Peter O’Donnell was a Shakespeare with his pen for comics. I don’t think that is too high a praise for the author of the long running Modesty Blaise British comic strip, but when you look at his writing, specifically the high quality of it and its story telling while applied to the 3-4 block daily comic strip form, it’s baffling how damn good the guy was. Tell me Alan Moore is the greatest comic writer of all time, and although I admit he has merit, I’ll tell you to “—k off,” O’Donnell had him beat to the punch for years. The latest Modesty Blaise collection, The Double Agent, is hitting the stands from our friends at Titan Books, collecting the three strip stories of “The Wild Boar,” “Kali’s Disciples,” and “The Double Agent,” all written by O’Donnell and drawn by Neville Colvin.
The second tale of the collection, “Kali’s Disciples,” which tells the story of Modesty and Willie going to India and taking on some treasure hunters who are caught up with Modesty’s old teacher Sivaji, is the best example of O’Donnell’s ingenious pen with the strip. In the story several times he uses the flashback as a method of story telling, something almost unheard of in the daily strip form. However, between his writing, pacing the flash backs in strip back and forth evenly with the progressing story, and how Colvin chose to draw these flashbacks, we get a brilliant disjointed timeline effect that is still clear, easy to follow, and revealing things about Modesty’s past which fans were wondering, all while being tied into the entertaining and action packed adventure that the strip was known for. This alone when compared to other strips shows O’Donnell was a master of the form.
The other tales in the collection include, as already mentioned, “The Wild Boar,” which is a little action packed rescue/adventure through the rugged world of Corsica, and “The Double Agent.” “The Double Agent” again is a wonderful example of great writing. The plot is that the USSR has spent years training a woman to do everything Modesty can do, know everything Modesty can know, and even plastic surgery and voice training to sound and look like Modesty! The plot is to use her in an assassination and blame the whole thing on the real Modesty Blaise. Of course, it takes a little time to try and get rid of Willie, as Modesty becomes trapped in a psychological torture house, drugged, facing men dressed as executioners and crazed holograms, all a part of psychological warfare. The entire strip is interesting, because aside from Cold War tensions obviously being reflected, O’Donnell concentrates a great deal on the new approach of psychological warfare and espionage being used around the world at the time; something a little more known today, but at the time it was all quite ground breaking. The fight scenes at the end of the strip, with Modesty vs. Modesty, are stunning, and some of the fist-fighting scenes were even drawn for a daily strip by Colvin.
A highly entertaining must-read. The collection also features a tribute to the late Peter O’Donnell, with memories written by tons of people from both his personal life and in the comics field. Modesty Blaise: The Double Agent is out now from our friends at Titan Books. Pick it up today!
Review copy provided by Titan Books.