In 2006 Daniel Craig starred in Casino Royale, the first 007 movie in four years, and he personified a new kind of James Bond. Over the course of three films –Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day– the franchise had simultaneously grown overblown and exhausted. Making matters worse was the fact that everybody knew it. James Bond was still making money but he had lost all credibility and was getting tired. His smirk, confidence and impenetrably slick veneer had become schtick. He needed rejuvenation. He needed pain. He needed angst, danger and grit. He needed his smirk to become more like a sneer. Daniel Craig did exactly that.
At the time, Casino Royale was treated like a revelation. Roger Ebert described this new Bond as “leaner, more taciturn,” he even made note of how Casino Royale and Daniel Craig had finally made Bond somebody who was “able to be hurt in body and soul,” thus making the character less of an icon and more like a person. The team behind this movie had set their goal and achieved it. Bond had become more human and the people loved it. But the problem is that while Daniel Craig’s Bond is more human he is still fantasy, perhaps a more complex fantasy that those that came before but still something born from and aimed towards adolescent dreams.
He may be wearing a sneer instead of a smirk but he still drives the fastest cars, seduces the most beautiful women and always –never doubt it- beats the bad guy. And that’s kind of the point of him.
There is, by the way, nothing inherently wrong with this. Bond lives in the same story-telling tradition as Zorro, Batman and Duke Nukem. He is the male id redacted or focused, generalized and then gussied up with a few unique characteristics and trademarks. This is a sub-genre of fantasy, the masculine fantasy and it’s stories are capable of being engaging, englightning and truthful. I mean, maybe not Duke Nukem because he’s terrible but definitely the rest of them. My point is this: there is nothing intrinsically shallow or “less” about fantasy, any kind of fantasy. Casino Royale was credited with allowing Bond to transcend that fantasy and while it does complicate it somewhat the movie and it’s protagonist fail to ever truly break through that veil. Tara Chace, on the other hand, does and her gender has very little to do with why.
Tara Chace is the protagonist in the black and white comic series Queen and Country created by author Greg Rucka and published by Oni Press. The series ran for six years (2001-2007), debuted shortly after Bond teamed-up with Tari Hatcher to save the world or something in The World is Not Enough (in case you couldn’t tell, I don’t like that one very much), ran for 32 issues and won one of the comic’s industry’s highest honors, the Eisner Award Best New Series. The series was continued and ultimately concluded by Rucka in a series of 3 novels, the final book being published in 2010.
Queen and Country was a spy and espionage series based in London and starring characters who were agents or administrators for the SIS. Every story was 3 or 4 issues long and would consist of one mission and it’s immediate fallout. The immediate fallout was almost always political and the protracted fallout was consistently personal. That protracted fallout, the personal response to violence and danger, would be woven throughout the rest of the series and effectively function as the backbone for the extended narrative that Rucka was telling with the entire series as a whole. But we’ll discuss that more in a moment.
The first pages of the first issue of Queen and Country deal with Chace murdering, I’m sorry assassinating, a general in the Russian mafia who is dealing arms in Kosovo. In the eyes of the SIS what she is doing is simple, completing an objective that will make the world safer. For Chace, however, completing the objectives assigned to her couldn’t get much more complicated. In those first pages she hides at a distance, sets up her shot and shoots a man in the head. She kills a human being and has to live with all of the consequences of that action. And that’s the difference between the Bond films and Queen and Country; they both are franchises that star British secret agents, they are both franchises that send their lead characters around the world in stories of international espionage, they are both franchises that rely heavily on action set pieces but in Queen and Country the action has consequences.
When Tara Chace takes a life it’s murder regardless of her cause or affiliation. When she pulls a Bond and hooks up with somebody she’s just met for some casual sexy times it’s not because she’s an avatar of what her audience wishes they could be, it’s because she’s desperately looking for connection and affirmation for her humanity. When the people who she has hurt trace her back to the SIS in London and mark her for retaliation she and her peers aren’t allowed to carry guns because of…bureaucracy.
In that way, Tara Chace is everything Daniel Craig’s Bond wishes that he could be and rarely actually is. Where he is ultimately a shallow fantasy she is vulnerable, relatable and fundamentally human. Her victories are never assured and her injuries –phyical and spiritual- are both real and lasting. Those injuries may affect her deeply but they never define her. She is honest and in that honesty she is something that no James Bond has ever actually been: truly brave, truly heroic.
Theodore Wiebe is a writer living in Calgary. You can follow more of his important nonsense on Twitter: @TheodoreWiebe