Written by Jim Lawrence
Art of Yaroslav Horak
Published in The Daily Express from June 19 1973 to December 3 1973
Sent to the Canary Islands, Bond is resting at a delightful café when a beautiful, seductive woman calls his attention by having the waiter pass along a note indicating that she can share information about the Oil of Hajar, the latter being a member state of the United Arab Emirates. The femme fatale hints that if the secret agent, posing as a businessman, accompanies her not far from town to a remote location, he will find out what he needs from a man named Abu Rashid. As this is happening, a desperate woman, Concha Felipez, is duped into believing that a strange man going by the name of Rimel will reveal proof of her husband’s infidelity. Both Concha and Bond are drugged, stripped nude and left on the street back in the city where they awaken the next morning. Thus begins 007’s odd journey from the Canary Islands to the UAE state of Hajar, where he will face off against the vile sheik Harun, who has usurped his uncle Nasreddin, the state’s true and benevolent ruler.
The fifth story in Titan Book’s James Bond Omnibus 004 is the real standout thus far for a bevy of brilliantly creative reasons. For starters, the above synopsis barely scratches the surface of what transpires throughout this whirlwind, politically relevant (for the time, anyways) action-packed adventure. Whereas the previous story, Die With My Boots On, was too short for its own good, The Girl Machine aims for the opposite, proving to be the longest strip in the book up until this point. The length of the story affords writer Jim Lawrence and artist Yaroslav Horak a supremely large canvas to create new, exciting villains and obstacles that Bond and his allies, chief among them Concha Felipez and later on Emir Nasreddin’s sister, Zobeide, must overcome. The singular most à propos word to describe Girl Machine is ‘epic’. For its length and scope, this story is definitely one of the more admirable ones the creative duo offer fans, and said largess ends up being incredibly beneficial.
With such an impressive scope to work with, Yaroslav Horak’s artistry feels more invigorated than ever. Gone are the nearly identical blondes that populated the previous adventures, replaced with leading ladies that sport genuine flare and exoticism. Both Concha Felipez and especially Zobeide are striking for their beauty and evidently push Horak to put different aesthetic spins on his female characters. Even the supporting cast and villains are diverse, the final third’s setting of the Hajar state encouraging Horak to really stretch his imagination and pepper the Bond adventure with a heavy Arabic flavour, something 007 stories rarely feature. Lawrence and Horak also think outside the box insofar as the dangers and odd little challenges Bond and his female allies face. The aforementioned scene in which he and Concha wake up next to one another completely naked in the wee hours of the morning on a city street is completely fresh. On paper it sounds ripe for comedy, and the best part is that it actually does looks funny, but none of that changes the fact that the two characters find themselves in a pretty pickle and have to work fast in order to avoid further trouble. Another highlight that speaks to the weird imagination that went into the comic is the titular girl machine, a gift presented to the tyrannical sheik Harun. In essence, it is a personal video striptease machine, the dimensions of which resemble the old video game arcades, only this one plays videos of gorgeous celebrities and dispenses alcoholic beverages! The punch line is that Bond, replacing a little person who fell ill, is hiding inside, waiting for the palace to go to sleep in order to exit and pursue his covert mission and rescue Zobeide. It’s completely insane and so very, very strange, yet it works wonders for the purpose of the comic. From the diverse locales to the vast cast of characters, there is something new for Bond and the readers to discover every few pages.
In addition to The Girl Machine‘s impressive scope and sense of imagination, there is the matter of its political relevancy. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Bond’s mission involves somehow reinstating the imprisoned Emir Nasreddin as ruler of Hajar in order for the British to retain their oil rights in the region. The revelation of this end game adds an incredible amount of weight to the yarn, the level of which had not been seen in 007 missions up until then. First and foremost, it is one of the rare occasions on which Bond’s objective not only entails ridding the world of a corrupt megalomaniac, but when said action blatantly entails favouritism towards British economic interests. While James Bond is a British secret agent who complies with his government on the principal of ‘queen and country’, rarely are Bond stories so explicitly about national interests.
What’s even more worthy of mention is that Girl Machine was written and published in the second half of 1973 and concerns oil exports from the Midlde East towards the United Kingdom. That little detail concerning the dates of publication becomes all the more pertinent when one understands the crisis that brewed out of the Middle East, beginning in March of 1973, when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), enforced an oil embargo, thus causing a sharp rise in the price of that most valuable of natural resources. While the reasons prompting OAPEC members for agreeing to such a tactic is less important to The Girl Machine (although anyone curious about the topic would do themselves a favour and read up on it. Fascinating stuff), the fact of the matter is that the U.K. was one of the countries most immediately affected by the controversial decision. As such, Lawrence and Horak’s story must have felt incredibly relevant upon publication back in the day. It is also interesting to note that, as this comic was being published daily, the film producers were hard at work on The Man With the Golden Gun, Roger Moore’s second outing as 007, a movie that also dabbles, albeit mildly, in the hot button topic of energy crises.
Filled to the brim with colourful characters, extremely hard hitting action (some of the deaths feel particularly visceral this time around), plenty of mystery and intrigue, and a unequivocal intent to comment on a major international issue that was on everybody’s mind at the time in Britain and throughout the major Western nations, The Girl Machine is one of the more unique James Bond comic book stories ever published. Above all, it is a perfect example of Lawrence and Horak pushing themselves that much further than they normally do with respect to scope and imagination. While Omnibus 004 went through a bit of a lull with the previous couple of stories, The Girl Machine is some of the best work the duo has ever produced.
James Bond will return in… Beware of Butterflies.