PolestarWith the DVD release of Quantum of Solace coming up on March 24th (March 23 in the UK), this seemed like an opportune time to review James Bond 007: Polestar, Titan Books’ most recent compendium of 007 comic strips from British newspapers. This book contains five stories that were written in the 1980s. Ultimately only two of them  appeared in newspaper form, however, so fans of the original strips will find added interest in Titan’s latest collection.

James Bond 007: Polestaris the 15th collection of 007 newspaper stories that Titan has published. At the end of the book is a checklist of the syndicated strips that are the basis of this series. Britain’s Daily Express newspaper began publishing James Bond comic strips in 1958. Initially the stories were adapted from Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, beginning with Casino Royale. When the supply of these was exhausted, writers were hired to create original stories. The last few strips to appear in a British newspaper were published in another tabloid, The Daily Star. These were bracketed by seven syndicated strips that were not featured in UK papers. The final five of those stories comprise the contents of James Bond 007: Polestar.

The name of Ian Fleming appears on the cover of this volume but none of the stories inside was penned by him. All five were written by Jim Lawrence. Three of them, ‘Flittermouse’, ‘Polestar’ and ‘The Scent of Danger’, were drawn by John McLusky, while the other two, ‘Snake Goddess’ and ‘Double Eagle’, were illustrated by Yaroslav Horak. Between them, these two had drawn all but one of the Bond serials intended for syndication (the exception was ‘Doomcrack’, which appeared in the Daily Star in 1981).

As might be expected of Bond stories penned especially for newspaper strips, the literary quality is variable. Fleming apparently anticipated something of the sort when the idea of adapting 007 stories for a newspaper was mooted in the 1950s.

“The Express are desperately anxious to turn James Bond into a strip cartoon,” he is quoted as saying on the Wikipedia page for the comic strip series. “I have grave doubts about the desirability of this.”

Of the strips included in James Bond 007: Polestar, the titular story is probably the best. The tale finds Bond journeying to the Northwest Territories in Canada to find the perpetrator of missile attacks on Soviet Russia and the United States. The chief suspect is the owner of Polestar Petroleum, which has a facility located in the Canadian Arctic. As is typical in Bond tales, our hero meets and mixes it up with an attractive woman who helps him to outwit the villain in an action-packed finale.

The other stories in this collection are a mixed bag. ‘Flittermouse’ is a macabre and fat-fetched tale that pits Bond against a villain called Dr. Cat. The Doctor’s raison d’être is training animals to carry out assassinations. As is common in these stories, Bond is led to the villain by mysterious and unusual murders. In this case Bond tracks Dr Cat to a castle on the Rhine, where he has to fend off a swarm of trained blood-sucking bats (hence the title) before he escapes. (Although animal assassinations are said to be Dr. Cat’s speciality, attacks by wild animals occur in all of the stories in this volume). ‘Flittermouse’ is a tale more reminiscent of 1940s superhero comics than James Bond.  ‘Scent of Danger’, ‘Snake Goddess’ and ‘Double Eagle’ are more conventional Bond material.  All three involve elements of mystery and are solid action adventures.

The illustration in the newspaper strips was never intended to be as artistic as that in the best North American comic books. While it is not detailed, though, it is dynamic. It is also risqué at times. In a departure from the Bond movies, 007’s encounters with beautiful women often include full frontal nudity. There’s not much titillation to be derived from a 2.0” x 2.5” monochrome pencil drawing, however. Besides, that could be found elsewhere in the Daily Star, which has always featured pictures of scantily clad women (news articles, on the other hand, are less common).

While the strips in James Bond 007: Polestar aren’t as as substantial or well-written as Fleming’s Bond novels, they are good nostalgic fun and an essential read for the Bond completist. Moreover, this volume contains three other interesting items for 007 devotees. The first is a brief Introduction by actress Valerie Leon, who appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me and Never Say Never Again. Following that is a background piece on Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica and the birthplace of Bond. It sounds like an enjoyable place to visit. Given its beautiful location, this piece would have benefitted from colour photographs of the lush surroundings.

The third item that prefaces the comic strips is a fascinating account of a Peruvian James Bond comic book that ran from the late 1960s to 1971. That publication also included adaptations of Fleming’s novels and original stories.  According to the article, by Johnny Dreskov, it sold well until it ceased publication because of political pressure. Apparently it was seen as imperialist propaganda by the left-wing government of the time.

Titan Book’s James Bond 007: Polestar is 128-page large format paperback book. It is currently available and has the ISBN number 9781845767174.

Michael Simpson is the Associate Editor of the Vancouver-based film and TV website CinemaSpy and a freelance writer on a wide range of topics (CinemaSpy; Home).

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