‘Beware of Butterflies’ has more on its mind than just Lepidoptera

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Beware of Butterflies

Written by Jim Lawrence

Art by Yaroslav Horak

Published in the Daily Express from December 4 1973 to May 11 1974

Bond and fellow MI6 agent Suzy Kew are dispatched to Paris on a mission to assassinate Hans Orsk, the head of the French cell of the Butterfly Network, a counterintelligence agency. Through a comical turn of events, 007 and Kew find their spot by posing as a fashion shoot duo, setting up shop in the top floor of a Parisian loft with a skylight ceiling. Orsk, posing as a voyeur as he is want to do, peeks into the room from across the street via telescope, usually because in said loft behind the modelling dame there are secretive, valuable posters about. This time, however, Suzy fires from her sniper rifle, thus liquidating one important mind of the Butterfly Network. Before Bond and Suzy get to enjoy some earned respite, the Network, headed by the infamous Attila, exacts his revenge on 007 through a mesmerizing, fantasy-laden brainwash scheme that see will the protagonist become an antagonist in a plot to kidnap the world’s leading micro-biologist!

Some astute fans of the James Bond film franchise (as well as those that do not hold it in high regard) will point out that in a plethora of adventures, 007 is frequently sent off by M to investigate one thing, only for an extraordinarily convoluted and lucky series of events leading Bond to handle a completely different sort of threat by the climax. Even in the best of Bond adventures, this is a storytelling technique that is by now long accepted as just the way things are done sometimes. How the trajectory of complex threads leads to a totally different endgame than would normally be the case for any other secret agent is where the fun is to be had, and where the scriptwriters or comic book authors can flex their muscles. Such is the delightfully precarious position Jim Lawrence embraces in Beware of Butterflies, a title that in of itself suggests that the readers could be in for something a little bit different this time around.

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In fact, a curveball is thrown at the reader quite early in the proceedings, as Bond and Suzy Kew accomplish their original Parisian objective by the fifth page of the story! Hans Orsk is a dead man, 007 and his sexy partner make their getaway by car and eventually head back to MI6 for a mission debriefing. With more than twenty pages left, what do writer Lawrence and artist Horak have in store? A rather wild, at times imaginative misadventure that does its best to think outside the box just a little bit, even though it never goes quite as far as one might hope. Taking a cue out of From Russia With Love, the story continues with Orsk’s men plotting their revenge on Bond, unbeknownst to the hero, thus pitting in even great peril then usual. It follows in the tradition of the Hitcockian ticking time bomb scenario, in which the audience is aware of a bomb about to go off underneath a table at any moment with the two people having a conversation at said table, entirely oblivious to the impending danger. In this case, the reader practically wills Bond to realize the fatal risks he incurs by taking a vacation.

What’s more, the manner in which the Butterfly Network goes about executing their wrath is complicated and devious. With the most efficient British secret agent caught off his guard, the time has come to put his skills to their own use rather than merely assassinate him. In a series of truly bizarre scenes, one of which actually involves a femme fatale dressed as a mermaid seducing Bond as he spends his morning scuba diving (the scuba diving being a Fleming-esque touch, the mermaid disguise a complete, out of left field choice on the part of Lawrence and Horak), 007 is now in the grasp of one Attila, leader of the Butterfly Network. This maniacal intelligence seeker will put Bond under a brainwashing exercise in order to utilize the secret agent to his advatange.

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Lawrence and Horak should be applauded for producing a Bond storyline that doesn’t feel very much like any other plotline fans have seen or read before. There are nods to Fleming, such as having Bond brainwashed, but on the whole it feels as though the duo are doing their own thing, putting their own spin on how audacious a Bond adventure can get. Horak himself, much like with the previous comic, The Girl Machine, really goes for broke with a lot of the artwork, creating fanciful new places and characters with distinctive aesthetic qualities. With every page one gets the feeling that Lawrence and Horak are genuinely trying to go down a different route, pulling the rug from under the readers’ feet as best they can, and as best as a Bond story can given that it must, ultimately, follow some sort of a recognizable pattern.

Not everything works, however. The chief antagonist, Attila (a serious Lepidoptera connoisseur, hence his network’s name), is a horrifying caricature of old Asian man stereotypes. Whether the decision to make the villain an Asian was a slight callback to Dr. No is debatable, but what is not debatable is their rather insensitive characterization. To put it bluntly, it’s embarrassing, even by mid-1970s standards, more befitting of a Hollywood film from the 30s and 40s, and even that would not necessarily make it excusable. Secondly, whilst the idea of having a mind controlled Bond playing for the baddies is a delicious twist, they never go the whole nine yards with it. 007 begins to follows his new superior’s orders, but his instincts kick in halfway into his mission, thus removing the story of a lot of the tension that could have risen. That one decision ends up somewhat hurting the final third, in which Bond pretends to work against MI6, kill Suzy and kidnap another microbiologist for Attila in return for a handsome bounty. By this time it has been made clear that Bond knows about the in-plant Attila inserted in his ear, meaning that, while Lawrence attempts to play the sequence straight, in the back of an astute reader’s mind 007 is probably still on the side of good and only playing Attila for the fool. On paper it sounds good, and the dialogue and artwork make the entire sequence a lot of fun to see develop, especially for those wondering what a bad 007 would be like, but there is some deeper layer substance missing for it to sell fully.

In the end, Beware of Butterflies is an enjoyable read. There is a slight, underlying sentiment that perhaps something great might have come out of it, but for the most part the creators’ efforts bear fruit, face-palm inducing depiction of the head villain notwithstanding. Following up on The Girl Machine was always going to be difficult, but the adventure is sufficiently engaging and imaginative nonetheless, much like the beauty found on the wings of one’s average Riodinidae or Papillonidae, just to name a couple of the more well known Rhopalocera.

 

-Edgar Chaput




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