Kings of Spies is the most recent original comic-book project created by Mark Millar for Netflix. Originally published as a four-issue miniseries from Image Comics beginning last December, I only recently bought it myself, and thought I’d review it today. I’ve noted before that one thing Millar is good at is coming up with interesting High Concepts that you can understand in a couple of lines. I’d sum up this comic as:
James Bond is old and retired when he finds out that he has only 6 months left to live. Now feeling guilty over all the killing and other bad stuff he’s done for his government for decades, he decides that before he dies he’s going to finally go after the really powerful bad guys who were out of his reach before. I’m talking about Prime Ministers and Presidents, Popes and Popstars. The 1% of the 1%. Naturally, his former Agency is intent on stopping him, and they hire only bastard they believe is tough enough to do the job, his own son.
Roland King is the lead character. The first issue opens with a flashback to 1990, when he was sent to Panama to capture Noreiga. And another thing Millar has always excelled at is writing violent action scenes, with explosions, bullets, blood, guts and witty one-liners straight out of a 90’s action movie. King definitely is James Bond, mixed with a bit of Jason Bourne and John Wick. And throughout the series we get several other flashbacks to some of his earlier adventures, showing off his skills as well as his prowess with the ladies. We also see how he was never properly there to raise his son, Atticus, leading to their estrangement. In the present day, King is 68, and while still in good shape he has recently been coughing up blood. A collapse and trip to the doctor reveals an inoperable brain tumor that will disable him in 3 months and kill him in 6. Thus begins his crisis of conscious and then his final crusade against evil.
The story kicks into high gear as we see Roland carrying out several of his assassinations, using inventive means. I will say though that sometimes Millar can be a little too clever for his own good. He likes to show off how great or smart his characters are supposed to be by having them do things that look cool but don’t always make sense when given serious thought. I don’t want to spoil too much but there’s one scene where he kidnaps a particular baddie from their house, takes them to a secluded area where he’s arranged for over a dozen of that person’s victims to be there so they can all beat him to death.
I’m reading that thinking, how the heck did he manage to arrange this in secret while his old agency is trying to track him? He knows his time is limited, but he took the time to track down all of these people and let them know what he plans to do, trusting them none of them would turn him in, and arrange for them to travel to the pre-determined place? Sure, it makes for a “cool scene” but it’s not logical, even for a comic-book.
Still, I can’t deny that the book is pretty fun. Roland faces a pair of extremely unique sibling assassins, who I’m not even going to attempt to describe (you just have to see them for yourself) before having the final showdown with his son, who is as ruthless and skilled as his father, but younger and healthier.
One of the best things I can say about this series is that there is no “padding.” Millar could have probably easily stretched this out to 6 issues, like a standard comic-book miniseries, simply by adding a few more of Roland’s assassinations, but this is a tight 4-issue story that will keep you on the edge of your proverbial seat right up to his satisfying conclusion. A conclusion that you may think you have figured out as it gets closer, but Millar manages to pull out a few surprise twists before he’s finished. I think this series will make one heck of a movie, if Netflix chooses to do so.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar artwork of Matteo Scalera, I was not familiar with his work before this, but I’m definitely a fan of his now. Kudos all around.
KING OF SPIES