IDW Publishing, 22 pages, $ 3.99
Writer/artist: John Byrne
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Neil Uyetake
It’s been a while since I last read a John Byrne comic—must have been an issue of X-Men: The Hidden Years, circa 1999 or so. While that series was, shall we say, not the most focused of all superhero adventures, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mr. Byrne’s stuff. German reprints of his work on X-Men, Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight, Namor and She-Hulk were some of the first superhero comics I read, and they’re among the ones I remember more fondly from that period. So, when it was announced that he was going to do a straightforward espionage series starring an MI6 agent, I was game.
Now, on the plus side, Cold War is precisely what it says on the tin: a spy comic set in the 1960s, with all that entails. Its protagonist, British secret agent Michael Swann, is Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, basically. He’s breezy, but also highly skilled and, if need be, a stone-cold killer; and he’s got a way with the ladies, of course.
The latter applies to the opening sequence, in particular, which is easily the best and most exciting part of the book. In the wordless, fast-paced 11-page romp, a battered and bruised (and, as we learn later on, tortured) Michael Swann escapes from East Berlin after a mission gone awry. It’s not perfect—at one oddly staged point, I had to look twice, because it looks like the hero just hops through a closed window at first glance; if you look closely, though, there’s at least some broken glass. Still, overall, it’s a well-told sequence.
It’s also one you know from practically every James Bond film ever made, however, and that’s the prevailing impression when it comes to Cold War as a whole, too. Once the actual plot gets underway after the aforementioned opening sequence, there’s no real suspense or drama, because, if you’ve ever seen any Cold War espionage film, nothing that happens in the book is going to be a surprise to you.
It doesn’t help that Byrne practically blows the cliffhanger on the cover, if you pay attention.
And, more importantly, the characters are all stereotypes—and, worse, not even current stereotypes, but the kind you know from 40-year-old films set in the period.
From page to page, Byrne’s instincts as a storyteller are still intact—in this respect, the book is rock-solid. Also, more power to John Byrne for doing his own thing again, and more power to him for picking a genre and subject matter that counts as eccentric by the narrow standards of the direct market, at least. If nothing else, I found Cold War pleasant to read, in a nostalgic, comfort-food kind of way, and because it’s a type of comic that you don’t see very often in the U.S.
Ultimately, though, this is John Byrne doing his own “James Bond in the 1960s” fan-fiction thing, essentially, and there’s not much more to it than that.