Ds In High Pl en ac ri F es

In­ter­view Bryan Hitch

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★★Not many first-time writ­ers have the sort of friends that Hitch has to call on for feed­back, but then again not many writ­ers have his artis­tic cre­den­tials. “I know this is go­ing to sound like ter­ri­ble name-drop­ping,” he says, “but I gave Real He­roes to a load of friends – Joss Whe­don, Damon Lin­de­lof, Brian Vaughan, Mark Mil­lar, Brian Meltzer – to get a re­sponse based solely on what I’d de­liv­ered, not on any pre­con­cep­tions. I was so en­thused by the re­sponse that it’s made me very re­luc­tant to re­veal any­thing by way of try­ing to con­vince people to read it. If only an­other mil­lion or so people could re­spond in the same way, I’d

be truly happy.”

★ ★ ★★

but as a celebrity di­eter. She’s got this para­noid idea of not be­ing too big, and, of course, her su­per­power is to grow re­ally tall or to shrink re­ally small. Again, you can play with that as a char­ac­ter type, so there’s a short­hand way of get­ting to as­pects of their per­son­al­i­ties.

“So it re­ally wasn’t dif­fi­cult to find these guys, they just sort of popped into my head. And when I write them, I seem to be writ­ing and not just lan­guage, they seem to have their own way of look­ing at a scene, which is usu­ally a good in­di­ca­tion that you’ve got some char­ac­ters right.”

With char­ac­ters like these, you’d have thought that there was plenty of op­por­tu­nity for Hitch to in­dulge in one of his favourite pas­times – bas­ing their looks on real celebri­ties and ac­tors. But maybe not quite so bla­tantly this time…

“Once I’d cre­ated the char­ac­ters it was easy to cast them,” he says. “I played the same game to start with, which was who would I want in these roles? There were a few like­nesses in #1 which turned out to be very like those char­ac­ters, be­cause I kept think­ing about those ac­tors. So I’ve ac­tu­ally gone back and re­drawn them so that they look more like they do in #2 and #3 – as I drew them more, and got more fa­mil­iar with them, they got fur­ther away from po­ten­tial like­nesses.

“I could eas­ily cast this movie sev­eral times over, so if and when that comes around I’ll have my thoughts! I sup­pose I al­ways like to try and find some­body to base a char­ac­ter on, es­pe­cially if it’s a new one, as you have to think about how they think, how they act and how they work. They be­come those char­ac­ters rather than the stunt cast­ing. Ob­vi­ously I’m known for that, hav­ing cast Sa­muel L Jack­son as Nick Fury from the early days.

“Mark Mil­lar and I talked about this a while back. In those days, that was very much a nov­elty as we’d never seen fa­mous people play­ing su­per­heroes, and apart from a hand­ful of movies you’d never re­ally seen su­per­heroes in the movies to any great de­gree, es­pe­cially Marvel char­ac­ters. So play­ing the cast­ing game in 2001 was a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish to to­day, where you’re used to see­ing char­ac­ters that you’re fa­mil­iar with on the big screen. When we were do­ing The Ul­ti­mates we were think­ing of Thor as a young Brad Pitt, and of course, in looks, Hemsworth is very much a young Brad Pitt.”

Ul­ti­mate ch al­lenge

The big chal­lenge on Real He­roes was never go­ing to be pick­ing the su­per­star mod­els for the char­ac­ters, though. As Hitch’s first stab at han­dling both the writ­ing and art­work, it rep­re­sents a bold step in a new di­rec­tion. So how has it been go­ing? Pretty well, ac­tu­ally...

“I sort of make it up as I go along,” he says. “I hate the kind of crit­i­cism that goes, ‘The writ­ers were just mak­ing it up as they went along.’ I rather think ‘Isn’t that the point?’ That’s kind of what I’ve done. I had an out­line. I knew how I wanted it to end. Be­gin­nings and ends are al­ways rel­a­tively easy. The be­gin­ning is the eas­i­est part be­cause it’s the ques­tion you ask, it’s the premise of the story – what if this hap­pens? And you kind of know roughly where you want to be at the end, but

I hate the crit­i­cism, ‘the writ­ers were just mak­ing it up as they went along’. I think, ‘Isn’t that the point?’

you’ve got this huge gap be­tween the two where you need to an­swer that ques­tion.

“So I worked on the out­line – by that I mean I walked the dog* a lot and did a lot of think­ing. I thought about writ­ing a full script, but as I started to do that it made less and less sense. What I do is write a fairly solid note form out­line for each is­sue, tighten that up as much as I can for the beats, and then use the thumb­nail­ing process of draw­ing as a way of script­ing for my­self. Then I make notes on the com­puter about the di­a­logue, some­times ex­tremely spe­cific and com­plete di­a­logue for the scenes that are ac­tion-led rather than di­a­logue-led. I go back and forth be­tween the two un­til the is­sue is drawn and writ­ten. It seems to be work­ing quite well, re­ally.

“I’ve been telling sto­ries a long time – this isn’t ex­actly my first rodeo! I’ve been com­ing up with ideas and think­ing of sto­ries my whole life. I’ve worked with some of the best guys in the busi­ness and I’ve picked up a lot of ideas about what works and what doesn’t. It felt very nat­u­ral just to do it the way I thought it ought to be done. Cer­tainly, as an artist I’m a bit of a sea­soned old hack. I kind of know what I’m do­ing there, so I was an easy artist to write for!”

“I think any­body who knows the work I’ve done – es­pe­cially on key projects such as Author­ity or The Ul­ti­mates – has a good idea of the kind of scale and de­tail I can deliver with the work I can draw. But as ev­ery writer says, at heart this is a char­ac­ter story. There might well be an enor­mous plot, and huge, world-shat­ter­ing events, but it’s also a story about six people who find them­selves in a com­pletely new sce­nario that they’d never been pre­pared for. It’s not a com­edy, it’s not a pas­tiche; at heart it’s a big char­ac­ter drama played against huge events that you can only get in big-scale comics. The ac­tion in this is go­ing to make The Avengers seem like a Mer­chant Ivory pro­duc­tion.”

faith­ful, and the art by John McLusky was tidy, gritty and in­ten­sively tex­tured. The Thun­der­ball strip was cut short ow­ing to a con­trac­tual dis­pute be­tween Flem­ing and Ex­press pro­pri­etor Lord Beaver­brook, but was later con­cluded for syn­di­ca­tion to other news­pa­pers.

In 1966 writer Jim Lawrence and CzechRus­sian artist Yaroslav Ho­rak took over the job, and the qual­ity rose sev­eral notches. Their first ef­fort was The Man With The Golden Gun, based on the fi­nal Flem­ing novel, pub­lished posthu­mously in 1964. In Lawrence and Ho­rak’s ver­sion, Bond is given a more per­sonal mo­ti­va­tion for go­ing af­ter Scara­manga – the mas­ter as­sas­sin has very nearly killed a friend. Their take on The Spy Who Loved Me adds even more to the orig­i­nal: a lengthy open­ing se­quence, in which Bond foils a SPEC­TRE black­mail plot in Canada, sup­plies story de­tail that the novel only sketches out in flash­back.

There­after – aside from an adap­ta­tion of the 1968 novel Colonel Sun, the first ever Bond con­tin­u­a­tion, writ­ten by lit­er­ary lion Kings­ley Amis un­der the pseu­do­nym Robert Markham – Lawrence and Ho­rak gen­er­ated all-new ma­te­rial. Lawrence, whose only other comics cred­its are scripts for is­sues of the UK weekly Su­per Spi­der-Man And Cap­tain Bri­tain, cer­tainly knew his way around a great Bon­dian ti­tle – “Dou­ble Jeop­ardy”, “Sea Dragon”, “Death Wing” – but he could lapse into pulpi­ness, both in ti­tling and plot­ting, as in “The Golden Ghost”, “The Black Ruby Ca­per”, “The Xanadu Con­nec­tion” and “The Phoenix Project”.

The sto­ries ad­here to the Flem­ing for­mula of ex­otic lo­ca­tions, al­lur­ing fe­males, bizarre vil­lains, worldim­per­illing schemes and ca­sual sadism. There are cool gad­gets: a bul­let-fir­ing brief­case, a cig­a­rette lighter that is­sues a jet of knock-out gas and a back­pack fit­ted with ro­tor blades. Recurring char­ac­ters from the canon­i­cal nov­els ap­pear: M, Miss Moneypenny, M’s Chief of Staff Bill Tan­ner, and Bond’s CIA pal Felix Leiter. The vil­lain­ous Dr No even crops up in Hot-Shot, hav­ing as­sumed the new iden­tity of tiger-lov­ing In­dian busi­ness­man Huli­raya.

eerie fire­ball of doom in “Starfire”, space-alien kid­nap­pers in “Night­bird”, and a vam­pire cult in “League Of Vam­pires”. Ev­ery­thing has a ra­tio­nal, mun­dane ex­pla­na­tion, but still these el­e­ments would seem more at home in Avengers – or in­deed Scooby-Doo – than Bond.

Lawrence’s di­a­logue has its fair share of clunky mo­ments. Bond is for­ever call­ing women “luv” and men “mate”, en­tirely out of keep­ing for a for­mer naval of­fi­cer and an alum­nus of Eton and Fettes. He talks of a new club drug that can “groove you out of this world on ab­so­lutely cos­mic highs” (“Die With My Boots On”) and de­fends a mo­ment of cau­tious­ness with the line “I never did dig that Light Bri­gade jive” (“The Girl Ma­chine”). Re­ally, 007?

Ho­rak’s art, though, is con­sis­tently im­pres­sive. His Bond has the fore­lock so of­ten men­tioned by Flem­ing, and isn’t a slav­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ei­ther Sean Con­nery or Roger Moore. If any­thing, the char­ac­ter here re­sem­bles Hoagy Carmichael, the Amer­i­can singer whom Flem­ing him­self felt Bond should look like. Though the choppy, episodic na­ture of the daily news­pa­per strip for­mat can be­come tire­some when the sto­ries are read in col­lected form, they’re still hugely en­ter­tain­ing and on oc­ca­sion are an im­prove­ment on some of the non-Flem­ing nov­els (we’re look­ing par­tic­u­larly at you, Jef­fery Deaver, and your Carte Blanche).

Film Adap­ta­tions

Comics adap­ta­tions of the films have ap­peared spo­rad­i­cally over the years. The first was Doc­tor No in DC Show­case #43 by Nor­man J Nodel, which was pub­lished in the UK in Clas­sics Il­lus­trated. It in­cludes a scene cut from the movie, in which a man­a­cled Honey Rider is men­aced by crabs, and No him­self is killed by elec­tro­cu­tion rather than drowned in bird poop.*

Marvel did For Your Eyes Only and Oc­to­pussy in the early ’80s, the for­mer boast­ing Howard Chaykin pen­cils ut­terly ru­ined by Vince Col­letta’s inks, the lat­ter not a bad ef­fort from Steve Moore and Paul Neary.

Eclipse Comics then pro­duced Li­cence To Kill in 1988, which saw Mike Grell on writ­ing and art du­ties. This was a good fit of cre­ator and ma­te­rial, not least since Grell had al­ready pro­duced the very Bon­dian Jon Sable, Free­lance ear­lier in the decade. Per­mis­sion To Die, an all-new three-is­sue pres­tige for­mat Bond minis­eries from Grell, fol­lowed a year later, and it’s far and away the best comics 007 tale there has been. Grell cleaves to the Flem­ing orig­i­nals in plot struc­ture and

tone, while

at the same time ac­knowl­edg­ing the in­flu­ence of the movies. There’s a “pre-credit se­quence” which gets Bond into a din­ner jacket and kilt, fol­lowed by a dou­ble-page spread which of­fers a mon­tage of im­ages from the films.

The story then sees Bond, hav­ing been pro­vided with the lat­est sidearm by Q Branch, travel to Hun­gary and ren­dezvous with Lu­ludi, gypsy daugh­ter of Kerim Bey from Rus­sia With Love. The mis­sion is to ex­tract the niece of a for­mer Soviet rocket sci­en­tist across the bor­der into Aus­tria and thence to Idaho, where said rocket sci­en­tist, Erik Wiziado, has fash­ioned him­self a high-tech lair in­side a for­mer US Navy train­ing base. Dis­fig­ured by tor­ture, Wiziado cov­ers half his face in a fea­ture­less mask and plays a huge, elab­o­rate pipe or­gan, much like the Phan­tom of the Opera – and yes, he’s a nutjob who in­tends to frighten the world into to­tal nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment by lob­bing an atomic war­head at Vic­to­ria, cap­i­tal of Bri­tish Columbia.

It’s a se­ri­ous story with a moral mes­sage but it doesn’t stint on the soft­core sex and hard­core vi­o­lence. The art in the mid­dle is­sue is a let­down, Grell re­ly­ing heav­ily on as­sis­tants, but over­all the qual­ity re­mains high. Best of all, Wiziado, un­like other Bond vil­lains, has a con­science about his heinous acts, and is more mis­guided phi­lan­thropist than rav­ing mega­lo­ma­niac. You’re left won­der­ing, as Bond does, if the world might not have been a bet­ter place had his plan suc­ceeded: “Sac­ri­fice a few to save the many. Who knows, it might have worked ... and I’d be out of a job.”


In 1992 Dark Horse picked up the Bond ba­ton and com­mis­sioned Ser­pent’s Tooth from Doug Moench and Paul Gu­lacy. It must have seemed like a good idea – a dead cert, even – since these two were the writer/artist team that had had such a hit with their mid-’70s run on Marvel’s Bond-in­spired Shang-Chi, Mas­ter Of Kung Fu (see page 162).

Ser­pent’s Tooth, alas, is a bit rubbish. Moench has Bond in­ves­ti­gat­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of agent 009, who was sent to Peru to track down nu­clear mis­siles stolen from a Bri­tish sub­ma­rine. The bad­die is In­digo, a bio­geneti­cist who has tried to cure him­self of a rare blood dis­ease via in­jec­tions of rep­til­ian DNA. The re­sults have left him with ser­pen­tine fea­tures and a de­sire to set off earthquakes which will wipe out 83 per cent of the earth’s pop­u­la­tion; what parts of the planet re­main in­tact will be his to rule and re­pop­u­late us­ing girls kid­napped from lo­cal na­tive In­dian vil­lages. Oh, and he has a pair of al­bino hench­men and a bunch of ge­net­i­cally recre­ated ex­tinct an­i­mals too.

Moench shoots for arched-eye­brow one­lin­ers in the Roger Moore mode, but rarely hits the mark. In all, Ser­pent’s Tooth is just too

sci­ence-fic­tional, too comic-booky, to work as a Bond ad­ven­ture. And the plot owes more to the movie ver­sion of Moon­raker than it ought.

Bet­ter is A Silent Ar­maged­don by Si­mon Jowett and John Burns, which sees Bond as­signed to pro­tect a dis­abled teenaged com­puter hacker ge­nius, Terri Li, who is be­ing pur­sued by ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion Cer­berus on ac­count of a so­phis­ti­cated “worm” pro­gram she has cre­ated. If one can over­look some very dated “in­for­ma­tion su­per­high­way” vir­tual re­al­ity gub­bins, there’s a de­cent story here and some classy, clas­si­cally-styled art from Burns. Nice, too, that the prin­ci­pal hench­man is the son of From Rus­sia With Love’s for­mi­da­ble SMERSH of­fi­cer, Rosa Klebb (she of the sen­si­ble shoes with spring-loaded, poi­son-tipped blades in the toe­caps). It’s just a shame that only two is­sues of a pro­jected four ever ap­peared, ow­ing to prob­lems with late de­liv­ery of art­work.

The two-is­sue Shat­tered Helix, also writ­ten by Jowett, is an ef­fec­tive mini-epic set mostly in the Antarc­tic, where Cer­berus – again – is up to no good, try­ing to get its hands on a mu­ta­genic virus which uses the hu­man body’s own im­mune sys­tem to de­stroy a per­son from the in­side out. Bond, ac­com­pa­nied by a beau­ti­ful cli­mate change sci­en­tist and some marines, in­fil­trates a re­search lab be­neath the ice and faces the al­most un­kil­l­able Bul­lock, who has Kevlar im­plants un­der his skin. It all ends in ex­plo­sions and a page’s worth of eco-preach­ing. The art, by David Jack­son, is pass­able, but it would have been a real treat to see the man who pro­vides lay­outs and colours, David Lloyd, il­lus­trate the whole thing him­self.

clos­ing gam­bit

By con­trast The Quasi­modo Gam­bit, Dark Horse’s fi­nal Bond of­fer­ing, pub­lished in 1995, is un­mit­i­gated tosh. The script, from the pen of Don McGre­gor, lacks sure-foot­ed­ness, ek­ing out a mud­dled sto­ry­line that has some­thing to do with mar­i­juana smug­gling and a plan by re­li­gious fa­nat­ics to det­o­nate bombs in Times Square at Christ­mas. A mi­nor high­light is a unique tor­ture-by-leeches scene.

Of course, this be­ing McGre­gor, the comic is hideously over-writ­ten. Nar­ra­tive cap­tions crowd ev­ery panel, striv­ing for elo­quent lit­er­ary pro­fun­dity and miss­ing by a mile: “There was al­ways an un­der­cur­rent about New York that James Bond en­joyed; a con­stant con­flict of im­pres­sions – from poised ar­ti­fice to gut­ter aban­don. He rel­ished its stac­cato abil­ity to change from block to block.” McGre­gor can’t even make his mind up whether he’s writ­ing in the past or present tense.

And the art, by Gary Cald­well, is ghastly: stiff, unimag­i­na­tive, far too re­liant on air­brush colour­ing, with char­ac­ters all but in­dis­tin­guish­able from one an­other. The script tells us that the thug­gish Max­i­m­il­ian “Quasi­modo” Steel has a hunch­back; Cald­well can’t be ar­sed to de­pict this.

Per­haps dis­heart­ened by the aw­ful­ness of Quasi­modo Gam­bit, the Ian Flem­ing lit­er­ary es­tate has not granted any fur­ther li­cences to pub­lish James Bond comics since 1995. This is a shame, be­cause Bond still has huge po­ten­tial in the medium. In the right hands – those of War­ren El­lis, say, or Mark Mil­lar – the mix of low-key hero­ics, quippy di­a­logue, glam­orous women and slick weaponry could be a win­ner.

But one shouldn’t give up hope. As the endti­tles of the movies al­ways prom­ise, “James Bond will re­turn…”

This su­per­hero lark is harder than it looks.

Alice in Won­der­land­style shenani­gans. Looks a bit like Gwyneth to us…

Bond’s as suave in wa­ter as he is on land. Ho­rak’s chisel-jawed Carmichael-alike. “The Harpies”: the first post- Flem­ing script. Have a guess who’s this strip’s vil­lain…

Bond leads a mas­ter­class in “pa­tro­n­is­ing”. “Pucker up sweet cheeks.”

Vince Col­letta’s inks spoil Chaykin’s pen­cils on this ’80s Marvel ef­fort. Moore and Neary’s half- de­cent Oc­to­pussy. Per­mis­sion To Die: Bond at his best.

On the run from a deadly virus in #2.

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