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James Bond Jr Online


Corriere dei Piccoli / Corrierino 1993 #47
('L'Arma Segreta')

Featuring: James, IQ, Phoebe, Scumlord, Captain Plank, Mr Farragut.

Synopsis: In a submarine deep in the ocean, Captain Plank asks his boatswain whether there is any news. The man replies that the ship they are tracking is maintaining course and speed, and that the anti-sonar technology they're using is working perfectly, meaning they've so far gone undetected. Plank looks forward to taking the ship by surprise. Meanwhile, who should be on board a ship other than James, IQ and Phoebe; and IQ is struggling with seasickness. The gang have been invited on the voyage by Phoebe's dad, Mr Farragut, to participate in the recovery of a German U-boat that was sunk during World War II, which his company stumbled on by chance while laying telecommunications cables on the seabed.

Phoebe has been reading up on the U-boat, known as the U100, which departed Europe for South America in 1945, escorted by an aeroplane, supposedly to recover a newly-invented, mysterious secret weapon - but it was intercepted and sunk. IQ, who has been leaning overboard due to his nausea, topples over the railings at this point, but James grabs him by the leg, saving him from a fall. A few hours later, the ship arrives at its destination, and Mr Farragut orders for the anchor to be dropped. On Plank's submarine, the boatswain asks Plank if they should approach the ship now, but Plank tells him no, and to let 'them retrieve it for us'.

Two of Farragut's crew pilot a bathyscaphe - a small craft used for deep-sea exploration - down to the wreck of the U100, to defuse the explosives that were on-board. But they can't gain access to the U-boat's gun turret to achieve this, and as such, it's too dangerous to board the craft. They report this back to Mr Farragut, but IQ has an idea of how to resolve the problem. Meanwhile, on Plank's sub, Plank makes a progress report to Scumlord via telescreen. Plank promises to intervene as soon as Farragut has brought the U100 to the surface. Scumlord tells him to be careful; he is determined to get his hands on the secret weapon the U-boat was reputed to be carrying - and if it goes wrong, Plank will be demoted to cabin-boy...

Meanwhile, IQ, James and Phoebe are swimming down to the U100 in diving gear with special breathing helmets, fitted with communications devices. IQ has brought a laser scanner to identify the location of any explosives. Reporting back to Mr Farragut on the ship, IQ explains two surprising anomalies detected by his scan; the first is that there wasn't a single torpedo in the entire hull of the U100; and the second is that there are no sailors' remains on board, either. The next day, IQ, James and Phoebe descend to the seabed in the
bathyscaphe, then swim into the hull of the U100 so that IQ can confirm his hypothesis about the mysterious U-boat.

James is surprised to find that some of the lights on board still work despite the craft having been sunk for fifty years, and IQ shows them a control panel that reveals the secret of the U100. We don't learn what the mystery is yet, but having explained it to a surprised Phoebe and James, IQ leads a return to the ship, in order to 'invent a certain gadget'. Hours later, on board Plank's sub, the boatswain tells Plank that the ship's crew has plugged the hole that sank the U100 with some kind of 'plastic balloon'. Plank realises this will mean the U100 will shortly be afloat, and tells the boatswain to alert his men. Sure enough, on board the ship, Farragut's crew have winched down a huge retractable pipe with which to pump the balloon with air, and the U100 rises from the depths.

In the meantime, however, James, IQ and Phoebe once again set out in the
bathyscaphe, for reasons unknown. Plank instructs his boatswain that it's time to claim the now-risen U100 for themselves; and shortly afterwards, James and friends receive a radio communication from the ship to the bathyscaphe, warning them to stay submerged, as a pirate submarine has appeared and is holding them at gunpoint. James and pals nonetheless surface to take a look, and James recognises the submarine as Plank's, realising SCUM is after the secret weapon.  'And we will give it to them,' says James. IQ activates a remote gadget and suddenly, the U100's propellers whirr into action.

IQ's hypothesis proves correct - the U100 itself is the secret weapon, we learn, because it's radio-controlled, a revolutionary technology for its time (which would, we are left to surmise, have given the Germans a key advantage); the plane escorting it to South America was actually controlling it. Now able to control it himself via remote, IQ sends the U100 on a collision course with Plank's own submarine, sinking it. The pirates escape onto life rafts. On board the ship, Mr Farragut says they'll haul the crooks to the nearest prison; the U100 will need to be recovered a second time now, but James says at least they know the 'secret weapon' isn't all that dangerous, given the radio-controlled submarine is now an outdated technology. Mr Farragut thanks the gang for their help, telling them that if he finds a sunken galleon any time soon, they'll be welcome on board the salvage ship.

Review: A strong, story-led instalment, and with a genuine element of mystery at its heart, this is definitely one of the strongest in the Corrierino series. Being far from experts in naval history, we have zero idea whether the secret radio control technology supposedly deployed to pilot the U100 was plausible in 1945, but it has the ring of authenticity about it and is certainly less far-fetched than a good number of other James Bond Jr stories we could name, while still managing to be engaging and intriguing. Clues to the mystery are cleverly peppered throughout the story - the U100's plane chaperone when it sank; the lack of torpedoes and dead crewmembers on board - and build nicely to an 'aha' moment as the truth is finally revealed in the closing frames. Plank's return is welcome, too, and obviously apt given the premise. It's great to see Phoebe more involved in the action than she usually is, meanwhile; and there's also a surprise return for her father Mr Farragut, a very occasional presence in the TV series, though it's a shame - albeit probably understandable - that visual consistency couldn't be achieved with the character (see 'Lows').

Highs: On top of the rich storytelling, it's a visually impressive strip enhanced by the undersea setting, with a fresh and colourful take on the design of the various submarine vessels and diving suits.

Lows: What in the world is Plank's boatswain wearing? He looks like he's escaped from ThunderCats. His appearance isn't quite as egregious as Mr Farragut's, though, who's had a complete head (and, for that matter, body) transplant since we last saw him. Farragut's appearance did alter subtly between his two TV appearances, too, his hair changing from grey in Never Give a Villain a Fair Shake to white in The Thing in the Ice - but this transformation is on a totally different scale. The character is redesigned from scratch, bespectacled and with longer hair and a moustache, as well as a thinner face and frame, and more casual attire.

Gadgets & Gizmos: IQ invented his x-ray laser scanner in order to identify a fault in his phone, because it 'always rings when I'm in the shower'. Happily, it turns out to be just as adept at detecting explosive devices and skeletons (or in this case, a lack thereof) on board sunken submarines. He later creates a remote control that briefly brings the radio-controlled U100 back into operation.

SCUM on the Surface: Scumlord is very much the commanding force behind this operation, declaring that SCUM needs the 'secret weapon' from the U100, whatever it might be.

Loco Parenthesis: If Mr Farragut expresses any concern about his daughter and her friends diving down to a sunken U-boat believed to be packed with volatile explosives, we certainly aren't made privy to it.

Blunders & Bloopers: The usual writing and artwork credits are absent from this strip entirely, presumably the result of a production mistake.

Notes: Mr Farragut's ship is called the Phoebe III, and funnily enough it is indeed the third craft of any kind to be named after Phoebe in the franchise - following the SS Phoebe in Cruise to Oblivion, and IQ's autogyro, 'Little Phoebe', in Friends Like These.

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