James Bond #1
Written by Vita Ayala and Danny Lore
Art by Eric Gapstur, Roshan Kurichiyanil and Rebecca Nalty
Lettering by Ariana Maher
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 2 out of 10
Licensed properties often give writers a lot of leeway because they don’t need to spend much time with establishing elements. In most cases, the audience has a familiarity with the characters and the general workings of their world to the point where a creative team can dive right in. Take James Bond. He’s a secret agent. Why? There’s a whole thing, but don’t worry about it! He’s good at guns and fighting. Why? We told you already, he’s a secret agent! One of his villains has a hat that he kills people with! Why? He’s a really sharp dresser! (I’m sorry.)* But diving right in usually requires the title character to be involved in their own story. Unfortunately, with James Bond #1, writers Vita Ayala and Danny Lore spend so much time setting up a plot, that they forget who the plot is supposed to be for. So instead of 22 pages of James Bond action, artist Eric Gastpur is tasked with drawing a bunch of significantly less interesting characters having conversations that would put an art history class to sleep.
There are two major flaws to this issue, in that James Bond himself is relegated to a cameo and that the plot that Ayala and Lore spend the majority of the issue setting up is a snooze (unless you’re really into art history, I guess, but even then...). The plot revolves around an insurance claim investigator (Brandy Keys) and her partner (Reese) looking into a forged Mark Rothko painting. Art forgery and art theft could be legitimately cool angle to take, but the creative team is unable to make it visually interesting. We just get the first of many scenes of people talking in a fairly nondescript room. The writers take three pages to explain how the art thieves might have committed the crime, and a large chunk of them doing some more investigation. But it’s all so decompressed that it feels like the comic book equivalent to upping the font size in a 10-page paper. The writers bookend the middle section with what essentially amounts to glimpses of Bond. But this is Bond in name only - the iconography is almost non-existent, the charm is absent, the set pieces are blink-and-you-miss-it. There is a visual language to this property that the creative team has either forgotten or ignored.
So with that in mind, it’s hard to place too much of the blame on line artist Eric Gastpur. After all, he’s just drawing the script if was given. But even the opening pages only hit as a half-hearted attempt at Jim Steranko’s work with Nick Fury under his pencil. The characters and layouts are competent. Gastpur never takes too many chances, though the bits with Reese leaning on the other panels on the page is fun. Some of the action is muddled due to Gastpur’s constant use of silhouette across the book - one has to wonder if he used Wally Wood’s “22 Panels That Always Work” and didn’t attempt anything outside of that. The characters themselves, meanwhile, are nothing to write home about. This is perfectly servicable comic book art, but Gastpur’s style shows no uniqueness, just a workmanlike ability to get readers to the end without confusing them too much.
If this book didn’t have “James Bond” across the cover, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell it was meant to be a James Bond story. Ayala and Lore get so preoccupied with plot minutiae that they never get to the main event. Even worse, neither the plot or the heroes have any of the elements that make James Bond one of the most enduring characters in fiction. It’s like if they had written an Indiana Jones comic but never showed his hat or had him say that some artifact belongs in a museum. What’s the point? Dynamite has put out some interesting 007 material in the recent past, but this one is a bomb. A James Bomb.
*I am not actually sorry.