by Drew Baumgartner & Mark Mitchell
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
You are driving a bus with 12 passengers on it. At the first stop, half of the passengers get off and nine more get on. At the second stop, a third of the passengers get off and two more get on. At the third stop, one quarter of the passengers get off and seven more get on. What color are the bus driver’s eyes?
Drew: Misdirection is a simple consequence of our limited attention. We can only focus on so many details at once, so if we’re misled about which of those details are important, we can easily miss what’s actually important. This old brain teaser illustrates the point perfectly, introducing the fact that we are driving the bus as an inconsequential detail before distracting us with a bunch of numerical information that seems like it is probably the point of the puzzle. Only, the solution to the puzzle requires that we divided our focus in the opposite way, remembering the one detail that seemed irrelevant to what we assumed was a math problem. James Bond: The Body 6 does something similar, laying out a detailed explanation of the case Bond spent the previous five issues skirting the edges of while the actual action plays out in the background. It’s a clever trick, disguising action as exposition, allowing Aleš Kot and Luca Casalanguida to play out their final reveal and villain showdown simultaneously, skipping the falling action right to the moment Bond can reflect on his role in everything.
I call it “misdirection,” but savvy readers will recognize the importance of the background early in the issue, as Casalanguida carefully draws our attention to them.
First, there’s the framing. Bond and Leiter are ostensibly the subjects of these shots, but they aren’t centered in the way you might expect if there was no other visual information to communicate. Instead, they’re set a little left of center, leaving room both for the couple on the right and the trio of dudes that fill the space between them. Colorist Valentina Pinto washes out the trio, pushing them backwards, but intriguingly keeps the couple well-lit, almost insisting that we pay attention to them. And most importantly, the Casalanguida doesn’t alter Bond and Leiter between the second and third panels, meaning the only visual interest comes from what’s going on in the background. We don’t know exactly what we’re looking for yet, but we know something important is going to happen in the back there
From that moment on, it’s a variation on that bus driver puzzle, as patrons flow in and out. Casalanguida includes little moments that might give us some sense of these characters’ lives beyond their existence in this bar, but until we know what we should be paying attention to, our attention is split between all of the patrons and just keeping track of where they are. That sounds simple, but just like that puzzle, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with details that are ultimately irrelevant. And Kot and Casalanguida do their due diligence in overwhelming us with details. Check out this sequence:
I was so focused on keeping track of where the new patrons were sitting down that I failed to capture the significance of the guy from that initial trio excusing himself to the bathroom. That is, until we see Bond note his absence and excuse himself to the bathroom. This is the big boss showdown, only we don’t know it yet — Leiter doesn’t mention this guy’s role until after Bond returns — and we don’t even see it. It’s a few pages before we know what happened, and even then, it’s mostly left vague. The point here isn’t catharsis in violence, but acknowledging how powerless Bond is to bring the true perpetrators of this plan to justice. His target here is identified as a “middleman,” and the best Bond can hope for is that his action here “sends a message” to those responsible.
Which ends up wrapping this series up in a nice little package. And not just that it knocks Bond down a peg or two (though it definitely does that), but that it plays a similar misdirect with the whole miniseries. We’ve been focusing on the hitmen and the neo nazis and the bioweapons, but the actual story was a little more obscure, revealing Bond’s deepest wishes might lie beyond the impotent machismo of his day job. Indeed, Casalanguida’s framing is revealing right down to the very final image of this miniseries, emphasizing Bond’s loneliness as he admits just how nice a quiet life in the woods would be.
Or maybe it’s specifically a life with Moira in her cabin? We don’t get enough details to fully shade in that loneliness, but wreathing Bond in darkness and booze sure makes those things feel less sexy than they might normally when we associate them with 007. This guy is sad and powerless, and killing dudes in bathrooms doesn’t do much to alleviate either condition.
It’s a bold take on the character that leaves me feeling more sympathy than I’ve ever really felt for him, so I’m curious to hear your take on it Mark. Did the sleeper story of a depressed James Bond connect with you at all, or were you more interested in the details of all of that misdirection? And more specifically, how did the off-screen climax and hidden-in-plain-sight build of this issue work for you?
Mark: James Bond: The Body 6 is James Bond by way of Jon le Carre, and the anti-climax of the issue is right in sync with le Carre’s world weary portrayal of spy craft — espionage isn’t car chases and shootouts, it’s following an unremarkable looking man into the bathroom of an unremarkable London pub and murdering him. It’s a complete subversion of what we expect from a James Bond story, to the point that it’s a Bond story in name only. But as someone who’s grown bored with modern Bond, that’s not a complaint.
The Daniel Craig-led Bond films have always uncomfortably toed the line between fantasy and reality, as if Craig scowling through the films’ carefully choreographed set pieces is enough to ground the character in the realm of possibility. But like smearing Vaseline on a camera lens to hide the wrinkles of an aging soap opera star, having Craig roll around in the dirt does little to obscure that his Bond fulfills the same male power fantasies the character has embodied since the 1950’s.
In truth, Kot and Casalanguida’s lonely, depressed take on 007 is the actual realization of a grounded “James Bond.” Strip away the fantastical elements of the character and you’re left with an average guy with Bruce Wayne-esque looks — there’s no great evil preventing Bond from having the life he wants, no supervillain holding the world hostage. Instead, Bond’s unhappiness is rooted in same things that cause the rest of us to be dissatisfied: a mundane job, feeling powerless to control one’s own life, the inability to walk away from the grind and live the life of one’s dreams. Kot and Casalanguida’s James Bond would love to go to the movies and watch Skyfall and fantasize about the glamorous life that guy leads, if only he had the time to take in a matinee.
That’s not to say that James Bond: The Body 6 is a bland or depressing read, only that it’s painfully relatable. We infer that Bond goes into the bathroom and kills Prince and Laurent’s middleman, but we don’t actually see it. Instead, the issue’s “action” is centered around two men sitting at a bar, kvetching about their lives and their idiot bosses. And that painful relatability feels wrong; we’re supposed to want to be like James Bond, he’s not supposed to be like us.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?