By the time I came to read the copy of The Quasimodo Gambit I’d bought on eBay at far more than its original price, its pages were already stuck together. Not with anything seedy*, but with the coconut rum I smashed all up and inside of the bag I took on my Christmas trip to the Caribbean. Losing my rum and damaging my limited edition obscure 1995 James Bond comic beyond resale were the karmic results of doing something as reprehensible as going to the Caribbean, which I certainly did not deserve.
In The Quasimodo Gambit, James Bond also goes to the Caribbean, but he does so in a suit. In this surprisingly gripping comic book/graphic novel, Bond travels from London to Jamaica to the United States, getting mildly tortured, getting involved with “ganja” (the only term used the entire way through by every single character) smugglers and with murderous evangelical preachers intent on destroying a New Yawk skyscraper situated at 666 Fifth Avenue to make an anti-devil point. Obviously, Bond stops it all and ends the story shagging his female number within the Jamaican secret service, having killed all the villains, of which there are kinda too many, plotwise.
I read about The Quasimodo Gambit in the same article that lead me to my recent dalliance with Never Send Flowers (review here), a similarly unsuccessful Bond continuation from the ’90s. But in every way that Never Send Flowers was tired, trite and uninterestingly ridiculous, The Quasimodo Gambit is the opposite: though this is a bad comic book (reasons to follow), this is a good non-Fleming literary Bond. Though it is badly drawn, rewrites its own drawing in text, includes far too many badly written descriptive passages about landscape and setting that could’ve been achieved better by hiring a more talented artist or firing the writer; though it fails, it manages to entertain better than every one of the unwatchable but still watched Bond films.
1995 happened in a very different age to the one we now live in. Diana was still alive, the Twin Towers were still upright (as they are repeatedly in background images of this comic) and the internet didn’t exist. It is almost as impossible to imagine, now (a decade and a half into internet access being a normalised, daily, occurrence), an internet-free world as it is to imagine a world where it is possible for Mid Western evangelical preachers to recruit broken former mercenaries who they persuade to lead the turn of their organisation from peaceful preaching into war-mongering terrorism. In fact, the world shifting into something perennially controlled by warring factions of religious extremists seems genuinely quite likely, so maybe The Quasimodo Gambit should be take as a Nostradamusesque prediction than as crass pre “fan fiction” fan fiction.
In terms of plot, the text is ultimately simple: Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the movements of a known arms dealer, and discovers he is linked not only to drug-related organised crime but also to Christian extremists, he pursues them, fighting poorly sketched out individuals and moving gradually towards a denouement with Quasimodo himself, the god-bothering ex-mercenary who takes over the running of the church when the preacher character (genuinely, one of the worst written creations I’ve encountered in years) dies. Though there are some great elements – torture by leeches, a big chase scene in a sugar plantation that’s been set on fire, a fight scene in an elevator shaft – none of the good bits in The Quasimodo Gambit seem original and none of the bits that seem original are any good.
The artwork, the drawing, is fine. One can’t really fault too much the surface aesthetic: colour is used in an interesting way (very dark, very gloomy, but not only very dark) and faces are drawn with strong visible emotion, but in terms of characterisation, the artist did not achieve what was needed: most people look like other characters in gently different clothing. Ethnicity, for example, is painfully disregarded: Bond’s lover varies from whiter than he is to an almost coal black, which is not easy to comprehend. This happens with lots of the peripheral characters, and is one of those painful recent examples of why we care about political correctness nowadays. Is it racist to lighten the skin tone of people when they become speaking characters in a graphic novel? Yeah, I think it probably is.
What is probably most racist, though, is The Quasimodo Gambit‘s decision to make every major character in Jamaica a European. There is an ineffectual Jamaican politician, but all the people actually controlling Jamaica are white foreigners – both those involved in criminality and those who are fighting against it. The Quasimodo Gambit doesn’t do anything more offensive than A View to a Kill (film) or Live and Let Die (either), but comic books – being something I’ve only started reading as a culturally astute adult and one that I found my way into via the work of Alan Moore, who is a huge, liberal, talent – are things I associate with something a little better than this. And that is what I’ve had to confront with this read: The Quasimodo Gambit is what comic books are like. They are sexist and racist and badly drawn. And though works exist in the genre that are as deeply moving and life-affirming as particularly good poetry**, the vast majority of its cultural products are no better than this, and a lot is probably worse.
The Quasimodo Gambit is, however, quite exciting. It took me about an hour to read, if not a little longer, which is more than I expected for 150 pages of comic book. It didn’t make me cry or make me laugh, but the Daltonised Bond running through fire, fighting in a lift shaft and whatever I said earlier was the third enjoyable scene were enjoyable. Oh, leeches.
It works, I suppose, in a better way than I’d hoped, and I think if it’d been more of a failure I’d’ve had more to say. Huge Bond fans will enjoy it for completion’s sake, but the average punter is a) not going to pay the £40 it costs and b) isn’t going to have the patience for something this middling. A key problem is the character missing “fingers”. What fingers are missing, to what length and on what hand alters over and over again. There isn’t much care in this piece, there isn’t much love. I suppose the overwhelming sense the reader gets of The Quasimodo Gambit is that this was a first draft, an early attempt, somehow released to the public by mistake and that is why it is so difficult to get hold of now. But no. It was six years in the making.
Nothing has ever confused me more than that afterword revealing that this piece of mediocrity took SIX YEARS to produce.
It’s odd writing about a book no one I know will ever read.
* That’s another semen gag. Basically, whenever I’m writing my blog posts late at night post a wine (for me the single unit of wine is bottle, not glass), there will be semen gags in the opening sentence. It’s almost like my tired and gently intoxicated mind cannot repress the awareness that this whole long-standing blog thing (coming up to three fucking years) is nothing more than masturbatory gulmph.
** Understand that: I’m not thick as shit, very good poetry is better than the best comic book. Visual interaction with an art form is an intrinsic sign of its unworthiness, right???