Over the weekend, one of the cable movie channels was running a marathon of James Bond flicks. The classic Sean Connery outings were broadcast, and, as much as I love 'em, I have to admit that all they suffer from a certain over-familiarity. Still, seeing that they were on put me in the mood for some spicy international intrigue. So where does one go for a fresh fix of Russian spies, exotic action locales and dangerous dames in bikinis? One possible answer: Modesty Blaise.
Forget the thudding Joseph Losey cinematic campfest from 1966 starring a too-blond Monica Vitti as the title lead. The Modesty Blaise to follow is the heroine of a long-running (1963 - 2001) British comic strip and series of novels by Peter O'Donnell. The strip is currently being reprinted by Titan Books, the most recent volume entitled Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers.
I devoured this rascal in less time than it takes for James Bond to get from Switzerland to Fort Knox. Featuring three crime and spy stories from 1980, the collection showcases the first offerings by artist Neville Colvin, who worked on the strip until '86. While not as smoothly chic as Jim Holdaway, the man who established the glamorous Miz Blaise's look and stayed on the strip until his untimely death in 1970, Colvin is suited to the series' tough no-nonsense heroine.
For those unfamiliar with O'Donnell's creation, Modesty is an ageless (at least she never got any older in 30-plus years of newspaper comics) adventuress. Onetime head of a criminal organization known as The Network, she has retired on her amassed wealth to provide occasional service for British Intelligence and help out friends in need. Self-possessed and fashionable, she's balanced by her Man Friday, Willie Garvin, a rough-hewn former soldier who speaks in an unpolished manner and is particularly skilled with throwing knives. He's fiercely loyal to Modesty, who he calls "Princess."