While everyone who follows comics and movies has been paying attention to Disney buying Marvel in the last few weeks, I noticed a tidbit that no one has really commented on: Nikki Finke has reported that Hollywood studio MGM is on the verge of filing for bankruptcy. As holders of the movie rights to James Bond, that means there won’t be any new Bond movies for a while. In fact, after QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which made more money than any previous Bond movie, the makers announced that the credit crunch and the current economic situation meant it was going to be harder to raise money for the next one, so it wasn’t like we were going to get a new movie that soon anyway.
But then it doesn’t really matter that we won’t see a new Bond movie for at least two years, because virtually every spy movie, TV show or comic book is based on Bond or a reaction to Bond. We are trapped in James Bond’s world. James Bond is part of our cultural DNA. Granted, it’s stronger amongst Brits, since he’s their creation, but everyone in the world has James Bond on their mind whether they like it or not, thanks to more than 40 years’ worth of movies that are replayed on TV all the time. Bond and DOCTOR WHO are the two longest British genre franchises, all holdovers from the Sixties Pop Culture Explosion. The Bond novels had started in the 1950s, but it was really the movies that planted him in the public consciousness like a prolific weed. The movies took the core of the books: a secret agent who gets sent to exotic locations to save the world with some cutting-edge gadgets to kill baddies, shagging some birds along the way. When the books were first written in the Fifties, Britain was still recovering from the Second World War, the economy wasn’t at its best, there was still rationing, so the appeal of being able to travel someplace bright, warm and exotic, pick up chicks and treat the world like your own personal bachelor pad certainly carried an appeal. For Brits, James Bond is the last power fantasy of a waning empire. It was the movies in the Sixties, tapping into brightly-coloured pop design and fashion, coinciding with the rise of the Playboy lifestyle and aesthetic that made Bond a winning narrative archetype that every screenwriter and comic book creator still holds onto like a favourite teddy bear. Sure, there was spy fiction prior to the Bond books, especially from Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, but it was Bond who became lodged in the public’s imagination over all the other secret agent characters that appeared in books and films at the same time as his.
It’s interesting to watch the movies try to update themselves in a more cynical and politically-correct age. The new Daniel Craig movies have obviously been taking cues from the BOURNE IDENTITY franchise in introducing Parkour-type stunts and quicker edits. I thought QUANTUM OF SOLACE had an attempt to inject some leftist, anti-imperial politics in portraying the seizing of Third World countries’ water rights by multinationals as detailed by Naomi Klein in her book THE SHOCK DOCTRINE: THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM, even though the villains’ practices were already decades old in real life by the time the movie was made. And the portrayal of peasants’ exploitation and hardship had a Lonely Planets Guide ecotourism feel about it. James Bond now operates under the onslaught of backlash and commentary: Simon Winder’s book THE MAN WHO SAVED BRITAIN used Bond as a prism to dissect British post-war cultural history as well as address the author’s (and many lefties’) love of Bond despite the imperialist impulse behind the character. A friend of mine amusingly described the book as a book-length Bond Villain rant. From another corner, a lot of fans have complained that the Daniel Craig Bond was miserable and no fun at all, despite the character being much closer to the book version. It amazes me how desperately fans and storytellers alike cling to the fantasy of the secret agent asshole who can kill and shag with impunity, when the reality is a million miles from that. Bond isn’t really much of a spy at all, he doesn’t spend much time gathering intelligence and is more of a state-employed hitman. John le Carré’s novels were a response and corrective to Bond, portraying espionage as grubby, unglamourous and often futile.
But the vision of Bond remains more popular than le Carré’s vision, which might be a testament to people’s need to hang onto escapism more than fact. Pretty much every spy comic follows the glamourous Bond model. Even Greg Rucka’s QUEEN AND COUNTRY retains it with its foreign travel and sex, even as it basically lifts entire scenarios and lines of dialogue from the TV series SANDBAGGERS. Ironically, the most le Carré-esque spy comic has been the newspaper comic strip adaptation of the Bond short story THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, which depicts Bond in a drab apartment facing the Berlin Wall, ruefully waiting to shoot a top KGB sniper to prevent the death of a defecting asset. It’s unglamourous and downbeat, with Yaroslav Horak’s almost abstract use of shadows and angular line work. By default, this might make it the best spy comic story ever published.
So even if we don’t get a new Bond movie, we’re still getting lots of Bond in other movies and TV shows. ALIAS was a Bond analogue, so was MR AND MRS SMITH. And JJ Abrams has sold yet another spy series to NBC. I’ve always felt that TRUE LIES would be a real cinematic masterpiece if instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron had cast Woody Allen as the superspy hero. Even the upcoming role-playing video game ALPHA PROTOCOL lets you play as a Bond manqué. You get to customize your superspy’s appearance and how he responds to the other characters in the game. You have the option of “nice”, “neutral” and “asshole”, and the characters react to you accordingly. Personally, I think the game makers missed a trick by not including a “neurotic” option to confuse, bewilder or irrttate the other characters. That would probably have included hundreds more hours to create the game, though. And the game features an achievement if you manage to shag all four of the female characters in it, and another achievement if you don’t shag any of them (I assume that’s the “virgin” achievement). If I were to play it, I would make my character the most fugly-looking nerd imaginable with utterly shit combat and fighting skills but high speech skills, because that’s just how I roll.
As for the future of the Bond movie franchise, I wouldn’t worry. If MGM has to sell off its assets, another studio would be more than happy to grab them.
The Living Daylights comic adaptation is in Titan’s 007 newspaper strip collection THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN Renewing my license to kill time at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Adisakdi Tantimedh