Modesty Blaise: Bad Suki
by Pete O'Donnell, Jim Holdaway (Titan, 2005)

"In the beginning, there was Modesty." So goes the opening sentence in Lauren Henderson's fine website about the origin of reformed British supercriminal Modesty Blaise, and it couldn't be more true. Both the natural descendant of such heroines as Wonder Woman and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and the antecedent of Xena and Lara Croft, Pete O'Donnell's creation has had such an impact on pop culture that it is almost impossible to measure the extent of her influence. It's more of a "show" than a "tell." Fortunately, with all of O'Donnell's strips now available in graphic novel format -- of which Bad Suki is one of the best -- seeing for yourself is now a reality.

Blaise is without a doubt the most beautiful British spy ever to have saved queen and country over and over again. She entered public consciousness in 1963 as a cartoon strip when Britain was still recovering from the war. The atmosphere at the time was fairly grim. The swinging '60s hadn't quite got started. Yet here was this incredibly sexy criminal-turned-uberspy, an ass-kicking Amazon from head to toe, working for the British government, a one-woman prelude to the glamor scene about to enter the zeitgeist. Modesty was more James Bond than Bond himself. She could MacGuyver her way out of anything, had greater wit than Austin Powers and always, always looked completely fabulous while doing it. She was also a heady mixture of emotional complexity, independence and sexual sophistication, something not many women were at the time.

To say that Modesty Blaise was progressive is putting it lightly. She was groundbreaking, not just in action but in character: she was highly moral, quite intelligent, loyal to her friends, talented at resolving difficulty even when getting into trouble, and unflappably cool. These attributes are what made her the high priestess of pulp fiction, rightly so. She may have been a star of cult thrillers but she is also one of the most memorable literary characters of the 20th century, one that doesn't deserve to be relegated to obscurity but honored right up there with all the other female heroines.

Bad Suki collects three of Blaise's adventures: "Bad Suki," in which an adventure literally falls into the lap of Modesty and her right-hand man and best friend, Willie Garvin. While trying to aid a young girl with a drug addiction, Modesty and Willie find themselves taking on drug dealers and trying to stop a major shipment of heroin from reaching Britain. Also in this collection are "The Galley Slaves" and "The Red Gryphon." All of the stories are tightly woven adventures, filled with humor and the improvisation-in-a-bad-situation so typical of Modesty. Some of them can be quite dark, especially for a newspaper strip, but since the stories take place in the realm of espionage and crime, I wouldn't expect them to be light-hearted.

Many artists have drawn Modesty Blaise, but Jim Holdaway was specifically requested by Pete O'Donnell. As artist Walt Simonson says in the introduction, Holdaway's drawing are so clear and razor sharp you could open a letter on them. His concept of female form was classic, as excellent at showing long legs and cleavage as he was at depicting action. He drew nearly 2,100 strips, all of which have been reprinted in the Titan books Modesty Blaise series. If you have to read only one, Bad Suki is a good one to read; hopefully, you'll be enticed to read the rest of the series that spawned five novels and as many movies about one of the coolest superheroines ever to grace the daily papers.

review by
Mary Harvey

21 January 2012

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new