by Michael DeLaney and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: “Realism” can be a dirty word in the realm of comic books and its movie franchise offspring. Making comic book superheroes “more realistic” often makes them lose their larger-than-life qualities. James Bond, on the other hand, is a character who could probably use a little more realism. The Daniel Craig series of James Bond films have been hailed as “more realistic” than their predecessors, but he’s still an uncrackable murder machine. The beauty of James Bond: The Body 5 is that Aleš Kot provides us with a rare opportunity: to get inside Bond’s head.
The entire issue is Bond chasing after a terrorist while questioning his very nature. Ever the existentialist, it’s no mistake that Kot has Bond referencing Schrödinger’s Cat when he attempts to disarm the biological weapon that may or may not actually function. It’s still Bond the unstoppable, but it’s also Bond the philosopher.
Previous issues of James Bond: The Body have given us an internal monologue of Bond’s thoughts as he works a mission, but this is the first time that we’ve been presented with insight into what Bond thinks of himself. God bless the comics medium — I can’t see an internal monologue playing this well in a James Bond film. Here, Bond’s monologue reflects his physical state: weary, beaten and humbled. Beyond a few casual references to prior events of the series, Bond’s self-judgement is mostly just stray feelings and thoughts. We know who James Bond is, we know what he does; this just affirms the kind of baggage he must carry with him.
I feel like one of the Daniel Craig movies described Bond as “a blunt tool”, which is a sense I get from Bond’s thoughts here. As he smashes into the pavement or beats down his intended target, Bond boils his essence down to mere objects and emotions. It’s clearly not the healthiest mindset but it is the most depth I’ve ever seen given to James Bond.
Bond has a very Bruce Wayne ala The Dark Knight Returns mentality with his “good death vs bad death” evaluations. You have to imagine that men and women who put their lives in the line of danger have these kinds of thoughts running through their heads. Kot plots out the end of this issue as Bond resigning himself to a possible death, but knows that Bond can never die — or rather we will never let him die. He is a force of nature, after all.
Similar to Bond’s looser stream-of-consciousness narration, artist Hayden Sherman doesn’t stick to just one form of visual storytelling. The traditional comic book “Z” reading structure is very clearly laid out a couple of times — either in the action or in the caption box organization. And Drew will have to correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe that Sherman plays a full-page action sequence in reverse.
I was trying to piece together how Bond could throw the guy over the ledge — shattering his spine — and instantly be on top of him to deliver those additional “KRAKs.” Instead I feel like Sherman wanted to play with that “Z” structure a bit and have our eyes follow the terrorist’s body as it plummeted to the ground then follow the action back up to its genesis in a “U” shape.
Whaddya think Drew? I’d love to hear your opinion on that particular sequence. How did you like the issue overall? I think this is the best issue yet. Is there anything about Bond’s self-evaluation that stuck out to you in particular? Most importantly: why do you think they gave Bond the Superman spit curl?
Drew: I think it’s less a spit-curl and more just Bond’s normally immaculate hair being even a little out of place. It’s a simple way of making it clear he’s been put through the wringer, even before his clothes become more disheveled and his face bloodied.
As for that sequence, I’m afraid to say I think you might be reading that wrong. Bond could be immediately on top of the dude after the fall because Bond took that fall with him. It’s hard to see him in the tangle of limbs in that narrow first panel (and easy to mistake him for the dark-suited man observing the fall from the bridge), but taken with the previous page of Bond closing the gap and ultimately tackling his target — ending with them tumbling through space — I think it’s clear enough. That said, I also think we’re meant to understand a beat of time passes between that first panel; the goon has completely blacked out there, and when he first comes to, looking up at that bridge, Bond isn’t yet standing over him. Because Bond also fell (albeit with the target breaking his fall), it takes him a moment to regain his composure.
Which maybe brings me to my favorite aspect of this issue: Sherman’s sense of pacing. This issue actually has quite a few full page spreads, lending a real sense of scale to Bond’s pursuit in the opening pages. We’re treated to a breathtaking city-scape as Bond leaps between rooftops in on the very first page, but it’s the sequence that follows that really has me excited. After that epic establishing shot, Sherman tightens us into much smaller panels, and Kot beats out Bond’s narration into each one, forcing us to kind of herky-jerk through what otherwise might be a very fluid action sequence.
The effect is that we move through this page much slower than the previous one. The next few pages have increasingly fewer panels, ramping our speed back up as Bond nears his target, but then Sherman stops us cold with his second full-pager:
Shit. Suddenly, it’s not the abundance of things to look at slowing us down, it’s their absence. Without an obvious view of the target, we’re left hanging in this limbo with Bond, as his statement about not fitting in hangs over the image of him walking through one of the busiest public squares in London. If there’s any place he might expect to fit in, it’s here, but it’s obvious he doesn’t.
Come to think of it, it’s odd to see Bond doing any fieldwork in the UK at all — he’s kind of all about exotic locations for his missions. Is that why he doesn’t fit in, or is it that he’s, as Michael put it, an uncrackable murder machine? In any case, Sherman and colorist Valentina Pinto do a brilliant job of making Bond stand out in the crowd. That becomes even more essential as the camera pulls ever backwards as Bond wades through the crowd, until bond is just a vaguely human shape — but the only one clearly dressed in black.
With the camera so far away, there isn’t much Sherman can do in terms of expression or even gesture, so instead, he settles for the size and shape of the panels to do the storytelling, highlighting the narrowing distance between Bond and his quarry — again slowed down by the deliberateness of Kot’s narration.
I wish I had some grand conclusion to draw about the ending or this series’ take on Bond, but I think it’s best to wait for the final issue to go there. Instead, I’m content to just enjoy the push and pull of this issue’s pacing, and the remarkable ways Kot and Sherman elicit drama from it. It’s subtler stuff than you expect of Bond, but totally on-brand for Kot, which is exactly what I came for.
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