Nov 16, 2020
James Bond: VARGR #4 (part 4 of 6)
Last time: James entered a drug house and killed, well, everybody. Mr. Bishop visited the local MI-6 station and killed, well, everybody.
Bond is strolling down the sidewalk when Bishop approaches, calling him Mr. Hutcheon, his official cover. Bishop fumbles over his words as he tries to explain how he works for MI-6, but doesn’t want to outright say so. His act reminds me a bit of Rowan Atkinson’s performance in Never Say Never Again, just about the only part of the movie I liked. Bond notes it’s the kind of “sterling tradecraft” he’s come to expect from Berlin Station. Damn, James loves the word “tradecraft” a lot. And he’s being just a little bit of a dick here.
Say, didn’t James pass by Bishop in issue #2? Hmmm, I wonder if the big guy is dumb enough to think James won’t recognize him and he’s right, which makes James one of the most oblivious people I know (short of ’50s era Lois Lane on the old Adventures of Superman TV series. Seriously, I saw an episode today where she’s looking right at Clark Kent without his glasses and she can’t tell he’s Superman. Hey, maybe it’s not Clark who needs glasses? Damn, that would explain so much), or James recognizes him and is stringing him along. Bishop explains that Al Zein hit the station and everyone’s dead, and they need to head to Slaven Kurjak’s place because it’s safer there. Bishop explains that Al Zein is all up in their phones, so getting to EvilCo gets them to a place to make a secure call. It’s then that Bond’s phone goes off and he assures Bishop it’s personal. Only, it ain’t.
Nice to see how M spreads the love around. Bond’s boss explains that it’s like there’s some sort of disease in the synthetic drugs, and Bond notes that kind of makes sense. He uses “tradecraft” again to explain that the tip to the drug house was bogus, and that Kurjak is probably the real bad guy, all while Bishop stands there like a complete ass. Ah, for the old days of minions like From Russia with Love’s Grant who could, you know, think.
M confirms that they can’t raise Berlin station, so they’re calling in for help. Gosh, I sure hope it isn’t the CIA, because after blowing Bond’s cover I wouldn’t rely on them to change an empty roll of toilet paper. Bond hangs up and he and his new pal head to Kurjak’s lab. And here’s what they find there:
Maybe a CIA agent’s gun went off when he was cleaning it. Bishop explains that it must be Al Zein, and man, he’s making a bunch of drug dealers sound like insane bad-asses here. When Bond notes they can make a call using one of the dead people’s phones, Bishop replies they should use a secure landline in one of the labs. Bond asks if Bishop has been here before, and he says he was; the CIA took them on a tour of the place. It’s now that we realize that Bond wasn’t fooled for a second, because he goes for his weapon. Unfortunately, Bishop actually is good at something, and that’s dishing out a little of the old ultra-violence. He kicks Bond almost across the lab before his pistol’s cleared the holster, then he goes for his own weapon. But Bond’s in his face immediately. A quick twist of Bishop’s wrist and thumb and the man drops his pistol, then Bond gives him a quick knee to the wife and kids. Unfortunately for James, Bishop doesn’t feel much. He responds…
…and damn, Jason Masters is really good at staging action. I could almost feel that elbow to the side of my neck. But wait, there’s more, as Bishop presses his advantage with a flurry of rabbit punches. But this isn’t Bond’s first fistfight.
I’m loving the x-ray gimmick being used here and last issue, when Bond shot the guy in the throat; it reminds me of Jet Li’s Romeo Must Die. Before Bishop has time to process the fact that two of his fingers may be broken, or at least sprained, Bond goes for the eyes. Bishop counters by picking James up with his freakish strength and slamming him onto an examination couch, but Bond gets his knees up and flips Bishop across the lab. Both men are down and James spots something of interest on the floor; it’s a hypodermic needle and some drug vials. Bishop’s got a shard of glass in his bloody hand; Bond goes for a scalpel…
…and Bishop is not amused…
…and now I have to wonder how many of Bond’s original teeth are still in his head now. I mean, the guy’s been in numerous fights over the years, so he’s got to be wearing a bridge or something. Bishop gets James on the floor, and by god he’s stompin’ a mudhole into his chest. But after a bit of this, James has had enough and lashes out, with his foot catching Bishop’s leg just right and causing him to fall back. James takes a moment to grab a vial from the floor and fill his hypo with the drug. Bishop calls James a “desperate little bastard”. Um, yeah. James isn’t the one with a blown kneecap and shitty haircut. James dives in under Bishop’s slash, and jabs the needle into the sociopath’s leg. And what did James shoot the man up with? What could cause this reaction?
If I had just walked in, I’d assume Bishop just read a Dan Slott comic. But no, James shot the man up with a dose of OxyContin. That’s right, Bishop; say “hello” to hillbilly heroin. Oh, oops. It’s actually “oxytocin”. And here I go to Google again. It’s a “…peptide hormone and neuropeptide…” and “…plays a role in social bonding, reproduction, childbirth, and the period after childbirth…” So it actually makes you feel empathy or something? Bond calls it a “pleasure chemical”, but from what I’m reading online, it really doesn’t work that way. And it affects men differently than women. I get the feeling Ellis should’ve just gone with using OxyContin instead.
Bishop is having a serious freak-out as Bond threatens to shoot him up with more magic joy juice. The man confirms he works for Kurjak, but when he won’t tell Bond more, James jabs the needle into the juicy part of the assassin’s shoulder. When asked where Kurjack is, all Bishop can do is say, “VARGR” over and over again. James finishes the man off with a final injection to the neck.
So, just as an aside—and trust me it’s relevant—one of the Bond movies I hated was The World is Not Enough, in large part due to the lame nature of antagonist Robert Carlysle’s Renard. We learned he had been shot in the head, with the bullet traveling through his skull and causing increasing brain damage. As a result, Renard feels no pain, and I remember thinking early on in the film that when he and Bond went toe-to-toe, it’d be epic. And I had no reason to think otherwise. Go back and watch Goldeneye and the tremendous fight between Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan, then watch Michelle Yeoh kick ass in Tomorrow Never Dies. It felt like the producers understood what the fans really wanted, and that was more modern action. Instead, what we got in The World is Not Enough was a disaster; Renard was Elektra King’s pawn and he wuved her, and while that was bad enough, by the time he and Bond finally fought, the conflict was utterly lackluster. We should have gotten a visceral bloodbath, and Renard wearing the red mask as he takes everything Bond throws at him and responds with a sick smile on his bloody face before he tears James apart.
The reason why I bring this up is here we see Bishop, a guy who feels almost nothing, going toe to toe with Bond. It’s Bond’s skill vs. Bishop’s natural nigh-immunity to pain and Ellis gets it, and artist Jason Masters delivers on the action. I swear I could almost hear the breaking of glass, and the grunts of pain. I winced every time Bishop landed a devastating blow, and that’s what an action sequence in a comic or movie or TV show should deliver. I can’t help but wonder if Ellis saw The World is Not Enough and was at least as disappointed in it as I was, and this was in part his way of him showing director Michael Apted how it’s done.
Bond tries to leave the lab, but the door’s locked. And who locked it?
Bond grabs his gun and shoots the glass, but unfortunately the magic bullets don’t seem to work very well on whatever wonder material Kurjak’s using for glass these days. I guess maybe in his shoes I’d want one of those laser beam watches, after all. Bond accuses Kurjak of sending the drugs to Great Britain. Kurjak admits he’s guilty as charged, and then he confesses that if he hadn’t tried to get cute with the murder attempts and misdirection, maybe Bond could have been placated or at least delayed long enough for them to enact their plan. Maybe a better plot would have been to plant the drugs on some poor, unsuspecting bastard rather than assuming Al Zein could kill James. Bond notes that a guy who grew up in a concentration camp should’ve learned to avoid drawing attention to himself. It turns out Kurjak didn’t grow up in a camp; he worked in a camp. And now it’s time for the villain monologue.
So, unlike other Bond villains, this one’s a true mad scientist. Considering how all of his employees were shot dead, I’m guessing they were shown a different company mission statement than the real one. Kurjak explains how they had originally been looking for a cure for cancer, but the genetically-engineered macrophages didn’t just eat the bad cells, and instead ate everything. The little buggers are super virulent, too. Bond asks why the dude’s telling him all this, and Kurjak explains he just wanted to keep James busy while the decontamination cycle kicked in. The system involves “nitrogen dioxide jets”, and the temperature is going to shoot up to 300 degrees Celsius. He bids Bond a farewell, confident that his death trap will kill the man. Well, that’s proof Kurjak never watched an Austin Powers movie.
Things go red, and that’s either because nitrogen dioxide is reddish-brown, or it’s the colorist’s way of showing things are getting a little hot in there. Either way, James isn’t idle. Kurjak made the mistake of leaving our protagonist in a room full of electrical equipment, with tanks of gas and makeshift tools in the way of scalpels. In no time, James has a panel off. He strips it down and does some hotwiring, generating a spark and…
Well, somebody grew up watching MacGyver and/or The A-Team. Bond uses his makeshift blowtorch on the door and manages to cut the electronic locking mechanism out, and lets it fall to the floor. Bond reaches through the hole, careful not to touch the molten glass/plastic/whatever it is, and discovers there’s another clear door on the other side. Bond desperately slams his shoulder into the door and there’s no give. His assessment of the situation?
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.
Next time: It’s Bond vs. Dharma, round two!