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‘King of Spies, Vol. 1’ TPB (review)

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Matteo Scalera and Giovanna Niro
Published by Netflix/Image Comics


The new graphic novel King of Spies, published by Image Comics, is the latest product of acclaimed comic book writer Mark Millar’s creative partnership with the streaming service Netflix. Millar made his start writing comics in the early 1990s on the British anthology 2000AD before his career took off with stints at DC, Marvel, and later with his own Millarworld imprint.

After selling Millarword to Netflix in 2017, Millar has collaborated with the service to develop new content for both streaming and graphic novels.

Millar is revisiting old ground in new ways with King of Spies.

The writer has already played in the sand box of the British Super Spy with his successful Kingsman series.

This time, he digs back in through the lens of the “old gun-fighter back for one last job” which he previously used to great result in Wolverine: Old Man Logan for Marvel. In King of Spies, Millar gives us James Bond by way of Unforgiven: “the final years of an old dog before he’s put to sleep,” in the words of the book’s aging secret agent, Roland King.

King of Spies presents its disillusioned lead experiencing what his old colleague refers to as a “classic mid-life crisis.”

At 65, Roland King is long past his active field duty but continues working for Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a broker of shady deals. King is disgusted by the state of the world and self-critical about the work he has done to make it that way.

As Her Majesty explains to King, “Oh, the medals aren’t for bravery. The medals are for the sacrifices.” In King’s case, the sacrifices are the failed marriage and estranged children that haunt him. Confronted by a terminal illness, King decides to use his remaining time to absolve his overwhelming guilt by ridding the world of the prime ministers, presidents, popes, and others who were empowered by and benefited from his singular services.

Being a Mark Millar story, King’s journey is a testosterone fueled catharsis of profanity and mayhem.

Millar’s nimble pacing and crisp plot are brought to life with precision and style by artist Matteo Scalera, colourist Giovanna Niro, and letterer Clem Robins. Scalera controls the flow and tempo of the story with masterful layouts and kinetic panels. Scalera drops the reader into the story high above Panama City, introduces Roland King on the way down, and then literally hits the ground running in a twelve-page chase and getaway sequence. Niro employs a muted palette with bursts of color to focus and accentuate each panel. Robins’ lettering adds dimension to each scene without being obtrusive or interrupting the momentum.

King of Spies achieves its escapist ambitions as a James Bond story dialed up to 11, but it falls short as an interrogation of the tropes of those stories.

In looking back at the entertainments of the not-so-distant-past, it’s easy to spot the problematic elements embedded in all genres and tropes that might not have been apparent at the time: casual misogyny and racism, a glorification of violence and substance abuse, affirmations of a political and cultural status quo. Roland King reflects on his womanizing, his alcoholism, and his license to kill with the same critical eye.

Regardless, his conclusion, however cathartic, fails to truly change anything about the world which fueled King’s disillusionment.

Likewise, King of Spies is a solid and entertaining action story that, much like the the spy thrillers which inspired it, doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t been before.



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