Written by Joel T. Lewis
I didn’t get what I wanted from Dynamite’s Felix Leiter series. I wanted a series that showed that Leiter was every inch the American counterpart to James Bond. A competent, calculating, international man of mystery who orders Jack Daniels in the lobbies of exorbitant hotels because that’s what an American would do. This isn’t author James Robinson’s Felix Leiter. It is isn’t what I wanted.
I got something better.
Felix isn’t James Bond. He’s never been James Bond and the humanity author James Robinson contributes to the arc of a man constantly on the sidelines in Bond’s adventures is uplifting in a strange sad way. Maimed and no longer a member of the CIA, Leiter teams up with Japan’s super spy Tiger Tanaka on a straightforward mission, ID-ing a Russian spook whose history with Leiter went beyond professional admiration. At least on Leiter’s side. This seemingly simple recon mission expands into a conspiracy to start a war between North Korea and Japan. The method? Weaponized radical cultists who disintegrate and massacre everyone within breathing range. First of all, what a pairing! You Only Live Twice’s ninja-spy Tiger Tanaka and the CIA’s own Felix Leiter? Talk about two for one.
Tiger is every bit the badass we got to see in the fourth Bond film. With his elite team of ninjas, Tanaka’s bold and decisive strikes as a leader and later as an operative himself are really satisfying to read. With a gun or katana, Tiger is a formidable agent who rivals James Bond’s innovation and brutality.
In the middle of Tokyo’s vibrant Metropolis or the dead of night overlooking a private army’s compound, the Leiter series’ artwork leaps off every page. With lines and color conveying the noise or silence of Leiter’s surroundings, artist Aaron Campbell and Colorist Salvatore Aila execute each panel to perfection. With the ability to convey the size and scale of sweeping landscapes and the claustrophobia of hand to hand combat, Campbell and Aila make reading their series breathtaking and cinematic capturing intimacy and scale exceptionally.
But this 6 issue series (please Dynamite let there be more) really shines as a showcase for the sometimes bumbling Felix Leiter. Robbed of his right forearm and left leg (replaced by Bond-Villain level prosthetics), Leiter expresses his feelings of inadequacy when compared to the mighty Tanaka or the indestructible 007 throughout the series and you follow the arc of a man struggling for confidence and relevancy. And who wouldn’t question their worth surrounded by supermen like Tanaka and Bond who seem to artfully handle everything thrown at them and manage to walk away unscathed? Especially, as a man who bears the scars of missions past? Having led from the rear for much of his career, Leiter forces himself to take charge and infiltrates the web of intrigue surrounding the impending conflict between North Korea and Japan helped by Tanaka. Falling, dropping his gun, and even getting caught with an unloaded weapon at one point, Leiter’s spirit and determination move the plot of the series and you find it hard not to root for him. But your identification with his character doesn't come from a place of pity.
It would have been all too easy for Robinson to lean into the maimed operative trope and make Felix tragic and pitiful, but at no point does Felix feel sorry for himself. He has a self-awareness of his limitations and where he stacks up next to Tanaka and Bond as an operative, but also the drive and desire to push those boundaries. This determination is especially evident in the climatic sequence toward the end of the series where Felix doesn't think and just reacts, taking out operatives in rough and tumble fashion that would do 007 proud.
Leiter is in many ways the inverse of James Bond. He expresses lingering feelings for the Russian agent he's been sent to ID in a way that Bond never would, he doubts, he despairs, but he doesn't let any of his shortcomings prevent him from trying. Leiter also shines as a counterweight to the passionate rage of Tiger after a fatal misstep in the apprehension of a cult leader causes the majority of his personnel to perish. The American’s level-headedness allows Tanaka to clear his head and Leiter’s diligent surveillance work leads to a critical revelation about the forces behind the biological attacks.
It's odd to think that the only Dynamite Bond titles I've read so far have been about supporting characters and I've yet to read any of those starring the man himself. If the Moneypenny one-shot and this Felix Leiter series are any indication, Dynamite comics have tapped into everything fun and compelling about the Bond films and the Bond expanded universe could not be in more capable hands. Until next time, Geek On!