In 1953, writer and World War II journalist Ian Fleming released Casino Royale, a novel featuring a protagonist who would become a staple in international pop culture – James Bond. The British Secret Service agent’s exploits have led from a series of novels to a movie franchise worth nearly $20 billion, and his 007 moniker is synonymous with covert missions. The character has received justified criticism for being misogynistic and using women to his advantage, but the franchise’s diehard fans have chosen to look past the critiques and admire his jet-setting lifestyle, penchant for danger and incredible selection of vehicles.
Bond may be the center of his universe, but there is one woman who has been a key player in the franchise since its inception. As the secretary of MI6 leader M, Moneypenny is the woman who keeps the ship sailing as she prepares intelligence reports and develops a keen understanding of how agents, particularly James Bond, operate in the field. She is privy to operational details and has the ability to create effective strategies to navigate almost any situation.
Moneypenny started as a minor yet significant character who was a workaholic with an unrequited crush on 007 that never went past flirty conversation. Her story outside of MI6 and James Bond was a mystery, and she stayed firmly in her role as a secretary. Like Bond, the movie version of Moneypenny has been portrayed by several actresses. But, when British actress Naomie Harris stepped into the iconic role in 2012’s Skyfall, it was a game changer both in terms of making history and advancing/reimagining Moneypenny’s story after her absence in films following a change of continuity in 2006. For the first time, Moneypenny was portrayed by a Black woman and was finally given a first name in film canon: Eve. Harris’ involvement in the film was a closely guarded secret, so she avoided a lot of pre-judgmental rejection about her portrayal of Moneypenny. According to an interview, Harris believed that most fans would appreciate her character arc and overall performance in Skyfall.
Harris also spoke about Moneypenny’s development in Elle Magazine, and said she loved how the character was different in more than terms of skin color. Moneypenny’s trademark humor and resourcefulness were still intact, but fans got to see her dive into action as a field agent alongside James Bond. The pair built a relationship over odd circumstances after she accidentally shot him on a mission – a mistake that temporarily threw 007 off of his A+ game. Moneypenny still had an obvious affection for Bond and was dedicated to her career, but neither one consumed every moment of her life. And Bond seemed to have an admiration and respect for her, recognizing her strengths both in the field and in the office. Harris’ Moneypenny was positioned to be more like Bond’s equal, with her hands deep into the action, trading gunfire with enemies, smoothly surveying a casino in Macau and exchanging witty wordplay with 007. The pair worked closely throughout the mission, but Moneypenny did not reveal her name to Bond (and the audience) until the end of the film. She declined going back in the field to become the new M’s secretary – a role where her brilliant skills would still shine.
Despite Moneypenny’s impressive evolution, some backlash still rose from Bond fans who questioned why the character’s race had been changed, even though race was not central to her story arc or backstory in film canon. Moneypenny returned in 2015’s Spectre and continued to exude excellence from the office as she aided Bond in a mission spurred by the previous M’s orders in the event of her death. The progression in her working relationship and friendship with Bond was obvious, as he shared privileged information with her and depended on her expertise to help him navigate the field. In the wake of the previous M’s death, he opened up and allowed himself to place an even higher level of trust in Moneypenny. She was his eyes and ears in rooms where he was no longer allowed, and she understood what was needed to accomplish a task. The film ended with Moneypenny watching the MI6 building crashing to the ground in a scheduled demolition.
Naomie Harris’ influential version of Moneypenny may be currently in movie limbo, but the character will get a chance to shine on her own in James Bond: Moneypenny, a single-issue comic set to release on August 30. The issue will follow Moneypenny on a seemingly normal mission that becomes complicated. She discovers an assassination plan, which mirrors a horrific terrorist attack from her childhood, and she has to race to save the day. James Bond: Moneypenny is the character’s first solo mission in comics, but it is not the first time her story has been explored in print. From 2005-2008, a series of novels known as The Moneypenny Diaries gave insight into missions from her perspective, and revealed details about her childhood in Africa. She was given a different first name, Jane, and was depicted on the covers of the book as she had always been – a White woman.
James Bond: Moneypenny’s cover shows the secretary as a Black woman wielding a gun and ready for action. The issue will be written by Jody Houser, the first woman to pen a comic in the Bond universe. Houser hopes the story will be interesting enough to create a series out of the single issue. A woman writer is vital to bringing the level of nuance needed to portray Moneypenny as a fully fleshed, multifaceted person. Excluding The Moneypenny Diaries, the character has been written through male eyes and has existed primarily to advance Bond’s mission. The Moneypenny Diaries included 007 in the storylines, but James Bond: Moneypenny will distance her from Bond’s looming shadow, and give fans a chance to see how she works in the field as a standalone character. Because this is Moneypenny’s “big break,” readers will see what makes her tick as a person. They don’t want a “female Bond,” but rather a Moneypenny who is still a witty, incredibly resourceful, and intelligent woman who exudes confidence, but may not be so “unshakable.” They want to see a person with a past and understand how her life story has led to her current path. There are questions that need answers: What are her fears and regrets? What does she care about outside of her career? What are her goals as a human being, and what does she do for herself?
Her authenticity in interactions with other women, her daily thoughts/decisions, and how she navigates toxic masculinity as an agent in a presumably male-dominated workplace feel safer in the hands of a woman like Houser, a seasoned comic writer who undoubtedly deals with the same issues in her field, and in the world as a woman. Solid writing is critical to the success of any release in the comic arena. There is no stellar actress who can utilize her skills to mitigate dialogue issues. The writing in a comic HAS to be effective enough to tell the story and get readers inside of the head and heart of the protagonist. And, Houser’s proven ability to create compelling female characters (i.e. Faith, a plus-sized superheroine) and expand on the psyche of existing characters without sacrificing what makes them recognizable (Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth) makes her an excellent candidate for the job.
However, this version of Moneypenny is a Black woman, which adds on another layer of complexity in relation to her story and life experiences. Because James Bond: Moneypenny is only one issue, it is not clear if Houser will take the route of the movie series and not make Moneypenny’s race central to her experiences, or if she will make a reference (even if it is “casual”) to the character’s race. If she chose the latter, it would be interesting to see how Miss Moneypenny is able to assume authority in a situation where she will not be respected as a Black woman. Either way, Moneypenny’s depiction as a Black woman is an exciting concept in James Bond: Moneypenny, and raises a legitimate issue. Black women have a major lack of representation in action heroine roles. Comics boast several Black heroines who have enjoyed a level of success in the print world including Storm, Vixen, and now the Dora Milaje in their own Wakandan series. But, even icons like Storm are still waiting in a long line behind every obscure male hero for their solo shot at the big screen.
The roles for regular women who fit the tenets of an action star (hand-to-hand combat skills, weapons savvy, keen investigative skills, etc.) like Moneypenny are more prevalent in independent comics/webcomics, but the TV/film world tells a different story. Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, and many more White actresses have ample time to shine in big-budget action films. Black men like Idris Elba, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington have also been able to find major success both on the big screen and TV as action leads. There are Black women in supporting action roles both on TV and in movies, with stars like Taraji P. Henson as Detective Jocelyn Carter in CBS’s Person of Interest, Danai Gurira’s Michonne in The Walking Dead, and Tessa Thompson in a supporting role as Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnorak, but very few Black women get to carry a role as the main star. Black women dominate in other areas like drama (Viola Davis, HTGAWM), so it is not farfetched to think that audiences will support a Black woman as the centerpiece of an action project. Zoe Saldana, an actress with Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Haitian roots, is a recent example of a self-identifying Black woman in a leading role in 2011’s Colombiana. But, roles like those seem to be sparse for Afro-Latina and other Black actresses.
The chances of James Bond: Moneypenny leading to an action movie or TV series with Naomie Harris reprising the role may seem very unlikely at the moment, but it is far from improbable. Other Bond comics have positioned Moneypenny as much more of a hands-on heroine, and James Bond: Moneypenny is following in the same vein. This version of the character has already garnered praise from fans and critics who wished she had a larger role in the 007 movies. And, because Moneypenny is an iconic character tied to one of the largest, most profitable franchises in history, loyal fans would be willing to give a spinoff series or film a shot. This could open the door for the Bond universe to expand like DC/Marvel and open the series up to a new fanbase who may not have connected with James Bond. Bond films may not be over, but Spectre hinted at the spy’s desire to leave MI6 behind for good. It would be a perfect time to shift the focus on Moneypenny in her own series. But, for now, she will have at least one shot to shine in the comic universe.