James Bond has had some memorable adventures in the snowy mountains, and Green Arrow writer Benjamin Percy is taking him back to the slopes in the all-new James Bond #1 coming March 1.
Percy, who is taking over from Warren Ellis, works with artist Rapha Lobosco on what he calls "politically relevant, adrenaline-fueled stories." In this first six-issue arc titled "Black Box," the long-time spy is the target of an assassin who hunts assassins while investigating a cyber-terror threat that could harm the real world.
Percy spoke with Newsarama about taking up the mantle of Bond, as well as his connections with the characters and the settings he's tasking 007 to visit.
Newsarama: Benjamin, debrief us on your James Bond title.
Benjamin Percy: I can tell you what you might already suspect. I grew up on Bond - the films and the novels - and so it feels impossibly cool to be writing the series now. Along with Batman, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes, he might be the most well-known literary character in history. That legacy inspires and pressures me to do him justice and make a notable mark on the 007 franchise.
And I can tell you a few choice details that might get you jazzed up. This six-issue arc is like a lit fuse, with every issue more wild and perilous than the last. And “Black Box” draws - like so many Bond stories - from the anxieties of the era in which it was written (in this case, I’m working with surveillance, cyber terror, state-sponsored information wars). And every issue is organized around a heart-racing action set-piece (such as a stunt-filled ski chase and a deadly sumo tournament and a game of cat-and-mouse in the “suicide forest” at the base of Mt. Fuji),
But I can’t tell you all the dirty details, because that wouldn’t be any fun.
Nrama: So who is the villain of "Black Box"?
Percy: There’s never just one, right? The big bad is a tech mogul, a kind of Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg with criminal intentions.
But there’s also a fantastically creepy henchman - called No Name - who wears the death masks of his victims (and has a crowded trophy wall upon which he displays them).
And then there’s an assassin who only kills other assassins… whose loyalty is at first unclear.
Bond has an uneasy relationship with the CIA and that also ends up problematizing his mission as he ends up in a race against them. And in many ways his own government becomes a kind of enemy, asking him to do something that goes against his judgment.
Nrama: The first issue is said to be set in the French Alps - Bond has had some memorable cinematic adventures in the snow. What can readers look forward to here?
Percy: There will - of course - be a few hat-tips to the opening sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me. But this isn’t merely me fantasizing about how it might feel to brave the slopes. I grew up in central Oregon - and every winter weekend, I was bombing down Mt. Bachelor’s black diamond runs. I’ve leapt off the cornice, made first tracks, successfully landed a backflip (after many failed attempts, to be perfectly honest), and gone off trail and started an avalanche that nearly ended me. Downhill skiing is my favorite sport, and I’ve always wanted to channel my experience into a story. Bond gave me the perfect opportunity.
Nrama: Every story has a setting, but James Bond stories seems even more intricately associated with exotic locales. How does that affect the story?
Percy: There are no James Bond stories that take place in Topeka, Kansas (which I’m sure is a perfectly nice place) for a reason. People want to escape. Not just through the setting, the character, the gadgets, the tuxedos, the high-wire danger, the sex. To live wildly and beyond reason for a little bit.
So a Bond story will take place beneath a volcano or in an ice fortress or in Rio during Carnival or in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead or or or…
When it comes to setting, it should never be merely about the whoa-dude-ain’t-it-coolness of it all (though that’s certainly important), but making the place truly relevant to the storytelling. Tokyo is known as the city of the future, and there’s a reason I set part of my cyber-thriller storyline in this gritty, neon wonderland.
Nrama: You're following Warren Ellis, who cut back to the core of Ian Fleming's story - even at the expense of the cinematic versions. How do you balance the literary origins of Bond with the heavy heavy shadow of his films for your take?
Percy: I have prayed at the same literary altar as Warren, but I’m also a sucker for the films. I listen to the theme song every day I work on a script, and you’ll see the cinematic influence in my stories. These are politically relevant, adrenaline-fueled stories, but I’m balancing them out with moments of levity and romance. I’m having fun, and I think the reader will too.
Nrama: You're doing this while also working on DC's Green Arrow. How would you compare and contrast Ollie Queen with James Bond?
Percy: If you look at Green Arrow - especially the “Murder on the Empire Express” storyline (which I wrote for artist Juan Ferreyra) - you’ll see I’m drawing from the 007 playbook. That might have been one of the arcs that landed me this job.
But Oliver Queen and James Bond are very, very different characters. Yes, they’re both brilliant and handsome. Yes, they’re “super” heroes (who rely on their wits and athleticism and gadgets, instead of their ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound). But…Ollie wears his heart on his sleeve, whereas Bond is emotionally cool - cold even. And Ollie operates on gut instinct (he always makes the right choice, but often it’s after making the wrong choice), whereas Bond is calculated and prepared for any situation. They wouldn’t make the best roommates.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with James Bond?
Percy: The best writing advice I ever received came from Barry Hannah. This was in 2003, and it was the final day of our workshop at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He was on his way when I asked if he had any parting advice. He paused in the doorway, lit a cigarette, blew out a cloud of smoke, and said, “Thrill me.”
Simply put, that’s my goal. To thrill the reader.