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"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
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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.

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The comic strip had an open And the Adventure Continues type ending, very much in contrast to how O'Donnell concluded the novel series.


The comic strip includes examples of:

  • Accidental Kidnapping: Willie is kidnapped in "Milord" when he is mistaken for Guido Biganzoli.
  • Action Dress Rip:
    • In "The Killing Ground", Modesty is abducted while dressed up for the evening in a tight skirt. The first chance she gets, she cuts the skirt short so it won't impede her once the fighting starts.
    • As first seen in "The Red Gryphon", Modesty's skirts are designed to tear away, with a velcro fastening, leaving her legs free for action.
  • Action Girl: As her opponents often discovered, Modesty is better in hand-to-hand combat than most men.
  • Affably Evil: The head of the drug ring in "Bad Suki" is a sweet little old lady who has strong views on subjects like bad language and smoking indoors, and always uses the honorific "Mr." when addressing underlings, even underlings with names like "Slasher" — and will not hesitate to have one of said underlings do something quite horrid to you if you make a nuisance of yourself.
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  • Affectionate Nickname: To Willie, Modesty is always "Princess." It's a sign of respect as well as affection.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: In "The Mind of Mrs. Drake", two foreign agents are warned that Modesty and Willie are coming to rescue their prisoner, and ordered to kill the prisoner and make a getaway. The one who does the killing opts for a stomach wound that will kill the prisoner slowly, figuring that if they leave a dead body Modesty and Willie will just come straight after them but if the prisoner is still alive they'll stop and try to help. When Modesty and Willie catch up with them later, Willie explicitly says things will go worse for them because of it than if they'd given the prisoner a quick death.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Street Urchin Samantha 'Sam' Brown falls in love with horses the first she encounters some on Modesty's farm, and has a natural affinity with them. Her love of horse becomes a major plot point in "Ivory Dancer".
  • Always Identical Twins: The Shojiro brothers in "The War-Lords of Phoenix" are identical twins.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The comic ends with Modesty and Willie going off to find a buried treasure and donate it to charity.
  • Arab Oil Sheikh: The sheik of Shibarahn, "a bit of desert with a lot of oil underneath", in "Willie the Djinn", is a Funny Foreigner version of the trope. He's built a new five-star palace and taken up collecting vintage European luxury cars as a hobby, but he's also making a genuine effort to bring the benefits of modernity to his country, and it's mentioned that he's not only shut down his harem but is paying for the former occupants to get educations so they have something else they can do. The sheik himself wears full traditional robes, though his vizier wears traditional headwear over a European-style suit.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Downplayed in "Mister Sun". Most of the Chinese characters speak good English with the occasional dropped article or particle. Some lower-class characters, including a beat cop and a bar owner, have additional grammar trouble (lack of tense differentiation, etc.). None of the characters suffer from either of the particular comedic exaggerations that give the trope its name.
  • 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.
    • Both "The Gabriel Set-Up" and "The Head Girls" have scenes where Gabriel does an inspection tour of one of his schemes, in the course of which the underling in charge of the scheme explains what they're doing and why. Lampshaded in "The Head Girls", where the underling points out that of course Gabriel knows all this already, since it was his idea, and Gabriel tells her to continue because part of the point of the inspection is to make sure the idea is being carried out correctly.
    • In "The Stone Age Caper", Willie runs into Jacko, one of Modesty and Willie's old friends from their criminal days. Willie asks him how he comes to be in the place where they've met, and Jacko responds by spending several panels recounting his entire life story, include how they first met, all of which Willie knows already and maybe one sentence of which is necessary to answering Willie's question.
  • 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.
  • Baleful Polymorph: In "Willie the Djinn", after Kerima mistakes Willie for a djinn, her first wish is for him to turn her Evil Uncle into a frog, though after a moment's further thought she decides a spider would be better.
  • "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.
  • Beneath Notice: The criminal mastermind in "The Magnified Man" evades the attention of the authorities by posing as a member of the staff at the hotel where his underlings are staying, allowing him to talk to them even when they're under observation while serving them drinks or delivering meals to their rooms.
  • Benevolent Boss: Modesty was this during her Network days, which earned her the fierce loyalty of those working for her, and even after retiring, both she and Willie are exceptional employers to those who work for them. Even people who help them out in any way during one of their missions, whether knowingly or even if they have no idea who Modesty and Willie are, find themselves handsomely rewarded by the duo for their assistance.
  • 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 drugs. 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.
    • Hurting innocents, especially children and women, is one of the easiest ways any villain can incur Modesty and Willie's wrath.
    • Modesty absolutely despises blackmail.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In "Uncle Happy", the villain kills his wife/co-conspirator and then himself as the police close in.
  • Black Bra and Panties: Due to Modesty's large number of lingerie scenes, and her always wearing black underwear, this became an Iconic Outfit for her.
  • Blood Knight: Magnus in "The Vikings" is a Born in the Wrong Century guy who thinks of himself as a modern viking and loves nothing better than a good fight. When he's facing a showdown with Modesty and Willie, he doesn't care that his gang may be facing the final curtain, only that at last he's going to get a worthy challenge.
  • 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.
  • Board to Death: The Big Bad in "Children of Lucifer" plans to do this to a group of mafiosi who have been his partners in crime. He seals them in the board room, and forces them to watch a Happier Home Movie while he delivers a Motive Rant about why he is going to kill them. However, his treacherous lieutenant chooses this moment to literally knife him in the back and announce that he is taking over the operation.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Finn in "The Jericho Caper", big, cheerful and always ready for a scrap.
  • 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.
    • In "Bad Suki", the villain captures Modesty and Willie together and keeps them alive against the recommendation of her more pragmatic and experienced henchmen, first to enjoy a chance to boast about the cleverness of her operation to someone capable of appreciating it, and then sticks them in a death trap that will suffocate them slowly (ie. give them time to escape).
    • In "Take-Over", the Ruthless Foreign Gangsters see through Modesty and Willie's attempt to trap them, and capture both. They consider shooting them on the spot, but decide to Make an Example of Them by executing them in front of a meeting of their rivals to show they mean business. This of course gives Modesty and Willie a chance to get word to the police and plan an escape.
  • Bookends: In Modesty's first scene in "The Greeneyed Monster", she's having dinner with her friend Gil at a resort restaurant when Gil's ex-girlfriend Diana shows up to make a scene; Modesty gets fed up and throws Diana into the resort's swimming pool. In the final scene, Modesty, Gil and Willie are having dinner at the same restaurant when Diana shows up to make another scene; Willie gets fed up and throws her in the pool.
  • Born in the Wrong Century:
    • In "The Vikings", Magnus, the leader of the Viking gang, lives according to his romanticised notions of the good old Viking ways.
    • In "The Red Gryphon", Count Alborini likes to think of himself as an Italian nobleman of the duplicitous old days of the Borgias and the Medicis.
    • In "Death of a Jester", the Earl Saint-Maur thinks of himself as medieval knight. It's said that he might have been happier as one, but his personality is out of place in modern times.
  • Break the Haughty: In "The Greeneyed Monster", Diana Millard is the spoiled brat daughter of a British diplomat. She gets kidnapped by terrorists in the country where her father is posted, and spends several days learning the hard way that they're not impressed by her feminine wiles or her father's position before Modesty and Willie are able to stage a rescue. Then the escape route goes wrong and they have to spend a week hiking back to civilisation through dangerous jungle. The experience gradually alters Diana's attitude, and near the end of the hike she thanks Modesty and says the experience has made her face up to what's really important. ...it doesn't last, though: within a couple of days of their return, she's right back to her old self again.
  • Calling Card:
    • In "The Grim Joker", the murderous trio leave the words "Ho Ho Ho" on all of their victims.
    • In "The Killing Distance", the Red Admiral lets Sir Gerald know that he is coming for him by sending him business cards printed with a red butterfly.
  • Cement Shoes: In "The Murder Frame", two underworld friends of Willie's grab a makeup artist who was part of a Frame-Up aimed at Willie. They tie him up, tie his feet to a concrete block, and toss him off the side of a boat into the Thames. This is part of a plan to allow Modesty to rescue him and convince him that his partner has decided he has outlived his usefulness.
  • 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.
  • Character Witness: In "Live Bait", Modesty and Willie work to save the kidnapped young daughter of a friend from an old enemy of Modesty, named Malik, seeking revenge; while Willie manages to escape with the child, Modesty herself is captured while covering their escape. One of Malik's henchmen, Lacroix, expressed his distaste for the child's kidnapping and doesn't join in the attack that ends with Modesty captured, revealing that he had had an encounter with her during her Network days, where she had him dead to rights but let him live. When Malik dies of a heart attack, his henchmen try to kill Modesty, who fights back and is saved by Lacroix's intervention. Modesty doesn't remember Lacroix, and when he reminds her of how she spared his life, she's very grateful and considers the debt more than paid.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The first story arc has a literal one. Near the beginning, Willie shows Modesty a miniature gun he's devised that's disguised as a pen; it's not mentioned again until the climax of the story, when Modesty shoots the villain with it after his minions have deprived her of all her more obvious weapons.
  • Clear My Name: In "The Murder Frame" Willie is the victim of an expert Frame-Up and he and Modesty have to use all of their resourcefulness to clear his name and bring the real culprits to justice.
  • Clear Their Name: In "Top Traitor", a vital secret document is stolen, and Sir Gerald is abducted in a way that makes it look like he's absconded with the document. Modesty and Willie set out to clear his name and recover him and the document.
  • 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.
  • Clothing Combat:
    • Modesty often uses her tearaway skirt as a weapon to wrap round her opponents' heads.
    • In "Willie the Djinn", Modesty begins a fight with a sword-wielding opponent by throwing her jacket at him to distract him and tangle up his sword.
    • In "The Young Mistress", Modesty knocks the Big Bad overboard from his yacht by throwing the plastron she was wearing at him.
  • 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:
    • The third time Modesty and Willie get on the trail of one of Gabriel's schemes, in "The Head Girls", Gabriel is ready with a contingency plan just for them. The first bit, which involves luring them into a trap and gassing them, is pretty good, but then he succumbs to the desire to see them die slowly and painfully instead of just killing them while they're helpless, and sticks them in a Drowning Pit and gloats at them long enough for external circumstances to turn the tables.
    • 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:
    • In "Take Me To Your Leader", Sir Gerald asks Modesty and Willie to investigate an apparent alien visitation and determine whether it's a scam — and if so, how, when it was witnessed by a disparate group of people under circumstances that make it unlikely any trickery could have fooled all of them. It turns out that it's an elaborate con aimed at one man, a respected scientist with the ear of the British government, and everybody else present for the incident was in on it from the start.
    • "Idaho George" is about Modesty having to save a conman friend of hers from the consequences of someone believing his con.
  • 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.
  • Coordinated Clothes: In "The War-Lords of Phoenix", the Shojiro twins always dress in outfits that are identical except that Kato's outfit is in black and Fumiya's is in white.
  • 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.
  • Cowboy Episode: In "Butch Cassidy Rides Again!", Modesty and Willie confront a gang pretending to be the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang returned from the dead in the American southwest.
  • 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.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: In "The Special Orders", Sam is being held captive by a gang of slavers. She steals a knife from dinner and uses it to prise out the scrap of cloth she had jammed into the doorframe earlier to prevent the lock from closing.
  • Cut Phone Lines: In "The Vikings", the eponymous gang cut the phone lines of the house they're about to raid, so that the occupants can't call for help until they're well away.
  • Cyanide Pill:
    • In "The Head Girls", two men caught in the act of industrial espionage are found dead before they can be questioned, and it's initially assumed that they've taken suicide pills. Modesty points out that that's much more common for ideologically-motivated spies than in the world of industrial espionage, and correctly suspects that they've been silenced by their employer.
    • A Soviet agent in "The Hell-Makers" has a cyanide capsule concealed in a tooth; when Modesty knocks her out, intending to capture her for questioning about her group's plans, the capsule is inadvertantly broken and she dies.
    • In "The War-Lords of Phoenix", an agent of the Phoenix organisation has a secret cyanide capsule and uses it to commit suicide when captured.
  • Dangerous Deserter: In "Death Symbol", a squad of deserters from the Chinese Army takes over a small village and monastery in a remote valley in Tibet. Willie and Modesty have infiltrate the valley and battle the deserters to rescue the daughter of one of Willie's old friends who is being held prisoner.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: In "Top Traitor", Willie abducts a suspected communist mole by hiding in the back seat of his car while he works late at the office and giving him a Tap on the Head when he gets in.
  • Deadly Game: In "Those About To Die...", Modesty, Willie and a group of elite athletes are captured by a mad millionaire and forced to participate in a recreation of the Roman Gladiator Games.
  • Death by Materialism: In "Tribute for the Pharaoh", Marud is crushed to death by the solid gold statue he was attempting to steal.
  • Decoy Damsel: "The Hell-Makers" begins with Willie Garvin, traveling solo, encountering a young woman who claims to have been attacked and her belongings and vehicle stolen. As he's giving her a lift back to civilization, they're attacked by a group of thugs, who Willie efficiently deals with - only for the young woman to knock him unconscious while he's distracted.
  • Description Cut: In "Willie the Djinn", Willie asks Modesty what she knows about the sheikdom they've been invited to visit. Modesty replies that it's pretty quiet; Sheik Kadhim's brother Zuhir has ambitions to usurp him, but is kept in check because the army is loyal to Kadhim. The next panel shows Zuhir and the army's commanding officer finalizing a plot to assassinate Kadhim by sabotaging the plane he (and Modesty and Willie) will be traveling on.
  • Destroy the Evidence: During their first meeting, Tarrant shows Modesty that he's located a document that will cause her a considerable amount of difficulty if it comes to official notice — and then immediately sets fire to it as a gesture of goodwill.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Willie Garvin dislikes handguns. He can use rifles and shotguns very well, but given a pistol, he is more likely to throw it. He claims it is because handguns make you overconfident and stupid, but it is implied that the real reason is that he can't hit a barn from the inside with one.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Kang, the Big Bad in "Death Symbol", is killed when he stumbles unarmed into the quarters of the Sex Slaves he has been keeping and abusing. A dozen girls dog pile on top of him and smother him to death.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In "Bad Suki", Modesty and Willie's investigation into a drug ring results in them crossing paths several times with an eccentric old woman who goes around the hippie places and night spots trying to sell tracts about the evils of drugs. She turns out to be the leader of the drug ring.
  • 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.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: At the start of "Tribute for the Pharaoh", Modesty has a dream about a statue of the god Amun coming to life and attacking her. At the end of the adventure, Willie comments that—after a fashion—this is what had occurred.
  • Drowning Pit: "The Head Girls" has a variation, making use of the subterranean River Fleet that runs under part of London; the villain chain Modesty and Willie up in a tunnel below the high water mark and waits for the tide to flood it.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The villain of "Mister Sun" is the mastermind behind a major heroin smuggling operation; several characters have speeches (including a gloating one from Mister Sun himself) about the damage his drugs will do.
  • Dumb Muscle: The strong and mostly silent Henry in "The Head Girls".
  • Dying Clue: In "The Magnified Man", a severely-injured French secret agent whispers "Tell M'sieu Vaubois... girl due..." before passing out and slipping into a coma, leaving Modesty, Willie, and Vaubois (the agent's superior) mystified until Modesty realizes the agent was attempting to identify the location of the villain's next attack: a valley called Gueule du Loup.
  • 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.
  • Every Man Has His Price: In "Willie the Djinn", Sheik Kadhim depends on his army, led by an experienced English mercenary soldier, to discourage his ambitious brother Zuhir. Shortly after this is explained, it is revealed that the mercenary has been bought over to Zuhir's service.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: In "The Hanging Judge", a kidnapped nurse uses her fingers to tap out her location on the video of her that her kidnapper sends to her parents. Modesty and Willie are able to decode her message and stage a rescue mission. However, it takes them several days of studying the video before they realise she is sending a message and that the tapping is not just a nervous tic.
  • Evil Knockoff: In "The Double Agent", a duplicate of Modesty is created to frame her for murder.
  • 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.
  • Faking the Dead: In "Fraser's Story", the Union Corse help Modesty and Willie to fake their deaths by staging an elaborate fake assassination. They even film the 'assassination' and the 'bodies' to convince the Big Bad that they are dead. This allows Modesty and Willie to travel to Panama without anyone watching for them.
  • Fanservice:
  • Fatal Family Photo: In "Take-Over", a bank guard spends several minutes chatting with Modesty about his family, and is shortly afterward killed trying to stop an armed robbery.
  • Fat and Skinny: The Boote brothers in "The Wicked Gnomes"
  • Fat Bastard: Alex Kazin, the villain of "The Hell-Makers", is a former Soviet intelligence officer who has become rich and successful — and extremely large — since defecting to the States. Frank Hoyland of the CIA remarks that despite his origins, he has "the look of a born capitalist hyena".
  • Faux Affably Evil: Walter and Lucy Dee, the villains of "Uncle Happy".
  • First Contact Team: In "Take Me To Your Leader", a respected scientist and government advisor encounters what he believes is a first contact situation, and Sir Gerald Tarrant is given the job of selecting a small discreet first contact team. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin are his first and only choices; their ability to sniff out a scam is an obvious qualification, but Tarrant suggests that he would have picked them even if he didn't suspect a hoax — of all the people he knows, they have the broadest range of interests, solid grounding in the basics of many disciplines, and open and enquiring minds, which he considers more likely to be useful than any number of experts whose expertise might be about to be proven useless.
  • Flashback Effects: "The Vikings" and "The Black Pearl" include flashbacks to events during Modesty's criminal career. For the duration, the panel borders change from the usual straight lines to scalloped edge like a thought bubble, to show that it's happening in Modesty's thoughts not in present reality.
  • Forced Prize Fight: In "Those About To Die...", Modesty, Willie and a group of elite athletes are captured by a mad millionaire and forced to participate in Gladiator Games.
  • Forehead of Doom: The Diabolical Mastermind Gabriel has a large forehead, visually representing the powerful brain behind it.
  • Frame-Up: As the title indicates, "The Murder Frame" involves a particularly expert frame job that puts Willie in the frame for murder. He goes on the run and he and Modesty have to employ all of their resourcefulness—plus the aid of some friends in high (and low) places—to prove his innocence and bring the true culprits to justice.
  • Funetik Aksent: Willie Garvin's Cockney is depicted phonetically, mainly by way of dropped Hs at the beginnings of words and Gs at the ends. "It's 'ard for a bloke to 'ide a BBC accent", he quips in "The Hell-Makers". Occasionally inverted to indicate when Willie is speaking in another accent as part of a disguise.
  • Funny Foreigner: Sheik Kadhim al-Masfah and Vizier Jassim in "Willie the Djinn" are played for comic relief at first, with broken English and odd ideas about modernity. The Sheik is a man-child who is obsessed with gambling and sports cars, and boasts that he has modernized his country by (among other things) closing down his Royal Harem and sending all his wives off to train as secretaries.
  • Fur Bikini:
    • Modesty wears one while stranded in the wilderness in "Eve and Adam".
    • Modesty spends most of "Guido the Jinx" in a fur bikini after being talked into being the stunt double for an actress in a caveman movie. Naturally things go wrong, and Modesty ends up battling the villains of the piece in the fur bikini because she never gets a chance to change out of it.
  • Gallows Humor: In "Mister Sun", a Bomb Disposal expert explains that he's going to look at the inner workings of an explosive booby trap by drilling a small hole and inserting a gastroscope, a device originally designed for looking at the insides of people. When Modesty asks what happens if he chooses the wrong place to drill and sets off the bomb, he replies cheerfully that in that case nobody will need a special device to look at their insides.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: In "The Young Mistress", Willie—who is disguised as a gardener—uses a hoe to knock out several thugs who have arrived to abduct the young woman Modesty is guarding.
  • Genie in a Bottle: In "Willie the Djinn", little Kerima mistakes Willie for a djinn because he shows up immediately after she rubbed on a possibly-magic ring and wished for one to appear. Notably, her idea of what a djinn should be is basically the Western trope version — she even asks if it's true she only gets three wishes — even though she lives in a fairly remote part of the Middle East and ought to be more familiar with the more complicated original version.
  • Genius Ditz: Dr Giles Pennyfeather - also a Cute Clumsy Guy.
  • Gladiator Games: In "Those About To Die...", Modesty, Willie and a group of elite athletes are captured by a mad millionaire and forced to participate in a Deadly Game recreation of the Roman games.
  • Gladiator Revolt: Modesty does it in the "Those About to Die..." arc, where an insane millionaire had kidnapped Modesty, Willie and other elite athletes and warriors and was forcing them to compete in a Deadly Game.
  • 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".
  • The Good Chancellor: Vizier Jassim in "Willie the Djinn" is not one of those evil viziers; he's loyal to his master Sheik Kadhim and devoted to Kadhim's small heir.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars:
    • Graf von Schuyler, the villain of "Top Traitor", has a scar running down one cheek.
    • A bit character in "The Head Girls" has an ugly scar running down one side of his face, which serves to cue the audience to be suspicious of him even before it's revealed that he's up to no good.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Ramon in "The Jericho Caper" cares for the people in his village and is prepared to stand up to Sabo's goons for their sake even though he knows it's unlikely to end well for him.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: In the early years of the strip, Everybody Smokes, including Modesty and Willie, who smoke cigarettes; this shows that they are down-to-earth and practical (and in "Mister Sun", Modesty uses a box of cigarettes to hide something when she knows the bad guys are going to search her for weapons). The villain of "Mister Sun", a Chinese criminal mastermind, uses a long cigarette holder with elaborate carvings on it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In "The Greeneyed Monster", Modesty has to deal with a Rich Bitch, Diana Millard, who takes against her because she's going out with Diana's ex-boyfriend (who, to be clear, broke up with Diana because of her generally unpleasant personality months before he took up with Modesty).
  • Grenade Hot Potato: In a flashback in "Guido the Jinx", Willie manages to catch a grenade that is thrown at him by a group of mercenaries and toss it back before it explodes.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: In "The Stone Age Caper", the mook guarding Davey Collins falls for the old "go in and see why the prisoner is yelling for help" trick. The cherry on top is that the reason Davey gives for yelling is that he's distraught because he's lost his glasses — and instead of just making a mocking comment and leaving again, the guard makes a mocking comment and helps him look, apparently convinced that Davey is too hapless to be a threat. Davey promptly clocks him in the head and scarpers. The mook's boss is distinctly unimpressed when he finds out what happened.
  • 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.
  • Hands-On Approach: In "Death of a Jester", Modesty is undercover at a medieval themed event run by the Earl Saint-Maur, and the Earl uses this approach to coach her in archery. She lets him get away with (and doesn't show him that she's already extremely competent at archery) to preserve her cover.
  • Happier Home Movie: In "Children of Lucifer", Blenkinsop shows the imprisoned mafiosi home movies of his wife and daughter so they will understand why he is doing what he is doing just before he attempts to murder them in a Board to Death scenario.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: The hermit Gus Fletcher in "The Hell-Makers" declares that one of the things he hates most in the world is "female critturs", though he warms to Modesty once she demonstrates her aptitude for "man-things".
  • The Hermit: Gus Fletcher in "The Hell-Makers", a hillbilly type who lives in a shack in a remote part of Montana with only a couple of birds for company.
  • Hermit Guru: Lal the wise man in "The Black Pearl", a bald old man who has spent decades sitting under a tree in Bengal meditating, and apparently has a number of mysterious powers including the ability to see the future.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Weapons:
    • Modesty spends the latter half of the first story arc with her forearm wrapped in bandages after it's injured in a fight. At the climax, after the bad guys have searched her for weapons, it's revealed that she had a hold-out weapon they missed hidden under the bandages.
    • Modesty has several tricks for hiding her kongo from weapons searches, including disguising it as part of the handle of her handbag (first seen in "Mister Sun") and wrapping it inside her hair bun (first seen in "The Mind of Mrs. Drake").
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: In "The Head Girls", Modesty and Willie hold a conversation in Arabic so they can discuss their plans without revealing anything to the villains they know are listening.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: In "The Killing Distance", Willie extracts information from an assassin by holding him over the edge of well.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In "The Head Girls", the villain takes Modesty and Willie to a tunnel connected to the river Fleet which is below the high water mark. His plan is to leave them behind, chained to the wall, while he himself escapes well before the tide rises, but an unexpected rain storm fills the tunnel much quicker than expected, and he just barely escapes with his life (but has to leave the McGuffin behind). Willie and Modesty escape, too, of course.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Just about every time somebody shows up in the comic strip with a silenced handgun, it's a revolver. (Korzon's revolver in "The Mind of Mrs. Drake" is one example.) 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.
    • In "The Galley Slaves", the entire second half of the plot only takes place because she lets Lim live after he tries to kill her in a double-cross, considering herself to still owe him one for the time he saved her life.
  • Hook Hand: Gaspar in "Dossier on Pluto"
  • Horny Vikings: In "The Vikings", Modesty battles a group of Scandinavian men who raid coastal targets like rich people's holiday villas while dressed in stereotypical viking garb, complete with ahistorical horned helmets. Their leader, Magnus, is an authentic case of Born in the Wrong Century; the rest are just along for the ride and the loot.
  • Horseback Heroism: When Sir Gerald's would-be assassin is fleeing on a motorbike in "The Killing Distance", Willie chases after him on a horse. And it's awesome.
  • Human Traffickers: Mentioned several times as one of the areas of criminal activity that Modesty despises and refused to be involved in. In "The Black Pearl", it's recounted that while she was head of her own criminal organisation, everyone under her was forbidden to get involved in human trafficking on pain of death, and she personally hunted down and executed a section head who ignored the prohibition.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: In "The Killing Ground", Modesty and Willie are abducted by an old enemy and dropped on a desert island where they are hunted by three big game hunters, as revenge for the way they hunted him down and turned him over to the authorities.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In "The Jericho Caper", a turn of events renders Finn speechless with surprise — as he explains at considerable length.
    Finn: I'm bereft o' speech entirely! Me tongue's paralysed! I'm beat for words!
  • 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.
  • Impossible Mission: Modesty and Willie are often asked to do impossible tasks, and have a knack for figuring out the solution. When one villain claims that what has happened is impossible, a flunky says that "They are magic."
  • 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.
  • Ironically Disabled Artist: Torres in "The Jericho Caper" is a blind artist. He was a painter originally, but after he lost his sight he switched to clay sculpture.
  • 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.
  • Joker Jury: The villain in "The Hanging Judge" does this as he feels he was unfairly dealt with by Britain's justice system. However, rather than directly taking revenge on the former Home Secretary, he plans to imprison and execute the Secretary's daughter, as he feels this will be crueler.
  • 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
  • Last Breath Bullet: At the end of "Fraser's Story", Mary uses Fraser's Borgia ring to kill Randle—the man who had abducted her, brainwashed her, and made her a traitor to her country and his mistress—by injecting him with a lethal dose of cyanide. He falls to the ground but uses his dying breath to draw a gun and shoot her.
  • Latex Perfection: In "Butch Cassidy Rides Again", the gang uses latex masks to make themselves appear identical to the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang.
  • Layman's Terms: In "The Long Lever", the macguffin is a new breakthrough in laser technology. Lasers were not yet a household word (the word itself was coined only a few years before the story was written), so Willie gives the definition — "a light-ray ... with the properties of beam collimation and high-power output" — and then, at Modesty's request, explains in simpler terms what that means.
  • 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).
    • A brief flashback to Willie's time in the Legion occurs in "Death Symbol".
  • 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.
    • In "The Head Girls", the villains strip-search Modesty and Willie and leave them in a Drowning Pit in their underwear. Neither Willie nor Modesty has any chance to get dressed until they make thir escape near the end of the story, so the audience gets to see several long action scenes with Modesty in her bra and panties and Willie in his boxers.
  • Little Useless Gun: In "Uncle Happy", the villain's head henchman is dismissive of Modesty's Colt .32, calling a "pop gun" and a "toy" and saying it's no match for his own magnum. She convincingly demonstrates that size doesn't matter as much as how well you use it.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Almost every story has a scene of Modesty and Willie gearing up for the action part of The Caper.
  • Lovely Assistant: Willie Garvin sometimes takes a holiday by joining the circus he owns and doing a Knife-Throwing Act under the alias "El Casador". Sometimes Modesty joins him as his Lovely Assistant "Conchita".
  • Mad Libs Thriller Title: "The Jericho Caper".
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • In "The Red Gryphon", the villain disposes of an architect who knows too much by staging an apparent boating accident.
    • In "Children of Lucifer", two henchmen are told to dispose of a defector who is fleeing on skis, and to make it look like an accident. They do this by forcing her into a tree, then knocking her out and leaving her to freeze to death. This probably would have worked if their forceful attempts to stop Modesty going down the same ski run hadn't aroused her suspicions.
  • Makeup Weapon: As first seen in "Top Traitor", Modesty has a tube of lipstick that conceals a device that sprays tear gas.
  • Manchurian Agent: In "Our Friend Maude", Maude Tiller is brainwashed to assassinate Rene Valois, the head of French intelligence, while believing she is acting on orders from Sir Gerald.
  • Manly Facial Hair: The terrorist leader in "The Greeneyed Monster" has cultivated a Macho Latino image, part of which is his enormous bushy beard. As the coupe de grace of breaking his reputation and making him a laughing stock, Modesty claims it as a trophy and shaves it off.
  • Masquerade Ball: In "Our Friend Maude", Modesty and Willie take advantage of an 18th century themed masquerade ball being held by a group of arms dealers to spy on them. They have to improvise madly to come up with costumes and invitations in time.
  • 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 bottle and tosses it out of the bathroom window into the river.
  • Milkman Conspiracy: The secretary/spies in "The Head Girls".
  • The Mob Boss Is Scarier: In "Take-Over", the police know something's going on, but nobody in the criminal underworld will talk about it because the boss of the Ruthless Foreign Gangsters has them all cowed.
  • Molotov Truck: In "Fraser's Story", Willie delays pursuit by setting fire to a truck and driving it into the bad guys' motor pool.
  • 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 Meat: Jeannie Challon in "The Mind of Mrs. Drake" is a young intelligence agent on her first field assignment. She and Modesty have a conversation where Jeannie admits to struggling with nerves and Modesty gives her some of the benefit of her own experience. Shortly afterward, Jeannie is abducted and murdered by the villains.
  • 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" thoroughly embraces the tropes of The Western while maintaining a modern day setting, as Modesty and Willie end up in a showdown against a a gang that is pretending to be the Hole in the Wall Gang returned from the dead.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Bellman at the beginning of "The Killing Ground", complete with having to tell Modesty and Willie to look closely before they recognise him. The years have changed him a lot: it's only been five years since they last met, but he looks thirty years older, partly due to ill health but mostly due to having spent those years in a Hellhole Prison.
  • 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.
  • No Full Name Given: Recurring character Weng never gets a full name.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: In "Uncle Happy", Modesty and Willie are captured while trying to break into the villains' lair and find evidence of their wrongdoing. The Faux Affably Evil villains invite them to breakfast, and (attempt to) make conversation about how much they know already, before getting on with the business of trying to kill them in inventive ways.
  • Non-Action Big Bad:
    • Gabriel, the recurring Diabolical Mastermind, is a small man who needs a cane to walk, but commands a significant criminal organization, including all the muscle he needs, on account of his brainpower.
    • Suki, the villain in "Bad Suki", is an even more exaggerated example, being an apparently meek and harmless little old woman. She remarks at one point that her entire criminal career was only made possible by the discovery of how to hire cheap muscle.
  • Nothing Personal: In "Take-Over", the Ruthless Foreign Gangsters who are making a move on the British criminal scene tell Modesty and Willie that trying to kill them is nothing personal, it's just good business sense to show their strength by taking out two of the scene's big names.
  • 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.
  • Orphaned Setup: In "The War-Lords of Phoenix", Modesty and Willie are being held captive, and Willie starts telling a joke about a Traveling Salesman and a Farmer's Daughter, but is interrupted just as he's getting to the punchline.
  • 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.
  • Phoney Call: In "Children of Lucifer", Willie has a long and loud phone conversation with no one at all as part of a scheme to bluff his way inside the villain's HQ; knowing the Mooks won't attack him while he is talking to someone as his disappearance would attract attention.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Repeatedly referenced, the "beyond love" relationship between Willie and Modesty is a cornerstone of the series.
  • 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.
    • In "The Killing Distance", Sir Gerald (barely) survives a sniper's bullet when it deflects off a medal on the costume he was wearing.
    • In "The Hanging Judge", Willie is saved when a crossbow bolt deflects off the bandolier of knives he is wearing. Again, he is left wounded, but alive and mobile.
  • Powerful Pick: In "Tribute for the Pharaoh", Modesty and Willie are ambushed by a pair of crooks who were looting a tomb. The one who attacks Modesty is wielding a pick, and actually gets the best of her before an intervention from Willie tips the balance in her favour.
  • Pregnant Hostage: In "The Aristo", Modesty and Willie are rescued by a freighter after their plane crashes at sea. When the ship is attacked by Ruthless Modern Pirates, Modesty arranges for herself and the captain's pregnant wife Jo to be taken hostage by the pirates: with Modesty persuading the pirates that Jo is noblewoman worth a lot in ransom to prevent the pirates from harming her.
  • Private Military Contractors: In "Willie the Djinn", Sheik Kadhim has hired an English mercenary to command the sheikdom's small army and get it into modern shape. Unfortunately for Kadhim, it turns out the mercenary is willing to switch allegiance to his usurping brother on the offer of a higher payout.
  • Pseudo-Crisis: In "The Greeneyed Monster", Modesty is staying in a recently-reformed Banana Republic when she is roused out of her bed by two police officers who ask her to accompany them and refuse to answer any questions about where she is being taken. Several days worth of strips build the mystery and suspense about where she is being taken and why, before it turns out that she's just being taken to breakfast with the new President, an old friend with, as she recalls, a "rather alarming sense of humour".
  • Psychometry: The title character of "The Mind of Mrs. Drake" is a psychic who works for a Russian spy ring, doing readings on potential targets to identify which are worth cultivating and detect anybody trying to investigate the ring.
  • Public Secret Message: In "The Hell-Makers", Willie Garvin is captured by the villains, who send Modesty a film of him to prove they have him. After showing the film to Sir Gerald, Modesty reveals that although Willie was apparently unaware of being filmed, there's a moment where he's using a hand-signal code he and Modesty both know to tell her where he's being held.
  • Qurac: "Willie the Djinn" is set in Shibarahn, a sheikdom in the process of transitioning from its nomadic tribal past into a modern oil-rich nation.
  • Recruited from the Gutter: Willie Garvin.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better:
    • Modesty's preferred handgun in the early years is a Colt .32 revolver.
    • 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.
  • Rich Bitch: Diana Millard in "The Greeneyed Monster" is the daughter of a British diplomat, and is a spoiled brat who uses her feminine wiles and her father's position to get what she wants.
  • Royal Harem:
    • In "The Vanishing Dollybirds", the title characters are kidnapped to serve in a sheik's harem.
    • In "Willie the Djinn", one of the signs of Sheik Kadhim's relative enlightenment is that he has closed down his royal harem (and is paying for the former ladies of the harem to get educations so they can support themselves). His usurping brother Zuhir is more of a traditionalist; one of the first things he does upon seizing power is to reopen the harem and force a group of visiting Englishwomen to occupy it (fortunately for them, Modesty is part of the group and prevents things from going too far).
  • Rule of Pool: "The Greeneyed Monster" is bookended with scenes at a restaurant which is part of a resort and overlooks a swimming pool. Both scenes end with the story's title character, the jealous and selfish Diana Millard, getting thrown into the pool because she's making a nuisance of herself.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: In "Take-Over", the American Mafia attempt to move in and take over the British criminal underworld. They're depicted as ruthless and organised, operating with businesslike efficiency compared to the scrappy underdogs that are the local gangs.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: Modesty and Willie fight a crew of ruthless modern pirates lead by an Englishman known as 'the Aristo' in "The Aristo" arc.
  • 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.
  • Shared Mass Hallucination: In "Death of a Jester", two hippies who witnessed a man in a jester outfit being murdered by a mounted knight in armour convince themselves, even as they're describing it to Willie and Modesty, that one of their compatriots must have slipped them something hallucinogenic. Willie and Modesty decide to investigate anyway, because they know that two people wouldn't have hallucinated exactly the same thing, but they let the two hippies keep believing it so they'll get on with their lives and not get involved in whatever was really going on.
  • Shoe Phone:
    • In the first story arc, Willie equips Modesty with a pen that's really a disguised gun which can fire a single .22 calibre bullet.
    • In "The Head Girls", a female spy contacts her superior using a radio disguised as a vanity case.
  • Shoe Slap: In "The Killing Distance", Willie takes down an assassin who is fleeing on a motorcycle by throwing his boot at him and knocking him off his bike.
  • 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.
  • Significant Anagram: In "Take-Over", the Cosa Nostra are operating a film production company as a front; the name of the company is "Sonoracast".
  • Silver Bullet: The villagers use one to slay what they think is the vampire in "The Vampire of Malvescu".
  • Single-Minded Twins: In "The War-Lords of Phoenix", the Shojiro brothers look and act the same, are never seen apart, and never disagree about anything. They even speak in alternating sentences much of the time.
  • Skinny Dipping: A frequent excuse to show Modesty naked.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Modesty despises slavery. In "The Special Orders", a teenage friend of hers is kidnapped by a sex slavery ring that specialises in kidnapping teenaged girls to order for wealthy clients in the Indochina region. Modesty had hoped she would be able to goad the leader of the ring into a one-on-one fight as that way she would be able to kill her with a clear conscience. And Modesty is someone who usually goes out her way to avoid using lethal force.
  • Sleeps in the Nude: Modesty always does this, which provides many opportunities for fanservice.
  • Slipping a Mickey: In "The Killing Ground", Willie meets an attractive young woman who invites him for a drink — which is drugged, allowing him to be abducted by the bad guys.
  • Snuff Film: Modesty and Willie bust up a snuff film ring in "Milord".
  • Spanner in the Works: Minor example in "The Red Gryphon" — Modesty gets an important clue about what the villain's up to when one of the villain's servants who isn't in on the plan finds her handkerchief in the garden after a party she attended and conscientiously returns it to her, cleaned and pressed, next time she visits. (The thing is, she'd already lost that handkerchief before the party...)
  • Spider-Sense: Willie Garvin's ears sometimes prickle when something bad is about to go down. It doesn't happen every time there's danger, but when it does it's never a false alarm.
  • 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.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: In "The Hell-Makers", Modesty is visited by an emissary of the villain, who offers her an impossible choice requiring an immediate answer. Modesty rapidly improvises a plan to buy herself some time, part of which involves walking out of her hotel room dressed in the emissary's clothes (having disabled the emissary first) and letting herself be seen getting hit by a car and carted off to hospital, leaving the villain unable to find out from the emissary what answer she gave. Her skill at the flop is said to be so good that even though the driver is in on the trick and a skilled stunt professional himself, he's afraid for a moment that he actually hit her.
  • Street Urchin: Angelo and Francesca in "The Red Gryphon", who Modesty meets after helping Angelo escape from a policeman who was chasing him for stealing food. There's an orphanage that's willing to take them in, but they're not willing to go because it keeps boys and girls in separate facilities and they don't want to be separated. Modesty makes a more satisfactory arrangement for them at the end of the story.
  • 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".
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: In "Sweet Caroline", Lord Toby is murdered while batting in charity cricket match with a bomb disguised as a cricket ball. This is the first of the attention-grabbing murders staged by Sweet Caroline to establish their credentials as a Murder, Inc..
  • A Taste of the Lash: Lacey, the Big Bad of "The Young Mistress", has a fondness for using a riding crop on those who displease her, often delivering a thrashing severe enough to require medical attention. He does it to his lover/forger, to her ex-boyfriend, and plans to do it to Modesty.
  • Thrill Seeker: The Earl Saint-Maur in "Death of a Jester", who was a commando in the British Army before being kicked out following an "unpleasant incident" and has since turned his hand to a daring heist of a secret weapon prototype. Part of his motive rant is an admission that he doesn't actually have a plan for what to do with the weapon now he has it; he just did the heist for the challenge and the risk.
  • Tracking Device: In "The Killing Ground", Modesty and Willie are the prey in a Hunting the Most Dangerous Game situation. The organiser gives them some supplies at the outset, supposedly to give them a sporting chance, but they turn to all be sabotaged with the apparent exception of a knife. After a while, they figure out the knife has a tracking device planted in it that's leading the hunters to them, and use it to set up a series of traps.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes:
    • In "Take-Over", Willie has a pair of boots where the heels can be detached and clicked together to form an explosive device that can be set to explode on a countdown or on impact.
    • In "Death of a Jester", Modesty has a small two-way radio hidden in the heel of one of her boots.
  • 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".
  • Unmoving Plaid: One of the few weak points in Jim Holdaway's art is that on clothing with a plaid or a narrow stripe pattern, the stripes are always directly up and down regardless of how the clothing is arranged.
  • 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 Did Not: "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.)
  • Whip It Good: In "Ivory Dancer", Modesty and Willie are attacked by a gang of Professional Killers knows as 'the Whip-Men', who use steel-tipped bullwhips as their weapon of choice.
  • William Telling:
    • Part of Willie's Knife-Throwing Act and often pulled by Willie against bad guys.
    • In "The War-Lords of Phoenix", the villains force Modesty to demonstrate her archery skill by shooting a small target hung around Willie's neck.
  • Wretched Hive: Calia, the 'Republic of Desperados', in "The Jericho Caper".
  • Yellow Peril: Mr. Wu Smith, introduced in "The Stone Age Caper", is a Chinese crime lord based in Macau who dresses and speaks like Fu Manchu.
  • Yodel Land: Graf von Schuyler's fief in Austria in "Top Traitor".
  • 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.

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