Sunday, November 04, 2012

Nostalgia Theater:
James Bond Jr. Will Not Return

We're mere days away from once more engaging in a shared cultural institution we have the privilege of partaking in like clockwork every couple of years. Something that continually defines our times and says something important about our place in society. The last time we had this opportunity was in November of 2008, and now here we are four years later, ready to again have our voices heard. I'm speaking, of course, of the new James Bond flick, Skyfall, due for release this coming Friday. What did you think I was talking about?

My Skyfall review is on-tap for later this week, and starting shortly I'll also be embarking on an expansive run of retro reviews looking at the fifty year history of the Bond series from 1962's Dr. No to now. In the meantime though, here's a little curio from 007's long history that's likely been overlooked since its spotlight time two decades ago -- and rightly so, I'd say. That's right, this week we take a brief, confused look back at the brief, confused shelf-life of Bond, James Bond. Junior.


Based on an abandoned spin-off novel from the '60s, James Bond Jr. centered on 007's teenaged nephew -- quite the trick, considering Bond was an only child in the films and novels (if you're wondering, I looked it up, and you can, in fact, be a "junior" even if you're a nephew). Attending an elite prep school alongside Gordon "Gordo" Leiter (son of Bond's CIA ally Felix Leiter), and Horace "I.Q." Boothroyd (grandson of Bond's gadget-master Q), young Bond squares off with villainous alums such as Goldfinger, Jaws, Dr. No, Knick Knack, and Oddjob, all agents of evil org SCUM (Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem -- no, seriously).

If that sounds exceedingly lame to you, I suggest you trust that first instinct and follow it through. The globetrotting escapades of James Bond Jr. debuted in syndication in fall of '91, and were clearly intended from the start by the producers, animation house Murakami-Wolf-Swenson (who rose to prominence in the late '80s with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 'toon) and Danjaq, owner of Bond's production company EON, to act as kind of a gateway drug. Get the kiddies interested in the spy-riffic world of Ian Fleming's famed superspy, then transition them to the "real" stuff after they've gotten their first taste.

Ironically (or perhaps appropriately, given the clumsy nature of the premise and its equally clumsy execution), James Bond Jr. aired at a time when the Bond films were in the midst of their longest-ever layover, following 1989's Licence to Kill, thanks to the legal troubles at home studio MGM nearly deep-sixing the whole dang series. Thus, even if there was a new audience being created, there was no new product to funnel that audience into, and by the time the movies finally returned to theaters with GoldenEye in 1995, the animated Bond was long since a distant memory.

So, while I'm not sure how well that plan worked, it sure didn't stop them from merchandising the crap out of the concept while they had a brief window. To wit, we got action figures, the requisite run of Marvel Comics, Nintendo games, the whole shebang. It wasn't enough to catch fire with auds, though, and young Bond's run came to a close in March '92 after a single season of 65 episodes, and unlike the promise explicated at the close of every single one of his famous uncle's cinematic adventures, I doubt there's any likelihood that "James Bond Jr. Will Return."

11 comments:

J.R. LeMar said...

I wonder if we'll ever see an adaptation, animated or live action, of the YOUNG BOND series?

Zaki said...

My guess is no. And probably for the same reason we'll never see the non-Fleming Bond novels brought to the screen. Too many legal hurdles to jump through, and no reason to given how successful the films continue to be.

J.R. LeMar said...

What would the legal hurdles be? The books are officially licensed by the Fleming estate.

Zaki said...

The arrangement between EON and the Fleming estate covers all the Fleming work and the right to create new original stories. If they were to adapt the John Gardner and Raymond Benson books, even though they're officially licensed works, the movie people would still need a separate agreement that covers those works.

Given that the films have continued on their merry way for decades now without needing any books, I doubt the EON folks would bother -- especially considering how many bits and pieces from the continuation novel have found their way into the movies.

J.R. LeMar said...

But I'm specifically talking about the YOUNG BOND series, the 5 books (so far), all written by Charlie Higson, telling of the adventures of James Bond when he was a teenager. That would separate film or TV franchise from the main series, just like James Bond Jr. was. The biggest hurdle I'd see would be that they'd need to update the timeline of the books, since they take place in the 1930's in order to conform to the timeline of the original Fleming novels. I think they'd want to set any movie or tv show in a more recent time.

Zaki said...

My assumption is that, in addition to the licensing issues vis-a-vis arranging to use the stories, the EON people are also worried about watering down the brand. In 50 years, the JAMES BOND JR. show is the one and only time they've branched out beyond the movies, and the result was mezzo-mezzo. I'm sure their thinking is that they don't want to risk rocking the boat.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I'm thinking that having a whole team of James Bond Jr.'s would be more realistic.

J.R. LeMar said...

Bond did get around. There probably should be several sons and daughters across the world that he may or may not even know about.

Zaki said...

Haha! Very true. Per the novel of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Bond has at least one child that he doesn't know about.

Matt Linton said...

Thank you for answering the question that has plagued me for over 20 years now - just how the nephew of James Bond could somehow be a Jr. Much appreciated.

Zaki said...

Happy to oblige!