-This article was possible due to the gift of a review copy, QWERTY, and rolling natural 20s.
Guest Writer: Bill Coffin
As the James Bond universe reinvents itself over time, the identity and specifics of its core features—007, Moneypenny, Q, the license to kill—all remain the same, but everything else is up for grabs. It’s fun to think of James Bond being 007, but that 007’s alias is simply James Bond, so it doesn’t matter what the guy looks like. They’re all James Bond because they’re all 007. Or maybe not. Who knows? This is a spy agency we’re talking about here. Truth and identity are fluid concepts.
Which brings us to M, the titular head of the 00 branch, and Bond’s ultimate spymaster. M is an off-the-stage kind of person, portrayed as various different kinds of people over the years, but always as the one who gives James his orders, and always the one who tries to reel him in when the 00 antics get a bit out of hand. In olden days, M was more of a career bureaucrat, a desk jockey with more rank than field cred who keeps Bond in line by dint of aristocratic authority. In more recent years, though, the character has turned into a field agent type who has graduated through the ranks to run the department. Detached and professional, but still possessing of the fieldcraft that keeps a 00 agent alive. In that vein, we get M, a compelling one-shot story from Dynamite Comics by writer Declan Shalvey and artist PJ Holden.
The story involves a plot involving M’s past as a mere soldier in Her Majesty’s Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. A dodgy dealer from a Royalist paramilitary has some dirt on M and seeks to blackmail the world’s greatest spymaster into doing his bidding. But as the stakes get higher, M proves exactly how he has lived long enough to gain his current rank, and why it is that heavy hitters like 007 call him boss.
M is a briskly told tale that for a good chunk of it beggars belief. How could it be that a person like M could have his strings pulled so easily by the kind of guy he could just send any 00 agent—heck, any 00 trainee—in to kill? There are legal reasons for why the 00 program cannot work its dark magic domestically (a neat bit of canon addressed by Shalvey) but it still never quite washes. That is, until suddenly…it does. The turn that makes the story click is worthy indeed, and any doubts we had as to its plotting or direction are swiftly dispelled as we realize that we, too, have been fooled.
The art is dark and moody, capturing the world in which M dwells, just beyond the shadows, but never quite beyond their reach. While there are some rough patches in the linework (seriously, M’s trench coat looks ridiculous early on), there’s still more than enough here to enjoy and overlook its shortcomings. For all this and more, M stands for Majesty.