From Kindt With Love: With the excellent MIND MGMT, Matt Kindt basically rewrote the rules for the spy thriller sub-genre. With a penchant for multi-layered narratives and endless mystery, plus a keen interesting in messing with readers’ sensibilities, Kindt made the world of super spies as cerebral as it was sexy. Now, he’s given the genre another “rebirth,” of sorts, with BANG! And this one should leave you feel shaken, if not entirely stirred.
The True Spectre: The premise of BANG! is basically “You know how there’s been multiple James Bonds, but they never knew about each other in-universe? Now they do.” This series’ Bond archetype is Thomas Cord, a similarly dashing agent whose spent the last 50-plus years saving the world, landing the pretty female lead, and wearing dope suits. But in his latest mission, Cord (a “new” version, as an earlier super-spy runs into trouble in the first few pages) meets his maker. Literally. His sudden immersion out of this fictional “world” comes courtesy of Philip Verve, creator of the Cord series of novels (and others, which seemingly play a part in BANG!‘s overarching story). This first issue does a stellar job in setting a solid pace, and Kindt has cherry-picked from the genre to create something deeply familiar and resonant. It’s as if Kindt took a blender, lobbed in every Bond film ever alongside Stranger than Fiction, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Twin Peaks, and threw the resulting paste into one of those alcohol guns to blast into people’s face. Yum.
The World Is Not Enough?: To a significant extent, I appreciate what Kindt is doing here. The thing about fiction is, it’s only really fun when you can mess with its borders and have some fun reveling in the resulting chaos. And there’s no better way to jab a stick in the spokes then by making characters (and maybe readers?) question their existence and level of personal control. Yet at the same time, it’s a slightly played out literary device, one that now feels like a cheap ploy to make people feel confused and inevitably mistake that rush for experiencing something deeper and more insightful than might actually be the case. Especially when so many other properties have made use of this device to dizzying effectiveness; heck, Supernatural has strung it along in a damn fine, series-wide sub-plot. The bigger problem is that playing with sensibilities doesn’t work over time, and we’re all increasingly savvy and sophisticated readers (mostly). We know when something’s done to really question the nature of creativity and reality, and when something’s just the efforts of a truly lazy writer. The more this meta approach is used, the less value there is, and BANG! comes at a time when this approach may have already jumped the shark.
Never Say Never Again: Still, if there’s any writer who can add some new life to this trope, it’s Kindt. For one thing, he has a solid history of mucking around with readers’ heads, and he’s an expert at subverting ideas and emotions with a few simple pulls on the frontal cortex. I’ll reference MIND MGMT again — that series got into some deeply cerebral and psychedelic territories, but it also tried to keep the reader engaged with a moving plot and lots of gushy pathos. I also think it’s how he’s approached this “reality smashing” that is setting this series up for future success. He’s not being coy, and he jumps into the process ASAP, drawing us right alongside Cord through this world-shattering revelation. It’s a dated trope, but it’s one that can still be confusing, and yet Kindt has the forethought and sense of joy for the material to keep things light and breezy (or enough, given he’s trying to jam his fingers into our eyeballs and make guacamole). As part of that, he’s found a solid balance between celebrating the pillars of the spy genre — the gadgets, the intrigue, the endless sex, etc. — with a sense of creativity and innovation, and there’s lots of great dialogue and plot points that do wonders for the story itself. It’s still too early to tell, but there’s real potential here for something better than its fiction-defying counterparts.
GoldenEye(s): If absolutely nothing else, this is a wildly gorgeous book, courtesy of artist Wilfredo Torres and colorist Nayoung Kim. Like Kindt, Torres is clearly a huge fan of the spy genre, and he’s totally nailed the sleek, timeline-defying aesthetic. His lines romanticize while also revealing some darker elements to the characters and landscapes, and that’s just what a proper entry in this spy universe should achieve. The intro segment, especially, feels like the greatest lost Bond film ever, and it’s got the sort of energy and dynamic that reminds you of your first film, be it starring Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan. All of that great work is then backed up by Kim’s colors, which practically explode off the page without overwhelming the subtlety and nuance required of this kind of book. With just a few dashes of color, especially in an owl’s eyes and the sky itself in one scene, Kim plays up the psychedelic qualities while hinting at the larger metaphysical ramifications. In some ways, the art enhances the story, but it also stands entirely on its own. It’s an entryway, as it were, inviting the reader in to enjoy a familiar universe. Then Kindt springs the “deeper” trap, and it’s hard to escape. Sort of like dangling over a pit of laser sharks.
Also, props for making the author Verve look sorta kinda like Kindt. Meta!
The Men With The Golden Pens: My favorite thing about spy films or books is that, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the best titles always catch you off guard with some clever twist. BANG! could be one of these titles, and there’s just as much going right for this series as there is the potential to become another entry in long-running trope (albeit an entertaining addition). With any luck, Kindt and Co. can bypass my trepidation and earn their license to thrill.