Writing about adaptations, whether from book to movie or vice versa, is always tricky business. Can you judge a work solely in a single medium or should you review it against the another medium? Can you judge the medium solely on its own merits or will your opinion be influenced by the other form(s)? Like I said, tricky.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the compilation of issues #1-6 of Mark Millar’s Kingsman comic, which was originally published as a trade collection in 2012. With the advent of the movie with the same name, the book was republished in 2014 to much acclaim, and was republished again in 2017 with a new cover as a tie-in for the second Kingsman movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Back to the comics: the story begins when our anti-hero, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, is jailed after a night of debauchery and car stealing. Saved by Jack London, an uncle he’s barely seen, he learns Jack is part of the secret service and Eggsy will be given one chance and one chance only to clean up his life by following his uncle’s footsteps. After much hesitation, but ultimately wanting a better life for his mom and baby brother, Eggsy agrees.
The chapters carry the parallel stories of Eggsy’s education and determination on getting out of the situations and passing his classes; such as sniper training and carjacking, and etiquette lessons and the story of Dr. James Arnold. Arnold is a millennial billionaire psychopath, who is convinced the only way to save the planet is by killing 75% of the population, and he has the means and intent to do so.
As the storyline’s progress, Eggsy is running against the clock as Dr. Arnold attempts to take over the world. James Bond-style gadgets, physical prowess, and spy genre conventions are employed throughout the storyline, so for fans of this kind of action/spy drama, there aren’t a lot of surprises. Pop culture references are peppered throughout. The action is well paced and tight within each chapter, however the writing can get a little sloppy at times with plot devices dropped and picked up again rather than followed straight through. Another problem is the use of technobabble by Dr. Arnold and his minions when they talk about the electronics they are using to obliviate the planet’s population. Their plan makes no technical sense. To the casual reader it will not be a deterrent, but it may be irksome to anyone with more than a passing interest in computers and technology in general. Overall, these inconveniences do not make the book any less entertaining to read.
A potential big problem with the story, and one I argue with myself on what stance I take, is the casual racism exhibited by Dean, Eggsy’s stepfather, and Sir Giles, a contemporary of Jack’s. On one hand, I argue with myself, you can illustrate these characters without falling into stereotypes of other cultures. Dean is an uneducated, gruff, from the streets kind of man and Sir Giles is an upper-crust landed gentry who sees everyone not of his status as below him. On the other hand, the casual racism is exactly the perfect way to illustrate the way these men’s upbringing has created a flawed understanding of the world around them. Your mileage may vary.
The art is on pace with the subject manner. The characters are well realized and expressive, the subject matter is clear with bloody parts that look like bloody parts and not just red coloring against the background. I did not find the art to be bad or good, it just is what you’d expect from a book that wavers between trying to be entertaining and be provocative. However, what did impress me was Ambrosia, Dr. Arnold’s girlfriend, whose skin tone is that of a person of color—made more striking by the fact that there are no other people of color in the book. (A note on representation for readers who are familiar with the film—in the book Dr. Arnold is white while the movie’s villain, Valentine, is played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is black and his henchwoman, Gazelle, played by is the French-Algerian actor Sofia Boutella.). Another kudo to the artist for drawing Ambrosia’s body realistically; it’s a relief that for once, a woman looks like a woman and not a Barbie doll.
The storyline in the movie is 85% true to the book, which is a good indicator of how well the book is written and received. I recommend this book to libraries wanting to collect movie adaptations and tie-in covers but not necessarily if they already have a copy of a previous edition of the graphic novel that are in good shape. I would not, due to mature content, violence, and images, recommend this for teen audiences. But I would recommend it to readers who enjoy a bit of James Bond-esque adventure and may be new to the Kingsman world.
KINGSMAN: The Secret Service
by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons