The Scent of Danger! - Polestar reviewed

"The legend continues! Stand by for more adventures with the world’s greatest and most famous secret agent, James Bond, as some of his most thrilling missions are collected for the first time ever!"
Polestar is a 2008 Titan Books collection of five James Bond comic strip stories that (mostly) first appeared in The Daily Star in the early eighties. Some of these were only published abroad though so this one is a nice compilation and helps to tidy some of the missing pieces in the comic strip legacy of the character. They were all written by James Lawrence and the art duties were shared between John McLusky and Yaroslav Horak. After an introduction by Valerie Leon (who had a bit part in the 1977 Roger Moore film The Spy Who Loved Me) the collection begins with the McLusky illustrated story Flittermouse. Flittermouse marks the return of the nefarious Doctor Cat (a villain from a previous story called River of Death). It begins with James Bond investigating an Argentine actress named Isabella Garccia who claims she wants to sell a top secret South American intelligence report to the British Secret Service. Garcia dies right under his nose but when an autopsy is carried out all they can find by way of suspicious interference is a small wound on her bottom. Hmmn. Later, there is another strange occurrence when Bond's housekeeper May becomes hysterical when a dead cat sent to her seems to return to life.
When an agent in Paris named Aguiire tries to sell MI6 the same intelligence report he is killed too and this time the wound is identified as being that of a vampire bat. It appears that he was sprayed with a strange chemical that lured the bat to him. It seems that Doctor Cat is back and he's up to his old trick of training animals to carry out assassinations. As ever James Bond will have to foil his grand schemes. These original stories were written without reference to the Fleming books (which they had of course used up by now) and are nearly always preposterous even by the standards of James Bond but I suppose that's part of the charm. This story has a macabre element that is good fun and McLusky's art is very classy as ever. It builds to an entertaining climax at Cat's castle on the Rhine and serves as a solid first story in the collection. Not my favourite of the Bond comic strips but the villain is very good and you also get another appearance by Suzie Kew alongside Bond.
The title story Polestar was also illustrated by McLusky and is probably the best thing here. James Bond travels to lonely Arctic Canada and finds the body of his contact Lorna Kirk dead and frozen like a frosted statue. She was looking into the affairs of Robert Ayr and the facility he owns in the Northwest Territories - a certain Polestar Petroleum. Missiles are being launched at the United States and the Soviet Union but no launch site has yet been found. No prizes for guessing who the chief suspect is going to be. After being saved by a beautiful Cree Indian named Red Doe from a rabid dog, Bond is ordered by M to go undercover at Polestar Petroleum as a rocket scientist named Jack Boyd and find out once and for all what has been going on. This story works really well with the Arctic locations and a surfeit of action (especially in the final third). It's nice to see Bond undercover and the secret missile base shenanigans make for an exciting and compelling story. I think that Lawrence was clearly riffing on Fleming's Moonraker novel here and sort of updated it with a change of location but it's no bad thing as Moonraker was one of the very best of the original books in my opinion.
The art is again superb by McLusky. What looks like incredibly simple art on the surface conveys a real sense of character, momentum and style. A very good story as far as these later comic strips go (the later ones could be hit or miss at times). Snake Goddess was illustrated by Horak (he drew the last three stories here) and is rather eccentric but interesting because of the British locations. Moneypenny is attacked by a giant snake (I hate it when that happens) in her home and a large snake also makes its presence felt in Cornwall at large. There seems to be a link though between the snake and a girl named Freya who believes she is the reincarnation of a Norse Goddess.

As you probably gathered Snake Goddess is fairly mad but not a bad comic and Horak's art is no less enjoyable than that of McLusky. Horak's style is more modern and less retro but both are superior examples of comic strip art. There is a decent villain in this one too. Vidyala, a Sri Lankan who runs a Global Engineering company. Maybe this story is a bit too obtuse at times and the snake capers are rather silly (I suppose Ian Fleming did have Bond wrestle a giant squid or something once though so the books were not exactly serious to begin with) but I quite enjoyed it and like the way Horak draws the heroines in particular. You get to see M and Moneypenny at home in this one too which is something of a rarity.
Double Eagle is a much more conventional James Bond Cold War fodder and involves Berlin Wall escapades. When a Gestapo torturer is killed by an eagle (lot of dangerous animals in this collection!) Bond is assigned to investigate and must prevent the mysterious "Double Eagle" operation from taking place. His ultimate mission is to prevent a planned assignation at the Berlin Wall. This story lacks a colourful villain but the plot isn't bad and the turncoat Helga is decent love interest and partner for Bond in the story. There is a slightly expanded role for Moneypenny here too who gets to travel out into the field to work with 007. Once again the art by Horak in this story is excellent and the locations (East and West Berlin) are nicely conveyed with a great sense of atmosphere throughout. It's a decent little story.
The Scent of Danger is also more conventional and perhaps the least of the stories here. The art is the best thing about it again but the story doesn't amount to an awful lot. What is noticeable though is the way that all of the strips seem to have Connery as the Bond template despite the fact that Roger Moore was firmly established in the role at the time of publication. There are a couple of enjoyable bonus features with this collection that are worth a mention. A feature of Ian Fleming's west Indian retreat GoldenEye where he wrote the James Bond novels and a feature on Chilean publisher Zig Zag who produced original James Bond comic strip adventures in the late sixties.
I didn't know an awful lot about Zig Zag to be honest so it was interesting to read a little about it. We learn that the comic was shelved after a few years because a new Marxist regime deemed James Bond to be Imperialist! They may have had a point I think. This is another enjoyable collection of strips overall and nice to own as some of these were very rare before this collected edition and had only been published abroad or even in truncated fashion. The black and white art gives everything a retro pulpy feel and while the absence of political correctness makes the stories horribly dated at times it is quite refreshing too given the moribund state of the tedious luvvie infested film series lately. This is not the strongest of the four or five story collections released by Titan but I did enjoy adding it to my bookshelf and would certainly recommend this to anyone interested in James Bond or vintage British comics. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the collection is the chance to have the art of Horak and McLusky in one compilation side by side.
- Jake

c 2012 Alternative 007