This week saw the death of Peter O Donnell, creator of one of the finest newspaper adventure strips ever – Modesty Blaise, at the age of 90.
Typical Modesty action. The pair often avoided deadly violence except where necessary.
The Modesty Blaise comic strip ran in the London Evening Standard from 1963 until 2000. She and her sidekick Willie Garvin were former expert criminals who ran a large organisation known only as “The Network”, however before the stories begin she dismantles this and comes to live in London (where Willie was born) where she “goes legit” and helps to bring down crime syndicates or uncover enemy spies. Sometimes working for the government but other times falling into adventure by accident or in order to help out innocent people caught up in trying circumstances.
One of the more bizarre and flamboyant villains – a man who attempts to recreate the “glory days” of Viking raids!
The back-story of Modesty was never revealed in any great detail, only that her origin is largely unknown and that she grew up in a brutal refugee camp which gave her an iron drive and determination to survive and succeed – first turned to crime and later to serving the forces of good. Her and Willie were, in the grand tradition of proper adventure stories, not lovers but merely worked together.
Alongside the comic strips a series of novels was produced with longer stories. These tales were often more violent than the comics (at least with regards to fatalities) and could ‘show’, by not showing, more sexual material. The first story is so far the only one i have read, but it’s a cracker – featuring a remote island stronghold and a madman with a private army.
In addition, there was two Modesty Blaise films produced – the first appeared in the 1960’s and was of similar “quality” to the recent Sexton Blake radio serial and the 1960’s Casino Royale “Bond” film. And thus can be ignored. The second was made in 2003 and was a much more serious attempt – based on her early life before The Network. I haven’t seen either but believe the latter one to be set in the modern day – reviews i have seen of it suggest it was largely a missed opportunity. If there was any justice in the world there would, of course, be a big budget adaption with vast sets, a mad villain and it would, of course, be set in the 1960’s.
Happily, Modesty Blaise stories are pretty easy to obtain. The novels are in print and Titan books are reprinting the newspaper strips in large and lavish (if a little ‘scratchy looking’) volumes with additional story information and interviews. If you haven’t got any already start today, and get a look at the trunk of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s family tree!