September 5, 2018

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Rose City Roll Call: Jeff Parker and James Bond: Origin #1

Jeff Parker, playing God with the Agents of Atlas

From Aquaman to Venus, Jeff Parker has probably worked on just about any Marvel or DC hero you can think of, whether in all ages form like many a Marvel Adventures or X-Men: First Class to working within the New 52's edgier views. He's taken on characters people weren't sure could be made to work (Red Hulk) and turned them into complex characters. Able to work obscure figures into recurring characters (the Agents of Atlas, which are a riff from an old What-If story from 40 years ago!) as easily as he works with familiar characters like Spider-Man, Jeff's style varies from project to project. He can (and did) make Batman 66 work in comics, but it won't read anything like his outside the law take on Betty Banner when she was (still is? I have no idea) Hulked out.

Additionally, Jeff is one of the nicest people in comics. Hell, he's once of the nicest people, period. I'm very happy to consider Jeff a friend in the industry and I'm always glad to see him whenever the chance allows.

Never one to shy away from tackling an icon, Jeff's latest project is James Bond: Origin, a limited series from Dynamite. I'm usually pretty leery of prequels, but as Jeff once said, "Trust me, Rob"--and of course, this first issue is spectacular.


The premise picks up James' life at age 17, with World War II backing the United Kingdom to the wall. He's an uncomfortable fit at a boarding school, especially as an orphan. But he's also extremely strong, intelligent, and loyal. (All traits that Fleming's Bond has, so Jeff's seeding here makes a lot of sense.) When James discovers that a family friend is in deadly danger, he immediately leaps into action, but as we quickly see, enthusiasm alone won't safe the day. Not with the forces aligned against Bond personally or against those who love freedom.

This issue sets up the path that leads to the Bond we know, narrated by an early mentor, but it's also chock-full of action. Parker shows off his veteran skills as a plotter, mixing key elements of James' pre-service life just before a bombing that forms the start of his career with the events of the bombing itself. Most writers would have done this as a linear narrative, but Jeff instead opts to pick the most dramatic moment he can and build back and forth from there. That's risky, but he pulls it off, especially in the small details. (One of my favorites is how he pulls a Chekov's gun with a motorbike, setting up the longstanding link between car chases and the Bond mythos.) We also get a few quips, too, but not to the extreme of the movies.

Parker's best characterization here, however, might be the fact that Bond's passion outweighs his abilities at this stage. He'll clobber fellow classmates who deserve it, but when faced with experienced adults, James struggles--and he should. I really dig that Jeff didn't make him invincible yet. That needs to come later. Again, I feel like other writers might have shown him in whole cloth from the first page, and that, while enjoyable, wouldn't be as good as this issue turned out to be.

I have no idea who Bob Q is, but he continues the tradition of Dynamite finding some really solid line artists (and in this case, also a colorist) for their books. Bob's design for the young Bond is really stellar, giving him a strong chin and a wiry frame. He does an amazing job with facial features, giving Bond a huge range of emotions, from smug arrogance to youthful enthusiasm to the determination that marks him as a special man--and soon to be, a special agent. The character around Bond also get broad expressions, and you're able to tell the tone of Jeff's dialogue by looking at how Bob drew the faces. It's a great pairing of writer and artist.

The best part of the line art in this issue, however, has to be the panel designs. A book about Bond has to be able to flow and move, and Bob Q does that in spades. He is free with the action lines and isn't afraid to put the reader at an odd angle to enhance the action. While Bond is often the focus of a panel, he's often shown reacting to the world around him, whether it's to notice bombers, scramble for safety, or attempt to land a punch. There's no standard look to the structure--Bob will move the view from longer looks to claustrophobic close-ups to perspective tricks--all to make the pages look as good as they possibly can. The images pop, and, as I noted on Saturday when talking about letterers, Simon Bowland expertly works around these varied panels to keep the lettering easy to read--and away from the key action.

I've been a fan of Dynamite's James Bond books from the start, and this is yet another great entry in the series. I'm hoping Jeff has copies at his booth, because I want to get one signed. If not, he's sure to have other comics around, and the next bad book from Jeff Parker will be the first one I've ever read. Anything he puts together is top-notch quality. Make sure you see him at booth KK-08 at Rose City this weekend, and if you can't, make sure you pick up James Bond: Origin #1 at your local shop or digital device It's not to be missed.