Review: James Bond, Vol. 2: Eidolon by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

9781524102722_p0_v2_s192x300Despite the exemplary creative team attached, the first volume of Dynamite Entertainment’s James Bond relaunch flattered to deceive. It was  packed with the staples Bond fans expect — shoot-ups, car chases, deadly cybernetically-enhanced henchmen, to name but a few — but lacked that special something. Less akin to Casino Royale, and more like Spectre. Thankfully volume 2 — produced by the same creative partnership of Warren Ellis and Jason Masters — rectifies the first’s missteps, and outdoes its predecessor in every way.

As dirty money is being laundered through MI5 — the United Kingdom’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency — the Secret Intelligence Service has been neutered and disarmed. ‘Eidolon’ — another word for ghost, or spectre — has infiltrated the highest levels of British intelligence, and it’s up to Bond to terminate their operation. It’s a simple set-up, as the Bond novel plots have been since day dot, when Fleming wrote Casino Royale; but it means the creators get to focus on perfectly-choreographed, wide-screen action sequences, including one terrifically rendered car chase. There’s a dash of sex, plenty of thrills, and even features a visit to Q Branch, although there’s a distinct lack of high-tech gadgetry.

Ellis lets Masters take charge during the action scenes, limiting dialogue, allowing  these blockbuster moments to occur in silence. Masters pulls it all off with aplomb. It is brutal and visceral, but not gratuitous. But when Ellis does have the characters interacting, he nails their repartee. This is a tight script, full of great one-liners and scything commentary. One moment in particular had me chuckling, when Bond dumps a gun in a bin during an escape, and his companion asks: “You’re going to leave a loaded gun in a bin?” Bond’s reply is perfect: “It’s America. I don’t have time to give it to a child or a mentally ill person, so I’m leaving it in a bin for them to find.”

It is a shame, then, that with Eidolon, Ellis and Masters bid adieu. Just as they hit their stride and manufactured the perfect contemporary James Bond adventure, they’re gone. Still, what an exit. Any comic book reader with even a remote interest in 007 will dig this volume; so, too, any readers looking for a standalone action thriller.

ISBN: 9781524102722
Format: Hardback (267mm x 178mm x 19mm)
Pages: 152
Imprint: Dynamite Entertainment
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Publish Date: 14-Mar-2017

Review: Normal by Warren Ellis

9780374534974“He was a futurist. They were all futurists. Everyone here gazed into the abyss for a living. Do it long enough, and the abyss would gaze back into you.” So writes Warren Ellis in his novella  — originally published as a digital short — Normal, a concise but immensely satisfying psychological thriller.

When futurist Adam Dearden suffers a nervous breakdown, he is taken to a secret hospital — the “Normal Head Research Station” — which is a recovery station for those whose minds have come apart as a consequence of their occupation. When you spend your life contemplating the direction of mankind — are we circling the drain or reaching for the stars? — you’re bound to unravel, and that’s precisely what’s happened to the patients at Normal. The futurists are themselves divided into distinct types, and their differences essentially boil down to those who’re optimists and those who’re pessimists; is the glass half full or half empty? Are we headed for catastrophe or greatness? Ellis’s text doesn’t provide an answer, but will certainly make you wonder…

After one a fellow patients disappears in impossible circumstances, the patients at Normal are advised that government officials are launching an investigation — which is something nobody wants. So Adam forms a necessary alliance with a section of his inmates in order to get to the bottom of this mystery: and the answer might just break him once and for all.

It’s rare for me to wish a book was longer — I’m always so quick to advise cuts and merges rather than more pages — but Ellis’s premise deserves more room to truly shine. Normal is a novella that’ll make you quiver, but really, it could’ve been something shook you to your core. It’s a blast while it lasts, and I suppose it’s always best to leave an audience wanting more rather than having them glancing at their watches, but with some expansion, Normal could’ve rivalled Ellis’s fantastic novel Gun Machine. Instead it’s a solid detour, and a fun sampling of the writer’s work. Bring on his next novel.

ISBN: 9780374534974
Format: Paperback (191mm x 127mm x 12mm)
Pages: 200
Imprint: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc
Publish Date: 11-May-2015
Country of Publication: United States

Review: James Bond, Vol. 1 – VARGR by Warren Ellis & Jason Masters

tnjamesbondhccovtempmastersAfter avenging the death of a fallen 00 Section agent in Helsinki, James Bond assumes his fellow agent’s workload, which takes him to Berlin, on a seemingly routine mission to dismantle a drug-trafficking operation.

Warren Ellis is one of my favourite comic book scribes. Even when his work doesn’t quite strike the right chord, I always appreciate his particular brand of storytelling and innovate ideas. So when news broke that he’d be penning a new James Bond series, I was ecstatic – even when it was revealed this would be a contemporary take on Ian Fleming’s character. Having read Fleming’s novels, as well as those by John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Jeffrey Deaver and so forth, I’ve decided Bond belongs in a post-War setting. I’d love to see more stories set in the 1950s and 1960s – a bit like Anthony Horowitz did with Trigger Mortis, which was set between Fleming novels. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the Fleming Estate sign off on a series of novels set between Fleming’s? Philip Kerr does such a great job bouncing around a wartime and post-war timeline in his Bernie Gunther series – one could easily employ Bond in the same setup. Anyway – moving beyond my deepest James Bond desires…

There is a lot to like about VARGR. It’s packed with the staples Bond fans expect: shoot-ups, car chases, deadly cybernetically-enhanced henchmen; and all the characters you’d expect appear (though artist Jason Masters has been given free-reign to re-create their appearance, so don’t go expecting a Ralph Fiennes-inspired ‘M’, or indeed for Bond to look anything like Daniel Craig). But in too many respects it plays out formulaically. Where’s Ellis’s trademark spark? Why not take advantage of the absence of a film budget and depict truly spectacular set-pieces? VARGR just feels a little too easy, is too reminiscent of James Bond adventures we’ve read, or seen, before. It’s a fun, action-packed romp for sure – and Masters delivers these scenes in spectacular fashion – but it’s not going to earn a place in the James Bond adventures highlights reel.

That being said, with Ellis and Masters signed on for a second volume, which sees the return of SPECTRE, there’s every chance the next volume will deliver on this creative team’s promise. The fuse has been lit, and VARGR provides some sparkle; my fingers are crossed for EIDOLON to deliver an explosion.

ISBN: 9781606909010
Format: Hardback (267mm x 178mm x 19mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: Dynamic Forces Inc
Publisher: Dynamic Forces Inc
Publish Date: 5-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States

Review: Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey

Injection.jpgThe superstar Moon Knight creative team of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey reunite for an ambitious, genre-bending Image Comics series.

Years ago, five agents of the British government – each a genius in their specific field – created something called the ‘Injection.’ In doing so, they poisoned the world – reality itself – and are now dealing with the horrific consequences of their experiment. Bizarre, toxic aberrations are forming on our planet; these people are our only hope.

Blending elements of folklore, technology, history and science fiction,Injection is part sci-fi epic, part procedural. In typical fashion, Ellis presents plenty of theory and cool concepts – fantastically depicted by the super-talented Shalvey – but doesn’t offer a full explanation for transpiring events; that will surely come, later. For now, this first volume hooks the reader with stunning art, dangling plot threads – a hint of grander danger to come – and the five protagonist’s unlikely allegiance. As brilliant as they are – super-smart, extraordinarily talented – they aren’t infallible. Each of them possess demons, not all of which are explicated in this volume, but suggests saving the world won’t be run-of-the-mill. Indeed, their damaged psyches might prove their greatest obstacle.

Shalvey’s art deserves superlatives; all of them, in fact. He is unrivalled, stylistically; and partnered with colourist Jordie Bellaire, his illustrations have never been so striking. He is a perfect artist for Ellis; equally capable of keeping readers’ eyes glued to the page during character conversations, as he is blowing minds when he’s able to cut loose and portray the deadly aftereffects of the Injection.

Its first volume suggests The Injection will earn a place in Ellis’ Greatest Hits. There’s a long way to go, of course – lots of loose ends to tie together, characters to develop further. But what a launch!

Review: Moon Knight Vol 1 – From the Dead by Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire

Moon Knight From the DeadMOON KNIGHT: FROM THE DEAD is one helluva good collection. Its architects – veteran scribe Warren Ellis, illustrator Declan Shalvey and colourist Joride Bellaire – radiate assuredness in their craft. The script is tight and nuanced – you won’t find overbearing narrative captions here – and the artwork is stunning, the sheer white of Moon Knight’s costume – or suit, as he’s more frequently clad in here – almost an eyesore. Few creators could pull of a scene involving Moon Knight dejectedly facing the glower of the skeletal Egyptian moon-god Khonshu, alongside the two ghosts of his disassociated identities, and have it pulsate with the underlying dread conjured by Ellis, Shalvey and Bellaire. This is a team working at the peak of their powers. Together, they have rebooted Moon Knight for a new audience, and rejuvenated the character for fans of yore.

Moon Knight’s backstory is overwhelmingly convoluted, even for a reader who has invested more than twenty years in the Marvel Universe. Rather than focus on the history, and try to explain the unexplainable, Ellis chooses to press forward with his six loosely connected tales, and lean on Moon Knight’s past only when it benefits the thrust of his own narrative. In MOON KNIGHT: FROM THE DEAD, the vigilante plays the role of the Marvel Universe’s Batman. Equipped with Batarang-like throwing-discs and a sleek automobile, as well as a variety of gadgets (albeit with a supernatural edge) Moon Knight takes on a variety of evil forces, including a deranged S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, a rogue sniper, intangible ghosts, and a psychotic police officer desperate to take Moon Knight’s place.

Ellis wisely strips his script of surplus, allowing Shalvey and Bellaire the space required to concoct stunning renditions of Moon Knight in action, and expertly story-boarded set-pieces. Our first shot of Moon Knight strutting towards a crime scene is worthy of framing, and a later sequence involving his slow climb up the stairs of a villain-infested apartment is possibly one of the finest combat scenes ever penciled.

MOON KNIGHT: FROM THE DEAD is the kind of reboot that made the MARVEL NOW! initiative so successful. By allowing super-talented creators the opportunity to tell the type of story intrinsic to their tastes they have borne something truly marvelous. Moon Knight fan or not, comic fans owe themselves the pleasure of this collection.

Review: Astonishing X-Men – Xenogenesis by Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews

XenoIn the East African city of Mbangwi, a new-born crackles with electricity and explodes, taking out an entire hospital. The X-Men – in this incarnation, a team comprised of Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Emma Frost, Storm and Armour – soon learn this isn’t the first manifestation of possible mutation; there have been a spate of similar births. Could this be the mutant rebirth the X-Men have been praying for since their kind was decimated on M-Day?

ASTONISHING X-MEN: XENOGENSIS can be read as a standalone, but Warren Ellis dips into subplots he’d sparked in his earlier run on Astonishing X-Men, specifically relating to Ghost Box technology. He introduces Joshua N’Dingi, whose militants have been charged with executing the babies to protect the population, much to the obvious chagrin of the X-Men, who believe they have the facilities to care for these children, and want to find an amicable solution. But N’Dingi is accustomed to the West’s idea of ‘help;’ as he says, “What happens when you good people inevitably get bored of aiding an African country? What happens when you give my people hope and you fail, and they learn of their child’s slow, agonized death?” N’Dingi’s methods are brutal, but he can live with that burden, with that young blood on his hands, if it means the civilian population is safe. Before the X-Men can argue the point, a paranormal threat emerges, and both sides are forced to work together…

Kaare Andrews’ art is polarizing: his over-sexualisation of the female characters is irksome, because he’s a superstar artist, and his renderings of the X-Men in action are fantastic. All of his characters are exaggerated – nobody is as broad-shouldered as Wolverine, just as nobody’s waist is as thin as Emma Frost’s – but when her breasts are font and centre of several panels, it becomes a problem, and a distracting one, because draws focus away from the narrative. But he works well, overall, with Ellis’ script, which is punctuated with plenty of sci-fi jargon and dialogue that perfectly encapsulates the personalities of the cast.

There is nothing ground-breaking here, just a solid X-Men comic that might not stand the test of time as a monumental storyline, but is a good, fun distraction, and worth dipping into if you’re after an X-Men story without the baggage of long-winded continuity.