Confession: I am one of the biggest James Bond newbies in film fandom. Out of the thousands of films I’ve seen in my two (nearly three!) decades, only three and a half have been Bond films. (Dr. No, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and part of Goldeneye if you’re keeping track.) I can’t really explain why this is, except that my family never watched them while I was growing up, and they didn’t pop on my cable channels enough. (Now that they’re all on Instant Watch, this may change. A theme for a CHUD series, perhaps?)
So, when Titan Books asked me if I wanted to review The James Bond Omnibus 002, I jumped at the chance to brush up on my Bond. It’s impossible to go through life without gleaning bits of Bond and Ian Fleming trivia, but it seems there’s no end to their mutually massive legacy. I had no idea Fleming’s work ever appeared as a comic strip, or that it predated the film adaptations. I find it remarkable (and bizarrely modern, given the current rush to adapt anything within a panel) that his character existed in this weird blend of book and cinema. It’s also evident that Fleming never could convince anyone what Bond actually looked like — the portrait he commissioned for Comic Strip Bond was a pre-war, Leslie Howard sort of guy, which was immediately rejected in favor of a face that looked remarkably like Sean Connery. Poor Fleming. No one could ever accept Bond as anything less than Really, Really Rugged.
I should hastily add that none of this is actually in the Omnibus. This is a book designed for a knowledgeable Bond fan, as just about everyone in the world except for me is. I looked all the above up on Wikipedia, which has a very detailed page about Bond’s comic strip. I’m a sucker for forewords, so I sort of wish there was one, but most fans don’t need an exhaustive history like that. They just want to plunge in, and this book is all about that.
If you’re a massive Bond fan, or casual fan of Fleming but a great fan of comic art, it’s a striking book to add to your collection. You get seven Bond stories in this (The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Lived Me, You Only Live Twice, Octopussy, The Living Daylights, The Hildebrand Rarity) and they are all beautifully and crisply reprinted. The paper is nice and heavy, and there’s no bleeding or blurring like you get in so many omnibus reprints. Unlike the thick trade collections printed by some massive comic companies (we won’t say who), this one won’t crack or split along the spine thanks to its weight. It may be paperback, but Titan has bound it with a nice rounded spine so you aren’t going to lose chunks of it with repeated reading. That’s quality! I wish other comic collections were printed with this kind of care.
Seeing Bond rendered as a soap opera strip is pretty delightful, as well as an exercise in patience. The retro art is spectacular and kinetic, so the stories translate remarkably well, but I can’t imagine getting only three panels a day! I kept imagining reading this on the tube and suffering in anguish because it would have taken a week for him to finish off Scaramanga. That’s probably a silly idea, but reading these sends you back in time a little bit, to an era without rotating Bonds or breathless casting speculation about Bond girls.
My only complaint with it is one I always have with old strips, and that’s the awful and distracting title card they all come with. They were always drawn right into the panel, so there’s no way to remove it in modern reprintings. That’s not something Titan can help, so I hesitate to mention it, but if it’s a style format you find as difficult to read as I do (my eye goes straight to it, and reading them often gives me a headache), it’s just something to be aware of.
The James Bond Omnibus 002 is a really fine collection. If you’re a fan of 007, or know someone who is, they’ll undoubtedly eat it up as a new way to visit this character and his world. For those just coming into any knowledge of the character (like yours truly), it’s a funky way to experience Fleming’s original stories, which are often quite different than the films (imagine my shock when I learned Octopussy was originally a real octopus). And just look at that cover! This is a collection you can actually leave out on a coffee table, and no one will laugh at you, as opposed to your Incredible Hulk omnibus. If you’re not a fan of Bond, Fleming, or comics, it won’t convert you to any of the above, and I’m not sure why you’ve read this far.
The James Bond Omnibus 002 is available now from Titan Books, and can be purchased at Amazon, but not at Barnes and Noble for some odd reason.