Modesty Blaise: The Girl In The Iron Mask by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero (graphic novel review).
It’s spring and time for the best pick-me-up tonic in reading as Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin are back in three more tales. Enric Badia Romero’s art is as good as ever and Peter O’Donnell writes to his strengths.
I must disagree with Laurence Blackmore’s introduction where he declares Sir Gerald Tarrant as being the deus ex machina, mostly because the pair of them have many friends and that can instigate a problem for them to solve. A deus ex machina is more strictly having the right convenience to solve a problem, like the coconuts and chimp in this story, when nothing else has been provided for. O’Donnell doesn’t often do things like that although I suspect in this story’s case it was more to move things along quickly to the main part of the plot.
For the first story, ‘Fiona’, Willie Garvin has an unusual admirer in the form of a lady chimpanzee from his part-owned circus who sneaks on-board his jeep when he goes off to join Modesty and Tarrant who have gone to Chittagong where she is going to help an old friend, Doctor Sumitra Latham, and her doctor husband, David, at a small hospital for a few weeks. Unknown to them but a worry for both doctors is crimelord Wu Smith has taken over a nearby temple as a heroin and cocaine factory and placating David to turn a blind eye by giving him medical supplies. Unwittingly, David reveals to Wu Smith than Modesty and Willie are coming and who prepares to ambush them. As you would expect, this is not very successful and when David is captured to keep the pair of them in line, trouble can only begin.
In many respects, this story is more typical of the ‘get me out of this’ scenario used in O’Donnell’s novels than is typical of the newspaper strip. Considering this was released in 1990 when O’Donnell had reduced his novel writing, this might not seem so surprising.
‘Walkabout’ is set in Australia. While Modesty is with ex-Network sailor Jacko and the aborigines getting back to her roots in the outback, Willie Garvin is making time with Debbie Grant, another former girl-friend and lawyer, at the beach. She’s currently working with Larry Houston, head of Internal Security to prevent the Mafia getting a foothold in the country. Without any family hitmen in Australia, Four-Finger Finch has convinced aborigine Luki that Tanakai, his daughter and maid, is being corrupted by Houston and attacks him with a spear. He doesn’t kill Houston and on Takakai’s urging flees into the outback.
A few weeks later and finishing her walkabout, Modesty is driving her jeep back to civilisation, the vehicle overturns and her leg is trapped. It is Luki who rescues her and is subsequently injured by a spear that is thrown from the exploding jeep. Owing Luki a debt, she ensures the aborigine is cared for in hospital.
When she contacts Willie Garvin, they put things together and to pay the debt to Luki, they’ll sort the Mafia heads out. They connive and become the pilots of their hire airplane and leave them in the outback with Jacko for a few weeks before rescuing them and forcing them out of Australia. One of them makes a last phone call to Finch and Debbie is kidnapped for bait so they can assassinate Modesty and Willie.
In many respects, any other writer would have stopped at the Mafia men being deported but this extra twist at the end makes for a delightful extension, especially as the pair of them never do quite what is expected of them.
‘The Girl In The Iron Mask’ does something which hasn’t been in the stories for a while, some decent villains you want to remember and hate. Enter the Bone Brothers. They ran into Modesty and Willie awhile back in an unrecorded adventure as for fun they tried to ruin John Dell, in a long line of other millionaires they did ruin. Now they want a different game to keep themselves amused and want to first humiliate Modesty Blaise by locking her in an iron mask by one gang while another gang from a distance watches over the first gang in case they double-cross them. All of which is to be filmed for their amusement and as an added bonus to further humiliate their housekeeper, Celeste, whose daughter is kept at a private school to ensure her own behaviour. This is the turning point for Celeste and when Modesty is caught and imprisoned, she contacts Willie and briefly tells him where to look. The Bone Brothers are no fools and have already set up a gang to attack Willie at The Treadmill who don’t believe his reputation.
Modesty, unable to see her way out of the iron helmet and at the bottom of a seventy foot pit, draws her resources together and climbs out and even beats her three captors before Willie comes to the rescue. This has to be one of the most superb action sequences in these stories and shows just how resourceful Modesty is against impossible odds.
The twist at the end has Celeste scaring off the Bone Brothers’ security force by telling them who was coming, coupled with…well, that would be telling.
As I’ve frequently said in the past, ‘Modesty Blaise’ is a passion amongst many SF fans as a switch from our own genre. With less than a dozen books to go and all the earlier books still in print, I’m hoping she’ll entice a few more of you out there to read her adventures. This book is also a great introduction to Modesty and Willie and for whom retirement just means trouble. If you wonder what is missing from newspaper strips today, then read the strip that set the highest (evening) standard.
(pub: Titan Books. 104 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £11.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $23.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-85768-694-7)
check out websites: www.titanbooks.com