James Bond is back! And not just on the big screen—Britain’s most famous spy has returned to comics after decades away in today’s release of James Bond #1 by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters. To mark the release of issue one, we spoke Ellis to discuss how he brought Ian Fleming’s classic hero to life.
The first issue of Ellis and Masters’ James Bond 007 kicks off a whole new story for Britain’s greatest spy—fresh off getting vengeance on the man who kill his fellow agent 008, Bond is tasked with investigating a mysterious organization behind a new drug hitting the streets of the United Kingdom. Soon he finds himself on a globetrotting adventure and his life at risk at every turn. It’s a classic Bond tale. We’re pleased to exclusively reveal a variant cover for James Bond 007 #1, with art by Dennis Calero for Tate’s Comics below—if you’d like one yourself, they’re available to order online.
io9: There have been so many interpretations of Bond over the years—Fleming’s novels, the newspaper strip, the myriad movie incarnations. What inspired your take for the series? What sets your Bond apart from what’s come before?
Warren Ellis: This is the Ian Fleming Bond—the Bond of the books, a direct commission from Dynamite Comics and the Ian Fleming literary estate. The single real difference is that I’ve set it in the present day, having expressed that preference to the estate because I didn’t want to do period pastiche. Beyond that, you should consider it as taking place somewhere in the last half of the Fleming canon.
This series represents the first time Bond has been in comics since the mid-90s “Goldeneye” adaptation. What drew you to the idea of working on a James Bond comic now?
Ellis: Well... I was asked. I honestly don’t know when the last Bond comic was, but I always knew it had a history in the form going back to the 1950s, pre-dating the films. And Bond is one of those British icons, like Doctor Who, that is hard to turn down when it’s offered.
In the first issue you’ve included a diverse supporting cast for Bond—there’s Moneypenny, a black woman, but you also have a black version of M, and the cafeteria scene in MI6 is shows a diverse background of staff as well. Was that a conscious decision, as well as to keep Bond as traditionally close to the original as possible?
Ellis: Because this is the Bond of the books, he has to remain the same as the Bond of the books here—I don’t have the fluidity available to the film version. But since everything else has moved into contemporary times, it was necessary to reflect that in his surroundings, relationships and interactions. I wasn’t interested in a time capsule. Bond himself has, of course, also changed somewhat in the time-shift—as “the ordinary man” that Fleming conceived him as, his social politics start from a different baseline.
Your Bond leans closer to Fleming’s classic interpretation of the character—a character very deliberately of his own time. What was it like taking that character—with ideals and manners that might be seen as dated today, such as Bond’s approach to women—and bringing him into the 21st Century?
Ellis: As I say—different baseline. He’s not a fossil. You have to bring him forward into the modern day without altering his personality. His mores and ethics in the books are formed by the times—you can alter those simply by stating, well, he wasn’t born before World War 2, so why would they be the same? His core personality, though—the callousness, the vengefulness, the misanthropy—can stay the same. And I do tend to think of it as misanthropy rather than misogyny. Yes, certainly, Bond expresses misogyny in the books and the films, but it’s also worth noting that in the books he has one single friend. One. I don’t think it’s softening or dismissing his misogyny to state that Bond in fact hates almost all people. He has specific issues with women, but he has specific issues with almost everybody.
That said: moving the timeline forward, even Bond, as an “ordinary man” as expressed by Fleming, can work with women and people of color without blatantly frothing at the mouth. Still doesn’t make him a nice guy. Just a product of his time and society, just as Fleming’s Bond was a product of his. Does that make sense?
You’re working with Jason Masters on the series. What’s it been like working with him, and designing the look of your own James Bond universe together?
Ellis: Jason’s been great. He has such an eye for environment, architecture and physical detail that he’s basically carrying me a lot of the time and I’m hoping people don’t notice. Shit. Well, that’s out of the bag. Jason’s the most important part of this whole enterprise, and he’s been killing it. The point has always been that this is the real world, these are real places, and Jason puts its feet on the ground in every panel. Amazing stuff.
Speaking of the first issue and Jason’s art, the series opens with a spectacular silent sequence of Bond hunting down 008’s killer. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of creating that scene, and why you wanted to open the comic with a chase like that?
Ellis: Simply? I couldn’t resist trying a film-style cold open. It was certainly a way to bridge expectations for people who’d only seen the films, but really... how could I not try that? I’ll never get a better chance. But it also let us set the tone for the books—no wild acrobatics, no impossible stunts, no gimmicks or gags, just as grim and grounded as could be, in one of those apparently endless construction sites for Brutalist beige buildings that seem to ring Helsinki. If I’d wanted a gag, I would have had them run through the death metal karaoke bar that sits on the other side of that railway. Don’t get me wrong, I love even the wackiest of the Bond movie cold opens—the one with the Union flag parachute [1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me] comes to mind. But that’s not this book.
You’re currently writing “VARGR”, a six-part arc—and you’re a very busy writer at the moment in general. Will you be carrying on with the Bond comic beyond that? If you are, do you have any teasers for where the series will go after that?
Ellis: The plan is that I will write two books, which would take us up to issue 12 of the serial. After that, we’ll see if I have any more Bond stories in me or whether the publisher wants to continue with me. I’m still assembling my thoughts on the second volume, and plan to keep them to myself until I’ve decided that they make sense to anybody other than me!
Finally, there’s been a lot of rumors and speculation recently about who would play Bond in the movies after Daniel Craig. If “VARGR” was being adapted for the big screen, who would you like to play your take on Bond?
Ellis: I’m really not thinking about that, because I’m still writing these books and want to stay focused on the Bond I’m writing, rather than a hypothetical other. Though I still believe that Idris Elba, whom I’ve met, is the only choice to succeed Daniel Craig. Or, at least, the only one I’m interested in. If I wasn’t specifically writing Ian Fleming’s Bond of the novels, I probably would have been writing Idris as Bond. He has the physicality, the presence and the intelligence.
James Bond 007 #1 is available today.