Modesty Blaise: The Million Dollar Game (Titan Books)

Three more stellar adventure stories starring the female James Bond of the comic strip world.

 

104 pgs., B&W; $19.95
(W: Peter O’Donnell; A: Enric Badia Romero)
 
There’s nothing I like better than a good adventure story, unless it’s a good adventure story featuring a kick-ass heroine. Both requirements are filled with the Modesty Blaise comic strips, with an added bonus for an old-timer such as myself: the world of this comic is instantly recognizable because it came into being about the same time that I did. The Modesty Blaise stories are firmly rooted in their times, with contemporary political issues often motivating the plots and the interactions among characters remaining within the realms of the possible (no sci-fi weapons or escape via personal jet-pack), making it all feel comfortingly familiar to someone who grew up in the 1960s.
 
Modesty Blaise began life as the heroine of a comic strip, created by mystery writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Jim Holdaway, which ran in the Evening Standard from 1963 to 2001 (she also appeared in several novels, movies, and a radio drama, but those needn’t concern us here). O’Donnell remained the sole writer for the series but worked with several different artists (in this volume, Enric Badia Romero). Each individual Modesty Blaise strip is part of a larger, self-contained story, rather like episodes on a television show or installments in a book series, and Titan is re-issuing the strips in large-format volumes (I count 20 so far), each of which contains three of these stories along with some editorial commentary.
 
In case you’re not already familiar with this exemplary heroine, here’s a quick background. As a child, Modesty escaped from a Displaced Persons camp during World War II. Forced to live by her wits, she became head of a criminal network in Tangier before renouncing the dark side and becoming an agent for good (sometimes as a freelancer, sometimes for the British Secret Service). She’s more than equal any situation, whether the resolution requires her to pilot a plane, dispatch a villain with a well-placed karate kick or simply apply some obscure cultural knowledge, and she’s not above using her stunning good looks to get her male opponents thinking with their little head. Modesty is also no stranger to the pleasures of the bedroom although, like James Bond, she remains a free agent and never allows pleasure interfere with work.
 
Did I mention I’m a sucker for a good story? All three episodes in this collection fill the bill by embracing their genre elements, allowing you to have a predictable good time reading them. In "Butch Cassidy Rides Again," Modesty and her platonic best friend Willie Garvin are enjoying a holiday in the American West (riding the "outlaw trail" from Montana to Mexico) only to find themselves back in the crime-fighting business after a gunfight staged for tourists becomes deadly. "Million Dollar Game" has Modesty and Willie fighting game poachers in Africa with the assistance of a veterinarian from, of all places, Missouri. "The Vampire of Malvesco" is more Hardy Boys than True Blood, with a good dash of international intrigue, as Modesty and Willie must solve a series of murders in an Eastern European village which certainly do look (particularly to the superstitious villagers) like they’ve been committed by a vampire.
 
Romero (www.badiaromero.com) is a master of the panel comic, conveying a great deal of information in each frame (a necessity when you have only two or three frames per day to work with) while also creating a sense of place and atmosphere and putting quite a bit of cheesecake on display at the same time. The good characters are distinguished not only by the beauty/handsomeness of their facial features but also by their idealized bodies and sprayed-on clothing, This frank presentation of sexuality (including some nudity, generally of the "back bottom" variety) is quite different from what was presented in most American strips from the same period (and remember, these ran in a daily, large-circulation newspaper), but you’d have to be a real prude to object to the observation that consenting adults have been known to have sex together from time to time. | Sarah Boslaugh

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