November 20, 2009

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James Bond Casino Royale

Based on Stories by Ian Fleming
Written by Anthony Hern and Henry Gammidge
Illustrated by John McLusky
Titan Books

So did you know that back in the 1950s, there was a James Bond daily comic strip? I like Bond quite a bit and have seen nearly every movie, but I had absolutely no clue. So when I put this on hold from the library, I was expecting a movie tie-in. Instead, what I got was a piece of Bond history. And that made me very happy indeed.

As the nifty index at the end points out, there were quite a few daily strips, and the publisher, Titan Books, has reprinted darn near all of them.

As readers of my other reviews will know, I am sucker for any book that can bring me comics history, so I am absolutely in love with this one. It starts with an introduction by Roger Moore, then does a little history about Bond in print without Fleming behind the typewriter. This is nice, if brief, though my one complaint is that this commentary doesn't include when these strips first appeared! It's a rather big goof, though forgivable because a quick check on Wikipedia answered the question for me.

There are three stories in this collection, Bond's debut "Casino Royale", a rather less interesting than the movie version "Live and Let Die", and the best adapted of the three, "Moonraker." (I base this on readability of the dailies, not on faith to the source. I confess I've not read the original Fleming, believe it or not. Need to fix that sometime.) Each gets a few words in the way of historical background, such as scenes that were deleted or changed, stylistic notes, etc. The stories themselves hold up rather well, even read all together. There is not a lot of repeated information, especially in the second and third stories, which was a bit of a problem when I read the Dick Tracy dailies a few years ago. This may be partly due to adapting a book rather than creating new material.

From what I understand, Fleming had reservations at first, but was mollified by the choice of adapters. He even commissioned a drawing for what Bond "should look like"--included in this collection--though it was ultimately rejected. The actual Bond used looks a bit more like Dick Tracy than Fleming's idea. Apparently, the strip's backers wanted someone more modern.

The strips' art quality is pretty typical of a newspaper strip, with some of them damaged a bit by time. However, given that Moonraker gets its first reprinting ever here, the quality is pretty high for something that's about fifty years old. One thing that's missing is the trademark Bond humour, though that may be more of a "the books play things straight" thing than a problem with the adaptation. One thing I did find interesting about Moonraker was that the Bond girl is a lot less fragile than most--she takes more than one hit for the cause, so to speak. Again, not sure if that's true to the source or a change in the adaptation.

If you're not a Bond fan, there's nothing much here to look at, other than for historical perspective. But if, like me, you couldn't wait to turn 21 to say, "shaken, not stirred", this is a must read and highly recommended.