Friday, January 22, 2010

The James Bond Omnibus: Volume 001

As a kid growing up in the 1970s my parents felt it necessary to put their collective feet down and stamp out (or at least attempt to stamp out) my love for all things KISS and PLANET OF THE APES. I was never really sure why, they just put the kibosh on both fascinations, driving my interests underground, a skill that would come in handy over the years to come.

But for some reason they never put the brakes on my love of James Bond. Frankly, I would think that the exploits of a horny, boozing super-spy with a literal license to kill his enemies might have been more damaging than gimmicky glam posing as metal-lite and a sci-fi series about talking apes but that's just me.

Though I initially discovered Bond through frequent ABC Movie of the Week airings of the flicks, I credit my brother-in-law for giving me a proper education in the character's history. Visits to see my sister and him would always end up with me hanging out in their living room, checking out his LPs (including the soundtrack to Jimmy Cliff's THE HARDER THEY COME) and perusing his collection of vintage Bond paperbacks.

Eventually he let me borrow the books, one at a time, and in the order they were written. Over the years I've probably read each of the novels three, maybe four times, with favorites like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and From Russia With Love closer to double figures.

Add in multiple viewings of all the Bond flicks, even the Moore and Brosnan outings I frequently found wretched, and you can imagine that it'd be tough to surprise me when it comes to 007.

Which is what made the arrival of The James Bond Omnibus: Volume 001 (Titan Books) such a treat. Based on the original Ian Fleming novels (and, in a few cases, short stories), the book collects Daily Express newspaper strips that ran from 1958-1962. Though I was vaguely familiar with the daily Bond comic, I'd never had the chance to read them until now.

Adapted in the same order as the novels were published, this 300+ page volume features Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger and Thunderball, as well as three short stories - "Risico", "From a View to a Kill" and "For Your Eyes Only" - that in some way inspired Bond's on-screen exploits.

Though it has been years since I picked up a Bond novel, becoming familiar with the source material again was like hanging out with an old friend. Because the first 007 film wouldn't come out until 1962, this volume is completely uncolored by the choices made by the producers or the casting of Sean Connery as Bond. In fact, the art by John McLusky portrays the suave super spy as older and more rugged than I pictured him. More than once I noted that the comic depiction looked like a cross between Ronald Reagan and Superman, complete with a curled lock of hair on his forehead. (Interestingly, Fleming's image of Bond used to aid the strip artists looks more like Peter Cushing!)

The adaptations, like Fleming's novels and the film series, are largely hit or miss. From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Dr. No crackle with excitement and intrigue, even in the truncated daily strip format. Casino Royale sags under the weight of the baccarat sequences but regains its edge when Bond is kidnapped and tortured by the devious Le Chiffre.

On the other hand, it's easy to see why it took Hollywood so long to adapt dogs like Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker as well as why they jettisoned so much of the original story for the big screen. Thunderball, the book's closing tale, feels completely gutted and I kept going back to make sure I hadn't missed something. Then again, I always felt that the film adaptation of that story was where the series made the tragic mistake of settling for gadgets and gimmickry, paving the way for some unfortunate outings over the next four decades.

Even if you're a casual Bond fan the book is a must have, especially at an affordable $16.95 retail price. The pre-cinema 007 on display will connect you with the character's roots and remind you that at one time his legacy wasn't all ice hotels and defusing bombs dressed as a circus clown.

No comments: