Sometime recently, John Byrne must have decided that he wanted to write and draw a James Bond comic, as there’s really no other explanation for Cold War, the new series published by IDW. It is, undeniably, an outright relabeling of the mid-20th century 007, depicting the exploits of a British secret agent named Michael Swann in the midst of the espionage-heavy conflict between Western powers and the Soviet Union. Swann is arrogant and bullheaded, prone to causing high levels of collateral damage and often preoccupied with the art of lady seduction, yet ultimately he’s really good at his job. Sound familiar? To top it all off, he even looks like a hybrid of several of the actors who’ve played Bond on the screen.
So while there are few points to be had for originality, you could certainly do worse than to read an all-time great comics creator giving his take on one of literature and film’s most beloved characters. Byrne plays it all completely straight, not looking to comment on or satirize the Bond legacy but merely to revel in it. He gives us an exciting, action-packed prologue, much in the vein of the classic Bond movies, before launching into the meat of the first story arc, which sends Swann undercover to investigate a scientist who’s under suspicion for Soviet defection. There aren’t any particularly stand-out moments, and the bridge between prologue and main plot is a bit shaky, but overall it’s a satisfying and well-crafted read. Byrne’s art is also predictably solid, giving us the consistent measure of quality that we’ve all come to expect throughout the years. The aforementioned opening sequence is conducted entirely without dialogue or sound effects, allowing Byrne to flex his muscle in showing us his seasoned expertise as a visual storyteller. Save for one or two panels throughout the 11-page sequence, the flow of action is clear and readable. Through the use of old-school speed lines and visible gunshot blasts, Byrne keeps it all moving quickly without having to rely on distracting computerized coloring effects. It’s no wonder that many artists even to this day pattern their work after his definitive style.
There are plenty of innovative and mind-blowing concepts being executed in comics right now, and no one could be faulted for passing up on Cold War for not being one of them. This debut issue is admittedly low-risk, but it’s also a great reminder of why its concepts and creator have both stood the test of time. John Byrne is executing a number of longstanding genre formulas to a T, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll continue to do so.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!