Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Dr No": The Comic Strip

For the "Dr No" adaptation, the Daily Express had writer Peter O'Donnell fill in for Henry Gammidge. O'Donnell would go on to create the Modesty Blaise strip three years later, but he's already doing interesting things with his time on Bond. For starters, he drops the first person narration that Gammidge introduced and relies more on dialogue and short captions to tell the story.

As with the other strips though, "Dr No" jumps into the action as quickly as possible. Bond's convalescence after being stabbed with a poison shoe-knife was a one-panel epilogue in "From Russia with Love," so by "Dr No" he's ready to go. M doesn't explicitly refer to the Jamaica mission as a holiday, but Bond still sees it as a cake assignment and is grumpy about it.

That's just lip service to the book though, because the strip dives so quickly into the plot of "Dr No" that it doesn't feel like an easy assignment at all. There's more lip service paid to everyone's thinking that the two Jamaican agents ran off together, but really everyone knows that the agents were looking into Dr No and it's taken for granted that Bond will start his investigation there.

I've avoided naming the missing agents so far, because the strip does too for a good while. That's weird, because Strangways appeared in the strip version of "Live and Let Die," so it's not like O'Donnell is trying to fix a continuity issue, but maybe he wasn't aware of how the earlier story had used Strangways. Whatever the case, O'Donnell ignores the fact that Bond has a previous relationship with the missing agent, even when characters start referring to him as Strangways later in the story.

Once Bond's in Jamaica, the strip adapts the book closely, though Honey Rider is a bit more of a scaredy cat than she is in the novel. She still ends up rescuing herself though and O'Donnell plays a nice trick by intercutting between her being tied up on the rocky beach and Bond's navigating No's obstacle course. Whenever we see Honey, she's frantically worried and wondering to herself about how Bond is doing. If you don't know the story, you might think that she's hoping he'll free himself and rescue her, but she's actually just legitimately concerned for him. She's going to be fine. That's more clever and artful than I'm used to seeing from Gammidge.

It's great to see the end of the book brought to life accurately. I'm so used to the film version that those images are the ones I've always imagined when thinking about the story. But John McLusky's Dr No is perfect and I love that the obstacle course ends the way it's supposed to: with a giant squid fight. That's not a surprise considering how faithful the other strips have all been, but it's especially welcome with this story. McLusky draws some mean tentacles and a way cooler dragonmobile than the movie comes up with.

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