‘Isle of Condors’ is a strong mixture of the new and the familiar

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Isle of Condors

Written by Jim Lawrence

Art by Yaroslav Horak

Pubished in the Daily Express from June 12th 1972 to October 21st 1972

Bond drives along a lonely road in Italy one night when a women, completely nude and riding a horse, emerges from the dark and into his vehicle’s headlights. The girl, Thyrza Holt, is in a bad state, claiming that she is fleeing her captors, the Gallews, who live nearby. After falling unconscious, Bond opts to give her ride to where she came from. The Gallews kindly take her in, claiming that Thryza is a relative going through some form of rehabilitation, but the plot quickly thickens when 007 falls victim to a drug the Gallews put in his wine. When the latter discover on Bond’s body an ivory pendant with the photograph of one of their previous victims, the very person that was Bond’s lead to the Gallews for his mission, they alert their superior, signor Uccelli, who lives on a nearby Adriatic island. Later on, upon awakening, 007 makes the acquaintance of one Crystal Kelly, a black British private eye also on the prowl the women featured in Bond’s pendant, and eventually both learn that all the answers can be found on Uccelli’s island of condors. Neither, however, knows how deep the mystery of Uccelli’s ornithology runs, nor how dangerous the man is…

Isle of Condors is a great continuation of volume 004 of the Titan Books’ James Bond: Omnibus series. Whereas Trouble Spot showcased Bond under duress whilst on the chase for a ill defined Maguffin, Isle of Condors proves more focused and direct in its approach as far as plot structure is concerned. At the same time, writer Jim Lawrence successfully peppers the story with a series of amusing reveals that are more than befitting of a Bond adventure. Better still, the actual mystery behind signor Uccelli’s island of voracious birds of prey is preserved for a decent amount of time, yet Lawrence never plays his cards too coyly, allowing the reader to get in on at least some clues so as to increase his or hers curiosity and continue reading. The best compliment one can shower this story with is its excellent pacing. At times Trouble Spot was a bit murky in how it went about forwarding the story and finding new traps for Bond to fall into. Isle of Condors accomplishes both feats with aplomb.

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At its heart, if the precarious circumstances in which Bond finds himself are not up to par, then it becomes challenging to engage in the story. Some of the best aspects to watching or reading a 007 adventure is the sensation of ‘being there’ with Bond. The better the set-up and danger, the better the overall story. At times, Trouble Spot really feels as though it could have been penned by non other than Ian Fleming himself. Bond and Crystal’s investigative skills take them out and about the Italian Adriatic coast on their quest to understand how a dead Belgian girl, whose boyfriend worked in the Foreign Ministry, relates to the bizarre island of signor Uccelli. As the duo of detectives sniff for clues, the fate of the Gallews on the Isle of Condors is put on full display, as senore Uccelli puts into practice the vile defence mechanism he has set up. Suffice to say that the condors turn out to be nasty little pets. Think Emilio Largo’s shark pool in Thunderball, or Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s aquarium of piranhas in You Only Live Twice. Once again, Lawrence and artist Yaroslav Horak challenge themselves with the always difficult act of wanting to balance Fleming-esque qualities with the more widely recognized aspects of the films. They succeed once again, even more so this time around.

Bond eventually makes his way to the titular off coast rock under the guise of a scuba diver having lost his way and requiring a night to rest (during this time Crystal continues to put the pieces of the puzzle together by tracking one of Uccelli’s female vixens that has made it ashore). It is here where the comic really hits its stride, pitting Bond and his adversary in game of cat and mouse that will certainly be familiar to some fans, but never gets old. Bond’s intelligence and quick thinking are often his best assets, in addition to capably playacting in order to snoop  around undetected for critical information. Some readers might find that this stretch of the story slows down and lacks action, and while it is fair to argue that the next few pages lack the wonderful fisticuffs the spy is known for engaging in, his sleuthing and legitimate spy skills (impersonating personalities being among them) are often either left to the wayside or employed all too briefly. To his credit, Jim Lawrence relishes in having Bond, Uccelli and the surprising number of beautiful woman that populate the tiny island try to outwit each other, leaving the reader to guess, at least for a while, who has the upper hand and when.

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Even the reveal, involving a super secretive training ground for young female spies, harkens back to the best of Bond. There is just enough tweaking to make the proceedings feel fresh all the while offering enough familiarity to fans of the property so that they feel right at home. Signor Uccelli’s base of operations is, when one stops to think about it, along the lines of Dr. No’s Jamaican island shipping plant that was used as a front for his complicated NASA shuttle interference nuclear chamber. Despite all of these familiar ingredients, the comic never comes across as a mere ‘greatest hits’ parade of 007 favourites.

A review of Isle of Condors would be understandably incomplete without at least a passing reference to the character of Crystal Kelly. By 2015 standards, the presence of a black Bond girl raises no eyebrows. In 1972, it was a slightly different story. What’s more, Jim Lawrence reveals that she is Irish-Jamaican, an unorthodox mix if there ever was one. Like many Bond girls, she ends up playing second fiddle to the protagonist, but Lawrence gives her the smarts that assist 007 a great deal in their collaborative investigation. Lo and behold, it would be a year later that, in the 1973 film Live and Let Die, James would sleep with with a black woman (although the movie only shows them cuddling after the fact). More interesting still is the striking resemblance between Crystal Kelly and Live and Let Die’s Rosy Carver.

Isle of Condors is great fun and is boosted by the consistently strong artwork from Horak. Grisly deaths are never shown in full but suggested strongly enough to allows readers’ imaginations to run wild, the women look voluptuous (to say nothing of the fact that the James Bond comic strips evidently had no qualms about showing full chest nudity) and the action is given the requisite dynamism. The Isle of Condors is a dangerous place for trespassers, but an irresistible visit nevertheless.

-Edgar Chaput




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