Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A CLOSER LOOK: Ed Brubaker’s Comic Book Series ‘Velvet’, Part II..Day 160 of Bond 365

Connery during his bodybuilding days
I don't have a Bond alum or event to report on today, so I will continue with Part II of my ongoing discussion about Ed Brubaker’s comic book spy story, Velvet that started last year and is its second story arc of the series. I gave a presentation at Wondercon last year on the series and am revisiting and updating my paper. You can find Part I post on Wednesday June 3, 2015.

Defining Male/Female Roles from the Eon Productions’ Bond films

In this section, I will briefly discuss the roles that men and women filled in the Eon Productions James Bond films. This is meant a quick, high-level refresher only since I’ll be teasing out the details of these definitions as I discuss Velvet Templeton.

Connery and Andress, on Dr. No set
October 5, 1962 at the London Pavilion, audiences witnessed the birth of “Bond. James Bond” in Dr. No, as uttered by relatively newcomer, Sean Connery: an enduring global spy phenomenon was born. Suave, intelligent and lethal in battle and in the bedroom, our filmic James Bond has been Caucasian male from the British Isles (in most cases). Their hair and eye color has varied from one actor to another and they have all been taller men. All of them have had moderately fine physiques and usually were in their 40s when they portrayed Bond (there have been outliers to that statement, but I’m relaying general terms). Dalton and Craig’s Bond have gone rogue from MI6, but usually all of the Bonds were devoted to their Queen and country and always loyal.

Goldfinger and his henchman, Oddjob
There was another defining moment in that first Bond film that was just as important. From the moment Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder stepped out of the water in a snug white bikini, knife strapped on her hip and holding a couple of large conch shells, vibrant beautiful women became inexplicably tied to the secret agent’s image. All of the Bond Girls have been beautiful, intelligent and sensual; often they are victims, damsels in distress, or sometimes Bond’s sidekick or helper through the film. As to looks, well we have had all types of appearances – always slender and usually in their 20s or 30s. It should come as no surprise that alongside the debate about the best actor to portray Bond, so too does the conversation lead to discussions about who was the best Bond Girl: there cannot be Bond without his girl.

Lee as M
The other main character of the films is the arch-villain. This person, almost always has been portrayed by a man who is out for world domination. The method getting there has been paved with gold, genetics, lasers, water, oil, bombs and so much more. Generally, they are not attractive, unless a woman fills the role, and can be classified as, well, maniacal in their thought and deeds. And, the villain always has his or her henchmen or henchwomen. Henchmen are typically killed while henchwomen usually turn on their crazy boss after succumbing to the charms of Bond, only to die later for being a turncoat. These mini-bosses have come in all shapes and sizes as well. The most memorable: Oddjob, Jaws, Pussy Galore, etc.

Llewelyn as Q
The last group of individuals that are staples to the Bond films are M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny. I’ll talk about Miss Moneypenny in a moment because she is important to Velvet’s story, which I’ll talk about in Part III. M is an interesting character because a man and a woman have portrayed M during the history of the films. For many of the films, we had Bernard Lee, who represented structure and gateskeeper of agency protocol, sometimes having to resort to the stern father figure for Bond when James has turned in a bad showing as an agent with a license to kill. But for a time, M was a woman, Dame Judi Dench. She represented the same as the man, but the dynamics of the relationship changed; she seemed to have doubts (within herself as a leader, perhaps) and struggled to control her firecracker of an agent.

Q, on the other hand, always admonishes Bond for being careless with the gadgets, but essentially, the Quartermaster filled the shoes of the older, wiser uncle. He, and he has always been portrayed by a male actor, is a bit of a mystery. Had he served in the military? Or was he always an innovator? In any case, Q and James are the old couple but deep down, they respect each other.

Connery and Maxwell
As a counterpoint to Q, Miss Moneypenny has always been a Miss and when Bond has to see M, he always lingers at the secretary’s desk. Their flirtation is fun and tantalizing. The romantic tension between them is playful, however the professional line is never crossed. Fleming never revealed a first name for the endearing secretary in his novels, and in The Moneypenny Diaries, a trilogy of novels penned by Samantha Weinberg under the pseudonym Kate Westbrook, Westbrook gave Moneypenny the first name of Jane. In You Only Live Twice, it is revealed that she was an officer with the Women’s Royal Naval Service. In subsequent films, Miss Moneypenny is shown participating alongside M in official meetings. While she could be considered the “Girl Friday” type, she was more than just an assistant. For her position, she would have had clearance to top-level reports and she was probably tasked with preparing intelligence reports. It wasn’t until Skyfall that the audience learned that Miss Moneypenny’s first name was Eve and the events that led her to hang up her gun and take a position as M’s secretary are revealed.

In Part III, I’ll discuss how Velvet came into existence and introduce her story. 

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