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  1. Young Bond Comes To Life

    Young Bond Comes To Life

    “Comic books”, “graphic novels”, “pieces of paper with pictures on them and some words but mainly pictures”… Matt Westoncall them what you want: I don’t get them. I love a humorous comic – hand me a book of Gary Larson’s sublime Far Side and I’ll chuckle away until my sides split, causing my guts to come gushing out as if I’ve been mauled by a swarm of genetically-engineered eels. No, it’s the “serious” comic book I can’t get my head around.

    For me, reading SilverFin: The Graphic Novel was a learning process, which is all rather fitting as Charlie Higson’s SilverFin is precisely the kind of novel concerned with discovering oneself (even if Young Bond’s personal journey is significantly more character-building than that of a 23-year-old Bond geek grappling with the union of illustrations and the written word).

    Despite those exceptional qualifications, this hardcore Young Bond aficionado has been dying to get his hands on SilverFin: The Graphic Novel ever since it was first announced way back in 2006. Its arrival in 2008 allows us to look at the adaptation in a completely different light. Charlie Higson’s Young Bond – the character and the series – has matured dramatically over the course of the author’s five books. Never is this more evident than when you look back at SilverFin.

    Young James Bond

    Largely – and necessarily – an origin story, SilverFin opens with a terrific scene – represented in graphic novel form as kind of a “pre-titles sequence” – in which a young boy is attacked by a group of particularly savage eels.

    Wilder Lawless

    Enter our hero: James Bond, age 13, arriving at Eton for his first day of school. It isn’t long before James makes his first enemy in the form of a school bully. On his way to visit his Aunt Charmian (rewardingly, for the adult James Bond fan, Higson peppers his story with references to Fleming’s original novels), James meets an East London boy named Red Kelly, who is heading to Scotland to investigate the disappearance of his cousin, Alfie, whom we encountered in the opening scenes. James becomes entangled with Red’s investigation, leading to a dramatic confrontation in a remote Scottish castle.

    In retrospect, it’s difficult not to consider SilverFin the odd Young Bond book out. It’s a wonderful page-turner in its own right, but it reads as much more of a children’s book than Higson’s subsequent stories. Even though this adaptation has been somewhat “adultified” – SilverFin: The Graphic Novel seems to contain more mild swearing than the original book did – the story remains quite simple, unlike later Young Bond tales, which are more complex and layered.

    SilverFin: The Graphic Novel is an incredibly faithful adaptation of Higson’s source material. Indeed, it may well be the most vivid and best realised take on the illustrated James Bond ever.

    Young Bond in action

    All of the SilverFin‘s major sequences are represented here – aside from Young Bond’s playful wrestle with junior Bond girl Wilder Lawless, a sequence bizarrely cut from US editions of the book – in glorious full colour. The mood is set simply and effectively with white borders signifying daytime sequences and black borders indicating those set at night. Walker’s illustrations are a joy to behold; the artwork contains a fascinating level of detail. Many of the panels are framed in very unique ways and there is plenty to absorb on each page.

    Kev Walker does a fantastic job of bringing SilverFin‘s characters to life. Each is represented in a unique, stylistic fashion – the reader is instantly propelled into the distinct Young Bond universe. James himself is perfectly illustrated and the character’s development – a key component of the Young Bond saga – is accurately translated. James begins the story as a timid, even frightened-looking, young boy. The sorrow and loneliness within Bond at the start of the story is beautifully captured. As SilverFin progresses, James develops the first signs of world-weariness that will shape him as an adult. The artist frequently and effectively uses a character’s eyes to convey mood, a tactic most evident on the book’s final page: a stunning culmination of Young Bond’s development throughout SilverFin.

    Lord Hellebore

    Other characters are also effectively illustrated. Lord Hellebore appears as a truly imposing figure, particularly given how frequently he is drawn from below. Walker often chooses to focus solely on Hellebore’s face, giving the impression he is as strong mentally as he is physically. George Hellebore, is similarly depicted, but there is an element of tragedy to his visage, an emotion especially highlighted during Walker’s translation of the terrific SilverFin chapter exploring the Hellebore family (and in which James Bond does not feature).

    Like Higson’s novel, this adaptation really hits its stride during its final third, as James faces off with the villainous Lord Hellebore. It’s during these final sequences that Walker’s artwork is at its best. The orderliness of the earlier pages is eschewed for a series of chaotic panels featuring jagged edges that overlap each other. The colours become dramatic and vibrant. The climax is thrilling, atmospheric and genuinely frightening.

    The novel’s gory sequences – a true Young Bond staple – are vividly depicted (the death of one incidental character is as dramatically and sickeningly portrayed here as it was in Higson’s prose).

    Hellebore's lair

    SilverFin is also the Young Bond story that most borders on science-fiction, and Kev Walker’s illustrations more than do justice to Lord Hellebore’s sickening array of experiments – a full page spread of a genetically-engineered pig charging at a henchman is one of the most memorable pieces of artwork within the book.

    Walker is also adept at portraying the SilverFin‘s more emotional moments, two of which involve flashbacks. The first, rendered in gorgeous sepia tones, shows James bidding farewell to his parents for the last time (touchingly, the final panel on the page is entirely blank). He is later told by Aunt Charmian of his parents’ accidental death; the grief on both character’s faces is heartfully rendered. Again, the final frame is thoughtfully constructed – Aunt Charmian embraces James beside the stationary swing on which he was previously sitting; however, the two elements exist in separate panels, showing that James’ childhood has suddenly been torn from him.

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    &nbspThe second flashback takes place as James’ Uncle Max shares with him some of his wartime exploits (the flashback, rendered in harsh blues, is brilliantly intercut with warm yellows and oranges as James and Max bond with each other by the fire). The three-page sequence is ridiculously Flemingian (Max bears a remarkable resemblance to Ian Fleming’s description of the adult James Bond), as James’ uncle retells how he was once caught and brutally tortured by the enemy, before miraculously escaping. The sequence makes you long for Walker to tackle an adult James Bond story.

    Before he does that, though, Walker needs to get cracking on Blood Fever ASAP. Like its source material, it takes until the final third of SilverFin: The Graphic Novel for the full potential of the series to emerge. With four exceptional novels begging to be adapted, Kev Walker’s near-flawless take on SilverFin has proven, unequivocally, that there is no artist better suited to bring the Young Bond universe to life.

    Matt Weston @ 2008-11-25
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