James Bond: VARGR #2 (part 2 of 6)
Last time: Bond avenged 008’s death and his reward was to take on the deceased agent’s case load, part of which involved a drug dealer peddling an exotic product. He was sent to Berlin, sans gun, to meet a contact of longtime friend and associate Felix Leiter to find the source of this drug and the dealer, unaware that his seemingly simple assignment was far more complex and deadly than he dared dream.
Berlin. Bond exits the plane like a tourist, complete with towing along a carry on. A pair await him with a sign that says “Hutcheon”, and one is a large bald dude with a Motorhead mustache and the other is a woman in a sharp black suit and gloves sporting a cute short ‘do. Bond holds out his hand for a polite shake as Bald Motorhead Guy takes the luggage and the woman introduces herself as “Reach”. Is that some sort of “tribute” to Jenny Flex from A View to a Kill? Are some Bond women named after verbs? Let’s see, there was Chew Mee, and… Okay, the doctor in The World is Not Enough was named Molly Warmflash. Welp, I’ve got another reason to hate that film. Okay, so, no pattern then. There have been lots of silly names (I’m looking at you, Strawberry Fields), though. Reach takes Bond’s hand and his smile disappears.
You can see how Ellis has a cinematic approach to comic book storytelling; with other writers, they would have had inserted thought captions. But then that would have spoiled what’s to come. Here the change in expression is more than enough to tell you something is Not Quite Right. The trio get into the car and Reach calls James “Mr. Bond”, which means she was supposed to be picking him up and James didn’t steal the real Mr. Hutcheon’s ride, although that would have been a gloriously dick move. Reach’s first name is “Dharma”, and after Bond notes how he can’t quite place her accent, she starts going into her backstory about being born in Bristol and moving around a lot and having “’80s hippie parents”. James notes the gloves and how hard they are and Dharma explains that being a spy, she doesn’t like to leave fingerprints around. She then climbs onto James’ lap, and if Bond had been anyone else than the man-whore he is, maybe he would’ve thought there was something a little… off. Instead, they get right to it.
Huh. It’s usually much later in the relationship when the women want to kill James. Bond tries to karate chop Reach’s wrist and almost breaks his own hand in the process. In turn, Reach tells Bond, “It doesn’t take long, it doesn’t matter, just let it happen.” Man, that sounds like creepy rapist talk there. Artist Jason Masters includes a nice touch of the veins in Bond’s temple throbbing as he starts to lose oxygen. In desperation, Bond kicks out with both feet at the back of Bald Motorhead’s seat. He loses control of the car and…
Man, how I love the feeling of kinetic action here, with the cars crashing topped off with the slow-motion sensation of the passengers flying about. But, uh, I guess silver and white are the only colors that cars come in over in Germany? Oh, wait, my bad; it’s the same car. It’s just Masters’ way of showing the vehicle’s path after it kissed the truck.
Dharma glares at James, and in response James reaches into his jacket, which causes her eyes to widen. She responds by literally kicking the car door off the hinges to send it flying into the air and she dashes away. James, rubbing his neck, extricates himself from the wreck and checks on Bald Motorhead. He’s got a broken neck, so no help there. James reaches into the driver’s side and pops the trunk, retrieves his case and trundles on down the road. I love how no one seems to be around to check on the survivors. I guess maybe Germans just really, really like to mind their own business.
An unknown amount of walking later, James finally reaches the British embassy, and is met by the station chief, a guy named Carney who explains the car sent to pick up Bond was hit with an EMP device that knocked out the vehicle, fried phones, and caused “ten minutes of aphasia”, which I had to look up: “Loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage.” And EMP devices as well, it seems. Bond describes Dharma Reach, stating she was bad at accents and terrible at tradecraft, which explains her BS story about her past. Carney introduces Bond to his other people—the ones probably not at the hospital after that EMP attack—who go by the names Samira Dar and Godwin Soames. Soames met Bond at a Christmas party a couple years ago, and I’m just trying to imagine James Bond wasting his time at a Christmas party. Then Godwin talks about the high-heeled Russian who James left with, and it all becomes clear. He then shakes hands with Ms. Dar.
What I like here is that rather than hit on the young lady and use her obvious hero worship to seduce her, he finds it more amusing than anything else, I think in part because he has no illusions about what he does for a living. And I also like to think maybe Bond’s standards are if he’s going to get into a relationship, he wants a woman who’s a little, um, seasoned? It reminds me a bit of how James reacted to young figure skater Bibi’s clumsy advances in For Your Eyes Only.
Bond is treated to some high-class coffee as Soames apologizes for not being prepared for the rude welcome, saying that thirty years ago, cars getting taken out like that was maybe a common thing, but everybody plays nice now. Dar suggests maybe it was the CIA out to “blood” some of their agents, but Bond thinks it’s somebody private. After complimenting them on the coffee, he points out how there’s no other “side” the way it used to be. After this, Carney takes Bond to his office where the two can smoke and talk in private. James notes how the woman had “armored gloves” and you’d think with the way she kicked that door halfway to Munich, he’d suspect her of being all bionic. Or maybe he doesn’t trust Carney with all the information. Bond explains how he faked going for his weapon, which reminds Carney he’s got Bond’s gun.
Okay honestly, I couldn’t find any negative information on the Walther P99. It seems like a perfectly serviceable weapon. Small, yes, but you’d think that’d be a plus for a secret agent. You either go for deceptively innocuous or a rhino-stopping cannon like Bond was using in Live and Let Die. And something’s occurred to me as I look at the way Carney is drawn, and thinking back on how Bald Motorhead was as well. It suddenly strikes me how much they remind me of this pair from the movie Layer Cake.
It’s got me wondering if Masters had that movie playing in the background while he was illustrating this issue. Wait, was Dharma Reach inspired by Burn Gorman?
Ew. By the way, if you haven’t seen Layer Cake, do yourself a favor and watch it, if anything to see a pre-Bond Daniel Craig. It’s one of those British crime dramas from the late ’90s-early ’00s like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and it’s available on Amazon Prime.
Carney calls Bond a cab so he can be driven to his appointment with Herr Kurjak, and we get a nice bit of Bond in the back of the car with the Berlin skyline reflected in the window. I even recognize the Fernsehturm Berlin (Berlin Television Tower) from the underrated and canceled too soon series Counterpart, and the way cool Atomic Blonde. The cab pulls up outside Kurjakmedizin. Inside, Bond is met by the man himself.
Yeah, now this guy I can see being inspired by Burn Gorman. Slaven Kurjak admits the CIA clued him in on Bond’s alias. Dick move, CIA. Please tell me it wasn’t Felix Leiter who let the info slip. Bond politely asks about the work Kurjak is doing here, and he explains that they’re on the “bleeding edge” of medical science. Emphasis on the “bleeding”, I’m thinking. Bond notes that Kurjak is not only the president, he’s also a client: the dude’s left hand is prosthetic. Kurjak explains his left arm and leg were both lost in a Serbian concentration camp in the ’90s. Bond says he’s sorry and Kurjak thanks him, but he turns away before Bond can see his expression of disgust. Something tells me the good doctor isn’t too high on pointless platitudes.
He turns back to Bond, all smiles, and explains that maybe Kurjakmedizin is operating just a teensy bit outside of what the law will allow; he’s got supply issues and the Americans help him out with a li’l gray market commerce. That’s how Kurjak found out about a lab producing some questionable cocaine that’s being produced with new faster methods. While the two are taking the tour, they reach another lab.
Is… that a dude? I think they’re just going to have to straight up Robocop him. If so, do you really want a guy who’s probably insane by now after losing 99% of his body (okay, okay, to be fair it might be a woman. Call me sexist but that seems even worse) being given super strength? Please tell me somebody installed a kill switch somewhere in there.
Kurjak explains that in exchange for telling Bond where the lab is, he gets a few laws bent in his favor. Bond accepts the info and answers the doctor’s queries about how he’s going to handle the situation by explaining he’ll just head straight on over, chat up the fellows, and then he’s off on the next available flight back home. Kurjak says his superiors must be impressed with his efficiency, and Bond lets slip that they’re not. Telling an unnecessary truth there, James? Not very good tradecraft. Then again, maybe it’s a strategy; he wants to give Kurjak a confidential truth to form a false sense of camaraderie. Because damn, if James hasn’t figured out by now that Ms. Trench got all bionical up in this mad scientist funhouse then he’s lost his touch. Bond heads for the building’s rear exit, heading down a hall and passing what appears to be an empty lab. Only, it’s not so empty…
And judging by the way our joyless Mr. Masters proceeds to wrap his arm around her, it seems Ms. Trench has a fella. So the CIA tells Dr. Frankenstein to expect Hutcheon and he sends one of his foot soldiers to kill him. If—no, when Bond pieces this all together, I can only imagine how many CIA spooks are going to become real ghosts.
Back in London… or Brixton… we find our squatters have discovered that this Green drug might not be all it’s cracked up to be. The one dude who introduced it to his lady friend thinks that hey, maybe it was a bad batch. Was the decomposing flesh on your limbs your first clue, genius? The girlfriend tries to talk to Cal through his door, saying they tried calling 999, but they couldn’t find a working phone. Okay, in all the stuff I’ve read, and all the works I’ve done reviews/recaps on, the idea that in this day and age three young people don’t have a working phone between them just might be the most unrealistic thing I’ve ever seen. The girl looks like she pukes up all her insides, and I haven’t seen vomitus this epic since Team America: World Police. She weakly pounds on Cal’s door…
Just like the song says: you can check out any time, but you can never leave.
Next time: Bond makes a call on some drug dealers. I’m sure they’ll listen to reason.