Thank goodness for the efforts of the fine people at Dynamite Entertainment, a comic book publishing house based in the United States. Back in the autumn of 2014, when it was announced that they and Ian Fleming Publications had arrived at a licensing agreement, 007 fans raised eyebrows in interest, but not much more. There was a new film in the works that was to be unleashed unto the world in just about a year, and, to be blunt, the movies are what drive the Bond brand most forcefully into the public consciences. A new comic series was a bold idea, but landed on the backburner fairly quickly, aided in no small part by a surprisingly limited amount of information trickling out for months following the big reveal.

jamesbond01covareardonFlash forward a year later, in November 2015, when, alongside the theatrical release of Spectre, Dynamite finally unveiled its own new adventure with James Bond 007 #1: VARGR, penned by comic book veteran Warren Ellis and rendered by relative fresh face Jason Masters. While Spectre earned a mixed reception from fans, critics, and general audiences, the Ellis and Masters’ work on James Bond 007 was almost universally praised. Their VARGR run even sold rather well, something I took note of full well when, back in when I didn’t have an account at a comic book store to ensure copies were reserved for me, I actually had a tough time buying issues 3 and 4 as I recall. Dynamite and Fleming Publications promised a 007 in a modern world, but one that harkened back to the Fleming style of espionage, violence, sex, and an overall harder edge than perhaps what the film franchise had been delivering for several decades. In the end Ellis and Masters delivered in spades. The book was a hit, and I was hooked.

I suppose the irony of the entire situation is that I am far from being an avid comic book reader. I certainly don’t dislike them, having read my share of Batman runs and occasionally dipping my toes into Marvel’s playground, not to mention a couple of stories not produced by the two behemoths of the industry. Even so, describing myself as a comic book fan would be akin to someone saying really enjoy American football yet typically only tunes in for the Super Bowl. Yes, they watch some football, but it’s a far cry from being a fan. Having become a fan of the series and its more recent spin-offs will most likely not translate into me purchasing comics from a bevy of series’ by the truck load, but it has rekindled some of my admiration for the art form, to say nothing that the works of the writers and artists that have tried their hand at telling new 007 adventures via the comic book medium are fulfilling an important, if wholly unexpected role in a Bond fan’s life at the moment.

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Yet here we are, into the second month of 2017, some 15 months after Spectre premiered in North American (16 months after its release in Great Britain), and nary a peep about what EON and Danjaq have in store for Bond 25. Quite unlike the overwhelming majority of other franchises and their parent studios, the 007 crew does not tease what’s in store for fans in the immediate aftermath of a new movie’s opening. Whereas fans of X-Men , Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Expanded Universe and so many other brands provide with glimpses into the future on a regular basis (sometimes before the new film even hits theatres!), such is not the case with Bond. What went from a tradition of ending the films with a tagline proclaiming that “James Bond will return in” whatever Fleming book was to be adapted next, has gone to complete radio silence since Quantum of Solace. Even after Skyfall, the franchise’s most commercially successful film and a critically darling, very few hints were dropped as to what the next chapter held in store. Yes, there is the matter of MGM having to strike a deal with a partnering studio in order to properly release the movies, but it’s rather astounding to think that 15 months removed from Spectre (which earned a pretty penny), even that challenge hasn’t been hurdled yet.

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Enter the Dynamite Entertainment series and spin-offs. No, it isn’t like watching a film. By page 25 you don’t get to know what happens next until about a month’s time, Bond’s dialogue isn’t as quip-laden, he doesn’t bed nearly as many women, the villains have been more conservative in scope, and the violence is at times stunningly graphic, showing off gory kills the filmmakers wouldn’t dream of including into their movies. It is, as advertised, more in line with Fleming’s Bond world than that of the silver screen. That is a very, very good thing, especially when the reigns are handed over to the talent whose names have graced the issue covers thus far: Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, Any Diggle, Lucas Casalanguida, etc. These people love and know their James Bond. Their efforts, which shall be explored more in depth in the coming weeks and months, have been a source of invaluable double-0 vitamins since Spectre, and will certainly continue to be our ‘pushers’ until the next movie and between the next ones after that still.

The novels, both the original Fleming material and continuation instalments, will always be there to enjoy and read over again. Read them over again I shall (and already have in some cases), but there is something indescribably exciting and cool about knowing that on a monthly basis there are brilliant artistic minds that have been awarded a beautiful platform to indulge in their own Bond fantasies, inviting us fans to tag along for the ride with them on new adventures with our favourite character, his fantastic supporting team, as well as bold new creations, both benevolent and vile.

I’d shy away from calling myself a comic book reader despite all of this, but a Bond fan needs his or her fix in any shape or form it might take.

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5 thoughts on “When a comic publisher becomes one’s quartermaster

  1. Dont know where you based your expertise on the fact that VARG actually was a Printed success: it bombed miserably in France – despite being issued in a de luxe edition, for instance…

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    1. Thanks for the comment. LOL, I appreciate the use of the term ‘expertise’. As the tagline of the blog says, this is a training ground to become the titular aficionado. i’m not there yet!
      In response to your comment, to be completely honest, it’s based on the conversations i’ve have with a handful of comic books stores in my city back when, like newbie, was buying (or trying) to buy the issues one by one without reserving them. All said that the copies they ordered didn’t spend much time on the shelves and were back ordering them for people like me.

      I would also argue that logic strongly suggests that, given the fact that the first writer and artist were brought back for more issues and subsequently new people were hired to start the “Hammerhead” one-off and then yet more people to produce the Felix Leiter spinoff, then they must have made decent money off of the first few comics. An analogy I’d use would be in sequel movie making. If a movie bombs at the box office, studios are rarely tempted to invest heavily in producing a new instalment. In this case, Dynamite Entertainment starting launching more stories before the 2nd Warren Ellis run even finished. Were they losing money, I doubt they’d have arrived at that decision.

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    2. I would also be tempted to argue that different markets respond to the same product different, France, as you point out, being one such example. From what I gather about French and/or European ‘comics’ (bandes-dessinées, I believe), they’re not structured the same way. A 30, 40, 50 page book comes out with a complete story. These Americanized comics are 20-25 pages an you need to buy all 6+ to learn what the complete story is. Perhaps the French market doesn’t respond to that very well. Maybe that market doesn’t respond to Bond well. Maybe it’s even more specific than that: the French market doesn’t care much or Bond bandes-dessinées.

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  2. There is certainly some major différences between US and French Comics distribution system, I’ ll give you that. But then What about Dynamite’ s British distribution ? To my knowledge, none of the Bond titles have been endorsed so far by an English based publication company – be it Titan or weather. Surely not a very good signe, dont you think ?

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    1. I visited a message board recently and there were some British based commenters chatting about the series, so they’re getting their hands on them somehow. Under what label is it being distributed, I couldn’t tell you. It might also be a case of a rollout, insofar as the publishers are testing the waters in North America before attempting a more thorough expansion internationally. I don’t know Dynamite’s business model, nor Titan’s. That section of my post pertained much closer to immediate experience and the title’s relative and rapid success in North America where the publisher is based.

      I won’t argue that you’re wrong. Clearly you have insight that I do not about at least one major market, France. On the other hand, I think the fact that Dynamite has, in relative short time, opted to expand the title to multiple books per month (March will see 3 titles), that’s a strong suggestion that things are going rather well thus far. Either that or Dynamite is proverbially going for the jugular in the hopes that offering more titles will counter poor early sales, but that’s more speculation than fact on my part, to say nothing that that sounds like an extraordinarily risky tactic from a business standpoint.

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