Thursday, 14 April 2011

Book Review Corner: The James Bond Omnibus Volume 002

I don't know if anyone's noticed, but Titan Books appear to have the monopoly on amazing film and TV books these days. In the last six months this very corner of the internet has been graced with The Art Of Drew Struzan and The Avengers: A Celebration, and upcoming titles include the autobiography of James Bond stunt legend Vic Armstrong and, um, the official Transformers 3 novelisation. I'll let you know how that goes.

For now, though, I'm enormously happy with The James Bond Omnibus Volume 2 (although they've called it Volume 002 - can you tell where this is going?), the second collection of the Daily Express newspaper strip adaptations from ye olde 1960s.
I rattled on about Volume 1 - sorry, 001 - ages ago when nobody read The Incredible Suit, so feel free to revise for this post by reading that one, because I'm not about to repeat myself.

Done that? Good. Volume 002 finishes off the Ian Fleming stories that made it to comic strip form - a format that takes some getting used to but which successfully condenses the books into easily digestible chunks of pulp ideal for episodic reading. The 274-strip On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a suitably mammoth exercise (though not quite the nine months it took to publish in the Daily Express), but short story The Living Daylights, at just 54 strips, is a perfect gap-filler if you find yourself with a gap of about fifteen minutes one day.

The stories were adapted by Henry Gammidge and Jim Lawrence, who boiled down Fleming's prose into bite-size speech bubbles with varying success. However, it's the artists who take centre stage in this format. John McLusky's detailed but unexceptional illustrations, in which Bond looks more like a 50-something bank manager than a 30-something secret agent, gave way in 1966 to Russian illustrator Yaroslav Horak, whose borderline insane obsession with drawing as many lines on characters' faces as possible lends his stories an almost avant-garde appeal.
In his defence, Horak had a much better eye for action than McLusky. This panel from The Man With The Golden Gun, in which a brainwashed Bond attempts to assassinate M, is one of the best in the book:
Titan score extra points for the title pages, which feature blown up images from each story. Often these are works of pop art genius, although occasionally they border on hideous grotesquery. See if you can tell which is which:
As much as I love these books, I can't wait for Volume 003, because that's when Fleming's stories run out and Jim Lawrence makes up his own stuff. They might be brilliant, they might be rubbish, I don't know. Come back next year and find out.

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