the dapper agent and his exotic world, though at times the slightly smaller size of the omnibus package (7-1/2 by 9-1/4 inches as opposed to the 9-1/2 by 11-1/ 2 trade size of your average Modesty Blaise collection) seems to lead to some line loss. The artist is particularly strong in his use of blacks and shadows, which adds to the strip’s overall tone of pulp seriousness. This is not your pop-colored James Bond (as we sometimes got in the movies) but a deadly serious secret agent man. If a few of Bond’s single-entendre quips fall flatter than they would in the flicks, that’s arguably truer to Fleming’s original creation.
Lawrence and Horak would continue to produce original Bond strips for the next six years: not as impressive a run as Peter O’Donnell’s “Modesty Blaise,” but still a testament to the character’s enduring appeal. Hard-core Fleming fans will most likely favor the first two omnibus sets, but I’m thinking many of ‘em will also count this snappy set as an enjoyable bit of Bondiana.