James Bond: VARGR #3 (part 3 of 6)

Last time: Bond arrived in Berlin and received a warm welcome from Dharma Reach, bionic assassin. He later went to go meet Dr. Kurjak, our obvious bad guy, who told Bond where to find the drug dealers. Is it a trap? Of course. But as we learned in From Russia with Love, that never stops the British Secret Service.

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Back at Dr. McEvil’s Lab of Villainy, Dharma is getting her prosthetic bits checked out by lab techs. She confesses she blew it… which is kind of obvious, seeing as Bond walked through the front door and left out the back. Kurjak notes that yeah, killing Bond early would have been more convenient, so they’ll probably go to “the secondary contingency”. Okay, I’m impressed; everyone should have a plan B. Dharma’s instructions are to park herself outside the drug house; if Bond exits said criminal domicile alive, then her joyless boyfriend Mr. Masters will finish him off. And just in case, all department heads should prepare for “Condition VARGR”.

Cut to our hero, lurking outside the drug dealer’s place, which turns out to be a warehouse. With his modest gun in hand, James steals inside and soon finds some of the dealers.

Hmm, one’s playing a video game while another watches, another dude’s on the phone, and the fourth is reading…

The tag line for that book is “The Simple Guide to a More Attractive Appearance”. Dude, no amount of reading that book is going to help as long as you’ve got that neck beard.

One of the other dealers yells, “Scheisse!” into his phone, and he does not look pleased. James takes a moment to text Bill Tanner back home, but he’s too busy taking apart what looks like a hard drive to read it, so he has his assistant do it: “Sent to wrong party by Felix’s friend. Al-Zein.” Al-Zein? Wiki-ing that reveals Al-Zein is group of gangsters of Kurdish-Lebanese descent based mostly in Germany. Yeah, if Ellis wrote this today, he’d have to use white supremacists or else be called racist by the rabid Twitter-azis. Tanner is not pleased by this news. Bill’s assistant asks if they should call the Berlin station for backup, but Bill points out they’re a skeleton crew, even more so now after that EMP attack laid up two of their number last issue. All they can do is get a GPS position on James and wait it out.

Meanwhile, James decides this isn’t his fight and he begins to stealth his way out the way he came. Only, someone’s coming through the door James used to get where he is. Two guys enter…

…and man, I don’t know which look is more dated in 2015, those tribal tattoos or the fanny pack. As for his friend… Jesus Christ, up until now I’ve had no problems with the art, but is the perspective severely skewed here? The guy looks as big as the Big Show. Oh, wait, that reference might be a bit dated; the dude’s as big as Braun Strowman. Either that, or Fanny Pack Guy is as tall as Danny DeVito. That reference isn’t dated because Danny DeVito is timeless. But I’m sure Bond will either let this pair pass or he’ll charm his way out.

God damn, I never realized how badly I needed a rated R James Bond movie until now. Oh, well, I guess I just have to settle for Atomic Blonde 2. As for Al-Zein Strowman…

Yeah, screw the laser beam watches and trick cars; just give me bullets that turn the inside of a dude’s skull into brain salad. Bond reaches the door but Strowman’s corpse is resting up against it, and while it’s a few pounds lighter, it’s still too much mass for James to move. The other Al-Zein show up, guns a-blazin’, and Bond has to dive for cover. He bursts through a row of boxes along a low shelf and stands, only to find himself face to face with a gangster.

I’d have to do a quick audit, but it’s entirely possible at the time I thought this issue was the single greatest comic of 2015. A gangster says, “wo is der bastard,” and I don’t need Google Translate to figure that one out. The guy spots Bond and opens up on him, but all he does is hit a few kilos of product while James runs like hell, with the rest of the clan in hot pursuit. They start shooting through boxes along the lower shelves, which is actually not a bad idea at all. I remember the series Burn Notice and how the producers used to poke fun at how the flimsiest things were used as cover in other shows and movies, as if not being seen automatically made you bulletproof. Here, cardboard is cardboard. The only problem with their idea is, Bond knows the boxes won’t protect him so instead he heads up top. It doesn’t take much to shift one of those stacks of shelves and…

It’s like at some point during the fight, James just decided, “Screw it, I’m here. Might as well kill ‘em all.” Not that I’m complaining. Bond maintains the high ground, negotiating the upper shelves. He kicks some boxes free and they fall down on some Al-Zein, then he lets off a couple quick shots to make sure the guys are down. He turns to check out his work from a few moments before; nope, nobody’s crawling out from under the fallen shelves. One of the guys is still alive, and he calls James a bastard and Bond asks if he knows English. It turns out the guy grew up in Birmingham. Birmingham, Michigan? Damn, I know where that is, right near Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills, Michigan, that is. Not the other one. Oh, wait, maybe he means Birmingham, UK.

The dude is demanding his gun and Bond points out that the guy’s guts are leaking out due to the chunk of shelf that’s pinning him down. The dude’s full of moxie as he says to Bond, “Tell me something I don’t know,” and demands his gun again. Bond asks the guy if he’s trafficking to London and the guy explains (quite patiently, I think, under the circumstances) the economic realities of the modern illicit drug trade, in that the real money’s in Europe. James then asks if the guy ever heard of Slaven Kurjak. Our debilitated drug dealer has never heard of him, but the name sounds Serbian, and they don’t do business with them. He also adds he isn’t going to prison and wants his weapon. Bond’s response?

Yeah, I think he’s enjoying those new bullets just a little too much. He makes for the loading door, because by this point, why bother being stealthy when you and your playmates have fired off a few dozen rounds? Either nobody’s coming or the police are outside waiting to scoop you up, and you might as well come out of the warehouse looking like an absolute badass. Outside, Dharma calls in and reports that Bond’s alive. Slavik’s absolutely stunned that the dude’s still breathing, and Dharma adds the man looks really mad. Slavik realizes Bond knows they sent him into a trap, so he’s “activating” Masters and wants Dharma to get into position. I love the terminology here: “activate”. The dude really does seem to see his minions as mere machines. Slavik hangs up and tells somebody off-panel they’re going to Condition Vargr, whatever that means. The only thing I know about Vargr is they were a wolf-like species from the Traveler game. Traveler was one of those games I bought stuff for but I could never find anyone who actually ran it. If you actually played Traveler, please comment below and tell me what it’s like.

Bond gets to a bar (for him, finding a bar’s as easy as locating an illegal crap game or a woman of “fallen virtue”), and after cleaning up in the bathroom he takes a seat.

I’m digging how Ellis isn’t going for the “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred” and how Bond seamlessly fits into a seamy dive like this as easily as he would some high-end Monaco saloon. The bartender suggests some “Pappy Van Winkle” and this comic book is proving to be quite a pleasant challenge as I keep having to stop and look up this stuff. Pappy Van Winkle is a Kentucky bourbon (which I now see is being redundant, as bourbon is made almost exclusively in Kentucky. Damn, and here I thought it was French. Well, it’s about as French as Cadillac automobiles. Can you tell I’m not a drinking man?), and according to Bond is a sight better than Jack Daniels. I guess James is a bit of a bourbon snob. As the bartender (whose beard game is epic, by the way) pours the drink, James texts in spy-speak that he’s fine, and Slavek’s a bad guy and he thinks the CIA’s a bunch of idiots.

Back at the UK embassy, field agents Soames and Dar are talking about James. Soames thinks James is a little weird and Dar figures the guy’s a mass of scar tissue and seems a little “sad”, and I like these observations. I mean, really, is Bond at all happy? His job is to go to other countries and deceive and/or kill people. It’s an issue none of the prior Bond movies addressed, really, but during Daniel Craig’s run there was an attempt to imply the man is very much damaged goods that have been weaponized by M to do a dirty job. And I think in this comic, M’s treatment of Bond is not so much due to dislike or disappointment, but maybe a touch of guilt. He uses James as a “blunt instrument” to do some reprehensible things on behalf of Queen and country, no halfway decent person can write up orders like that without wondering what that sort of thing does to the person carrying them out. I mean, it’s all speculation, and I could easily be seeing things that aren’t there.

Speaking of speculation, Soames and Dar’s is cut short when Masters comes bursting into the room. Dar does the only thing she can by tossing her papers into Masters’ face, but a pair of bullets to the skull fells her. Soames, shocked by the sudden violence, is paralyzed and gets shot dead as well. Carny, unaware of the danger involved because Masters is using a silencer, stumbles into it. His reaction is awesome.

Masters enters Darcy’s office and finds it’s empty. He turns and asks the corpse at his feet where Bond is. Yeah, there’s blunt instruments… and then there’s the rocket scientist here. So, no one factored in the possibility that James would stop off for a drink before coming back? Damn, they don’t know James very well, do they? Masters goes out to question the corpses formerly known as Soames and Dar and doesn’t get very far and it’s finally penetrating that dinosaur skull of his that hey, maybe he should have waited before going all grindhouse on the place. Masters staggers outside to a waiting car with Dharma inside, and he’s totally distressed that Bond wasn’t there. All the same, it wasn’t a total loss, because he talks about how “good” it was. Damn, he’s like what you’d get if From Russia With Love’s Grant and Goldeneye’s Xenia Onatopp had a love child.

He and Dharma try to have sex but it doesn’t work, because Masters just wants his lover to hurt him, and with her crying you really do get a feeling for how utterly messed up this pair is. In a way, Slaven is M taken to an extreme, literally weaponizing damaged people. I’m not excusing their actions by any means, just noting who the real monster is here. Meanwhile back in London, the bodies of our partying teens are found and the authorities aren’t fooling around. They’ve shown up in hazmat outfits and are sifting through what was once three human beings. A blood sample is taken…

…and that doesn’t sound good.

Next time: It’s a battle of the blunt instruments as Bond meets Masters.

Tag: James Bond: VARGR

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