Brainiac On Banjo: No… Doctor No

Have no fear, look who’s here…James Bond…They’ve got us on the run…With guns…And knives…We’re fighting for our lives…Have no fear, Bond is here…He’s gonna to save the world at Casino Royale! – “Casino Royale” (1967) written by Burt Bacharach.

I’ve long had a curious relationship with Doctor No, and it started with a comic book whose publication was truly weird.

It started in early 1963 — January 31st, if you’re setting your WABAC machine. That was a Thursday, new comics day at my friendly neighborhood drug store, and DC Comics’ Showcase was one of my favorites. Not that it mattered: my 12 year-old paws would claw through each and every comic on the rack. At the time the Doctor No adaptation interrupted their Tommy Tomorrow try-out series which offered some great Lee Elias art and some rather thin writing from Arnold Drake. I wasn’t disappointed about the interruption, but I still have a fondness for that Elias work.

I had not heard of Doctor No, nor James Bond, nor Ian Fleming. I was curious as to why the story looked like it should have appeared in Classics Illustrated. DC’s comics had a house style — more of a house attitude — and this did not fit in. But I enjoyed the book and was disappointed Bond did not return in the following issue. Showcase was a try-out book that usually introduced new series in three-issue increments.

I did read the text feature about Fleming and Bond and that motivated me to check out the paperback section at my local Marshall Field’s. I found several James Bond novels but was crushed by the 50¢ cover price. Back in the JFK days, paperbacks were only 35¢ — no tax — and that’s how much I had on me. Feh. I later gathered the money and bought Live And Let Die, which I enjoyed. Of course, I was 12 years old.

The movie was not released in America until May 8th, and I still was making my way through the Bond novels published by that time.

Classics Illustrated had a United Kingdom division which produced the adaptation. For whatever reason they decided not to publish it here. The U.S. rights went to market, and National Periodical Publications copped it. But what they didn’t realize is that, for a rather lengthy period of time they held the comic book rights to 007 in the United States. Several years later, after the meteoric success of Goldfinger and possibly Thunderball, NPP (a.k.a. DC) approached whomever controlled the property that week and were told “hey, you already have the rights.” They could have done From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and probably a whole slew of imaginary stories.

If they held onto those rights the way they held onto Wonder Woman (but not Captain Marvel), Dynamite Entertainment would not be producing new Bond comics faster than a speeding bullet today. Of course, DC would have rebooted the character a dozen times, as the producers have done with the movies, and today we’d have an entire family full of 007 clones. Possibly a crossover with Bob Hope.

I reread Casino Royale about a decade ago and barely finished it. The book was not very well written, and Fleming had a severe attitude problem with women — as well as many others who were not male, well-hung, and British. The British newspaper comic holds up far better and, even today, is quite enjoyable.

By the way, that Doctor No story was adapted by one of history’s best heroic fiction writers, Peter O’Donnell. You know, the guy who created Modesty Blaise and wrote the strip for decades. The less said of the various Modesty media adaptations, the better.

Being the first in the ongoing and possibly never-ending series, Doctor No the movie was very light on gadgets and spy toys that would make Derek Flynt look smug and force Bruce Wayne check his ATM balance. I loved that movie and I was even more impressed by its sequel, From Russia With Love. That one remains on my personal Top 10 list, although it shares that status with some 67 other movies.

So, why now Doctor No? My mind works in mysterious ways and I have been contemplating what we would get if we crossed Doctor No with the Cowardly Lion.

Can you give an orange lion a comb-over?

As noted last week, I’ll be at this weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con along with many of my closest friends and longtime coconspirators. I’ll be on whole bunches of panels including the star-studded First Comics 40th Anniversary soiree, and most of those panels will be hosted by or attended by Pop Culture Squad’s own squadron commander, Bob Harrison, who will be editing these very words anon. It’s a great show, my favorite, and if you don’t know that first-hand you still have time to find out.