Warren Ellis writing Karnak, we laughed until it turned out to be brilliant. Not about to make the same mistake again, I made sure to put myself in the path of his Bond, expecting much of what he set down in his construction of SHIELD in Karnak to carry over to his conception of MI6 in Vargr.
It was a safe bet, but a smart one too. In fact, Vargr is just as blunt in every way that Karnak was. Ellis has decided that he has no time or need for chicanery, which results in a Bond that is quite confrontational with the basic nature of the property by stripping the glamor away. The banter is the driest English wit yet seen on planet Earth and Bond is depicted eating in the cafeteria of Vauxhall Cross. This is what counts for dystopia in the Bond franchise.
Jason Masters’ art and Guy Major’s colors reflect this perfectly. Masters’ figures are uncomplicated and placed against simple, functional backgrounds to drive home the spartan atmosphere on display. As a means of keeping the audience engaged and proving that the comic should, in fact be a comic rather than a prose novel, Masters puts his effort into conveying fantastic body language that comes out in Bond more than anyone else, who tend to be rather passive and stiff. Masters’ Bond, who is only a shade less dry than his colleagues, has loose, expressive body language that does a lot more to evoke Roger Moore than anyone else. Masters’ and Ellis’ Bond is implacable as a killer, but has an irreverence about him that is a significant departure from Craig’s hardened sarcasm and brute force. Bond is not, like Karnak, bleak in personality as a response to his environment.
Things get yet bleaker for Bond, though, as the construction of regulation as demonology discussed in my Karnak review rears it’s ugly head. When Coulson hired Karnak for the rescue mission that sits at the core of the story, he was exploiting a loophole that allowed him to send an Inhuman in because the current jurisprudence was that Inhumans are not subject to human laws and thus were not subject to the limitations of SHIELD’s jurisdiction. That demonology has seemingly caught up to Bond and 007 division in Vargr, as M explains that they’d been served with papers detailing an extension to the Hard Rule disallowing MI6 officers carrying firearms in the UK. The change was to remove 00 Section’s exemption, meaning that Bond must now retrieve his much loved Walther PPK via diplomatic pouch once he arrives in whatever country he’s operating in.
This kind of leap frog between governments and their intelligence services is nothing new, but it has never been a memorable element of how Ellis has approached military and spy fiction in the past, and there’s a very specific reason for that. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the dominant theme of Ellis’ spy and military shaded work focused on revealing secret histories and what he referred to as “the unexploded bombs of the 20th century.” It was about revealing and exploring what governments had been willing to sanction in the latter half of the 20th century and what the results of that were. In essence, Ellis was writing about the uncovering of the Deep State and what it was able to accomplish.
But, fifteen years out from the millennium, the zeitgeist has advanced, and Ellis with it. Regulatory frameworks are an appealing new angle for someone like Ellis who obsessively follows and frequently reports on advances in technology because they are now taking center stage as the frameworks around consumer goods begin to overlap with the activities of the intelligence community. Cory Doctorow discussed one aspect of how devices are currently being built to lie from the perspective of regulators working in the general interest of the public, citing Volkswagen being caught cheating on emissions tests. What’s being reported is that the cars had software installed that could determine when the vehicle was being tested, and alter the performance being reported. This example certainly points towards the private sectors being the villains, but that isn’t the whole story in other industries.
In may of 2014, Glenn Greenwald alleged that the NSA were intercepting the shipment of computer network devices destined overseas and installing backdoors and exploits into them before being forwarded on to their intended destination in what have come to be described as “NSA chop shops.” Thus, in order to regain consumer confidence and escape these modifications, manufacturer Cisco announced earlier this year that they’ve begun shipping their equipment to dead drop locations unrelated to their final destinations in the hopes of defeating the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit. Thus a new demonology has emerged, creating a clandestine war between manufacturers and the state.
Thus Ellis’ MI6 find themselves on both ends of the stick as on the one front, they’re being dogged by government watchdogs who want to restrict their movements and perhaps even shut them down, while on the other, Bond is being dispatched to ferret out the latest designer drug making it into the UK from continental Europe and cut it off at the source before it can proliferate.
The ultimate villain, the source of the drug, is as yet unknown, but a guess can be hazarded. Bond is to be deployed to Germany where he will meet with a CIA informant named Slaven Kurjak who is a very rich man working in the field of prosthetics and genetics. Fresh from receiving this mission, the story moves to a man named Mr. Masters who is undergoing neurological testing and is apparently unable to feel pleasure of any kind. He is then asked by his supervising doctor, whose eyes the sequence are related through and thus is not shown, to kill Bond should efforts to dissuade him prove unsuccessful.
Masters is most likely the Vargr, or warg, that the title refers to. There are three particular wargs in Norse mythology, Fenrir who is bound until Ragnarok, when he breaks free and kills Odin, and his sons Hati and Skoll who perpetually chase the sun and moon through the sky until they succeed at Ragnarok. Simply using Vargr instead of one of the specific wargs for the title is a clever move on Ellis’ part to conceal the applicability to the plot. If Ellis is indeed informing Vargr with the kind of demonology described above, the title likely refers to Hati and Skoll engaged in endless pursuit.
It also seems likely that the doctor who goes unrevealed in the first issue is Kurjak himself or a related figure. Bond describes Kurjak as being “richer than God” while eating in a cafeteria. The disparity between being a public servant and a legitimate member of the circles that Bond routinely infiltrates has never been illustrated this sharply before, nor has it been seriously attempted. Much has been made of describing Elon Musk as a Bond villain after he stated his desire to nuke Mars in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but it may be a thread Ellis has been chasing for some time longer. When Musk elaborated on just what he meant by that statement, it was in an event promoting SolarCity, which Ellis painted a bleak portrait of back in March when writing for Esquire.
SolarCity is a solar power service with no upfront costs that works in conjunction with electric batteries installed in the home. Ellis posited an endgame for this service in which a critical mass of people going off grid with services like this would disrupt the delivery of basic utilities the same way that Uber is disrupting taxi services, with far graver consequences. With Ellis’ darkening perspective on disruptive technologies, which he calls “murdering businesses and haunting their corpses,” it seems highly likely that his Bond villain is someone in the style of Musk who is currently engaged in disrupting the designer drug market with “Green,” the new drug Bond is meant to be out to stop.
Of course, as Ellis points out using Uber as an example “if you’re going to build your business on top of someone else’s system, eventually they’re going to notice.” What he’s talking about there is the fact that Uber’s service is mounted onto Google Maps, and that as of the time of writing that article, Uber was in the midst of hiring mapping engineers to get free of their reliance on Google Maps as both Google and Apple were reportedly testing self driving cars that could, in conjunction with their existing mapping systems, drive Uber off the map, both puns very much intended. What we can, perhaps, look forward to in Vargr is that whoever is manufacturing Green, hypothesized to be made in small mobile labs, is more than likely using established distribution channels also used by manufacturers and traffickers of other, currently extant, drugs. When you attract attention from that sort, it’s a shade more unpleasant than dealing with Apple or Google.
Written by Warren Ellis
Drawn by Jason Masters with colors by Guy Major
Letters by Simon Bowland
Be the first to leave a rating.
Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.