Modesty Blaise 1: La Machine
Medium: comic
Year: 1963
Country: UK
Writer: Peter O'Donnell
Artist: Jim Holdaway
Format: Newspaper comic strip
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 18 November 2021
Modesty Blaise is a comic strip that ran for almost forty years (1963-2002), spawning novels and three movies. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino's wanted to adapt it for years and at one point Neil Gaiman wrote him a script treatment. What I read today is the very first Modesty Blaise story.
It's exciting and it handles its newspaper strip format deftly. I can see why it became so popular.
The title character, Modesty Blaise, is so tough, clever and cool that she initially seems like a fantasy stereotype, not a person. Fortunately, her characterisation's less one-dimensional than it looks. She has an extremely close working relationship with her right hand man, Gavin, who calls her "princess" and practically worships her... but it's completely platonic and neither of them thinks anything of the other's highly independent love lives. She's an ex-criminal who made a fortune before retiring, but she got there from nowhere and had a brutally tough childhood. She's almost inhumanly cool and collected as she outmanoeuvres and ultimately kills her enemies, but then once it's all over can step right out of character and start crying.
As this story begins, she's got bored with being beautiful and super-rich. That's why she accepts a dodgy job offer from the British secret service to take down an assassination ring called La Machine.
Blaise is the cool one and Gavin's the colourful one. He's a street fighter who don't care naffink about talkin' proper, but is just as clever and efficient as Blaise. He has an odd sense of criminal pride, being slightly miffed when someone gives him the combination to a safe he'd been going to try to crack. Don't play cards with him. "If I can't win dishonest, I'd rather lose!"
It's pretty good. The baddies are serious enough to give our heroes serious opposition. They near-torture Blaise, although not with the results they'd hoped for. The art's very good too, although later stories made occasional use of nudity that made the strip problematic in the US. If you're looking for something cool, try this.