I love espionage fiction, but I almost always hesitate before I pick up anything James Bond related. The original novels are tinged with some pretty blatant racist and sexist overtones, and most of the movies aren’t much better, in my opinion. That being said, I do enjoy watching Bond films, especially the Daniel Craig Bond films, since they take some active steps away from the racist and sexist tropes.
James Bond 007: Case Files takes all the best parts of the new Bond films, and packages them in this entertaining collection of comics. Each issue is its own self-contained story, written and drawn by different creators, and they expand the Bond universe beyond just 007’s missions. Of the four issues collected in this trade, only two directly follow Bond; the other two focus on Moneypenny and M.
The two stories that center on Bond, “Service,” and “Solstice,” play out like a typical Bond mission, minus the sex. Bond is classic Bond in many ways. He’s independent, willing to go off script, brilliant, and quippy. That being said, both stories are dramatically different. “Service” is a government-sanctioned, above board (or as above-board as you can get for a spy service) mission, while “Solstice” is much more murky.
“Service,” written by Kieron Gillen with art by Antonio Fuso, follows Bond as he attempts to thwart the assassination of the American Secretary of State. The story itself is a commentary on the “Special Relationship” between the US and the UK in the era of nationalism, but the message isn’t too heavy handed. It’s a little hammy, but it’s self-consciously hammy, just the way Bond should be. Gillen gives Bond several snappy, quippy retorts, and the whole comic generally nods to the peculiarities and absurdities of British espionage fiction, actual British Cold War espionage practices, and how national narratives about those practices play into current nationalism.
For someone who’s read way too much British Cold War era espionage fiction like myself, “Service” is an absolute delight to read. However, the script and the art do not mesh well together. Fuso’s figures are stiff and don’t convey movement or action well. This creates a problem during fight sequences, when “Service” goes several pages without any dialogue. The art just doesn’t feel as dynamic as the story.
“Solstice,” the issue written by drawn by Ibrahim Moustafa, excels at capturing Bond’s dynamic motion on the page. Fight sequences like you see in Bond movies are truly difficult to capture on paper, but somehow Moustafa does it. “Solstice” follows Bond as he pursues a former Russian spy attempting to infiltrate MI6 … by romancing M’s daughter. M wants the man removed, off the books, and sends Bond to Paris to do it. Because it’s under the table, Moustafa gets to lean in to old Bond tropes like secret weapons suppliers, fancy cars, luxurious hotels, gadgets from Q branch. It’s a great, fun story, enhanced by Moustafa’s script and superb art.
The first of the non-Bond stories is “Moneypenny,” written by Jody Houser with art by Jacob Edgar. The story bounces around in time between Moneypenny’s childhood and a mission protecting M while he gives a guest-lecture at a university in Boston. Essentially, it explores Moneypenny’s motivations for joining the service, and how she became M’s “assistant,” all while showing her to be a smart, capable agent. It’s a welcome change from the besotted secretary seen in earlier Bond films, and an expansion on the glimpse of Moneypenny we saw in Skyfall. Just like in Skyfall, Moneypenny is a woman of color, a welcome change from the usually lily-white Bond world, and Houser proves that writing Moneypenny off as a “just a secretary” comes at your own peril. Her story shows Moneypenny’s versatility totally independent of James Bond, and sets her up for more solo adventures. While the writing is solid, the art and panels struggle to show movement in the fight sequences, which was disappointing, especially because the fight sequence was just so dang cool.
Finally, “M,” the last story in this trade, focuses on … M, the head of MI-6. Instead of Ralph Fiennes, M is also portrayed as a person of color. In “M,” we see him leave his executive suite to handle a problem originating from his days serving as a British soldier in Belfast during the Troubles. A Unionist Protestant militia leader is blackmailing him to try and extort a list of IRA members who were granted amnesty, and it’s up to M to neutralize the problem. Declan Shalvey’s script captures the nuances of of Northern Ireland, and PJ Holden is a master of dramatic framing. Of the four stories in this trade, this one was by far the most suspenseful.
Overall, I really enjoyed James Bond 007: Case Files. It’s great espionage fiction, with nods to classic Bond, while also updating it for the 21st century. It’s smart, fun, and easy to follow. Because it is a James Bond title, there is a lot of violence, specially gun violence, and some torture is implied. It’s definitely a title for teen and up, but it would make a great addition to any library.
James Bond 007: Case Files, Vol. 1
by Kieron Gillen, Jody Houser, Ibrahim Moustafa, Declan Shalvey
Art by Antonio Fuso, Jacob Edgar, Ibrahim Moustafa, PJ Holden, Dearbhla Kelly
Publisher Age Rating: (16+)