Comic Strip: Modesty Blaise
"The most complex, sophisticated, skilled and intelligent of all action heroines."
— Jennifer K. Stuller, author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology
Long-running (May 13, 1963-April 11, 2001) newspaper adventure serial created and written by Peter O'Donnell (1920-2010).
Modesty Blaise is an orphan with a Dark and Troubled Past
who was head of a criminal syndicate before she was 20, and retired wealthy before she was 30. Willie Garvin is a multi-talented Cockney former street kid
who became Modesty's trusted right-hand man and followed her into wealthy retirement. Retirement was boring, so now They Fight Crime
(Only crime that's unusual enough to attract their interest, though — or nasty or personal enough to attract their anger.)
Occasional attempts to adapt the series to film or television have ended badly. The 1966 film directed by Joseph Losey
is particularly notorious. More successful was a sequence of novels and short story collections
, all written by O'Donnell.
The comic strip had an open And the Adventure Continues
The comic strip includes examples of:
- Accidental Kidnapping: Willie is kidnapped in "Milord" when he is mistaken for Guido Biganzoli.
- Action Dress Rip: Modesty's skirts are designed to tear away, leaving her legs free for action.
- Action Girl: As her opponents often discovered, Modesty is better in hand-to-hand combat than most men.
- Affectionate Nickname: To Willie, Modesty is always "Princess." It's a sign of respect as well as affection.
- All Bikers Are Hells Angels: "Samantha and the Cherub"
- And the Adventure Continues: The comic ends with Modesty and Willie going off to find a buried treasure and donate it to charity.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Count Orlando Smythe in "The Balloonatic"
- As the Good Book Says: Willie can supply a quotation from the Book of Psalms to fit any situation. He once spent a year in an Indian prison with nothing to read except a psalter and so he has all of the psalms memorised.
- As You Know: An occasional recurring issue, with characters using bits of criminal or spycraft jargon and then explaining them to colleagues who presumably know the jargon as well as they do. The series itself opens with a scene where Tarrant and Fraser deliver a massive infodump about Modesty's past to Modesty herself, but at least they have the excuse that what they're really telling her, which she didn't know, is how much they know that she knows.
- Bad Habits:
- In "La Machine", the ringleaders of the eponymous criminal organisation are posing as monks and operating out of a monastery.
- 'Father' Lamont in "Milord", who poses as a priest in order to abduct girls for a porn and snuff film ring.
- In "The Grim Joker", the murderous Goodchild brothers masquerade as a pair of vicars.
- Baker Street Regular: Samantha 'Sam' Brown and her gang.
- Bandito: El Toro and his bandit gang from "A Few Flowers for the Colonel"
- "Bang!" Flag Gun: In "The Grim Joker", the Grim Joker trio plan to leave Willie hanging from his pub sign dressed as a clown holding a bang-flag gun that reads "Ho Ho Ho".
- Bash Brothers: Modesty and Willie are best friends and also work together as a well-meshed fighting team.
- Berserk Button:
- Go ahead and hurt Modesty if you don't mind having Willie Garvin rip you to pieces. The reverse also applies.
- Modesty doesn't much care for slave traders, but she really hates anybody who deals in heroin. In "Children of Lucifer," Guido actually has to talk her into getting involved in a caper that involves a couple of drug runners potentially getting murdered, in the basis that she'd as soon kill those drug runners herself.
- The Bluebeard: Baron Rath in "The Bluebeard Affair". He provides for himself and his two homicidal adult daughters by wooing wealthy ladies and then doing away with them.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: All the time. They often have good reason to, though; they know that if they kill Modesty, Willie will hunt them down and kill them (or vice versa). Because of this, villains tend to want to kill them both at the same time.
- Calling Card: In "The Grim Joker", the murderous trio leave the words "Ho Ho Ho" on all of their victims.
- Chained to a Railway: In "Sweet Caroline", one of the attention getting murders committed by Sweet Caroline is to drug a famous actress and tie her to a railway track like a heroine from an old-time melodrama.
- Clipboard of Authority: Modesty uses what Willie calls the 'universal passport' in "Garvin's Travels" to infiltrate a spy ring hiding in a resort. She adds to the effect by asking the first employee to see her if he's new; he chalks it up to the place being so large.
- Comic Book Fantasy Casting: Willie's appearance is based on Michael Caine.
- Comic-Book Time: The series ran for nearly forty years without any visible aging by the leads. Sir Gerald, already a distinguished gentleman of advanced years in the strip's first installment, is still alive and actively employed to the end.
- Complexity Addiction: In "The Stone Age Caper", Modesty gets captured by the villain, and his adviser, who's crossed her path before, advises him to have her killed as quickly and straightforwardly as possible. The villain of course decides to do something more elaborate and entertaining, giving her time to escape.
- The Con: Multiple examples. "Idaho George" is about Modesty having save a conman friend of hers from the consequences of someone believeing his con.
- Con Man: Idaho George
- Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story: The villain of the first story arc is posing as a priest, supposedly the only survivor of a monastery that was wiped out during a conflict in Algeria.
- Covert Distress Code: If Modesty or Willy insert the name 'Jacqueline' into a conversation, the other knows that they are under duress and not able to speak freely.
- Criminal Amnesiac:
- Modesty in "The Puppet Master"; notably, it isn't a case of Easy Amnesia, but involves sustained effort on the part of the title character, a bent psychotherapist, both to suppress her real memories and to implant new false ones.
- In "A Present for the Princess", Willie loses his memory after he hits his head on a rock in a river. An old enemy convinces him that he is a hitman for his organisation.
- Double Standard: Averted; both protagonists routinely take lovers. Willie more than Modesty, admitted. By the last arcs in the strip, Modesty has several old flames who she routinely cycles between, with all parties involved aware of the others. Willie, on the other hand, has a lot of flings and one-night stands, with Maude Tiller (and in the book version, Lady Janet Gillam) as the recurring love interest.
- Easy Amnesia: In "A Present for the Princess", Willie loses his memory after hitting his head on a rock in the river, although he retains all of his skills. This leads to a Criminal Amnesiac situation.
- Even Evil Has Standards: While she was running her crime syndicate, Modesty refused to deal in drugs. Or prostitution. Or anything that would require killing innocent people or police. Or even killing other criminals, except in self-defense or defense of another. Although they did a rather large amount of killing re: that last.
- Everybody Did It: This, Modesty concludes, is how the fake alien visitation in "Take Me To Your Leader" was carried out — it was an elaborate conspiracy, with everyone in the area except the target of the deception in on it from the start. In revealing the results of her investigation, Modesty remarks that it's possibly the one explanation even less likely than the whole event being real.
- Evil Counterpart: Bianca
- Evil Poacher:
- The dolphin hunter Gaspar in "Dossier on Pluto".
- The poachers in "Million Dollar Game".
- Faked Kidnapping: In "Milord", journalist Guido Biganzoli plans to fake his own kidnapping in order to get a big story that will get him transferred back to Italy. However, things do not go according to plan and it turns into an Accidental Kidnapping of Willie Garvin.
- There are shots of Modesty changing clothes, bathing, getting out of bed (she always sleeps in the nude) or otherwise undressed in most of the serials, especially after Romero started doing the art.
- Many action scenes show Modesty half-naked or completely nude. Often this is the result of a deliberate Show Some Leg tactic, or of Clothing Damage during a fight.
- There are so many lingerie scenes that her black bra and panties became Modesty's Iconic Outfit.
- When Modesty dresses up for formal occasions her dresses tend to be very low-cut and often backless.
- Willie gets quite a few Shirtless Scenes as well.
- Fat and Skinny: The Boote brothers in "The Wicked Gnomes"
- Flopsy: One of Modesty's skills; in one story, when the villain has given her a tight deadline in which to make an impossible choice, she buys time by letting herself be seen getting hit by a car on her way to give her answer and carted off to hospital.
- Funetik Aksent: Willie Garvin's Cockney. Occasionally inverted to indicate when Willie is speaking in another accent as part of a disguise.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Ranavalona I, a Real Life ruler of Madagascar, appears (in flashback) in the "Black Queen's Pawn" arc. One of the modern characters describes her as "making Hitler look like Mary Poppins".
- A Handful for an Eye: One of the Murder, Inc. members tries it on Modesty in "Sweet Caroline". However, Modesty is prepared for the trick and blocks the attack.
- Heroic Neutral: Modesty and Willie are not inherently do-gooders. Their adventures come about when they, or one of their friends, get caught in a bad situation.
- Hollywood Silencer: Just about every time somebody shows up in the comic strip with a silenced handgun, it's a revolver. Attaching a silencer to a revolver doesn't do much.
- Honor Before Reason: If you've saved Modesty's life at some point, or if you were ever her friend, she regards herself as in your debt and will not forget it, even if you do. This comes back to haunt her in "Honeygun" and especially in "The Galley Slaves," where the entire second half of the plot only takes place because she lets Lim live.
- Hook Hand: Gaspar in "Dossier on Pluto"
- Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: "The Killing Ground"
- I Have Your Wife: In "Samantha and the Cherub", Lucy Kolin, the wife of Soviet musician who defected to the West, is kidnapped. Her husband is told to renounce his defection and return to the USSR if he ever wants to see her again.
- Improvised Weapon: At least Once an Episode. Even if you take away Modesty's weapons, she will often create something equally deadly out of whatever is at hand.
- Ironic Nickname: Her mentor started calling her "Modesty" as a joke.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: In "Top Traitor", Modesty and Willie go to rescue Sir Gerald after he's abducted, and the rescue goes wrong and turns into them half-carrying Sir Gerald through a dark forest with their enemies in hot pursuit. Sir Gerald tries several times to get them to leave him and save themselves, only to be cheerfully ignored.
- Joker Immunity: Gabriel is the only enemy of Modesty's to appear more than once. O'Donnell admitted he was fed up with coming up with new villains, so he decided to let Gabriel pester Modesty and Willie a few times, before he was fed up with coming up with ways for Gabriel to survive his encounters with the pair.
- Knife Nut: Willie Garvin
- Knife-Throwing Act: Willie Garvin occasionally goes and does one of these at a circus somewhere when he feels like a holiday; Modesty sometimes plays the target's role.
- Lady of War: Modesty
- Latex Perfection: In "Butch Cassidy Rides Again", the gang uses latex masks to make themselves appear identical to the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang.
- Legion of Lost Souls: Willie's backstory includes a stint in the Foreign Legion; it's not depicted, but is occasionally referenced as background for his jungle-survival skills (he served in the First Indochina War, rather than the trope-standard North Africa campaign).
- Lingerie Scene: The readers often get to see Modesty in her trademark black bra and panties, either because she's stripped down to distract the bad guys, suffered Clothing Damage in her fights, or is just shown changing clothes.
- Message in a Bottle: In "The Big Mole", one of the nurses being held hostage writes a note for help, places it in a plastic botle and tosses it out of the bathroom window into the river.
- Milkman Conspiracy: The secretary/spies in "The Head Girls"
- More Expendable Than You: Whenever a caper requires Modesty to put her life on the line, Willie asks if he can't do it instead.
- Mr. Exposition: Fraser, Sir Gerald Tarrant's assistant, on his first few appearances. (Later he develops Hidden Depths.)
- Murder, Inc.: Salamander Four, amongst others
- New Old Flame: Many stories start with the return of an ex-lover of either Modesty or Willie.
- New Old West: "Butch Cassidy Rides Again"
- No Escape but Down: In "A Present for the Princess'', Willie escapes from a trio of bandits by dropping off a broken rope bridge into a river.
- The Nudifier: The eponymous girl in "The Girl from the Future" arrives naked because she claims that the time travel would only allow her and nothing else to be sent. Of course, it all turns out to be part of The Con.
- Open Heart Dentistry:
- In "Million Dollar Game", a vet is shot in the thigh in a position he cannot reach. He talks Modesty through the procedure for removing the bullet.
- In "Dossier on Pluto" another vet, via telephone, has Modesty relay instructions to a scientist on how to remove a bullet from a dolphin.
- Out-of-Character Alert: When captured by terrorists and forced to call Modesty in "Lady in the dark", Willie addresses her by name instead of calling her "Princess". She immediately packs her bags and comes to his rescue.
- Percussive Prevention: In "Milord", Willie knocks Modesty out so she cannot interfere with a group of women taking their revenge on the men who raped and tortured them.
- Pocket Protector: In "The Vampire of Malvescu", Willie is saved when a bullet fired at him hit the tin mug he was holding. Noteworthy in that the subsequent strip is spent justifying the trope; it's a "dum-dum" bullet and deformed on impact with the mug, so it only breaks one of Willie's ribs and knocks him unconscious instead of killing him.
- Platonic Life Partners: Repeatedly referenced, the "beyond love" relationship between Willie and Modesty is a cornerstone of the series.
- Revolvers Are Just Better: In the first story arc, Willie expresses a preference for Colt revolvers; he doesn't trust automatics because of the risk they'll jam up just when you need them.
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: "Take-Over"
- Scarecrow Solution: Modesty stages a fake alien visitation in "The Moonman".
- Scooby-Doo Hoax: "The Vampire of Malvescu" and several other stories involving "aliens".
- Serial Killings, Specific Target: In "The Grim Joker", the Goodchild brothers commit a series of bizarre murders designed to look like the work of a madman. They intend to murder their uncle as the last victim so they can inherit his fortune. Unfortunately for them, they choose Willie Garvin as their penultimate victim.
- Shoot The Builder: In "Black Queen's Pawn", Ranavalona has the slaves who built her treasure chamber put to death, and then the officers who commanded the slaves murdered, so that only she knows its location.
- Shower of Love: Willie Garvin and Debbie, his Girl of the Week, are shown taking one together at the end of "Walkabout".
- Show Some Leg:
- At least Once an Episode. It's a standard tactic by Modesty but not confined to her only.
- Most notably with the use of The Nailer, a trick in which Modesty enters the scene of battle topless, distracting the male thugs for a few seconds, which are often enough for she and Willie to get the upper hand. Although developed for the novels, the Nailer was eventually introduced into the comic strip, too.
- In the comic strips Modesty often does a Nailer while keeping her trademark black bra on, probably to make it possible to draw the resulting fight without SceneryCensors.
- Silver Bullet: The villagers use one to slay what they think is the vampire in "The Vampire of Malvescu".
- Skinny Dipping: A frequent excuse to show Modesty naked.
- The Spymaster: Sir Gerald Tarrant, something high up in the British secret service, who occasionally passes jobs to Modesty and Willie that his agents are unable to handle. He's the hidden-heart-of-gold type: soft-hearted enough to feel bad about manipulating people for the greater good, but not so soft-hearted to stop doing it.
- Suffer The Slings: Willie is an expert with the sling, and often uses one in place of a gun.
- Surgical Impersonation: Used to create a double of Modesty in "The Double Agent".
- Those Two Bad Guys: The Boote brothers in "The Wicked Gnomes".
- Trigger Phrase: The phrase 'Rip Van Winkle' is used to put a millionaire into a trance as part of The Con in "The Girl from the Future".
- Unwanted Rescue: In "The Vanishing Dollybirds", Modesty and Willie set out to break a white slavery ring. However, at the end, it turns out that the girl they originally set out to rescue is perfectly happy as a member of the sheik's harem. Unfortunately they don't learn this until several people - including the woman's sister - are killed.
- Vapor Trail: Modesty is caught in an accidental one after her jeep overturns in "Walkabout".
- The Vicar: The Reverend Harold Bryant in "The Wicked Gnomes".
- Weakness Turns Her On: In "Dossiers on Pluto", Willy exploits this with Gaspar's girlfriend Rosita.
- Western Terrorists: "The Vampire of Malvescu" featured Europe's Fist, a terrorist group dedicated to striking back by committing an retaliatory act of terrorism for every act of Middle Eastern terrorism committed against Europe.
- We Win Because You Didn't: "The Long Lever", which revolves around a scientist who defected from the Soviet Union having to decide whether to stay in the US or return to the USSR for his family's sake, ends with a Russian agent killing him to keep the Americans from getting him. The Americans also consider this outcome a win, since it means the Russians don't get him either. (Modesty and Willie are rather less pleased.)
- William Telling: Part of Willie's Knife-Throwing Act and often pulled by Willie against bad guys.
- Wretched Hive: Calia, the 'Republic of Desperados', in "The Jericho Caper"
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: In "The Head Girls", Gabriel kills Southern when the latter stops being of use to him. According to Willie, this is not the first time Gabriel has made use of this trope.
Adaptations with their own trope pages include:
Other adaptations include examples of:
- Mythology Gag: Early in My Name is Modesty there is an encounter between some soldiers and the orphan refugee who will grow up to become Modesty Blaise. This is not a pre-existing part of Modesty Blaise's backstory, but is based on an incident from Peter O'Donnell's own life that fed into his creation of the character.
- Parallel Porn Titles: or rather Parallel Burlesque Titles, with "Immodesty Blaize".