Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Jason Masters
Letterer: Simon Blowland
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
The second issue of the VARGR storyline written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Jason Masters sees Bond make his way to Berlin (sans pistol, as ordained by a new governmental act referred to in issue 1, much to 007’s annoyance) to investigate the flooding of Britain’s drug scene with a new, chemically potent product the kids are taking up. James’ first few minutes in Germany prove quite trying after meeting one Dharma Reach at the airport, as the automobile envoy he believes is the station chief’s courtesy is actually an assassination attempt. Barely escaping with his own life after scaring Dharma off with a bit of cunning, Bond finally reaches Berlin station HQ where he is greeted by far friendlier faces: chief Carney and two office agents, Samira Dar and Godwin Soames, after which the secret agent is dispatched to Kurjak Medizin laboratories, where the brilliant Kurjak might have information pertinent to the protagonist’s investigation.
As fans of the James Bond property, from the films, the books, the older newspaper strip comics, and all the way to even some of the video games, taking a new Bond adventure in bits and pieces on a monthly basis is an extremely different feeling. When one sits down to watch, say, Spectre, one will have the benefit of enjoying (or not) the entire story from beginning to end in a single offering. The same goes for the Fleming novels as well as the continuation stories that are still published to this day insofar as they are published in their entirety. Even the Daily Express newspaper strips are grouped as volumes, meaning fans can read entire adventures, unlike back in the day when one had to buy the new edition just to get three new panels. With the Dynamite comics series, one only gets small chapters of the plot, 22 pages at a time, before having to wait another 30 days or so. It makes for a drastically different experience, one that requires much more patience on the part of the readership.
Another point that is worth considering is how Ellis, as the writer of the storyline, has chosen to divide the recognizable story elements into these 22 page chapters. Whereas in issue 1 readers had a cold opening, a title page, a Moneypenny scene, an M scene and Q scene, issue 2 features the traditional moment of Bond arriving at his foreign destination where greetings are not always as familiar as he would hope, the introduction of one of the adventure’s antagonists in Dharma Reach, a bit of intelligence reconnaissance with the local allies and a first meeting with the character that, while not explicitly revealed as the chief enemy, oozes of villainy. The most obvious clue has to be the facial disfigurement he is afflicted with, a Fleming hallmark and always a sure sign that the individual is a baddie and not a goodie. It will fascinating to see how Ellis continues to divvy up Bond ingredients per issue in order to construct one continuous story arc. One is also tempted to rate each individual issue but also the story as a whole once the sixth and final chapter is made available, but that is another conversation for another time.
As for the story itself in this second comic, it is safe to say that Ellis and Masters are still warming up. Only a third of the story has been delivered thus far, and, much like with the films, the first third, while certainly sporting great action beats, is usually a lot of set-up. That said, the sort of exposition offered in issue 2 is much more directly related to the plot, with Bond finally setting foot in his sought after destination of Berlin and getting in touch with both friends and potential enemies. The challenge here is to make said exposition as engaging as possible rather than a mere bland dumping of information. In that regard, writer Ellis shows that he is rather adept at witty but informative dialogue exchanges. The best example of this is once Bond arrives at station headquarters where a lot needs to be communicated. Why was he attacked on the way there and by whom? Who are these new allies and in what capacity can they assist him? Enough is communicated without bludgeoning the reader over the head, not to mention that the book always takes a minute to less the characters breath, such as when station employee Samira Dar appears rather impressed by 007’s presence, citing that the visit of a double-oh is a rare occasion and somewhat flattering, thus establishing and even building on the myth and mystique of the double-oh section in a cute way.
Masters’ is once again in fine form here, bringing all the key sequences as well as the smaller moments to life with fantastically creative artwork and colours. Dharma Reach is a drop dead sexy woman with looks that could kill, making it perfect sense that she would be sent to assassinate Bond. The car crash that ends said attempt on the hero’s life is very dynamically rendered, with tremendous emphasis put on the impact of the event on the vehicle’s occupants, shards of glass flying everywhere. What’s more, he has reserved something special for Kurjak, who by all accounts will end up being the villain of the piece. Last but not least, the book leaves readers with yet another tease of the man who looks as though he will be filling the role of the storyline’s Jaws or Oddjob. He was only briefly seen in the final panels of issue 1 and is yet again given but a few panels this time around as well. A Bond fan’s anticipation can be easily wetted, and one hopes this hulk of a man will be a brilliant match for 007.
It is interesting to note that the second and presumably final issue predominantly concerned with exposition arrives in December. Fans have been given two months to test the waters with the new series, get into the exceptional artwork, see Bond do his thing just a little bit and take in a fair amount of exposition. One gets the underlying sensation that by issue 3, which arrives in early January, things will really start flying…or exploding…or doing whatever crazy things Bond is best known for. Ellis and Masters have our attention. In the New Year it will be time to deliver the goods.