James Bond: VARGR #1 (part 1 of 6)

As hard as it may be to believe, what with the passing of legend Sean Connery, I had intended to look at this comic for a little while now. You see, my plan has been to recap comics at the same time their related films were to be released in theaters, and I had intended to look at this one to coincide with the release of the next Bond film No Time to Die. Well, the disease-which-shall-not-be-named put paid to that idea. By now, there’s zero point in waiting, so I’m just going to recap whatever the hell I want and to heck with Hollywood’s constantly pushing release dates back. So, here we are.

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Some years ago, Dynamite Comics got their hands on the licensing for James Bond, and in 2015 they released a monthly Bond series. I was initially skeptical, but by that point I was growing steadily more burnt out on DC and Marvel’s releases and was looking for something new. Discovering that Warren Ellis was penning the series sold it for me. I’m not saying the man has a flawless track record (I’m looking at you, Iron Man: Extremis), but far more often than not he’s delivered the goods. So how does Ellis do with the world’s most (in)famous spy? Read on to find out.

It’s a winter night in Helsinki, Finland. Well, I’m assuming its winter; having never been to Finland, it could snow all year around for all I know. A man dashes through the streets, hopping over car hoods until he reaches a construction site. Here he pauses, and we get our first good look at him.

Damn, he looks like he could be Disturbed’s new bassist. I don’t know how old this dude is supposed to be, but he looks like somebody who never stopped being mad at his parents. Disturbed (I’m going to call him “Disturbed” until we get a name for him) steals through the site, looking for a good place to lay down an ambush. Disturbed finds one behind a stack of I-beams and he pulls out a gun. He settles in to wait, but whoever’s following him has him spotted and opens up with a gun of his own, shocking Disturbed. He fires blindly behind him as he looks for either an exit or another place to hide, and I’m kind of under the impression that Disturbed here wasn’t expecting the person tracking him to be packing a gun.

I don’t think he was expecting the cinder block, either. That lower back pain? With all the packages I’m going to be hauling, I can relate. Just a reminder this holiday season, folks: lift with your legs and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And, uh avoid cinder blocks to the spine.

Disturbed finds a shovel and grabs it. He swings wildly at his stalker, who deftly avoids the blow and dodges the follow up. The stalker arms himself with a shovel of his own and now it’s on. Hmm, if this were a Dungeons & Dragons game, what category would a shovel fall into? It’s the length of a short staff but has a blade at the end. And it’s kind of short for a pole arm. Great, now I’ve got an interesting query for my nerd friends on Facebook. Whoever our stalker is, he’s well versed in the ways of shovel-fu. He deftly blocks Distubed’s multiple sloppy swings, and then he puts his foot down…

Whoops. I mean, he puts Disturbed’s foot down. Disturbed goes sliding down the hill and… okay, he’s got a spider tattoo on the side of his bald head, too. With the ear hole things, lip rings, and tattoos all over his head, I can’t help but wonder if he keeps losing crazy bets with his friends.

Aleksi: Ho, Severi! I will bet you two nipple piercings you can’t get to first base with that sexy blonde who just walked in.
Severi: Ha! You are on, my friend!
[Five minutes later…]
Severi: …Damn it…
Aleksi: What is wrong, my friend? You looked like you were doing so well?
Severi: I was, until I realized it was Taylor Swift…

Our stalker drops a bucket full of chains onto Disturbed’s chest. I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, Disturbed ain’t walking home after this one. The stalker leaps down on Disturbed, shovel held high, and the next thing we know his gun goes flying, along with the first joint of four fingers. Disturbed crawls desperately to a piece of rebar sticking up out of the ground but he seems to just finally give up and roll over. He asks the guy who’s been literally taking him apart who he is. The stalker explains that Disturbed killed a colleague of his two weeks ago just because he liked killing, and that the man had many names, but one he went by was 008.

A gunshot rings out and our Finnish edgelord departs this world. Annnd cue gun barrel and opening credits with a bitchin’ theme song! I asked my friends on Facebook what a good James Bond theme would be and the responses were… interesting. They were certainly eclectic, from Michael Buble’s “Cry Me a River” to Jigsaw’s “Sky High”. I’m particularly partial to Godsmack’s “Voodoo”.

Cut to London. Or Brixton. Well, which is it? [Consults Wikipedia free of guilt because he ponied up his ten bucks.] Ah, Brixton is a district of south London, England, within the borough of Lambeth. Now I feel the teeniest bit smarter. A young man and a woman along with a group of wasted dudes hang out in a squat. Judging by the bits and pieces of drum kit scattered around and the guitar foot pedal, I’m guessing they’re in a band. Guys, you’ve got it all backwards. First you get the fame, then you indulge in the suicidal drug binge. Just ask Amy Winehouse. Oh, was that too soon?

The conscious dude is chatting up his lady, pointing out he’s got a new drug called “green”. Is it made from people? He says it’s from “Europe” and that’s… really vague. There’s, like, what? Five or maybe even six countries in Europe? I’ll have to consult former Agony Boother and Denmark resident Sofie to find out, although the last time we had a conversation about Europe she got all funny when I told her I thought her native language was Denmarkian. I mean, it stands to reason, right? The guy is going on and on about how awesomesauce “green” is, and how you don’t wake up hurting. The girl asks about “Cal” who hasn’t come out of his room all day, but her boyfriend says Cal’s just a lightweight and he’ll be fine. Meanwhile we pay a visit to Cal, who’s sporting this whole tortured loner Kurt Cobain vibe.

Okay, if those are bugs, then the first thing I’d assume living in this shithole is that yeah, they’re totally real. All the same, I’d be knocking off the green. You know, just to be on the safe side. Unless it’s like that substance D stuff from A Scanner Darkly. If so, you’re boned.

Cut to Vauxhall Cross, MI-6 headquarters. 007 enters the building and then reaches M’s outer office. I think it’s pretty cool that for James Bond they’re going very, very old school here and are using Ian Fleming’s original look for inspiration, rather than Daniel Craig’s likeness or any prior actor’s:

(Original Ian Fleming sketch)

Bond finds Moneypenny with a disassembled pistol, cleaning the barrel, a row of bullets arrayed on her desk. The two exchange some vaguely sexual banter which suggests the two have a past, meaning Ellis might be taking cues from the movie Skyfall. Then again, Bond and Moneypenny have always had a thing between them (sadly, the chemistry between Samantha Bond and Pierce Brosnan, while starting off very strong in Goldeneye, petered out in later films). The pair part after trading good natured shots, the final being:

Bond: Should you being doing that on your desk?
Moneypenny: What would you rather I be doing on my desk?

Which causes James to surrender the field with a good-natured smile, arms raised in surrender as he heads towards M’s office door. Inside, M tells Bond to sit down and has James cooling his heels long enough for him to check his watch. Then M notes how hard it is to get efficient work out of Bond on most missions but a straight-up assassination has him in and out in under a day. I get the feeling James ain’t on M’s Christmas card list. Bond points out it was a simple operation, which gets him a verbal raised eyebrow from his boss. Bond elaborates that killing a man involves “no tradecraft”. M points out the killing didn’t go unnoticed and “people in high places” want to shut down the 00 branch. Bond asks, “And?” M’s response:

Man, did Bond accidentally shoot M’s dog or something? Did he sleep with M’s wife? Or maybe M’s just not impressed by a guy whose main pastimes are whoring, gambling, and shooting strangers. M continues to dump on Bond’s homecoming by telling him he gets all of 008’s case load, and when Bond starts to object, M points out that Bond hasn’t got much on his plate now. I’m getting the feeling maybe M gives James the less mentally taxing stuff. 008 was dealing with a “small, quiet, and peculiar drug importer” that needs to be “dissuaded” from branching out into the UK. The dealer’s stuff has some peculiar qualities they’re still trying to figure out, but at least this makes his product easy to identify.

James is going to get a debrief from Bill Tanner and then he’s off to Berlin. Tanner is in every Daniel Craig movie and played by Rory Kinnear. He’s pretty much M’s secretary in those films and I swear I don’t remember seeing him in the last two movies. That’s either because Rory is so bland as an actor or he’s in the movies so briefly I blinked and missed him. Then again, I’ve tried my best to block the memory of the shitfest known as Spectre from my mind, so for all I know Tanner plays Robin to Bond’s Batman in that film.

James is also supposed to see the Quartermaster, but before he goes:

Don’t be coy, M: tell us how you really feel about Bond.

Down in the armory, James gets even more disapproval as the Quartermaster demands he give up his gun. I’m getting a distinct Ron Swanson vibe off of the man as he confiscates James’ Walther P99 and has it deposited in a plastic bag like it’s something scraped off the sidewalk. I’m not sure what problem the Quartermaster has with the P99. Maybe Ellis was looking for a modern equivalent to the much mocked .25 Beretta that Bond favors in the first books and Dr. No?

It turns out part of the reason Bond’s gun has been taken away is a new rule’s come down and all MI-6 agents—including 00s—can’t be packing on British soil. Bond’s firearm will be handed to him via diplomatic pouch when he gets to Berlin. But a trip to the Quartermaster wouldn’t be complete without new toys. In this case, it’s new ammo.

According to the Quartermaster, it’s a variation of the G2R RIP ammo, which actually exists. Because hollow point rounds don’t do enough damage, apparently. The Quartermaster gives Bond a parting shot, telling him his soft holster is going to kill him one day. James points out a hard holster ruins the cut of his suit. I… actually see both points here. On the one hand, a hard holster means a faster draw. On the other, the point of being a spy is to look inconspicuous; a bulge from a holstered firearm kind of undoes that.

Later, James has lunch with Bill Tanner and the two actually seem like friends. Bond is still bitching about not being able to carry a gun around England when Moneypenny gets to carry one. However, Moneypenny doubles as M’s bodyguard, as the last line of defense. No wonder M takes her more seriously. Bond continues to complain, but Tanner’s not exactly a sympathetic shoulder to cry on.

I remember during Brosnan’s Goldeneye, we had a touch of friendliness between Tanner (played by the incomparable Michael Kitchen) and Bond that I liked, but I swear I don’t remember anything remotely like this between the two characters in any of the other films. And that’s kind of sad. I get that James is supposed to be a lone wolf type and all his friends in the field usually wind up dead, but to have no close colleagues at all? I guess Felix Leiter counts, but there’s been so many playing the role and the relationship changes with every actor. Speaking of Felix, Bond’s going to be meeting one of Leiter’s informants in Berlin, a dude named Slaven Kurjak. I haven’t seen a bad guy name so obvious since DC Comics’ Sinestro. It just screams “criminal mastermind”. It turns out the dude is richer than God and specializes in bionics and genetics. Great, I think Bond’s going to be fighting “black Superman” Idris Elba by issue four.

Bond’s clueless, however, and wonders instead if Slaven Kurjak employs nurses. I hope Bond’s gun comes with plenty of ripper rounds.

Cut to a lab elsewhere, where a man wearing a funky skull cap seems to be the subject of a medical diagnosis. “Mr. Masters” suffers from anhedonia, a real-world condition that prevents a person from experiencing pleasure. So, like Nickelback fans. A doctor suggests a few treatment options, but a man off-camera says they’ll have to wait, because Mr. Masters has a job to do.

It seems Masters has to… cash in a Bond.

Next time: Bond’s in Berlin and he meets new enemies.

Tag: James Bond: VARGR

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