Shattered Helix

Shattered Helix is a 1994 James Bond graphic novel published by Dark Horse Comics. Simon Jowett was responsible for the story and David Lloyd the art. The first James Bond comic strips were published in 1958 by the Daily Express and since then the character has remained remarkably durable and ever present across a variety of mediums (most notably of course films). Fleming's original novels - with their exotic mix of sex and sadism and fine living in far flung sun dazzled locales - were highly appealing to British readers looking for escapist fare in an era of drab post-war austerity and although Fleming's Bond is a Cold War creation the key to the longevity of the character is that he is always brought up to the present day in continuation novels, films and comics. It makes him a dreadful anachronism but it's probably the only to ensure the survival of the brand. While the Express strips are classy and have a curious timeless quality, good modern James Bond graphic novels are few and far between for some reason. You would have thought that the world of James Bond would be perfect for a great comic but perhaps it's because they are never allowed to be too risque with the property or ever deconstruct the character to an alarming degree. They are always fun though even if story they use is never quite as inspired or clever as you'd like it to be. Shattered Helix is decent fun too with an exciting plot that takes us from sunny Arizona to the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. It begins with brilliant scientist Professor Phillip Boyce kidnapped by the nefarious international crime syndicate Cerebrus from a sealed biosphere arcology known as "The Ark". As ever James Bond is assigned to investigate why Cerebrus have attacked the Ark and what they want with Boyce.
It transpires that Boyce used to work for the CIA in a secret biological-warfare institute in the Antarctic. He was working on a virus which could attack human DNA and be programmed to create a range of diseases - from glaucoma to cancer. There was an accident and the virus escaped killing two researchers. Although the base was sealed off two flasks of the chilling virus remained inside. Cerebrus head for the Antarctic with Boyce as their prisoner and are intent on nabbing this deadly biological weapon. In a deadly race against time, Bond teams up with the Professor's daughter Serena Mountjoy and some Marines and to try and thart these dastardly plans. But the main villain here - cold hearted Cerebrus agent Mr Barclay - is determined not to be stopped. Shattered Helix is not exactly Alan Moore but it is a slightly above average comic and a pleasant mixture of the old and new. The art is slightly scratchy and retro in the old Horak style but we have colour and more modern futuristic facades and it works well overall. The meshing of the old and new gives it a cinematic modern feel while also paying respect to the history and traditions of the character. Nice touch to have M's briefing room look very old fashioned with leather lined doors and book shelves. Very cosy and in keeping with the books and early films. M is enjoyably drawn to look like Bernard Lee and even says "Good god!" when Bond fills him in on the details of the hair raising mutagen caper they are up against. These early briefing panels are excellent. Bond himself is an agreeable enough mixture of all that has gone before. 
A bit of Connery, a bit of Fleming, a bit of John Gardener's Bond. Timothy Dalton maybe. He even has a dash of Roger Moore when he retains enough poise in tricky tense situations to make the odd dry quip or two. He's drawn quite retro (short black hair) although looks a bit odd on the actual cover for some reason. The cover is a bit too spare for my liking but sort of conveys the spirit of the book. The art is generally good with a nice sense of atmosphere and momentum. The snow bound submerged research facility illustrations are excellent and there are many good panels set in this wilderness of storms with helicopters in the frozen gloom and people lost in the snow frazzled mist. Use of shadows is always inventive throughout the comic too. The art is a definite plus and has a distinct Dark Horse style that reminds one of other volumes by this publishing house. Good use of the whiteness of Antarctic also I think. There are a couple of decent villains too for Bond to tangle with. Most memorable is the henchman Bullock - a huge imposing shaven headed lump who has special body-armour implants beneath his skin. As you can imagine he is constantly trying to kill 007 in the usual Bond henchman tradition. He's a formidable foe for our super agent hero. The story reads like a rejected script for one of the films and that's not meant as criticism at all. I just mean it's a good escapist caper where you can easily imagine certain elements being incorporated into a film. The opening panels in Arizona are warm and colourful and the mutagen virus adds an element of the macabre (very Ian Fleming) into proceedings in an entertaining way. 
The contrast between these warm hues and the more stark but no less beautiful landscape of the Antarctic is effective. One possible weakness I suppose is that the Bond girl Serena Mountjoy is rather bland and contrived and isn't someone you remember terribly well afterwards (in contrast to some of the Horak illustrated heroines) and her introduction does slow the pace of the story somewhat. It picks up though when the villain is introduced and becomes a good relatively engrossing read with plenty of good art to enjoy. Use of dialogue is actually quite minimal here and the panels often tell the story. This economical approach is effective in what is a fairly straight ahead spy story. Shattered Helix is far from a classic but an entertaining read on the whole and certainly worth a look if you can ever get hold of it. If it does reappear at a reasonable price it's not a bad purchase at all if you are interested in comics and James Bond. While the story is hardly original (it reminded me of On Her Majesty's Secret Service) or complex it does make for a good solid graphic novel with interesting locations and one or two twists along the way. The snow bound panels in particular are often hugely enjoyable. 
- Jake

c 2012 Alternative 007