In a co-announcement this past week by Dynamite Entertainment and Ian Fleming Publications, there will be yet another James Bond comic book series sprouting this coming autumn. My immediate reaction was mixed and it remains so after having mulling over the new project for a few days now. For one, this means my article published a few weeks back about the possibly looming demise of the book series is, for now, mercifully inaccurate. I couldn’t be more pleased about that. Conversely, I have terribly mixed feelings about the nature of the announcement itself.
I have never been very keen on learning about Bond’s past. The Fleming novels share brief, very occasional tidbits about the protagonist’s background, but not enough to paint a full picture. Cursory information about the nationalities of his parents, some hints about his educational background, his military career but without delving into the details of his wartime exploits, how he obtained his double-0 licence, and that just about covers it. In essence, 007 is a cipher, a relatively blank slate onto which readers and movie watchers can fill the holes with their own imaginations. He is, for all intents and purposes, a man of action, someone who lives in the moment, be it a wondrous evening with a woman, a meeting with MI6 big head M, or making rapid fire decisions in the midst of a mission that can result in not only the success or failure of his assignment, but life or death itself. As Timothy Dalton eloquently put it in an interview many moons ago, he lives ‘on the edge.’
There is a delightful, tantalizing opportunity to live vicariously through the novels and films because how cool and intelligent he is, but also because we only know so much about where he comes from, or what shaped him into the adult he is in the stories. The irony of it all is that the hero becomes relatable precisely because his history is so cheaply rendered. His background could actually resemble yours or mine, to varying degrees of course. What’s more, it is my belief that the varied interpretations on film has been aided in no small part by the very fact that the films, until recently, have shunned the opportunity to share much of Bond’s personal history. By not knowing who he was before the films, he really could be like Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, or whoever the next chap hired for the gig is. Just as important is the notion that the more mysterious the past, the bigger the character’s iconic stature. We are impressed by what we witness, but are also subconsciously impressed by what we don’t. There’s no reference point, just the most amazing bloke ever do his thing.
However, ever since 1999’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, ‘prequelitis’ has been all the rage, spreading its influence like the most ruthless of viruses. Fans appear to relish the opportunity to understand all the details of what happened before their favourite stories in movies, television, novels, and comics ever were. Everything has to be explained in painful detail. Sometimes, it is the rights holders themselves that determine the time has come to go backwards in time and relate a character or universe’s origins. Do not misinterpret me, the argument I am attempting to make is not that none of the ventures into the origins of famous properties have been artistically successful (I absolutely adore X-Men: First Class), but that at some point, setting back the clock rather than marching forward seems counterproductive, if not altogether uninspiring.
My blog and therefore my opinions: I simply do not feel an urge to know what James Bond did as a young lad during WWII. I can make up some half-decent escapades in my head that would eventually lead him down the path to becoming a secret service agent for queen and country. I also have a confession to make, one that may or may not surprise some: I have never read any of the Young Bond novels. I have heard near-universal praise for them. The characterizations, the inventiveness of the plots, the dropped foreshadowing about the man he will become; all of these points and several more have earned top marks from literary critics and die-hard 007 fans alike. I can fully appreciate one’s interest in the subject. Bond is such a cool, sophisticated, accomplished bad-ass, what exactly has he lived through to make him so unquestionably awesome? Never would I bemoan someone for wanting to read those stories or enjoying them to the highest degree. More power to them in fact.
It isn’t because I haven’t read Young Bond up to now that I never shall. Furthermore, my faith in Dynamite Entertainment in their handling of the character is so astronomically high at the moment, I can foresee myself purchasing the comics this autumn and loving what they’ve concocted. I’m not so draconian with my views that nothing can make me budge from my stance. A good yarn is a good yarn. A good 007 yarn is all the better.
File this one under ‘wait and see.’