Don McGregor and Gary Caldwell
Dark Horse Comics 1995
Cover painting by Christopher Moeller
In some ways it is very difficult to review a comic book or a graphic novel as most of the story is told in pictures, and a good illustrator can pack quite a bit of information into just a few pages. Reverting the images to a text format for review purposes is quite tricky, stopping short of reviewing each panel, the way it is drawn, the colour schemes, and the mood it evokes. But to do that, I’d end up with a full length novel. So treat this as a simplified overview.
Just by their very nature, comic book stories are full of action and incident. Leaping about, firing guns, driving fast cars, and bedding beautiful women is perfect fodder for this medium. As you may well know, James Bond, Secret Agent 007, excells at these pastimes. Therefore Bond is a perfect character for a series of comic book adventures – as long as they’re done right, of course! The Quasimodo Gambit is a three part series from the mid nineties, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.
The story opens in Jamaica and the Undertaker’s Wind is blowing in. A girl with night vision goggles is checking out a warehouse when she is noticed by a brutish thug who is patrolling the area. He is about to do away with her, when down from the rooftops drops James Bond – Secret Agent 007 for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond takes care of the guard, but the noise brings another two out of the woodwork. Bond tackles one, and the second has his nose broken when the girl whacks him in the face with her night vision goggles.
The girl’s name is Nebula Valentine (Oh, c’mon! What kind of name is that? It makes Lovey Kravzit and Justine Lovesit seem poetic.) Anyway, Miss Valentine is a liaison officer for Jamaica House and Bond’s contact on the mission. It seems that an international arms dealer named ‘Rifle’ has a pre-arranged meeting at the warehouse later in the evening. Now all Bond and Valentine have to do is wait for him to turn up.
This provides and opportunity for a flashback to Bond’s initial briefing in M’s office. Bond is given a dossier on Jefferson Rifle, AKA: Elvis Sinatra, and Morecock Evans. Stop, Stop! Dear reader I am not making this stuff up. These are the character names listed in the story. I mean ‘Elvis Sinatra’ – you’ve got to be shitting me. It’s a joke name and not a very good joke at that. And ‘Morecock’ – groan… Maybe I should set up a library of stupid names for future Bond characters. That way, when an author is struggling for a good name they can select from a colourful catalogue full of gems such as; Geoffrey Trousersnake or Chrysanthemum Cleavage. Or how about Astyn Martyn – which people will think is clever because it sounds like the car, but it isn’t. Actually, Astyn Martyn is a young teenage girl – the illegitimate daughter of Lady Rose McCartin Martyn and James Bond. As the girl (and the affair with Bond) are an embarrassment to Lady Rose, young Astyn is sent to an all-girl boarding school where she gets into all manner of scrapes and mischief – that bad Bond blood, y’know! One day, while walking on the beach, young Astyn finds…I’ve gone too far, haven’t I? Maybe it’s time to get back to The Quasimodo Gambit.
So we have a bad guy named Jefferson Rifle. Riffle has a pock marked face caused by infection of childhood chicken pox scratched open by dirty fingernails. Not because he has a pock marked head and dirty finger nails, but because he is a dirty arms dealer, M assigns Bond to ‘stop’ Rifle.
Back to the mission in Jamaica: Bond and Nebula Valentine don’t have to wait long. Jefferson Rifle arrives at the warehouse ready to make his deal. Watching from the shadows are three men. The first is Reverend Elias Hazelwood – he is an American Tele-Evangelist and is the head of a religious order called The Disciples Of The Heavenly Way. Next to Hazelwood is Ernest ‘Light Touch’ Force who is a mercenary. The third and most imposing member of the trio is the giant Maximillian ‘Quasimodo’ Steel. Steel is called Quasimodo because he has a swollen hump of muscle and flesh on his back. Quasimodo used to be a real bad-ass soldier, but through Hazelwood has found God. Now Quasimodo only kills and maims in God’s name. These three characters are the buyers that Rifle is waiting for, and they have come to buy a shit-load of weapons.
Once they feel they are safe, Hazelwood, Quasimodo and Light Touch come out to make their deal. Rifle has the weapons loaded in a semi-trailer and hands over the keys. As the Reverend is about to hand over the money, Bond and Valentine spring into action. Of course it isn’t a simple arrest, and it turns into an armed confrontation. Light Touch tries to draw a pistol on Bond, but Nebula shoots him in the shoulder. Light Touch drops to the ground. The Reverend who is a stranger to armed confrontation freezes, while Bond heads around to the back of the semi-trailer and confronts Quasimodo. Rifle makes his way to the cab of the truck and tries to take off with the load of weapons not realising Bond and Quasimodo are in the back. In the moving truck, Bond looses his advantage and the two men end up wrestling in a avalanche of falling gun crates. Rifle has trouble controlling the truck at speed and swerves into a wall. His head goes through the windscreen rendering him temporarily unconscious.
Meanwhile Hazelwood regains his composure and tries to scarper. Nebula chases after him and wrestles him to the ground. Although injured and bleeding, Light Touch is back on his feet now and pulls Rifle from the cab of the truck and takes over the controls. He drives off with Quasimodo and Bond still slugging it out on the back. Rifle, who is dazed and blinded by a sheet of blood down his face, walks into the path of the truck and is killed.
With Light Touch at the wheel, the truck snakes it’s way out of the danger area and into a sugar cane plantation. Light Touch pulls up and both Bond and Quasimodo fall from the back of the truck. Bond quickly seeks cover in the cane. Now armed, Quasimodo and Light Touch begin searching for Bond. It’s slow work, so Light Touch decides to speed things up by setting fire to the cane. He does this by lobbing in a grenade. The cane goes up in a wall of flame. A wall that is heading directly towards Bond. And to make it a little more terrifying, it’s isn’t just the flames that are a threat, but also all the snakes that are driven ahead of the flames.
Needless to say Bond makes it out of this predicament (I’m not going to tell you the whole story – I have to save some surprises). But even though his initial target, Rifle is now history, it seems far worse that now a religious fanatic and a psychotic hunch-back now have their hands on a whole shipment of weapons.
But how Bond deals with this new threat will be revealed in The Quasimodo Gambit – Part 2.
This Bond adventure is a bit of a slow starter, but once the wheels start to turn, it’s not too bad. And the sequence in the sugar cane is exceptionally good. Obviously, I have a bit of an issue with the poor character names in the story, but on the whole Don McGregor’s script isn’t bad at all, and it appears that he has at least done a little bit of homework, alluding to Fleming’s literary world on a few occasions. If I have a criticism of the writing – and this may be sheer co-incidence – is that the name Valentine was used in John Gardner’s Bond continuation novel Scorpius, which was released in 1988. Scorpius features a dodgy religious leader called Father Valentine, who is the leader of a sect called The Meek Ones. It’s been quite a few years since I have read Scorpius and my memory is at best hazy, but the similarities seem obvious.
As for the art, while obviously Calwell is a very talented illustrator, his artwork is very stiff and static. Each illustration is like a frozen snapshot. There is little feeling of movement in each frame, and even less movement linking one frame to the next. He has a great feeling for mood, but is less effective in action scenes, which I would have though would be imperative when bringing Bond to life in a comic book format.
All in all, this is a pretty good little if somewhat flawed adventure. I’ll try to post the next two instalments over the next few days.