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Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #14
('La Pozione Tibetana')
by Federica Montanari

Featuring: James, IQ, Tracy, Gordo, Phoebe, Ms Fortune, Snuffer.

Synopsis: We join James as he runs through a marketplace in an unspecified Asian country, pursued by two assailants. He leaps over a market stall, knocking fruit everywhere and apologising to the vendor. From elsewhere, somebody calls James's name... and he awakens in the gymnasium at Warfield, where IQ is shaking him. He asks if James was sleeping, but James instead says he had a strange vision, set in Nepal - and claims that these daydreams he's been having are becoming increasingly frequent. IQ changes the subject, showing off his latest invention, a self-retracting rope designed to stop Coach Mitchell from critiquing his rope-climbing skills - but it backfires and he falls to the ground.

Later, IQ tries to give the self-retracting rope to James, but James wanders off, seemingly in a trance again. IQ, Gordo, Tracy and Phoebe decide to follow him at a distance. James soon comes across a Nepalese girl, who greets him as if she knows him, saying, 'You're finally here, James.' She explains that she's summoned him telepathically, and introduces herself as Shanti. She explains that her uncle is a holy man, and according to their tradition, is the only one who knows the location of a secret passage to reach a secure vault within Mount Everest, where a potion of eternal youth is kept. Shanti explains that Ms Fortune has kidnapped her uncle because she wants the potion, adding that her uncle is friends with 007. James promises to help her.

James is about to introduce Shanti to his friends, but they've already heard the full story from their hiding place. IQ and Gordo opt to stay at Warfield rather than accompanying James to Nepal, so Gordo can teach IQ how to climb a rope for real. But IQ gives James another gadget, a hologram projector which can also produce sounds. IQ also expresses doubt that a potion for eternal youth can really exist. Shanti retorts that of course it does, and what's more, its guardians are yetis. Tracy and Phoebe accompany James and Shanti to Kathmandu, where the group soon spot Snuffer.

They trail Snuffer to the sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site of Swayambhunath, and watch as he enters the temple. James gives Tracy and Phoebe a transceiver so they can contact him to warn him of any danger; then the girls distract the guards at the temple, while James and Shanti slip inside by hiding behind a sacred cow. They see Snuffer entering the dome, but deciding it will be harder to outwit the second set of guards, James follows Shanti along an alternative route, up a spiral staircase. From a high window, they observe Snuffer talking to Shanti's uncle, trying to force him to reveal the location of the secret passage to the vault where the potion is. But the uncle tells them that only the true of heart can access the passage.

Snuffer leaves, giving James and Shanti the opportunity to rescue her uncle, pulling him up to their position using IQ's retractable rope. They plan to use the same method to descend the exterior of the dome, but at this point, Tracy calls James for help. James reaches the top of the dome just in time to see Ms Fortune and her guards leading Tracy and Phoebe away, having recognised them as James's 'girlfriends'. James, Shanti and her uncle prepare to pursue them, but then they find themselves chased by more of Ms Fortune's men - prompting a spooky moment of déjà vu for James, as he knocks over the same market vendor's fruit as he did in his vision. Shanti leads James and her uncle along a shortcut, to a waiting aeroplane.

Meanwhile, on the slopes of Everest, Ms Fortune has brought in bulldozers in the hope of finding the vault with the eternal youth potion by brute force. Having arrived in the plane, James uses IQ's hologram projector and accompanying sound effects to summon some convincing-looking yetis, which growl and roar at Ms Fortune's henchmen, scaring them away. Snuffer flees too, despite Ms Fortune's protestations, and James and Shanti are able to rescue Phoebe and Tracy. With the eternal youth potion safe, Tracy remarks on the effectiveness of the holographic yetis - noting that they even left footprints. James says that's not possible; Shanti's uncle replies that nothing is impossible on the roof of the world.

Review: It's not clear whether or not the considerable likenesses between this story and the TV episode Fountain of Terror - which also dealt with an elixir of eternal youth, and also featured Ms Fortune and fake yetis in a Himalayan setting - are coincidental. But the similarities largely end there; and regardless, this is obviously very much a tale in its own right. It's a strong one, too, and an assured debut for the original stories of the Corriere dei Piccoli comic run, which confidently adapts the tried-and-tested TV formula, foregrounding the city of Kathmandu and the real-life religious site of Swayambhunath to add some cultural specificity to proceedings in a way that the aforementioned TV story fails to achieve to anything like the same extent. At one point, for example, Shanti explains that the eyes of Buddha are painted on the four sides of the temple, to protect the four corners of the earth, a rich and authentic detail which really helps the story leap off its pages. The artwork is crisp, vibrant in colour and largely consistent with norms established by the TV show, as is the characterisation; and it's generally evident that the creators of these strips are serious about establishing a fidelity to the spirit of the franchise. They also appear to have a particular fondness for Ms Fortune and Snuffer, who crop up numerous times within this run: perhaps - and we're only guessing here - because they were thought to capture something quintessentially British about the Bond experience which it was felt would appeal to the Italian audience.

Highs: While the inclusion of mysterious Himalayan telepaths - a device perhaps best known from ITV's spy thriller series The Champions - might be considered a slightly iffy cliché nowadays, the interest here is in the way the device challenges the usual narrative structure of James Bond Jr stories, with James's trances and visions bringing an intriguing, unsettling air to the opening pages.

Lows: There's not a lot wrong with this story, in honesty. The presence of a random, unexplained aeroplane as a convenient means of getting our heroes from the temple to to Ms Fortune's Everest base camp in the space of two frames is arguably a bit of a deus ex machina - although in fairness even this is lampshaded, with Shanti's uncle lightly chastising James for being surprised they'd have access to such a thing.

Gadgets & Gizmos: IQ has invented a self-retracting rope designed to dupe Coach Mitchell by lifting him up to the roof of the gymnasium without his having to climb, which Gordo thinks is cheating. Meanwhile, his portable holographic device - technology seen on a couple of previous occasions in the franchise - is taken to another level with the inclusion of sound effects for added realism.

SCUM on the Surface: The organisation isn't mentioned in this strip.

Notes: The topic of telepathy is also dealt with in another Ms Fortune story, the TV episode Mindfield, while IQ's aversion to climbing has also been seen before, both in Fountain of Terror and in the Marvel UK mini-story, Peak Performance.

James' eerie déjà vu moment in the Kathmandu marketplace reproduces a frame from his earlier vision almost identically, but with subtle differences, particularly in the coloration of the sky, and some of the background characters and buildings. It isn't clear whether or not the alterations have been made for deliberate effect, perhaps to differentiate between reality and the dreaminess of the original vision.

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