James Bond: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Van Jensen and Dennis Calero (graphic novel review).

May 14, 2018 | By | Reply More

Since it was first published in 1953, ‘Casino Royale’ has been a marker of both the pleasures and the problems of the James Bond character and the various media in which he’s been portrayed. The book’s opening lines, ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning’ is now seem apropos for Fleming’s literary Bond, reflecting a mixture of sophisticate spy and grimy paid murderer.

It would be the first on-screen adaptation for Bond, with an American TV network hopelessly missing the point and giving the world Barry Nelson as an American Bond. For all its troubled production and ultimately slight connection to Fleming and Bond as we know him, the 1966 ‘Casino Royale’ film would provide something of a meta-commentary on the cinematic rendering of Bond as the ‘original’ James Bond, played David Niven, laments a man ‘…vocationally devoted, sublimely disinterested. Hardly a description of that sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of dead beautiful women like so many blown roses behind him – that bounder to whom you gave my name and number.’

Deciding to reboot the franchise with a film adaptation of the story in 2006 with Daniel Craig, ‘Casino Royale’ became the mark of a gritty and brutalist modern interpretation of Bond, far from the camp that the character had started to accrue. While it will always be the first, ‘Casino Royale’ has become a focal point of re-invention and rebirth for the character.

Dynamite Entertainment’s adaptation of ‘Casino Royale’ promises excitement by virtue of it being the first graphic novel version of ‘Royale’, though the story was also adapted as a comic strip for the ‘Daily Express’. On subsequent reading, the graphic novel is indeed a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s book, but one that is a reminder of how hard it is to divorce Fleming’s original narrative from the cultural icon that Bond has now become.

The story seems familiar now, even to those not well versed in the Bond canon. James Bond, an agent of the British government, must head to a casino in Royale-les-Eaux with a view to bankrupting SMERSH agent Le Chiffre at the baccarat tables, not only denying the enemies of Britain much needed cash but also discrediting them in the eyes of their supporters. Bond’s luck at the table ebbs and wanes but, with fellow British agent Vesper Lynd watching over him, alongside CIA agent Felix Leiter, maybe Bond will win. But there will be a heavy price to pay beyond the gaming tables.

While Dynamite Entertainment’s on-going Bond series is contemporaneous with the modern era, this adaptation of ‘Casino Royale’ is set firmly in the early 50s. It’s funny how little seems dated in this tale, with perhaps only Bond’s vintage Bentley seeming somewhat quaint. It is perhaps indicative of the rarefied atmosphere of the casino that the book spends much of its time wallowing in it’s a place out of time, with its own rules and customs and a place far removed from a world still wounded from the war. Dennis Calero’s art gives the casino something of a dark opulence, with hints of grandeur but swathed in dark blue and black shadows.

In some ways, Calero has his work cut out for him in giving energy to proceedings, much of Fleming’s book is concentrated on the pivotal game of baccarat. With Fleming’s prose alone, which contains his usual level of journalistic detail, the scene veers between tense and information overload. Visually, it’s much harder to give everything a dramatic impetus but Calero tries, upping the moody feeling even more and trying to give each deal of the cards as much impact as a Superman punch.

Bond himself is the thin and cruel character of Fleming’s original books, with Calero basing him close to Fleming’s description and there’s more than a touch of Hoagy Carmichael about him and his suavity and charisma, all emphasised in his cinematic outings, are off-set by a snobbishness and bluntness of character. His skills as a spy are emphasised with captions, with Bond recognising gun calibres or approaching enemies. While narratively effectively, the tropes overuse in the likes of ‘Sherlock’ and numerous US TV shows do slightly jar with the tone of the rest of the story.

The latter half of the story, with Bond’s brutal torture and subsequent slow recovery, are effective but also emphasise that the pacing of ‘Casino Royale’ is slightly off as the tonal shift in the story is quite dramatic. Of course, the final stages of the book with Bond and Vesper Lynd’s tragic story waiting to unfold will always be marked by the large dose of misogyny at the heart of the story, with the now infamous final lines both an affirmation of the cynicism at the heart of Bond but also of the problems with the way in which Fleming approached female characters.

Writer Van Jensen, alongside Calero, has crafted an effective adaptation of Fleming’s story, which manages to be true to Fleming’s original while adding its own flourishes, including, bizarrely, visual cameos for what looks like Peter Capaldi, Patrick McGoohan and Eddie Izzard to make it a worthwhile purchase for any Bond fan.

Laurence Boyce

May 2018

(pub: Dynamite Entertainment. 160 page hardback graphic novel. Price: $24.99 (US), £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-52410-068-1)

check out website: www.dynamite.com/htmlfiles/

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Category: Comics, Spy-Fy

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About Laurence Boyce

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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