With the latest entry in Titan Books’ ongoing series of “Modesty Blaise” reprints, Million Dollar Game, Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero returned to the strip after Britisher Neville Colvin’s six-year stint. The largest running artist to assay Peter O’Donnell’s adventuress, Romero was also the most unabashedly sexy. His Modesty was more voluptuous and exotic, with eyes that in particular hinted at realms of experience to which we were never privy, and he wasn’t the least bit reluctant when it came to drawing either his heroine or any other comely damsel topless. Which still remains startling to American readers unaccustomed to this sight in a newspaper comic strip format.
The three offerings in Game come from 1986-7, and though the strip was over twenty years old by this time, Blaise creator O’Donnell’s enthusiasm still showed no signs of flagging. These are solid little action yarns, ranging in setting from Tangier to the American West to Transylvania. In the America story, our heroine and her loyal knife-throwing companion Willie Garvin run up against a modern gang impersonating the Butch Cassidy band; in “The Vampire of Malvescu,” O’Donnell combines Transylvanian lore with a would-be terrorist plot. (If you find yourself mentally hearing Lionel Atwell’s voice in bad guy Sebastian Clegg’s dialog in the latter story, you’re not alone.) The title yarn teams an old flame up with our gal to take on a ruthless gang of poachers.
Most intriguing from a character stand-point is the vampire tale, which introduces us to a former member of Modesty’s old crime network, a techno wizard named Hans Braun who is married to Hilde, a sweet young thing so innocent that it temporarily rubs off on our hard-nosed heroine. “Somehow Hilde and guns don’t mix,” she says, placing herself at a momentary disadvantage when she comes up against her kill crazy antagonists in Europe’s Fist. Fortunately, Modesty snaps out of it. “A really lovely girl with a really lovely nature, like Hilde, just isn’t the right company for bad types like us,” she finally tells Willie. And though we may disagree with this reformed crime chief’s self-characterization as a “bad type,” we can see her point.
If there’s any flaw in this zippy set of three, it’s in the antagonists’ reliance in two separate stories on impersonating classic villains. You’d think that these guys’d want to be a little more surreptitious with their dastardliness, but, then, in the still-potent pop world of Modesty Blaise, a little flamboyance is definitely part of the show.