With his work on titles like "Teen Titans" and "Green Arrow", writer Benjamin Percy has established himself as one of the hottest talents in comics today, effortlessly blending the legacy of his characters within a contemporary, realistic-feeling world. He's able to take a character and boil them right down to their essence whilst losing none of their potency - and this week his sights are settling on a spy known round the world as Bond... James Bond.
In Dynamite Entertainment's new series "James Bond: Black Box", Percy is teaming up with artist Rapha Lobosco for a story poised to send Bond racing round the world, seeking out an assassin who kills other assassins - and finds himself involved in a labyrinthine plot that brings him fully into the world of today. It's James Bond-as-cyberthriller, and CBR spoke with Percy about just what we can expect from the series.
CBR: I know you’ve been a long-term Bond fan - how does it feel to actually now have the chance to get your hands on the character, and his world?
Benjamin Percy: A gift. A privilege. I feel joy, but I also feel pressure. James Bond might be the most recognized literary creation - right up there with Sherlock Holmes and Batman and Dracula. So I’m facing the weighty expectations of fans and the silently admonishing example of Fleming and all the other creators who came before me.
But really, this is a childhood dream come true. I wish I could go back in time and whisper in my own ear—the ear of that twelve-year-old kid who cuddled up on the couch and gorged on popcorn and religiously watched every minute of the 007 marathons on TBS. 'Pay attention, dipshit', I would say. 'Because one day, you’re going to be the custodian of this character'.
The new comics run at Dynamite has so far harkened back to Fleming’s original broken brute of a character, rather than the film version. What’s your take on who James Bond actually is?
We all know - or think we know - who Batman is, right? But if you look at Bob Kane or you look at Alan Moore or Jeph Loeb or Grant Morrison or Scott Snyder or Tom King, there’s an… elasticity to their interpretations. That’s what people want. A unique take that still honors the character’s legacy.
I’m a big nerdy fan of the Bond novels and the films. They’ve blended together in my head. The same thing has happened to Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read all the short stories and novellas many times over—and my love for them is entwined with my love of the Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch adaptations.
So you’ll see as much of Fleming as you will Connery and Moore in my take on the character. Warren Ellis is a legend. I’m a punk. You’re not allowed to compare us. But my version will extend the excellent work he did, while adding a little more humor and romance. I can promise you I’ve pulled out all the stops on action: every single issue outdoes the last on spectacle.
How does the character fit within the espionage model? Why does he work in this role as a spy?
Bond is suited for his work because he is not mired in the past or especially worried about the future. He is a creature of the moment; he has to be or he’d go mad, given the ugliness of what he’s done and given the horrors that might befall the world if he doesn’t succeed. He occasionally diverts and numbs himself with pleasure but is otherwise an instrument in Britain’s arsenal. The work owns him.
He’s fascinating in that he appears at first so aspirational - wearing the best clothes, driving the best cars, winning every bet and seducing the most beautiful women - but beneath that luxurious veneer is a severely messed-up human being who can only survive by drowning himself in bourbon, losing himself in the sheets, or devoting himself to the case at hand.
The title, "Black Box," seems like the key to the story. What is it that interests you in having Bond tackle cyber-terrorism? As a novelist and as a comics writer, you’ve always tended to have a directly political approach. Can we expect that to continue in to your run on James Bond?
Bond stories always align with the anxieties of the era. Look at "Dr. No" and the Cuban Missile Crisis as a prime example. What scares us right now? The list is long, but we’re all so vulnerable online. We live on our devices as much as we do in the real world, and it’s so easy for us to be stalked, corrupted, hacked, pirated, possessed, erased.
In one particularly nasty week, my sister’s email was hacked, my friend’s Facebook feed filled with phishing scams, our credit card info was stolen, my father downloaded a virus that locked down his computer, and my neighbor filed his taxes and discovered that someone had already done so and collected the refund. All because we carelessly clicked or swiped.
I’ve got a novel coming out this summer, a cyber-thriller called "The Dark Net." I researched the hell out of it, visiting the Google and Apple campuses, talking to Verizon reps, interviewing hackers and coders. And you know what everybody said to me? The Russians and the Chinese were already inside the digital walls of this country. The only question was, what were they planning to do with that access? Just wait, everyone said. Something big is coming. And then, six months later, here are these allegations of Russian hacking influencing the election.
So yeah, in all my work, I’m channeling the zeitgeist, trying to make my wild storytelling as relatable and relevant as possible. You’ll certainly see that in Bond.
Bond may be the star, but he’s always part of a different strange ensemble. Who’ll he be meeting in "Black Box?" Who, in particular, is No Name, the antagonist of the story? What’s his ambition, his goal?
I’ve always been fond of the henchmen, Odd Job and Jaws especially, so I put a lot of thought into creating a colorful villain, and in doing so spliced my love of horror with my love of 007. No Name is the result. He is an assassin with a trophy room. In it he displays the death masks of his victims. And because of his own deformities (and perversions) he wears these masks when hunting. He is as unrelenting as he is grotesque. And there is one scene in particular -- that takes place in the “suicide forest” of Japan -- that will likely scare the hell out of readers.
But he is one of many colorful characters. Bond’s old frenemy Felix also plays a critical role in the story. So does an assassin who only kills other assassins. The big bad of Black Box is a tech mogul who is essentially a Mark Zuckerberg with criminal intentions.
Is if difficult to balance the old-school style of the series within the contemporary world? Working within the past but keeping something in the present, a little like your approach on Green Arrow?
I’m writing both "Green Arrow" and "Teen Titans," and if you’re a comics reader, you probably know all about DC’s Rebirth. It’s about legacy. You channel the greatest elements of a series—while asking yourself, what is the greatest Green Arrow or Teen Titans story I could possibly tell right now? How can I, with my own unique skill set, make the series new while honoring those creators who came before me?
That is exactly how I’m approaching James Bond. It wasn’t a struggle at all. It’s how I’ve been trained as a comics writer.
How have you found working with artist Rapha Lobosco on the story? What kind of style is he bringing to the comic?
Pure cinema. He has such a smart sense of storytelling, pacing, how to stage a scene and make the reader feel like they’re living it. Go big with moments of high-wire action, go quiet with moments of emotional impact. His work reminds me a lot of Eduardo Risso on "100 Bullets".
He draws with such energy and big-heartedness. This is a big platform for us, and so we’re both putting all our energy into it. There are many artists who would (rightfully) murder me for setting an assassination scene at a sumo tournament or staging a car chase in downtown Tokyo at rush hour…but he tackles these wild action sequences with gusto and ridiculous talent. Rapha is a star on the rise.
Do you have long-term plans for Bond, or is your interest in working story-to-story, creating a body of work that way?
Well, Bond isn’t mine. In my wild, what-if fantasies, his father comes back from the dead (and turn out to be a villain) and he discovers he has a child (given all the nookie Bond has, that not an unreasonable suggestion) and he eventually becomes M. himself (and absolutely despises the work).
But don’t worry, 007 purists. That’s not happening. I’m treating each of these six-issue arcs as a kind of film. Rapha and I are making Bond movies—without having to worry about the special effects budget or an actor’s salary or whether we can get a permit to shoot in this or that location.
I don’t know how long Dynamite will keep me on the series, but I can promise you that every issue of "Black Box" is wilder and cooler than the last—and I can promise you the same will be true of our story arcs. I’ll continue to raise the stakes in an effort to make an indelible mark on the franchise.
"James Bond: Black Box" #1 is in stores now.