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

Last time: James endured a debriefing almost as painful as the fight with Masters, then he headed out to meet up with some MI-5 blokes to check on a shipment of infected drugs, only to run into Dharma Reach. After a spirited contest between the two, Reach went boom, and by following her trail, Bond discovered a decommissioned Norwegian battleship named Vargr. And James is going to drop in and say hello to Kurjak.

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Things are a little crazy at MI-6, as the plan to drop in unannounced on the Norwegians is underway. In the background, faceless bureaucrats run madly about, papers flying through the air. This actually feels realistic, since true espionage operations require just a little bit of pre-planning. This? This is the equivalent of an Animal House road trip and it’s freaking the civil servants out something fierce.

Bond wants a rifle and Tanner says no. Okay, Bill, let’s see you get dropped into an allied country illegally to take on a genocidal madman. What? You don’t want to? Yeah, thought so. Standard extraction for Bond seems to be “grab a rope”, possibly dangled from a passing fighter jet or something. Bill must have saved Bond’s life at some time in the past, because I can’t see any other reason why James doesn’t punch this guy on a regular basis.

At least Q’s showing some common sense; despite the fact that it’s a “forward observation mission”, which sounds pretty much like Bond sitting in the Norwegian snow and not getting involved, the man is outfitting James with a sound suppressor for his pistol and a collapsible Russian sniper rifle whose name has far too many letters and numbers for me to bother with. It’s subsonic and fires solid bronze bullets so… I guess that’s good? I don’t know? This is as far as my knowledge of bullets goes:

Q is also giving Bond some serious bang-bang, pentomax PE-7 explosives and detonators. I have no clue what this is, but it sure as hell sounds impressive. It’s almost as if the bureaucrats upstairs are in denial, and the guys at the sharp end know there’s only one way this is going to end and that’s likely with Norway getting a new fjord.

Later, a Chinook flies toward Norway. Bond is the only passenger on board. Just a man, alone with his thoughts, with said thoughts probably involving speculation as to how many magic Q bullets Kurjak can take before expiring.

According to Tanner, the Vargr got sold off to a German company that uses it for live-action role playing. So people get to pretend to be Steven Seagal or Tommy Lee Jones, or my favorite, Gary Busey, and roleplay Under Siege? I can dig it. On shore near the Vargr, two guards discuss the falling snow, with them talking about the merits of dry flakes versus the big wet ones, with one saying the latter feels like getting “slapped by frogs” all day. That… okay, that’s probably the best analogy I’ve ever heard regarding wet snow. Before the two can continue in this vein, someone with solid bronze bullets provides a retort:

I love the look on their faces. It’s like one is trying to say, “Oh my God, I’ve been shot!” and the other is saying, “No kidding? Me too!” Two full-on head shots drop the pair, and I guess we’ll never know how these guys feel about yellow snow.

Nearby, James squats as he regards the sniper rifle with such admiration that I’m half expecting him to buy it drinks and take it out for some slow dancing and hard sex. Someone notes via his earpiece there were four shots, but James lies and says two more guards showed up. He’s advised to head to the extraction point, and to nobody’s surprise, James gives a bit old no-can-do to that. James packs up his new precious and steals onboard the ship, suppressed Walther in hand. And… Okay, let’s take a moment to admire this page:

I won’t lie; a time or two I had an issue with Jason Masters’ art. It can be a little “sketchy” at times, and once or twice I had a problem figuring out what was going on. But his action sequences are amazing, like motion picture storyboards. And this page! I love the way James’ traveling down the ladder bisects the page and we see our hero Solid Snaking in through the bowels of the battleship, with the bad guys utterly oblivious to the fact death walked across their shadow. You can say Bond is badass because of his ability to fight and shoot, but equally impressive and scary is the fact he could drop any and all of these guys and their shipmates would have no freaking clue it happened.

Bond continues stealthing his way through this level until he spots something interesting: two dudes in yellow hazmat gear. James follows the pair to a high-tech facility of some sort, incongruous in that it’s sealed off by high-tech glass among all the rusting metal. Bond calls in, explaining that the place is a floating lab; it’s where Kurjak is producing his infected drugs. Bond’s ordered to extract, and they’ll call the Norwegians and let them handle things all legal and proper. Bond figures that’ll just give Kurjak time to move his operations elsewhere, so that’s a big “no” to the extraction and a big “yes” to him sticking around and finding new and interesting ways to kill people. It seems to make zero sense for the boys back home to keep giving Bond orders they know he’ll ignore, but I’m now thinking it’s a matter of plausible deniability. Oh sure, James is visiting Norway illegally, but a little spying is mild compared to what Bond now has in mind. And what does he have in mind?

Damn, it’s like Q feels all guilty for those cracks about his gun earlier, and tried to make up for it by giving Bond all the bombs. What a great page we’ve got here. I especially love all the glowing red lights strewn about the lower panel, implying things are about to get real explode-y real soon. Bond isn’t done, however; he tracks down Kurjak, who freaks the living hell out when he sees his own personal Angel of Death. A pair of armed minions charge Bond while Kurjak grabs one of his scientists as a human shield, and the look on the guy’s face is priceless. Bond retreats, firing over his shoulder and missing Kurjak only because the man pulled his egghead subordinate into the line of fire… and the guy’s expression is even more priceless. And lifeless. Bond turns a corner to avoid gunfire and runs into a woman from his nightmares.

I swear I can almost hear breaking glass when I look at these panels. But Bond’s got an answer for this, as a bullet punches through the woman’s jaw and up takes out a heapin’ helpin’ of brain and bone on the way out. Looks like Q loaded James up with more of those magic frag bullets. The other minions find Bond…

…and judging by the expression on the second guy’s face, I’m thinking he wishes they hadn’t. Bond continues retreating. He finds another guard who wisely cries out for help as he shoots at James. He manages to even clip James’ leg before Bond reciprocates with a shot to the guard’s love handle followed by a shot to the bean. Damn, James loves head shots. Then again, don’t we all? It turns out the reason why the guard had been calling for help is this is apparently the residential section of this little love boat. Men poke their heads out of cabins in confusion…

You know, I think if M actually saw how crazy mad dangerous Bond is when his blood’s up, Bond’s boss might actually, you know, dial back the ridicule a bit.

A guard comes dashing down a staircase, and his bullets catch James’ left bicep. The two clench up and James shoots the man in the foot, and the bastard’s heel explodes into hamburger. The guard is in so much pain all he can do is clutch at what is now just meat encased in what’s left of a boot. James gives him something else to think about when he shoots him in the belly and the bullet fragments explode out of his back. Bond cries out in agony and almost collapses as his left arm almost fails him, but he tells himself to “move” and his body reluctantly obeys. James somehow reaches the deck and lurches down the gangplank. He pulls out the detonator, and presses the button.

In the aftermath, Kurjak swims to shore and staggers out of the water and into the snow. He turns to watch his battleship sinking into the Atlantic along with all his well-laid plans. Then he notices that a bloodied and battered Bond is approaching. Kurjak says, “You sank my battleship,” and until now I didn’t think it was possible to groan and laugh at the same time. Kurjak runs, and Bond shoots him in the leg. With his gun focused on Kurjak’s head, James tells the man he wants to know why he did all of this. No crap, no justifications; Just the sort of truth that you find yourself confessing when you’re facing mortality at the end of an angry man’s gun. Kurjak lifts up his ruined left arm…

Wait a sec. Was he just wearing a glove to fake having a prosthetic arm? Was he ashamed of the arm, and tricked people so they’d think there was a reason why it didn’t function as well as the other? Kurjak explains that he just wanted “beautiful things” back in his life. He wanted friends. It’s… damn, that just sounds like crazy talk. Just how the hell does turning the UK into a massive science experiment get him any friends? Is that the sort of thing you put on your eHarmony profile? The Vargr was supposed to be used for role playing, right? No one is more accepting in the world than nerds. Hell, I bet Kurjak could have found plenty of friends there. And beautiful things? You mean women? Hell, man, you’re rich; just visit Amsterdam’s red-light district. Or hell, you’re good at making prosthetics; how hard would it be to make your own girlfriend?

So, what does James think of this explanation? What witty retort does he prepare for our villain? What clever quip lays the man low?

Eh, maybe it was written on the bullet. Bond puts his gun away and stalks away, because he’s got a date with a rope.

VARGR is an action-packed tale that delivers. You might think that the story is missing a “Bond girl”, and while I was surprised that there was no woman in Bond’s life outside of Moneypenny, I didn’t miss the love interest. Ellis and Masters have a very tight, exciting story here, and there simply isn’t time or space for, well, sex. If they had tried to shoehorn something like that into the story, it would have just slowed things down.

Bond here is a different animal from the movies; it feels like our storytellers ignored the films and went back to the source material, reading the original books and giving us a literary 007 updated for the 21st Century. Is there anything I disliked about the story? Well, like I said, I do think Masters’ art is a bit lacking here or there, but he more than makes up for it in the way he stages the action. I thought that M’s mockery was a bit much, especially in issue #5. And I really thought Tanner’s schoolboy giggling bordered on the ridiculous.

As for Kurjak? His final confession kind of undercuts the motive he expressed early on. Ellis should’ve stuck with that, rather than this weaksauce “beautiful things” story. That combined with the fact that his arm really wasn’t a prosthetic makes him look like a complete fraud. And that’s a pity, because I thought in many ways he was a strong Bond villain, and a guy who wasn’t out for world domination or financial gain, but a madman who surrounded himself with broken people to use as weapons. So is the story flawed? A bit, yeah. But the merits far outweigh them, and I thoroughly enjoyed this tale.

Next time: With Wonder Woman 1984 finally [!!] coming to the big and small screen, it’s time for me to revisit our favorite Amazon.

Tag: James Bond: VARGR

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