Advanced Review: Modesty Blaise - Live Bait
One of the most famous comic characters most Americans have never heard of returns for another trade collecting three of adventures from 1988-89 in Titan Books’ Live Bait.
Modesty Blaise, for those unaware, is the titular character of a British newspaper strip which ran from 1963 to 2001, appearing only sporadically in the U.S. due to the sometimes mature nature of the strip. A mix of crime drama, adventure and action, the strip ran over 10,000 individual installments, and Titan has taken on the monumental task of reprinting the entire series in volumes of around 100-pages each. This newest volume is a terrific place to jump aboard for new readers or old fans who haven’t been following the reprints. I needn’t go into the details of each individual story in this volume, because they all share the common elements that make this series great.
Writer Peter O’Donnell is, among other things, a master of characterization and it shines through even in the times when the dialogue is a little hokey or awkward. His characters lead lives of their own, and each story reads more like we are eavesdropping on a real conversation than reading a comic. The interactions between Modesty and her sidekick, Willie Garvin, especially feel more real than imagined. O’Donnell was also not afraid to take on real-life issues in his fictional world, and Modesty and Willie fight against such diverse threats as master criminals seeking revenge, Soviets seeking political capital and sleazy porn-makers kidnapping innocent girls for “snuff” films. And that’s just in this volume! Throughout the stories, there is a delicate mix of action, drama and even a sort of sensuality (helped in no small part by Enric Romero’s gorgeous art) that brings the characters and their adventures to life.
Romero, not the first artist to work on Modesty Blaise (but by far my favorite of the three whose work I’ve read), brings his own highly realistic and detailed take on the character. His figures seem ready to leap off the page at any moment, and whether he’s drawing Modesty dodging bullets, throwing flying kicks or reclining semi-nude she always looks to be more flesh and blood than ink and paper. His style has a classic tone to it which would be comfortable in virtually any period of comics history and which will appeal to any fan of nearly any style.
Both writer and artist contribute equally to the timeless quality these stories possess and while, to my understanding, the stories were always supposed to take place in the present (whatever that may be to the reader) they could well take place almost any time during the latter half of the 20th century. This sort of chameleon retro is very popular at the moment (take the television series Archer as a perfect example) and should appear to devotees of such who may have missed Modesty the first time around. Beyond that, though, well-crafted action/adventure stories will always have a place in the cultural milieu.
Simply put, Modesty Blaise is fantastic and there isn’t anyone who could be disappointed by this book.
For more on "Modesty Blaise," including ordering information, head on over to Titan Books.