Kieron Gillen has written comics starring some of Marvel’s most iconic characters, and penned books starring some of the “Star Wars” universe’s greatest heroes and villains. This May, the British writer will add another beloved pop culture character to his bibliography with the release of “James Bond: Service” from Dynamite Entertainment.
The tale, which pits 007 against an assassin out to reshape what Britain is and its place in the world, is different from Bond’s past exploits in comics; rather than unfolding over the course of several issues, the story is told as a self-contained, 48-page one-shot. CBR spoke with Gillen about the challenge of telling a Bond story in such a concise format, the book’s meditation on Britain and its history, and the real world museum that will serve as a backdrop for “Service’s” action set pieces.
CBR: When we’ve talked before you mentioned that these days your interests as a creator lay primarily in projects that you’ve been involved in building from the ground floor up. I’m guessing though that when you’re give a chance to work on James Bond, a pop culture icon who’s beloved worldwide yet still uniquely British, it’s a different story, correct?
Kieron Gillen: Yes. There are two sides of it in fact. It’s true I’m generally not interested in much more work for hire projects at the moment. I’m focused on stuff that I’m already embedded with. I’ve wanted to work with Nick Barrucci and Dynamite for years though. We get along really well, but we’ve just never managed to find the time to work together.
So it was like, “We know you’ve got a lot going on, but how about doing a one-off James Bond story?” I told them, “Yes!” It was a chance to play with Dynamite and an icon! To use an old metaphor from Warren Ellis it’s like a chance to do a cover song. Here’s Kieron Gillen doing a four minute pop song of Bond. There’s something profoundly satisfying about it. It’s like, “Here’s my version of a song that’s been sung for a very long time.”
What’s your experience with Bond as a fan? Do you remember your first Bond film or book?
What a good question. The first Bond I read was “From Russia With Love.” It had a yellow cover, and I got it out of the library back in what must have been my early teens.
The first image of Bond I remember seeing was the poster for “Octopussy.” Bond was just one of those things that was always there. As a kid, I had very strong memories of Bond film characters like Jaws. “Moonraker” was also in my head as well.
What’s your sense of Bond and the things he deals with as a “blunt instrument” in the modern world of espionage, terrorism and global crime?
You kind of summed it up, but this is book Bond, so we actually lean harder into those things. He’s a very blunt instrument, and the story I’m doing is kind of an interrogation of that; both Bond as an instrument, and Britain as an instrument.
This is a story that looks over the tail end of Britain’s imperial history and where MI-6 came from. So it kind of harkens back to World War II. In fact there are whole scenes set at the British Imperial War Museum. So it’s a way for me to say, “Let’s talk about Bond. Let’s talk about British Intelligence. Let’s talk about empire and what Britain means anyway.” That’s all the stuff that runs through it.
This story also involves the relationship between Britain and the United States. As both countries are dealing with some complex and controversial political issues right now, are those elements part of your story?
I had to tweak my story structure a little. When I pitched this story, I was working off the assumption of a Hillary Clinton victory, and I had to tweak it anyway! [Laughs] This story idea came between Brexit and Trump’s election.
The tweaks were small and mainly required removing things that were suddenly much more pointed than required. The lines I wrote had a completely different resonance in a Trump presidency than a Clinton presidency.
The story kind of starts with the idea that Britain is less useful to America now as an ally. Because Post Brexit it arguably has less connections.
The other interesting element of your story is the fact that it’s a one-off and most people experience a Bond narrative as long form stories like movies, novels, and multi issue comic storylines. What’s it like writing a Bond story as a longer one-shot?
It’s tricky because as you say we’re so used to the idea of the novel or an hour and half to two hour movie. That’s a certain level of structure. So there’s so many things I have to throw out. I haven’t got space to do the cold open. At the same time though you want to cut to the fundamental Bondness of it. I wanted scenes with Moneypenny, M, and Q. I wanted those things percolating through it. I also wanted the dry moments.
The first thing I had about the story was essentially how it ends. It involves a bit of awful Realpolitik. I thought, “I’d like to see Bond doing that.” So there’s a Bond feel, but it’s a condensation of it. You want to see Bond doing spy stuff. You want to see him defiant and trapped, and you want to see him kill some dudes. Since there’s so much World War II stuff I thought, “If Bond doesn’t end up using a Sten Gun I’ve failed.”
[Laughs] Earlier you mentioned your story would have some scenes set at the British Imperial War Museum. What else can you tell us about Bond’s mission and the supporting characters he’ll run into and afoul of in “Service?”
The villain is a rogue agent who believes he’s defending Britain. He’s a lone terrorist and a lot of his methods and thought patterns harken back to World War II. I did some research into the history. He’s very much a defender of a certain idea of Britain and a lot of the book is a discussion of that.
In terms of the action set pieces, as I mentioned the Imperial War Museum figures prominently. [Laughs] That was part of the inspiration. I had bits and pieces, but I went for a walk around the War Museum, which is weird because it’s a place I go to look at for “Uber” as well. They actually had a spy exhibition going on. It had the history of MI-6 and the Secret Service. As I was wondering around the place I thought, “You know this would be a really good place for a shootout.” Because there were these amazing V-2 Rockets and all this other great old tech.
So if you’re going to write a story about history set it at a fucking museum. [Laughs] That’s one of the big draws about Bond. He gets to go to interesting places and shoot interesting people. This story has a lot of that and setting it at a museum gives it a really interesting vibe.
We also have some useful gadgets in the story, but nothing that’s too over the top. They’re part of the fun.
You’re working with Antonio Fuso who’s probably best known for his work on IDW’s G.I.Joe books. So it seems like action, espionage, and licensed characters are all in his wheelhouse. What do you enjoy most about Antonio’s art?
He’s clearly one of those artists who can convey the emotional harshness of the real world. So his work is not just real. It’s hyper real. I imagine he uses reference, but he also really stylizes his reference.
So he’d drawing a place but it’s all iconic, jagged, and modern. That’s a lot of what this book is about. The book would have a very different effect If we had a classic British Adventure style artist. You’d get these World War II aping scenes that almost appeared nostalgic. We have this stuff done in a more modern light and aware of the juxtaposition between the two. To me, that’s what the appeal is.
Finally, you’re a busy man, but if the opportunity presents itself would you be interested in returning to the world of Bond some day for more stories?
He’s a real interesting challenge. I’d have to think about what I wanted to say. With this project it was like, “Okay. I get to do one Bond story. What do I say?” So this is kind of a pure statement on it. You never know though… Never say never again! [Laughs]
“James Bond: Service” by Kieron Gillan and Antonio Fuso, arrives in May from Dynamite Entertainment.