Dynamite’s long-awaited and much delayed first foray into the world of graphic novel adaptations (sequential art if you prefer) of the classic adventures of Ian Fleming’s legendary James Bond 007 arrives in the form of Casino Royale, Fleming’s first novel published to not-inconsiderable acclaim back in 1953.
Fans of Bond as he’s appeared on screen over the years need to bear in mind that this latest adaptation takes its cues and tone from Fleming’s novel rather than the larger-than-life film series which has thrilled generations. This was Bond’s first adventure and none of the extravagances of the later books or, more especially, the films, are present in Fleming’s slow, smoky text. This is Bond as a rather jaded, crumpled, middle-aged MI5 agent whose latest mission is to bankrupt the sinister Le Chiffre, a terrorist financier who has been providing funds to the criminal organisation known as SMERSH. He takes to the gaming tables of the Royale-les-Eaux casino in France, masquerading as a Jamaican playboy, female agent Vesper Lynd at his side and American and French agents watching and waiting in the wings. Tense cat-and-mouse card games of baccarat ensue and eventually Bond gets the upper hand and cleans out Le Chiffre. But the bad guy is determined not to lose out. He arranges for Lynd – to whom Bond has become increasingly attracted – to be kidnapped and then captures Bond who he proceeds to torture.
If not for the fact that it’s the first Bond adventure, Casino Royale might seem to be an unusual choice for the first in what’s presumably intended as a series of graphic novels. It’s a moody, wonderfully atmospheric – occasionally even a little seedy - story, hugely outmoded in many respects – Bond’s attitude to women is strictly 1950s and some might find it shocking or at least uncomfortable – and considering that the real drama of the story lies in a series of unfathomable card games, it’s extraordinary that the story adapts so well into the graphic novel medium. The intricacies of baccarat remain a mystery yet Calero’s subtle, shadowed illustrations, coupled with Van Jenson’s script (written with precision from Fleming’s book) manage to convey the tension and the high stakes as well as any cinematic version; indeed, the narrative works a little better and more directly here than it does even in Daniel Craig’s debut screen 007 outing back in 2006. It’s a battered and bruised Bond – mercifully we’re never privy to the full extent of his injuries but he’s laid up in hospital for some weeks – who’s finally reunited with Vesper and the two begin a torrid and passionate relationship underpinned by suspicion, mistrust and betrayal. It ends for Bond in tragedy with a brittle final line of dialogue and an agent who will go on to greater and more extravagant adventures, battle-hardened by his experiences in Casino Royale and ready for anything his creator and, later, his custodians, can throw at him in years to come.
Casino Royale, despite its creaky pace and lack of full-blooded action, is classic proper Bond, beautifully realised here, surprisingly absorbing and, more importantly, not at all off-putting or challenging to readers and Bond fans who perhaps aren’t familiar visitors to the graphic novel/sequential art world. More, please, Mr Bond…
CASINO ROYALE / SCRIPT: VAN JENSEN (FROM THE NOVEL BY IAN FLEMING) / ARTIST: DENNIS CALERO / PUBLISHER: DYNAMITE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 24TH