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Modesty Blaise: The Scarlet Maiden by Peter O'Donnell and Neville Colvin

01/11/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Modesty Blaise: The Scarlet Maiden in the USA - or Buy Modesty Blaise: The Scarlet Maiden in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 216 page hardback graphic novel. Price: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84856-342-1.

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'The Scarlet Maiden' is the last helping of 'Modesty Blaise' for the year and the sixteenth book so far and just over half-way through the stories.

Artist Neville Colvin has settled into the role and does wonders with the title story set in the Caribbean and the search for pirate treasure. Indeed, the first week was more 17th century swashbuckling than modern day which must have confused the 'Evening Standard' readers. Writer Peter O'Donnell explains in the introduction that the story was originally started for the 'Sunday Express' but when it got cancelled, Colvin suggested moving it over. The search for treasure seems to cloud people's judgements. When Modesty and Willie Garvin find the skeleton underwater, they decide to leave old bones where they are. Other people watching who've been looking for the treasure think they've found it, later take them at gun-point, much to their amusement because they are so inept and play along. Across the bay, an invalid old man whose ancestor was the pirate has his butler hire the local hood kingpin to stop them rather naively so the treasure stays undisturbed. It is then up to Modesty and Willie to save everyone worth saving.

This is a wonderful skit, more so as Modesty and Willie play along with the scenario than reveal their true colours. O'Donnell is very skilful in setting up things that he can draw upon later for different reasons. Colvin also has Pinkie, one of the hoods looking like a young Richard Attenborough from the film 'Brighton Rock'. When you read this story, you'll wonder why we don't get newspaper strips like this any more. An absolute scream.

'The Moonman', in comparison, is more in line with being a traditional espionage plot. Sir Gerald Tarrant wants a list of Balkan agents checked against a list of old Network operatives. Modesty is posing for Alex Varna, a Hungarian artist who, with his young daughter, fled the country. What no one knows is that he's a sleeper agent who finds himself awoken against his wishes and put under the control of Herbert Duck aka The Moonman, an eccentric celebrity with access to lots of radio equipment and apparent UFO nut for his own cover. To get Varna to co-operate and access Modesy's penthouse safe, his daughter is abducted from Willie Garvin who was looking after her. Things get unspun and its Modesty and Willie to the rescue.

If anything, this is a traditional Modesty Blaise story with eccentric characters but considering that they haven't been involved in Gerald Tarrant's world for a number of stories, it's a good reminder of their background. O'Donnell is a master of such stories that will keep you reading from panel to panel. Trying to place Colvin's visuals this time is a lot tougher but I would hazard a guess that twelve year-old Julie Varna looks like a young Hayley Mills.

The third story, 'A Few Flowers For The Colonel', is a reminder that if Modesty Blaise owes you a favour then she'll move heaven and earth, with the willing help of Willie Garvin, to do it. In this case, years ago in the Network, taxi driver Fernando de Larra stopped a man shooting her in an ambush. Now, a message comes from Venezuela that the badly wounded Fernando needs her help to rescue his daughter, who is a nun and teaches in an orphanage in revolution-torn Palmadora, from El Toro and his bandit gang that shot him. Along the way, they meet retired engineer and sexist Colonel Rodney Spooner who is put in his place by Modesty after saying he should take charge. The story essentially then becomes a rescue and chase with some disturbing consequences that reveals Modesty's more, shall we say, lady-like qualities without giving the plot away.

There's also a continuation showing the inserts used in the Scottish newspaper 'Evening Citizen' to keep the stories in sync with the 'Evening Standard' by Lawrence Blackmore which is great for completests.

If you haven't discovered Modesty Blaise by now, where have you been? If you need a break from our genre, Peter O'Donnell's archetypal character has been a favoured choice for years and it's great to see them reach the half-way point. Have a look at this book and see the attraction.

GF Willmetts[

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