The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002

The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002 is a collection of the famous vintage newspaper (three panel) comic strip adaptations of Ian Fleming James Bond novels and short stories. It was published in this collected edition in 2011. There are seven stories here - On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, The Man with The Golden Gun, The Living Daylights, Octopussy, The Hildebrand Rarity and The Spy Who Loved Me. The first two were adapted by Henry Gammidge with art by John McLusky and then Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak take over the writing and illustrating duties respectively. The comic strips all made their first appearance in The Daily Express in the sixties and are often - unlike the films - surprisingly faithful renderings of Fleming's work. They of course soon ran out of Fleming stories to adapt and had to start coming up with completely new ones so this second compilation from Titan Books is enjoyable for its very Fleming-esque aura.
The real star of the strips is the superb art by McLusky and Horak. McLusky is more traditional and Horak more modern and noir but both really capture the atmosphere of James Bond and are wonderfully inventive. They make the panels come alive with plenty of background detail and momentum. The first Gammidge adaptation is On Her Majesty's Secret Service with art by McLusky (this story made its first appearance 1964/65). This is one of the best Fleming stories and made the greatest James Bond film - probably because just for once it was a faithful adaptation from page to screen by Broccoli and Saltzman. The comic strip version here is probably the finest hour for Gammidge and McLusky. The story begins with a nice montage of James Bond in various places around the world. In classic gun pose, punching the lights out of some unfortunate goon, looking incognito with a hat as he steps off of an aeroplane. All very spiffy and James Bondian.
He has spent a year searching for Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the remnants of SPECTRE but the supervillain and his nefarious organisation has remained frustratingly elusive. "This is ridiculous. Blofeld's dead! So why does M keep turning me into a detective looking for a ghost?" Tired and disillusioned, he drafts a letter of resignation and returns to the casino at Royale-Les-Eaux. But back at the scene of his first adventure, he ends up saving the life of the complex and suicidal Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo. This brings Bond into the orbit of Tracey's father Marc-Ange Draco - head of a crime organisation named The Union Corse. Draco is most impressed by 007 and wants Bond to marry his wayward daughter so he gives him a lead on Blofeld. Blofeld has come out from under his rock to claim the dubious title of a Count and Bond will have to pose as Sir Hilary Bray from the Royal Collage of Arms to infiltrate Piz Gloria - Blofeld's mountain retreat.
This is a really good adaptation. McLusky has refined Bond somewhat (and remember the film series had started by now and was at its peak) so he's less Basil Rathbone and more Sean Connery. He also occasionally changes the standard three panel format into one sweeping single panel. A nice touch and very cinematic. The story is the most human of Fleming's novels (Bond falls in love and gets married) and one of the most exciting (some great action packed alpine panels) so you really don't need to change anything much. I think this strip actually ran for an entire year in the newspaper and it's very impressive as a complete piece. One minor drawback is the habit the strips have of the cliffhanger/recap device because of their three panel format. Once you get used to this though and are engaged in the story it isn't a major hurdle.
"Now bring on the twelve she-devils and if they're all as beautiful as Fraulein Bunt. We'll get Noel Coward to put it to music and have it on Broadway by Christmas. How about it?" You Only Live Twice was the last strip that McLusky and Gammidge worked on together and a fitting way to go out. It first appeared in 1965/66. This is the last part of Fleming's Blofeld Trilogy and makes a nicely macabre and strange story to adapt. Bond is still reeling from the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and is sent to retrieve a Japanese device that can decipher coded Soviet messages. "Magic 44" is to be a gift for services given to the Japanese government. A mysterious Swiss botanist known as Dr Shatterhand has created a "Garden of Death" where suicides are rife. Bond must undertake a mission to this deadly garden to secure the code machine but the identity of Dr Shatterhand will come as a huge shock and give him the chance for revenge.
This is another fine strip and nicely evokes the fashions and atmosphere of the Connery era Bonds. One of the guiltily enjoyable things about this and the other adaptations is that this is a James Bond from a very different time and much more of a hybrid of the book and early film Bond. You even get a disclaimer in the compilation! "This book is a work of fiction. Characters may have views and use language which some of today's readers may find offensive." McLusky throws some nice one and two page panels in to shake things up and once again is obviously very inspired by the look established by the films. This is of course a much more faithful rendering of Fleming's story than the film although Gammidge dispenses with a lot of Fleming's (sometimes it has to be said superfluous) prose to get to the heart of the story. James Bond versus his most famous foe amidst a rich exotic atmosphere.
The Man with the Golden Gun was adapted in 1966 by Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak (art). What is the difference between Horak and McLusky? I would say that Horak's art is more film noir and his physical depiction of James Bond is more modern and action man generic. I like this myself. Bond now looks like Bruce Wayne in the Batman comics which is fine by me. Let's be honest, James Bond is not supposed to look like Daniel Craig. He has to look a bit superhero or there is no real point. The novel was Fleming's last and he died before it was finished. It isn't considered to be one of his best works. The plot is fairly simple. Bond is brainwashed and attempts to assassinate his boss M. He is stopped and it transpires the Russians were behind this brazen scheme. 007 is rehabilitated and given a mission to see if he is still fit for service. His target is Francisco "Pistols" Scaramanga, a famed Hitman known as 'The Man with the Golden Gun' for his chosen instrument of choice, a gold-plated Colt 45. Scaramanga has killed several British agents. Will Bond be his latest victim?
The transition of a new writing and art team is very smooth here and the spirit of pulp and Fleming remains intact. Horak's art is superb at its best. Love the POV panel of Scaramanga's gun dispensing with another unfortunate victim as the story opens. Although not the best Fleming story it is of course always novel to enjoy it through the prism of a comic strip and so gains a new lease of life. Again, this is very faithful with one key difference. In this adaptation, M sends an injured victim of Scaramanga named Margesson to the nursing home where Bond is recovering from his brainwashing. This is a ploy to make Bond more personally connected to the case.

"Stow it, chum! If you want me sacked from Double-O go right ahead! They can shift me to a nice paper-shuffling job!" The Living Daylights was again adapted in 1966. This is a remarkably faithful adaption of the Fleming short story and finds a depressed Bond grudgingly accepting a mission to kill a Soviet assassin in no man's land in Berlin. A British agent is on his way back to the West and Bond must kill the Soviet sniper before the agent is terminated. The story is updated to include the Berlin Wall (which hadn't been constructed when Fleming wrote his story) but otherwise this is a superbly faithful and atmospheric rendering of the story. This is Fleming in melancholy mood and is about James Bond's distaste for killing. Sometimes it is a necessary part of his profession but he doesn't like it at all and will avoid doing it if he can. Love the opening panel here. The ever encroaching wall, searchlights, barbed wire, an armoured jeep. Great stuff.
Octopussy is another adaptation of a Fleming short story and although it first appeared in the Express in 1966 (what a great year that was) it eventually ran into 1967. This is not a hugely faithful adaptation and Lawrence throws in a few twists and aquatic coda capers of his own bent. The story has Hans Oberhauser found dead, frozen in the Alps. Oberhauser was a mentor to James Bond when the future super secret agent was a very young man. He taught him how to ski and was like a father. As you can imagine, Bond is very interested and emotionally connected to this case and suspicion seems to fall on Major Dexter Smythe - the last person to see Oberhauser alive. Once again, Horak's art is the star here and really great. City panels, alpine panels, panels at sea. Mary Goodnight also appears in the story and as usual there are one or two lines in the strips that are rather of their time. 'Forgive Barbarian tactics, but humble servant object most strongly to being tailed,' says Bond after confronting the Chinese man who had been following him. Octopussy isn't the best of Fleming but the comic strip is fun anyway.
The Hildebrand Rarity is another 1967 adaptation of a Fleming short story and like the last one includes a number of changes (presumably because Fleming material was so thin on the ground now and they wanted to pad the short pieces out). While on holiday in the Seychelles, Bond falls in with dubious millionaire Milton Krest and is persuaded to join a search for a rare spiked fish known as The Hildebrand Rarity which Krest must find as part of a tax dodge. Krest beats his wife with a whip and poisons countless fish looking for The Hildebrand Rarity and the millionaire will be lucky to survive the boat trip without getting his comeuppance. Lawrence prefaces the search for the Hildebrand Rarity with a backstory where Krest steals a high-tech drone submarine known as the Sea Slave during its test run. The Sea Slave was a joint American and British project and Bond is looking for clues as to its current whereabouts. Will Bond discover Krest's secret and will the unpopular and boorish Krest survive the cruise intact anyway? I've always liked the literary version of this with its languid tropical atmosphere and the comic adaptation nicely captures some of that aura.
The final strip here is The Spy Who Loved Me. This is a 1966/67 adaptation of Fleming's most experimental novel. He absolutely hated it and stipulated that only the title could be used in any film or comic strip version but I quite like it myself. The literary story had Bond on the way back from a mission in Canada and arriving at a lonely mountainous Adirondacks hotel where a woman named Vivienne Michel is alone and closing it down while she waits for the owner to arrive. She is menaced by two criminal goons named Sol 'Horror' Horowitz and Sluggsy Morant who plan to torch the hotel for insurance purposes and quite obviously plan to rape and kill Vivienne. Until that is the unexpected arrival of the mysterious man named James Bond.
The novel was told from the perspective of Vivienne (very unusual for Fleming) but Lawrence makes big changes to adapt it to the comic format and adhere to Fleming's instructions. In this comic strip version, the story revolves around a test pilot in Canada named Mike Farrar who is part of the trials for a secret new stealth aircraft called the Ghosthawk. Farrar is being blackmailed though by someone called Horst Uhlmann and this information is passed onto the British Secret Service. Uhlmann used to be a member of SPECTRE and the British are interested to find out if he is still connected to them and if SPECTRE is still operational and able to pose a threat. James Bond is sent to Canada to impersonate Farrar in an attempt to get more information and hopefully entice SPECTRE out.
It's a shame that Horak's film noir style couldn't have given the story a go in a more faithful sense but The Spy Who Loved Me is very enjoyable and you even get a new SPECTRE villain named Madame Spectra. The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002 is obviously a bit dated in terms of its language and attitudes but anyone interested in james Bond and British comics should enjoy this a lot. It has extra value too for being the last batch of Ian Fleming adaptations before they ran out of Fleming material. Love the Bond girl full size splash pages too. The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002 is well over 300 pages long and great fun.
- Jake

c 2017 Alternative 007

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