XIII James Bond Amanda Waller Or­a­cle Win­ter Sol­dier Sir De­nis Nay­land Smith

Fea­ture Top Se­cret Agents

Comic Heroes - - Front Page -

One of the great­est of all re­cent bande dess­inée se­ries has been

by artist Wil­liam Vance and writer Jean Van Hamme, a book that started out as a take on Robert Lud­lum’s The Bourne Iden­tity – am­ne­siac su­per-agent tries to find out the se­crets of his past, as all par­ties try to kill him – but soon de­vel­ops a style all of its own. There are 19 vol­umes, re­leased over 20 years, in the first sto­ry­line – all es­sen­tial – and a se­quel has re­cently be­gun too. Time was when we joked about “comic book death”, say­ing only Bucky, Ja­son Todd and Un­cle Ben stayed down. But then the first two were brought back, with Bucky Barnes turn­ing out to have been a Soviet su­per-agent all along. Called “Win­ter Sol­dier”, his reap­pear­ance was cen­tral to a vast spy story that ran through Cap’s comic in the mid-noughties; the re­ha­bil­i­tated Bucky now works as an in­trigu­ing, dark su­per­hero. How much real spy­ing is ac­tu­ally all about bag drops, se­cret codes, even sit­ting around in cars watch­ing door­ways – let alone slip­ping into an en­emy base wear­ing a sleek black one-piece and a ton of pouches? No, it’s all Ed­ward Snow­den, Wik­ileaks and the NSA these days, and so a girl sit­ting in the dark with a bunch of com­puter screens is as po­tent an im­age as any, es­pe­cially if she’s the wheel­chair-bound ex-Bat­girl, Bar­bara Gor­don. She’s more re­cently been given her legs and Bat-cape back, and be­come in­fin­itely less in­ter­est­ing as a re­sult. Any nor­mal su­per­spy list would lead with this guy, but not this one, for 007’s comic book ex­ploits are the least of his out­ings, patchy and spo­radic – if you ig­nore the of­ten ex­cel­lent Daily Ex­press strips, which ran from 1958-1977, which we prob­a­bly must as a mag­a­zine of comic books. Sure, there are Bond comics out there (ex­plored in our fea­ture on page 88) – Dark Horse did its best in the ’90s, with minis­eries such as Ser­pent’s Tooth – but they’re gen­er­ally stiff, silly and un­con­vinc­ing, de­spite the best ef­forts of top cre­ators such as Doug Moench and Paul Gu­lacy. Steely, avun­cu­lar ex-Bri­tish cop and spy, ob­sessed with tak­ing down Fu Manchu, and later leader of Free­lance Restora­tions Ltd, a PI-cumad­ven­tur­ing out­fit em­ploy­ing Shang-Chi, Clive Re­ston, Black Jack Tarr and oth­ers. He is, of course, a ver­sion of the Nay­land Smith who was al­ways the Devil Doc­tor’s Van Hels­ing-like neme­sis in the orig­i­nal Sax Rohmer pulp nov­els. His ob­ses­sive na­ture is both strength and weak­ness, and – though he plays Shang-Chi’s “good” sur­ro­gate fa­ther – he’s not above “games of de­ceit and death” of his own. Comics are very poor at de­pict­ing dif­fer­ent body types – girls and boys alike gen­er­ally come in skinny-and-hot or mus­cu­lar-and-hot va­ri­eties – so a dumpy black woman from the Chicago Projects re­ally is some­thing of a nov­elty. In­tro­duced in 1985, she’s run the Sui­cide Squad and Check­mate, and though she makes no friends, and heaves with se­cret agen­das, few would deny her ef­fec­tive­ness. The New 52 ver­sion bosses ARGUS, but is now young and slim – we can only hope she gets ad­dicted to donuts, and fast.

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