Shark Bait Review

Shark Bait is a collected volume of old James Bond newspaper strips from The Daily Express and was first released by Titan Books in 2008. The graphic novel contains three different James Bond stories - The Xanadu Connection, Shark Bait and Doomcrack - written by Jim Lawrence with art by Yaroslav Horak and Harry North respectively. Shark Bait is 128 pages long and also includes a feature on James Bond in American comics and an introduction by Caroline Bliss who played Moneypenny in the two Timothy Dalton films produced in the late eighties. Two of these stories had apparently never appeared in Britain before so Shark Bait was/is of interest to anyone with a vague interest in James Bond art and these types of old newspaper strips.

The Xanadu Connection was illustrated by Yaroslav Horak and finds James Bond having to rescue MI6 connection Heidi Frans from a castle in East Germany - which he does with a Thunderbirds style device known as The Mole that burrows into the ground. Heidi has some info about a certain 'Marco Polo' which is a codename for a MI6 informer named Ivor Brent. Bond must work with Brent's wife to track him down and the trail leads to Mongolia and a rather nasty villain. The Xanadu Connection is a decent enough story that takes place in London, East Germany and Mongolia and also features Moneypenny and Bill Tanner. The black and white art is simple but can be striking on occasions with Horak especially good at shade to evoke shadows and a sense of momentum. His drawings of simple things like bookcases and trees are often very good too. It's difficult for this graphic novel not to betray its newspaper comic strip origins with the small panels and slightly disjointed nature of the way that the story unfolds but it is of course fun and a help to have them together in a volume from beginning to end. The format helps the individual strips and panels to stand a little taller.

The Shark Bait story was again illustrated by Yaroslav Horak and has Bond working with KGB agent Katya Orlova against a renegade Red Navy scheme involving sharks. This is a reasonably entertaining story with KGB frogmen and killer sharks thrown in with some romance between the central characters. It's relatively simple in construction but works quite well with the aquatic flavour coming across as suitably Flemingesque. Horak's black and white art is a little reminiscent of the 'straight' stories/strips that would appear in old British comic annuals like Tiger and contains a lot of white with broad black brushwork and straight lines. Sometimes the backdrops are quite detailed and other times they are blank and vague. It is pleasantly pulpy and old-fashioned and the faces of some of the characters are given some real personality. 

Bond himself is drawn with the black comma of black hair a la Fleming and seems more inspired by the books and original sketches/conceptions of the character rather than simply be drawn as Sean Connery. The original sketches of Bond commissioned by Fleming had Bond looking very lean and a bit Sherlock Holmes. John McLusky decided this look was too pre-war when he worked on Bond strips and his slightly more square jawed Action Man lookalike approach was taken on by Horak.

Doomcrack was illustrated by Harry North and has James Bond escorting Liliane Miklos from Egypt to London. Liliane is a representative of Dr Vlad Sinescu - the inventor of a sonic weapon known as Doomcrack. Although a KGB hijack attempt is foiled, Dr Sinescu and the weapon are kidnapped and governments around the world are held to ransom by the prospect of their cities and famous landmarks being reduced to rubble by this secret sonic weapon. Bond is framed and starts to think that SPECTRE are the real culprits behind all of this. Doomcrack is probably the most exciting and grand scale story on offer here with revelations, hijacking capers and a super weapon that threatens the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower and causes more than a few headaches for the American and French governments. Harry North, the artist for this one, makes the various characters look younger than Horak and seems much more influenced by the film series. Q is very Desmond Llewelyn whereas Bernard Lee is obviously M here and so on.

One other interesting thing about Doomcrack is that the writer Jim Lawrence attempts to fill in the reader a little on the current status of SPECTRE. Bill Tanner says that Blofeld's death left a power vacuum and that the various attempts to wrench control almost finished the organisation off for good. There are also a few enjoyably surreal gadgets in this one for Bond, including a fake mustache that allows him to follow the scent of a perfume (!) and a hypnotic cigarette that leaves people open to suggestion. Doomcrack is perhaps the most interesting and fun story out of the three and North's art is pleasant enough. North's art is a little smoother than the Horak illustrations and it's interesting to have two different styles within one volume to compare and contrast.

Shark Bait is decent read although this is (for obvious reasons) not the most spectacular or ambitious graphic novel you'll ever read. This is clearly going to be of more interest to James Bond fans who are interested in the old newspaper strips and are curious to see what they were like and how they portrayed Bond etc than the general reader/comic fan. The stories are all mildly interesting as too is the art by Horak and North. Shark Bait will be a perfectly decent purchase for James Bond fans with a weakness for comics but others might not be so excited. The book is a relatively modest buy if your interest has been piqued and can be picked up quite cheaply. Anyone interested in James Bond art should enjoy Shark Bait quite a bit.
- Jake  


c 2010 Alternative 007