Warren Ellis is not the first writer that comes to mind when you think of the James Bond property. When he was announced as the author of the newly launched comic series, many of us thought it an odd choice. Ellis is, after all, known for his madcap insanity, high concepts, and bizarre violence. Now that “Vargr,” the first story arc of the new 007 series, is complete, it’s safe to say that publishers Dynamite Entertainment made exactly the right choice; Ellis delivers a pitch perfect take on the James Bond of Ian Flemings’ books.
Of course, taking on a property as big as Bond can be a challenge, even for a guy with a résumé like Ellis’. “I just focused,” Ellis told us. “This project was undertaken with the Ian Fleming literary estate, with the intent of it being an ‘Official Continuation’ of the Bond of the books—nothing to do with the films. Which was surprisingly freeing, in a certain sense. It’s the Bond of the films that’s become the common coin of the culture, and the original Bond is a much different beast.” In keeping with the spirit of the books, Ellis said he was able to avoid the preconceived notions fans of the film Bond might have. One only has to read the first issue of “Vargr” to know this is not the James bond of the film franchise.
One of the ways that Ellis’ version of Bond is clearly separate from the film franchise Bond is the level of violence. Sure, any version of Bond involves lots of guns and over-the-top deaths, but “Vargr” shows these deaths—most of which are the result of a particularly vicious bullet designed by Q—in extreme and bloody detail. “Oh, there’s clearly something wrong with the man,” Ellis said. “It’s one reason why the Bond of the book is so compelling, but it’s also the action of a man in love with death, inviting the potential of his own.” When I mentioned that “Vargr” seemed to be pretty nasty at times, Ellis wasn’t having it. “James Bond drowned a guy in a ton of birdshit one time,” he said, referring to the climax of the novel Dr. No. “I want you to take a minute to think about exactly what it’d be like to have your nose, mouth, throat and lungs fill up with birdshit until you died. Now tell me I’m too violent. Go on. Birdshit.”
Aside from the violence (although, of course, not birdshit-level violence), Ellis introduced a major drug storyline into James Bond’s world. He told us this wasn’t out of bounds for the character and was perhaps an important part of updating him. “Fleming does touch on the drug trade, just once, in Risico.” It just wasn’t a big part of Fleming’s world when he was writing Bond. If he’d lived longer, I suspect we would have seen drug crime-related stories from him. I jumped off of Risico for ‘Vargr,’ taking that short story as indicative of Fleming’s intent and using it as an excuse to write a more modern crime situation while staying inside my literary boundaries.”
The humor in “Vargr” is often at Bond’s expense, especially when it came to his weapon of choice, the Walther. Did this seeming hatred of Bond’s famous sidearm come from Ellis? As it turns out, it has roots in deep in the development of Bond. “Geoffrey Boothroyd himself—the gun expert who sent Fleming such a shitty note about Bond’s guns and craft that Fleming immortalized him as Major Boothroyd in the books, Q in the films—hated the Walther only slightly less than he hated Bond’s original Beretta,” Ellis said. “Boothroyd is the whole reason Bond switched to the Walther. Boothroyd himself liked magnums. [Q’s] line in ‘Vargr” about ‘ladies’ guns’ is actually close to a direct quote of something Boothroyd said in a TV interview.”
With “Vargr” now being collected in a gorgeous hardcover and Warren Ellis and Jason Masters launching their second Bond story arc, we’d hoped this creative team might be sticking around for a while. Unfortunately, Ellis told us he’s ready to hang it up after “Eidolon” wraps.
“I think two Bond books is probably enough for any continuation author,” Ellis said. “Time to let someone else have a go. I’ve already sent on my development notes, so the next author knows where Bond’s shirts and cigarettes come from in 2016. That was a week out of my life—trying to reconstitute the book Bond’s tastes and habits in 2016! I’m not saying I’ll never write another Bond book, but I’m done for now.”
Images: Dynamite Entertainment