I've really been enjoying Dynamite's new James Bond comics book based on the original Ian Fleming novels. So I'm greatly looking forward to the new Felix Leiter mini-series by James Robinson and Aaron Campbell. Leiter is a character that has been around as long as Bond has but has never gotten a really good chance to shine. I chatted with Robinson about the series and his plans for the ex-CIA agent turned private detective.
DAN WICKLINE: You are diving into the world of James Bond with a character that has been around for just as long. Felix Leiter was introduced to the world at the same time as Bond, in the pages of Casino Royale (1953). Who is Leiter to you and how does he differ from Bond?
JAMES ROBINSON: Well, Felix has always been a presence in Bond for me, but as everyone knows he's always been more or a passive observer in the books and movies — always trying to catch up with what Bond's up to. He's also had more actors playing him than Bond has, so he's never had a hard, define look or identity. I think this version fixes that as we get to see Felix as the main protagonist. I think Felix is less cruel than Bond, at least the version I'm writing. He's a guy who, despite life and fate handing him the dirty end of the stick constantly, he still approaches situations with a weary sense of hope.
DW: Now the Dynamite series is based on the original novels, but for most fans the films are where they know the character from. There have been 9 different Leiters (7 in the official Eon films) from Jack Lord to Jeffrey Wright. Is one of them close to your vision of the character? How does the novel / comic version differ from the films?
JR: As I said and you said, actually, there have been a lot of different Felix's. And each has been very different from the others — older, younger, chunkier, even a different skin color if you include Wright. I think I'm taking bit from all of them, while adding my own take based on the fresh re-envisioning of Bond that Warren Ellis began and which this Felix Leiter series is coming out of. I think it's a great chance to do something fresh and fun with Felix and so I'm trying not to draw too much from any of the Leiter's in the past.
DW: Leiter worked for the CIA and DEA at different points in his career, but you are telling the story of him after the shark attack and working as a private detective. What is his world like now that he's out of the agency? Is this an advancement in his life or him hitting the bottom?
JR: He's not advancing, but he's not hitting bottom either. He's existing. It's how he is at the start of this series. If I get to write more Felix after this series, however, I'd like to see Felix growing and advancing and making a name for himself outside of his life with Bond.
DW: What can fans expect going into this series? Is this a fast-paced spy thriller, a noir detective tale or something in between? And what type of threat is he dealing with on his own?
JR: It's a bit of everything you list. It's a mystery, with a global threat attached and a mystery woman from Felix's past. It also features Tiger Tanaka (known to Bond fans from the book and film You Only Live Twice) who we're having fun updating too.
JR: Actually I don't. Felix will muse in places throughout the series, how unlike Bond he is and how that may be a lack in him. However, at the same time, I don't think it's good for the characters of him or Bond to try to be like each other. They work so well together because they're polar opposites in many ways.
DW: You were already doing Grand Passion with Dynamite, was that part of what put you on their radar for this new project? Did they come to you or did you ask about the Bond books? What about the character made you want to do it?
JR: Nick and I have been talking about working together for maybe as long as a decade. Grand Passion is one thing. It's an absolute blast. However, when they approached me about working in the Bond universe, it took some time to find the write thing. It was the idea of doing Felix that immediately stuck with me as it work well with the private eye type comics I enjoy writing and (if I be so bold as to compliment myself) I do quite well.
DW: You're working with Aaron Campbell who had previously done the series Uncanny, which seems to have a somewhat similar feel to the new series. What is it like working with him? Do you collaborate during the scripting stage or is it more once the pages are started?
JR: Aaron and I don't collaborate. No reason, it's just we haven't. I do the script and he does the art. However, let me stress that isn't to say I don't care about Aaron's art. I actually love and can't get over how lucky I am to have him. He really is perfect for Felix, maybe because, as you say, his work on Uncanny had some of the same elements.
DW: Do you think, if given the right vehicles, Felix Leiter could become as popular in his own right as James Bond? Is he a character that could lead an on-going comic series or maybe his own movie?
JR: Hmm. As popular as Bond? That would be a Hell of a thing. Do I think Felix has room to grow and me a popular character in his own right? Absolutely. In fact I have a trilogy of ideas for him, that I'd love to do if sales of this first series permit it. As for a movie? Sure, why not. He'd be great in a solo story. But I would have franchised out a couple of other 00 numbers by now too. Idris Elba as Bond? Yes? No? Not sure? How about simply making him 008 and having a new flavor of adventure. Hmm, you've just given me an idea.