It’s easy to wonder what direction James Bond is headed in. As a character, Bond was reinvented nine years ago in Casino Royale as a more ruthless spy who did his best to subvert audience expectation. The change was revelatory for a tired franchise, but the retcon was already on the return in Skyfall with several nods to the past. Now, with actor Daniel Craig implying Spectre is his last Bond film, the natural question to ask is what form the franchise will take going forward.
Warren Ellis’s new ongoing series, James Bond 007, for Dynamite Entertainment is an attempt to answer that question. Ellis has said his Bond is the Ian Fleming version of the original books, which at first glance appears to be Craig’s Bond minus the tortured psyche and world weariness. This is a Bond who is quick to kill for revenge and looks forward to his next sexual conquest. It’s a familiar Bond, and a disappointing one.
The opening issue of Ellis and artist Jason Masters’ arc entitled “Vargr” begins with a traditionally cold open: Bond is chasing a man through the dark winter streets of Helsinki. The man, it turns out, killed 008 and Bond is there for revenge. The rest of the issue returns Bond to MI6 where he slogs through several mundane conversations setting up his next mission in Berlin. It’s an issue that drags when it should be sprinting, and that would be fine if not for the utter lack of atmosphere. This is a world of paperwork and chauvinism, not action and intrigue.
Ellis’s take on Bond feels reductive in 2015. It has an adherence to the past with only soft attempts to make the character’s story feel contemporary. Ellis takes a cue from the movies by making Moneypenny black, and his one original turn from the source material is to make M a black man as well. But M comes off as another hard-ass boss with little to differentiate him from past iterations, and Moneypenny is teased by Bond for cleaning her gun at her desk. They are, by definition, token black characters.
MI6 in particular doesn’t feel like a safe place for women. Bond has always been a misogynist to varying degrees, but here he’s also presented as a two-dimensional character who likes to kill and flirt. He’s not the only one; Q shows off his own misogyny when he chastises Bond for his gun choice: “This is a gun for ladies, 007. And not very nice ladies, at that.”
Ellis’s James Bond would fit well into the character’s original 1950s setting, but six decades and countless movies later, this feels like a missed opportunity. Ellis, one the most exciting writers in comics, has taken Bond back to his past. Unfortunately, it’s a past the modern world would rather forget.