06th Dec2021

‘King of Spies #1’ Review (Image Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Mark Millar | Art by Matteo Scalera | Published by Image Comics

Seems to be a definite vibe at the moment for older men in spy/ detective/ crime books. DC just put out a great Human Target book, Image have the equally great Newburn, IDW have the James Bond licence, and now it’s time for King of Spies.

King of Spies is written by Mark Millar, and is part of his partnership with Netflix to produce comics and then shows from those comics. From what I’ve read, King of Spies is essentially Millar writing an old James Bond, though he can’t call him that. Millar is very good at taking existing ideas and properties and then playing with them, changing them enough to make them his. Not terribly original, but always entertaining and worthy of a look.

So, let’s take that look.

Being a superspy is pretty cool, right? Meet Roland King, currently having a whale of a time cutting swathes through a chaotic Panama City in 1990, currently in the midst of a U.S invasion. In a sort of pre-credits sequence that could have come straight out of a James Bond movie, we see King shooting his way through dozens of bad guys to take down General Noriega. It’s the gung ho stuff you would expect. Roland King is at the top of his game.

It’s here, the, that Millar starts his genre subversion. Cut to London in the present day, and Sir Roland King is still womanising and drinking too much, but it’s all a little sad now. Bearded, sporting middle age spread, and a man retired from active duty but still with a toe dipped in the pond, he’s in danger of being a dinosaur. As with us all, age has brought with it a degree of self-introspection, and King has started to evaluate his life. He was one of the top agents the United Kingdom had, following in a proud family tradition, but was he actually a ‘hero’? As he looks back he reflects on smashing trade unions, on torturing dissidents in Northern Ireland, on sexing up illegal arms dossiers to trigger wars, and generally killing and shagging his way around the world. Did he make things better, or actually worse? Did he just grease the wheels of a system that he was as much trapped in as everyone he killed?

Roland, it seems, is in a gang of one. When he expresses these thoughts in his gentleman’s club, he is laughed away. Their role, he is told, was always to defend the system, to prevent the anarchy that occurs when a system fails. When that system seems to be defending dirty money and greed, Roland is not sure it was worth the price. He feels guilty at being content with the sex and money, when he could have helped change the world. This is all superb writing from Millar, a searing indictment of our hero worship of superspies like Bond who are just unthinking servants of authority, be it in the right or not. I simplify a little of course, as Bond films have played with him bucking the system and rebelling against it, but he ultimately always returns to die another day. Or not.

Roland’s depression is bad enough, but after a collapse he learns he is dying. Six months left, tops. What’s a man crippled by guilt and past mistakes to do? In King’s case, it’s to put things right. To take down all the corruption, the bad people protected by wealth, the dictators propped up by the West, the criminals protected by those in power. It’s going to be a house-cleaning on a massive scale. As a wise man once said, a man without hope, is a man without fear. Roland King is a man on a mission, is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore.

This was just absolutely visceral, brutal stuff. A superb deconstruction of an entire genre, one that I really love too. Kingsman was a fun riff on spies and their organisations, though at heart affectionate, but here Millar goes to town. Roland King is a superb protagonist, and a few decades past the older Sean Connery would have played the role brilliantly. The writing was just superb. Great premise, great character, and thought provoking philosophy. The art was equally good, the layouts and pacing perfect, and some of the violent scenes brutually realised. A great team.

Possibly the best book I’ve read in the last few months, this is superb stuff.

Not so much Bond keeping his end up, as King cutting yours off.

***** 5/5


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