(Originally written for another site, I thought I would post it here, too. Unaltered, except for the obligatory lyrics sprinkled within.)

I have wanted to write this for a while, a retrospective on Modesty Blaise. I wanted to write it when the only man to ever tell her stories passed away. It wasn’t easy, as Modesty Blaise means so much to me. And that is hard to articulate, to get across what I want to say.

When you were young
and on your own
How did it feel
to be alone?
I was always thinking
of games that I was playing.
Trying to make
the best of my time.

On the outside, people of a given age might remember the comic strip, that ran for years in the London Evening Standard, they might remember an awful film adaptation decades ago, they might even know the more recent, low-budget not-quite-awful film. They might even be aware there were novels, too. All of that is true, but none of it comes close to what Modesty Blaise was. Still is. And will always be to me.

I’ll start with the three-panel , black and white, comic strip, that started way before I was born. (I won’t fill in dates here, I am writing this in one sitting, without references to anything other than my heart and soul, my memory, impressions and feelings.) Those have been collected in TPB form, and they are still releasing them. I still buy them. There are decades to collate. PoD (as the author is affectionately known in the MB circles, of which I am in several) wrote them all, although he went through several artists, and everyone has their favourites. I am not going to go in to that, rather stick to the stories.

But only love
can break your heart
Try to be sure
right from the start
Yes only love
can break your heart
What if your world
should fall apart?

The stories are a whole. The comic strip came first, but in the end augment the novels, and you get the same characters acting in the same way, no disconnect, this is part of the story of their lives. I say their, as Modesty is more than herself, she has her partner. And not in any sexual way, it transcends that. But I am jumping in faster than I wanted, I’ll step back. The comic strip came first, and there are a series of (I think…without checking) eleven novels.

I recommend the novels first. Or the eponymous novel first, to get a flavour of what they are. But what are they, and why do they mean something to me? Sure, I first read the novels when I took them from my mother’s bookshelves as a child. Sure, I read the comic. But I did that for lots of books, what makes the MB books/comics so special?

I have a friend
I’ve never seen
He hides his head
inside a dream
Someone should call him
and see if he can come out.
Try to lose
the down that he’s found.

Trite to say, but it is the characters. You fall in love with them. You realise they are deep, complex and fantastically rendered. Really, it is the story of Modesty, ex-crime overlord, who ran a criminal empire, then retired, and Willie, her trusted sidekick, more than sidekick, ex-con, fighter, planner, and handyman. Even those definitions aren’t enough, and I have stopped myself spinning outwards to give examples of their traits. Like the first time Modesty sent Willie on a job, through to his holidays and creation of her necklace, the laughter between them. But they were deeper than lovers, and were never lovers, each completing the other in a more connected way.

More on the stories, then. Contemporary to Fleming’s James Bond, with spies and plots, scrapes and fights, but not the dark edge Commander Bond, nor the incompetence. People see these books, and comics, as fluff, pop culture spy novels, pre-cursor to Lara Croft. But oh how many points that misses. These are easy read, they are pacy, they are fun. They are moral, they are consistent, they are everything.

But only love
can break your heart
Try to be sure
right from the start
Yes only love
can break your heart
What if your world
should fall apart?

It crosses my mind to mention the short story collection, Cobra Trap, and that there are those who won’t read the story named after the book. I have, and it is heartbreaking, but more, it is transcendent too. And if you have been on the journey with Willie and Modesty, Sir Tarrant, Gabriel, Willie’s girlfriends, the locations, the inventions, the traps, the close calls, the dismay, the results, it does break your heart. It really does. But not in the way you might think.

Again, similar to the James Bond books (never seen the films, but I understand they are nothing like the books) there is a progression in character development, but it is different. Does every single action heroine owe her a debt? Hell yes. But even back then, she was never clich├ęd, never some addendum to some male. Feminist? Not sure, but she was written well, never a caricature of a busty girl in tight catsuits kicking her way through villains. She was a lady, a friend, clever, broken, tough. She was human, but beyond all that as well.

I have a friend
I’ve never seen
He hides his head
inside a dream
Yes, only love
can break your heart
Yes, only love
can break your heart

I haven’t even touched the surface. The unspoken bonds between Willie and Modesty, played out to a backdrop of kidnaps, heists, international travel, with the British Government feeding them jobs, but in no way is she the puppet. There is violence, but the books are never gratuitous. Never. Everyone I have ever tried to describe them too has looked at me like I have lost my mind, as this is very far out from my normal run of reading. Everyone I have ever lent a book to has also ended up loving them.

And everyone loves them for different reasons. Role models, maybe, adventures, for sure, entertainment, oh yes. Why people sneer at them I will never know. The are equal to the Bond novels, but they aren’t comparable. They are better than most other action genre books I have read, although to be fair I haven’t read many in the past two decades. They are very personal books, which I find strange, given their apparent throwaway nature. I spent my time pouring over obscure and what can sometimes, to others, seem bizarre and difficult tomes. This is not an antidote to those. Nothing of the kind, although I can see why it could be put like that. These mean something to me, and again, even after struggling to say it, I still can’t say it the way I want.

I have always loved Modesty Blaise. And I always will.

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