The ‘Firm Hand’ Behind MI6 Takes The Stage – Declan Shalvey Talks James Bond: M

by Hannah Means Shannon

Dynamite’s line of James Bond comics has been carving out interesting avenues in super spy lore since 2015, and expanding into one-shot territory has enabled the line to explore characters in greater depth. First in the spotlight is M, forthcoming in the 40 page one-shot James Bond: M in February 2018. Like Dynamite’s other James Bond books, this one-shot has attracted heavy-hitting talent in writer/artist Declan Shalvey (Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan, Savage Town), artist PJ Holden (2000AD, Judge Dredd), colorist Dearbhla Kelly, and letterer Simon Bowland.
The story of James Bond: M will deal with events in M’s past, particularly focused on some events that took place in Belfast which shaped his identity as an agent. Tied into that we’ll find an exploration of ethical dilemmas, and whether trading human lives for the “greater good” is ever acceptable. There’s also an interesting regional connection here in that Shalvey, who is writing the comic, is from the Republic of Ireland, and artist Holden is from the Northern Irish city of Belfast and lives there, making them a pretty ideal team to take on this tale.
Declan Shalvey joins us here today on to give us a window into the comic, what kind of M we’ll find there, and what most interests him about this project.

[Cover by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire]

Hannah Means-Shannon: M has got to be one of the most fascinating characters in Bond tradition because James Bond actually has a boss, and one who he is beholden to. What do you think it takes in terms of personality to be the boss of super-spies and keep them under some degree of control?
Declan Shalvey: It takes a bloody firm hand! Let’s face it, Bond has been known to play by his own rules. A man like M realises this, and knows it can play to his advantage when he needs it to, but all the more reason he needs to stay on top of his garnet, especially with 007. But importantly, while M may come across as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, it’s clear he had experience in the field, and I think Bond would always respect that.

HMS: M originally appeared as a man in the books, as far as I understand, but has been variously interpreted as a male and female in the films, while the Dynamite James Bond books brought a further update by M having an African ethnic background. What elements of M tradition did you choose to build on, and in what ways have you been able to bring in new avenues to explore?
DS: I very much stuck with the M we see in the series established by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters. I’m sprinkling in a little of the Ralph Fiennes portrayal too; I liked the old-school army attitude that informed his no-nonsense approach. There was also a reference in Skyfall to him being prisoner by the IRA, which time-line wise would work in the story I was pitching, though there’s no direct reference to that in the story. I was very much into the idea that M had seen some things, and those experiences informed the man he is today. I thought it would be interesting to see a little bit of that, given the opportunity to explore the character a little more than a regular 007 tale would.
HMS: One of the key things in the whole Bond ethos, and no doubt a big part of the popularity of the franchise is a constantly questioning attitude: What is right and what is wrong? Could wrong be ok in the service of a greater goal? And M really seems to be at the core of that, too. Will the comic be exploring how M became a person prepared to make those decisions?
DS: Most definitely. Considering the time in history we’ll be looking back to, the concepts of ‘right and wrong’ weren’t black and white, they were very much shades of grey. We can look back at that time and make value judgements that we never could at the time. I’m very interested in those types of moral conundrums, it’s why I’m such a fan of the spy genre in fact, so playing with morality, missions versus greater good, etc, it’s all a treat for me.

HMS: What can you tell us, without giving too much away, about M’s early experiences in Belfast, and why Belfast plays such a key role in this one-shot?
DS: I can’t get into much about M’s early Belfast experiences, outside of revealing he was there serving as a British soldier during the Troubles. Belfast as location has an extraordinary history as regards espionage, due to the homegrown terrorism and the various attempts by Special Branch to penetrate it. Even today we’re discovering new truths to what was going on at the time. Saying that, I didn’t want to get TOO into that stuff, but it made a great location so set a spy story, but also to shoe Belfast in its current state, a very changed city in many ways. Coming from the Republic [of Ireland], many of us have looked at the North with a strange fascination, so it’s fun to take a character like M and put him in that world.
HMS: When you’re working on a comic with pre-existing characters, and especially one where the characters have a long tradition, what kind of personal, creative choices do you make to sort through the information to find key elements and develop a story?
DS: Personally, I just need to find an emotional hook. I need to have a reason to care about these characters. I also like to have a secondary point to make, something in the subtext of the story, noting overt. When taking a work-for-hire writing gig, I essentially treat is as an illustration brief; what are the requirements of the brief, and what are the limitations. I actually like to have some limitations, as when I know how far is too far, it gives me a place to work from. I also like to have a back and forth with the editor in the early stages. Nate Cosby, the editor of this one shot seemed to have a good handle on the character and knew what he was looking to see. Again, as someone coming on to work on established characters, all that is incredibly helpful.

HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about the members of the creative team and the way in which they have been bringing their unique talents to this project?
DS: With pleasure! PJ Holden is the artist, and he actually lives in Belfast so I know whatever I write will be incredibly informed, which is very important when depicting a place like Belfast. PJ is best known for his many stints on Judge Dredd at 2000 AD, and I’m hoping this M one shot will show how great PJ is at a more subdued, moody type of story. He’s a fantastic storyteller, one of the best I’ve ever met, in fact, and it’s an absolute delight to be getting the opportunity to work with PJ on this.
Dearbhla Kelly is the colourist; I’m particularly excited to work with Dearbhla, as she had trained in a studio apprenticeship I had been running with Jordie Bellaire. I’ve been fortunate to see Dearbhla’s work develop so getting to work with her as a pro is especially satisfying and wonderful.
Simon Bowland is lettering the book. I’ve really liked Si’s work on all the Bond books so was very happy to hear he’d also be lettering this one shot. For consistency of course, but also because he’s an excellent letterer.
Many thanks to Declan Shalvey for such an engaging interview on a fascinating subject!
The 40 page James Bond: M one-shot arrives in comic shops from Dynamite Entertainment on February 7th 2018.

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