Friday, January 13, 2012

James Bond: Nightbird

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of James Bond: Nightbird (Titan, 2010).

The James Bond newspaper strip is unique among the many classic reprints that Titan has released, in that it's the only one that's been collected in book form out of order. This is a little confusing, but, even though they lack volume numbers, the seventeen books do, in the end, reprint the entire run of the strip and in order, but they were not published in a beginning-to-end sequence. In perhaps the weirdest moment, the effective "book thirteen" of the run was published last. This is Nightbird, a book that contains three stories from 1976-77: "Nightbird," "Hot Shot" and "Ape of Diamonds."

It's possible that Titan skipped around sometimes in the hopes of finding the best quality material possible, and did not wish to publish before firmly knowing that they'd done their very best. After all, there are several strips in "Ape of Diamonds" which really do suffer from quite poor reproduction. This is the tradeoff for having these strips reprinted at all, in any format. Searching through newspaper archives looking for the original masters did, in many cases, turn up some incredibly neat gems, such as the Ron Embleton samples seen in another volume, and this one collects a never completed, and never printed, series of twelve strips of an abandoned strip from the early 1980s. If a few rough panels of a subpar story were the tradeoff to find that kind of rarity, then I'll take it.

On the other hand, maybe this book was published last because the stories are, and let's be charitable, pretty horrible? The 1970s Bond stories by Jim Lawrence and Yaroslav Horak - assisted in the final story by Modesty Blaise's Neville Colvin, who ghosts several strips in a quite remarkable pastiche of Horak - have a tendency towards grandiose plots that are just about this side of believable, but only if you're willing to believe the comic book supervillain trappings. "Nightbird" could have been a decent enough story about high-profile kidnappings, but with a criminal gang that uses "alien" costumes and a getaway ship shaped like a gigantic bird, it gets sillier by the panel. And by the time the trained super-gorilla shows up and Dr. No returns from the dead, you're waiting for Bond to don a cape and mask himself. Not recommended.

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