Wednesday, July 09, 2014

"Casino Royale": The Comic Strip

Around the time that From Russia with Love was published, the British Daily Express newspaper contacted Ian Fleming about adapting the novels into comic strip form. They already had a relationship with Fleming from serializing Diamonds Are Forever in the paper and were going to do the same thing with From Russia with Love. Based on that experience, they were confident that a comics version would be a hit.

Fleming was skeptical though. He was afraid that the strips would dumb down a series that he already thought was fairly low brow and that he might be tempted to then let the quality drop even further until he and the strips were speeding each other faster and faster down the drain. Always eager to see Bond reach a wider audience though, Fleming ultimately relented and the first strip, an adaptation of Casino Royale, was published shortly after the novel Dr No.

Adapted by the same guy who'd edited Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia with Love for serialization in the paper, the Casino Royale strip is - as Fleming predicted - a toned down version of the story. It gives up the novel's cold-open-and-flashbacks narrative structure in favor of a straightforward approach (even introducing Vesper to Bond in London before the mission officially begins) and some of the violence is reduced. For instance, Bond's famous last line is changed to simply, "She's dead." Another major example is the torture sequence, where Bond is naked and Le Chiffre is using a carpet beater, but the art strongly implies that Le Chiffre is using it on Bond's head.

For all that though, the strip is remarkably faithful to Fleming's story. It matches the plot beat for beat and it's cool to see artist John McLusky interpret the characters. Bond looks just how Fleming describes him, complete with the scar on his right eye and his black comma of hair. Vesper is tall and lovely and reminds me of a slightly arrogant Audrey Hepburn. Mathis is older and dumpier than I imagine him, but it's a fair interpretation. Felix isn't as handsome as I want him to be either, but I get the hayseed approach that McLusky's going for. Moneypenny doesn't show up in the strip, but M does and it's cool that McLusky keeps Bond's boss in perpetual shadow. That might get annoying as the strip continues - especially in Moonraker - but for now it's a justifiable choice. The one design that doesn't work is the SMERSH assassin who saves Bond's life. He not only wears a ridiculous mask, but he's got a sad-sack look that's even less intimidating.

The main weakness of McLusky's though is that he has a difficult time with facial expressions. This is a big problem for Vesper, who's supposed to be hysterical at times, but none of the characters have a wide range.

Still, McClusky brings the story to life with lifelike representations not only of the characters, but the world around them. From architecture to clothing and cars, the strip puts the story in an historically accurate setting that pulled me into it all over again. Whatever Fleming's reservations, that makes it worthwhile as a companion to the novel.

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