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Modesty Blaise: Live Bait by Peter O'Donnell and Enric Badia Romero

01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Modesty Blaise: Live Bait in the USA - or Buy Modesty Blaise: Live Bait in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 104 page graphic novel. Price: GBP 11.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $22.95 (CAN) . ISBN: 978-0-85768-668-8).

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It’s that time of year again. If you’re feeling blue than it’s time for some medication in the form of the latest reprint of ‘Modesty Blaise’ adventures. By my reckoning, ten more books and you should own the complete collection. This is also some of the finest work I’ve seen by artist Romero and all work from the late 1980s. Then again, with writer Peter O’Donnell at the helm, you do have great work to begin with.

Modesty Blaise historian Lawrence Blackmore gets you into the mood by examining the circus connection to the pair of them and how Willie Garvin is a sleeping partner with one Big Top.

From there, we go into the first of three stories, ‘Samantha And The Cherub’. A story of two dissociated halves that intersect into trouble. Willie Garvin runs a Friday night school teaching youngsters in London’s East End martial arts. There is only one girl there, Samantha or Sam, who is clearly modelled as a London version of the Princess herself with some cracking lines. Meanwhile, Modesty herself has gone to a piano concerto by Gerald Tarrant’s grandson, Stefan Kolin, whose wife, Lucy, is helping out at an East End as a volunteer refreshments lady. No need to tell you where. She doesn’t exactly approve of Willie teaching kids judo but is grateful when she is rescued from a band of Hell’s Angels, led by the Cherub of the title, by Willie Garvin. As they get away, Willie is caught off guard by some fake policemen and Lucy Kollin is kidnapped. A mercenary organisation called Contrax has been hired to force Stefan Kolin to return to his original country. It is up to Modesty and Willie to discover where they are in London and rescue Lucy but they need some help in keeping track of the kidnappers, using the only clue they have and seek out Sam. It turns out that her brother Tyrone is also the Cherub from the Hell’s Angels gang and Sam quickly puts him in his place and gets their co-operation in keeping track of their target. From then on, well…read for yourself.

The character interplay is fascinating with a lot of dry humour to tide over the dangers that arise. Sam is a treat and nearly as reckless as the Princess but without the experience.
The second story, ‘Milord’, has Modesty crashlanded in South America and helped out by some Inca villagers repairing her aeroplane. She comes across a scam run by a priest that is really abducting young women and wins out by a bluff when her gun jams. Later, in San Felipe, Modesty runs into or should I say he runs into her, journalist Guido Biganzoli, who fallen into his editor’s bad graces has been exiled there. He wants Modesty to join his as hostages so he can write a decent story to get back in his editor’s good graces. Modesty declines and unwittingly, Willie Garvin and Guido’s girl-friend, Aniela, walk into the prepared ‘trap’. Unfortunately, this trap is sprung a second time when the priest and his henchmen kidnap off the ‘kidnappers’ and lands the pair of them on the cinema sets of Milord, whose speciality is snuff movies.

Willie gives a false name and acts cowardly, perfectly aware that he is going to become a victim himself. Modesty and Guido discover the connections from the remaining ‘kidnappers’ and trek there. Although imprisoned for the night, Willie gets out to do a survey of the place and its alarm system and is joined by Modesty who rig a trap.

The ending of this story is of this story is one of the most extreme but I doubt if anyone would object to the justice that is carried out. This is a superb story and Guido’s banter balances out the message in this story.

Kidnap seems to be the theme in these three stories. With ‘Live Bait’, Modesty and Willie are in Venice to stay with Alan and Rosina Gurney and their daughter, Francesca. Rosina had worked briefly for the pre-Garvin Network and had been kidnapped by Malik who ran a rival gang. Rosina is rescued and Malik serves time in prison and was recently released.

Francesca is kidnapped and Malik wants half a million dollars and Modesty to deliver it, obviously planning to here her killed. Alan Gurney isn’t very happy about Modesty insisting that they don’t pay but she hatches a plan to find and rescue the girl. One problem. Willie is hit by a car and has broken his legs. Well, maybe. Things are never quite what they seem in a Peter O’Donnell story and the second part is a neat turn to have Malik turn on his own gang, suspecting one of them to have stolen the money.

Despite the common hostage theme, O’Donnell has different solutions for each so they are still refreshingly different. The villains are a bit more down-to-earth nasties than heavy in being memorable characters but serve their purpose.

‘Modesty Blaise’ is a not so secret pleasure for Science Fiction fans who like a good story and strong characters and if you’ve never come across her before, it’s worth getting hooked with this volume and then seeking out the rest. If only current day newspaper strips were as good as this.

GF Willmetts

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