I’ve always been a big Modesty Blaise fan, coming to the novels first (in my teens) long before I realised that the character originated from the serialised graphic strip which first appeared in The Evening Standard (one of the Beaverbrook newspapers) in 1963. This collection of four stories reprinted from the original newspaper strips features black and white artwork by the late Jim Holdaway. (Literally black and white, not greyscale.)
I often have trouble with graphic novels because I’m not used to the style and I find some of the artwork difficult to ‘read’. Whether that’s my fault for poor interpretation, or the artist’s fault for poor execution, I don’t know, however with this simple line-drawing style I have no trouble at all. Holdaway’s characters are very easily differentiated from one another and the action is crystal clear.
The stories: La Machine, The Long Leaver, The Gabriel Set-Up and In the Beginning are typical Modesty stories. La Machine is her first introduction to the British Secret Service’s favourite civil servant, Sir Gerald Tarrant and his sidekick, Fraser.
Modesty is a capable female protagonist in her own right, kick-ass but feminine, sexually independent, fiercely intelligent and with a background in organised crime but a sound moral compass. Her sidekick, the equally capable Willie Garvin has been reborn in Modesty’s service. Starting out as a mean fighting machine, Modesty has given him her trust and he’s picked it up and run with it, turning into her loyal right-hand man. Their non-sexual love story underpins the whole Modesty Blaise oeuvre. They are partners who trust each other totally, but they are capable of working independently and they don’t own each other. There is no hint of jealousy when they take lovers, long term or one-night stands. They love each other, but they are not in love, neither are they lovers.
Three of the stories are set in Modesty and Willie’s present, but in the beginning is Modesty’s origin story as a refugee child walking through the Middle East in the aftermath of war, educated by life and a displaced professor whom she protects. Modesty ends up running a crime network and for six years Modestly and Willie fight and scheme and bleed together, tending each other’s hurts and growing very rich. The Modesty Blaise stories are set after Modesty and Willie have retired from their life of crime and realised that settling down is difficult for a pair of adrenaline junkies.
I recommend the novels heartily and this reproduction to the early comic strips is a lovely way to revisit Modesty’s adventures.