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Modesty Blaise

Modesty Blaise is a comic strip featuring a fictional character of the same name, created by Peter O'Donnell (writer) and Jim Holdaway (art) in 1963. The strip follows the adventures of Modesty Blaise, an exceptional young woman with many talents and a criminal past, and her trusty sidekick Willie Garvin. It was adapted into films made in 1966, 1982, and 2003 and a series of thirteen novels and short story collections, beginning in 1965.

Many critics see the early years of the strip as a classic of adventure comic strips. The novels are regarded by some as being among the classics of adventure fiction.

Premise

In 1945 a nameless girl escaped from a displaced person (DP) camp in Kalyros, Greece. She did not remember anything from her short past. She wandered through post-WW2 Mediterranean and Arabian regions. During these years she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Hungarian scholar named Lob who gave her an education and a name: Modesty (Blaise she added herself later, after Merlin's tutor from the Arthurian legends). Eventually she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier and expanded it to international status as "The Network".

During these years she met Willie Garvin. Despite the desperate life he was leading, she saw his potential and offered him a job. Inspired by her belief in him, he pulled through as her right-hand man in The Network and became Modesty Blaise's most trusted friend. Theirs is a strictly platonic relationship and is based on mutual respect and shared interests. They have never gone to bed with each other, fearing that would ruin their special bond. He has always called her "Princess", a form of address only he is allowed to use. Other members of The Network would call Modesty "Mam'selle" (as in the French term "Mademoiselle" or "Miss").

When she felt she'd made enough money, she retired and moved to England; Willie Garvin followed suit. Bored by their new lives among the idle rich, they accepted a request for assistance from Sir Gerald Tarrant, a high-ranking official of the British secret service — and this is where the story really begins (this is treated differently in the first comic strip and the first book - see note in Canon debate below).

Many of her adventures are based on "capers" she and Willie Garvin become involved in as a result of their association with Tarrant. However, they may also help perfect strangers or fight various eccentric villains in exotic locations of their own volition if the cause fits their values; "ghosts" from their Network past also emerge to haunt them from time to time. Although Modesty and Willie will not hesitate to kill if necessary — and have, on occasion, taken on the roles of judge, jury, and executioner when dealing with particularly unsavory types — they avoid deadly force whenever possible, often relying upon their extraordinary physical and weapons skills to change a killing blow into a knock-out. Willie often confirms with Modesty beforehand whether a mission is to be, as the duo puts it, for "sleeps" or for "keeps".

The kinds of fights and battles that Modesty and Willie have against the bad guys are often very special. There is a great emphasis on unarmed combat and unusual weapons. Modesty's favorite weapon is a "kongo" or yawara stick, while Willie's favorite weapon is the throwing knife, of which he usually carries two. Many other strange weapons (such as the use of quarterstaff, épée, blowgun, and sling) and unexpected fighting techniques are also featured. The bad guys often meet their well-deserved demise in surprising ways.

In keeping with the spirit of other long-running comic strip and literary characters, Modesty and Willie generally do not age over the decades, with Modesty always being depicted as being in her late 20s, with Willie being eight years older. The only exceptions to this rule occur in the 1996 short story collection Cobra Trap, the final Modesty Blaise book, which contains five stories that take place where Modesty's age moves from 20 to 52 (approximately), and the 2003 film My Name Is Modesty which is a prequel depicting Modesty in her late teens.

In an essay found in Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton Universe (Win Scott Eckert, ed., MonkeyBrain Books, 2005), author Chuck Loridans contributes an article entitled "The Daughters of Greystoke" wherein he posits that Modesty is the daughter of Tarzan and La of Opar.

The comic strip

Having conceived the idea after a chance meeting with a girl during his wartime service in the Middle East, O'Donnell elected to work with Jim Holdaway, with whom he had worked on the strip Romeo Brown, after a trial period of collaboration with Frank Hampson, creator of Dan Dare, left O'Donnell dissatisfied. Modesty Blaise debuted in the London Evening Standard on May 13 1963. The strip was syndicated among a large number of newspapers ranging from the Johannesburg Star to the Detroit Free Press, the Bombay Samachar, The Telegraph, (Calcutta, India), The Star (Malaysia), The West Australian (Perth, Australia) and The Evening Citizen (Glasgow, Scotland).

After Jim Holdaway's death in 1970, the art of the strip was provided by the Spanish artist Romero. Eight years later, Romero quit to make time for his own comics projects, and after short attempts by John Burns and Patrick Wright, Neville Colvin drew the strip until 1986. Then Romero returned to the job and continued until the end of the strip.

The strip's circulation in the United States was erratic, in part because of the occasional nude scenes, which were much less acceptable in the US than elsewhere, resulting in a censored version of the strip being circulated. (Modesty occasionally used a tactic that she called the "Nailer," in which she would appear topless, distracting the bad guys long enough to give Willie or herself a chance to incapacitate them.) An example of this censorship appears in the introduction to the 2007 Titan Books reprint volume Death Trap, which illustrated two segments of the story arc, "The Junk Men" that were censored by the Detroit Free Press when it published the strip in 1977; in both cases a screen was drawn over scantily-clad images of Willie and Modesty. Reportedly, O'Donnell did not approve of the changes, although they were made by the artist, Romero.

The final Modesty Blaise strip ran in the Evening Standard on April 11 2001. Some of the newspapers that carried the series, feeling that it had become a tradition for their readers, began running it again from the beginning. O'Donnell, in order to give Romero some additional work, gave the artist permission to adapt one of his short stories ("The Dark Angels") as a graphic novel that was published in Scandinavia in 2002, later being reprinted in the US in a special issue of Comics Revue.

Reprints

Many reprint editions of the comic strip have appeared over the years, of varying quality. Most focus upon the earliest strips, with strips from the 1980s and 1990s being the least-often reprinted.

One of the earliest reprints in book form occurred in 1977 when Star Books, an imprint of WH Allen Limited, published a paperback-sized compilation of the Holdaway-era stories "The Black Pearl" and "The Vikings". This reprint suffered from poor reproduction that rendered many panels unintelligible.

Between 1981 and 1986, Ken Pierce Books Inc. of the United States, in conjunction with Eclipse Comics, published eight volumes of comic book-sized reprints dubbed the First American Edition series. The first four books featured Holdaway-illustrated stories from the 1960s, while the last four featured strips from the early 1980s as illustrated by Neville Colvin. These books also suffered from reproduction problems that resulted in many panels being reprinted too light, making them difficult to read.

Between 1984 and 1988, Titan Books of England published eight volumes of reprints of strips featuring art by Holdaway and Romero, covering the period 1963 to 1974.

Manuscript Press published two volumes of late-1980s Romero strips in 2003 (Live Bait and Lady in the Dark); it also published all of the stories not reprinted elsewhere in serialized form in its magazine publications Comics Revue and Modesty Blaise Quarterly, the former of which, as noted above, also published The Dark Angels for the first (and, to date, only) time in English. Comics Revue is continuing to reprint Modesty Blaise strips as of its early 2008 issues.

Beginning in March 2004, Titan launched a new series of reprint volumes. These new versions use larger images and reportedly come from better source material than the earlier editions. Several volumes also featured specially written introductions by O'Donnell. So far, the new series has reprinted the full run of the Holdaway years and has moved on to the Romero-illustrated stories. The first volume published in 2006, The Gallows Bird, includes one story that was not reprinted in the earlier Titan series. The tenth volume, Cry Wolf, consisted entirely of stories not previously reprinted by Titan, and the releases have continued. The first reprint volume scheduled for 2008, the announced Yellowstone Booty, will conclude the reprints of the first series of Romero stories and begin the brief tenure of John Burns (who illustrated the title story).

  • Book 1: The Gabriel Set-Up (2004) ISBN 1-84023-658-2
  • Book 2: Mister Sun (2004) ISBN 1-84023-721-X
  • Book 3: Top Traitor (2004) ISBN 1-84023-684-1
  • Book 4: The Black Pearl (2004) ISBN 1-84023-842-9
  • Book 5: Bad Suki (2005) ISBN 1-84023-864-X
  • Book 6: The Hell Makers (2005) ISBN 1-84023-865-8
  • Book 7: The Green-Eyed Monster (2005) ISBN 1-84023-866-6
  • Book 8: The Puppet Master (2006) ISBN 1-84023-867-4
  • Book 9: The Gallows Bird (2006) ISBN 1-84023-868-2
  • Book 10: Cry Wolf (2006) ISBN 1-84023-869-0; ISBN-13 9781840238693
  • Book 11: The Inca Trail (2007) ISBN 1-84576-417-X
  • Book 12: Death Trap (2007) ISBN 1-84576-418-8
  • Book 13: Yellowstone Booty (2008) ISBN-13 9781845764197
  • Book 14: Green Cobra (2008) ISBN-13 9781845764203
  • Book 15: The Lady Killers (announced 2009)

Story list

There were 96 storylines produced by the Modesty Blaise comic strip and all its printed forms over more than 40 years — comic strip and literary — it has been written by just one person: Peter O'Donnell. The strips were drawn by Jim Holdaway (JH), Enrique Badia Romero (ER), John M. Burns (JB), Pat Wright (PW), and Neville Colvin (NC).

Sources: 

 A  (Comics Revue Annual),
 C  (Comics Revue),
 F#  (First American Edition Series, Ken Pierce),
 LB  (Live Bait, Manuscript Press),
 LD  (Lady in the Dark, Manuscript Press),
 MB  (Comics Revue Presents Modesty Blaise),
 SB  (Star Books paperback reprint, 1977),
 S  (Comics Revue Special),
 T#  (Titan Books, old series (1984-88))

Titan Books, new series (2004-present): 

 NT1 = The Gabriel Set-Up,
 NT2 = Mister Sun,
 NT3 = Top Traitor,
 NT4 = The Black Pearl,
 NT5 = Bad Suki,
 NT6 = The Hell Makers,
 NT7 = The Green-Eyed Monster,
 NT8 = The Puppet Master,
 NT9 = The Gallows Bird,
 NT10 = Cry Wolf
 NT11 = Inca Trail.
 NT12 = Death Trap
 NT13 = Yellowstone Booty
 NT14 = Green Cobra

Title Artist Numbers Dates Reprinted in
1 La Machine JH 1-114 5/13/63 - 9/21/63 NT1, T1, C 189-191, 193 
2 The Long Lever JH 115-211 9/23/63 - 1/2/64 NT1, T1, C 192-194
3 The Gabriel Set-Up JH 212-354 1/3/64 - 6/18/64 NT1, T1, C 195-197
4 Mister Sun JH 355-500 6/19/64 - 12/5/64 NT2, T2, C 198-199
5 The Mind of Mrs. Drake JH 501-612 12/7/64 - 4/19/65 NT2, T2, F2, C 201-203
6 Uncle Happy JH 613-743 4/20/65 - 9/18/65 NT2, T8, F2, C 204-207
7 Top Traitor JH 744-873 9/20/65 - 2/19/66 NT3, F1, C 208-210
8 The Vikings JH 874-992 2/21/66 - 7/9/66 NT3, F1, SB
8a In the Beginning JH (1-12) (1966) NT1, T1, C 188
9 The Head Girls JH 993-1124 7/11/66 - 12/10/66 NT3, F4
10 The Black Pearl JH 1125-1235 12/12/66 - 4/22/67 NT4, F4, SB
11 The Magnified Man JH 1236-1349 4/24/67 - 9/2/67 NT4, F4
12 The Jericho Caper JH 1350-1461 9/4/67 - 1/13/68 NT4, F3
13 Bad Suki JH 1462-1574 1/15/68 - 5/25/68 NT5, T8, F3
14 The Galley Slaves JH 1575-1629
1630A-1688
5/27/68 - 8/6/68
9/10/68 - 11/16/68
NT5, T3
14A The Killing Ground JH (A1-A36) 1968 (Scotland only)  NT4, T2, F3, C 207
15 The Red Gryphon JH 1689-1794 11/18/68 - 3/22/69 NT5, T3, C 211-213
16 The Hell Makers JH 1795-1919 3/24/69 - 8/16/69 NT6, T3, C 214-216
17 Take-Over JH 1920-2043 8/18/69 - 1/10/70 NT6, T4, C 217-219
18 The War-Lords of Phoenix JH/ER 2044-2162 1/12/70 - 5/30/70 NT6, T4, C 220-222
19 Willie the Djinn ER 2163-2282 6/1/70 - 10/17/70 NT7, T4, C 223-225
20 The Green-Eyed Monster ER 2283-2388 10/19/70 - 2/20/71 NT7, T5, C 226-228
21 Death of a Jester ER 2389-2507 2/22/71 - 7/10/71 NT7, T5, C 229-231
22 The Stone Age Caper ER 2508-2627 7/12/71 - 11/27/71 NT8, T5, C 232-234
23 The Puppet Master ER 2628-2738 11/29/71 - 4/8/72 NT8, T6, C 235-237
24 With Love from Rufus ER 2739-2846 4/10/72 - 8/12/72 NT8, T6
25 The Bluebeard Affair ER 2847-2970 8/14/72 - 1/6/73 NT9, T6
26 The Gallows Bird ER 2971-3077 1/8/73 - 5/12/73 NT9, MB 2
27 The Wicked Gnomes ER 3078-3197 5/14/73 - 9/29/73 NT9, T7
28 The Iron God ER 3198-3309 10/1/73 - 2/9/74 NT9, T7
29 "Take Me to Your Leader" ER 3310-3428 2/11/74 - 7/1/74 NT10, MB 3
30 Highland Witch ER 3429-3548 7/2/74 - 11/16/74 NT10, MB 4
31 Cry Wolf ER 3549-3638A 11/18/74 - 3/25/75 NT 10, MB 5
32 The Reluctant Chaperon ER 3639-3737 3/26/75 - 8/14/75 NT 11, MB 6
33 The Greenwood Maid ER 3738-3829A 8/15/75 - 1/2/76 NT 11, MB 7
34 Those About to Die ER 3830-3931A 1/5/76 - 5/28/76 NT 11, MB 8
35 The Inca Trail ER 3932-4031A 6/1/76 - 10/20/76 NT 11, MB 10
36 The Vanishing Dollybirds ER 4032-4141A 10/21/76 - 3/28/77 NT12, MB 11
37 The Junk Men ER 4142-4241A 3/29/77 - 8/19/77 NT12, MB 9
38 Death Trap ER 4242-4341A 8/22/77 - 1/20/78 NT12, MB 12
39 Idaho George ER 4342-4447A 1/23/78 - 6/16/78 NT13, MB 13
40 The Golden Frog ER 4448-4542A 6/19/78 - 10/31/78 NT13, MB 14
41 Yellowstone Booty JB 4543-4647A 11/1/78 - 3/30/79 NT13, MB 16
42 Green Cobra JB 4648-4737A 4/2/79 - 8/10/79 NT14, MB 15
43 Eve and Adam JB/PW   4738-4837A 8/13/79 - 1/4/80 NT14, MB 17
44 Brethren of Blaise PW 4838-4932A 1/7/80 - 5/23/80 NT14, MB 18
45 Dossier on Pluto NC 4933-5032A 5/27/80 - 10/14/80 MB 19
46 The Lady Killers NC 5033-5127A 10/15/80 - 3/3/81 F5, C 238-240
47 Garvin's Travels NC 5128-5229A 3/4/81 - 7/27/81 F5, C 241 - 243
48 The Scarlet Maiden NC 5230-5329A 7/28/81 - 12/16/81 F5, C 244 - 246
49 The Moonman NC 5330-5424A 12/17/81 - 5/7/82 F6, C 247 - 249
50 A Few Flowers for the Colonel   NC 5425-5519A 5/10/82 - 9/24/82 F6, C 250 - 252
51 The Balloonatic NC 5520-5619A 9/27/82 - 2/18/83 F6, C 253 - 255
52 Death in Slow Motion NC 5620-5719A 2/21/83 - 7/15/83 F7, C 256 - 258
53 The Alternative Man NC 5720-5814A 7/18/83 - 11/28/83 F7, C 259 - 261
54 Sweet Caroline NC 5815-5914A 11/29/83 - 4/19/84 F7, C 262 - 264
55 The Return of the Mammoth NC 5915-6014A 4/24/84 - 9/14/84 F8, 265 - 267
56 Plato's Republic NC 6015-6114A 9/17/84 - 2/6/85 F8
57 The Sword of the Bruce NC 6115-6214A 2/7/85 - 7/2/85 F8
58 The Wild Boar NC 6215-6314A 7/3/85 - 11/20/85 MB 20
59 Kali's Disciples NC 6315-6414A 11/21/85 - 5/16/86? MB 21
60 The Double Agent NC 6515-6519A 5/17/86? - 9/15/86 MB 22
61 Butch Cassidy Rides Again ER 6520-6624A 9/16/86 - 2/12/87 MB 1
62 Million Dollar Game ER 6625-6724A 2/13/87 - 7/8/87 C 26-29
63 The Vampire of Malvescu ER 6725-6829A 7/9/87 - 12/3/87 A2
64 Samantha and the Cherub ER 6830-6934A 12/4/87 - 5/6/88 C 31-36, LB
65 Milord ER 6935-7034A 5/9/88 - 9/27/88 C 40-42, LB
66 Live Bait ER 7035-7134A 9/28/88 - 2/17/89 C 44-46, LB
67 The Girl from the Future ER 7135-7239A 2/20/89 - 7/21/89 C 47-49, LD
68 The Big Mole ER 7240-7339A 7/24/89 - 12/11/89 C 50-52, LD
69 Lady in the Dark ER 7340-7439A 12/12/89 - 5/8/90 C 53-56, LD
70 Fiona ER 7440-7544A 5/9/90 - 10/9/90 C 57-60
71 Walkabout ER 7545-7649A 10/10/90 - 3/11/91 C 61-63
72 The Girl in the Iron Mask ER 7650-7749A 3/12/91 - 8/2/91 C 64-66
73 The Young Mistress ER 7750-7854A 8/5/91 - 1/6/92 C 67-73
74 Ivory Dancer ER 7855-7959A 1/7/92 - 6/5/92 C 73-77
75 Our Friend Maude ER 7960-8064A 6/8/92 - 11/2/92 C 78-83
76 A Present for the Princess ER 8065-8174A 11/3/92 - 4/8/93 C 84-88
77 Black Queen's Pawn ER 8175-8279A 4/13/93 - 9/10/93 C 89-93 [1]
78 The Grim Joker ER 8280-8384A 9/13/93 - 2/9/94 C 94-99
79 Guido the Jinx ER 8385-8484A 2/10/94 - 7/5/94 C 100-104
80 The Killing Distance ER 8485-8589A 7/6/94 - 11/30/94 C 105-109
81 The Aristo ER 8590-8694A 12/1/94 - 5/3/95 C 110-114
82 Ripper Jax ER 8695-8799A 5/4/95 - 10/2/95 C 115-119
83 The Maori Contract ER 8800-8904A 10/3/95 - 3/1/96 C 120-124
84 Honeygun ER 8905-9009A 3/4/96 - 8/2/96 C 125-130
85 Durango ER 9010-9114A 8/5/96 - 1/3/97 S1, C 131-133
86 The Murder Frame ER 9115-9219A 1/6/97 - 6/6/97 C 134-138
87 Fraser's Story ER 9220-9324A 6/9/97 - 11/3/97 C 139-143
88 Tribute of the Pharaoh ER 9325-9429A 11/4/97 - 5/3/98 C 144-148
89 The Special Orders ER 9430-9534A 5/6/98 - 9/4/98 C 149-152
90 The Hanging Judge ER 9535-9644A 9/7/98 - 2/10/99 C 153-158
91 Children of Lucifer ER 9645-9749A 2/11/99 - 7/13/99 C 159-163
92 Death Symbol ER 9750-9859A 7/14/99 - 12/15/99 C 164-169
93 The Last Aristocrat ER 9860-9964A 12/16/99 - 5/19/00 C 170-175
94 The Killing Game ER 9965-10069a  5/22/00 - 10/17/00 C 176-181
95 The Zombie ER 10070-10183 10/18/00 - 4/11/01 C 182-187
96 The Dark Angels ER N/A 12/2002 C 200, 208 (cover)

The movies

After the initial popularity of the comic strip a movie entitled Modesty Blaise, loosely based on the comic strip, was filmed in 1966 as a comedy thriller. It was directed by Joseph Losey and starred Monica Vitti as Modesty, Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin, and Dirk Bogarde as Gabriel. While Peter O'Donnell wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the movie, the script was heavily revised by others before shooting began, and the finished movie bore very little resemblance to O'Donnell's vision in tone, theme, or characterization. There is some indication that Willie and Modesty are on the verge of consummating their relationship which, as O'Donnell had always made clear, was strictly platonic even though they are devoted to each other. The film was unsuccessful.

In 1982, a one-hour pilot was made for a proposed Modesty Blaise television series, starring Ann Turkel as Modesty Blaise and Lewis Van Bergen as Willie Garvin. The film aired on the ABC Network to positive reviews, but no series resulted. This was a slightly more serious version of the stories than the campy 1966 comedy version. In this pilot the setting is moved from London to Hollywood, and both Willie and Tarrant are portrayed as Americans.

In 2002, Miramax, the current holders of the Modesty Blaise film rights, made a film called My Name Is Modesty, with British actress Alexandra Staden as Modesty Blaise, based on a story from Modesty's life before "The Network" days, plus flashbacks to her childhood.

The film, made primarily to retain the film rights, did not receive theatrical release, being released straight to DVD in Europe in October 2003; it didn't receive DVD release in North America until September 2004, more than two years after it was produced. Critical reception appears to depend upon the critic's familiarity with the comic strip. Those aware of Modesty's history seem to be far more receptive to the film than those expecting an action film or another comedy. Still, fans were disappointed that the character of Willie Garvin was not featured and by the poor plot and discrepancies regarding Lob.

Staden's performance was generally praised, although she was seen by some as too frail-looking to play Modesty convincingly. The consensus, however, is that this version is at least better than the 1966 spoof.

Quentin Tarantino has been interested in directing a Modesty Blaise movie for many years, and at one point Neil Gaiman even wrote a script treatment based upon O'Donnell's novel, I, Lucifer. So far, nothing has come of these plans. Tarantino "sponsored" the release of My Name Is Modesty by allowing it to be released under the label "Quentin Tarantino presents ..." Curiously, in the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is seen reading a copy of Modesty Blaise. Nicole Kidman has also gone on record as being interested in making a Modesty Blaise movie.

The books

Peter O'Donnell was invited to write a novel to tie in with the film. The novel, called simply Modesty Blaise and based on his original screenplay for the movie, fared considerably better than the movie itself did. (It was also released a year before the movie.) During the following decades he would write a total of eleven Modesty Blaise novels and two collections of short stories. Several of the short stories either adapt comic strip stories, or would later be adapted as comic strips themselves, and there was frequent crossover of characters between the two genres.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Souvenir Press began a series of reprints of the Modesty Blaise book series, concluding with a reprint of Cobra Trap in 2006. (Souvenir reportedly does not own the rights to the short story collection Pieces of Modesty so they will not be reprinting that volume.)

In 2008, Penguin Books of India have reprinted the full series.

O'Donnell's final book, Cobra Trap, is his most controversial as he chose to end the book by giving Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin a definitive end (although the comic strip would last for several more years before it, too, was retired). Many longtime fans of Modesty Blaise refuse to read the titular short story that closes Cobra Trap. Perhaps reflecting this, O'Donnell chose to end the comic strip on a more hopeful note.

In comic books

In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the strip has been in continuous distribution since 1969 in a monthly comic adventure magazine called Agent X9 (after the existing Modesty comic magazine Agent was merged with the X9 magazine). Many of O'Donnell's stories actually premiered here (translated into Swedish), and the magazine continues to run a Modesty Blaise story every month, from the archives. Sweden is also an ongoing source for in-print graphic-novel-style collections of Modesty Blaise "capers" (including hardcovers), though they're also in Swedish. When the daily strip was discontinued, artist Romero was given permission by O'Donnell to do a final Modesty Blaise story directly for the Swedish Agent X9 magazine. The two-parter was published in 2002 and based on an unused script by O'Donnell entitled The Dark Angels. Romero has for the past years also contributed with original painted covers for the Agent X9 magazine.

In India, Lion comics releases Modesty Blaise comics in Tamil Language. The images are edited (bikinis are made into single piece swimsuits..., etc to make her more modest!)

The American magazine Comics Revue also continues to reprint the strip, and remains to date the only publisher to have released an English-language version of The Dark Angels.

In 1994, DC Comics released a graphic novel adaptation of Modesty Blaise (the novel), with art by Dick Giordano (ISBN 1-56389-178-6).

Other adaptations

One of the Modesty Blaise novels, "Last Day in Limbo", was adapted as a BBC World Service six-part radio drama in 1978 with Barbara Kellerman as Modesty, James Bolam as Willie and Richard Vernon as Tarrant.

In the early 1980s, an audio tape reading of the short story, "I Had a Date with Lady Janet" (from Pieces of Modesty), was released featuring John Thaw (the story was a first-person tale told from Willie Garvin's point of view).

Modesty Blaise has been the inspiration for a number of similar (but usually inferior) book series, most notably the ultraviolent mid-1970s series The Baroness by Paul Kenyon.

The 1993 American television series, South Beach was also inspired by Modesty Blaise.

Fans of the character also see more than a few similarities between Modesty Blaise and video game heroines Cate Archer and Lara Croft.

Canon debate

The canonicity of the novels vs. the comic strips is a matter of some debate among fans, as Modesty and Willie occasionally act more ruthlessly in the novels than they do in the comics, and there are occasional inconsistencies. An example of this is how Modesty is initially recruited to work for Sir Gerald Tarrant - although the strip story and the book story have similarities, and in both Tarrant achieves his aim by putting her under an obligation, in the strip story this relates to the validity of her marriage (and therefore her right to British nationality and residence) while in the book he provides her with information that enables her to rescue Willie Garvin and save his life.

Plus, some comic strips were based upon some of O'Donnell's short stories, and vice-versa, with the inevitable differences between them. In any event, only stories (illustrated or textual) written by O'Donnell himself are considered candidates for canon; none of the film and graphic novel adaptations qualify, including the My Name Is Modesty film which contradicts elements of the novels and comic strip.

Future of the character

As mentioned above, in 1996, Peter O'Donnell wrote the final Modesty Blaise story collection, Cobra Trap, and in 2001, retired the comic strip. The Modesty Blaise character and concept remain popular enough that there have been calls for new writers to continue her adventures. O'Donnell, who owns the rights to Modesty Blaise, has refused to pass the comic strip or novels on to another writer. He has optioned the TV and film rights to the characters at various times over the years, but nothing ever came of the attempts to make a TV series (although some of the stories in Cobra Trap were based on TV episode scripts O'Donnell wrote), and he was severely disappointed by the movie My Name Is Modesty; O'Donnell has since gone on record that he wanted no more movies to be made of his character.

It is not known if O'Donnell's statements will have any impact upon the proposed Modesty Blaise film project by Quentin Tarantino, or if his eventual heirs will allow new writers to continue Modesty Blaise in comic strip or literary form.

Cars

  • Modesty drove an ivory-coloured Daimler Dart in the early books, and it also featured from time to time in the comic strip, including an appearance in the first story La Machine.
  • Modesty & Willie are also seen using an Aston Martin DB5 in La Machine (1963), a car which did not become associated with James Bond until the release of the film Goldfinger the following year (in the book Bond drives a DB Mk.III).
  • The comic strip includes a cameo appearance by a 1911 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
  • In later strips, Modesty moved on to a Jensen Interceptor (or the closely related four-wheel drive Jensen FF), a car with an American V8 engine and handmade British coachwork. This car had its greatest popularity in the 60's and 70's both for its looks and speed (0-100mph in 12 seconds).

Music

  • The theme song "Modesty (Modesty Blaise Theme)" from the Losey movie was sung by David and Jonathan, with the music composed by John Dankworth and lyrics by Benny Green. This appeared on the soundtrack album issued by 20th Century Fox (S 4182) and also as a single on the Fontana label. The album was released on CD by Harkit (HRKCD 8003) in 2001.
  • Rock group Sparks wrote and recorded a song intended as the theme tune for the aborted TV series. Using an amended title "Modesty Plays" to avoid trademark infringement, it was released originally in 1982 as a France-only single and subsequently in a new version on their 1986 album "Music that you can dance to". Singer Russell Mael admits that he is actually singing "Blaise" not "Plays".
  • Polish gothic band Closterkeller recorded the song "Modesty Blaise" on their 1992 album Blue, based on the Modesty Blaise character.

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