Modesty Blaise came out of the superspy craze of the 60s and no guessing what her influences were, but it’s a tribute to the enduring popularity of the characters that is was still running nearly forty years later and written by the same man, Peter O’Donnell. Having passed away earlier this year, this latest collection of strips drawn by Neville Colvin, is a timely reminder of his playful storytelling.
For anyone unfamiliar with our sexy superspy, a brief recap. Devised as a daily newspapers strip by O’Connell and illustrator, Jim Holdaway, it first appeared in 1963 in The Evening Standard. That remained its continual home until the last adventure appeared in 2001. After Holdaway’s death in 1970, the subsequent arts chores were taken up in turn by Spain’s Romero (best know from creating sci-fi strip, Axa), John Burns, Pat Wright and Colvin. It was also widely syndicated across the world.
There’s no doubt that the success of Bond led to her initial appearance and there’s a certain whimsical flavour that would make Steed and Mrs Peel feel at home, but the stories also have a uniqueness all their own.
Modesty is stylish, intelligent sexy and aristocratic with a mysterious past, appllying all her natural wiles and taught skills to win. Likewise, Willie Garvin is a loyal, macho, rough diamond with an equal passion for women and perilous excitement. Whilst there’s close bonds between them both, it’s more a platonic relationship, trusting each other with their lives, so each adventure ensures he’s bedding another beauty, even if he abandons them to help fight alongside his ‘Princess’, or is seduced by them as part of some villainous plan.
Sweet Caroline reprints four consecutive tales from the 80s and are full of international adventure, glamour, and sex. They’re neat crime thrillers that are brimming with inventiveness, wit and excitement. The titular story is proof of that. After a murder at a cricket match, a secret group of assassins is determined to kill off Modesty.
Off to Russia next with The Return Of The Mammoth, where Willie sets out to rescue one of his circus elephants, kidnapped by Russian scientists in order to breed mammoths from its DNA, but that also means taking on the secret policedand hired hit-men.
Plato’s Republic has Modesty lured to a Greek island by the deadly spy group, Salamander Four, to rescue an old friend from the days of The Network. The final tale is Sword Of The Bruce where our dynamic duo re-enact an old Scottish legend to help jointly win a young girl’s legacy and thwart her debt-riddled gambling cousin from beating her. They’re a wonderfully diverse quartet of action tales, but perfectly eccentric and idiosyncratic, and as enjoyable now as they were twenty years ago.
Surprisingly, her success on paper, including a shelfful of novels, has not been replicated in other mediums. Joseph Losey’s 1966 film version (now available on DVD), with Italian beauty Monica Vitti as Modesty and Terence Stamp as Willie, which had input from both O’Connell and Holdaway, makes embarrassing viewing at times, even if it was a box office success. A TV movie followed in 82 featuring former Mrs Richard Harris and model, Ann Turkel without a follow-up series, and the Portuguese added My Name Is Modesty in 2004.
So, with more volumes of the remaining strips to come, maybe Modesty will be blazing across our screens again soon.
Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.