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.