The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project is a collection of old seventies James Bond newspaper comic strips by Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak (art) and was first published by Titan Books in 2007. This collected volume is 120 pages long and includes four stories - The Phoenix Project, The Black Ruby Caper, Til Death Do Us Part and The Torch-Time Affair. These strips are generally good fun although naturally rather of their time with topless women and Bond calling people things like 'sport' or 'luv'. Anyone interested in James Bond and/or comics should enjoy these though.

The Phoenix Project is the first story and concerns a suit of armour made of bonded boron elements which can withstand bullets, fire and grenades. When Margo Arden - the secretary in charge of clearance passes for The Phoenix Project - is hypnotized on holiday in Istanbul, she adds a new name to the list of cleared guests. Consequently, when Dr Hendrix Baar, the inventor of this technology, demonstrates the suit he finds an interloper has altered it and dies as a result. The interloper/saboteur kills Margo and escapes. James Bond is assigned the task of investigating the tour guide from Margo's Istanbul holiday for information and the trail soon leads to Turkey and the murky world of arms dealing.

The Phoenix Project is a decent story with usual striking black and white art by Yaroslav Horak. One interesting thing about this story is the way that it evokes Ian Fleming's experimental James Bond novel The Spy Who Loved Me with Bond not appearing at all in the first third of the story. Instead, we follow events from the perspective of Margo just as Fleming deployed a similar device in his novel. I rather enjoyed the sci-fi elements to this story with the Phoenix suit of armour and the relationship between Bond and M is quite sparky and interesting here too. Bond is reluctant to blackmail a tour guide here for information ('If I understand you, sir - you're asking me to squeeze this wretched bloke over a dirty little episode in his past') but receives a brusque reply from M. 'I'm not asking you, 007 - I'm telling you! So spare me your sentimental drivel!'

The Black Ruby Caper finds Bond targeting a criminal called Herr Rubin who is known as Mr Ruby and was responsible for an explosion. Bond breaks into his Swiss chalet and - with Susie Kew's help - frames Ruby's girlfriend Roanne Dreux so it looks like she was working with Bond against him. Matters become more complex when the action switches to Ghana where Ruby is planning to put a bomb in a statue. Sculptor Roscoe Carver, once wanted by the FBI for his connections to Ruby and the Black Brotherhood of Freedom, receives visits from his old mucker again and Roscoe's daughter Harlem model Damara teams up with Bond to track him down and put a stop to Ruby's unsavoury plans once and for all. 

The Black Ruby Caper is far too complicated for its own good and never really settles down into one unifying and satisfying plot thread, instead jumping all over the place and trying to be ultra twisty. The characters are not particularly memorable but you do get to see Bond being rather colder and more ruthless than he was in The Phoenix Project, especially in his treatment of Roanne Dreux. The art is fine on the whole again and there is colourful gadget in the form of the 'flipstick', a vaulting pole made up of telescopic aluminum sections.

Till Death Do Us Part has Bond assigned to find Ardra Petrich. Ardra's father worked for MI6 in Eastern Europe and her new lover Stefan Radomir believes she knows what he knew and therefore might be valuable to someone like the KGB. Bond is ordered to nab Ardra but she isn't too keen on MI6 telling her what to do and flees to Austria. Bond will require all of his determination and charm to keep her from falling into the wrong hands. Till Death Do Us Part is a solid addition to this collection with an interesting story that finds Bond once again questioning his mission and threatening at one point to leave Arda in Austria as he is unhappy with his orders.

Dangerous events mean he doesn't and he and Arda have to go to ground in Austria to survive with the police on their trail after Radomir reported Bond whisking her away as kidnapping. 'Face it Mr Bond,' says Arda as they speed down a country road. 'The Austrian fuzz have got you coming and going!' We see some of the ramifications of Bond's actions here on M and the government and Bond's fraught time with Arda makes for an interesting story that is pleasantly tauter than The Black Ruby Caper. Nice gadget here deployed for a chase as Bond has an all-terrain vehicle with a hot-air balloon and gas-firing guns.

The last story in the collection is The Torch-Time Affair. This yarn has James Bond trying to track down Tim Hurst, an agent who had been offered a Communist schedule for Latin American subversion known as 'Torch-Time'. Bond's trail leads him to the rescue of Carmen Perez on a deserted beach and a gigolo named Ricardo Auza who preys on American women. Suzie Kew arrives to help Bond and various revelations and standoffs occur across Mexico City. The Torch-Time Affair is a satisfactory conclusion to this volume if perhaps not the most exciting James Bond comic strip ever to make it into print. The characters are quite enjoyable though and Yaroslav Horak's art, which has an old-fashioned British comic annual feel, is always rather interesting with his use of shading and straight lines.

The Phoenix Project is another interesting collection of James Bond newspaper comic strips and is fun to dip into as become caught up in an adventure with Bond. For obvious reasons these volumes don't have the flow and scope (not to mention colour) of modern graphic novels but this should be of interest to anyone with a weakness for James Bond or British comic strips.

- Jake


c 2010 Alternative 007