‘Die With My Boots On’ comes close to being great, but its brevity hinders it

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Die With My Boots On

Written by Jim Lawrence

Art by Yaroslav Horak

Published in the Daily Express from March 1st 1973 to June 18th 1973

Bond is sent to the city that never sleeps, New York, in order to finish a case that a recently deceased colleague left outstanding. It begins with a daredevil rescue of one Voyle, a blonde bombshell, caught in the clutches of a gangster that is demanding to know about a new drug called Nopane. After a very Bondian and unorthodox stunt to get Voyle to safety, the two go on the trail for Nick Morgan, Voyle’s boyfriend and someone Bond portends to know well. As far as the production of Nopane is concerned, nobody does it better than Nick Morgan it seems. Their adventure takes them to a small town in upstate New York, to the lavish residence of Benny Pignelli, yet another gangster with his eyes on the production and exporting of Nopane.

Die With My Boots On is curiously much shorter than the other stories featured in Omnibus volume 004. Whereas most of the adventures last approximately 30 pages, Boots concludes barely 20 pages in. Preliminary research has not disclosed the reasons for this, but whatever the logic behind the decision, it produces a Bond adventure that sorely could have used an extra few pages to flesh out the climax. This is the second consecutive story for which writer Lawrence and artist Horak deliver a 007 caper hindered by an unsatisfactory climax, albeit this time around for reasons that are much murkier.

On the bright, the first 15 pages or so are actually quite promising. 007 in New York has only happened once in the films, but in the comics and novels the Big Apple is a recurring hot spot for the British secret agent. The nature of the newspaper strips means that the creators must have the action regularly zip along at breakneck speeds, the byproduct that, unlike in the books and the films, the reader rarely gets to soak in much of the locales. It is on Horak to deliver as much as he possibly can in the few frames at his disposal to produce memorable images, never an easy task. He consistently delivers however, with emphasis put on the extraordinary high rises that dominate the Manhattan landscape as well as a brief but amusing pass by the Statue of Liberty via helicopter, offering a couple of Chicagoan gangsters with a view to a kill.

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Another one of Horak’s strengths is diversity in the male characters. The column has commented in the past about his limited range with respect to the Bond girls, but when it comes to producing visually striking male characters, be they allies or enemies, Horak looks to have the midas touch. Taking a page out of the Ian Fleming handbook of how to create a villain, Horak often creates baddies that are slight exaggerations of stereotypes, such as with Benny Pignelli. Pig indeed, as the New York state based Mafioso is a rotund, obnoxious bugger that cockily taunts Bond once the latter is in his grasp. Bond’s black British ally, Smokey Turpin, a former navy sailor no less, sports a brilliant afro hairstyle that fits in perfectly with the early 1970s era.

Jim Lawrence and Horak opt to include a bit more quartermaster gadgetry this time around as well. The first three episodes in the volume were virtually gadget-free notwithstanding terribly brief exceptions. This time around Bond lives to die another day thanks to a watch equipped with laser technology to escape captivity at the Pignelli estate as well as shoes that feature what Lawrence describes as a zip gun hidden in the heel, very handy for someone that never shoots to miss. It is a refreshing to return to some of the more outlandish elements of the Bond universe following a handful of stories that kept more of a straight face. The opening alone is a testament to the creators’ intent on bringing back some of the devil may care fun that was absent for bit, what with Bond literally crashing into a gangster’s interrogation of Voyle via a crane boom operated at a distance by Smokey.

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Where the story takes a few hits is in the final few pages. The action comes to halt as Pignelli questions a captive Bond about his business regarding the infamous Nick Morgan that everyone seems to be after. At this time, without giving too much away, a bevy of information is revealed to the readers, much of it from 007 himself, which is a mistake on the part of Lawrence. The pleasure in watching or reading a Bond story is being in the thick of things with the protagonist. In some instances, knowing more than him can be potentially beneficial, such as in From Russia With Love, but rarely does knowing less than Bond benefit the story. Yet, for some reason, that is the route Lawrence trudges on, a curious decision to be sure. Lest it be overlooked, another obviously peculiar element is the rapidity with which the story concludes. The amount of plot threads and action beats that are tied up hastily in literally the final two pages is positively shocking. Once again, Boots is much shorter than recent newspaper strip adventures, and the brevity of the adventure proves a hindrance rather than advantageous.

Boots is no disaster by any definition. The first half is a good deal of fun with a bunch of gangsters from all corners of the United States gunning for Bond and Voyle, and the return of some Q gadgets is welcomed with open arms. That said, there is an underlying sensation that something happened during the production of the story that forced Lawrence and Horak to make with haste at some point. Die With My Boots On certainly features some quality, but it wouldn’t rank highly on a scale of ‘must read’ Bond comics.

-Edgar Chaput




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