24 February, 2013

The Casino Royale Prequel and Other Bondian Revelations


For all of the talk about reboots and reinventions and everything else that James Bond has gone through over the past ten years or so, I think it's

Casino Royale isn't an aberration of the franchise, it's a reintroduction of a tone and style that has been there for almost forty years. And that movie is, of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, that's right, the one with George Lazenby.

Let me get the obvious similarities out of the way--

First of all, James Bond whips the shit out of everybody he meets in this movie. Just socking guys in the teeth from beginning to end and often with no real reason. People are just there for him to work his judo out on. Sure he looks scared as hell when he's going it, but he's not the one with an Italian loafer broken off in their ass.

Secondly, there are no gadgets from Q. There isn’t even a mission from M for that matter, now that I think about it. The more important fact is that James Bond is left to his wit and his acumen with brute force to save the day. There’s no exploding car keys or watch lasers, just lots of fisticuffs. . . and maybe one electronic safe cracker, but that’s just the one thing, I mean, come on now!

Thirdly, this movie revolves around James Bond being vulnerable. He’s scared and, what is even more crucial, is he is capable of loss. Unlike a Connery or a Brosnan, this Bond’s arc revolves around losing and gaining something, which is the same arc that Bond follows in Casino Royale.

This isn’t so much of a secret long uncovered as proof that the James Bond we’re living with now is almost as old as the one we started with.


Another point that I’ve come to agree with and, this is only after re-watching the Connery films and watching the Dalton movies for the first time, is that James Bond is something of a dick. I’m willing to come to terms with this.

What kind of an asshole goes to foreign countries with the express purposes of creating paperwork for the local police? Do you pay taxes there? Do you know these people? Why are you drunk driving? Why is there a flaming Alfa-Romero in St. Peter’s Basilica?

Then there’s the fact that he just plows through women in this movie like nothing else. The whole movie kind of hinges on the fact that he’s courting this Countess, meanwhile he just bangs a bunch of chicks at Bloefeld’s mountain compound. Like, consecutively. At first it’s kind of funny then you just realize that behind all the pirate shirts and kilts that he might just be a skeezball.

He also hits Diana Rigg in the face at least twice.

But to quote this song, he's suave, it's okay.


With other Bond movies I always felt that the sexist attitudes, if they were sexist, were always in fun or they were knowingly ridiculous or they fell into the generic trappings of the spy movie and were therefore mostly exempt from criticism in the same way that complaining about the physics in a science fiction movie are slightly beside the point. It doesn’t mean all is forgiven or that you can’t say something meaningful, but people should be aware that when you harp on about how James Bond is a sexist, misogynist dinosaur and you aren’t Judi Dench you are likely a tedious person.

It’s just it’s a spy movie from the 1960’s, not a treatise on suffrage by Susan Sontag.

And with all of that said: OHMSS has one of the best examples I have ever seen in the Male Gaze. It’s kind of incredible on an academic level and it’s even more incredible that, at one point, a series of people making a film thought that this was a totally cool thing to do. It’s flabbergasting just how perfect it is.

I don’t truck much with the Male Gaze and, if it does exist I don’t have a huge problem with it. Men like looking at a nice ass. A nice ass is a nice thing to look at. Women will tell you the same thing. We can debate about possession and objectification and the dominant patriarchy, but the reality is nobody wants to watch a movie about Eleanor Roosevelt’s ass for two hours no matter how well it’s told. Sometimes people want to see Marilyn Monroe. In fact, science has proven that people always want to see Marilyn Monroe. To me, as interesting and as relevant as the Male Gaze can be as an argument, it strikes me as sour grapes about 90% of the time. Incredibly boring sour grapes. I mean, shit, we have to use that college degree for something, don’t we? (Unlike me.) 

All that said, this movie pretty much has the perfect example of what the Male Gaze is. There is a scene where James Bond is gambling (one more tally on the James Bond is a Dick scoreboard) and a woman walks into frame. Or part of her does. Her head is blocked by a lamp and the only thing we can see is a very fine dress displaying the fact that Emma Peel has a far nicer rack than you might have previously imagined.

Seriously. It’s a nice, nice rack.


This Bond movie has not one, not two, but three nipples in it. That’s higher than most Bond movies.

At one point James Bond not only reads a Playboy, but he also performs the ultimate middle schooler move by tearing out the center fold.

It’s kind of hilarious.

Also, as a testament to how things have moved on, can you imagine Daniel Craig picking up a Playboy in a contemporary Bond movie?


Swinging back to my vague premise: I believe that OHMSS is a hard precedent to Casino Royale. Not to say that it’s the gritty, post-Bourne work that Royale is, but they share more DNA than any other movies in the series do. It proves that Bond was never truly re-booted, because he's still the same basic guy that he was in 1969.

More importantly, OHMSS is a pretty darn good movie. It wouldn't be worth talking about if it wasn't.

In that way it’s the missing link between James Bond talking about listening to the Beatles on headphones and James Bond cussing at waiters for dillydallying about his order. Most thankfully this story is free of the self-parodic elements and arch-silliness of the Roger Moore films (which, again thankfully, disappear with Timothy Dalton’s movies). It’s still a Bond movie, though, and it still comes with the basic trappings of the series for better or for worse, yet it manages to be emotional in a way that doesn’t take away from the fun of the ski chases and bikini babes.

What else could you want out of a Bond movie?

13 February, 2013

A Boring Review for a Pretty Decent Comic

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand

Good to see Mr. Johnson getting cover work.

Hellboy trades are one of those things I wait around for on bated breath. I love Hellboy and have for quite some time and Mike Mignola is quietly one of my favorite names in comic books. The world that Hellboy exists in means a lot to me and every time a new, proper Hellboy trade comes out, I am excited. That even extends to side stories, stories like Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand.

In this particular case, I was especially excited because Tonci Zonjic, a man as talented as his name is unpronouncable, would be performing art duties alongside John Arcudi's writing. What's more is that the last Lobster trade was something of a disappointment, so this could only

My longing for another Lobster Johnson trade comes from that fact that it was drawn by Tonci Zonjic and increased by the fact that the first trade could only be improved upon.

The Burning Hand exists as its own story and the story that is there is fairly solid. Does it have glow in the dark Indian Italian mobsters? Yes. Does it have a hobo spy ring? Yes. Does it have a dragon lady and a guy who "isn’t" Peter Lorre? You bet. The problem is that it uses the characters, the setting, and the crazy throwaway madness to no real end. It just is. While it is told fairly well, it still isn't Hellboy. Hell, it isn't BPRD.

John Arcudi is skilled at a great many things as a writer. As a nerd and as a fan of what amounts to be pulp garbage, I appreciate that Arcudi is best when he's in a position to throw his idea bucket at the story at hand. What I mean is that all of the zombies, werejaguars, and Fu Manchus all exist to accentuate a more important story. In the same way that Cuba's revolutionary problems aren't what the Godfather series is about, the Nazi clone robots are not what BPRD is about. The story is never just the monsters, it's what these monsters mean to the world and the people in it.
See? Now there's a title!

The problems with the Lobster Johnson series is that it is only ever about the Nazi robot elephant in the room, which I guess is sustaining enough of an idea for 100 pages or so. The book is defined by its disposable thrills and those pointless moments are kind of amazing in their own way. They show you a wider, weirder world that would maybe work better as an ongoing story or maybe one that didn't require you to fill in the gaps with various other series.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that Hellboy, as a series, isn't something that is as self contained as I think it is. Huh. That'll bug me.


 My favorite weird moment is when Lobster Johnson and his team are lured into the mansion of what they believe to be a mob boss’ hideout. In reality, it’s a lair given over to the cannibals that run New York City’s underground and it is a trap. Because of course it is.

Because it’s a pulp book and it stars a guy with two pistols. It isn’t be the solid world building of BPRD or the far-out mythology of Hellboy. It is, however, fun. Saying it is “insubstantial” is almost inherent to the premise. It’s almost a compliment. People don't want to read baggy pulp stories, that's how you get bad Quentin Tarantino movies. This genre was built to move and Lobster Johnson moves.

While it's in the same universe, you buy Hellboy for the mythology and for BPRD you buy it for this cast of characters dealing with the end of the world and in this case you buy it for the mobster cannibal houses.

The art from Tonci Zonjic is the best part of this comic. Zonjic brings something special to the work in the same way that Duncan Fegredo and Guy Davis bring something special to their work, so does Mr. Zonjic. I'd like to think that he gets it.

What are you doing? Buy this book already.
It somehow just fits better into the overall look and feel of  the Hellboy universe. Feel is a word that I have to put in itallics, because there's no real qualifying it. Some artists just feel wrong. I never liked anyone drawing Hellboy until Douglas Fegredo, because he seemed to get it somehow. While Lobster Johnson isn't a proper Hellboy book, he performs the magic that Fegredo has done in the past, which is he makes the content seem both beautiful and somehow perfectly natural in the the supernatural world that Mike Mignola has created.

In the end isn't that all you need? The book is called Lobster Johnson. There are better pulp books and there are worse pulp books and there are very few that involve the Hellboy name, so as flawed or as underwhelming as it is, it does deliver on the title. It is about a character named Lobster Johnson and he does some Lobster-Johnson-ass-shit in between the cover and the back.

At least it doesn't completely drop the ball like The Iron Prometheus, as well. That felt like it someone had forgot that it was a four issue mini-series at the last moment and had to cram in an ending (one which you only get if you read BPRD which, last I checked, is not how Hellboy works. That is how bad X-Men work). If I'm angry at The Burning Hand, it's because I'm projecting all of my frustrations on it from the last book in the series.

In the end, though, this this stuff is fun. And that is kind of all it is. It isn't brilliant, it doesn't transcend anything and it doesn't really need to. I expect more from the talent involved and from the franchise involved and, yet, this book is about a guy with two pistols and his crew of New York stereotypes shooting people and saving the day. If that's the worst thing that can be said about this book then I think we could use a lot more terrible comic books like this.