Written by Jim Lawrence
Art by Yaroslav Horak
Published in the Daily Express, December 28th 1971 to June 10th 1972
Double-Oh Comics is PopOptiq’s very own column dedicated to exploring the world of 007 comic stories, both old and new. Articles will concentrate on the Daily Express newspaper strips that ran from the 1950s into the 1970s, those that were published in the Daily Star during the late 1970s and 1980s, as well as Dynamite’s monthly series, “James Bond 007”. Pending availability, there may even be a surprise or two in store for readers.
The James Bond comics have run the full tonal spectrum throughout their history. Some stories remind readers of the zaniest Roger Moore films (believe it or not, one in particular went to an even further sci-fi extreme) whereas others abide more closely to the sort of adventures worthy of Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond character. The Daily Express, the British newspaper with the longest history of publishing 007 stories, began, understandably, with adaptations of the Fleming novels in 1958. By early 1968 however, after the publication of The Spy Who Loved Me, the Fleming well was all dried up, meaning that writer Jim Lawrence and artist Yaroslav Horak, taking over from the original team of writer Henry Gammidge and artist John McLusky, had to get creative. Trouble Spot is their 8th original strip.
Trouble Spot begins along the French Riviera, with Bond returning to his hotel room after completing some undisclosed spy business. He is surprised to learn that a woman has snuck into his room and taken a shower. Scantily clad and with pistol in hand, the beauty introduces herself as Gretta. Bond, striving to protect his anonymity, says that his name is Mike Channing (a man who in fact is dead), which lands him in only more hot water when Gretta, ever more stern now, shuts him down by revealing that she is, in fact, Mike Channing’s girlfriend. It turns out that both are after a ‘box’ containing something that would be of great value to any secret service agency that gets its hands on it. Mike had been on his way to obtain it when a fatal accident befell him. Bond and Gretta are forced to forge a tenuous alliance when an even greater threat makes his presence known, Baron Sharck, better known to some as Commissar Sharkface, a top level Soviet spy also on the prowl for the mysterious box.
Considering that the newspaper strip stories were published only three panels at a time (which explains why the story credits appear in the first panel on the left in every row of three panels in the omnibus published by Titan Books), the action obviously has to move along at a rapid pace. Granted, a breakneck pace is befitting of a Bond story, but the risk incurred by translating Fleming’s world to a medium by which only three images can be printed at once is the loss of the delightful luxury in which the characters bask in the books. Fleming was always a stickler for details, not only with regards to character descriptions, but locations and sounds. With the action trotting along at such a quickened speed, some of those qualities are forcibly sacrificed. Bond and Gretta visit a stunning number of locations with the span of only 30-odd pages.
The result is a product that takes a bit of time getting used to but ultimately proves satisfying. Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak create a Bond that is very familiar to fans of the character, but sports a couple of little quirks that are new, such as his frequent use of the term ‘luv’ whenever addressing Gretta or any other sexy and dangerous woman he crosses paths with. As for his look, it pretty much corresponds to what most people would conjure up in their minds when asked to think of a comic book representation of the famous secret agent. Square jawed, tall, well built, medium length dark hair, an intense gaze, this is a recognizable, serviceable visual representation of Bond in a comic. He is also as resourceful as ever, and, interestingly enough, shows off his survival skills with cunning and strategizing rather than gadgets in Trouble Spot. Jim Lawrence had been known as a fan of the gadgets, but said technological tools are kept to a bare minimum in this adventure.
Even though there are attempts to produce a more grounded 007 caper, it is clear that Lawrence and Horak nevertheless want to have Fleming’s touch and even a bit of the cinematic Bond reflect in their work. For one, the story’s antagonist, Baron Sharck (not a typo), has quite the befitting name, what with his long, sharp nose resembling a shark’s snout. A large man, he leaves the dirty work to his goons and right hand woman, Olga, while remaining properly dressed in a white suit and tie. On the topic of the women in Trouble Spot, Lawrence and Horak produce what must be the Bond story, all mediums taken into account, in which the women wear the least amount of clothing, Gretta, Olga, and Mike Channing’s wife Folly Wilde are almost exclusively portrayed either in bikini or lingerie. In one scene when Bond and Gretta find themselves prisoners of Baron Sharck and brought into a basement for torture by whip lashes, Olga literally says that her lashes would be more effective if she rid herself of her restrictive clothing and proceeds to take almost everything off save her panties and bra.
Bond and Gretta get themselves into some reasonably fun filled trouble, the highlight being the aforementioned whipping scene in Sharck’s basement, with another memorable action packed sequence occurring later on at the Los Angeles airport when the duo try to sniff out a mysterious figure on their trails who has apparently drugged Bond when on the plane from France to the United States. Lawrence also includes a brief sequence at a nudist beach provides the adventure some levity. Not everything runs as smoothly as one would like, such as the shaky ordeal about Folly Wilde being temporarily blinded, thus allowing Bond to approach her as her husband because he can imitate his voice. A second important miscue is Gretta’s demise, which feels forced and clumsily handled, hinting that the creators were struggling with how to ensure that Bond ends up with Folly rather than Gretta.
Overall, Trouble Spot is a decent if unspectacular entry in the world of James Bond comic trips. The ‘box’ that everyone seeks is no more than a McGuffin, its contents and value eventually disclosed to readers in the final page, but neither is nearly as interesting as most of what came before. It is a case in which the journey matters more than the destination, and Bond is typically a safe bet when it comes to adventurous journeys.