Near Mint Memories: Comic / Movie Adaptations: Episode III – 007

While my passion for James Bond did not begin until the release of GoldenEye in 1995, the first James Bond film I saw was For Your Eyes Only. Released to theatres in 1981, I doubt that I saw it until sometime in 1982 when it began airing on cable television. Amazingly, I had never run across a Bond film up until that point in my life. I guess it can be expected, though, as I was only nine at the time!

As a child certain movies seemed to be on television all the time. For Your Eyes Only was one of those movies for me. The world of 007 totally entranced me as a youth, at least the world put forth in this particular film. It was still some time before the Bond bug bite me full force. In the more than a decade that ensued between my first viewing of For Your Eyes Only and the release of GoldenEye I only recall seeing Octopussy, and I was bored. Not long after GoldenEye hit, and being between girlfriends, I decided it was time to catch up on what I had been missing. So, I went on a rental spree, catching up on all of the Bond films in a rather short period of time.

From there the passion continued to build up steam. I’ve since read every Ian Fleming James Bond novel and all but a few of the most recent novels by Raymond Benson to have read all of the literary 007. Whether it’s reading the books or watching the movies the adventures of James Bond please me like few other forms of entertainment.

While I’ve been purchasing and reading Titan Books’ collections of James Bond comic strips from the ’60s and ’70s the past year or so, before starting this column I’d only read a handful of James Bond comics, and none were adaptations of the films. That’s a pretty odd occurrence considering comics are high up on my list of entertainment choices.

When trying to come up with another Near Mint Memories column idea, and having exhausted most every topic of interest in the standard comic world, it seemed fitting to bring my passion for James Bond to the column. I went shopping at trusty Mile High Comics and picked up what was available of the two Bond adaptations that made the most sense, For Your Eyes Only and GoldenEye–My two entry points to the series.


For Your Eyes Only

I find different levels of enjoyment in the various Bond films. While I rather enjoy some of the less bounded-in-reality, gadget-laden Bond stories–Die Another Day, A View to a Kill, You Only Live Twice, or The Man With The Golden Gun–my favorites tend to be the grittier, hard-edged films that are closer to Ian Fleming’s original stories. My favorite Bond film is without doubt the under seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). The story features the lone appearance by George Lazenby as 007 and a script that is almost a word for word translation of Ian Fleming’s greatest and most tragic Bond novel.

It’s not surprising that I find For Your Eyes Only towards the top of my list of Bond films and easily my favorite Roger Moore film. Following the sci-fi and comedic excesses of the previous film, Moonraker, the producers decided to bring Bond back to the real world and more importantly the literary incarnation. For Your Eyes Only featured little gadgetry, minimal humor, and the hard edge that had been missing for some time. Most importantly, it was the first film to with major elements from Fleming’s novels since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only other films in the interim featuring some similarity to Fleming’s namesakes were Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker bore almost no resemblance to the books they were named from.

Interestingly, For Your Eyes Only pulled elements from three separate Fleming stories. The film used two short stories almost entirely, that of For Your Eyes Only and Risico, as well as a sequence from Live and Let Die to turn out a Bond film that felt like a single Fleming story.

The story follows James Bond as he attempts to recover the missing A.T.A.C. system which is capable of redirecting England’s Polaris missiles. Bond is aided by the smoking hot Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), who is out to get revenge for the murder of her parents (this is the portion of the film plot taken from the For Your Eyes Only story). Bond ends up in the middle of a feud between two shady Greeks, Columbo (Topol) and Kristatos (Julian Glover). This is the portion of the story taken from Risico. The story spans exotic locales from England to Greece to Italy. The story climaxes at one of the coolest settings in a Bond film with the mountaintop lair of Kristatos situated in the heights of the Greek mountains.

Considering that Marvel Comics adapted the film in only two issues (totaling 49 pages), the results were quite good.

The book was created by several legends of the comic field. Since I was a huge fan of G.I. Joe in the 1980s, Larry Hama has remained one of my favorite comic creators. His scripts and characterizations on G.I. Joe were stunning considering his work was based on a silly toy line. With For Your Eyes Only, Hama captures the spirit of the film perfectly. He uses actual dialogue for most of the story and his narration captions are necessary, but never overbearing, to tell the film story in the sequential fashion. The film, like all Bond films, is fast paced, moves to multiple locales, and has interesting characters. Even with only 49 pages to tell his story, Hama doesn’t leave out chunks of the story. It’s really all here. That’s a rarity in comic/film adaptations.

The artwork is by Howard Chaykin and Vince Colletta. Chaykin did fantastic work on the original Star Wars adaptation back in 1977, and he is equally accomplished here. Much like Star Wars, Chaykin doesn’t go for facial likeness, but he captures the essence of the characters and the locales beautifully. You can see that Chaykin’s art has developed quite a bit in the four years between Star Wars and For Your Eyes Only. The characters are less angular, they don’t all look angry, and the females are quite beautiful. Vince Colletta’s inking pulled out all the detail contained within Chaykin’s pencils and added tremendous depth.

I picked these issues up for a buck a piece, and they were easily worth it. You may run across these in a .25 cent bin at some point. If you want to read a good Bond story, are interested in Chaykin, Hama or Colletta, or just want to read an adaptation from a ’80s film this would be a great buy.


GoldenEye

Following For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore made two more James Bond films (Octopussy and A View to a Kill). Roger Moore left the part in 1985. Two years later, after an aborted effort to bring in Pierce Brosnan as the fourth James Bond, Timothy Dalton became the “new” Bond. Dalton lasted for two films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Dalton presided over the role in a period that saw waning interest, but the films are two of the stronger installments in the series. Dalton’s portrayal of Bond was probably the closet to the character Ian Fleming created. Alas, after twelve years of a mostly-campy incarnation, the world was not ready for the return of a more realistic Bond.

After the release of Licence to Kill in 1989 the Bond franchise was tied up in legal wranglings. The entanglements allowed time for the producers to reevaluate the idea of Bond and the once unavailable Pierce Brosnan became available, and thus the fifth James Bond.

The result was 1995’s GoldenEye.

GoldenEye brought Bond into the ’90s mixing the harder edge that Dalton, Sean Connery, and George Lazenby brought to the character but also mixed some of the humor that Moore was known for. Brosnan become the perfect amalgamation of all the previous Bonds, including, most importantly, Fleming’s literary character. He seemed to please fans of each era of Bond, and, amazingly, he made Bond cool again for an all-new generation of fans. James Bond was as popular as ever.

GoldenEye saw James Bond first film foray in post-Cold War world. The film featured the ultimate clash between 007 and the former 006, Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). The story was gritty, but also magnificently over the top. For the first time in a number of films, Bond faced off against a memorable crew of villains. Not only was it 006, but there was also Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) who got orgasmic pleasure from killing, and Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming) who truly was invincible (at least until the film’s final moments). The storyline was fast paced and fresh. 007 was on top again!

GoldenEye was to be released as a three part comic book series by Topps Comics at the time of the film’s release. Longtime James Bond fan Don McGregor was the writer on the project. Not long before McGregor wrote a Bond miniseries, The Quasimodo Gambit, for Dark Horse Comics. In a text piece at the end of issue #1 of GoldenEye, McGregor spoke of his disappointment over how Quasimodo came out. The text piece made his passion for James Bond, and the GoldenEye adaptation quite clear. McGregor was the right man for the job.

Don McGregor was joined by the art team of penciler Claude St. Aubin and inker Rick Magyar. The first issue came together splendidly. With about seventy pages planned for the miniseries, and a rather intricate plot, the story was told with 6-7 panels on most pages. It’s a testament to the skill of all involved that the story breathes well with the heavy use of panels. The story never seems crushed and the translation from film to comic page works very well.

Unfortunately, this was the only issue of GoldenEye to reach store shelves. I had never purchased the first issue of the series until recently. I kept eyeing it on the shelves, but I was waiting for the collected edition that was also solicited.

What happened?

Considering all of the comic producers that went belly up in the ’90s your assumption would be that was the case with Topps. Well you’d be wrong. Topps Comics lasted another couple of years; the card maker finally ceased operations of their comic division in 1998. In actuality, the final two chapters never saw print because of St. Aubin and Magyar’s sultry cover for issue #2, which featured images from the steam bath fight between Bond and Onatopp. I have also heard mention that the opening of issue #2, featuring Onatopp in orgasmic delight at the murder of Russian computer programmers, factored into the decision to shelve the comics.

For more info, check out Don McGregor’s recollections in this two part interview at 007 Forever (Part One and Part Two).

The situation seems ludicrous. Didn’t the people in charge realize what they were getting ready to publish? Couldn’t the offending images have been changed rather than shelving the project? The first issue supposedly sold briskly. Wouldn’t you want to complete the series? The trade, you would think, would have moved well. This is one of the silliest instances of a failure to release product in history.


The Future

It’s fitting that as I write this a new James Bond will soon be announced. Pierce Brosnan brought life back to the role and continued in three more films after GoldenEye. Due to money issues Brosnan is now out. Unfortunately for Pierce, he appears to be leaving at the wrong time. Brosnan mentioned many times that he was unhappy with the gadget-laden extravaganzas that the films became. The next film in the series (the 21st) will be an adaptation of Casino Royale, which is the only full-length Fleming adventure not to produced in the official 007 series. The rights for Casino Royale, Fleming’s first novel, were sold prior to the rest of the series. There was a television adaptation in the ’50s and a horrible camp-fest film in the ’60s. Eon Productions was able to secure the rights for the book at the turn of the century and, finally, one of Fleming’s best works will see the light of day in the official canon.

The film’s writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade promise a return to basics for Bond. Out will be the gadgets and a lot of the humor. This will be a balls to the wall spy movie. I see a sad correlation in that Sean Connery left the role of Bond before Fleming’s best novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was made, and now Brosnan is out prior to the next best novel.

Oh well, the candidates being talked about for the next Bond sound wonderful, and any one of them could be great. While it’s been rumored that everyone from Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman (my personal favorite), Clive Owen, and Hugh Grant are up for the role. It’s supposedly down to the final two, Julian McMahon (Dr. Doom in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie) and Daniel Craig (Road to Perdition).

While still cloudy, the future of the James Bond film series is becoming clearer. While waiting for the next film, I strongly recommend the new Young Bond series of books, which kicked off with Silverfin by Charlie Higson. While the book is already out in the United Kingdom (I got my copy through Amazon UK) it will not see print in the US until April 26, 2005. Silverfin is considered a “Young Adult” novel, but I can tell you that there’s plenty for adults to love as well, whether you’re a Bond fan or not.

I plan a full review the novel closer to the release.


Saying Goodbye

Considering how busy I am with teaching, editing/reviewing for The Nexus, and working on a couple of creative projects that I hope to have more info on soon, this will be my final Near Mint Memories for the foreseeable future. When John Babos, Nick Piers, and I launched this column a couple of years ago I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been a fantastic writing experience, allowing me to talk about numerous topics that I love. Even though John lives in Toronto and I live in New Jersey we have become good friends. I don’t plan on this as a permanent end, so I hope to see you in Near Mint Memories again soon. For now, though, hiatus is a necessity.

See you all around in other areas of The Nexus!