The James Bond Omnibus Vol.1

james bond omnibus mcklusky

The James Bond Omnibus Vol.1 is a collection of comic strip serialisations of Ian Fleming novels and stories that were published in the Daily Express between 1958 and 1962. The stories were adapted by Henry Gammidge, Anthony Hern and Peter O’Donnell and the wonderful art was by John McLusky. You get Casino Royale, Live And Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr No, Goldfinger, Risico, From A View To A Kill, For Your Eyes Only, Thunderball and an introduction by Roger Moore. These black and white strips (which started four years before James Bond hit the big screen with Sean Connery) are wonderfully stylish and atmospheric and very Ian Fleming and James Bondian in a fashion that the increasingly charmless and generic film series can only dream of. The compilation begins with an adaption of Casino Royale - which was of course the first ever James Bond book and published in 1953. This adaption began in the Express in 1958 and introduces us to James Bond (in his first ever mainstream depiction). Later strips would adapt Bond's appearance slightly to acknowledge Sean Connery but here he's quite refined looking with that comma of black hair. Looks vaguely Basil Rathbone in some panels and more action man in others. Anyway, Bond is immediately established as charming and urbane but deadly. He is an expense account snob with a love of the good life but has been trained to be an assassin and endure pain. He has a distaste for killing but sometimes it's an unavoidable part of his job. These adaptions are relatively faithful to the source material (which I like) and so the plot is more or less the same as the novel. A Soviet spy in France named Le Chiffre is working for SMERSH but has secretly embezzled some of their money to fund his dubious Western lifestyle. SMERSH will kill him if he doesn't return the money but he's a bit strapped for cash now. He decides to make up his losses in Baccarat at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux. Expert gambler James Bond 007 is sent by the British Secret Service to make sure Le Chiffre doesn't win and so will eventually be eliminated by SMERSH (the West can't kill Le Chiffre themselves for propaganda reasons) and his covert influence in France terminated.
This is a fine adaption of the novel with the fantastic retro black and white art and clever use of playing card motifs. I like the way they include the rules of Baccarat just as Ian Fleming did and the spirit of the novel with smoke hazed casino rooms and goons out for Bond's blood is nicely captured. I like Le Chiffre here too. He's a huge man and much more in keeping with the literary incarnation than the Le Chiffre in that terrible film version of several years ago. The use of shade by McLusky in his art is quite brilliant at times, evoking shadowy scenes and conveying momentum. The torture sequence is intact here too and surprisingly tough for a fifties newspaper strip but you also get some of Fleming's sexism and elements that are very much of the time (the original Bond novels contain many passages and lines that will seem jarring to the modern reader). In this case it is Vesper Lynd, the original Fleming heroine, who Bond isn't too keen at first to have to team up with. It's a slight shame that the art - while still enjoyable and impressive - would be modified after Casino Royale and McLusky would go for slightly more of a comic book style. This change is apparent with the 1958/59 adaption of Live and Let Die. It's slightly weird though that Bond does look like Connery in certainly panels three or four years before the film series even began! I suppose Connery just had that Bond comic strip look and it was why they cast him in the first place. This adaption is rather stripped down I found and dispenses with parts of Fleming's book. Understandable perhaps with a three strip format and Fleming was prone to going off at tangents (especially where factual and background information was concerned).
In the story, Bond travels to the United States to investigate Mr Big - an enigmatic and feared gangster boss in the black underworld. Mr Big is a SMERSH operative involved in clandestine money making schemes to fund the Soviet Spy network. He uses voodoo and superstition as forces of control. The story takes us from New York to the West Indies as Bond tries to complete his mission. This is another enjoyable comic strip adaption with plenty of intrigue and danger for our hero. The art is more conventional than Casino Royale but still good and you get all the major bits you remember from the book here. Most notably perhaps the scene where Bond and love interest and fortune teller Solitaire face the prospect of being keelhauled over coral underwater by Big (I don't know if it was just me but Solitaire looks exactly like a young Joan Collins in some panels!) Plus, of course Bond's CIA friend Felix Leiter and the "He disagreed with something that ate him..." line. Next is the 1959 Daily Express adaption of Moonraker. This is one of my favourite Bond books and the adaption is a fairly close one. This story concerns Hugo Drax, a self-made millionaire and tycoon who is funding a project to give Britain the world's first guided nuclear missile. The "Moonraker" project. However, Mr Drax is not what he seems. M first has his suspicions when he comes to believe Drax is cheating at cards at his private club Blades and sends James Bond to investigate. When Bond conforms that he is cheating at cards and there are rumblings of strange goings on at the Moonraker project base in Kent, Bond is sent there to look into Drax and Moonraker. This is pretty good again. Love the illustrations of rocket ships at the base and Drax is enjoyably drawn as a big angry looking man with a huge tache. Rather unusual Bond story in that it takes place in Britain (MI6 agents are supposed to work abroad) but the Kent setting makes it more novel. The heroine here, Gala Brand, is drawn to look very Diana Dors. I'm sure they were getting inspiration from real actresses for these strips.
The Diamonds Are Forever adaption was published in 1959/60. McLusky's art is excellent, almost cinematic. He was undertaking a lot of research now for his panels and trying to make them more realistic with real character. The American locations in this story are superbly realised. In the story Bond investigates a diamond smuggling ring and has to tangle with mobster Jack Spang and the 'Spangled Mob' in Las Vegas. It isn't one of Fleming's best novels but this comic strip adaption is great fun. Look out for the wonderful train sequence panels and a general air of brutality that is very Ian Fleming. From Russia With Love was adapted by the Express in 1960. This is another solid adaption of one of Fleming's best novels. The story has the heads of the Soviet intelligence organisations planning the assassination of James Bond. The plan involves luring Bond to Turkey where he will be led to believe that a female cipher clerk wants to defect to the West with a much prized secret code machine. The Soviets assign the mission of terminating 007 to their deadliest assassin Donovan 'Red' Grant and the luring part to beautiful agent Tatiana Romanova. This is merely the beginning of the capers that ensue. Once again the art is great here and the violence and danger of Fleming's work comes through in the strips. Some is toned down of course but you still get the essence and also some of the risque cheekiness of the novels. You tend to think of this era as a stuffy, conservative time but James Bond was maybe a bit ahead of the times in this respect. The basic story is more or less the same with some of Fleming's more abstract and lengthy flourishes reined in for the three panel format.
mclusky john casinoroyale bond

Dr No may have been the first film but it was the sixth Express adaption and again appeared in 1969. This is one of the strangest and most exotic of the Fleming books (it gets quite nasty at times too) and again some of that atmosphere is captured here. The story has Bond recovering from the events of From Russia With Love. He is sent to the West Indies to investigate the the disappearance of a British Secret Service agent and his secretary in Kingston. It is assumed that they have just eloped. It's a "rest cure" for Bond. An easy mission. But the rest cure turns out to be anything but when 007 begins to realise that Dr Julius No may be behind their disappearance. He's a wealthy Chinese-German bird-dung merchant with a heavily guarded and mysterious private island known as Crab Key. Though rich in wildlife, ornithologists tend to go missing should they ever venture to this island which - legend has it - is said to be guarded by a dragon. The art is once again very enjoyable here and some of the panels involving Bond are almost iconic. I like the depiction of the locales too, the beaches and wildlife. The art looks very simple on the surface but there is much going on and the use of light and shade is very clever. Goldfinger is a 1960/61 adaption and another excellent adaption. This one is very action packed and follows the plot of the book much more than the famous film version with Sean Connery that followed a few years later. It has to be said though that the film did have the brilliant idea of having the villain Auric Goldfinger plan to detonate an atomic bomb at Fort Know rather than just rob it as he does here and in the novel. The gold will be radioactive and untouchable and so therefore his own god supply will increase greatly in value. Very clever. Goldfinger is actually drawn to look a bit Gert Frobe here at times too, anticipating the type of actor they would cast. This is a very enjoyable comic. I love the momentum in chase panels (the illustrations of cars are very good) and there are some good fights and action panels, especially involving Bond tangling with Goldfinger's karate chopping Korean henchman Oddjob. Some nice lines too. "In Chicago, Mr Bond, they have a saying: once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is enemy action. Miami, Sandwich and now Geneva..."
Risico is a strip adaption of a story that appeared in Fleming's For Your Eyes Only Collection. In fact the next couple of strips here are shorter format adaptions of stories from that book. The short stories work well as comic strips for the obvious reason that they don't have to jettison vast swathes of Ian Fleming going off at tangents and becoming too windy on certain subjects and scenes. The basic plot here has Bond being sent to Rome to investigate drug smuggling and meeting his contact Kristatos - who tells him about Enrico Colombo. Which one is the real villain though? This is a decentish short story with intrigue and double crosses and a couple of strong characters - Kristatos and Columbo - for Bond to match wits with. Lisl Baum makes a memorable Bond woman and there is an exciting raid on a warehouse that makes for a good action set-piece. The art is again superb. From A View To A Kill is another Fleming short story and was adapted as a comic strip in the Express in 1961. This story is set in Paris and has Bond investigating the death of a motorcycle intelligence dispatch rider who was found in undergrowth with his important papers and documents missing. After studying the scene of the mystery, Bond decides to stake-out the area and discovers that Soviet agents are operating there from an underground base of operations. The forest detail is excellent here (although some is believed to have been lost through transfers over the years) and McLusky's art during a bike chase sequence is very striking. Next is For Your Eyes Only - the last completed adventure by McLusky and Gammidge. This is one of the bloodiest of the strips and good stuff. There are some nice touches here like the way McLusky uses maps to depict Bond's travels. The story has Bond sent on an ultra secret mission after Colonel Havelock and his wife are murdered. M, who was a guest at their wedding, sends James Bond to kill the culprits.
The final adaption here is Thunderball. Blofeld - leader of the terror organization SPECTRE - is holding the world to ransom. He has stolen two powerful atomic weapons and will destroy a major city if his demands for 100,000,000 are not met. Given one week to find the missing bombs, Bond goes to the Bahamas. This is a great adaption with wonderful underwater and nautical panels but sadly it is truncated and ends abruptly. At the time Ian Fleming had just sold syndication rights of his Bond short story The Living Daylights to the Sunday Times. Lord Beaverbrook, who owned the Express, regarded this to be a snub and so ordered the paper to stop printing the current run of Bond comic strips. A shame because what there is of the Thunderball comic is very good. The James Bond Omnibus Vol.1 is still though a must buy for fans of James Bond and vintage British comics and great fun. It's unavoidably a bit dated in places but the art and the stories are still very enjoyable. 

- Jake

c 2012 Alternative 007