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James Bond 007: Hammerhead (Review)

James Bond 007: Hammerhead
Dynamite Entertainment, August 2017 (collected edition)
Writer: Andy Diggle

This is our second look at US publisher Dynamite Entertainment’s license of Ian Fleming Publications’ world famous character, the British spy James Bond. Our previous review related to the story “Vargr”, written by Warren Ellis. (Our third critique, to come, will double back to Mr Ellis and his work on “Eidolon”.)

It is fair to say that writer Andy Diggle made his fame as a logical choice for espionage capers when he wrote the critically acclaimed, very slick “The Losers” for Vertigo Comics (2003-2006, and made into a tepid motion picture in 2010). The opening issue of “The Losers” is surely one of the best capers seen in comic books. Mr Diggle maintains his track record of excellence in this genre by way of his smooth execution of this new James Bond adventure.

Bond stories follow a formula, well articulated on this blog:

“James Chapman, author of ‘Licence to thrill, A Cultural History of James Bond Films (I B Taurus, 2nd edition 2009) comments ‘for all the similarities which the Bond films share with other genres, the Bond series itself is nevertheless unique in that there is nothing else quite like it in cinema history. In this sense it might be argued that the Bond series is a genre (or at the very least a sub-genre) in its own right’.

Chapman also refers to a film critic Umberto Eco saying ‘Eco suggests that Fleming’s narratives are best understood as a sequence of ‘moves’ in which the same archetypal characters play out familiar situations: M (Head of the British Secret Service) makes the first move by assigning Bond to a mission of vital national importance; the Villain moves and appears to Bond, usually by attempting to kill him; Bond counter-moves and gives first check to the Villain, usually be besting him in a game that provides a symbolic rattling of sabres before the main confrontation; the Woman moves and shows herself to Bond; Bond seduces or begins the process of seducing the Woman; the Villain captures Bond and tortures him; Bond escapes, conquers the Villain and then convalesces with the Woman, whom he later loses…. James Chapman also highlights: ‘the constantly lurking viciousness and the glamorisation of violence – they are real enough,. So, too, are the carefully timed peaks of titillation and the skilfully contrived sensationalism – they’re real too. The racialism (inscrutably smiling villains of Oriental countenance), the cold-war implications of the plot – they are not in the film for a joke. All the underlying menace of the film which gives the laughter a dangerous and sinister ring.’”

This Bond story is more contemporary than most. Recent British history has several highlights: the cultural, financial, and geopolitical damage of Brexit and its motivations; the amateur Machiavellians which are the current breed of British politicians;
Trident and the need for a nuclear deterrent; the British military-industrial complex and its sales of weapons to Britain’s morally questionable allies in the Middle East. (Britain has not been this controversial since Margaret Thatcher.)

Mr Diggle captures each of these vectors in his story. The villain wishes to recapture the day and age where Imperial Britain called the shots, much like the (subconscious or express) motivation of many Brexit voters in rejecting further European integration. The deal-making, too-casual Minister of Defence is out of his league and takes a bullet in the head at close range in a emphatic demonstration of his irrelevance and impotence. Trident warheads are the prize, and one is stolen and sent heading towards London. Britain’s fictional top arms manufacturer, Hunt Industries, participates in a weapons exhibition in Dubai which has all the glamour and gloss of a luxury brand launch. It is all a bit close to home.

But the plot structure will be familiar. Bond is dispatched by M to the Middle East after Bond, in essence, botches a mission to capture a hacker coerced into assisting the mysterious villain called Kraken. Bond’s babysitting duty is punctured by a successful assassination attempt on Hunt Industries’ chairman. Bond sleeps with the chairman’s daughter. Bond is dispatched to Yemen to track down a smuggler who is assisting Kraken, but Kraken takes over Bond’s hi-tech car and almost kills him. Bond is captured by the smuggler, and forms an unlikely alliance with him. Bond travels to an offshore facility near Scotland, in order to prevent the nuclear annihilation of London. A British submarine is destroyed by an advanced rail gun called Hammerhead, with a massive loss of life. With good luck, ruthless marksmanship, and slipperiness, Bond improbably saves the day, and his efforts are barely acknowledged by M. And this is as if should be: Bond has done his duty, and like a bloodied sword is returned to the scabbard to await the next sortie.

But the deft touches really make the comic worthwhile. Chief amongst these is the treatment of M’s secretary, Moneypenny. In the motion pictures, Moneypenny is usually the focus of Bond’s relentless flirtation (what would nowadays be properly construed as workplace harassment). In this title, Moneypenny flirts with Bond, but she is something more than that. Moneypenny’s major role is to protect the secrets in M’s head. In one cliffhanger scene, this includes threatening to put a bullet in M’s head.

Moneypenny is not so much a bodyguard as a severe Cerebus, guarding the gates to Hell. She is certain much more than a mere secretary sitting outside the office of a grise eminence. Apart from the remarkable title “Velvet” by Ed Brubaker rarely have we seen a female spook so utterly calculating in the performance of her duty.

By way of indulgence as much as explanation, there is one last thing to mention in respect of this title. As stated above, “Hammerhead” is a rail gun. These are impressive devices which use a 32 megajoule electric charge to propel shells at six times the speed of sound. The shells need to explosive warhead: the kinetic collision at that speed does the job. Here is a video of a rail gun for those interested.

Mr Diggle is returning to write another James Bond story for Dynamite Entertainment, called “Kill Chain”, due for release later this year. We look forward to it.

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