08th Oct2020

‘Casino Royale’ Graphic Novel Review

by ApolloXL5

In 2018, Dynamite Entertainment released the (long-awaited) graphic novel retelling of the classic Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale. Fans of Bond will know all about the film adaptations of this iconic character but it’s the comic version that’s recently received an update.

Diverging with the modern film releases, this graphic novel is set firmly in the 1950s, where James Bond seems to resolutely belong. One look is all you need to recognize the high-quality art and production value of this work, but how does the storyline fit into the massive Bond universe that’s been built? Let’s dive in and see. But first…

A Brief History of Bond

The world was first introduced to the character and legend of James Bond with the release of Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale in 1953. The book’s opening lines, ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning’ captivated audiences and set the scene of the dual nature of James Bond: part sophisticated government spy and part sordid paid assassin.

The next year, American actor Barry Nelson was the first to depict Bond on screen, starring in the 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale. Nearly five years later, the story had proved so popular that this first Bond story was adapted into a newspaper comic strip in the United Kingdom. The 1960s produced a film–a satirical comedy version–released in 1967 starring David Niven.

For the next seven decades, James Bond would appear in many forms, portrayed by no less than seven actors including Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and finally Daniel Craig in 2005.

A Faithful Adaptation

Adapted with meticulous loyalty to Fleming’s text by Van Jensen and with artwork by Dennis Calero, the Casino Royale graphic novel is a fresh take on the subject matter, while also giving fans a healthy dose of nostalgia.

At the heart of the graphic novel is the game of baccarat, a firm connection to the original book, sure to please diehard fans (no dumbing down to Texas Hold ‘Em here). With no overt restructuring in the storyline, the typical action scenes from the films are nowhere to be found. Here, we find a thoughtful (even philosophical) Bond, meditating on the nature of evil, the catalyst of his decision to resign.

Brutally faithful to Fleming, Bond is portrayed as a bluntly charismatic cynic, with all the skills one would expect of an elite spy. The captions showcase his abilities to detect approaching enemies or gun calibres, all while maintaining a cool calm that shows some cracks when tragedy strikes.

Van Jensen’s writing packs a punch and only infrequently veers off into a bit of information overload. Mostly, the journalistic quality of Fleming’s work is readily apparent on the page and paces with the dramatic moments well.

The only elephant in the room is the blatant misogyny of Fleming’s problematic attempts to convey real female characters in the original book and how Van Jensen was able to deal with the inevitable asymmetries that might ensue. For better or worse, the story stays true to the original, even including Bond’s overt ‘mansplaining’ of the game of baccarat to Vesper Lynd.

Art That Transports

From a glance at the cover, it’s clear that this is no mainstream comic book. The art and feel of the graphic novel evoke a gritty yet sophisticated story and one that won’t pull any punches. The representation of characters is not reminiscent of any of the actors who have portrayed them previously, allowing readers to experience this version without any preconceptions.

O’Halloran’s austere use of colour and Calero’s plain backdrops help to keep the reader engaged in the storyline. The artwork is purposeful and extremely conducive to visualizing Bond’s thoughts in a way that really draws the reader in.

The lean, cruel depiction of Bond from Fleming’s descriptions jumps right off the page in the art. Bizarrely, while tucked in at a baccarat table, readers may notice some familiar faces in striking visual cameos including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Grace Kelly, Emma Thompson, Eddie Izzard, and Peter Capaldi. It’s no wonder SG Gaming has recently launched a series of James Bond-themed games.

If your senses weren’t thoroughly sparked, an appendix is waiting at the end to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the art direction and script behind the creation of the graphic novel.

“He was a Secret Agent…”

For the faithful fans of Bond on the silver screen who may not wish to slog through a full novel, this graphic rendering may be just the ticket. Whatever your thoughts on this new interpretation of Fleming’s classic, one thing is clear: the world right now may need James Bond more than ever. Or, at least we need Fleming’s genius—summed up best from the original Casino Royale, “History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”

And if you can’t get enough, luckily, the second instalment is already on the market as well. Live and Let Die was recently released by the same writer and artist bringing the second of Fleming’s novels to life.

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