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James Bond Jr Online


Marvel Comics (UK) #5
by Dan Abnett

Featuring: James, IQ, Tracy, Gordo, Dr Derange, Baron von Skarin.

Synopsis: James, IQ, Gordo and Tracy are four days into a trek through the Congo, and are on a riverboat piloted by Captain McFiggis, who has spent the last twenty years looking for Mboto Mkele, a legendary dinosaur rumoured to live in the Congolese wilderness. We learn that James intends to discover proof of the creature's existence, though Gordo, Tracy and IQ are all sceptics. Even Captain McFiggis is beginning to give up hope after many years of fruitless searching... until suddenly, a huge rust-coloured reptilian emerges from the depths of the river and smashes into the side of the boat. However, it appears to be mechanical rather than a living creature. IQ encourages James to use a gun that fires radio tracker darts, and he successfully hits the 'creature' as it moves away. Later, the group wonder what the robotic creature might be doing here, and worry about the environmental damage it may cause. While Captain McFiggis repairs his boat following the run-in with the robot, IQ knocks together a speedier vessel, and takes off with James, Gordo and Tracy in search of the 'creature'. IQ uses the radio tracker to intercept a conversation taking place on board the robot; we learn it's being piloted by Doctor Derange and Baron von Skarin. They had surfaced earlier because they detected a sonar echo which turned out to be just McFiggis's boat; but in fact they are searching for the real Mboto Mkele, which they hope to capture and sell for a fortune. James and co pursue in IQ's new craft, and confront the crooks, who resolve to crush them. James lures the giant robotic reptile towards a huge waterfall, then U-turns at the last moment, sending the Baron and Derange's craft plummeting straight over the falls, too heavy to turn itself around in time. The gang return to camp for an evening meal, and IQ laments that they never saw the real Mboto Mkele, though is relieved to put the excitement behind them. But James stands alone outside for a while, looking into the mist, where we can see the faint outline of what appears to be a real water beast in the distance. 'Good night, now, Mboto Mkele,' James says. 'Your secret's safe with this secret agent.'

Review: Having declared a willingness to countenance the possibility of aliens in the previous strip, Close Encounters of the SCUM Kind, James now adopts the same approach to cryptozoology with the search for the mythical Congolese water beast. The African outing makes for a refreshing change of scenery, being one of the lesser visited continents in the series, and it seems the writer has either gone to some lengths in terms of research on the local legend, or already had a grounding in the topic (see 'Notes'). As such, while there are obvious similarities with the TV episode No Such Loch, this instalment more than holds its own and brings something different to the table - most notably the ending, which leaves the prospect of a real river monster tantalisingly alive. The wrap-up also feels less perfunctory than other titles in the mini-series, as the gang's two separate encounters with the mechanical beast (and then James's apparent third with the real one) create more of a sense of a developing story and journey.

Highs: The use of IQ's diary as a framing device makes for a refreshing change in terms of format, and strongly resembles Phoebe's reports for the Warfield Academy Magazine from the longer comic story Absolute Zero.

Lows: There's not much to dislike here, all things told; though IQ's apparent construction of a snazzy new riverboat out of apparently nothing is not particularly plausible.
Gadgets & Gizmos: The darts fired from IQ's radio tracker gun not only keep tabs on whatever craft they attach to; they can also listen in on conversations taking place inside. The award for boys' toy of the day, however, goes to Derange and von Skarin's so-called 'dinoboid', the striking mechanical river beast which comes complete with sonar location technology.

SCUM on the Surface: The organisation isn't mentioned here, though of course both Derange and von Skarin are long-established members.

Loco Parenthesis:  IQ describes the trip as a 'Warfield Congo trek' but there appears to be no chaperone; and IQ expresses admiration for James for having managed to convince Mr Milbanks to let them go.

Notes: The legendary creature known in this strip as Mboto Mkele appears to be based on the real-world legend of Mokele-Mbembe, a large water beast said to inhabit the Congo River Basin which supposedly resembles extinct sauropods. It's unclear whether the writer of this story misspelt the name or used a deliberate approximation.

Captain McFiggis is established as having previously lived on the banks of Loch Ness, which is served up as justification for his preoccupation with oversized reptilians of questionable veracity.

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