Timed to coincide with the release of the new film “Spectre,” Warren Ellis and Jason Masters’ “James Bond” #1 has all the hallmarks of a 007 story. In this case, that’s both a good and a bad thing, as some ideas feel a little forced while others flow much more naturally.
“James Bond” #1 kicks off with a nine-page cold open, bringing to mind the similar structure used in most of the films starring the same character. It’s simple but to the point, and perhaps not-coincidentally the best part of this first issue. Bond’s pursuit of agent 008’s murderer is tense and fast-moving; Ellis doesn’t waste a single word, often letting the story be told entirely through Masters’ art. Masters uses some strong angles here; when the killer slides down a snowy hill, the perspective is just over his shoulder, pointing up and giving us a dizzying sensation as we see the track in the snow heading up towards the hill crest and the shadowy figure up top. It’s an attention-grabber as we move through Helsinki and a good way to establish how the book operates.
Or rather, how the book will hopefully operate given time. The problem is that “James Bond” #1 then slows to a crawl almost immediately afterwards, as Bond is briefed by M and Q, who offer a tired explanation as to why Bond won’t be allowed to carry a gun inside the United Kingdom. It feels unbelievably forced, with Ellis dwelling on the point for such a long time you can almost see the blinking sign above Bond’s head saying, “This will prove to be trouble before long.” Similarly, the final page introducing Mr. Masters (presumably no relation to artist Masters) is overly stilted, as we have one character stating exposition that presumably everyone in the room already understands; instead of serving as a strong cliffhanger, it’s much more likely to elicit a groan from the reader. After such a strong start, this comic feels sluggish at best.
Masters’ art in the second half of the comic is also not quite as radiant. The office backgrounds initially look great, until you see it repeated panel after panel, presumably digitally inserted with characters moving slightly in front of it. While the diversity of faces looks good at times, the extreme similarity between Masters-the-character and Bond on the last page is enough that one hopes the former keeps his shirt off, since the overly muscled torso is the only way to tell the two apart.
“James Bond” #1 is a real proverbial mixed bag; there’s enough here to be pleased, but not so much to be overly so. Hopefully, the exposition is now complete here, because this book needs to find the spring in its step once more. James Bond stories — comic, book or film — should never have the audience fidgeting, and the second half of “James Bond” #1 comes perilously close to just that.