Few fictitious characters shy of Bruce Wayne and Robin Hood have been as open to interpretation as James Bond. From the gritty and grounded Daniel Craig of today to the oft campy Roger Moore to Sean Connery who blazed the cinematic trail for all future film Bonds to come, the bold and brutish Brit has seen several iterations over the past half century. Since his inception in Ian Fleming’s seminal spy thriller Casino Royale (published in 1953), the character has proliferated in books, film, television (both a made-for-TV movie as well as a cartoon), and video games, not to mention on the comic book page. Enter Warren Ellis and Jason Masters.
Writer Ellis (whose work includes including Transmetropolitan and Crooked Little Vein) and artist Masters (Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy) deliver a Bond that appears as an amalgam of both Timothy Dalton and Sterling Archer, all within a story that skillfully fuses the implied cold blooded brutality of the Fleming novels with the levity of the Moore era films. VARGR begins, as any solid 007 story does, with a cold opening (literally, as it opens on snow covered Helsinki). We’re reintroduced to Bond as he ruthlessly tracks down and kills the man who murdered 008. Somewhere between dismembering fingers with a shovel and emotionlessly pumping two rounds into the unnamed assailant’s head and chest, we come to realize this isn’t our father’s Bond.
As a bad batch of narcotics start hitting the streets of London causing recreational users to become infected with a mysterious and deadly disease, Bond must fly to Berlin and meet with Slaven Kurjak, a nefarious prosthetics developer whose prior work history includes a brief stint at a Serbian concentration camp. If the plot of poisoned drugs and prosthetic armed goons feels familiar, it should likely be noted that this previous September’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle seems to have borrowed an element or two from Ellis’ work (issue 1 of VARGR being published in November 2015 and issue 6 in April 2016, long before the release of Golden Circle).
While we seem to be at an all time high in Bond fandom, what with new novels written by the likes of Anthony Horowitz and Jeffery Deaver, as well as compulsively entertaining podcasts such as James Bonding with comedians Matt Mira and Matt Gourley, Ellis and Masters still manage to carve a unique and interesting niche for themselves with VARGR. Replete with in-jokes and meta commentary with regard to Bond’s lady-like Walther, his chamois leather holster and his reluctance to follow orders.
Arguably akin to Guy Ritchie’s reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, Ellis’ take on the dutiful double O includes all the hallmarks we come to expect in the material (an unflappable hero, a diabolical villain, hard to kill henchmen, a secret lair, etc.) with a contemporary, comedic twist. Add Masters’ dynamic, unflinchingly visceral visuals to this shaken, not stirred, mix and VARGR becomes a must read for Bond enthusiasts everywhere.