Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master

Modesty Blaise: The Puppet Master
Modesty Blaise The Puppet Master review
  • UK publisher / ISBN: Titan Books - 1-840238-67-4
  • Release date: 2006
  • UPC: 9781840238679
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

The opening strip of this collection is infamous as the first in which Modesty Blaise appeared topless with no coy strips of fabric or shadows hiding her nakedness. It caused quite the furore at the time, including the cartoon editor at the Evening Standard, in which Modesty Blaise appeared, receiving a dressing down from the overall editor. In 1971 this was considered going too far, although surely the amount of publicity generated was more than compensation.

This notoriety of ‘The Stone Age Caper’ is a shame as it distracts from what’s a cracking story. Modesty and Willie Garvin are in Australia where an old villainous acquaintance, Mr Wu Smith, enquires if she’s arrived to investigate his plans, in which she has no intention of interfering. Chance, though, leads her to a ghost town near a mine, and Willie meeting an old Aborginal acquaintance. Running in parallel with the criminal activities is the personal growth of David Collins, well scripted and later integral. Given the nationalities of the people involved, under other hands this might have been an embarrassing reprint in the 21st century, but there’s not a hint of the colonial attitude still very prominent in early 1970s Britain. O’Donnell’s sensibilities are sympathetic and Modesty’s butler may be Chinese, but he’s portrayed and treated with dignity.

The title story deals with hypnosis, revenge and manipulation. Early in her career Modesty dealt with a white slaver who’d not be warned off his activities by abducting him and selling him into slavery. His revenge plans have had plenty of time to fester, and his selected method is to abduct her and re-program her personality. As Willie wasn’t with her when this occurs, he tours Europe in the company of novice agent Maude Tiller, refusing to believe Modesty has died by driving her car off a cliff road. O’Donnell is as creative as ever with his action set-pieces.

Every now and again there’s a collection where Titan have been unable to collate reasonable copies of every strip required, and this is one, with the third strip ‘With Love from Rufus’ affected by both faded and muddied strips. It’s a small price to pay for the availability of both this and the remainder of the work. O’Donnell begins with an intriguing mystery. Someone has not only managed to circumvent the security to break into Modesty’s house, but her safe also, in which flowers are left with the title imprinted on a note. That night, standing in for Garvin, she meets a young man named Rufus. Hmmm.

Artist Enric Badia Romero is again stunning, conveying whatever locale is required seemingly without effort, and always convincingly.

This is a top notch collection of action stories, excellently drawn, intriguingly plotted and showcasing a variety of approach. While pretty well any Modesty Blaise collection is worth looking at, this is a prime sampler.