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September 19, 2014

Titan Books Reviews: Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress

Her name's Modesty, but that's the one virtue she doesn't have

Her name’s Modesty, but that’s the one virtue she doesn’t have.

Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Enric Badia Romero
Cover Colors: Enric Badia Romero
Publisher: Titan Comics

Modesty Blaise is a British comic strip created by Peter O’Donnell (writer) and Jim Holdaway (art) that ran from May 13th 1963 to July 7th 2002. Modesty has also made appearances in three films made in 1966, 1982, and 2003, and thirteen books. The comics tell the tales of a world-class adventurer, crime fighter, mystery solver, and all around do-gooder by the name of Modesty Blaise, after whom the comic is aptly titled. Running for nearly forty years, with one continuous story line and even more impressively one writer is a rare thing in an industry full of reboots, revamps, re-imaginings and whatnot. It is a feat not managed by the vast majority of American comic book icons. Of those 39 years an artist by the name of Enric Badia Romero was the partner-in-crime for Peter O’Donnell for 26 years. While he wasn’t the first artist on the team (Jim Holdaway designed Modesty and drew her for the first seven years of the comic’s run, before his tragic death), he is the artist most associated with the character.

Modesty has found herself in reprints throughout the years, but in 2004 Titan Comics launched a new series, using larger images reportedly from better source material than previous reprints. These editions also feature none of the censorship seen in prints in certain countries (America being one of them). Also found in these editions are introductions for each story from creator Peter O’Donnell, and Modesty aficionado and researcher Lawrence Blackmore.

Ms. Blaise and Mr. Garvin taking down the baddies

Ms. Blaise and Mr. Garvin taking down the baddies.

The three stories featured in this volume are The Young Mistress, Ivory Dancer, and Our Friend Maude from 1991 to 1992. All three stories involve women in peril and Modesty teaming up with her misfit band of helpers (gathered from years of globe-trotting adventures) to right wrongs, take on criminal thugs, and save the day. She’s more or less the female James Bond of the comic book world, sexually free-spirited and always prepared for danger; she kicks ass and looks good while doing it.

An interesting note about her character, or at least insofar as how she’s portrayed in these three stories, is that Modesty isn’t really the Dudley Do-Right sort of hero. Much like the James Bond comparison would suggest, she’s more of the live her life and do her own thing sort of character, never going on patrol or seeking out adventure. Trouble always seems to find her, usually while lounging about with one of her many lovers (female James Bond alright).

Modesty and Willie showing off their moves

Modesty and Willie showing off their moves.

Though she has many lovers, her one partner in all of this is a man named Willie Garvin. In no way a sidekick, not a Robin or Watson type, but very much her equal, Willie is Modesty’s true life-partner, there with her whenever needed to the very end. They share a completely platonic relationship, yet all of Modesty’s lovers are jealous of him because he knows her in ways they never will, a nice character element that O’Donnell makes a point of expressing in his stories.

The art seen in these stories is nothing short of beautiful. Black and white, with strong lines and great detail for such small panels, Romero makes the best use of the limited space he has to work with. Drawing on a larger format for work that will be scaled down is always a difficult task, one that comic book artists deal with every day, and some are better at it than others. Modesty always looks stunningly gorgeous no matter what she’s doing, each frame working as sort of a mini-portrait.

The bad guys know her reputation and they don't like it

The bad guys know her reputation and they don’t like it.

If one had to complain about anything it would be some of the characters’ looks. Sometimes characters are hard to tell apart. In some panels Modesty’s partner Willie is almost indistinguishable from her lover Giles, and in other panels it’s rather difficult to discern whether you’re looking at Modesty or her friend Samantha. Thankfully different hairstyles help with that.

Now, one might think that coming into a story that’s been running since 1963 and jumping into an adventure penned in 1992 would be impossible, but it’s not. O’Donnell has a way of writing character introductions that remind long-time readers of who they’re dealing with and get new readers acquainted in no time at all. Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress is the 24th volume in this series of reprints, and I had no trouble whatsoever getting introduced to characters, and never felt lost or in need of more back-story once.

All in all, Modesty Blaise is an amazing character, and her adventures make for an interesting read. Modesty Blaise: The Young Mistress collects three fantastic tales of crime-fighting adventure full of drama, intrigue, humor, and a decent sprinkling of sex. If James Bond, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Adventures of Tin Tin were all rolled into one rip-roaring, well-written, beautifully drawn action-adventure series…it would be called Modesty Blaise. Definitely worth picking up whether you’re a long time fan or someone brand new to the series. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it!

Aaron Nicewonger
aarongni@gmail.com

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