James Robinson talks to Byron Brewer about James Bond: Felix Leiter #1, on sale in January from Dynamite. Covers by Mike Perkins and Gabriel Hardman.
JAMES ROBINSON: Well, firstly it started because I had a great time working with Dynamite on my own book Grand Passion. (Issue #1 out in two weeks, check it out!) However, even before that, quite a while ago actually, I agreed to do Felix. It seemed like a great fit with me writing a beaten-down P.I. character in the world of Bond. And the pedigree of the main title with Warren Ellis and Andy Diggle meant I was in very lofty company too, which appealed to my vanity. And as a lover of the Bond books, I jumped at the challenge of giving some weight to this somewhat under-utilized supporting character.
BB: In the main James Bond series from Dynamite, Warren Ellis has of course been using the Ian Fleming novels as source material. Will that be true for your take on Leiter as well? Will this be a contemporary iteration?
JR: Well, I'd say Felix is exactly in the same world as Warren's run. It even refers to it, in terms of the advanced prosthetics that Bond encounters in Warren's run. I see Warren's Bond as having the feel of the books, while at the same time it's updated. It isn't the movie Bond, it has the feel of the books, but it's in our world today. There are things that set it apart from the books and movies. The era it's set in isn't the books, but the look and feel of the characters isn't like the movies. I think it's very much its own incarnation of Bond and his world. A world were M is a black man. A world where Felix is a scruffy haired modern guy. It's enough like the books that I've jokingly called the original Bond novels set during the 1950s and 60s as the Bond of Earth 2 and this is the modern Bond but with the same feel, so it's the Bond of Earth 1.
BB: To your writer's mind, who is Felix Leiter, aside from another Bond asset and frequent "sidekick"?
JR: I think that's all he is in the books. Asset, "side-kick" and someone to get their arm and leg chewed off when it serviced the plot. It's nice that Felix is such a blank character as it gives me so much more room to play. The Felix I'm writing is a guy who's been beaten-up both physically and metaphorically and at this point he should be a negative, broken down guy. However Felix's grace is that he's an optimist despite himself. He keep chugging along and looking for the silver lining. This helps him get through the bad luck the he constantly seems to face, while at the same time help him to view his cases and the action around him with clear, open thinking.
BB: Are there any Bond/Leiter tropes from the movies that might work their way into your adventure as Easter eggs? Are you more a fan of the Bond novels or movies?
JR: Well, I'm following Warren's lead here, so he's more an updated version of the book character. There's a (almost) science fiction element that slips into some of the films. True it also began to enter Fleming's writing too once the movies started to come out, but it was never as much as it was in the films. I'm a fan of a lot of the movies. Most of the Connery, Lazenby, some Bronsnan and Dalton. I'm a fan of Daniel Craig too, although I think I may be the one person in the world who didn't like Skyfall. The first half is Bond making too many mistakes. The villain's plot is needlessly complicated and the end felt more like a Jack Higgins adventure than a Bond film.
JR: Alena Davoff is a woman who has kept her appearance in the shadows. Felix is one of the few people alive who can identify her. She's an old flame from his days in the C.I.A. when he has all his limbs. When he was "whole". She's a spy very much in the femme fatale mold. I have plans for her that go beyond this first series, so buy lots of copies so I'll get to write more Felix adventures after this one.
BB: How much research did you do on Tokyo and other background locales for this book? Ellis has really done a fantastic job of weaving the culture into his scenes so it's not just cookie-cutter globe-hopping. Will your backdrops be important to the adventure Leiter is having?
JR: I did a lot of research. I'm excited to set it there and thereby (in this new Dynamite version of Bond) to also get to reintroduce Tiger Tanaka (from You Only Live Twice.) I think readers will enjoy mine and Aaron Campbell's depiction of Tokyo and Honshu as a whole.
BB: How is it to work with artist Aaron Campbell? He certainly hit it out of the park in the two volumes of Dynamite's Uncanny!
JR: He continues to swing for the fences. The work is wonderful. And his style marrying the everyday with the fantastic so seamless it's perfect for the world of Bond and for Felix especially. I love working with the guy.
BB: So if you can, non-spoilery, what can we expect from James Bond: Leiter going forward?
JR: Felix is in Tokyo for one reason — to identify Alena Davoff. However, a bigger, more deadly threat shows his face and Felix is dragged into that too. Lots of action and wild James Bond-like happenings, but at the same time we get into Felix's head about what it's like to be outside and apart from the C.I.A now. We learn who the guy is. All while he's trying to keep the body parts he hasn't already lost still attached to himself.