Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Diamonds Are Forever": The Comic Strip

By "Diamonds Are Forever," the quality of the James Bond strip has stabilized into mediocre. Artist John McLusky has moments of greatness where he's put a lot of thought into a composition or is clearly having fun with a particular panel, but he's inconsistent. There are just as many examples of his work looking rushed and unfinished.

For his part, writer Henry Gammidge continues presenting Bond as a stock adventure hero. I love that he occasionally takes a panel to describe what Bond's eating or to portray some other detail from the book that's insignificant to the plot, but even though Bond's narrating the strip, Gammidge offers no look into what makes Bond tick as a character. He doesn't even present Fleming's take on Bond, much less offer any insight of his own.

This is especially problematic in Bond's relationship with Tiffany Case. That's a complicated relationship in the novel, with Bond needing to use Tiffany, but highly reluctant to hurt her. When he finally confesses that he's falling in love with her, Fleming's already convinced me that that's true. And the same is true of Case's feelings about Bond. None of that is present in the comic strip though, so we just have Bond and Case running around together and then suddenly being in love at the end. The story hasn't earned that revelation.

It's also unearned when Bond grows impatient in his undercover role as a lackey for the mob. Unlike the languid pace of the novel, the strip is so brisk that it's hard to believe that Bond is bored. So when he disobeys the mob's instructions to him about not gambling in their facility, it's nothing more than an act of petulance. With nothing motivating it, it just feels like Bond does it unnaturally in order to keep the plot moving.

That kind of rushing also weakens the power of the telegram the mob gets from England blowing Bond's cover. There's no mention of how the London branch of the mob knows that Bond isn't actually Peter Franks; it just says that Bond's a fake and should be killed. Gammidge doesn't seem interested in actually adapting the story to comic strip form; just translating it as efficiently as possible to hit all the scenes. Thanks to McLusky, that translation is sometimes beautifully done, but not always.

There are other problems too that have nothing to do with the story. Like for instance when Felix refers to his previous career in the FBI instead of the CIA. Or the numerous instances of word balloons being placed oddly so that the eye reads them out of order. The lettering is a problem that stays with the strip at least into "From Russia With Love."

There's too much Fleming in the James Bond strip and I like too much of McLusky's work to let me hate it or lose interest. I'm always curious to see how McLusky is going to interpret a character or setting. But I also don't love or especially recommend the strip. It captures the stories, but not the soul of Fleming's work. And its creators don't offer enough of their own to replace that missing spirit and make the strip great.

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