Modesty Blaise is Still a Heroine
February 7, 2018 4:13 PM   Subscribe

At 15, the author found Modesty Blaise, the story strip heroine. Modesty Blaise, the ex-criminal and adventuress, has been an icon for women (and men) since it began in the mid-1960s and lasted for almost 40 years. She provided this author with an image of a women who was unafraid and was the boss. As the author says, "for the first time, I imagined what it would be like to be physically unafraid in the world, to walk down any city street I wanted, at any time of night, and not give a second’s thought to the special care a girl has to take. I thought about what it would be like to be deeply loved by a man, deeply known, but still be the main character in my life story, the only one with her name in the title." The author has most of the particulars of Modesty's story correct.

But for a more nuanced and complete story of what and who Modesty is and can do, read this article from Comics Journal The Last Great Adventure Strip by R.C. Harvey. One of the things he points out is that she was never a spy, though she did a few jobs for British Intelligence on her own. Mostly, she manages to get caught up in capers accidentally. Her relationship to Willie Garvin, her righthand man, is mentioned in the first article and in this one—it's the aspect of the stories that seems to fascinate people most (they love each other but not romantically).

Her adventures are many and varied. Characters are complex and well-drawn. Plots are intricate and sometimes fantastical, and there's some British humor, too. Titan Publishing just finished reprinting all the story strips from the many years it ran. In among doing a daily strip, Peter O'Donnell also managed to write nine novels and two collections. As well, he wrote nine novels of romantic suspense as Madeleine Brent, which were about corageous young women set in various exotic locales.
posted by MovableBookLady (21 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
If she's good enough for Vincent Vega...

deep pull from the useless trivia database there.
posted by leotrotsky at 4:24 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

And did Tarantino ever made us the movie he promised? No, he did not. Humph. Not that I'm obsessed with MB or anything, I just have all the Titan books, complete sets of the British and the American hardcover first editions. I used to be a completist but I've backed off a little.
posted by MovableBookLady at 4:29 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Fun fact: Modesty Blaise's self defense weapon of choice is her "kongo," which we know better as a yawara stick. Basically a little wooden stick used for self defense (for throws, pressure points, amplify strikes, fist loading etc). The yawara is the precursor to the kubaton that everyone got on their keychains for self defense starting about 20 years ago.

Modesty Blaise, self-defense trend-setter!
posted by leotrotsky at 4:32 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tarantino produced the version that came out 10+ years ago and used to be on Netflix.
posted by rhizome at 4:42 PM on February 7, 2018

And Modesty Blaise also inspired one of the best, lesser-known songs by Sparks. Though, titled "Modesty Plays," it was supposedly written as a theme song for a Modesty Blaise TV show that never was made. Either way, that chorus is totally "Modesty Blaise".
posted by SansPoint at 4:42 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

There was a big fan of MB's who was on a fan site who made kongos for sale. I still regret not getting one.
posted by MovableBookLady at 4:45 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Rhizome: if you mean that movie with Alexandra Standen(sp), he "presented" it but didn't actually do any work on it. And it was terrible (though not as bad as the one with Monica Vitta in 1966)—I wouldn't believe that anybody who had little stick arms like hers could throw a punch or do anything physical. And what a waste of Nicolau Coster-Waldau as the villian—he'd have been a perfect Willie (but he wound up on GoT). But the plot was of her time at the beginning of her criminal career.
posted by MovableBookLady at 4:59 PM on February 7, 2018

And did Tarantino ever made us the movie he promised?

Haha MovableBookLady beat me to it - I was just typing up the 2004 film from Scott Spiegel. He executive produced the film - likely just helped it get financed. The one from 1966 is more fun FWIW.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:04 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The one from 1966 yt is more fun FWIW.

vague memory of seeing it on TV in maybe 1968 when I would've been eight or nine, and being completely baffled by it. Which was par for the course for for me with all manner of cutting edge 60s stuff. What a weird time to be a little kid! and wonderful.
posted by philip-random at 5:34 PM on February 7, 2018

I'm glad this post is back up, MovableBookLady. I can now mention again that Mefi's Own Charlie Stross wrote a Modesty Blaise tribute novel, The Apocalypse Codex, in which her stand-in has the transparent code name BASHFUL INCENDIARY.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:00 PM on February 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

Harvey Kilobit: really??!! I will attempt to find that. Thanks. "bashful incendiary" heh
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:48 PM on February 7, 2018

As to the 1966 movie, Peter O'Donnell said that only one line of his script was left after Losey et al got their hands on it and decided that a totally camp version is just what we all needed. And Monica Vitti?? Losey's girlfriend. Terrence Stamp was a good Willie. Dirk Bogarde played the campy villain to the hilt but that's not at all what the book was like. And they changed the relationship between Modesty and Willie! Can you tell I hated it? Yes, yes I did.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:53 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I ordered the Stross book.
posted by MovableBookLady at 6:58 PM on February 7, 2018

These articles are really fun - thanks for posting them!
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:24 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Sans Point: that link goes to a Simpsons "That's the Joke" clip. Is that what you intended?
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:56 PM on February 7, 2018

The one from 1966 is more fun FWIW.

The guy who blows up near the beginning was definitely trying to take her to The Village, right?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:49 AM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Can you tell I hated it? Yes, yes I did.

Yes, the Losey film is not for fans of the series. However, if you are a fan of camp 60's "spy spoof" films it will likely float your boat. One thing though, I'm gonna assume you're exaggerating but calling out Monica Vitti as Losey's "girlfriend" is a bit harsh - she'd been in 5 Antonioni films by that point in her career so she was hardly a lightweight. By '66 her international stardom was well established.
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:02 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you either love or hate the Losey film. I love it in all of its campy splendor: Vitti's outfits, the sun-drenched locations (especially the villa), Bogarde hamming it up, pretty boy Terence Stamp and of course, the brilliant comic acting of Clive Revill. It's clearly not serious and everyone looked like they were having lots of fun.
posted by nikitabot at 8:13 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I discovered "Madeleine Brent" and blew through them with enthusiasm years before I ever heard of Modesty Blaise. It was, I admit, a disappointment to discover that Brent was actually a man, although I suppose I should have guessed, from the way the lead characters were always the One Cool Girl as compared to all the other ordinary girly girls.

I still liked them, though: they were girls who had adventures and were both physically and emotionally strong.
posted by suelac at 8:14 AM on February 8, 2018

Modesty and Willy's relationship really was the best--a rare opportunity of an alternative model for me as a kid growing up in a pretty heteronormative environment. (I mean, I'm a heterosexual myself, but, boy, the standard models for interaction between men and women I was offered did not work for me.)

I still remember the way they had to censor out the naughty bits in the local paper. Shocking!!!
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on February 8, 2018

The one from 1966 is more fun FWIW.

The guy who blows up near the beginning was definitely trying to take her to The Village, right?

or recruit her for The Avengers
posted by philip-random at 10:27 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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