writer: Peter O’Donnellartists: Enric Badia Romero & John Burnspublisher: Titan Books (paperback, £11.99)
In the days before over-hyped girl power, Britain had a liberated, independently minded action heroine as beautiful as she was deadly. Modesty Blaise is like the love child of James Bond and Emma Peel: fearless, adventurous, travelling the globe to exotic locations, performing as a spy, a smuggler, or an all-round adrenaline junkie.
Originally published in the Evening Standard, Modesty still carries a punch beyond her 1963 inception and still seems remarkably independent in spirit. Writer Peter O’Donnell has not only created an unforgettable heroine but has also written some action-packed thrillers which leap out of the pages. He’s ably mastered the limitations of the daily strip, as can also be witnessed in his other popular strip, Garth. In three or four panels he makes the story flow with careful confidence. His scripts crackle, featuring dialogue laced with lively wit and mischief.
Despite being able to turn the head of every man, Modesty has the undivided loyalty of one man, Willie Garvin. Willie belongs to a different class, and – whilst making up a formidable team – he frequently has to yield to his mistress’s greater confidence and martial arts training. O’Donnell creates a colourful supporting cast from the hen-pecked Gilbert Bone to the sagacious Saragam.
The three-stories collected in this volume highlight the diversity of the Modesty Blaise character, exploring different aspects of her personality. In the first tale, she crosses paths with Idaho George, a familiar friend and con-artist posing as mystic guru Ram Dal Singh, who’s supposed powers of materlialisation attract the ambitious attentions of big-time crime boss, the formidable Anastasia Bone.
In The Golden Frog, our heroine finds herself in Vietnam on a mission to rescue her old martial arts teacher and battle the man who seeks revenge for his years-earlier defeat at her hands. In the final tale, Yellowstone Booty, she’s enjoying the great outdoors of the Rockies until Willie disappears, presumed dead, and she’s determined to capture his supposed killers in the search for buried Aztec treasure.
Whilst O’Donnell has shaped Modesty’s career through the decades, for these stories he’s aided by long time-collaborator Enric Badia Romero (best known for space vixen, Axa) and Brit John Burns, whose work has been seen on Judge Dredd, Nikolai Dante and James Bond.
Both make dynamic use of the panel space and figures are portrayed with great clarity and poise. There’s little moody atmosphere in the shading but the emphasis is on crisp, pacey action. They have the breathless energy of movie storyboards, and – with Modesty’s dark and tight-fitting cat-suit – it’s a pretty sexy movie.
Spawned in the 60s, Modesty Blaise emerged from behind the super spy shadows of those origins and survived an ill-conceived and campy big -screen outing. Not surprisingly, she’s been an inspirational blueprint for many independent action women, even arguably Lara Croft. These three adventures are taken from the 1970s, but beyond the fashion-sense, remain timeless thrillers. A cool and chic experience.