89: Story name: The Special Orders – 1998 ***
Location: East coast of Thailand – Rosie Ling’s Yang Shan cargo boat – MB’s London penthouse – WG’s “Treadmill” pub – Min Feng (small island 20 miles from Bua Nan).
Villain: Rosie Ling; James Nagle-Green.
Other characters: Pira (cocky Thai employee of Rosie Ling); Captain Rocha (of the Yang Shan); Samantha (Sam) Brown; Saragam (MB’s mentor, originally from Cambodia, now living in Thailand); Fain (Saragam’s granddaughter, a young nurse); Del (Tarrant’s man in Bangkok); Mei Lu (Thai girl captive whom Sam befriends); Mr Hata (wealthy business man whose daughter had been snatched three years before); Mr Wu Smith; Mark and Hannah Turner (husband and wife overseeing the judo club visit to Thailand); Weng.
Body count: 1, possibly 2
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB nude in bed; MB wearing a crop-top, bare shoulders.
Who kills who? : Rosie shoots Pira, her Thai employee who is cheating by taking his own 50% extra cut when selling girls to clients. The body is dumped at sea as a warning to others in her entourage. One of Rosie’s crew tried to stop the girls’ escape from the ship, only to be drop-kicked by Sam into the sea, when the girls battered him with an oar. We presume he drowned.
Summary/theme: Vice ring caper. Based on her ship Yang Shan, Rosie Ling and her English personal assistant, Nagle-Green, deal in ‘special orders’, young girls of various nationalities specific to the requests of her wealthy clients. She has two very young Indian girls, others from Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong or Macau, but her latest request, from a man named Sumartra, is for a young English girl. Nagle-Green selects 15 year old Sam Brown, in Bangkok with the London East End judo club, to meet MB’s martial arts mentor Saragam, and his granddaughter Fain. Sam is kidnapped and knocked out with chloroform, following a fake ‘drowning accident’. Rosie Ling then pretends to have ‘rescued’ her, which Sam realises is a ruse, but she, in turn, pretends to act dumb, and grateful. Meantime, MB and WG, alerted to Sam’s disappearance, fly to Thailand, where they met Del, Tarrant’s local agent, and are offered help from Mr Hata (a rich businessman and friend of Saragam), whose daughter was taken three years previous, and has vowed revenge. When Rosie Ling’s ship moors off a small island to pick up another young girl, Sam is able to access the ship’s radio and get a message to Weng in London, then speak to MB and WG, giving her location. Despite MB’s objection, she then planned to take the captive girls (all young, and of various nationalities) with her by dinghy to the island. MB and WG parachute down to the island, and, when Rosie’s men come ashore to re-capture the runaway girls, WG blows up their boat. After that MB and WG take out the men, one by one, but before they can make the next move against remaining crew onboard the ship, Mr Hata arrives by helicopter and uses tear-gas to subdue Rosie and Nagle-Green, and the remaining crew. Rosie still tries to buy her freedom by offering money or a partnership, but Hata tells her he is already rich, and she had better start to remember where his daughter is. At best, she faces 30 years in a Thai jail. MB and WG find Sam and the girls holed up in a fortified abandoned temple. Given how grown-up she now is, WG is suddenly apprehensive about hugging Sam. MB and Sam have a laugh and Sam has a weep on her shoulder instead, before calling WG “daft”.
Critical comments: This is Sam Brown’s third and final appearance, after “Samantha and the Cherub” (1987/88) and “Ivory Dancer” (1992). She is no longer a young child, but aged 15, and a very competent, feisty teenager. When MB mentions Sam to Sir Gerald, following her disappearance in Thailand, he immediately associates her with “helping save my godson’s wife”, Stefan Kolin’s wife Lucy in the 1987/88 story. However, later in the story, when our heroes land on the island where Sam has taken the girls, MB is concerned about the ”aggressive” monkeys, but then remarked about WG’s ability with animals, giving the example of “Ethel the elephant” and the “Himalayan bear in Tibet”…Except, although one of the Gogol circus elephants was named Ethel, it was Chloe the elephant who was WG’s favourite, as featured in “The Bluebeard Affair” (1972/73), “The Return of the Mammoth” (1984), and finally “The Zombie” (2000/01). Old foe Mr Wu Smith also puts in his last appearance, in a funk when MB phones him from Bangkok, recollecting his previous attempt to have her and WG ‘signed off’ in the story “The Aristo” (1994/95). He is again accompanied by a nameless young Chinese female in a very short mini-skirt. He was always a Romero creation, but, when, towards the end of the story, we meet Mr Hata, the rich businessman friend of Saragam, he looks almost identical to Wu Smith – same facial features, hair-line, moustache! We also briefly meet MB’s Cambodian martial arts mentor, Saragam, and his granddaughter, Fain, still working as a nurse, but now living in Thailand. They appeared in the comic strip story “The Golden Frog” (1978, also illustrated by Romero), as well as Saragam featured in the novels The Silver Mistress (1973), The Night of Morningstar (1982), and Dead Man’s Handle (1985). When Sam first phones MB and WG from Singapore she pretends to be the ‘speaking clock’. As usual Weng is on ‘radio duty’ at the penthouse. Anglo-Thai Rosie Ling is cruel, ruthless, without any moral compass. As such, she is rather similar to Miss Tseh Suan, head of a Hong Kong-based vice ring in the Jim Edgar “Garth” comic strip story “The Fishermen” (1979) – equally ruthless in disposing of enemies or failed employees, but Garth (always a sucker for anything in a skirt) calls her “An amazing woman” – not an opinion that MB would have expressed! Garth actually intervenes and saves her from the self-appointed vigilante’s attempt to assassinate her – thereby allowing her to continue to ply her trade. Worth comparing the Martin Asbury artwork of Hong Kong with that of Romero, however – who was the better artist!
90: Story name: The Hanging Judge – 1998/9 ***
Location: Bridestone Prison (18 years previous) – Benildon village, Wiltshire – London’s East End, house of George Leyman – cottage in Lancashire – St. Oswald’s Isle, off the south coast of the Republic of Ireland – The “Treadmill”, WG’s riverside pub near Maidenhead.
Villain: Simon Vance (egomaniac master criminal). Henchmen Fenton, Calder, Lambert and Downey.
Other characters: Jimmy Merton (movie director, Hokum Movies); Sir Robert and Lady Martha Beaumont; Hannah Leslie Beaumont (daughter, 28, qualified nurse); George Leyman’s daughter Daisy and her thuggish husband Len; Billy, another of Vance’s former gang; Dave Craythorpe (pilot).
Body count: 6
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: Hannah Beaumont (at the end of story).
Nudity rating: MB in undies, changing into skimpy ‘Boadicea’ outfit; MB semi-nude and in undies; nude in bed; MB and WG sharing a small caravan on the movie unit site in Ireland, MB, as usual, sleeping nude; Hannah nude (rear view).
Who kills who? : WG kills Fenton up on the monastery roof, while MB kills another two more of Vance’s henchmen. WG swaps bombs into Vance’s speedboat, which, when Vance then activates, blows himself up instead. WG gets a cracked rib from a crossbow bolt.
Summary/theme: Mad criminal seeking revenge caper. Evil killer Vance is sent down for 20 years, a decision made upon appeal at the leniency of the original 12 years, by then Home Secretary Sir Robert Beaumont. Once out, after 15 years, Vance goes abroad with the money from the bullion robbery, changes his appearance, even his finger-prints, but determined to extract revenge. He kidnaps Beaumont’s daughter Hannah, and taking the persona of the ‘Judge’, intends keep her half-starved for 20 days – one day for each year of the prison sentence – before hanging her on a wooden gallows. In the meantime, he torments her parents with videos recordings showing her condition and ill-treatment. MB realises she is tapping out the location in morse code, that of a silent order monastery off the Irish coast. Under cover of a movie unit making wacky ‘parallel universe’ science fiction movies, MB (dressed in a Viking outfit) mounts a rescue, while WG parachutes in, although he gets wounded by a crossbow bolt. However, together they kill three of Vance’s henchmen and knock out the fourth, but Vance escapes in a fast motor-boat. However, he is blown-up by his own bomb, intended for his hapless henchmen, which WG (knowing about it from Hannah) had swapped over. Afterwards Hannah visits the “Treadmill” to show WG her gratitude.
Critical comments: This is the third time in the comic strips Peter O’Donnell has the bad guys take over a monastery – the first time being “La Machine”, the first MB story (1963), then “Plato’s Republic” (1985) by Salamander Four. But he also used this theme in the original novel, Modesty Blaise (1965), by the Gabriel gang, that time located on a remote Turkish island in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the last two instances (both, therefore, Greek Orthodox monks), it seemed most likely the unfortunate monks would have been murdered afterwards. Here they are a silent order of Catholic monks, being detained in the west wing, while Vance and his four henchmen hold Hannah in the south-east corner. Vance wears different face-masks so only Hannah knew what he now actually looked like, and he planned she would eventually be dead. Afterwards he intended to go back abroad again.
Meantime, Romero’s image of MB’s cottage in Wiltshire has changed yet again! It is now a small, two-storey house with tile roof and French-style window shutters, built into the hill-slope. Nothing like the stand-alone thatched cottage in “The Young Mistress” (1991/92) or “The Grim Joker” (1993/94). Also, MB visits George Leyman, former member of the Vance bullion robbery gang, supposedly living in London’s East End, again, an un-English, stand-alone house with trees in the background! The face of Leyman’s obnoxious son-in-law, Len, as illustrated in strip 9573, has been directed ‘lifted’ from a short science fiction comic strip story entitled “Paradise Lost”, written by Victor Mora, and illustrated by Spanish artist Carlos Giménez, which appeared in the August 1981 edition of the U.S. fantasy magazine Heavy Metal. The two faces are almost identical! Meantime, Vance’s other criminal ex-associate, Billy, lives in a very nice large house (rather than a ‘cottage’) in Lancashire – at least comparatively authentic in appearance. Again, Peter O’Donnell has fun with wacky science fiction (“parallel world”) movies, this time involving hand to hand fighting, followed by a bedroom romp, between Julius Caesar and Boadicea – WG remarks “Posh people call her Boudicca.” The next movie in production is – coincidentally – in Ireland, although by MB’s suggestion relocated to opposite the remote island monastery, where Vance holds Hannah prisoner. It was originally to feature Vikings fighting “aquatic invaders from another galaxy”. However, the aliens “were wanted on another movie” so the plot was changed to a Viking fleet, led by ‘Erica the Red’, battling against a “fleet of Apache Redskins led by Pocahontas, wife of Sitting Bull”. WG tries to point out it was Eric the Red, while Pocahontas lived 600 years later, and wasn’t an Apache, but from the Powhatan tribe, and Sitting Bull lived another 200 years after that. The movie director merely says “That was this world perhaps…not in the Hokum Films Inc., parallel worlds.” At one point, preparing for her Boadicea action scene, MB debates “Did Boadicea wear knickers?” under the loose, split skirt, then deciding director Jimmy wants a U-certificate (unrestricted), so better to do so! Both have Union cards for doing acting or stunt work. WG jokes he still has nightmares after seeing the movie “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial”, which was released in 1982.
Former Home Secretary Sir Robert Beaumont, briefly became Shadow Home Secretary after his party lost the general election, but was later crippled in a riding accident, and retired to MB’s Wiltshire village of Benilton, where Lady Beaumont had a reputation of complaining a lot. Sir Robert knows of MB’s association with Sir Gerald Tarrant at the Foreign Office. Their 28 year old daughter Hannah is a qualified nurse, who worked in Third World countries, of strong character. Three years previous she was the nurse (under middle name of Hannah Leslie) on an Antarctic expedition, when radio contact was lost, she used morse code. MB realised that, on the video tape Vance has sent the Beaumonts, she is tapping out the name Saint Oswald’s, off the south coast of Ireland, monastery built in 1687, with just fifteen monks. It would a matter for the Irish police, who would treat it as a hostage situation, by which time Hannah would be dead. Hannah herself is another Romero blonde, looking rather like Maude Tiller.
91: Story name: Children of Lucifer (1999) **
Location: “Northern ranges of Sierra Nevada” (California/Nevada border) – Township of ‘Eagle Fork’ – ‘Blackwings’, a folly built by ‘forty-niner’ goldrush ‘overnight millionaire’ Harry Lee – ‘The Cabin’, Winter sports house owned by John Dall – ‘Skagg’s Crest’ ski slopes – logging camp and river.
Villain: Luke Blenkinsop (real name Luke Farley); ‘hatchet-man’ Max; the Masaryk brothers, Rudi and Klem.
Other characters: Joanna Martin; Giles Pennyfeather; Steve Taylor.
Body count: 3
Modesty’s lover: Giles Pennyfeather.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB nude in bed; in just panties, getting dressed.
Who kills who? : Max kills Luke when he threatens to shut down their drug empire. WB kills Max with a peavey (pole used by loggers), and another henchman with his knife.
Summary/theme: Drug gang criminal caper. Blenkinsop’s daughter Nicola died of overdose in New York, but he saved, and kept, her best friend Joanna as a prisoner and sex-slave in his Satanic cult front, when really he’s dealing drugs to three US mafia gangs. They use the forest logging trucks as cover to move the drugs overland. Blenkinsop’s plan, however, is to entice and kill the mafiosi bigwigs (and their minders) in revenge. To this end he intended to show them home movies of his dead wife and daughter, having trapped them in a strongroom, then using poison gas. After that, he planned to shut down his own racket, and burn the house down. However, unbeknown to him, his chief lieutenant and strong-arm man, Max, has other ideas, which is to save the mafia bosses and continue getting rich from the drug trade. Joanna, meantime, manages to escapes on skis, but is knocked unconscious, drugged, and left to freeze to death, by the Czech Masaryk brothers. They then, rather too forcefully, try to stop MB skiing that way, only to be knocked out just as WG and Giles appear. WG has been working with the local loggers, while MB and Giles are spending time together at ‘The Cabin’, owned by another of MB’s lovers, multi-millionaire John Dall. Joanna is discovered and rescued when Giles skis the wrong way, and she tells them about Blenkinsop. Despite MB tipping off another of her ex-boyfriend, FBI agent Steve Taylor, Giles persuades her and WG to still save the lives of the mafia hoods. MB and WG use the ruse of being radio reporters, sent to investigate the Satanist cult, but Max is still able to kill Luke before he can carry out his threat to kill the mafia bosses. The finale is a fight, between WG and MB and Max’s gang, which takes place on logs as they float down the river. Only when Steve Taylor and his “posse” arrive, does WG realise they haven’t seen the Masaryk brothers. They hurry back to the Cabin to find Giles used a trick to give them a knockout drug.
Critical comments: This story brings together three of MB’s regular boyfriends, all making what was to be their final appearances. So, we have Dr Giles Pennyfeather (originally a crossover from the novels), making his fourth appearance; MB’s FBI boyfriend, Steve Taylor, also making his fourth appearance; and a brief ‘cameo’ from Texas tycoon John Dall, who owns ‘The Cabin’. Steve Taylor again has his FBI ‘hat’ on, as from his first appearance in “Uncle Happy” (1965, illustrated by Holdaway), then “The Gallows Bird” (1973, by Romero), but in “Dosser on Pluto” (1980, illustrated by Colvin) he was apparently retired from the FBI. Not anymore! He is now based at San Diego, CA, rather than New Orleans. MB declines his suggestion of renewing their relationship, only for Giles to finish up ‘comforting’ Joanna instead. Steve Taylor only ever featured in the comic strips. Giles first featured in the novel The Impossible Virgin, while in the comic strips he featured in “The Wild Boar” (1986, drawn by Neville Colvin), “The Young Mistress” (1992, by Romero), and “Honeygun” (1996).
Eagle Fork is described as a ‘village’, but most Americans would probably call it a township. The word ‘village’ is rarely, if ever, now used in the USA. Romero’s one illustration of ‘Main Street’ is very crude, especially compared to his earlier work. Also Blenkinsop often looks rather the fake priest ‘Father’ Lamont, in the story “Milord” (1988). Whilst being interviewed for television, and as part of his fake Satanic cult, Blenkinsop gives an almost Gnostic interpretation of the world really being ruled by the “fallen angel” Lucifer. Although both MB and WG remark on aspects of Satanism, neither allude to their own ‘close encounter’ with Lucifer – or the mentally gifted young man who thought of himself as Lucifer – in the early novel I, Lucifer (1967). There are frequent references to the ‘Temple of Asmodeus’, within the Blackwing complex. He was another fallen angel from the Bible, who featured in Jewish, Christian and Moslem beliefs, sometimes regards as the King of Earthly Spirits, a Prince of Demons.
MB, of course, hates drug-dealers, but this is also another example where the villain goes bad after his daughter died from drug addiction, as we first saw in the early story “The Alternative Man” (1983, illustrated by Colvin), where the grieved father became so jealous of young women still alive and healthy, that he masterminded a Caribbean drug trade. Giles, as ever, continues to alternatively evoke MB’s affection for his doctor’s skills and foibles, but tempered with his ability to annoy and wind her up by his “lunatic” contradictory logic. When he appeals to her to prevent the mafia bosses and their minders being “slaughtered” by “bad-mad” Blenkinsop, MB responses by saying that her and WG aren’t the “Caped Crusaders or the Four Just Men”. This latter refers to a novel of that name by Edgar Wallace (1905), and a British television series from 1959-60. When she remarks she hopes the mafia men will “spend the next fifty years in gaol”, Giles shows no sympathy for them, saying, “Fine, they deserve it.” However, when he and Joanna are faced with the Masaryk brothers alone, Giles pretends he can see symptoms of the totally fictitious ‘Purple Death Fever’ and he only had two ampoules of the vaccine, which was really a knock-out barbiturate. Joanna, of course, thinks him “marvellous”, while MB says she is “proud” of him. Giles goes out on a high. WG and MB use a clever scam as a means to get into Blackwings, of being radio reporters tasked with a follow-up item on the Satanists, MB having an asthma attack, WG supposedly on the mobile phone to a bitchy, unsympathetic female producer.
92: Story name: Death Symbol (1999) *
Location: Patan hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal – “The Treadmill” pub – Buddhist temple at Swayambhu (the ‘monkey temple’) at Kathmandu – Tibet, and the camp community of Djut – ‘Tsam-La’, remote Tibetan valley, village (of some 200 inhabitants) and abandoned monastery.
Villain: Yen Kang, Chinese renegade.
Other characters: Irishman Paddy Boyd (ex-French Foreign Legion colleague of WG); Maureen Boyd (his daughter); Dr. Banerjea; Sushilla (his nurse); Weng; Djut (Tibetan Khambas leader); Tibetan brothers Tsering and Norbor; Tibetan Ten-Dal.
Body count: In total probably between 12 and 15.
Modesty’s lover: MB is brutally raped by Yen Kang.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB nude in and out of bed at the “Treadmill”; MB nude in Kang’s bedroom; full nude ‘nailer’ to distract and overwhelm guards.
Who kills who? : At least 10 Legionnaires killed in ambush, from which only Paddy and WG escape; several of the Polisario rebels. One of the renegade Chinese soldiers, trying to escape with the Thai woman Chia. Yen Kang is killed by the twenty or so women sex-slave prisoners. MB has her face badly bruised by Yen Kang. Paddy, in his failed attempted to rescue his daughter, is shot twice in the leg. In the French Foreign Legion flash-back WG is wounded in the leg.
Summary/theme: Rescue caper. Two years previous, Maureen, the daughter of an old French Foreign Legion friend of WG, Paddy Boyd (who once saved WG’s life), had been kidnapped whilst visiting her Thai grandparents. Through another Thai woman, Chia, Paddy learns she is in Tibet, in a secluded valley and the village and former monastery of Tsam La, now a hideout for fifty renegade Chinese deserters under the command of sadistic Yen Kang, who have set up their own little self-contained mini-‘kingdom’. Paddy’s own attempt to rescue her is thwarted, and he is badly wounded, leaving him helpless in a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. In a state of semi-delirium, Paddy talks about WG, whose name his doctor, Banerjeo, recognises, having himself once been a pupil of the Indian guru Sivaji. By means of dream images Banerjeo is able to ‘communicate’ images – of Paddy, of the ‘death symbol’ (the bullet taken from WG’s leg when they were ambushed in Algeria), of the monkeys in the Buddhist temple of Swayambhu that WG might recognise. His attempt at mental telepathy worked, and, having learnt Paddy’s story, MB and WG fly to Nepal, then cross into Tibet, where they enlist their old Khambas friends to mount a rescue of Maureen (now aged 18) and the other girls, twenty in all, who are procured by Thai vice gangs to be used as sex-slaves. Again MB volunteers to put herself at most risk by allowing herself to be taken captive by Yen Kung, then use the ‘nailer’ to distract the guards, allowing WG and Djut’s men to attack. MB is brutally beaten and raped, but WG is able to blow up the armoury, and two of the Tibetans free and guard the girls. When Yen Kung appears, he is disarmed and the girls collectively kill him. MB and WG secure the supply helicopter to fly the girls out, back to Kathmandu. Maureen is reunited with Paddy. MB and WG fly home.
Critical Comments: Again, the time-scale is totally all over the place. WG’s time in the French Foreign Legion was originally said to be 1950-54 (as per Jack Fraser’s intelligence dossier in “La Machine” (1963), but now WG says he was in the Legion after the French had left Africa, but were still allowed to train there, helping fight the “Polisario rebels”. In fact Algeria gained independence in 1962. The Polisario ‘rebels’ were mostly confine to the West Sahara, fighting against Morocco, and Algeria (and Libya) actually supported them. WG says he joined the Legion at 18 and the incident in Algeria with Irishman Paddy Boyd was two years later, so when WG was 20. WG also says his “best mate” Paddy was “nearly twice his age”, so already late thirties to forty. Paddy later married a Thai girl, Chula, who “he met out East”, and they had a daughter, Maureen, now 18, so at least 20 years on again. Given that WG is older than MB (already 30 to her 26, again according to Fraser’s original 1960s dossier), Paddy must, therefore (even in the tight, unrealistic time scale of the story, but also going by the dates of his marriage and fatherhood) already be in his late-fifties/early sixties at least. Romero, however, depicts him still as comparative young – perhaps forty at most, looking not unlike Steve Collier, certainly not a near- or plus-60-something-year-old, and – we must presume – he has blonde hair, unless (given the strip is in black and white) he is supposed to be grey, but this seems unlikely. Somehow the Paddy of WG’s flashback of being the only two survivors of a 12-strong Legion patrol, doesn’t match up with this Paddy (20 years at least later) in the hospital bed. It is perhaps worth noting that, although both he and WG are wearing the Legion kepi in the flashback, Paddy carrying a wounded WG through the desert is shown with dark stubble. Chula, Paddy tells WG and MB, died three years previous, “in Pattaya” – located on the east coast of Thailand, a fishing village until the 1960s, but took off as a tourist destination and resort following the Vietnam War. According to Wikipedia, it is now a city, with a population (registered residents) in 2019 of over 119,500.
In addition to this glimpse of WG’s (pre-MB period) time in the French Foreign Legion, we also get to meet Djut again, who featured in “The Black Pearl” (1967), but which – even more bizarrely – WG says was “only a year or two ago”! Again, this is totally ridiculous. O’Donnell could have at least said ‘eight to ten’ years. And apparently, in that short time MB (“Mostiblaise”) has become a much exaggerated legendary ‘giant’ (“like an elephant”). MB has already mentioned knowing the monkey temple of Swayambhu in Kathmandu from the aftermath of the “Black Pearl caper”. Also known as Swayambhunath (the name means ‘self-created’, although in Tibetan it also means ‘subtle trees’), this is one of the oldest Buddhist sites in Nepal, and perhaps the second most sacred in the Tibetan Buddhist world after Boudha, also located in the Kathmandu valley. It dates to about the 5th century AD, and is famed for its ‘holy monkeys’. Again, as MB was in the Black Pearl story, WG is ‘summoned’ to Nepal by paranormal means, in this instance a transferred dream from Doctor Banerjea. If Paddy Boyd is depicted as looking too young, and (either Nepalese or Indian) Doctor Banerjea looking a bit like the bearded version of Greg Lawton (from “Million Dollar Game”, 1987), then the nurse Sushilla looks just like any of Romero’s dark-haired females – neither authentic Nepalese, Indian or even especially Asian. But worse is to come. In Benerijea’s flashback we see him with Indian guru Sivaji, who we saw (briefly) in “Idaho George” (1978), and later featuring as a pivotal character in “Kali’s Disciples” (1985/86, drawn by Neville Colvin). Romero’s original version of Sivaji (sitting under a palm tree! This is in India!) bore no resemblance to his own later version, and certainly not to Colvin’s more authentic depiction. So, not only has the “solitary tree”, under which he lived (possibly a banyan tree), transformed into a weird – almost science fiction – growth, but Sivaji himself is utterly unrecognisable. Yes, he is bald (as Colvin draw him; previously Romero had him wearing a sort of turban)), with a long beard and wearing a loincloth (again Romero originally depicted him without a beard or long hair), but Colvin’s version of him was an authentically Indian – dark-skinned, thin and scrawny, dishevelled matted beard and straggly hair. Romero’s version, by contrast, depicts someone with classical Western (almost noble Greek) features and pale skin – wrong, wrong, wrong!
Once again we have a similar story of girls as sex-slaves, as we have seen in “Milord” (1988), and even to the bad guy being ‘executed’ by the liberated and revengeful women, this time without MB’s protests. WG remarks that Sivaji is dead – which we saw in the story “Kali’s Disciples”. There is also a mention of Rosie Ling (from “Special Orders”, 1998), putting this story chronologically later – again making no sense to WG’s pronounced time-scale since their last Tibetan visit, given that Samantha Brown in “Special Orders” was age 15, so at least 5 years older than her first appearance in “Samantha and the Cherub” (1987/88). During their activity in Tibet, they also pull much the same ‘truck over the ledge’ stunt to cover their presence to the Chinese, as was used in the earlier “The Black Pearl” story. However, given the ever greater Chinese control over Tibet, one must question would the Chinese authorities have permitted army deserter Yen Kang to have operated apparently so independently, but also just how easy MB and WG would be able to cross into Tibetan territory, or even a helicopter flying supplies in and out to the valley community from Nepal. The helicopter is an SA 330J Puma, of which (according to Wikipedia), 697 were manufactured by Sud Aviation Aérospatiale, from 1968 to 1987, used primary as troop carriers by various air forces around the world, the seat capacity was 16, although the ‘J’ model was upgraded for civilian use, with higher maximum take-off weight capacity. Issued with an ultimatum by MB, the two crew prefer to fly them, rather than remain with the ever-vengeful Tibetans. The rest of Yen Kung’s men are disarmed and expelled from the valley. If the Chinese army find them, they will be shot as deserters. When Djut remarks, “kinder to kill then now”, MB’s reply is “Tomorrow is always a better to die.”
Again, in retrospect, while this is the usual, quite complicated, O’Donnell story, alas overall, this story is seriously flawed in its ridiculous time-scale and a number of plot holes, while also being much nastier and more brutal, with little humour or originality to redeem it.
93: Story name: The Last Aristocrat – 1999/2000 **
Location: Greek island of Corfu (Krolli’s ‘cottage’) – the small (fictional) island of Asiago, “south of Brindisi” – the fictional village of Caglienda (where Aniela was born).
Villain: ‘Granny’ Smythe (Lettia Smythe, daughter of an Earl); Henry, her butler.
Other characters: Tarrant; Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli; his girlfriend Aniela; Italian intelligence chief Vinezzi;
Body count: At least 13.
Modesty’s lover: None.
Willie’s lover: Aniela.
Nudity rating: MG in shorts and top; Aniela nude (mostly rear view) in bed with WG, and getting dressed; MB briefly topless (front view) when WG wishes to ‘borrow’ her bra.
Who kills who? : Three of ‘Granny’ Smythe’s assassins are killed by WG throwing the two hand-grenades back at them, in the Network period flashback. The Soviet plague warfare expert Pavel Chernov (who we never see) is killed by Smythe’s henchmen. MB and WG kill a number of ‘Granny’ Smythe’s heavies, with spearguns or knives. Henry the butler shoots ‘Granny’ Smythe, then himself.
Summary/theme: Espionage/crime caper. Tarrant is on another vacation with MB and WG, this time on Corfu, at a house belonging to one of her former Network chiefs, Krolli, and on her yacht, anchored in the bay. However, Tarrant’s motive is in part to investigate a criminal English aristocrat, Lady Lettia ‘Granny’ Smythe, whose is currently dealing in illegal arms sales – notable by former Red Army factions (thereby dating the story to the post-Soviet period). MB tells him she has already had a direct confrontation with ‘Granny’ Smythe four years before winding down the Network, when WG’s sense of impending danger ( his “ears prickling”) saves her and her section chiefs from an assassination attempt. MB retaliated by giving Smythe 30 days to get out of North Africa, or her mansion and string of brothels would be burnt down. Unexpectedly, whilst Tarrant and MB are talking, Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli and girlfriend Aniela parachute down into the sea, supposedly to invite MB and WG to their forthcoming wedding. Really the wedding is a sham, so Guido can continue investigating Smythe’s latest arms sale, which turns out to be deadly plague-bombs (encased in flat metal disks), sold for $15 million to a terror group, the Dark Sable. Furious at being stood up at the altar, Aniela decides to ‘honeymoon’ with WG instead, but then speculates where she thinks Guido is – in the secret sea-water cave under Smythe’s mansion on the small, nearby island of Asiago. MB and WG investigate, sending Guido back with a tape recording for Tarrant and Vinezzi, head of Italian intelligence. Having got the two plague-bombs, MB and WG wear them about their necks as ‘protection’ – if damaged, the deadly bacteria will kill everyone within the vicinity. Unable to escape in the helicopter, WG uses MB’s bra as a bolas to set fire to the sail of a yacht, which, in turn, ignites an explosion. With police patrol boats approaching, ‘Granny’ Smythe’s butler, Henry, kills the two Dark Sable men, then Smythe, then himself. A week later Guido and Aniela get married.
Critical comments: This is the final appearance of lying, womanizing Italian gutter journalist Guido Biganzoli, who we first met in “The Balloonatic” (1982/83), and his blonde, beautiful, long-suffering girlfriend Aniela. Again we have a Network flashback, and also yet another attempt to murder MB, together with WG and all her section chiefs, this time by order of ‘Granny’ Smythe, the English aristocrat of the title, who was then living in a large house near Casablanca, and running a chain of brothels throughout North Africa. Given that MB is telling the story to Tarrant, it is apparent he was previously unaware of the failed assassination attempt. As we have remarked before, Jack Fraser’s original dossier on MB back in the first story (“La Machine”, 1963) obviously greatly underestimated the number of attempts on her life, and MB, at the time, made little attempt to correct him! MB explains that the ‘cottage’ (surely a quaint term, given the location and style) on the Island of Corfu, actually belongs to the Greek Krolli, one of her most loyal former section chiefs. He gets regular mention and appearances in both comic strips and novels, but featured in particular, with his mature teenage daughter, in “Plato’s Republic” (1983/84). Here he is only glimpsed in the flashback. The main two-storey section of the house itself seemed to be constructed of timber panels, and, in appearance, is vaguely similar to the New Zealand house in “The Maori Contract”, rather then a Greek-style house one might associate with Corfu. In fact, yet again, Romero’s architecture throughout this story seems completely wrong. ‘Granny’ Smythe’s house (or mansion) on the nearby Italian island of Asiago (strip 9904), two storey with roof windows and front portico, actually looks more like a plantation mansion in the southern states of the USA – again, neither Italian nor Greek in appearance. And why does he depict it tilted at an angle? While the ‘cottage’ (that rather English word again) “ in the hills behind the village of Caglienda”, where WG and Aniela consummate what was supposed to be her honeymoon (strip 9912), is almost identical in appearance to Australia lady lawyer’s house “in Sydney”, New South Wales (strip 7555), in the story “Walkabout” (1990/91), even to the positions of the trees, roadway in front, and the dark exterior walls and white roof, despite it being only mid-afternoon! A further example of lazy art is the one view of the Greek village itself – which again does not look in the slightest bit Greek; and, indeed, it is almost identical (roadside trees, parked cars) to a view, supposedly of London, in “The Young Mistress” (1991/92). Vinezzi, who first appeared in “The Puppet Master” (1971/72, by Romero), and later “The Balloonatic” (illustrated by Colvin), was originally older, probably in his late fifties, bald, with dark hair. Here, again rather bizarrely, Romero re-depicts him as much younger, with fair hair, more like his French colleague. Entertaining Tarrant on the yacht, drinks are served by a young, bikini-clad female who WG names as “Aliki”, but she appears in two panels only, without any explanation. She is actually from Crete, and featured in the novel I. Lucifer (1967). MB remarks that WG’s singing is even worse than hers. WG comments that the helicopter used by ‘Granny’ Smythe is a Hughes 500. We never learn Aniela’s surname, or, indeed, much about her – what did she see in Guido to want to marry him? Surely it would all end in tears?
94: Story name: The Killing Game – 2000 **
Location: Benildon, Wilts. – ‘Redmont’, nearby cottage – Singapore – ‘Rigel’ settlement, Orion’s Field, New Guinea.
Villain: Sebastian Kromm; McNab; Pienaar (big game hunter from South Africa); Da Costa (hunter from Portugal); Ms Roper (hunter from USA); Lord Whitram (from England).
Other characters: Unnamed vicar of Benildon; Mrs Maloney; Keri (16 year old New Guinea native girl and her baby Matilda); Tarrant; Fraser; Weng.
Body count: 4
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: At the village fête MB wears a very low-cut, slinky dress. In the set-up to trap WG, the younger foreign woman has her dress torn, exposing her breast and panties. Both MB and WG are kitted out in ‘Tarzan-like’ tiger-skin outfits, in MB’s case showing off her back, legs and buttocks. The young native girl wears only a grass skirt, breasts bare.
Who kills who? : MB drags McNab out of the helicopter when she jumps (he, however, is without a parachute). WG kills Pienaar with spear. Ms Roper kills Da Costa in a fit of feminist rage. MB kills Kromm in a shootout. MB wounds Whitram in the shoulder with an arrow, but let him go afterwards.
Summary/theme: Game hunting caper. MB is at a charity fête at Benildon, where she is introduced to the ‘Reverent Sebastian Kromm’ by her vicar, but quickly realises he is a phoney. He, in turn, claimed to have a detailed dossier on her and WG, and offers adventure in the form of a big game hunt of “lions or tigers” at his 20 sq. mile estate of Orion’s Field in the Far East. She refuses outright, saying she does not kill animals for pleasure, and is about to leave when her vicar delays her to assist the Punch and Judy man. She then gets tricked into helping drive two foreign women – apparently mother and daughter – to their rented cottage nearby, only to find Kromm waiting for them, before being knocked out. Soon after WG is walking to visit his girlfriend Lady Janet and the younger woman pretends she is being sexually attacked, again he is knocked out. Both MB and WG are then separately transported by private jet to New Guinea, at the Rigel settlement at Orion’s Field, where they are still kept separate in windowless accommodation, but with access to gym facilities, library, etc. MB is under the custody of an elderly and rather severe Mrs Maloney; WG – having already encountered and wound up Kromm – under a man named McNab. Each are told that any resistance will result in the other being flogged by a sjambok, a whip made from rhino hide. To their guards’ bemusement, both respond almost the same, exercising, reading, mediating, performing yoga. MB is unsurprised when told she and WG are to be the hunted quarry, saying that always was obvious. She shows equal disdain when paraded before her hunters – Kromm, Pienaar, Da Costa, Ms Roper and Lord Whitram, vowing she and WG will compete to personally kill Kromm. WG is already in the secluded, enclosed jungle hunting grounds, but when MB is to be parachuted down, she takes McNab with her – him plunging to his death. She lets WG take his boots – size 10! WG has prepared primitive weapons – sling, spear, bow and arrow – and hunted for food. However, in their cave hideaway is Keri and her baby (still suckling), a young native girl, used and abused and rejected by her tribe, who had wandered into the reserve and now cannot escape. WG and MB promise to protect her. WG has already discovered they have radio bugs stitched into the hem of their outfits. Also the hunters are using bolt action Jeffreys .404 rifles, which take a second to reload and fire again. When the hunt begins, WG takes out Pienaar, then finds Da Costa shot by Ms Roper, who he knocks out. MB meanwhile wounds Whitram in the shoulder with an arrow. He concedes defeat, being the least enthusiastic at the man and woman hunt, and MB patches him up, taking his rifle and throwing away his boots. Finally MB and Kromm shoot it out at close range. MB then uses Ms Roper’s outfit and a chunk of her blonde hair to briefly fool the settlement guards, long enough for them to seize the helicopter and fly out, together with Keri and her baby. Keri says she will rename her baby ‘Willie’.
Critical comments: Yet another charity fête, again at MB’s Wiltshire village of Benildon! Kromm is introduced as the vicar of the Church of St. Blaise, in the Indonesian city of Surabaja, capital of East Java. St. Blaise was a martyred 4th century bishop of Sebustea, in Armenia, revered by both Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, his feast day 3rd February (11th February, Orthodox calendar).
MB asks herself why she can say ‘no’ to any man except a “small, fat vicar”.
Again, WG is off to visit Lady Janet Gillam when intercepted and knocked out.
At a meeting of Kromm’s big game hunting group, the Orion’s Field Big-Game Club, they briefly lament Pienaar’s predecessor, the late Mr Laborde, who had “recently deceased following a dispute with Mrs Laborde”, Kromm adding, “At least he had the honour of being shot with his own rifle.” The South African Pienaar (who shares his name with one of the members of Europe’s Fist, in the story “The Vampire of Malvescu”, 1987), remarks he was friends with “Scoular, ivory poacher – He tried to kill them. He’s dead.” This was from the story “Million Dollar Game” (1987), but actually Scoular was captured alive – it was the gang leader, Carslake, who was killed by Milly the rhino. In many ways – even in the story title – this echoes the short comic strip story “the Killing Ground” (1968), later reworked as the short story “Bellman”. Again MB and WG are being hunted by big game professionals, but who cheat by using a radio bug to track their intended quarry. WG cannot bring himself to actually kill Ms Roper, a potential fatal flaw we have witnessed in other comic strip stories. MB says she is 40 metres away from Kromm, but is actually drawn as being a lot closer, not even 40ft distance. Was that deliberate, or simply Romero forced to contract the distance due to the comic strip panel size. At the end, they contact Larry Houston, the Australian Intelligence chief – a friend of Tarrant – who first featured in the 1978 novel Dragon’s Claw, and appeared as a key crossover character to the comic strip in the story “Walk-About” (1990/91).
95: Story name: The Zombie – 2000/01 **
Location: ‘Apollyon’, Cornwall, near village of Brownloe – London to Brighton vintage car rally – Brighton hotel – Friston Forest, South Downs, Sussex – Tarrant’s office, London – MB’s penthouse, Bayswater Road, London – WG’s pub, the “Treadmill”.
Villain: Professor Nicomede Katris (paraplegic and computer genius); Sir Edgar Holstead (head of Future Computers Ltd).
Other characters: Leda (Katris’s daughter); Tarrant; Danny Chavasse (from the Network); Dave Goss (northern-based crime boss and MB friend); Jack Fraser; Rt. Hon. Viscount Bunty Maycroft (school friend of Tarrant’s); Georgi Gogol (circus co-owner); Rosa and the Aziz Brothers.
Body count: 1 (at least 10 others mentioned in text).
Modesty’s lover: Danny Chavasse.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: MB in undies, getting changed; briefly wearing clinging dress with low-cut cleavage and double side-splits; backless swimsuit; changing, topless in circus caravan; skimpy bikini (front and rear view).
Who kills who? : Professor Katris commits suicide with cyanide capsule. His underlings, using cut-outs, had previous eliminated various gang bosses in South America and the USA, and fellow crime boss Robbie Dunbar in Glasgow. Two of Tarrant’s agents had also died.
Summary/theme: Crazy megalomaniac caper. Professor Nicomede Katris, “the world’s greatest authority on computers”, and his associate, Sir Edgar Holstead, head of Future Computers Ltd., have a grandiose plan to develop the ‘Ultimate Computer’ which would replace ordinary governments globally. For this lofty aim, they need a massive and constant source of finance, and have no scruples in the takeover of criminal networks in South America, USA and the UK to sell drugs. Latest in their sights is the crime syndicate run by northerner Dave Goss, an old friend of MB’s. He, however, refuses to deal in drugs, and so the plan is to assassinate him and have him replaced. Meantime WG is accompanying Sir Gerald Tarrant in the London to Brighton vintage car race, where they are joined by MB and Danny Chavasse, one of her former Network members. Tarrant confides the US Drug Enforcement Agency has requested his assistance in combating foreign drug dealers expanding into the UK, and MB suggests speaking to Goss, when she meets him to evaluate a race-horse at Friston Forest, East Sussex. MB and Danny are, therefore, present when the two hired hooded thugs attempted to garrotte Dave Goss. MB having knocked them unconscious, Goss recognises them as Lennie the Limp’s boys and vows to put pressure on Lennie to reveal his contact until eventually he knows who ordered the would-be killing. Meantime, Katris has ordered his daughter Leda, long brainwashed into serving ‘the cause’, to kidnap Danny, who is to be held as hostage to prevent MB from continuing to protect Goss. Instead Goss has discovered, not only Katris’s name, but the location of his hideaway in rural Cornwall, actually a house on the estate owned by Viscount Bunty Maycroft, an old schoolfriend of Tarrant’s. To get into the house WG and MB set up a diversion – Georgi Gogol’s circus to camp next door for winter quarters. When Sir Edgar protests, Maycroft coldly says not to tell him what he can or can’t do on his own land. While WG (disguised as an Indian mahout) uses Chloe the elephant to ‘accidentally’ break down the gate (“She can smell bamboo”, he says), followed by the circus acrobats, MB swims in from the sea and climbs up the well in the house basement, just as Katris has ordered Leda to dispose of Danny down the said well! But Danny’s talent is his charm with women, and he has already melted Leda. She refuses her instructions. WG takes out the exterior guards, MB – having assessed the situation with Leda and Danny – takes the rest. Katris commits suicide. Tarrant is able to move the police in, and Danny slips away with Leda to America.
Later MB and WG decide they are tired of fighting villains, and plan to retrieve the hidden Roman treasure buried in the Sahara Desert, chronicled in the novel A Taste for Death, and – rather bizarrely – donate it to the Salvation Army! The strip ends with them walking into the sunset.
Critical comments: Once again we have either Romero’s total disregard for the architectural integrity of the story text, or total misunderstanding. Both the opening panel (strip 10070), and several later external, aerial illustrations of ‘Apollyon’ (example strip 10121), show that Professor Katris’s headquarters is, quite clearly, to be a house in the 20th century Modernist style, with a tiled or flagstone roof-terrace, and front and side balconies, and a modern style patio, close-set single panel glass windows, jutting roof eaves, and located within a large square walled enclosure, with what is presumably a lawn on all sides. Yet, later in the story, Tarrant describes it as an “18th century mansion”, at one time used by practising Satanists (hence the name – ‘Apollyon’, or Abaddon in Hebrew, being a demon angel of the abyss), and with the ‘Great Well’ in the basement, which was connected to the nearby sea – hence, not really a drinking well, one would have thought! The mismatch between the supposed ancient mansion and the house as illustrated, is even greater than we saw in the story “The Big Mole” (1989) of the supposed 17th century ‘manor house’ near Tarrant’s cottage/farmstead. Here it is glaring, and totally incongruous. Equally absurd, perhaps, is the Professor’s master computer. He sits before a series of giant screens, flanked in front and on either side by a vast array of control panels, flashing lights, and what are supposed to be keyboards (we presume), the whole thing looking like the bridge of the star-ship Enterprise, or, actually it is a near-duplicate of French comic strip artist Jean-Claude Mézières’ depiction of the Space-Time Services Supervisor’s control room at Galaxity, as seen in the Pierre Christin “Valerian and Laureline” story The Ghosts of Inverloch (1984), except that Mézières was a better artist, and his version was in colour. The totally immoral Professor – a classic James Bond-style mad villain – ultimately plans to develop and impose self-replicating super-computers (or ‘Ultimate Computer’), which will govern the world, instead of flawed, emotional humans. When Tarrant questions, could he have done that?, WG (an avid reader of science fiction) remarks perhaps “in another fifty years”. We would call this AI, or artificial intelligence, while the world-wide web was already up and running when this story was written.
Aside from these pictorial quirks, Romero’s images of Brighton are very crude, as are his motor vehicles (vintage and modern) – something he was once very good at. The London to Brighton vintage car race is held on the first Sunday of November, starting at Hyde Park Corner, and finishing at Maderia Drive, Brighton, although the official finishing line is Preston Park, a Brighton suburb. The distance is 54 miles, and vehicles must be from 1905 or before. Apparently it is Tarrant’s third attempt, in a 1904 Renault, the previous times he had broken down at Bolney (a Mid-Sussex village on the junction of the A23 and A272, 11 miles from Brighton), and Albourne, again on the A23, 3 miles from Henfield. This time he had WG with him, “a master of the internal combustion engine”, to make on-road repairs. Meantime, MB and her ex-Network colleague and lover, Danny Chavasse, hang-glide overhead. Another little mistake – despite this being the first week of November, all the trees depicted are still in full leaf. Dave Goss is the Liverpool-based crime boss, and MB friend, who first appeared in “Sweet Caroline” (1983/84, illustrated by Neville Colvin). Colvin’s Dave Goss is a ruddy-faced, rather podgy, man with slightly receding hair, who sports a huge bow-tie and smokes cigars. Romero had previously illustrated him in “Ripper Jax” (1995), at least vaguely similar, but his version here is just another overweight, middle-aged fat-faced bloke – neither have the authenticity of Colvin’s image. Dave Goss was another comic to novel crossover, featuring in the novel Dead Man’s Handle (1985). Previously, when WG mentions Danny to Tarrant, Sir Gerald recollects “he teamed up with Maude Tiller” in the search for WG and MB, again from this novel. Danny Chavasse, a non-combat Network member, who used his seductive charm with the ladies to extract information, had featured in the novels and short stories – Last Day in Limbo (1976), which also featured Maude Tiller crossing over to printed page, she and Danny finished up romancing in the Caribbean (at WG’s suggestion). Danny also featured in Dragon’s Claw (1978), and the short stories “Dark Angels” and “Bellman”, both in the collection Cobra Trap (1996). This was his first, and last, appearance in the comic strips, initially as MB’s lover (as he was at one time in the novels), before disappearing to America with Leda. MB displays her equine expertise, advising Dave Goss on whether to purchase a race-horse, ‘Handsome Harry’, and Chavasse remarks that, while, she has great rapport with animals, “plants die, they don’t like her aura”. In addition to the final appearance of Georgi Gogol and his circus, we again meet Chloe the elephant, and acrobats Rosa and “her bruzzers” (the Turkish Aziz brothers), from “The Bluebeard Affair” (1972/73). Katris’s daughter Leda, whose mother died in childbirth, is the ‘zombie’ of the title, completely brainwashed to ‘the cause’ – Katris even remarks he has “manufactured a perfect daughter”.
How do you end a 38 year story? Peter O’Donnell had already done so over a decade earlier in “Cobra Trap” (1995), his ‘final’ Modesty short story, a fifty-something MB, dying from an incurable brain tumour, waging her last hopeless battle against the bad guys, and going down fighting. Dramatic – some might say satisfying (especially in finally acknowledging she might actually age beyond 30), but hardly uplifting. On the other hand, the ending to the comic strip isn’t really an ending at all….just another silly caper, and a final crossover idea from the novel A Taste for Death. MB and WG make plans to retrieve the Roman treasure hidden at the old Foreign Legion fort in the Sahara, and denote it to the Salvation Army, before they disappear together into the sunset – actually a final panel in a number of comic strip stories going back decades – but somehow reminded me of the ending to the original version of that other, long-lasting, but never-aging heroine, The Daily Mirror’s Jane, as she finally marries wet, unless boyfriend, Georgie Podgy. It’s a let-down, an anti-climax. 40 years of Evening Standard readers perhaps deserved something better, more original. Apart from the potty idea of gifting huge quantities of ancient treasure (gold, silver, jewels, coin, plate) to the Sally Army (wouldn’t it be declared treasure trove?), anyone who hadn’t read the novels (and that novel in particular) probably missed the point. Again, it might have been better if Peter O’Donnell had gradually aged MB in these later stories, into her forties at least, and especially in this finale. At least then their ‘final retirement’ might have made more sense. So, a workaday story, but a rubbish conclusion. What a pity.