Modesty Blaise

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Modesty Blaise

Cover of the first U.S. printing of the Modesty Blaise novel
Author(s) Peter O'Donnell

Jim Holdaway
Enrique Badia Romero
John M. Burns
Patrick Wright
Neville Colvin
Dick Giordano

Current status / schedule Finished
Launch date May 13, 1963
End Date July 7, 2002

Modesty Blaise is a 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 thirteen novels and short story collections, beginning in 1965.

Many critics see the early years of the strip as a classic of adventure comic strips. The novels are regarded by some as being among the classics of adventure fiction.


[edit] Premise

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-WW2 Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African regions. During these years she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Hungarian scholar 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]). Eventually she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier 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 Blaise's most trusted friend. Theirs is a strictly platonic relationship and is based on mutual respect and shared interests. They have never gone to bed with each other, fearing that would ruin their special bond. 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").

When she felt she'd made enough money, she retired and moved to England; 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 — and this is where the story really begins (this is treated differently in the first comic strip and the first book - see note in Canon debate below).

Many of her adventures are based on "capers" she and Willie Garvin become involved in 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 — and have, on occasion, taken on the roles of judge, jury, and executioner when dealing with particularly unsavory types — they avoid deadly force whenever possible, often relying upon their extraordinary physical and weapons skills to change a killing blow into a knock-out. Willie often confirms with Modesty beforehand whether a mission is to be, as the duo puts it, for "sleeps" or for "keeps".

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 against the bad guys are often very special. There is a great emphasis on unarmed combat and unusual weapons. Modesty's favorite weapon is a "kongo" or yawara stick, while Willie's favorite 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. The bad guys often meet their well-deserved demise in surprising ways.

In keeping with the 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, with Willie being eight years older. The only exceptions to this rule occur in 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.

[edit] The comic strip

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 May 13, 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 Romero.[5] Eight years later, Romero quit to make time for his own comics projects, and after short attempts by John Burns[6] and Patrick Wright, Neville Colvin drew the strip until 1986.[7] 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 US 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.[8]

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 April 11, 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 US in a special issue of Comics Revue.

On the 1st December 2008, the Evening Standard, which had stopped including comic strips for some time, started republishing Modesty's early adventures commencing with La Machine, using the original artwork.

[edit] Reprints

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 1977 when Star Books, an imprint of WH Allen Limited, published a paperback-sized compilation of the Holdaway-era stories "The Black Pearl" and "The Vikings". This reprint suffered from poor reproduction that rendered many panels unintelligible.

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 serialized 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.

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 earlier editions. Each story has a specially written introduction by O'Donnell. So far, the new series has reprinted the full run of the Holdaway years, the full run of Romero's first tenure, and the short spells of John Burns and Pat Wright. The first volume published in 2006, The Gallows Bird, includes one story that was not reprinted in the earlier Titan series. The tenth volume, Cry Wolf, consisted entirely of stories not previously reprinted by Titan, and the releases are continuing. The first reprint volume scheduled for 2009, announced as The Lady Killers, will move onto the work of Neville Colvin.

As well as O'Donnell's introduction to each story, the books include the following articles -

  • Book 1 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 1 by Mike Paterson and "Girl Walking" by Peter O'Donnell
  • Book 2 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 2 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 1, an interview with Peter O'Donnell
  • Book 3 "Blaise of Glory" Pt 3 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 2
  • Book 4 "Modesty's Sisters - The Madeleine Brent Novels" Pt 1 and "Modesty Maker" Pt 3
  • Book 5 "A Few Words about a Man I Never Met" about Jim Holdaway by Walter Simonson and "Modesty's Sisters" Pt 2
  • Book 6 "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
  • Book 7 A profile of Enric Badia Romero
  • Book 8 "Two Genuine Originals" by Jan Burke and "The Secret Weapons of a Femme Fatale" by Rob van der Nol
  • Book 9 "Blue Bird - The Censoring of The Gallows Bird"
  • Book 10 "The Truth behind Modesty Plays" by Russell Mael and Pt 2 of the 1973 Comic Media interview with Peter O'Donnell
  • Book 11 Pt 3 of the 1973 Comic Media interview with Peter O'Donnell
  • Book 12 "Preserving Modesty's Modesty" by Lawrence Blackmore
  • Book 13 "The Art of John Burns" by Lawrence Blackmore, including Burns' illustrations for the first Modesty Blaise novel
  • Book 14 "Naked Truth" by Lawrence Blackmore and Burns' illustrations for "Pieces of Modesty"

[edit] Story list

There were 99 storylines produced by the Modesty Blaise comic strip and all its printed forms over almost 40 years — comic strip and literary — it has been 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), 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))

Titan Books, new series (2004-present):  T1 = The Gabriel Set-Up, T2 = Mister Sun, T3 = Top Traitor, T4 = The Black Pearl, T5 = Bad Suki, T6 = The Hell Makers, T7 = The Green-Eyed Monster, T8 = The Puppet Master, T9 = The Gallows Bird, T10 = Cry Wolf T11 = Inca Trail. T12 = Death Trap T13 = Yellowstone Booty T14 = Green Cobra T15 = The Lady Killers

The Modesty Blaise comic strip and comic book stories
Title Artist Strip numbers Number of strips Dates Reprinted in
1 La Machine JH 1-114 114 1963-05-13 - 1963-09-21 T1, OT1, C 189-191, 193, S2
2 The Long Lever JH 115-211 98 1963-09-23 - 1964-01-02 T1, OT1, C 192-194, S2
3 The Gabriel Set-Up JH 212-354 143 1964-01-03 - 1964-06-18 T1, OT1, C 195-197
4 Mister Sun JH 355-500 146 1964-06-19 - 1964-12-05 T2, OT2, C 198-199
5 The Mind of Mrs. Drake JH 501-612 113 (112+1A) 1964-12-07 - 1965-04-19 T2, OT2, F2, C 201-203
6 Uncle Happy JH 613-743 131 1965-04-20 - 1965-09-18 T2, OT8, F2, C 204-207
7 Top Traitor JH 744-873 131 1965-09-20 - 1966-02-19 T3, F1, C 208-210
8 The Vikings JH 874-992 119 1966-02-21 - 1966-07-09 T3, F1, S1
[1] In the Beginning JH 1-12 12 1966 T1, OT1, C 188, CM, S1
9 The Head Girls JH 993-1124 132 1966-07-11 - 1966-12-10 T3, F4
10 The Black Pearl JH 1125-1235 112 (111+1A) 1966-12-12 - 1967-04-22 T4, F4, S1
11 The Magnified Man JH 1236-1349 114 1967-04-24 - 1967-09-02 T4, F4
12 The Jericho Caper JH 1350-1461 113 (112+1A) 1967-09-04 - 1968-01-13 T4, F3
13 Bad Suki JH 1462-1574 113 1968-01-15 - 1968-05-25 T5, T8, F3
14 The Galley Slaves JH 1575-1629
115 (114+1A) 1968-05-27 - 1968-08-06
1968-09-11 - 1968-11-16
T5, OT3
[2] The Killing Ground JH A1-A36 36 1968-10-07 - 1968-11-16 T4, OT2, F3, C 207
15 The Red Gryphon JH 1689-1794 107 (106+1A) 1968-11-18 - 1969-03-22 T5, OT3, C 211-213
16 The Hell Makers JH 1795-1919 126 (125+1A) 1969-03-24 - 1969-08-16 T6, OT3, C 214-216
17 Take-Over JH 1920-2043 125 (124+1A) 1969-08-18 - 1970-01-10 T6, OT4, C 217-219
18 The War-Lords of Phoenix JH
119 1970-01-12 - 1970-03-16
1970-03-17 - 1970-05-30
T6, OT4, C 220-222
19 Willie the Djinn ER 2163-2282 120 1970-06-01 - 1970-10-17 T7, OT4, C 223-225
20 The Green-Eyed Monster ER 2283-2388 107 (106+1A) 1970-10-19 - 1971-02-20 T7, OT5, C 226-228
21 Death of a Jester ER 2389-2507 119 1971-02-22 - 1971-07-10 T7, OT5, C 229-231
22 The Stone Age Caper ER 2508-2627 120 1971-07-12 - 1971-11-27 T8, OT5, C 232-234
23 The Puppet Master ER 2628-2738 112 (111+1A) 1971-11-29 - 1972-04-08 T8, OT6, C 235-237
24 With Love from Rufus ER 2739-2846 108 1972-04-10 - 1972-08-12 T8, OT6
25 The Bluebeard Affair ER 2847-2970 125 (124+1A) 1972-08-14 - 1973-01-06 T9, OT6
26 The Gallows Bird ER 2971-3077 107 1973-01-08 - 1973-05-12 T9, MB2
27 The Wicked Gnomes ER 3078-3197 120 1973-05-14 - 1973-09-29 T9, OT7
28 The Iron God ER 3198-3309 111[9] 1973-10-01 - 1974-02-09 T9, OT7
29 "Take Me to Your Leader" ER 3310-3428 119 1974-02-11 - 1974-07-01 T10, MB3
30 Highland Witch ER 3429-3548 120 1974-07-02 - 1974-11-16 T10, MB4
31 Cry Wolf ER 3549-3638A 106 (90+16A) 1974-11-18 - 1975-03-25 T10, MB5
32 The Reluctant Chaperon ER 3639-3737 120 (99+21A)[10] 1975-03-26 - 1975-08-14 T11, MB6
33 The Greenwood Maid ER 3738-3829A 111 (92+19A) 1975-08-15 - 1976-01-02 T11, MB7
34 Those About to Die ER 3830-3931A 123 (102+21A) 1976-01-05 - 1976-05-28 T11, MB8
35 The Inca Trail ER 3932-4031A 120 (100+20A) 1976-06-01 - 1976-10-20 T11, MB10
36 The Vanishing Dollybirds ER 4032-4141A 132 (110+22A) 1976-10-21 - 1977-03-28 T12, MB11
37 The Junk Men ER 4142-4241A 120 (100+20A) 1977-03-29 - 1977-08-19 T12, MB9
38 Death Trap ER 4242-4341A 120 (100+20A) 1977-08-22 - 1978-01-20 T12, MB12
39 Idaho George ER 4342-4447A 126 (106+20A) 1978-01-23 - 1978-06-16 T13, MB13
40 The Golden Frog ER 4448-4542A 114 (95+19A) 1978-06-19 - 1978-10-31 T13, MB14
41 Yellowstone Booty JB 4543-4647A 126 (105+21A) 1978-11-01 - 1979-03-30 T13, MB16
42 Green Cobra JB 4648-4737A 108 (90+18A) 1979-04-02 - 1979-08-10 T14, MB15
43 Eve and Adam JB
120 (100+20A) 1979-08-13 - 1979-11-24
1979-11-25 - 1980-01-04
T14, MB17
44 Brethren of Blaise PW 4838-4932A 114 (95+19A) 1980-01-07 - 1980-05-23 T14, MB18
45 Dossier on Pluto NC 4933-5032A 120 (100+20A) 1980-05-27 - 1980-10-14 T15, MB19
46 The Lady Killers NC 5033-5127A 114 (95+19A) 1980-10-15 - 1981-03-03 T15, F5, C 238-240
47 Garvin's Travels NC 5128-5229A 120 (102+18A) 1981-03-04 - 1981-07-27 T15, F5, C 241 - 243
48 The Scarlet Maiden NC 5230-5329A 120 (100+20A) 1981-07-28 - 1981-12-16 F5, C 244 - 246
49 The Moonman NC 5330-5424A 114 (95+19A) 1981-12-17 - 1982-05-07 F6, C 247 - 249
50 A Few Flowers for the Colonel NC 5425-5519A 114 (95+19A) 1982-05-10 - 1982-09-24 F6, C 250 - 252
51 The Balloonatic NC 5520-5619A 120 (100+20A) 1982-09-27 - 1983-02-18 F6, C 253 - 255
52 Death in Slow Motion NC 5620-5719A 120 (100+20A) 1983-02-21 - 1983-07-15 F7, C 256 - 258
53 The Alternative Man NC 5720-5814A 114 (95+19A) 1983-07-18 - 1983-11-28 F7, C 259 - 261
54 Sweet Caroline NC 5815-5914A 120 (100+20A) 1983-11-29 - 1984-04-19 F7, C 262 - 264
55 The Return of the Mammoth NC 5915-6014A 120 (100+20A) 1984-04-24 - 1984-09-14 F8, C 265 - 267
56 Plato's Republic NC 6015-6114A 120 (100+20A) 1984-09-17 - 1985-02-06 F8
57 The Sword of the Bruce NC 6115-6214A 120 (100+20A) 1985-02-07 - 1985-07-02 F8
58 The Wild Boar NC 6215-6314A 120 (100+20A) 1985-07-03 - 1985-11-20 MB20
59 Kali's Disciples NC 6315-6414A 120 (100+20A) 1985-11-21 - 1986-05-16 MB21
60 The Double Agent NC 6515-6519A 126 (105+21A) 1986-05-17 - 1986-09-15 MB22
61 Butch Cassidy Rides Again ER 6520-6624A 126 (105+21A) 1986-09-16 - 1987-02-12 MB1
62 Million Dollar Game ER 6625-6724A 120 (100+20A) 1987-02-13 - 1987-07-08 C 26-29
63 The Vampire of Malvescu ER 6725-6829A 126 (105+21A) 1987-07-09 - 1987-12-03 A2
64 Samantha and the Cherub ER 6830-6934A 126 (105+21A) 1987-12-04 - 1988-05-06 C 31-36, LB
65 Milord ER 6935-7034A 120 (100+20A) 1988-05-09 - 1988-09-27 C 40-42, LB
66 Live Bait ER 7035-7134A 120 (100+20A) 1988-09-28 - 1989-02-17 C 44-46, LB
67 The Girl from the Future ER 7135-7239A 126 (105+21A) 1989-02-20 - 1989-07-21 C 47-49, LD
68 The Big Mole ER 7240-7339A 120 (100+20A) 1989-07-24 - 1989-12-11 C 50-52, LD
69 Lady in the Dark ER 7340-7439A 120 (100+20A) 1989-12-12 - 1990-05-08 C 53-56, LD
70 Fiona ER 7440-7544A 126 (105+21A) 1990-05-09 - 1990-10-09 C 57-60
71 Walkabout ER 7545-7649A 126 (105+21A) 1990-10-10 - 1991-03-11 C 61-63
72 The Girl in the Iron Mask ER 7650-7749A 120 (100+20A) 1991-03-12 - 1991-08-02 C 64-66
73 The Young Mistress ER 7750-7854A 126 (105+21A) 1991-08-05 - 1992-01-06 C 67-73
74 Ivory Dancer ER 7855-7959A 126 (105+21A) 1992-01-07 - 1992-06-05 C 73-77
75 Our Friend Maude ER 7960-8064A 126 (105+21A) 1992-06-08 - 1992-11-02 C 78-83
76 A Present for the Princess ER 8065-8174A 132 (110+22A) 1992-11-03 - 1993-04-08 C 84-88
77 Black Queen's Pawn ER 8175-8279A 126 (105+21A) 1993-04-13 - 1993-09-10 C 89-93
78 The Grim Joker ER 8280-8384A 126 (105+21A) 1993-09-13 - 1994-02-09 C 94-99
79 Guido the Jinx ER 8385-8484A 120 (100+20A) 1994-02-10 - 1994-07-05 C 100-104
80 The Killing Distance ER 8485-8589A 126 (105+21A) 1994-07-06 - 1994-11-30 C 105-109
81 The Aristo ER 8590-8694A 126 (105+21A) 1994-12-01 - 1995-05-03 C 110-114
[3] Modesty Blaise DG 141 pages 1994-12
82 Ripper Jax ER 8695-8799A 126 (105+21A) 1995-05-04 - 1995-10-02 C 115-119
83 The Maori Contract ER 8800-8904A 126 (105+21A) 1995-10-03 - 1996-03-01 C 120-124
84 Honeygun ER 8905-9009A 126 (105+21A) 1996-03-04 - 1996-08-02 C 125-130
85 Durango ER 9010-9114A 126 (105+21A) 1996-08-05 - 1997-01-03 CS, C 131-133
86 The Murder Frame ER 9115-9219A 126 (105+21A) 1997-01-06 - 1997-06-06 C 134-138
87 Fraser's Story ER 9220-9324A 126 (105+21A) 1997-06-09 - 1997-11-03 C 139-143
88 Tribute of the Pharaoh ER 9325-9429A 126 (105+21A) 1997-11-04 - 1998-05-03 C 144-148
89 The Special Orders ER 9430-9534A 126 (105+21A) 1998-05-06 - 1998-09-04 C 149-152
90 The Hanging Judge ER 9535-9644A 132 (110+22A) 1998-09-07 - 1999-02-10 C 153-158
91 Children of Lucifer ER 9645-9749A 126 (105+21A) 1999-02-11 - 1999-07-13 C 159-163
92 Death Symbol ER 9750-9859A 132 (110+22A) 1999-07-14 - 1999-12-15 C 164-169
93 The Last Aristocrat ER 9860-9964A 126 (105+21A) 1999-12-16 - 2000-05-19 C 170-175
94 The Killing Game ER 9965-10069A 126 (105+21A) 2000-05-22 - 2000-10-17 C 176-181
95 The Zombie ER 10070-10183 135 (114+21A) 2000-10-18 - 2001-04-11 C 182-187
[4] The Dark Angels ER 46 pages 2002-06-13 - 2002-07-11 C 200, 208 (cover)

[edit] The special stories

  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.

[edit] Adaptations

[edit] Films

Monica Vitti as Modesty Blaise and Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin perform their infamous musical number in the 1966 spoof Modesty Blaise

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.[11]

A movie 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 movie, the script was heavily revised by others before shooting began, and the finished movie bore very little resemblance to O'Donnell's vision in tone, theme, or characterization. There is some indication that Willie and Modesty are on the verge of consummating their relationship which, as O'Donnell had always made clear, was strictly platonic even though they are devoted to each other. The film was unsuccessful.

Ann Turkel as Modesty Blaise and Lewis Van Bergen as Willie Garvin in the 1982 TV pilot

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 2002, Miramax, the current holders of the Modesty Blaise film rights, made a film called My Name Is Modesty, with British actress Alexandra Staden as Modesty Blaise, based on a story from Modesty's life before "The Network" days, plus flashbacks to her childhood.

The film, made primarily to retain the film rights, did not receive theatrical release, being released straight to DVD in Europe in October 2003; it didn't receive DVD release in North America until September 2004, more than two years after it was produced. Critical reception appears to depend upon the critic's familiarity with the comic strip. Those aware of Modesty's history seem to be far more receptive to the film than those expecting an action film or another comedy. Still, fans were disappointed that the character of Willie Garvin was not featured and by the poor plot and discrepancies regarding Lob.

Alexandra Staden as Modesty Blaise in a flashback sequence from My Name Is Modesty

Staden's performance was generally praised, although she was seen by some as too frail-looking to play Modesty convincingly. The consensus, however, is that this version is at least better than the 1966 spoof.

Quentin Tarantino has been interested in directing a Modesty Blaise movie for many years, and at one point Neil Gaiman even 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 ..." Curiously, in the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is seen reading a copy of Modesty Blaise. [12] Nicole Kidman has also gone on record as being interested in making a Modesty Blaise movie, and Jennifer Lopez was reported to be pitching for the part in 2003. [13]

[edit] Books

Peter O'Donnell was invited to write a novel to tie in with the 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.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Souvenir Press began a series of reprints of the Modesty Blaise book series, concluding with a reprint of Cobra Trap in 2006. (Souvenir reportedly does not own the rights to the short story collection Pieces of Modesty so they will not be reprinting that volume.)

In 2008, Penguin Books of India have reprinted the full series. [14]

O'Donnell's final book, Cobra Trap, is his most controversial, as the title story which ended the book concluded with Modesty's and Willie's deaths (and a hint of an afterlife), although the comic strip would last for several more years before it was retired; many longtime fans of the series refuse to read Cobra Trap in response. By contrast, O'Donnell ended the comic strip on a more hopeful note.

[edit] Comics

Cover of Swedish Agent X9 comic magazine from 2004, featuring Modesty Blaise. Art by Romero.

In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, 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 was merged with the X9 magazine). Many of O'Donnell's stories actually premiered here (translated into Swedish), and the magazine continues to run a Modesty Blaise story every month, from the archives. Sweden is also an ongoing source for in-print graphic-novel-style collections of Modesty Blaise "capers" (including hardcovers), though they're also in Swedish. When the daily strip was discontinued, artist Romero was given permission by O'Donnell to do a final Modesty Blaise story directly for the Swedish Agent X9 magazine. The two-parter was published in 2002 and based on an unused script by O'Donnell entitled The Dark Angels. Romero has for the past years also contributed with original painted covers for the Agent X9 magazine.

In India, Lion Comics[15] releases Modesty Blaise comics in Tamil Language. The images are edited (bikinis are made into single piece swimsuits..., etc to make her more modest)

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 Dick Giordano (ISBN 1-56389-178-6).

[edit] Other adaptations

One of the Modesty Blaise novels, "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 released featuring John Thaw (the story was a first-person tale told from Willie Garvin's point of view).

Modesty Blaise has been the inspiration for a number of similar (but usually inferior) book series, most notably the ultraviolent mid-1970s series The Baroness by Paul Kenyon.[citation needed]

The 1993 American television series, South Beach was also inspired by Modesty Blaise.[citation needed]

Fans of the character also see more than a few similarities between Modesty Blaise and video game heroines Cate Archer and Lara Croft.[citation needed]

[edit] Canon debate

The canonicity of the novels vs. the comic strips is a matter of some debate among fans, as Modesty and Willie occasionally act more ruthlessly in the novels than they do in the comics, and there are occasional inconsistencies. An example of this is how Modesty is initially recruited to work for Sir Gerald Tarrant - although the strip story and the book story 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.

Plus, some comic strips were based upon some of O'Donnell's short stories, and vice-versa, with the inevitable differences between them. In any event, only stories (illustrated or textual) written by O'Donnell himself are considered candidates for canon; none of the film and graphic novel adaptations qualify, including the My Name Is Modesty film which contradicts elements of the novels and comic strip.

[edit] Future of the character

As mentioned above, in 1996, Peter O'Donnell wrote the final Modesty Blaise story collection, Cobra Trap, and in 2001, retired the comic strip. The Modesty Blaise character and concept remain popular enough that there have been calls for new writers to continue her adventures. O'Donnell, who owns the rights to Modesty Blaise, has refused to pass the comic strip or novels on to another writer. He has optioned the TV and film rights to the characters at various times over the years, but nothing ever came of the attempts to make a TV series (although some of the stories in Cobra Trap were based on TV episode scripts O'Donnell wrote), and he was severely disappointed by the movie My Name Is Modesty; O'Donnell has since gone on record that he wanted no more movies to be made of his character.

It is not known if O'Donnell's statements will have any impact upon the proposed Modesty Blaise film project by Quentin Tarantino, or if his eventual heirs will allow new writers to continue Modesty Blaise in comic strip or literary form.

[edit] Cars

  • 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 Mind of Mrs Drake (1965) and The Head Girls (1966).
  • Modesty & Willie are also seen using 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 book Bond drives a DB Mk.III).
  • In the third book, I Lucifer, Modesty has a Reliant Sabre Six.
  • In the comic strip story The Jericho Caper (1967) Willie has 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, used 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 drives a Lotus Elan.
  • The comic strip includes a cameo appearance by a 1911 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

[edit] Music

  • The theme song "Modesty (Modesty Blaise Theme)" from the Losey movie was sung by David and Jonathan, with the 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".[16]
  • Polish gothic band Closterkeller recorded the song "Modesty Blaise" on their 1992 album Blue, based on the Modesty Blaise character.

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ as revealed in The Xanadu Talisman
  2. ^ a b c Don Markstein's Toonopedia. "Modesty Blaise". 
  3. ^ Tillson, Frances. "Modesty? That's one virtue she's lacking". The Observer.,6903,1307728,00.html. 
  4. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Jim Holdaway". 
  5. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Enrique Badia Romero". 
  6. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "John M. Burns". 
  7. ^ Lambiek Comiclopedia. "Neville Colvin". 
  8. ^ Lawrence Blackmore, "Preserving Modesty's Modesty" in Modesty Blaise: Death Trap. Titan Books, 2007, no pagination
  9. ^ According to The Modesty Blaise Companion Companion, there were no strip with number 3276
  10. ^ More correct there were 20 A-strips and one X-strip, numbered 3641X
  11. ^ De Rham, Edith Joseph Losey 1991 Deutsch
  12. ^ Tarantino, Quentin and Roger Avary. "Pulp Fiction." <>.
  13. ^ Evening Standard on-line report <>.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Lion Comics
  16. ^ Interview in Titan reprint of "Cry Wolf" 2006

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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