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Mystery-thriller 'Spy Superb' sneaks into comic shops January 2023

Comic Books

‘Spy Superb’ #1 review: Matt and Sharlene Kindt reunite for a delightfully snarky sendup

Matt Kindt’s characterization of the endlessly quotable, egotistical hack, Jay Bartholomew III, is where this debut shines brightest.

When the first James Bond movie debuted in 1962, the “cinematic universe” concept did not yet exist. None of the film’s producers could have predicted that Dr. No would be the first of seven massively popular Bond films starring Sean Connery — much less that the Bond franchise would still be going strong six decades later. It also seems fair to point out that early fans were much less interested in cinematic continuity than moviegoers are today. All of which is to say, despite the fact that the early James Bond films were relatively self-contained, as the years and decades wore on (and James Bond himself never aged), the series’ overall continuity became a discursive mess.

Enter “Codename Bond,” a popular fan theory that ingenuously set things right, as if by magic. In its simplest form, the theory suggests, “James Bond” isn’t one person, it’s a pseudonym for multiple agents. “James Bond” is an abstract idea made real by a series of spies who each adopt the same fictitious, larger-than-life persona.

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This theory not only smooths over countless inconsistencies, it also plays off the notion that agent 007 is indestructible. He is everywhere and nowhere at once, uncaught and unkillable, the embodiment of the quote (cribbed from Jack London) which is dramatically read by M in No time to Die: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Bond lives on, but he doesn’t exist.

Spy Superb #1

Dark Horse Comics

Take the “Codename Bond” idea and mash it up with a character like Peter Sellers’ farcically inept Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies and you’ve pretty much got the gist of Spy Superb #1. It’s a fun and funny idea with loads of comedic potential, especially in the hands of the uber-talented couple of writer/illustrator Matt Kindt and colorist Sharlene Kindt. Even better, this new series reunites the creative duo for the first time since the conclusion of their undersea murder mystery, Dept. H., way back in 2018.

The book’s structure is pretty straightforward. After a brief explanation of how the cheekily named Operation Half Huit came to be, The Handler articulates the program’s rather unconventional philosophy: “What better cover for a spy than not realizing you are one? … You can’t give away or betray what you don’t know.” Sounds like solid logic to me.

Unfortunately, after a string of stellar agents and successful missions, Operation Half Huit is in desperate need of their next useful idiot. Luckily, the Handler has been keeping tabs on an insufferable wannabe writer named Jay Bartholomew III. He not only “checks all the boxes” – he also happens to be “the most oblivious agent we’ve ever had.”

Matt Kindt’s characterization of this endlessly quotable, egotistical hack is where this debut shines brightest. Trust me, you’ve met this guy. We all have. Hell, some of us are him. (I know I was in my 20s.) He’s that random guy you meet at a con or a book signing who sucks the air out of the room while braying about his “work,” virtually all of which remains to be written. He’s that self-absorbed dilettante who compares himself to Proust — “Landslide of details that you hope add up to something meaningful” — despite the fact he’s never read a word of Proust in his life. “My only fear,” he says of his perpetual novel in progress, “is that its layered meanings are such that it will be overlooked in my lifetime.” Yeah. Probably. This guy is so out of touch, his surname might as well be Dunning-Kruger.

Spy Superb #1

Curtesy Dark Horse

While the book’s art isn’t groundbreaking in terms of clever angles, drop-dead compositions or innovative paneling, Matt Kindt’s illustrative style feels fresh and enjoyable. With gentle curves and thin, soft edges, the art is organic and breezy, keeping the focus squarely on the words and the unfolding action.

Sharlene Kindt, for her part, knocks it out of the park. Her sparing use of orange, red, and green gives certain pages and panels a subtle pop that grabs your attention, but keeps things moving along. Her skillful use of tone on tone in close-ups of Jay Bartholomew III slyly suggest our pontificating protagonist may literally fade into the background when we get up and walk away. Proof it’s the perfect disguise. You can’t pay attention to what you ignore and don’t want to engage with.

The first chapter ends with a dozen pages of silly, choreographed cartoon violence inadvertently rained down on the bad guys by our oblivious Spy Superb. To be honest, it’s not overly clever, but it is beautifully drawn and colored. The sequence unfolds seamlessly with pitch-perfect pacing, Rube Goldberg-like precision, and splashes of color that heighten the drama. With a breathtaking lack of insight, our hapless protagonist has completed stage one of his mission. He’s in the thick of it now, though he doesn’t yet have a clue. And don’t sleep on the backup story, a delightfully improbable tale that gives us great insight into The Handler’s origin story.

Mystery-thriller 'Spy Superb' sneaks into comic shops January 2023
‘Spy Superb’ #1 review: Matt and Sharlene Kindt reunite for a delightfully snarky sendup
Spy Superb #1
Matt Kindt’s characterization of the endlessly quotable, egotistical hack, Jay Bartholomew III, is where this debut shines brightest. A seamless finale with pitch-perfect pacing and Rube Goldberg-like precision sets the stage nicely for act two.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Clueless protagonist Jay Bartholomew III is a joy to behold.
As always, Sharlene Kindt’s watercolors knock it out of the park.
Action sequences are tight and seamless.
The art is fresh and engaging, but also very straightforward.
We’ve seen this idea before. Without continued great execution it could quickly grow stale.
8.5
Great
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