Modesty Blaise

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This article is about the character and the comic strip/film/novel franchise. For other uses, see Modesty Blaise (disambiguation).
Modesty Blaise
ModestyBlaise.jpg
Cover of the first U.S. printing of the Modesty Blaise novel
Author(s)

Peter O'Donnell

Artists:
Jim Holdaway
Enrique Badia Romero
John M. Burns
Patrick Wright
Neville Colvin
Dan Spiegle
Dick Giordano
Current status / schedule Finished
Launch date 13 May 1963
End date 7 July 2002

Modesty Blaise is a British comic strip featuring a fictional character of the same name, created by Peter O'Donnell (writer) and Jim Holdaway (art) in 1963. The strip follows the adventures of Modesty Blaise, an exceptional young woman with many talents and a criminal past, and her trusty sidekick Willie Garvin. It was adapted into films made in 1966, 1982, and 2003 and a series of 13 novels and short story collections, beginning in 1965.

Premise[edit]

In 1945, a nameless girl escaped from a displaced person (DP) camp in Kalyros, Greece. She did not remember anything from her short past. She wandered through post-World War II Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African regions, where she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Jewish Hungarian scholar from Budapest named Lob who gave her an education and a name: Modesty (Blaise she added herself later, after Merlin's tutor from the Arthurian legends[1]). Lob died when Modesty was 12 years old. Eventually, in 1953, she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier from Henri Louche and expanded it to international status as "The Network".[2]

During these years she met Willie Garvin. Despite the desperate life he was leading, she saw his potential and offered him a job. Inspired by her belief in him, he pulled through as her right-hand man in The Network and became Modesty's most trusted friend. Theirs is a strictly platonic relationship and is based on mutual respect and shared interests. He has always called her "Princess", a form of address only he is allowed to use. Other members of The Network would call Modesty "Mam'selle" (as in the French term "Mademoiselle" or "Miss"). Though their relationship has no sexual element, it is Modesty's various lovers who feel jealous of Garvin, rather than the other way around – as he is the only man who remains part of her life, while lovers come and go. By the same token, some of Willie's girlfriends are initially jealous of Modesty, before in some cases – such as Lady Janet – coming to understand how the dynamic works between them.

She obtained British nationality by marrying and divorcing Englishman James Turner in Beirut; Turner died a year later of alcoholism. Having made a point of not dealing in secrets belonging to H.M. Government, when she felt she had made enough money, she retired and moved to England and Willie Garvin followed suit. Bored by their new lives among the idle rich, they accepted a request for assistance from Sir Gerald Tarrant, a high-ranking official of the British Secret Service. This is where the story really begins, although it is treated differently in the first comic strip and the first book. (See note in Canon debate below). Modesty's fortune is estimated at 500,000 pounds as of 1963. She lives in a penthouse in London overlooking Hyde Park, and also owns a villa in Tangier and a cottage two miles from Benildon, Wiltshire. She is 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm) tall and weighs 120 lbs (54 kg) as revealed in La Machine.

Many of her adventures are based on capers in which she and Willie Garvin become involved as a result of their association with Tarrant. However, they may also help perfect strangers or fight various eccentric villains in exotic locations of their own volition if the cause fits their values; "ghosts" from their Network past also emerge to haunt them from time to time. Although Modesty and Willie will not hesitate to kill if necessary, they avoid deadly force whenever possible, often relying upon their extraordinary physical and weapons skills. There are many occasions in the comic strip and novels where the two decide ahead of time whether to use deadly force ("for keeps") or less-lethal methods ("for sleeps") depending on the level of the perceived threat.

A dumbbell-shaped yawara stick, or "kongo" as it is called in the Modesty Blaise books and comic strips

The kinds of fights and battles that Modesty and Willie have are often very special. There is a great emphasis on unarmed combat and unusual weapons. Modesty's weapon of choice is a "kongo" or yawara stick and as for firearms she begins by preferring the Colt .32 revolver and Mab Brevete .32 ACP auto pistol though in later books she switches to carrying a Star PD .45 auto pistol, while Willie's preferred weapon is the throwing knife, of which he usually carries two. Many other strange weapons (such as the use of quarterstaff, épée, blowgun, and sling) and unexpected fighting techniques are also featured.

In keeping with the "Floating timeline" spirit of other long-running comic strip and literary characters, Modesty and Willie generally do not age over the decades, with Modesty always being depicted as being in her late 20s, Willie eight years older. The only exceptions to this rule occur in the comic strip origin story, "In the Beginning", the 1996 short story collection Cobra Trap, the final Modesty Blaise book, which contains five stories that take place where Modesty's age moves from 20 to 52 (approximately), and the 2003 film My Name Is Modesty which is a prequel depicting Modesty in her late teens.

In an essay found in Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe (Win Scott Eckert, ed., MonkeyBrain Books, 2005), author Chuck Loridans contributes an article entitled "The Daughters of Greystoke" wherein he posits that Modesty is the daughter of Tarzan and La of Opar.

Comic strip[edit]

Having conceived the idea after a chance meeting with a girl during his wartime service in the Middle East,[3] O'Donnell elected to work with Jim Holdaway, with whom he had worked on the strip Romeo Brown, after a trial period of collaboration with Frank Hampson, creator of Dan Dare, left O'Donnell dissatisfied. Modesty Blaise debuted in the London Evening Standard on 13 May 1963.[2] The strip was syndicated among a large number of newspapers ranging from the Johannesburg Star to the Detroit Free Press, the Bombay Samachar, The Telegraph, (Calcutta, India), The Star (Malaysia), The West Australian (Perth, Australia) and The Evening Citizen (Glasgow, Scotland).

After Jim Holdaway's death in 1970,[4] the art of the strip was provided by the Spanish artist Enrique Badía Romero.[5][6] Eight years later, Romero quit to make time for his own comics projects, and after short attempts by John Burns[7] and Patrick Wright, Neville Colvin drew the strip until 1986.[8] Then Romero returned to the job and continued until the end of the strip.

The strip's circulation in the United States was erratic, in part because of the occasional nude scenes, which were much less acceptable in the U.S. than elsewhere, resulting in a censored version of the strip being circulated. (Modesty occasionally used a tactic that she called the "Nailer," in which she would appear topless, distracting the bad guys long enough to give Willie or herself a chance to incapacitate them.) An example of this censorship appears in the introduction to the 2007 Titan Books reprint volume Death Trap, which illustrated two segments of the story arc, "The Junk Men" that were censored by the Detroit Free Press when it published the strip in 1977; in both cases a screen was drawn over scantily-clad images of Willie and Modesty. Reportedly, O'Donnell did not approve of the changes, although they were made by the artist, Romero.[9]

The final Modesty Blaise daily comic strip, #10183. Unlike the printed version, the original art appears without the word balloons. The gist of the dialogue is that Modesty and Willie plan to unearth a treasure (the one left buried at the end of the book A Taste for Death) and anonymously donate it to the Salvation Army, and to take a break from adventuring. The final exchange at sunset: Modesty says, "NO VILLAINS, NO VICTIMS, NO BLOOD SWEAT AND TEARS ... WE'LL TAKE A LITTLE BREAK, WILLIE LOVE, JUST YOU AND ME." Willie replies, "BEST BIT OF ALL, PRINCESS."

The final Modesty Blaise strip ran in the Evening Standard on 11 April 2001.[2] Some of the newspapers that carried the series, feeling that it had become a tradition for their readers, began running it again from the beginning. O'Donnell, in order to give Romero some additional work, gave the artist permission to adapt one of his short stories ("The Dark Angels") as a graphic novel that was published in Scandinavia in 2002, later being reprinted in the U.S. in a special issue of Comics Revue.

From 1 December 2008, the Evening Standard, which had stopped including comic strips for some time, republished La Machine, using the original artwork. Following a change of ownership of the paper, they did not continue with subsequent stories.

Strip numbering[edit]

The ordinary strips are consecutive numbered from 1 to 10183. Outside this numbering are the two newspaper stories "In the Beginning" and "The Killing Ground" and the two comic book stories "Modesty Blaise" and "The Dark Angels".

Outside the ordinary numbering is also an amount of A-strips. An A-strip has the same number as the previous strip but followed by an A. They were used on days when not all the newspapers running Modesty Blaise were published. An A-strip is not vital for the continuity of the story and is often just supplementing the previous strip.
The first A-strip was 194A and was published during Christmas 1963 in Scottish newspapers.

Since December 1974 The Evening Standard has not been published on Saturdays. So, since then, and the story "Cry Wolf", a sixth of the strips have been A-strips and have not had their premiere in The Evening Standard.

A single strip is numbered with an X suffix, e.g., strip number 3641X, and is similar to the A-strips.

Reprints[edit]

Many reprint editions of the comic strip have appeared over the years, of varying quality. Most focus upon the earliest strips, with strips from the 1980s and 1990s being the least-often reprinted.

One of the earliest reprints in book form occurred in 1978 when Star Books, an imprint of WH Allen Limited, published two paperback-sized compilations of the Holdaway-era stories: 1) "In the Beginning", "The Black Pearl", and "The Vikings", and 2) "La Machine" and "The Long Lever". These reprints suffered from poor reproduction that rendered many panels illegible.

Between 1981 and 1986, Ken Pierce Books Inc. of the United States, in conjunction with Eclipse Comics, published eight volumes of comic book-sized reprints dubbed the First American Edition series. The first four books featured Holdaway-illustrated stories from the 1960s, while the last four featured strips from the early 1980s as illustrated by Neville Colvin. These books also suffered from reproduction problems that resulted in many panels being reprinted too light, making them difficult to read.

Between 1984 and 1988, Titan Books of England published eight volumes of reprints of strips featuring art by Holdaway and Romero, covering the period 1963 to 1974.

Manuscript Press published two volumes of late-1980s Romero strips in 2003 (Live Bait and Lady in the Dark); it also published all of the stories not reprinted elsewhere in serialised form in its magazine publications Comics Revue and Modesty Blaise Quarterly, the former of which, as noted above, also published The Dark Angels for the first (and, to date, only) time in English. Comics Revue is continuing to reprint Modesty Blaise strips as of its early 2008 issues.

Titan Books[edit]

Beginning in March 2004, Titan launched a new series of reprint volumes. These new versions use larger images and reportedly come from better source material than the editions published between 1984 and 1988, and the series has gone far beyond the mandate of the original run. The reprints continue to be published at a rate of two or three per year, 10 years after their launch.

As well as an introduction to each story by Peter O'Donnell for books 1 to 16, and by Lawrence Blackmore for books 17 onwards, most books include articles about the series.

So far, the new Titan series has reprinted the full run of the Holdaway years, the full run of Romero's first tenure, the short spells of John Burns and Pat Wright, and the full run of Neville Colvin. As of the volumes announced for publication in 2014, the reprints are approximately midway through Romero's second tenure.

Title Year ISBN Articles
 T1 The Gabriel Set-Up 2004 978-1-84023-658-3 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 1 by Mike Paterson and "Girl Walking" by Peter O'Donnell
 T2 Mister Sun 978-1-84023-721-4 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 2 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 1, an interview with Peter O'Donnell
 T3 Top Traitor 978-1-84023-684-2 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 3 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 2
 T4 The Black Pearl 978-1-84023-842-6 "Modesty's Sisters – The Madeleine Brent Novels" Pt 1 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 3
 T5 Bad Suki 2005 978-1-84023-864-8 "A Few Words about a Man I Never Met" about Jim Holdaway by Walter Simonson and "Modesty's Sisters" Pt 2
 T6 The Hell Makers 978-1-84023-865-5 "Modesty Blaise Doesn't Go To America" by Max Allan Collins, "Jim and Enric" by Peter O'Donnell, Holdaway's illustrations for the "Pieces of Modesty" book, and Pt 1 of a 1973 Comic Media interview with Peter O'Donnell by Nick Landau and Richard Burton
 T7 The Green-Eyed Monster 978-1-84023-866-2 A profile of Enric Badia Romero
 T8 The Puppet Master 2006 978-1-84023-867-9 "Two Genuine Originals" by Jan Burke and "The Secret Weapons of a Femme Fatale" by Rob van der Nol
 T9 The Gallows Bird 978-1-84023-868-6 "Blue Bird – The Censoring of The Gallows Bird"
T10 Cry Wolf 978-1-84023-869-3 "The Truth behind Modesty Plays" by Russell Mael and Pt 2 of the 1973 Comic Media interview with Peter O'Donnell
T11 The Inca Trail 2007 978-1-84576-417-3 Pt 3 of the 1973 Comic Media interview with Peter O'Donnell
T12 Death Trap 978-1-84576-418-0 "Preserving Modesty's Modesty" by Lawrence Blackmore
T13 Yellowstone Booty 2008 978-1-84576-419-7 "The Art of John Burns" by Lawrence Blackmore, including Burns' illustrations for the first Modesty Blaise novel
T14 Green Cobra 978-1-84576-420-3 "Naked Truth" by Lawrence Blackmore and Burns' illustrations for "Pieces of Modesty"
T15 The Lady Killers 2009 978-1-84856-106-9 "Modesty McBlaise: The Glasgow Story" by Lawrence Blackmore (strips that only appeared in the Glasgow Evening Citizen)
T16 The Scarlet Maiden 978-1-84856-107-6 "Modesty McBlaise" Pt 2 by Lawrence Blackmore
T17 Death in Slow Motion 2010 978-1-84856-108-3 "Portrait of an Artist – Neville Colvin: An Appreciation" by Steve Epting
T18 Sweet Caroline 978-1-84856-673-6 – no additional articles
T19 The Double Agent 2011 978-1-84856-674-3 "A Tribute to Peter O'Donnell" – short pieces by eleven writers and illustrators; "A Modest Man" by Wallace Harrington, describing Neville Colvin
T20 Million Dollar Game 978-1-84856-675-0 – no additional articles
T21 Live Bait 2012 978-0-85768-668-8 "O'Donnell's Circus" by Lawrence Blackmore
T22 Lady In The Dark 978-0-85768-693-0 – no additional articles
T23 The Girl in the Iron Mask 2013 978-0-85768-694-7 – no additional articles
T24 The Young Mistress 2014 978-1-78116-709-0 – no additional articles
T25 The Grim Joker Due Oct. 2014 978-1-78116-711-3
T26 The Killing Distance Due Mar. 2015 978-1-78116-712-0

Story list[edit]

There were 99 storylines produced for the Modesty Blaise comic strip and all its printed forms, and for almost 40 years it was written by just one person: Peter O'Donnell. The strips and comic books were drawn by Jim Holdaway (JH), Enrique Badia Romero (ER), John M. Burns (JB), Patrick Wright (PW), Neville Colvin (NC), Dan Spiegle (DS) and Dick Giordano (DG).

Sources:  A  (Comics Revue Annual), C  (Comics Revue), CM  (Comic Media Vol 2, No. 2), CS  (Comics Revue Special), F#  (First American Edition Series, Ken Pierce), LB  (Live Bait, Manuscript Press), LD  (Lady in the Dark, Manuscript Press), MB  (Comics Revue Presents Modesty Blaise), S#  (Star Books paperback reprints, 1978), OT#  (Titan Books, old series (1984–88)), T#  (Titan Books, new series (2004–present)).

The Modesty Blaise comic strip and comic book stories
Title Artist Strip numbers Number of strips Dates Reprinted in
 1 La Machine
J
i
m

H
o
l
d
a
w
a
y
1–114 114 1963-05-13 – 1963-09-21 T1, OT1, C 189–191, 193, S2
 2 The Long Lever 115–211 98 1963-09-23 – 1964-01-02 T1, OT1, C 192–194, S2
 3 The Gabriel Set-Up 212–354 143 1964-01-03 – 1964-06-18 T1, OT1, C 195–197
 4 Mister Sun 355–500 146 1964-06-19 – 1964-12-05 T2, OT2, C 198–199
 5 The Mind of Mrs. Drake 501–612 113 (112+1A) 1964-12-07 – 1965-04-19 T2, OT2, F2, C 201–203
 6 Uncle Happy 613–743 131 1965-04-20 – 1965-09-18 T2, OT8, F2, C 204–207
 7 Top Traitor 744–873 131 1965-09-20 – 1966-02-19 T3, F1, C 208–210
 8 The Vikings 874–992 119 1966-02-21 – 1966-07-09 T3, F1, S1
[1] In the Beginning 1–12 12 1966-07-11 – 1966-07-23 T1, OT1, C 188, CM, S1
 9 The Head Girls 993–1124 132 1966-07-11 – 1966-12-10 T3, F4
10 The Black Pearl 1125–1235 112 (111+1A) 1966-12-12 – 1967-04-22 T4, F4, S1
11 The Magnified Man 1236–1349 114 1967-04-24 – 1967-09-02 T4, F4
12 The Jericho Caper 1350–1461 113 (112+1A) 1967-09-04 – 1968-01-13 T4, F3
13 Bad Suki 1462–1574 113 1968-01-15 – 1968-05-25 T5, OT8, F3
14 The Galley Slaves 1575–1629
1630A-1688
115 (114+1A) 1968-05-27 – 1968-08-06
1968-09-11 – 1968-11-16
T5, OT3, MB24
[2] The Killing Ground A1-A36 36 1968-10-07 – 1968-11-16 T4, OT2, F3, C 207
15 The Red Gryphon 1689–1794 107 (106+1A) 1968-11-18 – 1969-03-22 T5, OT3, C 211–213
16 The Hell Makers 1795–1919 126 (125+1A) 1969-03-24 – 1969-08-16 T6, OT3, C 214–216
17 Take-Over 1920–2043 125 (124+1A) 1969-08-18 – 1970-01-10 T6, OT4, C 217–219
18 The War-Lords of Phoenix[10] 2044–2099
2099–2162
119 1970-01-12 – 1970-03-17
1970-03-17 – 1970-05-30
T6, OT4, C 220–222
E
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B
a
d
í
a

R
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e
r
o
19 Willie the Djinn 2163–2282 120 1970-06-01 – 1970-10-17 T7, OT4, C 223–225
20 The Green-Eyed Monster 2283–2388 107 (106+1A) 1970-10-19 – 1971-02-20 T7, OT5, C 226–228
21 Death of a Jester 2389–2507 119 1971-02-22 – 1971-07-10 T7, OT5, C 229–231
22 The Stone Age Caper 2508–2627 120 1971-07-12 – 1971-11-27 T8, OT5, C 232–234
23 The Puppet Master 2628–2738 112 (111+1A) 1971-11-29 – 1972-04-08 T8, OT6, C 235–237
24 With Love from Rufus 2739–2846 108 1972-04-10 – 1972-08-12 T8, OT6
25 The Bluebeard Affair 2847–2970 125 (124+1A) 1972-08-14 – 1973-01-06 T9, OT6
26 The Gallows Bird 2971–3077 107 1973-01-08 – 1973-05-12 T9, MB2
27 The Wicked Gnomes 3078–3197 120 1973-05-14 – 1973-09-29 T9, OT7
28 The Iron God 3198–3309 111[11] 1973-10-01 – 1974-02-09 T9, OT7
29 "Take Me to Your Leader" 3310–3428 120 (119+1A) 1974-02-11 – 1974-07-01 T10, MB3
30 Highland Witch 3429–3548 120 1974-07-02 – 1974-11-16 T10, MB4
31 Cry Wolf 3549–3638A 106 (90+16A) 1974-11-18 – 1975-03-25 T10, MB5
32 The Reluctant Chaperon 3639–3737 120 (99+21A)[12] 1975-03-26 – 1975-08-14 T11, MB6
33 The Greenwood Maid 3738–3829A 111 (92+19A) 1975-08-15 – 1976-01-02 T11, MB7
34 Those About to Die 3830–3931A 123 (102+21A) 1976-01-05 – 1976-05-28 T11, MB8
35 The Inca Trail 3932–4031A 120 (100+20A) 1976-06-01 – 1976-10-20 T11, MB10
36 The Vanishing Dollybirds 4032–4141A 132 (110+22A) 1976-10-21 – 1977-03-28 T12, MB11
37 The Junk Men 4142–4241A 120 (100+20A) 1977-03-29 – 1977-08-19 T12, MB9
38 Death Trap 4242–4341A 120 (100+20A) 1977-08-22 – 1978-01-20 T12, MB12
39 Idaho George 4342–4447A 126 (106+20A) 1978-01-23 – 1978-06-16 T13, MB13
40 The Golden Frog 4448–4542A 114 (95+19A) 1978-06-19 – 1978-10-31 T13, MB14
41 Yellowstone Booty
John
Burns
4543–4647A 126 (105+21A) 1978-11-01 – 1979-03-30 T13, MB16
42 Green Cobra 4648–4737A 108 (90+18A) 1979-04-02 – 1979-08-10 T14, MB15
43 Eve and Adam 4738-4767A
4768-4837A
120 (100+20A) 1979-08-13 – 1979-11-24
1979-11-25 – 1980-01-04
T14, MB17
Patrick
Wright
44 Brethren of Blaise 4838–4932A 114 (95+19A) 1980-01-07 – 1980-05-23 T14, MB18
45 Dossier on Pluto
N
e
v
i
l
l
e

C
o
l
v
i
n
4933–5032A 120 (100+20A) 1980-05-27 – 1980-10-14 T15, MB19
46 The Lady Killers 5033–5127A 114 (95+19A) 1980-10-15 – 1981-03-03 T15, F5, C 238–240
47 Garvin's Travels 5128–5229A 120 (102+18A) 1981-03-04 – 1981-07-27 T15, F5, C 241 – 243
48 The Scarlet Maiden 5230–5329A 120 (100+20A) 1981-07-28 – 1981-12-16 T16, F5, C 244 – 246
49 The Moonman 5330–5424A 114 (95+19A) 1981-12-17 – 1982-05-07 T16, F6, C 247 – 249
50 A Few Flowers for the Colonel 5425–5519A 114 (95+19A) 1982-05-10 – 1982-09-24 T16, F6, C 250 – 252
51 The Balloonatic 5520–5619A 120 (100+20A) 1982-09-27 – 1983-02-18 T17, F6, C 253 – 255
52 Death in Slow Motion 5620–5719A 120 (100+20A) 1983-02-21 – 1983-07-15 T17, F7, C 256 – 258
53 The Alternative Man 5720–5814A 114 (95+19A) 1983-07-18 – 1983-11-28 T17, F7, C 259 – 261
54 Sweet Caroline 5815–5914A 120 (100+20A) 1983-11-29 – 1984-04-19 T18, F7, C 262 – 264
55 The Return of the Mammoth 5915–6014A 120 (100+20A) 1984-04-24 – 1984-09-14 T18, F8, C 265 – 267
56 Plato's Republic 6015–6114A 120 (100+20A) 1984-09-17 – 1985-02-06 T18, F8
57 The Sword of the Bruce 6115–6214A 120 (100+20A) 1985-02-07 – 1985-07-02 T18, F8
58 The Wild Boar 6215–6314A 120 (100+20A) 1985-07-03 – 1985-11-20 T19, MB20
59 Kali's Disciples 6315–6414A 120 (100+20A) 1985-11-21 – 1986-05-16 T19, MB21
60 The Double Agent 6415–6519A 126 (105+21A) 1986-05-17 – 1986-09-15 T19, MB22
61 Butch Cassidy Rides Again
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B
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6520–6624A 126 (105+21A) 1986-09-16 – 1987-02-12 T20, MB1, MB25
62 Million Dollar Game 6625–6724A 120 (100+20A) 1987-02-13 – 1987-07-08 T20, C 26–29
63 The Vampire of Malvescu 6725–6829A 126 (105+21A) 1987-07-09 – 1987-12-03 T20, A2, MB23
64 Samantha and the Cherub 6830–6934A 126 (105+21A) 1987-12-04 – 1988-05-06 T21, C 31–36, LB
65 Milord 6935–7034A 120 (100+20A) 1988-05-09 – 1988-09-27 T21, C 40–42, LB
66 Live Bait 7035–7134A 120 (100+20A) 1988-09-28 – 1989-02-17 T21, C 44–46, LB
67 The Girl from the Future 7135–7239A 126 (105+21A) 1989-02-20 – 1989-07-21 T22, C 47–49, LD
68 The Big Mole 7240–7339A 120 (100+20A) 1989-07-24 – 1989-12-11 T22, C 50–52, LD
69 Lady in the Dark 7340–7439A 120 (100+20A) 1989-12-12 – 1990-05-08 T22, C 53–56, LD
70 Fiona 7440–7544A 126 (105+21A) 1990-05-09 – 1990-10-09 T23, C 57–60
71 Walkabout 7545–7649A 126 (105+21A) 1990-10-10 – 1991-03-11 T23, C 61–63
72 The Girl in the Iron Mask 7650–7749A 120 (100+20A) 1991-03-12 – 1991-08-02 T23, C 64–66
73 The Young Mistress 7750–7854A 126 (105+21A) 1991-08-05 – 1992-01-06 T24, C 67–73
74 Ivory Dancer 7855–7959A 126 (105+21A) 1992-01-07 – 1992-06-05 T24, C 73–77
75 Our Friend Maude 7960–8064A 126 (105+21A) 1992-06-08 – 1992-11-02 T24, C 78–83
76 A Present for the Princess 8065–8174A 132 (110+22A) 1992-11-03 – 1993-04-08 T25, C 84–88
77 Black Queen's Pawn 8175–8279A 126 (105+21A) 1993-04-13 – 1993-09-10 T25, C 89–93
78 The Grim Joker 8280–8384A 126 (105+21A) 1993-09-13 – 1994-02-09 T25, C 94–99
79 Guido the Jinx 8385–8484A 120 (100+20A) 1994-02-10 – 1994-07-05 C 100–104
80 The Killing Distance 8485–8589A 126 (105+21A) 1994-07-06 – 1994-11-30 T26, C 105–109
81 The Aristo 8590–8694A 126 (105+21A) 1994-12-01 – 1995-05-03 C 110–114
[3] Modesty Blaise DS & DG 141 pages 1994-12
82 Ripper Jax
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8695–8799A 126 (105+21A) 1995-05-04 – 1995-10-02 C 115–119
83 The Maori Contract 8800–8904A 126 (105+21A) 1995-10-03 – 1996-03-01 C 120–124
84 Honeygun 8905–9009A 126 (105+21A) 1996-03-04 – 1996-08-02 C 125–130
85 Durango 9010–9114A 126 (105+21A) 1996-08-05 – 1997-01-03 CS, C 131–133
86 The Murder Frame 9115–9219A 126 (105+21A) 1997-01-06 – 1997-06-06 C 134–138
87 Fraser's Story 9220–9324A 126 (105+21A) 1997-06-09 – 1997-11-03 C 139–143
88 Tribute of the Pharaoh 9325–9429A 126 (105+21A) 1997-11-04 – 1998-05-03 C 144–148
89 The Special Orders 9430–9534A 126 (105+21A) 1998-05-06 – 1998-09-04 C 149–152
90 The Hanging Judge 9535–9644A 132 (110+22A) 1998-09-07 – 1999-02-10 C 153–158
91 Children of Lucifer 9645–9749A 126 (105+21A) 1999-02-11 – 1999-07-13 C 159–163
92 Death Symbol 9750–9859A 132 (110+22A) 1999-07-14 – 1999-12-15 C 164–169
93 The Last Aristocrat 9860–9964A 126 (105+21A) 1999-12-16 – 2000-05-19 C 170–175
94 The Killing Game 9965–10069A 126 (105+21A) 2000-05-22 – 2000-10-17 C 176–181
95 The Zombie 10070–10183 135 (114+21A) 2000-10-18 – 2001-04-11 C 182–187
[4] The Dark Angels 46 pages 2002-06-13 – 2002-07-11 C 200, 208 (cover)

The special stories[edit]

  1. Numbered SP1 or more common 8a. An introduction to the history of Modesty Blaise.
  2. Numbered SP2 or more common 14a. Produced to Scottish newspapers after an industrial dispute in England.
  3. Numbered SP3 or more common not numbered. A graphic novel from DC Comics based on the first novel with Modesty Blaise.
  4. Numbered SP4 or more common 96. A comic book version of the short story in Cobra Trap.
    Originally published in the Swedish magazine Agent X9 #7–8, 2002.

Films[edit]

After the initial popularity of the comic strip British Lion Films announced a Modesty Blaise film to be written by Sidney Gilliat that was never made.[13]

A film entitled Modesty Blaise, loosely based on the comic strip, was filmed in 1966 as a comedy thriller. It was directed by Joseph Losey and starred Monica Vitti as Modesty, Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin, and Dirk Bogarde as Gabriel. While Peter O'Donnell wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the film, the script was heavily revised by others before shooting began, and the finished film bore very little resemblance to O'Donnell's vision in tone, theme, or characterisation. For example, a romance is established between Willie and Modesty, even though the comic strip firmly established only a platonic relationship between them. The film also incorporated several musical numbers. The film was unsuccessful.

In 1982, a one-hour pilot was made for a proposed Modesty Blaise television series, starring Ann Turkel as Modesty Blaise and Lewis Van Bergen as Willie Garvin. The film aired on the ABC Network to positive reviews, but no series resulted. This was a slightly more serious version of the stories than the campy 1966 comedy version. In this pilot the setting is moved from London to Hollywood, and both Willie and Tarrant are portrayed as Americans.

In 2003, a direct-to-video film titled My Name Is Modesty was released. The film was directed by Scott Spiegel and starred English actress Alexandra Staden as Modesty Blaise. Although promoted as the first of a series, no others were made. One immediately noticeable difference between the film and the source material is that it is a prequel to Modesty's established backstory as a crime boss; as such, the character of Willie Garvin is omitted.

Quentin Tarantino has been interested in directing a Modesty Blaise film for many years, and at one point Neil Gaiman wrote a script treatment based upon O'Donnell's novel, I, Lucifer. So far, nothing has come of these plans. Tarantino "sponsored" the release of My Name Is Modesty by allowing it to be released under the label "Quentin Tarantino presents ..." In the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is seen reading a copy of Modesty Blaise.[14] Nicole Kidman has also gone on record as being interested in making a Modesty Blaise film, and Jennifer Lopez was reported to be pitching for the part in 2003.[15]

Books[edit]

Peter O'Donnell was invited to write a novel to tie in with the 1966 film. The novel, called simply Modesty Blaise and based on his original screenplay for the movie, fared considerably better than the movie itself did. (It was also released a year before the movie.) During the following decades he would write a total of eleven Modesty Blaise novels and two collections of short stories. Several of the short stories either adapt comic strip stories, or would later be adapted as comic strips themselves, and there was frequent crossover of characters between the two genres. All the books, with the exception of "Pieces of Modesty", were originally issued in hardback and have since gone through numerous paperback editions.

Year Title Notes
1965 Modesty Blaise
1966 Sabre-Tooth
1967 I, Lucifer
1969 A Taste for Death
1971 The Impossible Virgin
1972 Pieces of Modesty 6 short stories: "A Better Day to Die", "The Giggle-wrecker", "I Had a Date with Lady Janet", "A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck", "Salamander Four", "The Soo Girl Charity"
1973 The Silver Mistress
1976 Last Day in Limbo
1978 Dragon's Claw
1981 The Xanadu Talisman
1982 The Night of Morningstar
1985 Dead Man's Handle
1996 Cobra Trap 5 short stories: "Bellman", "The Dark Angels", "Old Alex", "The Girl With the Black Balloon", "Cobra Trap"

O'Donnell's final book, Cobra Trap, is a short story collection. Intended by O'Donnell to be his literary finale, the final story depicts Modesty's and Willie's deaths (with a hint of an afterlife). O'Donnell, however, continued to write the comic strip for several more years, and chose to end it on a more optimistic note (though the comic strip finale does not contradict the literary one).

Beginning in the early 2000s (decade), Souvenir Press began a series of paperback reprints of the Modesty Blaise book series, using the first edition hardback covers, and originally concluding with a reprint of Cobra Trap in 2006. Souvenir subsequently gained the rights to the short story collection Pieces of Modesty and issued their reprint of that book in March 2010, with a new cover design based on the original hardback cover from the first Modesty novel, at which point all the Blaise books fell under the same UK publisher for the first time.

In 2008, Penguin Books of India reprinted the full series.[16]

The 2012 Charles Stross book The Apocalypse Codex is a "tribute to Modesty Blaise", according to its author.

Differences between Comic Strip and Books[edit]

Although the books generally reflect the characters previously established in the comic strip, there are a number of detail differences. One example of this is how Modesty is initially recruited to work for Sir Gerald Tarrant – although the strip story La Machine (1963) and the book story Modesty Blaise (1965) have similarities, and in both Tarrant achieves his aim by putting her under an obligation, in the strip story this relates to the validity of her marriage (and therefore her right to British nationality and residence) while in the book he provides her with information that enables her to rescue Willie Garvin and save his life. The name of her husband is given in the strip, with the marriage taking place in 1960 and him dying in 1961; in the novel he is unnamed and the marriage took place in 1962.

There are also cases where characters first appear in the books and then subsequently appear in the comic strip – Steve Collier first appears in I Lucifer (1967) and his future wife Dinah in A Taste for Death (1969) but they do not appear in the strip until Lady in the Dark (1989).

Comics[edit]

In Sweden the strip has been in continuous distribution since 1969 in a monthly comic adventure magazine called Agent X9 (after the existing Modesty comic magazine Agent Modesty Blaise, started in 1967, was merged with the X9 magazine). Many of O'Donnell's stories premiered here (translated into Swedish), and the magazine continues to run a Modesty Blaise story every month, from the archives. When the daily strip was discontinued, artist Romero was given permission by O'Donnell to do a final Modesty Blaise story directly for Agent X9 magazine. The two-parter was published in 2002 and based on an unused script by O'Donnell entitled The Dark Angels, which O'Donnell had previously adapted for the short story collection Cobra Trap. Romero has for the past years also contributed with original painted covers for the Agent X9 magazine.

In India [17] Modesty has acquired a huge fan base and the stories have been published in various magazines starting in 1971. Modesty was featured in Kalki Magazine (1971), Kumudam Magazine (1972), Muthu Comics (1975), Lion Comics (1984 to date), Rani Comics (1990–2002) & Comic World (1998) in the Tamil language. They were also published in English in Spectrum Comics (1985–1986). Though other magazines stopped/ceased publishing Modesty Blaise, Lion Comics continues to publish her stories regularly. Considering the medium, certain images from the stories were edited in order to make them suitable for child readers.

The American magazine Comics Revue also continues to reprint the strip, and remains to date the only publisher to have released an English-language version of The Dark Angels.

In 1994, DC Comics released a graphic novel adaptation of Modesty Blaise (the novel), with art by Dan Spiegle and Dick Giordano (ISBN 1-56389-178-6).[18]

Audio[edit]

Last Day in Limbo was adapted as a BBC World Service six-part radio drama in 1978 with Barbara Kellerman as Modesty, James Bolam as Willie and Richard Vernon as Tarrant.

In the early 1980s, an audio tape reading of the short story, "I Had a Date with Lady Janet" (from Pieces of Modesty), was published by Pickwick Talking Books featuring John Thaw (the story was a first-person tale told from Willie Garvin's point of view).

A Taste for Death was adapted for radio in 2012 (originally broadcast 17 December – 21 December) in five episodes on BBC Radio 4 adapted by Stef Penney and produced/directed by Kate McAll, starring Daphne Alexander as Modesty, Carl Prekopp as Willie, Alun Armstrong as Sir Gerald Tarrant, Sam Dale as Simon Delicata, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Steve Collier and Samantha Dakin as Dinah Pilgrim.

Daphne Alexander and Alun Armstrong returned as Modesty and Sir Gerald Tarrant in a five-episode adaptation of the original novel Modesty Blaise on BBC Radio 4 (originally broadcast 16–20 June 2014), again adapted by Stef Penney and produced/directed by Kate McAll.[19] Also in the cast were Neil Maskell replacing Carl Prekopp as Willie, Ewan Bailey as Gabriel and Alex Fearns as McWhirter.

Cars[edit]

During the years the comic strip ran, the vehicles used by Modesty and Willie reflected current trends in the motor industry, usually featuring the more glamorous or exotic models then available. As with some of the supporting characters, the books sometimes - but not always - reflected the comic strips. Just as in the contemporary James Bond films, the cars featured were an integral part of the character image conveyed by the stories.

  • Modesty drove an ivory-coloured Daimler Dart in the first two books, and it also featured in the comic strip stories La Machine (1963), The Long Lever (1963), The Mind of Mrs Drake (1965) and The Head Girls (1966).
  • Modesty and Willie are also seen driving an Aston Martin DB5 in La Machine (1963), a car which did not become associated with James Bond until the release of the film Goldfinger the following year. (In the Goldfinger novel Bond drives the older Aston Martin DB Mark III). This car also featured in The Mind of Mrs Drake (1965).
  • In the third book, I Lucifer, Modesty drives a Reliant Sabre Six.
  • In the comic strip story The Jericho Caper (1967) Willie owns a Jensen FF, the four-wheel drive version of the Jensen Interceptor, a car with an American V8 engine and handmade British coachwork. This car, driven by both Modesty and Willie, appeared in the strips on numerous occasions in the next few years and in the books A Taste for Death and The Impossible Virgin.
  • In A Taste for Death Willie also drives a Lotus Elan.
  • The comic strip story Willie the Djinn (1970) includes a cameo appearance by a 1911 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
  • Modesty has a Rolls-Royce as her luxury car, and is chauffeured by Weng, but the model varies. In the comic strip The Head Girls she has a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Mulliner Park Ward Drop Head Coupe, while in the same year written The Black Pearl (1966) she has a Silver Shadow
  • During the days of The Network Garvin was driving a Mercedes 450 SL (as revealed in flashback in the 1982 book The Night Of Morningstar). He also uses this car in a comic strip story Highland Witch (1974)
  • In a comic strip story Samantha and the Cherub (1987) Modesty and Willie are seen driving the famous odd experimental Mercedes-Benz C111
  • In a comic strip story The Wicked Gnomes (1973) Modesty and Willie are seen driving an Opel GT
  • In a comic strip story Top Traitor (1965) Modesty and Willie are seen driving a Series 1 Jaguar E-Type, while in the story The Greenwood Maid (1975) they drive the Series 3
  • In Top Traitor (1965), while in Austria, they are also seen driving Mercedes W111. This car also has cameos in La Machine (1963), The Mind of Mrs Drake (1965), The Magnified Man (1967) and Willie the Djinn (1970), owned by various supporting characters
  • In a comic strip story The Girl From the Future (1989) Modesty and Willie are seen driving Triumph Spitfire MK4
  • In a comic strip story The Green-Eyed Monster (1970) Willie drives a Ford Mustang
  • In a comic strip story The Vanishing Dollybirds (1976) Willie drives a Lamborghini Miura
  • In a comic strip story Death in Slow Motion (1983) Willie drives Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
  • In a comic strip story The Girl in the Iron Mask (1991) Willie drives an Alpine A110

Music[edit]

  • The theme song "Modesty (Modesty Blaise Theme)" from the Losey movie was sung by David and Jonathan, with music composed by John Dankworth and lyrics by Benny Green. This appeared on the soundtrack album issued by 20th Century Fox (S 4182) and also as a single on the Fontana label. The album was released on CD by Harkit (HRKCD 8003) in 2001.
  • Rock group Sparks wrote and recorded a song intended as the theme tune for the aborted TV series. Using an amended title "Modesty Plays" to avoid trademark infringement, it was released originally in 1982 as a France-only single and subsequently in a new version on their 1986 album Music That You Can Dance To. Singer Russell Mael admits that he is actually singing "Blaise" not "Plays".[20]
  • Closterkeller, a Polish Gothic band, recorded the song "Modesty Blaise" on their 1992 album Blue, based on the Modesty Blaise character.
  • The concept of the 1992 album Modesty by the former Yugoslav pop rock band Bel Tempo was inspired by the Modesty Blaise character.
  • Montt Mardié from Sweden opens his 2005 debut album Drama with a song entitled "Modesty Blaise".
  • Maja Ivarsson lead singer of The Sounds has a tattoo of Modesty Blaise on her right outer forearm.
  • British group the Direct Hits released their 4-track EP The Modesty Blaise Sessions on The Forbidden Label in 1986. The first track, "Modesty Blaise", alludes to the character, especially in her comic-strip form.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ as revealed in The Xanadu Talisman
  2. ^ a b c Don Markstein's Toonopedia. "Modesty Blaise". 
  3. ^ Tillson, Frances (19 September 2004). "Modesty? That's one virtue she's lacking". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  4. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Jim Holdaway". 
  5. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Enrique Badia Romero". 
  6. ^ Holdaway died midway through illustrating the story The Warlords of Phoenix; Romero completed the illustrations.
  7. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "John M. Burns". 
  8. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Neville Colvin". 
  9. ^ Lawrence Blackmore, "Preserving Modesty's Modesty" in Modesty Blaise: Death Trap. Titan Books, 2007, no pagination
  10. ^ According to Lawrence Blackmore: "Modesty McBlaise: The Glasgow Story" in The Lady Killers 2009, Glasgow's Evening Citizen printed stripe 2099 by Holdaway, while London's Evening Standard printed stripe 2099 by Romero. Both versions of stripe 2099 can be seen at ComicWiki.dk
  11. ^ According to The Modesty Blaise Companion Companion, there were no strip with number 3276
  12. ^ More correct there were 20 A-strips and one X-strip, numbered 3641X
  13. ^ De Rham, Edith Joseph Losey 1991 Deutsch
  14. ^ Tarantino, Quentin and Roger Avary. "Pulp Fiction." SchmucksWithUnderwoods.com. <http://www.weeklyscript.com/Pulp%20Fiction.txt>.
  15. ^ Evening Standard on-line report <http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/film/article-2945348-details/J-Lo+big+on+modesty/article.do>.
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Modesty in India
  18. ^ Grand Comics Database: Modesty Blaise
  19. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b047gr8r
  20. ^ Interview in Titan reprint of "Cry Wolf" 2006

References[edit]

External links[edit]