Ellis on Bond

As someone who loathed the campiness of Moore’s Bond and prefers a darker character, I was amused by Warren Ellis’ take on Bond. Now if only someone with a backbone will take him on and I can have the Bond I’ve always wanted.

I’ve read most of the Ian Fleming novels, seen most of the films once they’ve come to TV. I’m not a fanatic by any means. But James Bond exerts a terrible fascination nonetheless. I even did an interview piece on how I’d write Bond for a Texan newspaper a couple of years ago. So did Bruce Sterling, who offered a disturbing opinion about Bond as a shaven-headed Ibiza DJ. You’re going to hell for that one, Bruce, and you will discover that Satan is English.

The books are notably less spectacular and far more low-key than the films. Dr No was a crazed guano millionaire and had no nuclear missiles, spaceship-eaters or any of the good stuff we associate with Bond Villains. Tiger Tanaka’s great test of Bond was making him compose a naff haiku. It’s often quite bland stuff, great long travelogues and pages describing banquets and furniture. In the guts of it, though, is Bond as a scarred man with clear psychological damage, often on the edge of being removed from service by M on mental health grounds. It’s made stridently obvious that being on the 00 detail of the Secret Service is a job that fucks you up.

Bond is not a superman. He prevails because he is quite simply nastier and more determined to wreak utter bloody havoc than the next guy. In some ways — and I don’t think Fleming was unaware of this — he is what Allen Ginsberg called bleak male energy, causing and taking immense damage in single-minded pursuit of what he wants. At the conclusion of You Only Live Twice, the front end of his personality essentially rubbed out by torture, drugs, multiple trauma and a sequence of horrible mental hammerblows, there is an almost disturbing glimpse of an amnesiac Bond as gentle, open, devoted, and almost sweet. And his lover dreads the day that he recovers.

He is England’s blunt instrument of international assault — the spiteful, vicious bastard of a faded empire that still wants the world to do as it’s bloody well told.

Most importantly; he beats people up and makes stuff explode.

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