Writer's Commentary – James Robinson Talks Felix Leiter #3

Dynamite has sent us a new writer's commentary, this one from James Robinson on James Bond: Felix Leiter #3 which hits stores today. Cover by Mike Perkins and interiors by Aaron Campbell.

bondfelix03covaperkinsAs I lie here, prone, at ease, recalling my thought process for writing this issue, let me start by saying my mind is not the steel trap it once was. I don't know if it's my age, the vagaries and distractions of the day, or the allure of a freshly packed opium pipe, but I find it hard to recall even what I did yesterday, let along work I did several months ago.

I will give you what I can recall, although it will be somewhat of a scattershot of thoughts, more than any cohesive and finely honed narrative of my creative process.

So, with that said, I'll take a good long puff on the pipe and begin —

bondfelix0031PAGE ONE

I've always loved full pages that implied a taste of what is to come, but weren't necessarily the first logical moment you choose to show if you opted for a more standard narrative — where Page 1 begets Page 2 and then Page 3 and so on. Instead I opted here for a tease for the underlying action in this story, the interrogation of Johnny North. We come back to it later, but here it stands as an almost surreal moment in time. Think the editing of filmmaker Nick Roeg. Also, think the splash pages of Grant Morrison's X-Men run when he did something similar to great effect.

bondfelix0032 bondfelix0033PAGES TWO/THREE.
And here we are in Felix's head.

One of the things I love about private eyes in fiction is that by virtue of writing traditions — notably the work of Hammett, Chandler and Ross McDonald to begin with anyway, writing in the first person, or with some kind of internal monologue is part of what we expect. In fact most P.I. fiction feels empty and underdeveloped unless the shamus is telling us how his head aches or how attractive he finds the wayward heiress he'd been hired to locate.

Thankfully, Felix was made a P.I. by Fleming after he lost his arm and leg, so I felt justified in adding that aspect of storytelling to Felix's adventure here.

We learn more about his past with Alena and we show her character a little more too. Whether or not she's a villain in our present day drama, I wanted to show enough of her not being evil, that we understood how Felix might fall for her and how — perhaps — she might care for him too, even if her job as a spy comes first. Villains who are purely evil are boring. Conflicted or multi-leveled villains are more fun to write.

I also felt this sequence was a good chance to show some of the sex and violence that any good James Bond story should have at points along the way.

The poppies on Pages 2 and 3 spread was a recurrence to a visual idea I used in an issue of DCs Men At War that I did a few years back. I recall sketching out an idea not unlike this for the cover artist. It looked so nice, I thought I'd repeat it here. Don't the colors look wonderful here?

bondfelix0034PAGE FOUR.
More flashback. Obviously Alena is an important element in this series, and at this point in the story, it was the perfect place to show a little more of Felix's past.

I have to say I love how the color adds an almost photographic feel to the art, through lighting glare and shadow.

bondfelix0035PAGE FIVE.
I love the sun, shining through the trees.

I'm also really happy with Alena and Felix's conversation here. Again, I didn't want her to come across as evil or even that she was using Felix by sexually/emotionally manipulating him. I think a layer of complexity comes through, that makes her an interesting foil for Felix in the present.

I was very happy to make the way Felix talks and the things he says imperfect. He isn't Bond. He isn't just the American Bond. Fictional P.I.s tend to be as interesting as they are imperfect. Felix says stupid things sometimes, but at least is quick to recognize it when he does.

A little more of Felix's internal monologue — coupled with sex and violence. Are we in the world of Bond? Why yes. Yes, we are.

And as anyone who's had sex standing up like that will attest, it's easier if you have all your limbs. I deliberately wanted that (and the nakedness of Felix in general in this spread) to remind us that he wasn't always the way he is now. At one point prior, he was whole. And … he was at least slightly closer to being the American James Bond.

And back to the present. Felix, the broken man.

Love the transition mid-page, here, by the way.

I have always enjoyed the fact that Tiger Tanaka existed in the world of Bond, even if he did only appear in the book (and film) You Only Live Twice.

However, redesigning him so he felt more current and as much a man of action as one who gave orders was important to everyone — me, Aaron, the folks at Dynamite and those at the Fleming Estate too. It's tricky to do without it taking away from the ongoing narrative too much, but I attempted to show a gentler and more gentlemanly side to him, even when discussing Felix oversleeping or Johnny North's interrogation.

At the same time, however, this is a story with lots of plot-points. This page is mainly that, but even there, writing it so it's clear to readers and not overly Byzantine is something you have to try for. I think I did okay here.

And we jump back an hour. We see the subtle but notable difference in demeanor of Tanaka as he interviews Johnny North compared to his conversation with Felix.

I was curious if I'd be allowed to do this in the comic. Showing Tanaka resorting to violence, when he's unable to get North to talk and the clock ticking down to another potential germ attack. I'm glad I did, and as a result got to show Tiger's unhappiness at being forced into such a terrible decision.

And back in the present, as we further show Tiger's unhappiness with the choice he was forced into making.

At this point in the story, I needed a plot device to remove Tiger from his facility and as we turn the page, I thought to break to the outdoors was needed at this juncture.

I'm greatly interested in how much the Japanese like golf. I read somewhere that golf club membership is at such a premium that men walk around in golf attire, as if on their way to a game, when they aren't even members anywhere. They want to look like golfers even when they can't be.

With Tiger's rank and station, I thought he would have golf club membership and this was the perfect location to cut to. Golf as a tension release for Tiger suited the character I was trying to (re)create here.

It's almost a no-brainer to intercut the relaxing golf game with Johnny North's violent interrogation. That was my idea.

However, it was Aaron's idea to show so much of that violence as silhouette, where you have to imagine more of what's happening. Definitely a wonderful use of "less is more."

I wasn't sure how far I should go with this. Dynamite's new Bond series, as introduced by Warren Ellis, is a bit of a mixture. It isn't merely an update of the book-version of Bond and neither is it the sci-fi gadget strewn world of the movie-Bond. It's somewhere in between, which I love.

However, it's hard to gauge how sci-fi you can go and be true to this new version.

I feared the projected "computer desk top"/"working wall" might be too much. Indeed, I first thought of it from seeing Minority Report, which is obviously science fiction. However, seeing it here, I think it works well. In fact, seeing it drawn so beautifully by Aaron, the contrast and juxtaposition between the screens floating there and the greenery and openness of the golf course is lovely.

And back with Johnny North's interrogation. Not much more to say except I love Aaron's art here, as I have throughout this series.

And we end with the moment that we set up thematically with Page One. Booyah. Drops mike.

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Dan WicklineAbout Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.
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