INTERVIEW: Phillip Kennedy Johnson discusses his take on James Bond in 007

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Many have taken on the task of writing James Bond. He’s an iconic spy who has seen his fill of action and adventure. And let’s not forget his colorful love life. 

This summer Dynamite is releasing another installment in Bond’s history with 007. With art by Marco Finnegan and covers from Tommy Lee Edwards, Marc Aspinall, Marc Laming, and Soo Lee, writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson is at the helm of the new series. Johnson chatted with The Beat about adding his touch to the MI6 agent.

Deanna Destito:  How has it been taking on the iconic 007 character and bringing your own spin to Bond?

Phillip Kennedy Johnson: It’s been a huge honor and a really fun challenge. Every Bond story has to include all the familiar elements that make it a Bond story: the car, the gadgets, the Bond girl, the scary-but-theatrical villain. But there’s also a responsibility not to just do all the same stuff that everyone has been doing for generations. We had to give the lifelong Bond fans the things they keep coming back for while also bringing new elements to hold their interest, keep them engaged and get them excited to see what happens next. We’re doing that with some new characters that I’m excited to introduce, and a renewed emphasis on espionage and deception that we don’t often see from Bond. We know he’s a spy in theory, but we almost always see him flexing his “special agent” muscles, the assassin who doesn’t mind making a lot of noise. I wanted to show audiences Bond the superspy for a change.

007

Destito: This mission is more personal for Bond. How does that affect how he handles it?

Johnson: Yeah, he’s more emotionally invested in this one. The events that happen in the first issue leave Bond about as wounded and angry as we’ve ever seen him, and he’s hellbent on finding answers and getting revenge for what’s been taken from him and from MI6. That’s when I like Bond best, honestly… when he’s less detached and more personally invested. In those moments he seems not only more aggressive, but more clever and calculating as well. 

Destito: Gwen Gann is a badass in her own right, having been an agent as well. But she does have a history with 007 in a personal sense. What prompted this new type of “Bond Girl”?

Johnson: I think one of the most important elements to James Bond stories is that they’re time capsules, each one very much of its time and place. A tricky part of writing a Bond story is to be true to the original character first introduced in 1953, while updating his attitudes and behavior to reflect the story’s setting, in this case present day. Above all, the nature of Bond’s relationship with the female lead and her role in the story is an element that is crucial to get right. 

There’s a line from a Bond novel that stuck in my brain at the time, and of course now I can’t remember the exact phrase… “she was ten years Bond’s junior, and five years too old” or something like that. That line represents classic Bond super well, but as I was fleshing out the cast for this story, I kept coming back to the idea of a Bond girl who was as sexy as ever, but also slightly older than Bond… a double-O herself, as bad-ass as she is beautiful, with a career as storied as Bond’s. That idea really crystallized in my mind, and the character of Gwendolyn Gann sort of wrote herself after that. 

Destito: How is it working with the rest of the creative team and bringing this chapter in Bond’s story to life

Johnson: Marco Finnegan was an incredible find by our editor, Nate Cosby. Marco’s one of the most versatile artists I’ve ever worked with, he completely adapts his style to the story he’s working on. As a collaborator, you can’t ask for more than that. Colorist Dearbhla Kelly is already well-known at Dynamite, having worked on Red Sonja before this, and she’s doing her best work to date on this book, giving it a very Matt Hollingsworth kind of feel. I’m loving how the book looks; it belongs on the shelf with some of the coolest entries in the series. 

Destito: How much has your own military background influenced the narrative, especially since 007 has spent time in the military himself?

Johnson: My experience in the military influenced two key elements of the story of 007. First, the reasons Bond signed up for his line of work in the first place, which he’s forced to explore as his loyalties are tested; and second, in the nature of the enemies Bond will face. Without spoiling too much, the story is about the dangers that arise when corporations, defense contractors, and other commercial entities play increasingly active roles in espionage and warfare between nations. It’s not like war could ever be a good thing, but I find the idea that wars could be driven from the shadows by private companies pretty terrifying.

Destito: What can old and new fans of the franchise expect?

Johnson: Bond fans can expect to see the Bond they know and love, the unstoppable special agent who just bleeds cool with every word and action. BUT, they can also expect to see him in situations they’re not used to seeing him: betrayed and angry, forced to use not just his skills as an assassin, but as a spy in the shadows, seeking revenge even as he questions his own loyalties. As Bond fans ourselves, the whole creative team is honored and insanely excited to add this story to the 007 mythos. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Look for 007 #1 in August!

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