James Bond Radio: Interview with Dennis Calero – Casino Royale

I had the opportunity to interview artist and co-author Dennis Calero for James Bond Radio all about the recent Casino Royale Dynamite Comics graphic novel adaptation.  It was great to talk Bond with him and listen to his insights about the character and franchise.  It was also a treat to get an inside look into the creative process that went into the book.

Check out the YouTube link below.

 

Just a Memory

 

“Yeah, I don’t have anything to say,” I said to no one in particular.  It’s the motto I’ve repeated every so often simply because it represents my current state of mind.  It’s what you say when the muse has left and inspiration has run dry.  When your brain’s been reduced to mush to the point where the most it can consume is the daily soap opera watched on the DVR from the safety of a comfy old couch, there’s a point where any hint of intellectual curiosity you may have ever had morphs into something perverted.  Such a slovenly existence might be excused if one were perhaps afflicted with a trauma resulting in a massive fugue state.  First comes the lightning blinking bright then the crack of thunder then BOOM!! You’ve been struck and just barely escape a foray into the land of the comatose, but that’s not me nor is it my story.

I was listening to The Rolling Stones one night recently thinking of an old flame prompted by the lyrics of “Memory Motel” when suddenly I came upon a revelation- actually more like a vision.  It was that of the life that could have been if things had worked out and Lisa had decided to stay with a man with no direction or ambition to do anything beyond gaze at the stars at night after reading a good book. You see I’ve always been a contemplative person, but I’be been told that contemplation is not what’s best suited for relationships. Women tend to like men of action and I’m not exactly the Charles Bronson type. In fact, I think Chuck Norris could probably beat me up by just blinking at me very hard.  Quite frankly Walker Texas Ranger puts me to sleep every time I try to watch it.  If ever there was a sedative needed for a good case of insomnia, just put on a random episode of that show and that’s all you need.   Maybe it doesn’t appeal to me because it’s one of those shows that’s supposed to be a “man’s man” kind of show.  Hence, it’s why I could never relate to it since just the thought of opening a toolbox gives me anxiety.  Who needs tools anyway? The point is that while Chuck Norris may be all kinds of awesome and all men everywhere wish they could be him, he isn’t quite in touch with his feelings.  No, I’m not saying he should be either.  There are some people who clearly wouldn’t benefit from any kind of enhancement in their emotional intelligence.

Well, I was listening to “Memory Motel” one night and to be honest these feelings could have equally been stirred by “Far Away Eyes,” which is a song on another album but I digress.  I listened to that song and while Mick Jagger isn’t exactly the poet laurate of Rock N Roll, the song spoke to me or at least it made sense for me in my life. I mean Mick Jagger is the man, a total rock star and I’m well . . . I’m just me so of course we’d have to be on the same wave length when it comes to our lives.  I’d like to think of myself as the Mick Jagger of my own universe with tons of stories to tell and wisdom to share about women.  In my case, it’s been far fewer women.  Okay, maybe it was just one woman who allowed me close enough to feel like I touched her heart as much as she touched mine, but she had so many sides to her that she could have easily been twenty women.  Haha! Take that Mick Jagger!  Needless to say she was complicated, but I like that.  The worst thing anyone could do to themselves is to fall in love with someone who is uncomplicated unless they happen to be uncomplicated themselves. Lisa might have been complicated enough for the both of us.

Every time I picture Lisa in my mind, her hair is wet and the drops drip down over her wet clothing and although she thinks she looks a mess, she looks immaculate to me.  On our first date we saw a movie. It was a science fiction film that later became a cult classic called Contact.  It’s the one with Jodie Foster and her dead father.  That’s all I remember about it other than the fact that it’s based on a Carl Sagan novel I never read, but each time I think about that movie it brings back the memory of our first date and our first kiss. I later regretted not walking her home or at least to her train station.  Perhaps I was too nervous, maybe I was scared.  No, actually I was stunned, shocked, and awed by the fact that Lisa would even sit next to me in a dark room let alone kiss me after a movie.  Back in high school I kissed Sally Fulson and Mary Templeton, but kissing Lisa Falkner when we were just eighteen that was something.   We were both so young back then, and maybe that’s why she still means so much to me now. We had the world ahead of us.  Little did I know that she would move on to bigger and greater things and I would just stay behind and settle into a comfortably solitary life.

It was about two months ago that as a curious observer of Lisa’s online profile, I began to notice that her friends and family did not know where she was.  I didn’t think it was unusual at first, but then some of the messages started to become somewhat desperate and panicked. For about a day, I convinced myself that it was nothing to worry about. Lisa was always a free spirit.  She probably just ran off somewhere without telling a soul.  Indeed, that was one of the main differences between us.  I was always attached to her while she was shall we say “unattached.”  Deep down inside, I knew she loved me while we were together at that time but her motto – the line I consistently hated to hear coming out of her mouth – was always, “If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back, it was meant to be.”  When I first heard it, I knew it was something I didn’t want to hear. No, not from her.  It sounded like a trite little bit of psychobabble from a Hallmark card, but then every time we argued, she’d always whip out that saying.  It just hung on me like an albatross during our entire relationship.  Of course, no man wants to hear that they need to set their girlfriend free.  That just sounds preposterous especially for a guy like me who isn’t quite attractive enough to readily replace said girlfriend at will. At the time I thought to myself, She could say that all she wants but no way will I ever let her go, and yet the thing about holding onto people too tight is that you run the risk of suffocating them.  I think I understand it better now, and I readily admit that my need to hold onto her probably drove her even further away, but when we were together this kind of deep reflection about the nature of our relationship had somewhat escaped me.

You see every guy wants to think that their girlfriend’s universe revolves around them.  In some cases, that’s exactly what they get and I suppose if both people are happy then bully for them. In most cases though it’s just not like that. You should never get to fully possess the person you love because then there’s no mystery about that person and when the mystery is gone then so is the love.  At least that’s what I’ve found to be the case in my limited experience.  Besides, all that stuff about soul mates and finding “the one” is all fairy tale bullshit society tries to push upon us starting from the time that we’re toddlers.  It’s all bullshit, and really the only people who have “perfect” relationships are shallow phonies with nothing real to say to the world or each other for that matter.

Anyway, I exhausted all of my patience hoping for Lisa to turn up somewhere and say “GUESS WHAT!  I’m not missing after all and you people are so foolish to think that I was!  Can’t a woman just get away from the patriarchal trappings of our society and escape to her own sanctuary of peace and quiet once in a while without friends and family members constantly worrying where she is as if life was some cheap primetime melodrama where every time a woman goes missing every character she’s ever been close to panics and says ‘SOMETHING TERRIBLE MUST HAVE HAPPENED TO HER!’  FOR THE GODESS’S SAKE LET ME JUST HAVE SOME PEACE WHILE YOU WATCH YOUR EXPLOITATION FUELED LAW AND ORDER: SVU EPISODE!!!!”

Now, while I’m confident that those wouldn’t be her exact words, I was quite sure that her natural response to such panic about her well-being would most likely be in that vain.  Far be it for me, a person who won the gender lottery and was born a man and therefore didn’t have to deal with patriarchal subjugation or menstruation cycles, to put words in her mouth. Is there any wonder how I fell in love with a woman with such zest for candidness and feminism?

Well, that’s the thing I did just that. It was the summer of 1997 and we were both employed at a bookstore.  Even then, I had the gut feeling that while I would remain a second rate clerk behind a counter, she would be destined for something greater.  From the instant I first saw her, I marveled at her magnificence.  Her beauty radiated both inwardly and outwardly.  There was no denying she was a diamond in the rough.  Time and circumstances may have landed her in that spot within my vicinity, but life has a way of separating the weeds from the roses.  I’ve never had any doubt which one of us was which in that analogy.  There she was at that time in 1997 wearing a tight button down cream blouse greeting a customer with that beautiful smile.  I swear if there’s one image I’d like to take to my grave with me it would be that smile of hers.  It might even bring me back to life it’s that powerful.  As she was talking, her eyes glanced at me for a moment and I was in heaven. It might have been for a microsecond but I knew and recognized that look of mischief that she shot me so I approached cautiously and found that she was dealing with the kind of person that we in the customer service industry like to refer to as “assholes” or “quite a bit dickish” if we feel like being polite.  Trust me there are quite a number of people who’ve earned the title.  Most of them are registered Republicans although to be fair there are quite a number of asshole liberals too. This particular piece of filth was giving Lisa a hard time because he noticed that there were more pro- Clinton books on the New Nonfiction table than there were Reagan biographies or some other such nonsense.  It’s funny how the more things change the more things stay the same.  My present day store has now flatly refused to do an election table in an election year because the fervor from both sides gets so nasty, however, 1997 was a year of kinder and gentler political discourse. . . well, I suppose it depends upon who that discourse happened to be with.  I mean Democrats were just as likely to be against gay marriage as Republicans and feminism wasn’t as universally embraced by the Left as it appears to be today.  At any rate, I could tell Lisa needed some help so I remembered the spider scene in Annie Hall where Diane Keaton calls over Woody Allen to kill a spider after they’ve already broken up.  First he notices a program for a Rock concert and suggests that the guy who took her to the concert should come over and kill the spider, then Diane Keaton hands Woody a copy of the National Review and an astonished Woody replies, “Wonderful then why don’t you get William F. Buckley to kill the spider.”  Of course, William F. Buckley along with his deplorable views on AIDS and homosexuality had a new book that had come out recently calling it “An Autobiography of My Faith” or something equally pedantic (Conservatives and their faith, HA! More like hypocrisy!!Now there’s a subject I could write an epic about).  Well, after shooing the customer away from Lisa and recommending to him this atrocious William F. Buckley book, I finally had a chance to speak to her.

“Now before you judge me for knowing about Buckley’s new book, just know that the only reason I remembered is because of the spider scene in Annie Hall.  I’m about as Left as they come although perhaps not too Left.  More like Gore Vidal if Gore Vidal wasn’t a genius or educated or creative or talented at all.  That would be me.  I’m a stupid man’s Gore Vidal”

She chuckled, “I’ll take a stupid Gore Vidal over a William F. Buckley worshiping asshole any day of the week.  I’m Lisa by the way.”

I noticed that she looked at my name tag with a bit of bemusement, and finally I remembered. . . Beowulf. Curses!

“I’m Jake although don’t let the name tag fool you.  I actually despise Beowulf.  My friend Bill wrote down ‘Loves Beowulf’ as a joke underneath my name on my name tag and I just went with it.”

“I hate Beowulf too,” she said, and like all great romances in the world we bonded over despising both Beowulf and right wingers.  Unlike Woody in Annie Hall, however, I don’t think I would have ever let her off so easy for having a copy of The National Review readily available in her household even for the express purpose of killing a spider although of course we both still lived with our parents at the time going to college and working at the bookstore part time.  Trust me, her parents would never let the National Review anywhere near their house if they could help it either so at least we were all in good company.

So now with Lisa was missing in 2016, I was more determined than ever to find her.  I took two weeks off from work, and proceeded on my journey. I just needed to know that she was alright because she meant so much to me and when I think about it the happiest times of my life were with her so rather than sit and refresh a social media page for days on end I decided to take action. I booked a flight to New Orleans where she was known to go on her writer’s retreats.

“It’s the atmosphere, Jake,” she would say back when we were together.  “I don’t understand how you don’t feel it Jake.  Doesn’t being in this city make you feel more ALIVE than what you feel in New York?  The music, the food, the people, the drinks…. It’s all so transcendent!”

I thought New Orleans was just “okay” but I’ve always been attached to New York.  I’ve never been able to quite feel comfortable in any other city.  The best thing about New Orleans for me was the food especially the sandwiches at Mama’s but as for the trip and the city, I just didn’t feel what she felt.  There’s a special rooming house where she likes to stay while she’s there.  When were each 25 years old, we went to New Orleans together for the first time and that’s where we stayed for our first major trip together.  It was a bed and breakfast type place.  She would write for about 4 hours in the morning while I read my Ian Fleming James Bond books to pass the time. Occasionally she’d give me shit about the Bond franchise exploiting women, but I would counter with the story of the woman I believe to be the unsung hero of the earliest Bond films, Johanna Harwood.  She was assistant to Harry Saltzman, one of the original producers of the Bond films, and he tasked her with adapting the Fleming novels.  She even wrote her own Bond short story, which unfortunately is somewhat difficult to find.  Anyway, Hardwood co-wrote the screenplay that became the first film, Dr. No (1962) and contributed to the second film, From Russia with Love (1963).  Unfortunately, her role has been overshadowed by Richard Maibaum and the unfair treatment she received from the director of the films, but she was right there at the very beginning crafting an iconic piece of cinema history. Lisa would argue, “But isn’t the fact that so few Bond fans know about her prove my point that the franchise and Hollywood in general is just a patriarchal system of oppression that women must navigate?”  I couldn’t really win these types of arguments with her maybe because I knew she was right. In any case, it was a happy time in our relationship, but as each day passed, I would grow more eager to get back home.

I checked into the place we used to stay and promptly asked the manager as well as the staff if they had seen her but they all said no they hadn’t. Part of me figured that she wouldn’t have come to New Orleans to get away from everyone if that’s what she wanted, but I had to try. I stayed in New Orleans for the weekend though booking a flight to Puerto Rico for the following Monday.

During my stay I started to wonder what life would be like if Lisa and I had stuck together.  What would we be doing right now?  What would this trip to New Orleans be like if she were there with me?  Would we have kids?  Would she have been able to settle down in any one spot?  Would I have ever solved the mystery that kept me so attuned to her? I didn’t have answers to any of these questions.  I just grew irritated.  I would walk down the French Quarter and see couples drinking, singing, partying, just having a good time, but all the while I felt disconnected.  I felt like a voyeur watching lives I could never come close to living.  It’s like when you watch Star Trek: The Next generation and you see Data observing human behavior and wondering what it’s like to be human.  Well, I know what it’s like to be human and there are times I wish I wasn’t.  I wish I didn’t care so much. I wish I wasn’t so attached to certain people who don’t feel the same way about me. I wish I could just go about my day without a care in the world without socializing or talking to a single soul in the world, and I wish I could just live and breathe and just be, but then I think of Lisa and I wish I could have a life with her.  Oh, the contradictions inherent to desire! Everywhere I turned, it seemed like there was some kind of joy and happiness to be experienced that I just couldn’t grasp.  It always feels like everyone is in on some secret and they all just laugh at me behind my back when they think I’m not looking only I am and it hurts.  I couldn’t wait to leave New Orleans.

On the Sunday night before my flight I crawled into a nearby dive and drank bourbon for the first time in years. I’d become a caricature of a man driven to drink by a woman, the oldest and most unoriginal story in the world and yet it’s the stuff of legend.

I dragged myself to the airport Monday for the flight to Puerto Rico.  It’s where Lisa and I would have had our honeymoon if we had gone through with our marriage.  When she called off the wedding, the engagement and the whole shebang, I just crawled into a hole for months.  She, however, went on our honeymoon.  You could imagine that I wasn’t pleased, but once we had patched up our friendship she explained that it was a necessary part of her growth.  “It’s where I needed to let go of you as a lover in order to welcome you back into my life as a friend,” whatever that meant.  I’ve come around to the realization that I wasn’t cut out for marriage anyway.  Lisa felt the same way about herself for a couple of years until she married her partner in a nice ceremony in Jamaica.  The wedding was lovely and her wife, Becky was a lovely person but the marriage didn’t last long.  When she called to let me know she was divorcing after 5 months, she declared, “Now I could fuck whoever I want but don’t get any ideas!”  Apparently, lesbian relationships can also be prone to having one partner try to hold on too tight to another. Maybe it’s just that Lisa doesn’t want to be held onto by anyone for too long.  Maybe it’s just her.  Maybe it’s just a part of who she is.

So, I landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico and proceeded to the resort where Lisa and I would have stayed on our honeymoon only to find that there were no guests listed under the name Lisa Faulkner.   That probably didn’t mean anything as perhaps she would have stayed somewhere else on the island but I could just feel that she wasn’t there.  It makes no sense whatsoever, but there’s a feeling I get when she’s close.  I don’t know why or if there’s any kind of scientific explanation for it, but it’s just a weird feeling in my gut.  I just knew I had yet again come to the wrong place even though there were many other resorts I could have checked on if I was being thorough.

Just as I was about to gather my thoughts and return to my hotel room, a strange woman pressed a room key into my hand.  She was wearing a red dress with a zip down the back.  Her prominent cleavage pressed up against me.  Up close I could tell she wore a wig, but she had such a strikingly stunning face.  For a moment I thought maybe she was famous.  She looked like Kerry Washington. “I hope you speak English,” she said.

“Of course, I . . .”

“Shut up,” she said covering my mouth with her hand.  I could tell she had used hand lotion recently.

“What the. . .”

“Just go to room 235 in 3 minutes.  Ask for Manuela,” She said. I could tell she was American.  “I will reward you quite kindly.”  She hovered her lips over my ear in an insinuating fashion.

Men who look like me don’t get these kinds of invitations all that often so I did as she said fully expecting to be let down.  I went to the room, asked for Manuela, and a manila envelope was placed in my hand by what looked like one of the resort’s housekeeping staff. The same woman said, “She’s in room 358.”

As I went up the stairs to room 358, I saw two men with guns.  They didn’t look like Puerto Ricans.  They had that classic FBI attire you see in movies. I’d be surprise if they spoke a word of Spanish. The next thing I hear is yelling from the direction of the room I had just left. Then the distinct pop of shots fired.  I halted right in my tracks and heard footsteps in quick succession running towards me.  I bolted up the flight of stairs. As luck would have it, Rm 358 was the first door on the left. With no time to deliberate, I knocked and then the door opened suddenly.  It was her.  She ripped the envelope from my hands, pulled me inside, and said, “Moan for me.”

“What?”

“Act like I’m pleasuring you.”

“You mean…”

“Yes, pretend I’m giving you the best blow job of your life.”

I did as she suggested.  The footsteps came closer.  They paused outside the door.  She squeezed my inner thigh with her long sharp nails and I yelped so loud I thought I was going to cry.   Then, I heard a snicker as the footsteps passed away.

As I heard the footsteps outside moving further away, I closed my eyes and opened them quickly hoping I’d wake up from a dream, but we were both still there, me in my sweaty khakis and she in a new loose fitting white blouse and jean shorts she had just changed into.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Jake,” I said.

“You got a last name?” she said. “You may not know it but I kind of just saved your life.”

“When you said you’d repay me for that favor, this isn’t quite what I had in mind.”

At that she laughed, “Ha! I bet it wasn’t, but don’t be disappointed, sex rarely ever lives up to the lustful expectations you men build it up to be in your head.  It’s not to say that it wouldn’t be good, but trust me you wouldn’t know how to handle me. I’m afraid you’d be the one having all the fun just as it played out in our little routine.”

“It’s Gleeson. Jake Gleeson.”

“Any relation to Jackie Gleeson?”

“None whatsoever and I’m sick and tired of people asking me that when I give them my name.”

“I’m Bernice Callaghan.”

“Funny you don’t look Irish,” I said.

“My father was Irish American.  Mom was from Jamaica.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me what we’re doing here.”

Bernice said, “If I did, I’d have to kill you and so far, you don’t seem so bad.”  She adjusted her blouse and as she got up I could see a holster strapped around the belt buckle of her jean shorts. Her smile revealed a warmth and glint of danger. Then she turned her back to me, “It’s about that point in the story where I make sure it’s safe for you to leave and you go, don’t you think?”

“What if I want to stay,” I found myself saying.

“You could get killed and besides I don’t need a balding overweight clingy overzealous sidekick to worry about.”

Just then we heard a loud crash from outside the door.  The bad guys seemed to have thought that she was hiding in the room right next to us.  Within seconds we could see the knob moving on the door for the adjacent room leading into ours.

“Quick!” she said.

I followed her onto the balcony.  Before I knew it we were shimmying down a drainpipe albeit she did so more gracefully than I.  She waited for me at the base and then we ran down a dirt road alleyway back around to the hotel parking lot when she froze.

“No! He’s given us away.”  I saw who she was looking at and it was a bearded man in white suit leaning against what was presumably her car.

“Bernice, Bernice, Bernice how lovely of you to join me,” he said. He then instructed one of his goons to remove Bernice’s gun.

“It was you all along wasn’t it?”

“The envelope, I know you have it.”  Then, the man turned towards me and said, “It’s a pity you’ve downgraded to such a pathetic specimen of a man.”  His Latin American accent sent chills all over me.  I thought I was about to die and if that was the last voice I ever heard I don’t think my final brain murmurs would have generated any sense of happiness or inner peace, which is all you could hope for if you die seeing as I’m a devout atheist.  All I ask is that my final moments before my consciousness fades into oblivion be somewhat pleasant, a happy memory if you please instead of sheer terror and utter despair.  Is that too much to ask for these days?  It probably is.

While my panic attack commenced, I saw Bernice hand the man the envelope.  She had folded it and placed it between her waist and her belt before we shimmied down the drain pipe. Then, the man in the white suit took out a gun, pointed it at me, but in the last instant turned the gun at Bernice while walking closer to her. Then he lowered the weapon quite deliberately aiming at her left thigh and fired.  Bernice fell straight to the ground her skin and flesh leaving an awful stain on the ground.  Her body struggled to absorb the pain.  Then, like a fighting pit bull she rose up on her good knee and snarled. “You think that’ll keep me from finding you and ending you, Consuelo?”

Consuelo smiled. “Now you look just as pathetic as your friend.  You should both thank me for my mercy but I know better than to expect that from you.”

Consuelo turned and joined his entourage.  When, he was gone, I bent down on my knee to help Bernice but she pushed me away. “You better leave.  If they see us together after this, they will most definitely kill you.”

I tore my shirt sleeve and wrapped it around her wound ignoring her advice.  Then, she smiled that mischievous smile and winked at me.  “You just don’t listen do you,” she said.

“I’ve been known to get quite attached to certain women especially after they’ve saved my life.”

Bernice refused to go to a hospital and instead insisted that we drive to a doctor that she knew in a small province called Humacao on the east side of the island. The problem was that despite my best efforts she kept bleeding and it would be a 3-hour drive.  We crawled into her red Toyota Camry and drove.  There were additional garments in the vehicle that we used to tighten my original tourniquet.  The drive felt longer than any drive I had ever known.  We stayed on the main thruway, but the terrain felt ominous as we drove.  The further and further we got from San Juan, the more dread I felt as if I was treading where I didn’t belong.  The road signs warned against stopping alongside the road and picking up hitchhikers.  When we finally reached the exit, the sun was going down leaving a crimson streak across the sky that reminded me of the blood Bernice had been losing from her thigh. I saw mango and banana trees.  A poor lady had been selling cocoanut water at the side of the rode.  She watched as I slowed down the car wondering what we were doing in her neck of the woods.  I could see what I later learned to be Candelero Hill along the green landscape.  It felt like that hill watched me for the remainder of my stay.

We found her doctor friend just before Bernice started to pass out.  I later learned that we made it just in time.  Dr. Colon seemed to work out of an abandoned church.  The place looked so immense on the inside with its stain glass windows and marble floors.  I wondered why the worshipers allowed it to go unused.  I sat in a pew while the doctors and his makeshift nurses took care of Bernice. It’s the kind of setting that makes you want to think aloud. I said to myself, “What am I doing here?”

“Seeking guidance from our Lord it would seem,” came a voice from behind.  It was a nun, one of Dr. Colon’s nurses.  I wanted to tell her that it was all just a momentary lapse that none of this faith stuff is real for me, but it seemed inappropriate for me to disagree.  I simply nodded and turned back to where the altar had been.  It now looked more like an empty stage, and part of me knew that at one time it had been glorious whether or not it was a house of God. Minutes turned into hours and night turned into dawn. I must have slept unknowingly.

I awoke to a kiss on the forehead.  It was Bernice in all her glory.  She smiled, looked at me, and said “Not bad for an overweight ugly sidekick.”

She told me that both she and Consuelo had worked undercover for a rum manufacturer who happened to be selling weapons to terrorists.  The manila envelope contained all the contents they needed to bring down his operation also including the names of collaborators within our own government along with how much cash each of these nefarious types had received. The events in the hotel parking lot meant that Consuelo had double crossed her and revealed her identity to Fernando, the big boss behind it all.  A man so powerful he was even able to recruit his own shadow force from corrupted American agents.

“What do we do now?” I asked.

“We go to the south of France.”

The drive back to San Juan was quiet.  I drove as fast as I could watching the Spanish exit signs fly past one by one. I started to think of Lisa again wondering where she could possibly be.  What would she think of this formidable adventure’s I’ve now found myself in? The American radio station played Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and I boldly sung along.  Bernice just stared out the window for half the song and then shot a toothless grin back at me.  Her black hair glistened in the sunlight.  Then, the oddest question came out of her, “Do you think you’ve earn the right to sing that song as a man?”

“What kind of question is that?” I shot back.

“Bruce earned the right to sing this song.  He’s Bruce.  Who do you think you are?”

“Well, that’s mighty brazen.  I’ll have you know that while I may not be anywhere near as in touch with humanity as Bruce Springsteen, I’ve lived a working class life and have had on occasion longed for a woman the way he does in this song.”

Bernice smirked, “I’ll bet you’ve done plenty of longing.”

I lost my patience and said, “You know not everyone finds their niche in the world as easily as others.  I suppose you must have such a high opinion of yourself because you’re a spy and I’m just some fat loser who works in a bookstore for a living.  It must be good to have that self-confidence about you with every move you make but for people like me . . . we go through our entire lives feeling awkward and insecure.  The least you could do is refrain from openly insulting me especially after I’ve done all I can do to help you, Lisa.”

There it was- the slip of the tongue that I wished I could have taken back as soon as I said it.  I accidentally called Bernice Lisa, and why not?  The two of them were like peas in a pod. They were each so uniquely individual and yet so similar it felt like they were interchangeable. The last thing any woman wants to hear, however, is that they remind you of someone from the past.

Bernice turned to me, “Please, don’t tell me you called me Lisa because I remind you of some ex-girlfriend who dumped you years ago.”

This time I was the one who was brazen, “It was a slip of the tongue but maybe you do.  What of it?  As a matter of fact the only reason I came out here to Puerto Rico was to look for Lisa because it would appear that she’s gone missing.”

“I don’t have time for this immature nonsense.  Did it ever occur to you that perhaps this Lisa woman of your dreams is missing because she doesn’t want to be found?”

“Yes, that has occurred to me of course. I just want to be sure she’s okay though.”

“Yeah, and then what? Do you think she’ll jump into your arms and thank you for your concern or do you think she’ll just want to be left alone to live her life in peace and maybe enjoy herself with someone other than you?” she said.

I thought for a minute then said, “Probably the latter.”

I gave Bernice the rundown of my relationship with Lisa and I got the sense during that ride that maybe part of her grew a little sympathy for me or at least I’d like to think so.  She still thought I was crazy to go out of my way to actively look for Lisa, but I think she thought it was cute that I cared so deeply about someone who might not care as much about me.

When we arrived at the airport, Bernice inquired about tickets and we were told that there were seats available on the next flight to Miami leaving in just under an hour where we could then spend the night and take a flight out to southern France early the next morning. As we sat next to each other on the plane, we both nodded off and went to sleep, which is probably the closest I’ll ever get to saying I slept with an attractive female spy.

Upon arrival in Miami, we headed straight to the Fontainebleau Hotel where we both had separate rooms. I was mildly amused by the fact that some scenes from the James Bond film Goldfinger had been shot there.  Before drifting off to sleep again, I thought about James Bond and how cool Connery had been in the 1960s, how that natural swagger of his just emanated a natural charm that attracted women to him. As they said, “All women wanted to be with him and all men wanted to BE him.”  I wonder what would be made of this set of circumstances: an alluring female spy with her unattractive sidekick gallivanting around the globe – she with all the wit and magnetism of a female version of Connery and me and my clumsy awkwardness draining the scenario of any sense of class or style.

Unsurprisingly, my dreams were fueled by an overwhelming sense of fear, danger, and lust.  Faceless gunmen, drops from perilous heights, and finally Bernice’s naked flesh percolated in my mind’s eye throughout the night in no particular order.  At one point, Lisa’s naked body melted away to reveal Bernice’s naked body underneath her nipples (as I imagined them) sharp as knives poking out at me.  I’d like to think of myself as a decent man, and yet my own sense of decency is betrayed by my baseless shameful desires.  I’m pretty sure I loved Lisa and lusted after Bernice but there are times when the line between those two emotions (or even those two separate women) becomes indistinguishable.  I still question where one ends and the other begins yet I’ve fully convinced myself that I loved and lusted after both women although I only ever experienced the love of one.

Whether she remembers it or not, I’m pretty confident Lisa loved me at least for that time we were together.  For a while, we were quite the pair of young lovers if I remember correctly.  Those were the days when she fussed after me and called me and seemed to always look forward to the next time we’d see each other.  Then after a few years, something just changed.  It seemed like we just started to go through the motions to be in each other’s company, and I could tell she grew more and more disinterested in me as her lover with each passing day.  Neither one of us admitted what was clearly going on as the distance between us grew and grew until she decided one day to pull the plug.  Actually, it was me who pulled the trigger out of anger and she who finished it off.  When she called to cancel on me one day after a series of previous other cancellations, I just blew up at her over the phone and said, “Why don’t we just call it quits!”

I was such a coward.  I became that guy who breaks up with a woman over the phone.  This was in the era before text messages on smart phones so it was literally the lowest way to end a relationship.  Lisa became hysterical, which led me to panic and try to take it all back only to have her call my bluff and actually end things with me for real.  I could tell it hurt her but it irreparably hurt me even though the whole thing had been instigated by my outburst.  Just weeks before, we had become engaged and had even begun the process of booking a venue. We got as far as booking the honeymoon.  It was a honeymoon she would go on alone.  When she returned, she made the effort to mend our friendship, but our intimate relationship was over.  It’s something that broke my heart and broke me as a man for years to come.  I coped by eating junk food.  I find that the current trend of our weak millennial culture is this notion about being in touch with your feelings and over-reliance on therapy, however, I think you can add the word “therapy” to any vice or addiction in order to rationalize just about anything.  Perhaps it all started with aroma and hydrotherapy although I’ve neglected to do much research on the topic.  For instance, every time I have McDonald’s I call it “McDonald’s Therapy.”  Doing this makes my nasty junk food habit okay and a lot easier to have it align with current societal moods and notions.  I’d advise anyone reading this try this with any of their vices: Oversleeping Therapy, Prostitute Therapy, Procrastination Therapy, Heroin Overdose Therapy, Suicide Therapy – don’t each of those ugly things have much rosier connotations now?

I woke up early the next day hoping to have a head start on Bernice, but when I arrived at her room there was no answer.  The hotel administrator told me she had checked out and that she left me a note.  I read it trying to stay calm, trying not to care, trying to adapt a casual state of indifference but failing miserably:

Dear Jake,

You’re probably not surprised to see that I’ve left.  Despite our little tiff yesterday I really think you’re a nice guy. Thank you for helping me when I needed you.  You can sing Bruce anytime you want from now on and I won’t be there to bust your chops about it, I promise. Take care and stay safe.  Above all, don’t try to follow me.  It’s too dangerous and I don’t want you to get killed. If it’s any consolation I think Lisa might have lost the one man who maybe cares for her the most.

Your friend always

Bernice

I can’t say was surprised, but then something stirred in me after reading that note which I hadn’t felt in a long while.  I was more determined than ever to first find Lisa and also help Bernice some way somehow within my own limited means.  I got on the next flight and quickly determined the fastest way to get to Côte d’Azur.  Every fiber of my body vibrated with anticipation fueled by adrenaline. I hardly remember renting a vehicle or the beautiful countryside of the French Riviera, but I remember feeling like was being pulled to Monaco.  Having been a big 007 fan, I remembered that Roger Moore owned a house there once but there was something else.  It felt as if I was following some kind of Northern Star leading me to a fateful destination and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.  I was starting to get a little tired and hungry but there hadn’t been anywhere to stop for a while so I soldiered on until I reached a rather large and quite lovely chalet.  I half expected the owner to shoo me away seeing as how I was one of those “ugly Americans” who the French have had a tendency to despise, but I was pleasantly surprised to see an elderly Irish woman.  She appeared elderly but not very frail. I could tell she still had her wits about her despite being in her mid to late 80s.  I got out of my car as she carefully approached.  I explained that I had been on the road for some time and that I wasn’t quite sure where I was going.

She told me her name was Johanna. “Welcome, come in and have some tea,” she said. “I was just in the middle of having a lovely conversation with a most remarkable young woman.”

Then, that familiar feeling reappeared in the pit of my stomach as I followed her inside and that’s when I saw her.  It was Lisa as I live and breathe.  She wore this James Bond tank top that I had given her for her birthday last year, which she happily accepted despite the fact that it’s a bit awkward for a guy to buy clothes for his ex. On the front was a depiction of the classic woman in gold paint motif with the word “Bond Girl” written over the top.  She looked marvelous. To me, Lisa was the ultimate Bond Girl, and I say that knowing that the notion may go against the grain of a noted feminist like her.  At the time I wasn’t sure she’d accept it since she had gently given me a ribbing for suggesting that the critique of sexism in Bond movies is invalid.

“Jake what are you doing here?” Lisa asked.

“I should say the same about you.  People are worried sick about you.”

“Oh you mean on social media?  I’ve decided to give it up social media altogether.  It’s just not worth it.  Besides I’m up to something more important.”

“Lisa, your parents, your sister, none of your family knows where you are.  I decided to look for you.”

“And how on earth did you find me here?  Did you know about my plans to interview Johanna Harwood for my book?

“No.  Wait. Johanna Harwood?”

Incredulous, Lisa laughed that lovely laugh of hers.  Then, she walked over to me embraced me, gave me a peck on the cheek. “You’re the only reason I know about her because you told me about her when we were together.  You mean you didn’t know that was her?”

I did a double take, “That’s Johanna Harwood?”

“Yes, and I’m interviewing her for my book on feminism in Hollywood.  One of the earliest chapters will be devoted to her story which I know because you told me all about her.  She was the assistant of Harry Saltzman who co-produced the James Bond movies along with Cubby Broccoli and … You know all this already.”

“Yeah, she co-wrote the screenplays for the first two Bond movies.” I said with enthusiasm. “Is it really her?”

“Yes,” Johanna piped in from behind with a tea kettle in her hand and an empty coffee mug.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Harwood.”

“Why thank you.  I’m surprised this many people know who I am.”

I replied, “Well, I know who you are and when Lisa and I were dating I told her what I knew of your story. Little did I know that she would actually track you down for an interview for one of her books someday.”

Lisa jumped in, “It’s a fascinating story how  Johanna was essentially the first writer assigned to adapt the Ian Fleming novels but then had most of the credit taken away from her once the producers hired Richard Maibaum.  Moreover, the director of the first two movies was reportedly a terrible sexist and kept referring to her as a ‘script girl’.”

“All of that is true, but you know I don’t think I would trade in my experience working for Harry and Cubby back in those days for anything in the world.  I was on the ground floor of something brand new and exciting back then. “

Lisa then asked, “But wasn’t it unfair that these men took all the credit for the work that you did and minimized your contributions?”

Johanna smiled, “You would be right to think that it was unfair.  Perhaps it was, but for some reason I don’t feel bitter about it. I went on to write on other projects, but I never got to direct a film, which was a real dream of mine.”

Lisa jumped in, “Even now it’s very hard for female directors in the entertainment industry.  There are clearly not enough opportunities out there and that’s really what’s going to be at the core of my book.”

“I hope I was of some help to you,” said Johanna. “Now if you’d excuse me it looks like something strange is going on outside.”

I turned around and looked out the window to see a white car approaching with its windshield blasted out and plume of grey smoke rising from behind.  It glided slowly as if it was a wounded animal and then I saw his face.  It was a face I hoped to never see again. It was Consuelo.  The car halted to a stop in the middle of the road and I could see the blood dripping from his forehead all over his suit.  He eyed the chalet and approached.

“We gotta get out of here,” I said.

“Maybe he needs help.  I’ll call an ambulance,” said Johanna.

“No.  I know him.  He’s dangerous,” I said.

“What’s going on?” said Lisa.

“No time.” I said.

I soon determined that exiting the chalet from the back would leave us trapped in Johanna’s open field garden with nowhere to hide so I quickly asked Johanna for the best hiding spot in the house and she suggested the wine cellar.  There was some cover separately for each of us in the corners of the room if we angled ourselves just right behind and in between the racks.  We just had to pray that Consuelo wouldn’t venture down there because we’d each be quite visible with just a little bit of light.

I sucked in my stomach as much as possible to try to fit behind the rack, but it just wasn’t happening.  Before we knew it there was a crash and footsteps stomping hastily on the floorboards above us.  I then heard another car approaching.  More henchmen perhaps? I just listened trying to determine what was going on.

Then, I heard her just outside the entrance to the chalet.  It was Bernice.  She called out, “I know you’re in there Consuelo.  The operation is over.  You lost!”

Then, a gunshot fired and what seemed like sawdust fell into my eyes.  I moved to swipe it away and then I clumsily swiped at a bottle causing it to fall off the rack instead.  Before I knew it, Consuelo bolted down the staircase.  He saw me immediately. “You!” he said. Grabbing me by the collar with a gun to my head, Consuelo led me outside.  My heart sank when I saw the look of dejection on Bernice’s face.

“It’s not over as long as I got your big ugly boyfriend,” he said in his terrible accent.

Bernice lowered her weapon and dropped it to the floor.  I dreaded having to explain to her that this was all just happenstance.   Yes, I was trying to find her, but no, I wasn’t trying to find her quite this way. Everything happened the way it did because I was just . . . me.   That’s what it comes down to really.  I began to reflect that my entire life has been a series of disappointments.  Every essential thing about me from my aspirations of becoming a writer to my relationships with women has all been tainted with failure. I was trapped in a cycle of underachievement and it all appeared to come crashing down on me in what I thought were my final moments.

Surely, Consuelo would shoot me once I stopped being of use to him.  He would use me to secure his escape and administer a prompt injection of led to my skull at the first opportunity.  I began to fathom just how much I’ve let everyone down.  To Lisa, I was this inadequate needy lover who she had to free herself from.  To Bernice, I was this clumsy fat sidekick she never asked for. Finally to myself, I just never amounted to anything.  All those dreams I had of becoming a successful writer one day would now turn to ashes.  Whether I died right now or 70 years from now, in that moment I thought I would never amount to anything.  As the Springsteen song goes, “You sit around getting older / There’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me.”  That’s me. The joke isn’t on me.  It is me. Time for some death therapy to set it all to rights.

Just while I was about to fade into the depths of despair, a loud crash caused Consuelo to loosen his grip on me. I turned around to see Lisa with a shattered wine bottle in her hand.  She had clocked Consuelo from behind.

“Jake, duck!” yelled Bernice.

The gunshots fired with a nasty precision as I crouched to the ground.  The bullets pierced Consuelo’s chest and he collapsed onto the ground like a sack of dead weight.

A look of relief crossed Bernice’s face.  Then she approach to see if I was alright but soon after her attention drifted to Lisa.

I caught my bearings and began to introduce them, “Bernice this is…”

“Lisa.” Bernice guessed correctly.  “Jake has told me all about you.”

Lisa smiled and approached Bernice.

The authorities arrived soon after.  We all gave statements.  Johanna’s niece came to take her away to stay with her family while the scene at the chalet would be investigated and cleaned up.  Before she parted, Johanna marveled at the fact that she never guessed she’d be at the center of a real spy story.

Lisa and Bernice drifted off together and soon after I could tell where it was leading so I sauntered back to my car and drove.   In the end it doesn’t matter that I finally found Lisa.  She was never truly lost.  It doesn’t matter that I helped Bernice back in Puerto Rico, my clumsiness in the chalet nearly allowed Consuelo to get away. My life only adds up to a series of missteps and mishaps that will soon be forgotten.  What becomes of those of us who just never fit in?  We’re all too socially awkward to form a support group and to be quite honest I wouldn’t care to join such a group anyway.  It doesn’t matter because once we’re dead none of us will mean anything to anyone anyway.  It won’t matter to Lisa that I dreamed of a life with her while listening to Bruce Springsteen songs. It won’t matter to Bernice that I tried to be her spy sidekick at a time when I thought she needed one.  Once I’m dead and buried none of this will matter, and I feel foolish for believing that it ever would.

I doubt Bernice and Lisa will last very long together if they decide to pursue a relationship but maybe I’m wrong about that since I’m wrong about so many things.  In fact, I think in this case it would be Lisa who will learn the torment of desiring someone who cannot be held onto very long given Bernice’s life as a spy.  I suspect Bernice will ultimately treat Lisa as her own disposable Bond girl if she hasn’t done so already, but I find myself regretting such cruel thoughts.  I must ask myself instead what have I become.

I now regret having any of those terribly despairing unbecoming thoughts.  After all, I should be above this kind of pettiness.  I think back on the good and the bad of my life and think to myself what’s the point of any of it at all?  The answer never comes.  The only one that does is the cold truth that we all die alone this day or the next.  The only comfort in that is the memory of Lisa’s love and how it warms my heart even now to think of a time when I meant everything to her and she to me. Like the Rolling Stone’s song “Memory Motel,” which motivated me to write this all down goes she’s “just a memory of a love that used to be.”

 

Book Review: Strike Lightning by Steve Cole (Young Bond)

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Young Bond

Steve Cole’s 3rd Young Bond book Strike Lightning comes right off the heels of his second effort Heads You Die.  Cole took over the Young Bond series from Charlie Higson who ended his tenure with By Royal Command which details the events surrounding Bond’s expulsion from Eton.  The Young Bond books themselves are a truly ambitious undertaking.  For those who are unfamiliar with the series, it attempts to fill in the gaps of Bond’s childhood using only the meager details that Fleming included in the his Bond novels, particularly from the obituary featured in the novel You Only Live Twice.  The series has followed young James throughout the 1930s starting at about the point when he was about 13 with Charlie Higson’s SilverFin.

Now with this latest installment, we find James shortly after his first term at Fettes College in Scotland where he finishes his education according to Fleming. Right before Christmas Break, James witnesses the death of a fellow student engaged in suspicious mechanical experiments with a professor. James stubbornly refuses to accept the school’s official conclusion that the death was an accident inadvertently caused by James being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Joined by his Etonian school friend Perry Mandeville, James decides to investigate the murder of his young friend only to find himself in the middle of a high stakes international weapons smuggling conspiracy with the added danger of a secret weapon possibly falling into the hands of Nazi Germany.

I don’t want to give away any SPOILERS regarding the nature of the secret weapon, but it’s one of those things that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief.  In his postscript, Cole details about how such a weapon might have been realized in the 1930s, but even he admits it’s one of those things that while not entirely impossible would have been highly improbable for the period of time in which this story takes place.

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Maximilian Blade

There are quite a few antagonists for James to square off against but not all of them turn out to be who we think they are when we first encounter them.  This is the first instance since Higson’s By Royal Command I could think of where characters employ a kind of subterfuge to disguise their true motives.  The problem for young James is that throughout the book, he has to evade all these antagonists at various times because it would appear that they are all working together in a conspiracy with serious ramifications beyond the murder of his school friend Marcus.  First, there’s Dr. Randolph Whittaker, the science teacher who the students at Fettes refer to as Captain Hook because his hand had been blown off in The Great War.  James’s friend Marcus is killed in Whittaker’s experiment. Then there’s Whittaker’s 18 year old female assistant Herta, who tries to obstruct Bond’s inquiries into the events surrounding Marcus’s death. Both Herta and Dr. Whittaker appear to be using their positions at Fettes College to facilitate weapons research for a disabled owner of a weapons manufacturing company named, Maximillian Blade.  Finally, there’s Ambassador Grünner who appears to be procuring weapons for the Nazis.  All these characters intimidate, obstruct, and harass James at one point or another until James uncovers the truth behind their conspiracy.

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Ambassador Grünner

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Kitty Drift

Luckily, James has some help along the way. He enlists the help of Perry Mandeville, who we last saw at Eton before James was expelled. He also meets up with this book’s Bond Girl – Kitty Drift, a brash, smart, and socially awkward young woman who also happens to be a train enthusiast.  Kitty’s skill set comes in handy and her obsession with train schedules and a mysterious “ghost train” all come to the forefront to help James along the journey, a journey that begins at Fettes College in Scotland, takes him to the hamlet of Ruskie and transports him to The Hague in the Netherlands and finally to an area just south of Düsseldorf in Germany where you can imagine some most perilous dangers await.

At times, Cole offers up a very vivid picture of James’s innermost thoughts and feelings.  At the beginning, he starts to dwell on the fact that since his parents died, he hadn’t truly ever felt at home except for the times when “danger [is] biting at his heels.” James was a child orphaned at the age of 11, and since then his Aunt Charmian has seen to his upbringing, however, much of his time has been spent boarding between Eton and Fettes as well as with the thrilling adventures James has found himself in throughout these 8 novels in the Young Bond series. From very early on in the series, James developed quite a taste for danger and for using his skill set and ingenuity to save himself as well as others.  By the end of Strike Lightning, we see a bit of a shift in James’s thinking about the nature of war and weaponry.  Someone along the way had lectured him about how weapons can be just as much a deterrent to war as they are a tool in warfare itself. He’s told that “Weapons save lives,” but then he asks himself “Is that what I’m becoming?” For the first time, we see Bond briefly confront the realities of his future life as an agent prior to him even realizing what his fate has in store.  It’ll be interesting to see how Cole explores this in his next and final Young Bond entry Red Nemesis due out in the Spring of 2017.

Strike Lightning is a fast paced story with many chases, some actual spying, and many thrilling confrontations.  If you enjoy the series you’ll enjoy this entry as long as you allow yourself to suspend disbelief a little which usually comes with the territory anyway with Bond.

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Steve Cole at Fettes College

Steve Cole was very meticulous in his research for this book and he actually visited Fettes College to find out what life was like there for students in the 1930s.  The school put him in touch with some actual Fettes College alumni from the era and one gets a good sense of the authenticity regarding his descriptions of James’s life at Fettes at the beginning of the book. He also went to The Hague and visited the Hotel des Indes where a pivotal scene takes place so that he could accurately describe the sequence.

Here are my previous reviews of the books in the Young Bond series.

  1. SilverFin by Charlie Higson
  2. Blood Fever by Charlie Higson
  3. Double or Die by Charlie Higson
  4. Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson
  5. Danger Society and “Hard Man to Kill” short story by Charlie Higson
  6. By Royal Command by Charlie Higson
  7. Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole
  8. Heads you Die by Steve Cole

Book Review: My Word is My Bond by Roger Moore

In 2008 Sir Roger Moore released his first book, a memoir entitled My Word is My Bond. The book is an enthralling tale that takes readers through his early childhood, his many years as a venerated actor with such prominent roles as The Saint and James Bond,  up through his present day role as an elder show business statesman and more importantly a celebrity ambassador for UNICEF.  Moore has often been described as a raconteur and this book lives up to that expectation. As a reader you feel like you’re seated with him at your favorite restaurant sipping wine as he relates colorful anecdotes of his long storied career as well as his early childhood. Born in Stockwell, his childhood was plagued by illness and having to evacuate his home town to live in Devon while the threat of bombing raids loomed over London. Moore paints a colorful portrait of his early life and career and provides a rather insightful view into the latter days of the Hollywood studio system where actors would be under exclusive contract to a film making studio and the heads of these studios wielded enormous power and control over the careers of the actors employed by them.

Moore is charmingly self-deprecating throughout holding no delusions as to his actual acting prowess.  One gets the sense that he sees himself as someone  who was extremely lucky having the right look and obtaining the right contacts, friendships, and show business relationships to mold his career over the span of decades. His one literary vice seems to be name dropping, and that is actually the one consistent flaw throughout the book.  Oftentimes an amusing anecdote is accompanied by several tangents where the name dropping can get irritating, but once you get used to it, it can get rather amusing.  Moore is also a self-confessed practical joker.  On his James Bond sets, he would often prey upon Desmond Llewelyn who played Q.  Knowing that Q’s dialogue was rather intricate and full of technobabble, he’d often get hold of the script and change Llewelyn’s lines hours before shooting forcing him to learn new dialogue.  On other occasions, Moore was a peacekeeper as on the set of The Persuaders a TV show where he costarred with Tony Curtis for 1 season as a mismatched duo who went on adventures.  When Curtis called the episode’s guest star Joan Collins the “C-word” Moore was called onto the set on his day off to diffuse the situation.

Upon getting the much coveted role of James Bond, he recalls:

I’d be the first to admit that I’d been living the good life in the previous year or so…. That was brought home to me rather curtly when Harry [Saltzman, co-producer] called me one day.

‘Cubby [Broccolli, co-producer] thinks you need to lose a little weight.’

Okay, I thought. So I started a strict diet.

The phone rang again. ‘Cubby thinks you’re a little out of shape.’

So I started a tough fitness regime.

Again the phone rang, this time it was Cubby. ‘Harry thinks your hair’s too long.’

‘Why didn’t you just cast a thin, fit, bald fellow in the first place and avoid putting me through this hell?’ I replied.

The stories he tells about making the Bond films are quite fascinating as a fan and Moore’s rather unique insight into this experience is always quite compelling and amusing:

Cubby and I visited Maurice [Binder, title designer for the Bond credits sequences featuring naked ladies ofttimes in silhouette] on his shooting stage one day and found him on his knees, lovingly spreading Vaseline over the private parts of one of his female nudes.  He said it was to keep her pubic hairs flat in front of the wind machine, so as not to incur the further wrath of the censor.

I turned to Cubby, ‘And I thought that was one of the producer’s perks?’

In a scene where Bond quips about Egyptian builders knowing full well that a representative of Egypt’s government was on set monitoring their every line, Roger suggested that he simply mouthed the line by moving his lips and not actually saying anything so that they could add the line later in post-production.  Many such stories are cleverly regaled throughout the book, however, when Roger doesn’t have something nice to say about someone he tries to keep it diplomatic by simply stating that he has nothing to say about them as is the case with Grace Jones his co-star on his final Bond film, A View to a Kill.  Jones reportedly took a large black dildo into the bed with her for their love scene, which seems to have perturbed Roger despite his penchant for practical jokes. At the same time, one gets the sense that he may have glossed over his failed marriages although he admits to sharing in some degree of fault for how they ended.  One of his ex wives spent many years denying him a divorce.

What drives the latter third of the book is his commitment to UNICEF, and we learn that despite his life of privilege Moore has done a remarkable job giving back to the world at large through his dedication to UNICEF bringing awareness to the struggle to help children in need around the globe. His major cause since he joined the organization in 1991 is to raise funds and awareness for Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) in many third world countries. It’s a preventable problem that can be resolved by simply ensuring that every household uses iodized salt to avoid all sorts of maladies and mental disorders. Moore frequently meets with heads of state on behalf of UNICEF to urge them to combat IDD in their poorest communities. Roger has led a fascinating life and he is to be commended for his commitment to UNICEF. He has received many honors for his humanitarian work, and in 2003 he was Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II particularly for his work with UNICEF.  Roger Moore may not be everyone’s favorite Bond actor, but he’s lived a fascinating life.  Reading this book, you can’t help but develop a profound respect for the man. On his work for UNICEF he writes:

I’ve often been asked just how much UNICEF receives from the United Nations and why we need to raise funds.  The answer is UNICEF receives nothing from the UN, it is completely self-funded and that is why I – and others like me – go out banging the drum.  Of the money we raise, less than nine percent goes in administration costs around the world; the rest goes directly to the children

 

VARGR Review for Issues 5 & 6

Vargr issue 5 headerApologies for taking so long to finish off this series review of VARGR.  I actually finished reading this compelling series as soon as the last issue arrived, but I didn’t have time to sit down and write a review.  Before I knew it I found myself occupied by other things and this final review just slipped away from me. By now I realize that the latest issues of Eidolon have already hit the shelves, but for now I’ve decided to wait until the hardcover edition comes out as it’s much easier to review the story as one complete work rather than review the individual issues.

When we last left Bond in issue #4, Bond was trapped in a decontamination chamber behind bullet proof glass by the main villain Kurjak who had synthesized a new lethal drug now wreaking havoc in the UK.  The decontamination process started at the end of the last issue and now we begin issue 5 wondering just how our favorite hero will get out.  Not only does he manage to escape, he finds time to enjoy a cigarette afterwards.  Remember, the good ol’ days when Bond smoked?

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We then get a nice little “Peter Franks” call back as Bond returns to London.  Many Bond fans will remember that Bond used the Peter Franks alias in Diamond are Forever.  I thought that was a nice little touch. M. informs Bond that a possible contaminated IMG_20160810_140959842package had just been tracked by MI5 at the local docks.  Bond pursues the lead only to run into Dharma, Kurjak’s accomplice who now seeks revenge for the death of her lover Bryan Masters who Bond killed in the previous issue.  A fight ensues with Bond cleverly dispatching her using her metallic prosthesis to his advantage.  It’s a little disarming watching Bond fight with a woman even if the comic makes Dharma out to be an assassin in her own right.  Usually, we would either see Bond convert her to the side of good, or we would witness her death at the hands of the villain or a female Bond ally.  While, I didn’t expect the writers of VARGR to follow typical Bond tropes from the films, I was expecting something different for this character since they invested so much in her back story in the previous issues.  Later Bond remarks, “and then the batteries in her prosthetic arms explosively combusted” while pouring himself a drink.

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IMG_20160810_141608522We then learn that bond must travel to Norway to pursue a battleship called VARGR where Kurjak’s main operation is based. In issue #6, Bond is equipped with a sniper rifle and a suppressor for his Walther PPK.  The RAF airdrop Bond and he easily infiltrates the ship sets up his explosives and goes about well . . . being Bond.  It’s nice to see Bond in stealth mode for a while as he sneaks about the battleship without anyone taking notice.  When they finally do realize there is an intruder, it’s far too late.  Bond kills just about every guard Kurjak’s sends to pursue him.  We also get a nice helping of hand to hand combat before Bond bolts off the ship and triggers the explosion leaving Kurjak alone and defenseless. Bond demands to know the reasons for Kurjak’s villainy, but Kurjak offers only a feeble response.  Bond kills Kurjak in cold blood and that is the end of the VARGR story.

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Overall, I think there are strengths and weaknesses to VARGR.  I think writer Warren Ellis and artist Jason Masters have done a good job with the characterization of Bond as well the MI6 team.  Even though this is an original story taking place in the present day, it’s easy to tell that they took plenty of inspiration from Fleming as well as the cinematic franchise inVARGR-4 this piece and it shows in how Bond relates to M., Bill Tanner, and Miss Moneypenny.  The repartee between Bond and the MI6 team is damn near perfect.  The action sequences are very well crafted and many panels stand out as great Bond artwork sure to attract many Bond fans.

The story and the villains themselves are a little murky.  I think I was mostly impressed in the early issues before I Meeting-Dharmaknew where they were going with it, but as we got to the end, I felt there are certain things that they could have done more with and certain plot choices that could have been better executed. I think Dharma turns out to be a bit of a wasted character. It would have been nice to have more than just a fatal fight between her and Bond as her final moments in the story.  Also, I think the ending with Kurjak’s demise seemed a bit weak.  I think we had sufficient reasons earlier on to know why Kurjak was engaged in his experiments, and I don’t know why Bond would ask him to clarify his motives at the end rather than just go for the kill.  I also think that the MI6 segments that focus on new regulations prohibiting Bond from carrying a weapon within the UK weigh down the plot quite a bit.

Despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed VARGR and look forward to a new era of Bond comics commencing with Eidolon, which promises the return of SPECTRE for the first time in this comic incarnation of Bond.  I’m glad Bond has returned to the comics medium, and I know there is more to come including a brand new adaptation of Casino Royale.  Furthermore, there is a brand new series called Hammerhead by Andy Diggle and Luca Caslanguida. Indeed, it’s safe to say James Bond will return . . . or rather he’s here to stay.

Heads You Die Review

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Young James

Heads You Die is the 7th novel in the Young Bond series and the second book written by Steve Cole after Charlie Higson’s monumental first five novels in the series.  This book picks up right after Cole’s last offering, Shoot to Kill, where Bond thwarted a dangerous Hollywood blackmail scheme. James (about 14 or 15) and his new school friend Hugo, a 16-year-old boy afflicted with dwarfism, are now in Cuba staying with family friend of Aunt Charmain, Dr. Hardiman prior to embarking on their return trip to Europe.  We know from Fleming’s brief writing on Bond’s youth that Bond will eventually end up going to Fettes College in Edinburgh to complete his education, but Heads You Die has other plans in store for young Bond.  This is quite simply Steve Cole’s best Young Bond novel so far especially for those readers who may have been discouraged by the Hollywood setting of the previous book.  The Caribbean is prime Fleming territory and Cole knows this and utilizes it to optimum effect.

The plot is set in motion when Dr. Hardiman is harassed and then kidnapped by a dastardly villain named Scolopendra, a native of the island who has achieved wealth and power by acquiring a vast and comprehensive knowledge of the island’s botanical treasures.  He needs Dr. Hardiman to work on a mysterious secret project and uses his henchmen to intimidate anyone who stands in his way. James suffered through several encounters with the aptly named El Puňo so christened due to the fact that after the massive man lost his hand, he had a block of granite fixed on to his stump carved into the shape of a fist.

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In addition to Hugo, Bond works with a new set of allies.  Jagua is Scolopendra’s daughter

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Jagua

who has grown disgusted with her father’s cruel methods and Maritsa is Jagua’s best friend.  Jagua is probably the strongest female character of all the Young Bond books.  She’s fiercely rebellious and is able to handle multiple dangers to achieve her goals.  She’s actually very reminiscent of Judy Havelock from Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only short story. Their motivations are different of course but their determination and their strong wills are very much similar. Together the group figures out that the only way to rescue Hardiman and end Scolopendra’s mysteriously cruel secret project is to get some kind of leverage to use against Jagua’s father. A strong box on a sunken cruiser may hold the key to foiling Scolopendra’s plans, but first they must dive.   Here’s where Cole unleashes his inspiration from Fleming. The primitive diving equipment utilized by Jagua and Maritsa, who have grown accustomed to diving provides quite a challenge for young James. With a primitive diving helmet attached to hoses and bellows for air, Bond must dive deep down into the water to recover a mysterious strong box with Hugo pumping the bellows to provide air to the homemade helmet under water.  As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge to navigate, young James promptly discovers he isn’t alone and a thrilling underwater action sequence ensues.

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Scolopendra

Bond must also contend with the mysteriously veiled woman named La Velada who has Scolopendra under her spell much to Jagua’s contempt and decipher what to make of her connections to Russian Secret Police. Multple dangers are in store for Bond to contend with including many chases, being shot at by La Velada, and hiding while a murder takes place.  The following sequences gives us a glimpse at how Cole invests the readers in the psyche of Bond much like Fleming had done.

“ One thought kept spinning around in his head:  If La Velada’s bullet had hit me yesterday, I’d be a corpse on the floor myself. Now Scolopendra had executed a man, and she hadn’t even flinched; clearly they were two of a kind. James shuddered. To shoot a man dead in cold blood, at point-blank range . . .

I could never do that.

While demonstrating just the right amount of restraint, here Cole invests us in Bond’s youth and innocence in a way that foreshadows the man that James will become.  These experiences throughout the Young Bond novels are slowly shaping who James will be, but at this stage the concept of killing in cold blood is shocking to the young man and appropriately so. Clearly, Bond doesn’t know how any human being could possibly commit an act of brutality without remorse or any emotional effect whatsoever.  At the same time, Bond is constantly finding himself in dangerous situations in circumstances far beyond his control.  Take this quote from an earlier chapter:

“Heart hammering as he raced away, James knew that he would never get used to the thrill of danger.  That was its allure.  So much of life was routine and boring, but danger had no rules.  It happened anywhere, could take so many forms.

‘And it looks me up wherever I go,’ he muttered to himself.”

Note the italicized emphasis on the word “never.” Danger is something he would “never” get used to, but he still relished the thrill of it.   For now, in James’s psyche the dangerous situations are not thrills that are sought after but when he happens to come across said danger he enjoys it on some level because he contrasts it with “boring” and “routine” regular life.  It should therefore come as no surprise that the adult Bond would subscribe to a life that guarantees danger with every mission perhaps to relive the same childhood thrill.

Heads You Die is a fantastic novel and I look forward to Steve Cole’s 3rd book, Strike Lightning due out in September where we will finally see how Bond settles into life at Fettes College.  While I don’t blame anyone for missing Charlie Higson, Heads You Die has convinced me that Steve Cole has put Young Bond on the right course.  Not only is able to deliver thrilling action sequences for young james, he also delivers on building upon the character we’ve gotten to know in the previous books.  I highly recommend this latest book and I have no doubt that Strike Lightning will continue to provide the kind of suspense and thrills to exceed our expectations as Bond fans.

  • As a side note, I highly recommend acquiring the limited edition hardcover of Heads You Die available only as an import if you live in the US. Cole provides his insights about where he drew his inspiration for the diving sequences with a notable selection from Fleming’s short story, “The Hildebrand Rarity.”  He also provides a deleted / altered scene from his book for context, which gives the lucky reader a brief glimpse at the creative process involved in writing a Young Bond book.

review by Jack Lugo

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How Stephen King’s JFK Novel Echoes Fleming’s Least Known Bond Novel

Proof that Bond follows me everywhere: I decided to take a little break from reading all things Bond so a while ago I began reading Stephen King’s time travel novel 11/22/63 about a school teacher who ends up going through a portal that takes him to 1958. I wanted to read the book before watching the miniseries on Hulu which deviates a bit from the original novel (fans of King’s novel IT will find the return of few key characters). The owner of the diner where the portal resides implores Jake, the protagonist, to live in the past long enough to thwart the Kennedy assasination (hence the title). So, I’m  about 600+ pages along (the book is about 853pgs long) and I come across this paragraph:
“… at five that afternoon I was sitting across from the Greyhound terminal on South Polk Street, near the intersection of Highway 77 and the still-new fourlane I-20. I was reading (or pretending to read) the latest James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me.”
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Richard Chopping’s dust jacket for The Spy Who Loved Me

Jake then goes on to describe Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrival in Dallas in 1963. It just goes to show that Bond seems to pop up in places where I least expect it, in this case it turned out to be a direct reference to literary Bond. I was initially surprised that King didn’t go for From Russia with Love, which had been published a few years earlier but received a very considerable boost after endorsement from Kennedy. Spy was first published in the UK on April 16th 1962 with Viking Books publishing the US edition on April 11th 1962. In the timeframe of the novel King’s protagonist was actually just a few months shy of the US publication of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which was published on April 1st in the UK by Jonathan Cape while the US edition was held up until August of 1963 once Fleming switched his US publisher to New American Library after leaving Viking Press who published the US editions of the previous Bond books.

Strangely enough, The Spy Who Loved Me is probably the least renown or regarded Bond book in the Fleming series.  I wrote about this over at my own blog some time ago.  It was written from the perspective of a 23 year old Canadian woman in the first person.   Vivienne Michel recounts the story of her life and her woeful relationships with men for about two thirds of the book before James Bond even shows up.  It’s a Bond novel where the focal point is not about espionage or even about Bond at all. It’s about the story of a young woman who had been treated horribly by men her whole life and how such a woman finds herself in the precarious circumstances to be in need of a heroic man like Bond.  Bond eventually arrives and through wit, cunning, and physicality saves her from being brutally raped and killed by gangsters at a secluded hotel.
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Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Fleming’s novel and King’s novel.  For one thing, on a very basic level there’s this switching of narratives going on in both stories.  Both are told from the 1st person perspectives of their protagonists although King’s protagonist is a young male teacher.  Both books, however, set up expectations for the readers only to divert the reader away from what a reader thought he was getting when he picked up the book.  In 1962, most readers picked up the latest James Bond novel expecting yet another spy thriller.  SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld had just been introduced in the previous book Thunderball, but that novel has its own sordid history.  The word “Spy” is even in the title so a reader who just picked up the

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alternate cover for The Spy Who Loved Me, Penguin Edition

book as a literary Bond fan would have undoubtedly expected a new spy thriller.  Instead, readers were treated to a personal narrative about a young woman struggling for independence and respect in her relationships with men in a time where most women were not afforded the same regard as men especially when it came to how they were expected to conduct their personal and professional lives.  Needless to say, this may have been a bit ahead of its time for mainstream readers in the early 1960s. In Stephen King’s book, you have a story about time travel with one of the most infamous days in United States history as the title.  Readers might expect an in depth analysis of the assassination and the historical figures involved.  Well, 600 pages in and the reader spends more time with Jake teaching in a suburban High School romancing the young librarian he was set up with rather than tracking Oswald or Kennedy or engaging in any activity that might alter the timeline.  The book is more about the personal journey than the historical event that triggered the novel.  King does indeed deliver on some things that readers who began reading this book for the historical fiction involved, but it’s not nearly as much as I expected.  Strangely enough I actually find myself enjoying the parts of the story that are completely about the fictional characters more than the instances where the novel returns to the apparent business at hand preventing the assassination.

In one instance, Jake is supposed to be tracking Oswald’s movements when an emergency happens in a crucial moment.  As Jake often reiterates in this novel, “the past is obdurate.  It doesn’t want to be changed.”  Jake is supposed to see if Oswald either acted alone or if he was part of a larger conspiracy.  One way to determine this is by tracking Oswald’s movements during his previous unsuccessful assassination attempt on General Walker who had been widely criticized for supporting racist policies. Jake determines that if he follows Oswald and he attempts to assassinate Walker alone then he most certainly must have acted alone on the fateful day in question.  So, Jake is about to leave his apartment when he gets a phone call and it’s the deranged ex-husband of Jake’s love interest, Sadie.  Jake hadn’t expected to meet Sadie before going into the past so he had no idea that her ex-husband was going to try to kill her on the very pivotal day that would have set the stage for his mission to save JFK. Of course, Jake opts to abandon his plans to follow Oswald in order to save Sadie. If this sounds a bit familiar it’s probably because in a way it’s a little similar to how Bond encounters and saves Vivienne Michel in Fleming’s novel.  Of course, Bond wasn’t a time traveller but he was a man who came to the rescue of a woman in need, a woman at the mercy of dangerous men.  Rather than being of the mindset of having more important fish to fry (if you recall SPECTRE and Blofeld are active threats at this point in the literary Bond timeline), Bond decides that saving Vivienne is the most urgent thing to do at that moment in time.
Sadie’s own history with men even parallels Vivienne’s to some degree because while Vivienne’s life hadn’t been threatened by her former lovers we learn about in the first two thirds of the novel, she had certainly suffered through abusive relationships.  In King’s book, Sadie recounts her husband’s suppressive attitudes towards sex to the degreee that he put a broom in between them on the bed and only allowed her to sexually gratify him with her hand instead of engaging in any kind of affectionate behavior. Indeed, Sadie could have easily arrived in the Texas town of Jodie with the same mindset that Vivienne used to open the start of The Spy Who Loved Me. Reading Vivienne’s words after learning about King’s character in his book almost feels like the two characters are echoes of each other.
“I was running away.  I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs, from the few sticks of furniture and jumble of overworn clothes that my London life had collected around me; and I was running away from drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of close horizons and from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race. In fact, I was running away from almost everything except the law.”
Although I haven’t had a chance to properly dive into the Fleming letters in The Man with Golden Typewriter just yet, for this occasion I decided to peruse what I could find regarding The Spy Who Loved Me.  Here’s what I found. In a letter dated April 18th, 1962, Fleming replies to a Mrs Florence Taylor from Ford’s Book Stores,Ltd who wrote back a rather negative review of the novel after receiving an advance copy.  In her letter she described the novel as “a great disappointment” and went on to say that “I do hope that this is not a new trend in your style of writing.
Ian Fleming replies with grace and decorum:
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” It was really very kind of you to have taken the trouble to write to me and I was touched by your affection for James Bond.
The point is that if one is writing about a serial character one’s public comes to want more or less the same book over and over again, and it was really to stretch my writing muscles that I tried to write like a twenty-three year old girl and put forward a view of James Bond at the other end of the gun barrel so to speak.
But this is a unique experiment and I have just completed the next Bond book, I think the longest yet [he doesn’t say this but he’s referring to OHMSS], in which he appears from the first page to the last.
Again with many thanks for the kindly thought behind your letter.”
The very next letter to Michael Howard of Jonathan Cape further illustrates Fleming going into a rather defensive mode about The Spy Who Loved me to the point of declining a 2nd print run for the novel and for the book to be witheld from the Pan editions.  Clearly, Fleming felt that his experimental approach to this Bond book failed to resonate with readers the way he had hoped. Of course, the next novel would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which resulted in a resounding return to form, but I still wonder what other Fleming books might have been like if his experiment with The Spy Who Loved Me worked.  The possibilities would have been limitless at least for the few more Bond novels that remained to be written before Fleming’s life was cut short in August of 1964.
All those purist out there who think Bond stories must all conform to Fleming’s blueprint should also realized that even Fleming himself was open to experimentation with his books.  As for the similarities between Stephen King’s novel and Fleming’s disavowed Bond book, perhaps they are merely coincidental, but even if they are it’s impossible to deny that certain echoes exists within common story threads.  Whether we choose to see them or not, these echoes are out there for us to find if we want to, not just as they pertain to Bond but as they pertain to life in general.  Anyhow, I just found it rather strange that while I had embarked on a rather decisive non-Bond reading experience, it all came back to Bond in the end.
I initially published this piece on the James Bond Radio Podcast site but I have recreated the piece here for your convenience.
Sources:
1. King, Stephen 11/22/63. Scribner, 2011
2. Fleming, Ian The Spy Who Loved Me. Jonathan Cape, 1962
3. Fleming, Fergus The Man with the Golden Typewriter. Bloomsbury USA, 2015

The Next Threat for Bond 25

Aside from all the click bait articles surrounding Daniel Craig’s status as Bond, the one recent article containing an actual relevant quote pertaining to the future of the Bond films came from the Norwegian film / media site filmweb.no . (update: you can find a proper translated version here)

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Michael G. Wilson

Once you let Google Translate work its magic, you’ll find an article largely focused on the recent London auction of SPECTRE props and vehicles, most notably an Aston Martin DB10 which sold for £2,434,500 (or $3,375,896.81). The article goes on to mention that they had the opportunity to chat with Gregg Wilson, son of EON producer Michael G. Wilson.  Both Gregg and his brother David have done extensive work in the Bond films.  David went on to become the executive producer of the Bond video games while Gregg has worked as both assistant and associate producer since Quantum of Solace (2008). Gregg goes on to briefly describe his earliest experiences in the Bond universe.  He is quoted as saying:

The first memory I have of the Bond films is from set of “Octopussy” (1983). I remember that I visited the huge circus set. It was a very magical moment for a little boy. Later, I also remember that I visited the sets of the Timothy Dalton films “The Living Daylights” (1987) and “Licence to Kill” (1989). There is something very special about walking into a Bond set, you feel right away that you are in a different universe.

He recounts working with David Arnold on the soundtrack to The World is Not Enough (1999) and then working on every film since Die Another Day (2002).  He also describes script development as a real passion of his, and it sounds like SPECTRE (2015) marks the first time that he had the opportunity to get involved in this process.

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Gregg Wilson and Michael G. Wilson

The most fascinating part of the article comes at the very end, however, which is something I can’t imagine any reasonably competent British or American editor allowing in this day in age.  The topic is none other than “The Future of Bond.”  Here Gregg gives us the first glimpse into what the thought process is right now at EON during the earliest stages of planning for Bond 25:

“We’ve just begun to doodle with ideas for the next movie. Each script process begins when we ask ourselves the question: ‘What is the world afraid [of] now?.’ In the case of “SPECTRE” was the theme global monitoring and utilization of information. So now we are trying to find out what will be relevant in the coming years.”

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Gregg Wilson

He further elaborates:

“We always want to do something new with the Bond character and see him in situations we have not seen him in the past. We must give the audience something new every time. After noon movies are not always easy. But often it helps to go back to Ian Fleming’s novels for inspiration, whether you’re talking about grades or mood, says Wilson who is pretty sure Daniel Craig reprising the role agent 007 in “Bond 25”.

Now of course this isn’t much to go on.  I suppose we have all figured that EON has always thought along these lines in order to make each new film relevant, viable, and interesting to modern audiences, but to actually hear someone from the inner circle talk about the process even in the vaguest terms … well, that’s enough to send most hardcore Bond fans into a bit of a frenzy.

So, let’s take a moment to consider real world threats that might somehow potentially play a role in Bond 25.  It’s safe to assume that if Craig returns, SPECTRE / Blofeld will be the main source behind the threat, but let’s set them aside for now and just look at what threats are out there assuming that SPECTRE is malleable enough that it can manipulate any number of disastrous occurrences within the Bond universe.  The threat that probably springs to everyone’s mind immediately is that of terrorism.   It’s a horrible reality of living in our times that the threat of terrorism has become something that we have to contend with and confront no matter where you live. In the Bond universe, we already know that SPECTRE were planning to blow up a stadium full of people in Mexico City before Bond intervened.  In the real world, there is state sponsored terrorism, rogue non state-sponsored terror cells, and lone wolf attacks, any of which can result in enormous tragedy.  There is also cyber terrorism, which Skyfall touched on to some extent before Silva’s motivations were revealed.

How could Bond 25’s theme explore a terrorism threat?  Well, that’s easy. Bond would have to thwart a potential terrorist attack James Bond runningsomewhere in the world hopefully outside of the UK.  I have no doubt that a decent movie could be constructed from such a basic plot, but doesn’t that sound like the plot of a lot of other typical action movies?  Surely, there would have to be more to it than that for it to work as Bond film.  There would have to be global consequences at stake, exotic locations, and a beautiful woman or three to either help or impede Bond’s progress.  Still, this is Bond and while I’m sure we all would want 007 on our side to protect the world from terrorists, I think it’s safe to say that EON might want to go with a more complicated threat.

Beyond terrorism, there has always been a threat of an attack from a rogue government.  Recent rocket testing in North Korea as well as the treaty brokered with Iran have made governments and citizens around the world extremely nervous about the threat of either of these countries achieving nuclear capabilities.  While I’m sure EON would like to avoid inserting real world global politics into Bond, the idea of Bond thwarting a potential rogue country’s nuclear strike is one that I think might have appealed greatly to Ian Fleming.  Of course, in Thunderball we witnessed Bond thwarting SPECTRE’s plan to hold the world to ransom by stealing nuclear warheads. In that case, it wasn’t an actual government Bond was up against because it was SPECTRE behind the threat, but what if Bond had to go up against a government.

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Ian Fleming, 1964

Was it not Fleming himself who said, “Spying has always been regarded as (a) very romantic one-man job, so-to-speak. A one man against a whole police force or an army.” It’s been a long while since we’ve seen Bond go up against the army of an enemy foreign government.  Craig’s Bond has gone up against Le Chiffre, Quantum, Silva, and now SPECTRE but never has he really butted heads with the armed forces of a sovereign power.  This could potentially also bring back the naval intrigue that has been missing from Craig’s Bond films.  Wouldn’t we all love to see Craig put on a British naval uniform aboard a naval vessel or submarine heading into enemy waters?  I know that’s something I’d like to see.

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Imagine Daniel Craig in a scene like this.

Of course SPECTRE could figure into it in some way by somehow lending aid to the rogue government in question, but I’d like to see Craig’s Bond topple the forces of an enemy despot even if it’s a fictional one.  This potential plot intrigues me a lot more than just having Bond thwart a terrorist threat alone.

One other plot that might hold some resonance for modern audiences has sprung to my mind very recently. It involves the recent terrorist lone wolf attack perpetrated in San Bernadino, California by a despicable married couple in December last year.  The reason why this has resurfaced in the news lately has to do with Apple’s refusal to allow the FBI access to hack into the phone owned by the murderers.  There’s a highly contentious debate being held both in the media and very soon in the court rooms about the liability of allowing the government a backdoor channel into privately owned encrypted technological devices.   Both sides to this debate have very legitimate concerns.  On one side, the government wants to have this access so it can potentially save lives while on the other side people are concerned with government surveillance of the private information and correspondence of its own citizens.

Ben-Whishaw-as-Q-and-Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-in-SpectreGetting back to the Bond universe, I believe that while SPECTRE touched on the issue of government surveillance it failed to really focus on it in any meaningful way.  The film doesn’t really delve into the actual implications of Denbigh’s and SPECTRE’s plot to obtain control over the intelligence networks of nine governments.  Bond 25 could potentially rectify this shortcoming by actually framing a fictional plot around a scenario similar to the one happening between Apple and the FBI.  They could go the conspiracy route. If you think about it, do we actually believe that the government lacks the means to hack into one iPhone?  Maybe the government (the fictional one in the film- that is) has already hacked into the phone, but now feels the need to use the situation as leverage to get legislation to have the means to do this on a broader basis.  I could imagine a scene between Q , M., and the Prime Minister like this one:

M: Were you able to hack into the device?

Q: Of course, Sir. . . I didn’t even have to get out of my pajamas.

Prime Minister: Very well, then. Carry on . . . oh and let’s go ahead and send a writ to (Fictional Company’s Headquarters) ordering them to help us construct a back channel to all their devices.

Q: But sir, I have everything we need.

Prime Minister (to M.): You heard me. Do as I ordered.

Please forgive my quickly and inadequately constructed dialogue, but you must get the gist of where a plot like this must be going.  In this case, it’s the Prime Minister and whoever he’s working with (DUN-DUN DUNNN!!-SPECTRE!!!) who is trying to subvert the political power of the government for their own potential gain or profit.  Perhaps SPECTRE is trying to acquire the technology company in question or maybe they just want to continue with their original plan for global surveillance only instead of nebulous platitudes about democracy and drones we have an actual plot with real characters who have a personal stake in the conflict.  There could even be a sympathetic Bond girl who is on the side of protecting the privacy of citizens or aBond Girl sil femme fatale who might lure Bond into doing her bidding as a counter measure to what M. decides is the right thing to do.

There is so much they can potentially do and I’m sure there are many fascinating ideas I may not have included here.  That’s where you come in.  Please, use the comments section below to discuss what you believe should be the next real world related threat for Bond 25?  More than just plot, what themes would you like Bond 25 to explore? What kind of scenarios would you like to see 007 thwart or infiltrate? After all, Fleming even had Bond work for the enemy temporarily in some stories such as in Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun and we haven’t seen that in the film franchise since Licence to Kill (1989).  Feel free to use this space to bandy about ideas. I know you could come up with good ones.

Editor’s Note:  I originally wrote this article for the James Bond Radio podcast website.  You can check it out on their  site

VARGR: Issues 2-4 Reviewed

For my review of VARGR Issue #1, please click here. 

When we last left Bond after Issue #1, he was headed to Berlin to investigate the origins of a new dangerous narcotic drug that has now reached the streets of London.  Both M. and Tanner briefed Bond on a mission and sent him off to pursue a lead given to them by Felix Leiter, an informant named Slaven Kurjak who happens to be a wealthy Serbian doctor with a formidable reputation in prosthetics and genetic development.  Due to a new law enacted by the UK stipulating that British agents could not carry guns within the UK, Bond must commence his travel to Berlin unarmed.

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Dharma

When he arrives, he’s greeted by a mysterious woman named Dharma Reach, who tells him that she and her driver will take him to Berlin Station. Bond is instantly attracted to her and quite expectedly lays on his classic charm although he also notices that something appears to be off about her.  Something is strange bout her hands.  She wears thick black leather gloves, and Bond notices that the grip of her hand feels “armored” or “weighted.” As I read this I couldn’t help but think of Dr. No’s hands.  Dharma then tries to kill Bond by seducing him in the back of the car using her armored hands to choke him, but Bond fights her off causing the car to veer out of control and crash into an oncoming truck.  Bond survives the ordeal although Dharma escapes.

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Bond gets himself to Berlin station to meet up with his real allies before heading over to meet Slaven Kurjak at an experimental prosthetics laboratory. We learn that Kurjak also lost an arm and a leg in the Serbian concentration camps and now wears the same “powered prosthetics” he seems to be developing. It doesn’t take long for the reader to figure out that there must be some

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Kurjak

kind of link to the woman who attacked Bond earlier given the presence of the same kind of prosthetic limbs in both Dharma and Kurjak, the supposed informant.  Something most certainly seems off and as we see Bond walk past one of the glass enclosed rooms on his way out of the laboratory, our suspicions are confirmed. Dharma emerges behind a muscular man who appeared at the end of issue #1, a henchman afflicted with anhedonia named Mr. Masters with orders to kill Bond. Much like Renard in The World is Not Enough, Mr. Masters’ condition leaves him with the inability to feel pain or even pleasure when we later learn that Dharma and Masters are also lovers.

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Dharma, Kurjak, and Masters

In Issue #3 we learn that both Dharma and Mr. Masters work for Slaven Kurjak, who has just sent Bond into a trap by telling him that the drugs are being manufactured out of a garage run by members of the Al-Zein Clan, who happen to be a powerful

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Bond shoots an Al-Zien Clan member

European criminal cartel.  Kurjak has Masters and Dharma follow Bond to finish him off in the unlikely event that Bond makes it out of the garage alive.  Of course, we all know 007 doesn’t die very easily as we are treated to a really fantastic action sequence featuring Bond eliminating all the Al-Zein Clan members in the garage despite being outgunned and outnumbered.  He sleekly maneuvers himself around various scaffolding to get leverage on each member kicking over boxes and eventually gunning them all down.

Dharama informs Kurjak who now says that he is activating condition “VARGR,” which seems to consist of killing not only all of his workers at his laboratory but also killing everyone over at Berlin Station.  Mr. Masters heads over and ambushes all of Bond’s Berlin Station allies leaving us to wonder what Kurjak’s scheme could possibly be that would lead him to such drastic measures.

Issue 4 starts with Mr. Masters greeting Bond very much reminiscent to how Red Grant greeted Bond in From Russia with Love.

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Masters greets Bond

Masters attempts to earn Bond’s trust the same way Dharama did, but it doesn’t take long for Bond to figure out that something is off about him as well.  Bond uses his cell phone and tells Masters that he’s making a personal call to ward off Masters’s concerns about Al-Zein tapping all the phones.  Of course Bond is really speaking to Tanner and M. using discreet language to inform them of the status of the mission pointing them to “my cousin’s friend.”  In this case, the cousin is of course the CIA and Leiter and the friend is Kurjak, the supposed informant.  M. also informs Bond that the cocaine that had been causing problems in London had been altered or synthesized in some way to also carry a highly infectious disease.

Masters leads Bond back into Kurjak’s laboratory where everyone working there has been slaughtered. Bond tries to get the jump on Masters but Masters is able to counter Bond easily because he is impervious to pain.  No amount of punching, stabbing,

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Bond fights Masters

or kicking could possibly overtake Masters until Bond happens upon a hypodermic needle and some oxytocin.  Just as Masters is about to finish Bond off, Bond injects the needle into the back of Masters’ thigh and plunges the drug into his system.  The highly concentrated dose stimulates the dopamine levels and leaves Masters helpless.  Bond interrogates Masters only to find out about some project named “VARGR” before administering a lethal dose of oxytocin into his neck.   He then turns around to find Kurjak standing behind a plated glass partition, which he quickly learns to be bullet proof.   Kurjak confirms his involvement in the synthesis of the new drug and informs Bond that he wasn’t so much of a victim in the Serbian concentration camps as he was a participant.  His fascination for controlled experiments was born out of watching the inmates drink from a contaminated water supply and determining how long it would take for many of them to get sick and for the dysentery to spread.  Kurjak coldly informs Bond of the decontamination cycle about to commence in Bond’s section of the room as he leaves Bond to die with the room expected to reach 300 degrees Celsius.  Bond must urgently use his wits to escape the burning inferno that is about to engulf the room.  He reaches for some tools and a chemical canister and tries to burn a hole through the glass partition in order to escape.  Will he escape in time?  He’s Bond so we know he will, but in order to find out how, we must wait for Issue #5.

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Kurjak behind the bullet proof glass

So far, I’m very impressed with the story and the artwork of this series.  Warren Ellis has constructed a suitable classic spy thriller with a very clever balance of the realistic and the fantastical.  I’m interested to find out more about Kurjak’s plot with the synthetic drug and what his ultimate end game might be.  Is there some personal motivation for what he’s doing and how does everything tie back into his work in prosthetics?  Obviously, both Dharma and Masters were working for him out of some personal sense of duty because they both needed his services.   I feel bad for the victims over at Berlin Station.  They were all killed off quite quickly and they seemed like a friendly bunch who might have come to Bond’s aid had they been able to figure out what was happening.  Artist Jason Masters does a great job with the action sequences.  All the action is very easy to follow in addition to containing some very remarkable artwork.  There are some frames that I imagine many Bond fans will greatly admire.

I look forward to seeing how this VARGR storyline will resolve.  It’s great to see Bond make a comeback to the comics medium because Bond is an ideal kind of character for comics.  There’s a visual aesthetic that is integral to Bond that is unique to him and I’m glad to see both Warren Ellis and Jason Masters tap into that and put it right there on the page for Bond fans to appreciate.  I’m someone who doesn’t regularly read comics so it’s a very different experience than reading a novel or seeing a film, but as a Bond fan all of my favorite elements are there.  The visuals are all well executed and the story has enough intrigue to keep me interested to find out more.  I suppose in a novel, we might have been treated to more information about the motivations of certain characters. I’d like to know more about Dharma’s role in all this as I think she’s the most fascinating of all the original characters. Will she remain loyal to Kurjak or will she switch to Bond’s side?  That’s why I suppose I enjoy reading a story as a novel as opposed to a comic.  In a comic, you’re getting the action and the dialogue and you must wait from issue to issue to have your questions answered.  In a novel, you can just read it and you get all the character motivations and a perhaps a better sense of where the story is going as you read it.  It takes a little more patience when reading a comic because each issue ends with more questions and you have to wait for the next issue to hope your questions will be answered.  I definitely encourage Bond fans to check out VARGR and get a hold of the issues if you haven’t already.  It’s a 6 issue story so I will probably wait until after the 6th issue to complete my review.

Editor’s Note:  I originally wrote this review for the James Bond Radio podcast website.  You can check out my review on their site here. 

 

Some Kind of Hero – Book Review

With its meticulous research into the history of the Bond film franchise and close attention to many of the franchise’s little known details, Some Kind of Hero is the ultimate nonfiction book for Bond fans. Authors Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury conducted over a hundred interviews with noteworthy participants in the Bond film saga, uncovered countless little known facts, shed light on many of the franchise’s unsung heroes, and poured years of research into a well-crafted epic tome. It’s a worthy addition to anyone’s library whether you’re a hard core Bond fan familiar with the franchise’s history or a casual fan looking to read and learn more about the Bond phenomenon.

The only thing that would have cemented this book as even more definitive would have been an interview with Sean Connery himself.  Rest assured, the authors landed interviewssean-connery_8814825-original-lightbox with every other Bond actor and then some. Connery, however, has become notoriously elusive in recent years. Although he has been seen a number of times in public, I imagine it would be a challenge to land an interview with him particularly if the sole topic was to be about Bond and not say Scottish independence.  The authors recount their efforts to get an interview with Connery in the Introduction and they did in fact come very close.  I suppose an in-depth interview with Connery relating his side of the story in regards to his experience as 007 might make for a book of its own.  Even without Connery’s participation, I think the authors did a fantastic job of informing the readers about many of Connery’s concerns and issues with the franchise as well as the producers without necessarily taking sides.

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Ian Fleming with producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli

The personalities of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman permeate this book.  In fact, I feel I have better sense of who those two individual men were as people than I did before reading it.  Each of these men whose names have become synonymous with the James Bond film franchise has an early chapter devoted to them before the main crux of the book continues with a chapter devoted to each Bond film.  As the narrative unfolds, the authors impart many subtle details and personality traits of each of these men along with the roles they took on as the partnership progressed.  There are quirky details like Saltzman’s unenthusiastic reaction to Paul McCartney’s condition that he be the one to perform the song he wrote for Live and Let Die when Saltzman would have preferred Thelma Houston.  Prior to that Cubby Broccoli described Ian Fleming’s disappointment at having had his meal pre-ordered for him at a restaurant in Turkey. The most fascinating chapter, however, is devoted to the ultimate breakup of their partnership after The Man with the Golden Gun.   The complex details concerning the dissolution of their partnership are explored in a chapter the authors call “Two Scorpions in a Bottle – Broccoli vs Saltzman.”  Here, we learn from Harry’s son Steven that film title designer Maurice Binder served as a “back-channel” between the two producers when they were most at odds.  We also learn a great deal more about the circumstances that led to Harry Saltzman being forced to sell his shares and controlling interests to United Artists.

Some Kind of Hero also gives us a very compelling look at some of the unsung heroes in the Bond franchise.  Of particular note is Johanna Harwood whose screenwriting contributions remain largely unrecognized within Bond fan circles.  The authors were

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Johanna Harwood

lucky enough to sit down for an interview with Harwood, who has not frequently spoken publicly about her role in the Bond saga.  She enters the story as Harry Saltzman’s assistant but her actual role was to write scripts. She described Saltzman’s personality at one point saying, “[His] big fault was that he was tactless. He was always rubbing people  up the wrong way because he was saying things, unkind things but he wasn’t actually unkind.  He never thought this might upset this person . . . He was an extraordinarily good salesman.  If he had one really big quality, I would say it was he could sell anything.  He could go off with an idea and sell it to anybody. What he couldn’t do later was develop the idea.”

Saltzman first tasked Harwood with writing synopses of all the Ian Fleming books and it would appear that Harwood did a considerable amount of work prior to Richard Maibaum coming on board submitting her own scripts and developing early adaptations of Fleming material.  She even wrote her own Bond short story called “Some Are Born Great.”  Harwood went on to receive screenwriting credits on Dr. No and From Russia with Love but her work on Goldfinger remains uncredited.  Although many of her contributions may have been changed by subsequent writers especially on From Russia with Love, the authors of Some Kind of Hero have done Bond fans a tremendous service by getting her story down and shedding light on the important role she played during the creative process of those early Bond films.  Harwood also co-wrote EON’s early non-Bond movie during the sixties called Call Me Bwana.

Also of note are some of stories the authors have uncovered which have garnered media attention over the past several months.  First there was the story of how Amy Winehouse might have done the theme song for Quantum of Solace were it not for her untimely death.  David Arnold had “sketched out” some musical ideas leaving the lyrics for Winehouse to complete.  The authors were also able to get Pierce Brosnan to unleash a few more details about his departure as Bond. Brosnan describes the phone call he received after his agent informed him that negotiations for him to star in his fifth Bond film had stopped.  Brosnan told the authors that he “was utterly shocked and just kicked to the kerb with the way it went down.”

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All in all Some Kind of Hero reads very swiftly despite its rather thick appearance.  Although the book clocks in at over 700 pages, the main narrative is actually just over 600 pages with the notes and index taking up the last 100 pages.  It could be read either from start to finish or one might decide to read chapter by chapter as you watch the films chronologically. I’m glad to have read it once all the way through, but I could easily see myself returning to Some Kind of Hero as I re-watch the Bond films re-reading each chapter that corresponds to whichever film I decide to put on.  I feel like this book tells the story about the key people involved in the Bond saga better than most books on the subject.  You get a real sense of the personalities involved, the various conflicts that ensued, and a rationale behind many of the decisions that were made.  Each chapter in the Bond saga is given its due and although it’s obviously way too vast to convey the entire scope of this book into one review, it’s safe to say that I believe most Bond fans would benefit from reading Some Kind of Hero regardless of how well-versed they believe themselves to be regarding the history.

Review by

Jack Lugo

jack with some kind of hero

 

 

 

 

 

I originally posted this review over at the James Bond Radio podcast website but I recreated the review here for your convenience. You can find the original review posted over at jamesbondradio.com here: http://jamesbondradio.com/some-kind-of-hero-book-review-by-jack-lugo/?utm_content=bufferdc0eb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer