Writer: Tony Bedard
Artists: Mike Perkins (p), Andrew Hennessy (i)
There’s a certain amount of sexism that you can expect when reading a spy story. Set that spy story in nineteen-sixties London, and you can safely triple that expectation. However, Tony Bedard and Mike Perkins’ debut issue of KISS KISS, BANG BANG far exceeds any reasonable allowance for spy genre sexism. As a result, an interesting premise is immediately derailed by a hideously unsympathetic leading character, whose actions towards women and towards ethics, in general, are inexcusably repulsive.
The premise of this series is initially promising. Sir Charles Basildon is really just a super-spy identity that is passed on from one agent to the next, in order to create a myth and fear around the name. The current holder of the name is reaching the end of his tenure and must train his replacement, a female American agent. Stephanie Shelley will be the eighth Basildon-in-training, all previous ones having died during training missions. And here is where the trouble begins.
Despite smooth pacing and sharp dialogue, this “spy you’ll love to hate” story fails because Basildon is a spy you’ll more likely hate to hate and, consequently, hate to read. One particularly low point for Basildon is when his enemy uses a woman (who had previously spied on and slept with Basildon) as a living shield. Basildon swiftly shoots through the woman, killing both her and the enemy. As his horrified soon-to-be-dead seventh trainee watches, Basildon responds: “Idiot. Why would I spare the girl if I’d already had her?”
Basildon’s flaws are so extreme that his assignment as number-one-super-spy becomes improbable—he has no loyalty, no concern for the well-being of others, and no regard for life. These traits are unlikely to attract the support and confidence of state officials. Furthermore, having allowed all previous trainees to die, indicates that Basildon is either intentionally stalling his upcoming retirement through the sacrifice of top-notch agents or that he is incapable of protecting his partners. It could be argued that he’s simply too good for anyone to safely interact with, but that’s not evident in the story. Instead, we get a reckless, untrustworthy degenerate who scoffs at the Queen’s rebukes and betrays Stephanie Shelley, which is all the more offensive since she’s a likeable character.
The issue’s most positive aspect is the vivacious Shelley. Unfortunately, her main role isn’t to replace Basildon, but to foil him with her feminine assets. And even this—rather demeaning—role would be acceptable if Shelley seemed capable of redeeming Basildon. However, after discovering his deceit, she makes a lot of angry faces and a lot of noise, but doesn’t substantially retaliate. She lacks the self-respect to transform Basildon. Also, she doesn’t appear competent as a spy—gracelessly and ineffectively, she searches a party for her contact person and doesn’t even consider that the man who keeps hounding her might be that very same contact person until she’s walking off to have sex with him. Still, Shelley is the only hope for this book in that someday, hopefully soon, she may replace Basildon—maybe by successfully using him as a human shield.
The art is excellent at capturing Basildon’s arrogance and Shelley’s highly animated expressions. Also, the atmosphere of the book is convincing, especially in the formality of the agency headquarters and in the pomposity of Shelley’s party scenes. Unfortunately, the coloring is missing from the advanced copies of the issue, so the entire effect of the art is missing for this review.
As an opening-issue, this story is witty, well-paced, and drawn in a harmonious fashion. The story ends with the partnership in motion as Basildon and Shelley track an enemy who creates his own agents through the DNA of world villains, including Hitler and Stalin. However, Basildon is so unlikable that it’s hard to see past his arrogant smirks and shockingly odious word bubbles to fully appreciate this set up issue. In short, his offensiveness dominates the story.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!