Modesty Blaise: The Killing Distance


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-712-0

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations as top-flight super-criminals before retiring young, rich and healthy. With their honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from a career where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies – a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out they were slowly dying of boredom in England. The wily old bird offered them a chance to have fun, get back into harness and do a bit of good in the world. They jumped at his offer and have been cleaning up the world in their own unique way ever since …

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a perpetual storm of tense suspense and inspirational action for nearly forty years…

The inseparable associates first appeared in The Evening Standard on May 13th 1963 and over the decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown) produced a timeless treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero (and occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin and Pat Wright) assumed the art reins, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has also starred in 13 prose novels and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an American graphic novel and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

The tales are a broad blend of hip adventuring lifestyle and cool capers combining espionage, crime, intrigue and even – now and again – plausibly intriguing sci fi and supernaturally tinged horror genre fare, with ever-competent Modesty and Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning black & white – and quite right too – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulous serial re-presentations of the ultimate strip trouble-shooters resume here with O’Donnell & Romero offering another chilling trio of tales spanning November 1992 to February 1994, each prefaced with informative prose introductions from devotee, publisher, strip historian and Mathematics Professor Rick Norwood.

The rollicking romps begin with non-stop thrill-ride ‘Guido the Jinx’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from February 10th to July 5th 1994) as Blaise and Garvin take a well-deserved vacation tracing the route of the historical Silk Road, only to have their peace and contemplation disrupted by pompous yet lovable old self-promoter Guido Biganzoli.

The legend in his own mind is now working as promoter for a movie being shot in the lonely wastes but the production has hit a snag: the male and female stuntmen are unable to work on the big-money shot…

Against their better judgement Modesty and Willie tackle the terrible “waterfall drop” but naturally it goes terribly wrong and they are carried away and deposited under a mountain…

Trouble always finds the dynamic duo and whilst extricating themselves from their watery tomb they discover Soviet operative and former associate Colonel Greb gravely wounded and holed up in a cave.

As they minister to him a horrific story unfolds: the old soldier was guarding a secret installation warehousing uranium when a gang of mercenaries swooped in and wiped out the garrison. Ruthless bandit Kung-Li plans to fly out the priceless contraband and sell it to who knows how many terrorist groups, or even make himself a nuclear power…

Resolved to stop the merciless gang with nothing more than hand-made stone-age weapons, Modesty and Willie’s arsenal of destruction gets an unexpected and unlikely boost when bad penny Guido suddenly turns up once again…

After that phenomenal and bloody exploit the canny couple are called upon to save the life of Sir Gerald Tarrant from one of the world’s richest and most reclusive men in ‘The Killing Distance’ (July 6th – November 30th 1994) which begins as Charles B. Delaney starts issuing orders from his impregnable fortress in the Atlas Mountains. Once upon a time he was KGB chief Ivan Brodsky but due to Tarrant’s undercover endeavours at the height of the Cold War lost everything and turned CIA informant.

Sadly the “Red Admiral” used Uncle Sam’s bottomless pockets to kickstart a huge private fortune and is now ready to use it all to kill the man who beat him in the “Great Game”…

When the first assassination attempt fails, Willie and Modesty rush to Tarrant’s hospital bedside and fill in the gaps of Tarrant’s tale with details from their own dealings with Delaney during the period when they seamlessly ran their crime-combine The Network.

Confronted with the grim facts, the old warhorse all but gives up the ghost, forbidding his friends to further endanger themselves, but as usual he has underestimated the depth of feeling and sense of gratitude they feel for him.

Immediately Modesty begins taking apart Delaney’s organisation and imperiously foiling his follow-up attempts on Sir Gerald and herself. Before long the frustrated egomaniac is pushed into making a colossal mistake, issuing a direct challenge to the formidable female.

He will end his attempts on the British agent’s life if she can – within thirty days – break into his unassailable citadel and get within arm’s length of him…

What happens when Willie and Modesty cunningly circumvent all his guards, resources and traps and she gets within the disputed “killing distance” is something the outraged oligarch could never have imagined…

The catalogue of compelling capers concludes with ‘The Aristo’ (December 1st 1994 to May 3rd 1995) wherein the peril-pursuing partners visit old friends in Hong Kong and barely survive an assassination attempt by old enemy Wu Smith

Adrift in a raft on the South China Sea they are picked up by freighter captain Miguel Camacho, currently transporting a cargo of electronics and his beloved, heavily pregnant wife Joaquina to Singapore.

Welcomed and cosseted, Modesty and Willie can’t help but worry when they hear of a modern-day pirate – a supposed British lord in his heavily armed vessel The Etonian – currently terrorising shipping in the area. After all, trouble has a tendency to find them wherever they end up…

Especially appalling are the stories of what The Aristo does with any women he takes from his nautical conquests, so when the brigand inevitably surfaces Willie and Modesty enact the most desperate gamble of their long and vivid careers with Jo and her imminent unborn the invaluable bait.

Moreover the subsequent punishments the crusading couple inflict on the vile sea-reavers are brutal and most assuredly final…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Unforgettable excitement-packed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, the stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.

Modesty Blaise © 2014 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.