Review by Frank Plowright
This is the 28th and final volume of Titan’s Modesty Blaise reprint series, and like most of the others it features three stories by Peter O’Donnell, impeccably drawn by Enric Badia Romero.
These are the last stories O’Donnell wrote, and there are a few signs of diminishing finesse as he approached eighty when writing the first, and had passed that landmark by the last. An example occurs over the opening strips of ‘The Last Aristocrat’, where even allowing for the requirement that a daily newspaper strip generates suspense, O’Donnell spending the first eight strips teasing about a threat being mentioned is protracted. The introduction of Guido the Jinx to announce his wedding is forced, as is it being held in the vicinity of where an arms dealer named Granny Smythe is headquartered. The real plot kicks in halfway through, after which this is classic Modesty with danger, traps and intrigue. It’s also interesting to note that for all the furore Badia’s near naked Modesty caused in 1971 (see The Puppet Master) times had moved on by 1999.
Romero’s not just a master when it comes to drawing attractive women. His talent for creating distinctive looking, but more ordinary people is seen over the first few strips of the title story. This is better, captivating from a beginning of a mysterious huntsman extending an invitation to Modesty and Willie to join an elite hunting group in an inhospitable location. He’s not one to take no for an answer, and while some readers may be a step ahead of O’Donnell’s revelation of what is to be hunted, the tension remains high throughout what seems a perfect trap. There’s an extended preparation scene before the action starts, but via Modesty and Willie Garvin’s conversation it’s fascinating.
‘The Zombie’ mixes a greedy computer scientist, and a new drugs operation muscling into the British criminal underworld, killing gangsters who won’t work with them, and it’s long been established that Modesty reserves a special hatred for drug dealers. Each story generally offers something visually unusual to offset the conversations rolling out the plot, and here Romero supplies a vintage car for the annual London to Brighton car rally. The zombie of the title is an emotionally withdrawn woman trained from childhood, and O’Donnell sets up the plot to have spend most of her time in the company of man known to be able to charm any woman. If the computer background is improbable it only plays a small part, there’s a smart and funny solution to a considerable problem and the usual charm to the characters.
While none of The Killing Game matches the best of Modesty’s outings, by any other measurement they’re still three very entertaining crime dramas. O’Donnell and his amazing artistic collaborators created one of the greatest British newspaper strips, and there’s a lot of people grateful to Titan for gathering almost the entire series.
There is one further O’Donnell and Romero collaboration not included in these books, and now quite rare. Romero adapted the short text story ‘The Dark Angels’ himself, and it was circulated in Europe, but never published in the UK.