Garth Ennis has always been a writer that understands how to turn great elevator pitches into even better comics. What if the CIA had a super-powered hit-squad? What if a priest literally found God? And now, what if James Bond’s indiscretions came back to haunt him? The result is Jimmy’s Bastards, Aftershock’s latest series which sees Ennis and artist Russ Braun turn their critical eye and crudeness to the super-agent archetype.
Jimmy’s Bastards is an interesting and enjoyable book to read, but a somewhat conflicting one to review. The writing is remarkable in its ability to manifest fully-realised characters from page one. We are instantly transported to a lived-in universe with its own distinct mythos and lore, even if it might be a little familiar to fans of spy-fiction. Like most great stories, these characters have a rich history together that we are only being offered a small glimpse into. Indeed, the premise of a veteran agent confronting the very real sins of the father only works because we recognise that his notoriety and legend is well-earned. This isn’t the newly-bloodied Bond of Casino Royale, but a seasoned master of pulp espionage. Jimmy has to have to equal parts prestige and infamy if we are to believe that the secret society plotting his demise have a genuine grievance.
Yet, it is in the reveal of those enemies that the pitch kind of goes astray. To go into further detail would be to dwell into spoiler territory, but suffice to say, when you think the absurdity has reached its limit, it accepts that as a challenge. Jimmy may not be the most likable character, he might even be amoral, but there is something compelling about him regardless. There are hints of hidden depths, of an understanding of his place in an absurdist fantasy. Characters like Jimmy keep us with books, but the plot is what drives them forward and allows them to develop. As much as I enjoyed the book, I’m unsure if the dangling plot-point is strong enough to support the kind of arc that sustains a book in a harsh market.
Braun’s interiors are a dynamic delight invoking the pulp sensibilities of Archer and cheesy genre paperbacks. It reflects the characters’ own cartoonish nature, or at least those surface-level elements. Each character exudes the tropes of their fore-bearers whether it be the cocky agent, the femme fatale, maniacal menace, or gadget-obsessed techie. There is a joy to each of the action scenes and character designs that show Braun is well versed in genre conventions. The flow and energy of each of the panel accurately recreates the drive of a Bond in medias res opening-scene.
Jimmy’s Bastards brings spy-fiction back to comics in a comedic and violent subversion of the genre’s core elements. It’s a book with a lot of potential and that’s both its greatest strength and weakness. It will undoubtedly be a thrilling romp either way, but it may read better in trade than it does in single issues. Assuming it stays on track, then this is your book, should you choose to accept it.
An advance review copy was provided by the publisher.