Modesty Blaise

modesty

Modesty Blaise is a British 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 13 novels and short story collections, beginning in 1965.

According to the story, in 1945, a nameless girl escaped from a displaced person (DP) camp in Greece. She did not remember anything from her short past. She wandered through post-World War II Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African regions, where she learned to survive the hard way. She befriended another wandering refugee, a Jewish Hungarian scholar from Budapest named Lob who gave her an education and a name: Modesty (Blaise she added herself later, after Merlin’s tutor from the Arthurian legends). Lob died when Modesty was 12 years old. Eventually, in 1953, she took control of a criminal gang in Tangier from Henri Louche 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’s most trusted friend. Theirs is a strictly platonic relationship and is based on mutual respect and shared interests. 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’ (short for ‘Mademoiselle”).

She obtained British nationality by marrying and divorcing Englishman James Turner in Beirut; Turner died a year later of alcoholism. Having made a point of not dealing in secrets belonging to H.M. Government, when she felt she had made enough money, she retired and moved to England and 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. Many of her adventures are based on capers in which she and Willie Garvin become involved 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, they avoid deadly force whenever possible, often relying upon their extraordinary physical and weapons skills.

The kinds of fights and battles that Modesty and Willie have are often very special. There is a great emphasis on unarmed combat and unusual weapons. Modesty’s weapon of choice is a ‘kongo’ or yawara stick and as for firearms she begins by preferring the Colt .32 revolver and Mab Brevete .32 ACP auto pistol though in later books she switches to carrying a Star PD .45 auto pistol, while Willie’s preferred 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.

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.

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 U.S. 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).

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