Thursday 3 December 2015

The evolution of the SPECTRE symbol

The name of SPECTRE isn't the only aspect of the organisation last seen – officially, at least in Diamonds Are Forever to have been resurrected in the latest James Bond film. The organisation's octopus-like symbol made an appearance too.

The motif has seen a number of changes over the years. The first time we see the SPECTRE symbol is at a chess match in From Russia With Love (1963). The symbol is on a paper coaster delivered with a glass of water and a summons for Kronsteen, a chess grandmaster and SPECTRE agent. The symbol, with its four wavy tentacles and ghoulish head, is less an octopus than a jellyfish out for an evening's trick or treating. The device is seen again as an intaglio on a ring worn by Blofeld. 

From Russia With Love
The SPECTRE symbol next makes an appearance in Thunderball (1965), placed in a ring worn by SPECTRE No. 2, Emilio Largo. This time, the device is more octopus-like, presumably symbolising SPECTRE'S reach and omnipresence. The outer tentacles curve round to enclose the others, perhaps as much to fit the circular frame of the ring as for aesthetic reasons. The facial features of the octopus are reduced to alien-like eyes. 

The design is largely retained for You Only Live Twice (1967) and is seen on a ring worn by Blofeld. In Diamonds Are Forever (1971), however, the symbol is rather different. Adorning the front of Blofeld's bath-o-sub, the octopus has gained a thicker body and straighter and broader outer tentacles, giving the impression perhaps of an octopus wearing a cape or shawl. The eyes, though, remain alien-like.

Diamonds Are Forever
With SPECTRE off the screen until the latest film (apart from Never Say Never Again), there have been no developments in the symbol in the intervening period (although Stromberg's Atlantis has a certain resemblance to the octopus device). Almost to make up for it, however, Spectre (2015) contains two designs. Teaser posters for the film cleverly incorporated the octopus symbol within bullet-damaged glass, the tentacles and body being formed by the fissures surrounding the bullet hole. A similar motif was created within the film itself. 

Spectre teaser poster
SPECTRE itself adopts a more corporate-looking octopus logo, which is seen on the outside surface of a ring and on a computer screen. The body of this octopus is relatively thin and wide, while the tentacles are short and curve towards the centre, except the central tentacle, which is longer than the others and is straight and tapers like a dagger. Interestingly, the octopus only has seven tentacles. It's also worth noting that the 'shoulders' of the octopus are raised, and that the head lacks eyes.

Spectre ring 2015
Each incarnation of the SPECTRE/octopus motif is obviously different from the last, yet each could not have existed without those that preceded it. The exception is, of course, the first incarnation, and it is telling that in that case, the motif looks the least like an octopus, as if the designer was influenced mainly, if not solely, by the principal meaning of the word 'spectre'. It is possible that its resemblance to an octopus was coincidental, but was enough to influence the design of the symbol two films later.

There is one other comparison worth making. The Batman symbol has had a long history and has undergone many changes, far more than we have seen on the SPECTRE device. What is curious, though, is that the various designs of the SPECTRE symbol share certain traits with roughly contemporaneous Batman motifs. Thus, the octopus motif of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice has curved, enclosing sides, as does the bat motif used in Batman comics in 1964 and 1965. The thicker body and straight sides of the octopus in Diamonds Are Forever mirrors the thicker body and straighter sides of the bat motif that appeared in the 1966 TV series and in comics in 1970. The spidery lines seen in Spectre's 'bullet-hole' octopus recall the scored appearance of the bat motif used for The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The official octopus symbol seen on the 2015 ring, meanwhile, has leaner qualities matched by bat motifs used in Batman Begins (2005) and later in comics, and itself has a vague appearance of a flying creature. 

These similarities are no doubt coincidental, am I am not suggesting that the motifs resemble each other in any significant way. However, sharing certain traits, the motifs suggest a common aesthetic, the designers responding to an extent to the same influences or selection pressures within the cultural environment (although the apparent influence of Christopher Nolan's Batman films specifically on the Bond films has been noted elsewhere). 

The SPECTRE symbol has seen a number of changes over the past 50 years, but remains a important and recognisable piece of Bondian iconography in popular culture and a potent symbol for James Bond's most tenacious adversary.

Note: The Batman logos are taken from an infographic published on the World of Superheroes website.

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