Modesty Blaise (comic strip)
"The most complex, sophisticated, skilled and intelligent of all action heroines."
—Jennifer K. Stuller, author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology
Long-running (May 13, 1963-April 11, 2001) newspaper adventure serial created and written by Peter O'Donnell (1920-2010).
Modesty Blaise is an orphan with a Dark and Troubled Past who was head of a criminal syndicate before she was 20, and retired wealthy before she was 30. Willie Garvin is a multi-talented Cockney former street kid who became Modesty's trusted right-hand man and followed her into wealthy retirement. Retirement was boring, so now They Fight Crime.
(Only crime that's unusual enough to attract their interest, though -- or nasty or personal enough to attract their anger.)
Occasional attempts to adapt the series to film or television have ended badly. The 1966 film directed by Joseph Losey is particularly notorious. More successful was a sequence of novels and short story collections, all written by O'Donnell.
The comic strip had an open And the Adventure Continues... type ending.
- Accidental Kidnapping: Willie is kidnapped in "Milord" when he is mistaken for Guido Biganzoli.
- Action Dress Rip: Modesty's skirts are designed to tear away, leaving her legs free for action.
- Action Girl
- Affectionate Nickname: To Willie, Modesty is always "Princess." It's a sign of respect as well as affection.
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: "Samantha and the Cherub"
- And the Adventure Continues...
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Count Orlando Smythe in "The Balloonatic"
- As the Good Book Says...: Willie can supply a quotation from the Book of Psalms to fit any situation. He once spent a year in an Indian prison with nothing to read except a psalter and so he has all of the psalms memorised.
- Author Existence Failure: The strip's first artist, Jim Holdaway, died suddenly in 1970.
- Bad Habits: 'Father' Lamont in "Milord", who poses as a priest in order to abduct girls for a porn and snuff film ring.
- Baker Street Regular: Samantha 'Sam' Brown and her gang.
- Bandito: El Toro and his bandit gang from "A Few Flowers for the Colonel"
- Bash Brothers
- Berserk Button: Go ahead and hurt Modesty if you don't mind having Willie Garvin rip you to pieces. The reverse also applies.
- Black Bra and Panties
- The Bluebeard: "The Bluebeard Affair"
- Bond Villain Stupidity: All the time. They often have good reason to, though; they know that if they kill Modesty, Willie will hunt them down and kill them (or vice versa). Because of this, villains tend to want to kill them both at the same time.
- The Caper
- Chained to a Railway: In "Sweet Caroline", one of the attention getting murders committed by Sweet Caroline is to drug a famous actress and tie her to a railway track like a heroine from an old-time melodrama.
- Cold War
- Comic Book Fantasy Casting: Willie's appearance is based on Michael Caine.
- Comic Book Time
- The Con
- Con Man: Idaho George
- Cowboy Episode: "Butch Cassidy Rides Again"
- Criminal Amnesiac: Modesty in "The Puppet Master"; notably, it wasn't a case of Easy Amnesia, but involved sustained effort on the part of the title character, a bent psychotherapist, both to suppress her real memories and to implant new false ones.
- Deadly Game: "Those About to Die"
- Diabolical Mastermind: Gabriel
- Disability Superpower: Recurring character Dinah Collier is blind and psychic.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Most notably with the use of The Nailer, a trick in which Modesty enters the scene of battle topless, distracting the male thugs for a few seconds, which are often enough for she and Willie to get the upper hand. Although developed for the novels, the Nailer was eventually introduced into the comic strip, too.
- The Ditz: Aniela
- Double Standard: Averted; both protagonists routinely take lovers. Willie more than Modesty, admitted. By the last arcs in the strip, Modesty has several old flames who she routinely cycles between, with all parties involved aware of the others. Willie, on the other hand, has a lot of flings and one-night stands, with Maude Tiller (and in the book version, Lady Janet Gillam) as the recurring love interest.
- Even Evil Has Standards: While she was running her crime syndicate, Modesty refused to deal in drugs. Or prostitution. Or anything that would require killing innocent people or police. Or even killing other criminals, except in self-defense or defense of another. Although they did a rather large amount of killing re: that last.
- Evil Counterpart: Bianca
- Evil Knockoff: "The Double Agent"
- Evil Poacher:
- The dolphin hunter Gaspar in "Dossier on Pluto".
- The poachers in "Million Dollar Game".
- Faked Kidnapping: In "Milord", journalist Guido Biganzoli plans to fake his own kidnapping in order to get a big story that will get him transferred back to Italy. However, things do not go according to plan and it turns into an Accidental Kidnapping of Willie Garvin.
- Fan Service: There are shots of Modesty changing clothes, bathing, or otherwise undressed in most of the serials, especially after Romero started doing the art. Willie gets quite a few Shirtless Scenes as well.
- Fat and Skinny: The Boote brothers in "The Wicked Gnomes"
- Flopsy: One of Modesty's skills; in one story, when the villain has given her a tight deadline in which to make an impossible choice, she buys time by letting herself be seen getting hit by a car on her way to give her answer and carted off to hospital.
- Forced Prize Fight: "Those About to Die"
- Funetik Aksent: Willie Garvin's Cockney. Occasionally inverted to indicate when Willie is speaking in another accent as part of a disguise.
- Fur Bikini: "Eve and Adam"
- Genius Ditz: Dr Giles Pennyfeather - also a Dojikko
- Gladiator Games: "Those About to Die"
- Gladiator Revolt: "Those About to Die"
- A Handful for an Eye: One of the Murder, Inc. members tries it on Modesty in "Sweet Caroline". However, Modesty is prepared for the trick and blocks the attack.
- Heroic Neutral
- Hollywood Silencer: Just about every time somebody shows up in the comic strip with a silenced handgun, it's a revolver. Attaching a silencer to a revolver doesn't do much.
- Hook Hand: Gaspar in "Dossier on Pluto"
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Killing Ground"
- I Have Your Wife: In "Samantha and the Cherub", Lucy Kolin, the wife of Soviet musician who defected to the West, is kidnapped. Her husband is told to renounce his defection and return to the USSR if he ever wants to see her again.
- Impossible Mission [context?]
- Improvised Weapon: At least Once an Episode
- Ironic Nickname: Her mentor started calling her "Modesty" as a joke.
- Knife Nut: Willie Garvin
- Knife-Throwing Act: Willie Garvin occasionally goes and does one of these at a circus somewhere when he feels like a holiday; Modesty sometimes plays the target's role.
- Lady of War: Modesty
- Latex Perfection: In "Butch Cassidy Rides Again", the gang uses latex masks to make themselves appear identical to the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang.
- Lock and Load Montage
- Milkman Conspiracy: The secretary/spies in "The Head Girls"
- More Expendable Than You: Whenever a caper requires Modesty to put her life on the line, Willie asks if he can't do it instead.
- Murder, Inc.: Salamander Four, amongst others
- New Old Flame: Many stories start with the return of an ex-lover of either Modesty or Willie.
- New Old West: "Butch Cassidy Rides Again"
- Open-Heart Dentistry:
- In "Million Dollar Game", a vet is shot in the thigh in a position he cannot reach. He talks Modesty through the procedure for removing the bullet.
- In "Dossier on Pluto" another vet, via telephone, has Modesty relay instructions to a scientist on how to remove a bullet from a dolphin.
- Percussive Prevention: In "Milord", Willie knocks Modesty out so cannot interfere with a group of women taking their revenge on the men who raped and tortured them.
- Pocket Protector: In "The Vampire of Malvescu", Willy is saved when a bullet fired at him hit the tin mug he was holding.
- Platonic Life Partners: Repeatedly referenced, the "beyond love" relationship between Willie and Modesty is a cornerstone of the series.
- Red Scare
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: "Take-Over"
- Scarecrow Solution: Modesty stages a fake alien visitation in "The Moonman".
- Scooby-Doo Hoax: "The Vampire of Malvescu" and several other stories involving "aliens".
- Show Some Leg: at least Once an Episode and not confined to Modesty, either.
- Silver Bullet: The villagers use one to slay what they think is the vampire in "The Vampire of Malvescu".
- Skinny Dipping: A frequent excuse to show Modesty naked.
- Snuff Film: "Milord"
- Those Two Bad Guys: The Boote brothers in "The Wicked Gnomes"
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty
- Unmoving Pattern: One of the few weak points in Jim Holdaway's art.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee
- Unwanted Rescue: In "The Vanishing Dollybirds", Modesty and Willy set out to break a white slavery ring. However, at the end, it turns out that the girl they originally set out to rescue is perfectly happy as a member of the sheik's harem. Unfortunately they don't learn this until several people - including the woman's sister - are killed.
- The Vicar: The Reverend Harold Bryant in "The Wicked Gnomes".
- Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him: A fourth-wall-friendly version in "The Stone Age Caper": Modesty gets captured by the villain, and his adviser, who's crossed her path before, advises him to have her killed as quickly and straightforwardly as possible. The villain of course decides to do something more elaborate and entertaining, giving her time to escape.
- Modesty is often asked this when she uses non-lethal methods to defeat enemies, such as in the story "Idaho George". She usually replies that she didn't find it necessary (or in the case of "Idaho George" that it felt better to beat the tar out of the men who beat her up and tried to drown her rather than just shoot them). There are also several occasions in which Willie and Modesty criticize each other for choosing not to use deadly force when not killing was seen as the riskier option.
- Western Terrorists: "The Vampire of Malvescu" featured Europe's Fist, a terrorist group dedicated to striking back by committing an retaliatory act of terrorism for every act of Middle Eastern terrorism committed against Europe.
- William Telling: Part of Willie's Knife-Throwing Act and often pulled by Willie against bad guys.
- Wretched Hive: Calia, the 'Republic of Desperados', in "The Jericho Caper"
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In "The Head Girls", Gabriel kills Southern when the latter stops being of use to him. According to Willie, this is not the first time Gabriel has made use of this trope.
Adaptations with their own trope pages include:
Other adaptations include examples of:
- Mythology Gag: Early in My Name is Modesty there is an encounter between some soldiers and the orphan refugee who will grow up to become Modesty Blaise. This is not a pre-existing part of Modesty Blaise's backstory, but is based on an incident from Peter O'Donnell's own life that fed into his creation of the character.
- Parallel Porn Titles: or rather Parallel Burlesque Titles, with "Immodesty Blaize".