For over six decades, James Bond has been one of the world’s most legendary fictional characters. Originating in a series of novels by Ian Fleming and becoming far more popular upon the launch of the long lasting film franchise from EON, Bond is that rare character/series that has never gone out of style. Following Fleming’s death, a number of other authors wrote Bond tales as well.
VARGR, a six issue limited series from Dynamite Entertainment, marks the first appearance of James Bond in a comic in two decades. In this new tale starring 007 (which is a new story independent of the previous novels/comics/films/etc.), he is sent to Germany upon the death of another 00 agent, to investigate the presence of a mysterious drug that has been wreaking havoc across Europe. Naturally, upon his arrival, he is met with mysterious foes, stranded for himself in a nation where nothing is what it seems.
James Bond is a character/series that has evolved substantially over the years, yet many of the hallmarks of the character have reigned true over the course of those six decades. Written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Masters, VARGR has so far released three of its six issues.
Where does one begin to break down a comic revolving around one of the most legendary of all fictional characters in a new story? The writers intelligently made this a separate story from the film franchise, currently starring Daniel Craig. In fact, the writing stays truer to the gritty, less humorous version of Bond that first appeared in the classic Ian Fleming novels. The story is set in modern times, yet has a unique and interesting look that gives it a retro feel. In many ways the film series tried to move in this same direction when Craig came into the role, yet this still feels like a different approach nonetheless.
One thing I applaud the writer and illustrator for here is that they are not afraid to use profanity and show violence. Bond has always been something of a “mature” series, yet the filmmakers never want to make anything above a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. Here you have bloody fingers separated from their hands, gaping bullet holes with blood gushing, and even detailed images of a projectile penetrating the human skeleton. In this regard, this is the Bond I have always wanted to see, without being overtly sanitized to keep it below “Rated R” content.
It is also worth mentioning that this version of the story, as was previously mentioned, tends to have a feeling closer to that of the original Fleming novels than the film series. Characters like M, Q, and Moneypenny appeared in the first issue, though oddly both M and Moneypenny are redesigned as Black/African characters. I have no strong feelings about this whatsoever; the characterizations are strong and that is what truly counts. It is a bit at odds with the way that Fleming wrote such people in his original novels, but if anything I would say that this is a welcome change (believe me when I say that there are more than a few aspects of the Fleming novels that would not be politically correct or suited to today’s world).
The story also scores points for not being ridiculously big budget or elaborate as the films have been over the years. In VARGR you are not going to find scarred, bald villains stroking white cats while hiding out in secret volcano lairs. You will not find butch Russian women with knives in their shoes. You will not find James Bond with a laser beam approaching his crotch. And, thank the maker; you will not find Bond going into outer space. The plot is simple and it works; by the end of these six issues we will see if Bond has a nemesis for the ages.
The stories are full of twists and intriguing, violent, and gritty, but with a fair amount of verbal humor to “break the ice,” it stays feeling like a true James Bond product. Admittedly, it would be nice to see the latter few issues incorporate some more of the elements from the films, such as romances with female characters and some light gadgetry from Q Branch; this team is up to the task of incorporating such elements without resulting in camp or an over-the-top feel.
VARGR is classic James Bond, back in comics, with an interesting new spin on everyone’s favorite 00 agent, which remains largely true to Fleming’s original incarnation of the character. If you are even remotely a fan of Bond in some shape or form, VARGR is a Bond story you will definitely want to check out.