March 2020


A reprint of the first three Modesty Blaise comic strips.

Publisher: Titan
Original publication years: 1963-1964
Titan publication year: 2004

I’ve been reading Modesty Blaise since I was a teenager but I’ve never read the strips in publication order, just in the haphazard way I go them in Finnish editions. Here, most were published in the Agentti X9 comic book which had one MB comic and three others, usually Rip Kirby, Corrigan, and other secret agents. Eventually, Modesty got her own albums but even in them, the stories weren’t in chronological order. I also don’t have all of them, but I have some albums and a stack of Agentti X9 comics. Also, I still have a couple of full adventures which I cut out from Finnish newspapers.

The Titan album has the first three strips: “La Machine,” “The Long Lever”, and “Gabriel Set-Up”. It also seems to have the short “In the Beginning” strip which tells Modesty’s tragic backstory as an orphan refugee struggling to survive to adulthood and then her rise to leading the criminal organization the Network and then retiring.

Even the first comic has all the ingredients that I love: a terrible enemy who seems almost impossible to defeat, clever schemes from Modesty and Willie, and really high stakes. What is missing is the occasional whimsical humor which made some of the later comics really memorable for me. But from the start, Modesty’s moral code is clear: she hates it when people are used, she especially hates drugs and prostitution and even took down those criminal organizations when she was a crime boss. She’s fiercely loyal to her people and defends them with her life, if needs be. Willie’s her right hand man.

MB is a newspaper comic strip, which makes the form very restricted. It’s black and white, in three panels. O’Donnell, who created Modesty and wrote all her stories, was already an experienced strip writer when he came up with Modesty and it shows. The panels are clear (at least when the printing is of good quality) and no panel is wasted.

“La Machine” is an introduction to Modesty and her world. Sir Gerald Tarrant, who is the head of British intelligence, comes to Modesty asking for a favor: to take down a French-based ruthless and efficient murder ring called la Machine. Tarrant has information that he could’ve used to blackmail Modesty but instead he destroyed the evidence. Modesty always pays her debts. So, she and Willie cook up a scheme to put Willie as a target for la Machine. They stage a public fight and Modesty puts a murder contract out on Willie.

This was a very good beginning. It showcases all the things Modesty and Willie are known for: they’re extraordinary loyalty to and faith in each other, their cool heads when in danger, and their fighting skills, especially with martial arts and Willie’s extraordinary skill with knives.

In the “Long Lever” Tarrant has a job for Willie but Willie won’t take it unless Modesty agrees. When she finds out what it’s about, she wants in. Dr. Kossuth is a former Hungarian citizen who was put in a horrible refugee camp. He managed to escape and flee to US. Now, he’s been kidnapped presumably to take him back to Hungary. The CIA has a lead: he might be on a yacht owned by a millionaire who needs money. Modesty and Willie are pretending to be a shipwrecked couple and search the ship. If they find Kossuth, they’ll try to free him.

“The Gabriel Set-up” introduces a bit more eccentric villain although not as over the top as some of the later ones: Gabriel whom even his own men fear. Gabriel has been working of a long time and has a large organization. This time, his minions have set up a health spa. However, Gabriel’s doctors use hypnosis to uncover secrets from their customers which include British government officials and very rich individuals. Even Tarrant is hesitant to engage Gabriel but Modesty goes to the spa to investigate. It’s near US border in Canada. Gabriel’s scheme isn’t easy to find out and he’s a formidable enemy.

Meanwhile, Willie has been working as a lumber jack nearby and is dating the daughter of the timber lord. Marjorie is an explosive blonde who has grown quite of Willie. When Modesty appears, Marjorie is jealous but Modesty quickly explains to her that Modesty isn’t a competitor and that Willie’s not the sort to stay with one girl. This is the first comic where we see that both Modesty and Willie have other partners and aren’t going to stay with just one person. Neither of them makes any secret of it to anyone they’re dating.

Several of the strips use characters who have ESP-type powers. Here the enemy uses hypnosis and only when the victim has been put into a receptive state.

These were all enjoyable reads even if none of them are my very favorites. They’re full of action, very James Bond type adventure except that I like Modesty and Willie (and many of the side characters) far more.

An action/adventure novella set in Toronto in 1920s. The first in a series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2012
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 98

Colleen Garman is an clock maker and she also makes other mechanical gadgets. That’s pretty unusual for a young woman in 1920s and her boyfriend isn’t shy about expressing his distaste for her work. However, when Colleen gets a telegram which says that her uncle Roderick has died, she drops everything and hurries to Toronto where he lived and died. There she meets Roderick’s friend Jane who tells her that apparently uncle Roderick had lost his mind before he died. However, Colleen notices strange men who follow her and want to hurt her.

This story has some steampunk elements but is light on Lovecraftian horror. This was a definite plus for me because I’m not a horror reader. Instead, the story’s almost constant action adventure with chases, fights, and shootings. Colleen isn’t a trained fighter and must hold her own in a very surprising and demanding situations. She does it admiringly. Also, she faces a couple of hard choices.

I liked the characters but they weren’t really developed. In fact, we don’t really get to know much about them, just hints of what’s to come. Colleen is a pretty straight forward heroine, an ordinary person called to do extraordinary things. I was intrigued by the idea of Bureau of Investigations reporting directly to US president. They’re a secret organization investigating the cults who are trying to resurrect the elder gods. A great twist on the origins of FBI. However, it wasn’t explored further in this novella.<br

It’s not a deep. But it’s a lot of fun and very entertaining. Currently free on Amazon.

Collects The Expanse Origins issues 1-4 and adds a bonus story (Miller).

Writers: Hallie Lambert, Georgia Lee
Artist: Huang Danlan
Publisher: Boom studios

This collection has a story for Holden, Naomi, Miller, Amos, and Alex. They’re all set years before the series starts, except Amos’ story. They’re nice enough, fleshing out backstory I mostly know or have guessed already. I’ve read the first three books and seen three seasons.

The artwork is definitely based on the TV-show. The characters look somewhat similar to the actors but not all the time.

The first story is about Holden when he’s in UN Navy. He disobeys an order to shoot a spaceship which could be carrying guns or people. Holden has apparently been disobeying orders before but has a nice relationship with the ship’s commander who is near retirement age.

The second story centers on Naomi and is my favorite. Naomi has just started on the Canterbury as the main engineer. She needs a mechanic but nobody on board qualifies. She convinces the captain to hire someone new. Naomi interviews the possible mechanics and, of course, meet Amos. The story has some very nice interaction between Naomi and Amos.

The third story is about Alex. Alex has just quit the Martian navy because his wife wants him home. He’s been away for a long time and his son doesn’t know him. Alex gets a corporate job but life on Mars leaves him unhappy.

The fourth story centers on Amos. This is a nightmare where he must live through some of his terrible past in a game show kind of setting. This was a good choice because it didn’t make the story too sad and miserable but we get to know that some really bad things have happened to him.

The final story is about Miller. When the story starts, he’s still married. An orphan young boy give Miller information about Ariaga, a big crime boss on Ceres. The boy is hoping to get a better life. But of course things don’t end well.

Nice enough collection for big fans of Expanse.

A Buffy book set during early third season.

Publication year: 1999
Format: Print
Page count: 210
Publisher: Pocket Books

Willow is babysitting a toddler, when she starts hearing strange bumps from upstairs. She calls Oz and almost convinces herself that it’s nothing. Meanwhile, Buffy and Giles are hunting vampires. They’re also talking about the latest drama among the Slayerettes: Cordelia is organizing a big spring party in Weatherly park. It’s the same park which in danger of being mowed down and Willow is trying to stop that by organizing a demonstration. So, Cordelia and Willow are at odds with each other.

However, the bumps upstairs turn out to be real. When Willow gets there, to her horror the baby has turned to a monster with wings. The monster tells Willow that she must join the monster and save Weatherly park. Then it attacks. When Xander and Cordelia get there to save Willow, the monster is gone but so is the baby.

It turns out that other babies have disappeared, too, and it’s kept a secret. Even though people are warning Buffy and her friends to stay away, of course they investigate.

This is a quick and entertaining read set during the time when Cordelia dated Xander and Willow dated Oz. No mention of Faith or the Mayor, though. Buffy deals with a lot of vampires with Angel’s help. The fight scenes don’t really add anything to the plot but simulate some episodes rather well. That’s a bit of friction between Cordelia and the other characters, but not a lot and that’s fine with me.

A short story collection of various genres. Like, the name says, almost all of them are fast-paced and exciting.

Publication year: 2018
Publisher: WMG Publishing
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 295

This is another Fiction River collection which as stories from multiple genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to modern military action/adventure. It also has a story with a penguin main character and one story has a cooking contest.

“Payback is a Bitch” by Diana Deverell: Bella is in charge of providing private security for US government people in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She’s on a supposedly routine drive, when her team of bodyguards turn against her.

“Death-Blind” by Robert Jeschonek: The main character of this story wakes up in a maze, his own voice blaring at him, urging him to kill someone before the time runs out.

“The Airship Adventures of Captain Jane Fury” by Anthea Sharp: The captain of the HMS Minotaur, an airship, is on an urgent mission which could very well change the future of Britain, if she arrives on time. A storm, a band of pirates, and even a bigger menace try to stop her.

“Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest” by Henry Martin: A group of SEALs has been ordered to take back a cruiser which has been high jacked by pirates. Things go wrong from the start.
“The Tomb of Arisel” by Bonnie Elizabeth: The main character needs desperately an item from the catacombs below the temple of the Goddess of Love, Arisel. But she has fearsome guardians.

“Goodnight, Madison” by Lisa Silverthorne: Five days ago, Sam’s little daughter disappeared. He’s a police detective but he can’t find the person responsible. Until other kids start to disappear and Sam gets a letter.

“Romancing the Puffin” by Louisa Swann: Magnus and his moody but brilliant girlfriend are in the Antarctic, studying penguins. Now, she’s transformed him into a penguin and he must try to survive to find out if she can forgive him and turn him back.

“Dominant Species” by Dayle A. Dermatis: The main character of this story is a shapeshifter. She also works tirelessly to expose animal abuse. This time, she heard that people on a remote farm abuse dogs. Unfortunately, the situation is far worse and turns out very badly for her.

“Three Seconds” by T. Thorn Coyle: Zachary used to be a troubleshooter and a killer but he gave it up when he met the right man. But Zachary’s past has come to haunt him.

“Blood Chase” by Leah Cutter: Parayat is a loyal servant of the emperor and was born a star sister, able to create illusions. Now, the emperor has tasked her to slip inside the house of a traitor and kill him.

“Caterpillar Boot Man” by Valerie Brook: Cuba has been beaten bloody and now an armed man is chasing him in a car. Can Cuba get away?

“The Case of the Dead Son” by Laura Ware: This is a noir urban fantasy story. Eli Leafrunner is a police detective and a half-elf. He works in the Neighborhood, the dark underbelly of the Islands of Fantasy where most magical people live (and run it for humans to visit). Sorin is an influential elf. When his son’s death was declared a suicide, Sorin put a death curse of Eli. Eli has just hours to find out what really happened to Sorin’s son.

“Breakfast at Luigi’s” by Thea Hutcheson: Deirdre is a smart and beautiful young woman. She’s found a “sugar daddy” in a retired mob accountant, Luigi. When two hitmen invade the house, Deirdre is terrified but determined to get out alive.

“Black Phantom, Gray Op” by Stefon Mears: Aren Vestergaard has just quit from the Navy. He bought a ship and has set up a charter piloting business. On his first day, two people hold him on gunpoint and force him to take to a planet deep outside of human space.

“The Last Ramekin” by Liz Pierce: Molly is a kitchen witch and all the other cooking wizards and sorceresses look down on her. She’s made it to the final round in the contest and is determined to give it her all.

“The Princess, the Huntsman and the Monster” by Erik Lynd: Emily has just escaped from a man she thinks of as the Monster. She’s naked and alone is the snow.

I enjoyed almost all of the stories. The last one is the slowest but it’s pretty good. “Romancing the Puffin” and “The Last Ramekin” were my favorites.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are running again a very interesting Kickstarter. This time they’re doing three anthologies of Cave Creek. Nine more days to go.

“Cave Creek, Nevada, where the unexpected meets the real world. It exists, but only in stories, written by some of the best fiction writers working today.” One collection is set in the past, one in current times, and the third in the future.

It’s already funded and almost reached the first stretch goal which is Rusch’s historical novella The Gallery of His Dreams. Other stretch goals have more books and for writers a lecture and even a classic workshop.

This is a goofy school manga with a very specific focus: Rumi Yokoi is a studious and quiet girl who just wants to study but unfortunately, she sits next to Seki who does everything else than study. To amuse himself, he invents the most elaborate games. Sometimes, Yokoi tries to warn him to stop and pay attention to the teachers, but invariably she instead starts to follow his antics closely. Yokoi is also the one who gets in trouble for not following the teachers.

Seki sits behind the tallest boy on the class so he can do pretty much what he wants, such as building long domino rows, sculpting structures from sand with almost surgical precision, or bringing in cats to class. When he brings chess or go pieces with him, he ignores the official rules and plays his own games.

In a couple of strips, we get some continuity but the vast majority of the strips are stand-alones. At first, Seki and Yokoi seem pretty different from each other, but clearly Yokoi, too, has a great imagination; sometimes she invents her own stories from Seki’s play. Seki never talks.

Funny and goofy manga, although there’s some repetition. A few strips are set outside the class room. I liked the clear and detailed drawing style a lot.

The Finnish edition has three volumes called Pulpettinaapurit. Apparently, ten volumes have been published in Japan (and English). The Finnish editions have some clarifications about a couple of Japanese cultural points and the names. Apparently, most of the names of the characters are some sort of play on words.

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