James Bond, 007 is a staple of British culture. Since the 1950s, the character has flourished in novels, film and comic strip form. One reason for this is that Ian Fleming’s blunt-instrument for Her Majesty’s government has been allowed to evolve over the years to keep him contemporary. James Bond: VARGR by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters (with Guy Majors on colouring and Simon Bowland on letters) continues this trend. But how does it fare? As a self-confessed Bondophile, I picked up the hardcover to find out.
After a mission of vengeance in Helsinki, James Bond returns to London and assumes the workload of a fallen 00 Section agent. His new mission takes him to Berlin, presumably to break up an agile drug-trafficking operation. But Bond has no idea of the forces gathered in secret against him, the full scope of an operation that’s much scarier and more lethal than he could possibly imagine. Berlin is about to catch fire… and James Bond is trapped inside. Dynamite Entertainment proudly presents VARGR, the debut storyline in the all-new James Bond comic book series, as crafted by masterful writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, The Authority) and artist Jason Masters (Batman Incorporated, Guardians of the Galaxy).
First up, I want to give a massive round of applause to the cover and logo designer of the series, Rian Hughes. The simple, striking cover and elegant logo that stands apart from the film series or any of the iterations of the novels is stunning work, and while you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, I do have to admit I couldn’t NOT pick it up once I saw it. As someone who has been creating James Bond covers for fun over the last few years and who struggled with a logo, I can’t praise Hughes enough.
It’s obvious from the first page that this version of Bond is standalone to the novels, movies, games and comics that have come before. This is a Bond who takes elements from those previous works and blends them together into a rather neat, grey-suited package. Ellis’ Bond has the confident recklessness evidenced by Fleming’s novels, combined with a razor sharp wit which comes from the movies. This is a Bond who gets the job done and you wouldn’t want to stand in his way.
The artwork throughout VARGR backs this up. There’s a wonderful quality to Masters’ line-art and the stylish colour work provided by Major lend themselves perfectly to Ellis’ vision of Bond. There are some wonderfully brutal fight-scenes with some panels that may leave squeamish audiences grimacing but these visceral depictions help sell the world that Bond walks in. Add to this some excellently crafted character designs – Bond is spot on as a man who, although probably too good looking to really blend in everywhere, somehow manages to. M radiates authority and there’s a quality to the Quartermaster that just exudes a pompous superiority complex.
Ellis is very confident in his setup for this Bond. The reader is transported into this modern, comic version of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service – each member of which has a distinct personality despite their brief appearance. Ellis is perhaps helped by the general knowledge of Bond that exists but I must still applaud the confidence with which his plot and dialogue hits the ground running. The villains are perfectly Bond. They would fit right into one of Fleming’s novels – were he alive and writing modern Bonds or into the movie or video game worlds. They are just eccentric enough, without tipping into the ridiculous.
One thing that did stand out for me in a not altogether good way was that Ellis threw in a line about Bond’s choice of weapon being a lady’s gun “and not a very nice one at that”. This is famously from conversations between Fleming and a gun enthusiast who became immortalised as the SIS’ quartermaster in the novels and Q in the films. Boothroyd referred to the Berretta used by Bond in the early novels which was replaced by the Walther PPK. In VARGR, the reference is made against the Walther P99 – which is, if anything slightly too bulky to be an ideal weapon of choice for a man who has to conceal his weapon and is a solid handgun. It’s a throwaway line that no-one who hasn’t been researching for a spy novel they probably won’t write would care about!
And that really is about the only fault I found when reading through VARGR. I can’t really praise this first volume enough. VARGR is a wonderful read if you are a fan of either James Bond (in any incarnation) or of thrillers or high-octane comics of any kind. Ellis and the art team have very confidently produced the starting chapter of what I hope will continue to be a very long running series for Dynamite. Fun, dynamic and action-packed. This really is Bond for the comic reader.
Title: James Bond VARGR
Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Jason Masters
Colourist: Guy Major
Letterist: Simon Bowland
Rating: 5 / 5