The latest entry in Titan Books’ snazzy ongoing chronology of “Modesty Blaise” strips, Modesty Blaise: Live Bait places our full-lipped adventuress in the late eighties, fighting an old enemy from her days as head of the criminal Network, taking on Soviets as well as a scummy snuff filmmaker held up in South America. Writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Eric Badia Romero (who started his second run with the character in the previous volume Million Dollar Game) retain a firm hand on our ageless heroine—while the adventures prove as snappy as ever.
The strip introduces a new recurring character in the first entry, “Samantha and the Cherub,” a scrappy lower class girl named Sam who Willie has been training as a part of a youth martial arts class. Not too surprisingly, Modesty sees a bit of herself in this young sparkplug, though O’Donnell thankfully doesn’t push this piece of subtext too hard. A consummate storyteller, Blaise’s creator knew to keep his focus on the action, of which there is plenty in these three strips.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t some thoughtful aspects to these high-flying tales: in the snuff film tale “Milord,” for instance, Modesty and her faithful companion Willie Garvin have an ethical disagreement with the story’s bad guy placed in the hands of the women he has been abusing. There’s not too much debate about it — in fact, the situation is “resolved” rather quickly — but that O’Donnell would even bring the issue up in what’s meant to be an “escapist” comic strip is worth noting.
Badia’s art is, as ever, up to the demands of O’Donnell’s storytelling. To these eyes, he drew the most visually convincing Modesty: exotically sexy yet thoroughly no-nonsense, you believe she could have once led a band of cut-throats just as much as you believe in her reformation. By my estimation, we’ve got 11 more volumes in this series before we arrive at the strip’s final entry in 2001. I’m looking forward to them all.