*Guest Post* – Garth Groombridge’s Modesty Blaise Checklist – Part 5


CHECK-LIST OF MODESTY BLAISE COMIC STRIP STORIES – PART 1 (1963-1986).

39: Story name: Idaho George – 1978 ****
Location: Stavely Hall, Norfolk coast – MB’s London penthouse and underground car park – “The Treadmill” pub – countryside between London and Norfolk coast.
Villains: Anastasia Bone and her gang (see below).
Other characters: Gilbert Bone (Anastasia’s second husband); gang members Gussie the Gut; Strangler; Meat-hook Charlie; Hooter Hackett; Snout the Scout; Nick the Dip; Big Nosey. Idaho George (MB/WG friend and American con man); Maisie (his girlfriend); Weng; Inspector Brook; Tarrant (brief, social event). In addition we have the brief appearances of Maude Tiller, Lady Janet, Rufus Marsh, and Steve Collier, taking turns to trail the vehicle with Maisie on-board.
Body count: none.
Modesty’s lover
: none.
Willie’s lover: Maisie flirts with WG to make George jealous.
Nudity rating: MB in short ragged skirt, showing legs (underwater). In bra and panties getting changed after escaping her ‘watery grave’, and WG finding her.
Who kills who? : No one. But MB gets badly beaten up, and later puts herself into a death trance.
Summary/theme: Crime and con artist caper. Watching a television programme, MB and WG recognise American con-man Idaho George and his girlfriend Maisie pretending to be a misogynist Indian guru Ram Dal Singh, and she his ‘voice’ Sita. Having announced that women are a “lesser form of life”, at a “lower stage of evolution”, ‘Singh’ claims he is able to materialise gold or silver from thin air, with a small nugget of gold falling into the lap of the female TV interviewer moments before they leave the studio! By coincidence George and Maisie are staying at the hotel immediately beneath MB’s London penthouse apartment, and are invited in to explain the con. Having gained world-wide notoriety for his comments on women, ‘Singh’ would then (reluctantly) offer to impart the secret of materialising wealth – for a $1,000 a time! If a thousand suckers sign up, they’ve made $1,000,000. Meantime, at a secluded mansion in Norfolk, Anastasia Bone, widow of gang boss Alfie Potts, now married to mouse-like, henpecked Gilbert Bone (who was the gang’s planning genius), is thoroughly taken in by George’s con, and plots to kidnap him. Anastasia is one of O’Donnell’s more incredulous, stupid villains, believing in physic powers and Tarot card readings. However, they seize MB along with George, thinking at first she is Sita. George, in his guise of Ram Dal Singh, stalls for time, insisting he needs Sita present. Anastasia orders her gang to beat up MB (who is in a straitjacket) and afterwards dump her out at sea. MB uses her knowledge from a real Indian guru, Sivaji, to put herself into a death-like coma, pre-programing herself to return to consciousness when underwater. Pre-alerted by Maisie, who they have instructed to be taken under pain of George/Ram being killed, WG arranges for her to be followed to the gang’s Norfolk hideout by a series of ‘tails’. WG arrives as MB is recovering – bruised and battered from her beating and ordeal. George, having continued stalling, has set the gang up, unarmed and all together in the ball-room. MB and WG then single-handedly take them out, they being suitably spooked by ‘dead’ MB’s re-appearance! Anastasia escapes, only to be knocked out by Gilbert, who then does a deal with MB – he escapes with half the $200,000 loot from the safe. Having tied up the gang and alerted the police, MB, WG, George and Maisie escape by helicopter (Weng the pilot) and MB gives the $100,000 to George on condition he gives up his con-artist life and marries Maisie!
Critical comments: One of Peter O’Donnell’s interests was stage magic – an example of which goes into George’s gold nugget con. George’s long-term girlfriend Maisie being all over WG is a theme we return to with roguish Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli and his girlfriend Aniela, who we will first get to meet in “The Balloonatic” (1983). This story is dated by Anastasia’s references to television programmes “The Muppets” (on television from 1976 to 1981) and “Come Dancing”, which ran from 1949 to 1998. Also, really quite unnecessary, Gilbert Bone apparently uses a computer (with reels of magnetic tape) for his ‘planning’. This is rather silly, plus at this point in time a computer was still extremely expensive, and probably still required punch-card input, as well air-conditioning. Was a Gilbert a programmer? Programs would first be hand-written as a complex formula, then typed onto punch-card, then ran through a program converter into a punch-card format the computer could read, and which was ‘loaded’ into the computer’s (very limited) memory every time the program was required. Not that straight-forward!
As WG rounds up various friends to follow Maisie’s trail, this is the first time cross-over of Lady Janet from the MB novels. Eventually she was to appear only once again in the comic strips, in the story “The Murder Frame” (1997). Likewise Steve Collier, also from the novels, who appeared again in “The Lady in the Dark” (1991), together with wife Dinah. This is also the only other appearance of Rufus (who we previous met in “With Love From Rufus”, 1972), and only now do we belatedly discover his surname is ‘Marsh’. While Lady Janet, Maude Tiller, Rufus Marsh and Steve collier each take turns to follow, Weng is using a glider to get the overall view. The trail goes from Hooper’s Reach (on the River Thames?) to East Dereham, to the Norwich Road.
MB tells George of a “real guru”, Sivaji, whose teachings she uses to fake her death trance. We get a single panel glimpse of Sivaji in strip 4424. He has no beard or long hair, and wears a turban-like head-cover. His body is skinny but his skin is not particularly dark. This then, is Romero’s first version of him. While a Indian holy man named Lal had previous appeared in story “The Black Pearl” (1966/67), Sivaji next appeared as the all-important, plot-motivating character in the comic strip story “Kali’s Disciples” (1985/86, this time drawn by Colvin), when (aged either 120 or 150) he finally dies. However, he ‘appears’ again in a character’s flashback recollections in “Death Symbol” (1999, art again by Romero), but all three versions are totally different – Colvin’s holy man is the most authentic, having a bald head, but straggly long hair and beard, and is scrawny and dark skinned. Romero’s final version still doesn’t have dark skin, but now has a full flowing beard, but his facial features look European! There is no similarity between the three!
At one point, early in the story, MB is using her Rolls Royce. Rather strangely, when MB subsequently meets George, who has been shopping for Maisie, she claims not to know how to “put on a sari”, which – given time spend in India, would seem most unlikely. Maybe she just didn’t want George to ask her put it on with him watching! In his guru Ram Dal Singh persona, George gets some quite funny, droll lines. In the strips preceding them being taken captive by the Bone gang, MB is in a black London taxi cab and sees George standing on the street corner in the pouring rain. She asks the driver to stop, but says to ‘Mr Singh’ if he would like to “share with an inferior female person.” She then teases him, saying, “Why you didn’t use your amazing powers to make a taxi materialize for you,” to which George replies the classic line, “Who says I didn’t?”

40: Story name: The Golden Frog – 1978 **
Location: Cambodia (village of Kem Tok near Thai border) – London (MB’s penthouse).
Villain: Khmer Rouge District Commissar Sei Mong
Other characters: Saragam (master of martial arts combat); Fain (his 15 year old granddaughter and student nurse); Tarrant; Jack Fraser; Tarrant’s Cambodian agent Yoon Chang; Li Pok (Thai combat master and former Saragam pupil); Frank Blake (journalist and pilot);
Body count
: 1
Modesty’s lover: Frank Blake (American journalist – after the story’s end).
Willie’s lover: Juanita (‘showbiz’ Spanish dancer – pre-story).
Nudity rating: none.
Who kills who? : Saragam kills Sei Mong by a pressure point to the neck.
Summary/theme: Revenge caper. Lowly District Commissar Sei Mong of the Khmer Rouge wishes to use famous combat master Saragam as bait to capture and extract revenge on MB for her humiliation of him years before, when her Network team stole a hoard of gold coin from him. Threatening to have Saragam’s young granddaughter executed, he obtains the ‘golden frog’ medallion MB gave Saragam and uses a double agent, Yoon Chang, to get MB and WG to travel to Cambodia on a rescue mission. In Thailand, MB enlists the help of pupils of Saragam, led by Li Pok. MB and WG are captured and at first (blind-folded and roped together) tricked into thinking they were fighting one of Sei Mong’s men rather than each other. They quickly realise the deception. Together with Saragam’s help they escape to the ruined temple complex of Chengha Wat, where Fain is hidden. Li Pok and his combat volunteers than fight and defeat an unarmed platoon of Sei Mong’s soldiers, before they escape across the border into Thailand and freedom.
Critical comment: Another story with a specific date, being set mostly in Cambodia during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, the CPK or Communist Party of Kampuchea, which lasted 1975-79, during which short period about 25% of the population, between 1.5 and 2 million people died, mostly executed. The Khmer Rouge Commissar Sei Mong’s hatred of MB dates to a Network operation when MB was about 20. Saragam is another crossover character who also featured, or was mentioned, in the novels. In The Silver Mistress (1973), we are told Mr Sexton, MB’s formidable foe, was trained under him in Bangkok. In The Night of Morningstar (1982) it was MB who trained under him, but in Cambodia, so presumably the circumstances alluded to in this story. Finally in Dead Man’s Handle it transpires WG had previously trained under him, before he met MB, but was subsequently ‘chucked out’. While the ‘information dump’ of the story of Saragam and MB is necessary, it seems rather clumsy, Saragam telling his 15 year old granddaughter the story as if for the first time. Amongst Saragam’s pupils MB earned the nickname ‘Little Frog’ from her agility and use of her legs in combat. Saragam and Fain reappear in the story “The Special Orders” (1998, again drawn by Romero), when young Sam Brown gets to meet him. In retrospect, this is a rather rambling story, the resolution of which is only possible by the unlikely decision by Sei Mong not to let his soldiers carry guns whilst trying to recapture MB. Also, given the fanaticism of the Khmer Rouge, and desperation of people to escape, would the Thai/Cambodian border really have been that easy to cross back and forth?

John M. Burns

“Green Cobra” (1979)

“Eve and Adam” (1979/80).

41: Story name: Yellowstone Booty – 1978/79 Artist: John M. Burns *****
Location: John Dall’s ranch, Texas – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Villain: Jed Bowley; brothers Harry and Tom Fenner; crooked lawyer Mr Hogan.
Other characters: John Dall; Lucy and Brad Grant.
Body count
: 2
Modesty’s lover: John Dall.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: Lucy stripping off topless to just panties.
Who kills who? : WG kills Harry and Tom Fenner. WG dislocates his shoulder.
Summary/theme: Crime caper. MB is staying with Texas millionaire lover John Dall at his ranch near Amarillo, enjoying a ‘hoe-down’. Meantime WG is camping near Yellowstone Lake, where they plan to meet up and do a round trip walk – Black Canyon – Snake River – Shoshone Lake – Geyser Basin – Bighorn Pass. However, his presence is an obstacle to the villains, Jed Bowley and murderous brothers Harry and Tom Fenner. Despite WG’s suspicions and fight-back, he is overwhelmed and cast off unconscious in his canoe, only to be rescued from drowning in the waterfalls by Shoshone Indian girl Lucy Grant, together with husband Brad. WG has a dislocated shoulder and short-term amnesia. MB, meanwhile, has a premonition he is in danger, and she and Dall promptly fly by helicopter to Yellowstone. Her mood becomes more sombre when Jed Bowley denies all knowledge of WG, but she sees one of the brothers with WG’s knife. ‘Chilling’ Dall to prevent him coming with her, she goes solo to investigate. Meantime Jed and the brothers take Lucy and Brad prisoner and use threats of violence to extract details of their real purpose – an old Shoshone map showing the location of 400 year old Aztec treasure. The Grants had told their lawyer, Mr Hogan, who decided to take it all for himself. Brad inadvertently blurts out WG is alive and, back at their cabin, MB appears just in time to prevent Jed from shooting him. WG having got his memory back, they tie Jed to a tree, threatening to leave him there unless he talks. The treasure is buried under a redwood tree and Hogan and another six heavies have arrived. While MB blows up their truck and takes two heavies out, WG rescues Lucy and Brad, killing the two brothers. Finally they use a stick of dynamite to subdue Hogan and the rest of the gang. Soon after Dall arrives with the local sheriff, and MB and WG opt to continue their backpacking holiday. The treasure will go to the Shoshone peoples.
Critical comments: This is the first of John M. Burns brief stunt as MB artist. Artistically, he has more in common with the bold, contrasting light and shadow style of Romero than Holdaway or Colvin, but – certainly here – with more attention of detail and a better grasp of characters and facial expressions. All the regular dramatis personae are recognisable, although MB has a rather ‘top-heavy’ chignon and her mouth is a bit too wide. However, Burns was especially good at depicting action and interesting visuals. The ‘McGuffin’ in this story certainly has some basis in popular legend or folklore, and is generally known as ‘Montezuma’s treasure’, most often associated with Utah, and possibly the town of Kanab and Johnson Canyon.
Mr Hogan wears a Stetson and has a distinctive way of talking, as if he had swallowed a Thesaurus. Lucy is one of O’Donnell’s gutsy female characters, proud and brave, the strong one in the marriage. It might be remember WG also dislocated his shoulder in the short story “I Had a Date with Lady Janet”, Pieces of Modesty, 1972. Is it just a coincidence that this story, with a new artist. sees a return to form for O’Donnell’s writing? John M. Burns drew illustrations for a number of MB stories, including the short stories in Pieces of Modesty (1972), and the cover for The Xanadu Talisman and Dead Man’s Handle, as well as the early Titan Books edition “The Gabriel Set-Up” and “Uncle Happy”. Previous he had illustrated the first novel, Modesty Blaise, examples of which could be found in the later Titan introductions. Given time, like Colvin, Burns might have settled into an artistic style perhaps more akin to Holdaway than Romero. More than ever, his tenure was the great unknown – just how different the stories might have been.

42: Story name: Green Cobra – 1979 ****
Location: Former monastery, Isle of Livsay, West Coast of Scotland – MB’s Wiltshire cottage and locality – McBeal’s mansion – on a yacht at sea.
Villain: Pandora; Doctor Vigo; Sir Angus McBeal; unnamed hit man.
Other characters: Jack Fraser; Tarrant; Weng;
Body count
: possibly 3
Modesty’s lover: none
Willie’s lover: none
Nudity rating: MB nude (rear view); MB in bra; Pandora showing her breasts.
Who kills who? : Jack Fraser kills Pandora, helicopter pilot, possibly Vigo. MB bruised, face and ribs injured after fight with Pandora.
Summary/theme: Kidnap/espionage caper. MB and WG are helping the local church fete at her village in Wiltshire, together with Sir Gerald Tarrant. She is knocked out by a professional hit-man who ties her to the steering-wheel of her car with a petrol bomb in the backseat. MB drives the car into a pond, just as WG arrives by motorbike to rescue her. MB manages to stop WG killing the contract killer. Tarrant reveals he thinks his assistant, Jack Fraser (who everyone thinks is on holiday in Greece), has really been kidnapped. MB and WG guess the likeliest candidate is Salamander Four, which is based in Amsterdam. They decide to take out the group’s top man in the UK, ‘pillar of society’ banker Sir Angus McBeal. Meantime Jack Fraser is held captive on a remote Scottish island, and Doctor Vigo is attempting to brainwash him. Fraser uses MB as his talisman or symbol of hope. This enrages Vigo’s fellow co-conspirator, blonde superheroine-style Pandora, who is insanely jealous of MB’s reputation. Meantime, McBeal tricks MB into thinking a new rival group, the ‘Green Cobra’ has Fraser, and sets them up to be taken captive. However, WG fakes his death, supposedly having fallen into the sea from a cell window, while MB resorts to cunning to beat Pandora, but not before taking a severe beating herself. In the confusion that follows, Fraser trips Vigo over, breaking his arm, and together he, WG and MB make their way to the harbour. Pandora is tricked into thinking they have escaped by boat, which she blows up from a helicopter. Fraser, in turn, shoots the helicopter, killing all abroad – initially much to MB’s annoyance. However, a week later MB is with Tarrant at the ladies’ annex of the latter’s club, when they confront McBeal. MB (her face still showing injuries) makes it plain she will take no further action him or Salamander Four unless provoked, when she will personally kill McBeal. He, in turn, points out the 3,000,000 Swiss francs to be paid for ‘turning’ Fraser would have helped the UK export figures!
Critical comment: The first and only appearance of Sir Angus McBeal in the comic strip, one of the Salamander Four directors, “banker, company director, charity patron, church warden, Knight Commander of the Bath”. By then Salamander Four had already featured in “The Wicked Gnomes” (1973), and would do so again in “Plato’s Republic” (1984/85), and “The Lady in the Dark” (1989/90), as well as in several of the short stories. Sir Angus himself appeared again in “Old Alex” (Cobra Trap), where he terminates Salamander Four operations by ordering the killing of the other three directors, de Chardin, Gesner and Peredo. It has to be said that Burn’s depiction of him here is masterly, just right. O’Donnell himself was impressed with Burn’s depiction of Doctor Vigo, a sort of evil Toulouse-Lautrec-like dwarf. Burns also gives perhaps the best depiction of MB’s Wiltshire cottage – similar, although not quite the same as Holdaway’s version, but nothing like either the Pat Wright version (which is more like a shack), or the rather awful (and completely inconsistent) Romero versions. Village or church fetes feature several times in other MB stories, notably “The Killing Game” (2000). Again, a small detail brings us into the later 1970s with MB wearing a Darth Vader helmet when they kidnap McBeal. MB had used the lead weight in the shirt cuff technique in the novel Sabre-Tooth against the Siamese twins Chu and Lok.

43: Story name: Eve and Adam – 1979/80 Artist: John M. Burns/Pat Wright **
Location: “The Treadmill” – Galt’s house in Hampshire – ‘paradise valley’ in the fictional East African country of ‘Burenzi’.
Villain: Colonel Q.
Other characters: Dan Galt (eccentric millionaire); Major John Rawson; Professor Elijah Kumosi (of the University of Burenzi); Sula (Kumosi’s assistant).
Body count: 5
Modesty’s lover
: none.
Willie’s lover: none.
Nudity rating: Both WG and MB nude in the new ‘Eden’ (mostly back views, but the occasional bare breast.)
Who kills who? : Colonel Q’s mercenaries kill Professor Kumosi and Nobby Clark. MB and WG kill several mercenaries. MB kills Colonel Q.
Summary/theme: Adventure/crime caper. MB and WG are invited to visit elderly, but eccentric, millionaire Dan Galt, who had previously had considerable investments in an East African country called Burenzi. Galt is into scientific astrology and is convinced a genetically engineered super-virus will wipe out the entire human race within three months. His plan is that MB and WG be the new ‘Adam and Eve’, isolated from the virus in a ‘paradise’ oasis in the middle of a desert in Burenzi. When they politely decline, he is forced to render them unconscious and has them transported there, where they wake, naked and without any items of civilisation other than a cassette recorder with a message to “go forth and multiple”. Over the next six weeks they find shelter, make clothes from goat’s skin, explore their environment, and finally contemplate how they might cross the 70 miles of burning desert back to civilisation. Instead a small capsule lands by parachute, they conclude from a satellite. Not long after a truck arrives with two scientists (one a young attractive native woman, Sula) and two British soldiers, serving with the Burenzi military. However, before they can make their presence known, a dozen mercenaries also land by parachute, killing Professor Kumosi and Corporal Clark and severely wounding Major Rawson. MB and WG are able to rescue the Major and Sula (killing several of the mercenaries with arrows), after which MB performs a field operation on the Major. MB and WG then go on the offensive, trapping the majority of the mercenaries in a gully, although Colonel Q attempts to kill MB and is killed instead. Having moped up the last mercenaries, their guns and boots being thrown into the river, they leave them, taking the truck back to civilisation. Returning to the UK they discover Galt is dying from a heart attack, still believing he had seeded a new future for the human race.
Critical comment: This – the third, and, alas, last of the Burns illustrated stories – starts out well, with the usual intriguing plot, but then, virtually at the very point where the entire story changes direction, Burns was inexplicably replaced by Pat Wright, a competent but still much weaker artist whose style was a complete, jarring contrast! This time there was no attempt to match the two styles, despite Wright drawing his own version of several of the Burns strips (we can only presume unbeknown to Burns). The inferior artwork strangely seemed to reflect the plot rather losing its way also, and failing to live up to its earlier premise. To this day, it would seem no one knows why the Evening Standard editor, Charles Wintour, took so violently against Burns to want him sacked the same day. One story is the readers complained – if so, not sure why. Burns was a better artist all round than Romero. What was remarked by readers at the time was that, after six weeks in the wilderness, WG was still clean-shaven – no beard – while Burns’ last panel depicted a beautiful MB but surely with eye-shadow! Wright’s version of MB is workable, but much less exotic. There are a number of elements to this story – the use of satellites to map minerals and the location of an inaccessible valley in Africa – that had been used in the novel The Impossible Virgin (1971), as well as the casual reference to MB’s surgical skills “from a doctor friend in Ruanda”, obviously Giles Pennyfeather, who had featured in that novel, although he wouldn’t cross-over into the comic strip until “The Wild Boar” (1985).

Pat Wright

“Eve and Adam” (1979/80).

44: Story name: Brethren of Blaise – 1980 Artist Pat Wright **
Location: MB cottage, Wiltshire – Cornwall, Merlin’s Maze, Halbury Hall.
Villains: Larry (the Gent) Walton; Gully Kincaid.
Other characters: Sarah Dean; Sir Rupert Dean (Sarah’s father); Soapy Soames (petty criminal of MB and WG’s acquaintance); Andy Bryant (local school teacher/stage magician and would-be boyfriend to Sarah.)
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: none – WG had foregone “a week of passion” in Antigua with Maude Tiller to spend Christmas with MB. WG’s time in Paris with Sarah was chaste and with him being ‘protective’ of her.
Nudity rating: Both MB and Sarah in bra and pants; Sarah getting dressed.
Who kills who? : Gully Kincaid kills Bronson the diver.
Summary/theme: Routine crime caper. WG is staying with MB at her cottage in Wiltshire for Christmas. They get ambushed by three rather incompetent thugs, lead by Soapy Soames, who they know. He doesn’t know who arranged the contract to beat up WG. In the meantime on television there is a live broadcast from Merlin’s Maze, in the grounds of Halbury Hall, Cornwall, where the so-called Brethren of Blaise under ‘Professor Walton’ claim they are about to waken Merlinus Ambrosius – the Merlin of Arthurian legend – from his 1,500 year slumber. WG is surprised to see Sarah Dean, daughter of Sir Rupert Dean, owner of Halbury Hall, being interviewed, and MB comments she looked terrified. WG had met her in Paris, finding her naïve and rather unworldly, before she had meekly returned to the overbearing dominance of her father. When – on impulse – WG visits Halbury Hall, Sir Rupert and Walton throw him out. In fact the Merlin story is a hoax, to cover up the search in the cave ponds for 16th century treasure hidden there by monks immediately before the Dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII. Larry Walton – who went to college with Sir Rupert – is a con-man. Having apparently found only four of the five chests, the diver Bronson threatens to quit and is killed by Gully Kincaid. WG and MB learn the truth when they attempt to rescue Sarah, but Sir Rupert refuses to believe them, and – following a fight against the Brethren – they are taken captive. With Sarah’s life at stake, MB and WG are forced to replace the deceased diver. Straightway MB discovers Bronson had already removed the contents of the fifth chest and, together, they discover a way out from the bottom of the pond into the caves beyond. There they encounter ‘Merlin’, really local school teacher Andy Bryant, a would-be paramour of Sarah, dressed up hoping to frighten the Brethren. Together they surprise and overcome the villains, free Sarah and the still rather arrogant Sir Rupert, while Larry decides to turn Queen’s evidence rather than face a murder rap. The treasure can be used to renovate Halbury Hall. MB hopes Andy might help Sarah escape the domestic tyranny of her father.
Critical comments: This is the only complete Pat Wright illustrated story. MB and WG are quite well drawn, and Wright is good at faces – better than Romero – but still, as in the previous story, scrappy and lacking detail on backgrounds and most of his panels are rather pedestrian (O’Donnell admitted the style was “static”), and without that rather cinematic aspect Holdaway in particular excelled at. His one image of MB’s Wiltshire cottage resembles a single-storey shack – nothing like the two storey houses as depicted by Holdaway or Burns. Despite much of the story being set in Cornwall, we have snow at Christmas – how often does that happen outside of Dickens? Whilst in Wiltshire MB is driving a vintage sports car – the reason for this never explained. Later they are driving a Lotus-like modern sport car. Why the difference? Apparent Wright was quite upset to be dismissed, like Burns, so quickly, which was understandable perhaps, but he really wasn’t the right MB artist.
There is an interesting literary influence at work here, alluded to elsewhere by Peter O’Donnell, and that is C.S. Lewis’s fantasy/science fiction dystopia novel That Hideous Strength (published 1945, final part of the Silent Planet trilogy.) O’Donnell admits that his choice of Modesty’s surname of ‘Blaise’ was its connection to the legends of Merlin from the King Arthur mythology. MB herself remarks on this in the story. There are other, casual, homages to the Lewis book in the MB novels, notably in the names of some characters, but here – not remarked upon, incidentally – is another influence, the idea of Merlin asleep, ready to be awaken, hidden in some rural setting – in Lewis’s book in Edgestow Wood, near his imaginary college; here in the Cornish caves of Halbury Hall.

Neville Colvin

“The Return of the Mammoth” (1984)

“The Wild Boar” (1986)

45: Story name: Dossier on Pluto – 1980 Artist: Neville Colvin ****
Location: Jamaica – Mexico – Steve and MB’s cottage, Galeana Bay, near Galeana village, off Tampico) – at sea, on Maitland’s freighter ship.
Villain: Squire Maitland; his sidekick Gaspar (a sort of Cuban ‘Captain Hook’)
Other characters: Steve Taylor; Tarrant; Cheryl; Dr Harvey (at Naval Research Centre, San Diego); Rosita (Gasper’s girlfriend).
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover: Steve Taylor (American, apparently now an ex-FBI agent).
Willie’s lover: Cheryl (American former cheerleader and a bit dumb); Rosita.
Nudity rating: Cheryl in tiny bikini; MB in one-piece swimsuit; MB in robe, naked underneath; bikini and bra; Rosita nude in bed.
Who kills who? : MB kills Gaspar with a noose about his neck. MB suffers a shoulder wound from Gaspar’s hook.
Summary/theme
: Espionage caper. Steve Taylor, MB’s former FBI boyfriend, is engaged in dolphin research, with dolphins named as Pluto, Venus and Neptune. Renegade British double agent, Squire Maitland, together with his Cuban sidekick Gasper, is contracted by the Soviet KGB to steal Steve’s research notes. They are based on a freighter with 60-plus captive dolphins in the hold they intend to sell. MB – self-confessed world’s worst typist – aware of the espionage implications, secretly removes the research notes from the safe and replaces them with real estate brochures. MB foils Gasper’s raid, but Steve is beaten up and injured, while Venus is shot and needs emergency surgery. MB calls up WG who is deep-sea fishing nearby with Tarrant and his latest bed-partner, American ex-cheer-leader and dumb blonde Cheryl. Meantime, the Russians are displeased and Maitland is under pressure to get the real research papers. WG goes undercover to sleep with Gasper’s woman, a fiery bar owner named Rosita. They boat-wreck the baddies and scuttle the freighter, but Gasper nearly kills Modesty before they are both dragged overboard. He is strangled and drowned. All the captive dolphins are freed.
Critical comments: The first of the stories illustrated by New Zealander Neville Colvin. His style is completely different to Romero or Burns. He is especially good on creating expressive faces and showed more authenticity than Romero at depicting locations, but he still didn’t have quite the meticulous detail of Holdaway, while sometimes his faces became rather like exaggerated caricatures. He also uses shading and black shadow a lot. However, both Rosita and Gasper are classic creations – Gasper especially: bearded, stocky, and with one hand replaced by a hook. Also, notably in this story, Sir Gerald, who hitherto smoked either cigarettes or cigars, first took to smoking a pipe! Despite Colvin claiming he couldn’t draw women, his depiction of Cheryl and Rosita (both plump women) are very sexy indeed. MB has a rather wasp-waist, however, although she still looks good in a one-piece, backless swimsuit. Peter O’Donnell used the name Pluto for a dolphin in the novel I, Lucifer.
Steve Taylor had first appeared in “Uncle Happy” (1965), by Holdaway, and later “The Gallows Bird” (1973), drawn by Romero. Now we have a third Colvin version. In both those earlier stories he was with the F.B.I., the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, founded as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) in 1908, the name was changed in 1935. It is the American domestic intelligence and security service, so the equivalent to the British MI5. However, here in this story, WG describes Steve (“Modesty’s boyfriend”) to a rather non-comprehending Cheryl, as “ex-C.I.A.” who was “invalided out with a leg wound”, adding for Tarrant’s benefit (we presume) he was involved when they “bust the big west coast vice ring a while back”. So that was the “Uncle Happy” story. He fails to mention the Blanche/General Laporte/New Orleans caper of “The Gallows Bird”. The C.I.A., Central Intelligence Agency, founded in 1947 from the World War II Office of Strategic Services, is the U.S. foreign intelligence service, and, as such, has no domestic law enforcement function. Thus the two are quite different. That Steve Taylor might have formerly been with the C.I.A. before he was recruited into the F.B.I. is possible, but not mentioned anywhere else. In both the above stories, and again, in his last appearance, in “The Children of Lucifer” (1999), he is involved with domestic, internal crime within the USA, hence he would be F.B.I. So it seems rather strange WG should assign him to the C.I.A. MB despatched Gasper in a similar way to how she did Mrs Fothergill in the novel Modesty Blaise (1965), noose about the throat, and push against a heavy weight – she went up, Gasper went overboard, but taking a wounded MB with him!
Is it just a coincidence that the Colvin period sees a string of good, strong, enjoyable stories? Earlier, from 1976/77, Colvin had apparently drawn the “James Bond” strip for the Daily Express, strips 3384 to 3437. Born in Dunedin, in New Zealand in 1918, he had travelled quite widely, and served in the commandoes during World War II.

46: Story name: The Ladykillers – 1980/81 *****
Location: Morocco casino (ten years previous) – ‘Pendragon’, MB’s house, Tangier – La Nymphe d’Argent, Lisette’s nightclub – North African desert, Fort Caillaux, former Foreign Legion fort.
Villain: Zahki, leader of the fanatic ‘Daughters of Freedom’.
Other characters: Gunnar Hove (Norwegian sea-captain); Lisette (nightclub owner, Hove’s lady friend); Former Network employees, in flashback: Krolli, Garcia, Marie, Big Max; Moulay (MB manservant at Tangier home); Javan Serck; Haniyah (Serck’s 9 year old daughter).
Body count: 2, plus 2 extortion victims prior to story.
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: Marie (ex-Network).
Nudity rating: MB in bikini by the pool in her Tangier home; MB as topless waitress (in blonde wig); MB in swimsuit. MB being strip-searched.
Who kills who? : MB kills one of the female gang. Zahki is hanged by enraged members of the Daughters of Freedom.
Summary/theme: Crime/extortion caper. The story starts “ten years” previous, with the young 18-year-old MB supervising her casino (one of several) in Tangier, Morocco, when she is attacked by two hit-men from gang rival Suleiman. She takes one out, but is saved from injury or death by the intervention of Norwegian sea-captain, Gunnar Hove. She is, she tells him, thereafter in his debt. Ten years later she and WG are relaxing at her Tangier house when Hove calls with a problem. His Tangier girlfriend Lisette runs the ‘La Nymphe d’Argent’ nightclub, but is a target of a protection mob ran by de Silva, who MB remembers was once a small-time hustler. To avoid a gang war or her involvement to be known, she sets up for de Silva to disappear for long enough his racket will go out of business. He is discreetly kidnapped and finds himself accused of being a stowaway on Gunnar’s ship on a six month voyage to New Zealand and back. However, de Silva was the go-between on a £1 million diamond ransom payment by wealthy Javan Serck for his young daughter Haniyah, held by the terrorist group of fanatical female revolutionaries, the Daughters of Freedom, led by the ruthless Zahki. MB had retrieved the diamonds, but now the ransom demand will be doubled. MB decides to make herself their target, and Zahki takes the bait. She is taken to the deserted, former Foreign Legion Fort Cailloux. Zahki boasts to her he is using the women to acquire wealth by terror, and will eventually dump them. Despite a strip search, MB has used skin-tone padding to hide miniaturised gadgets including a tiny radio. This enables WG to get a fix on her location. MB encourages internal jealousy amongst the volatile women, which WG is then able to exploit as they attempt to escape. However, the young girl Haniyah has fallen under Zahki’s spell, calling him ‘uncle’ and nearly gets them killed. Thanks to WG’s mimicry, the women turn on Kahki and lynch him.
Critical comments: Not for the first or last time, we have a flashback to the Network days, and one of the assassination attempts on MB. She once told Jack Fraser there were five. It would seem she under-counted. Straightway, we see Colvin’s artistic aptitude over Romero in that the young 18 year old MB actually looks younger. Suleiman featured as her North African arch-enemy throughout of the series flashbacks, although he only got a mention in the novel Modesty Blaise. Here MB tells Gunnar she is breaking his drug and vice operations and taking over his “clean rackets”. While not as painstakingly realistic as Holdaway, nevertheless Colvin gives us detailed backgrounds to rooms, believable exterior views, unusual angles, and credible characters, in their dress and appearance. Colvin, one appreciates, has done his ’homework’. It shows throughout his tenure.
This is both a wonderful example of an O’Donnell plotline which goes first in one direction, then another, but also examples a simple, but clever, caper – what makes MB so superior to the likes of James Bond or other UK comic strips like “Garth”. Zahki has a sort of ‘Charles Manson’ cult hold over the twenty psychopathic women fanatics, pretending to support their extreme feminism while having sex with them (and they squabble over who’s turn next.) Again we have an example of WG’s talent for mimicry, imitating Zahki’s voice to turn his followers against him. Former Legion forts and the North African desert feature in “Honeygun” (1996) and “Tribute of the Pharaohs” (1997, both illustrated by Romero); as well as in several novels, A Taste for Death and The Xanadu Talisman.
Lisette and the La Nymphe d’Argent nightclub get a brief mention in the opening chapters of the novel The Night of Morningstar (1982), when WG is instructed to close down another protection racket attempt. MB’s manservant in Tangier, Moulay, also featured in both comic strip and novels – the latter being Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, The Silver Mistress, The Xanadu Talisman. In the novels we learnt that his daughter, who was killed by drug-addicts, was also named Lisette. The rescue of a young girl-child is also a repeat of the sub-plot to the novel Sabre-Tooth.

47: Story name: Garvin’s Travels – 1981 *****
Location: London, Covent Garden – Tarrant’s office at the Foreign Office – Island of Taupita (former Portuguese colony in Indian Ocean, “now playground for the rich”).
Villains: ‘Comrades’ Doctors Vole and Yago.
Other characters
: Maude Tiller; Tarrant; Jack Fraser; John Dall (briefly); Mr Smithson, American envoy.
Body count: 1
Modesty’s lover: John Dall (by implication).
Willie’s lover: Maude Tiller.
Nudity rating: Maude Tiller nude in shower and in bed; MB in bikini; Maude topless (back and frontal, performing ‘the nailer’).
Who kills who? : WG kills one of the gang trying to kidnap him and Maude. Dr Vole remarks, “A martyr for the cause…Possibly with an unusually weak neck.”
Summary/theme: Espionage/kidnap caper. Finally, after three failed attempts, Tarrant’s top female agent, Maude Tiller, has got a month’s leave and she and WG are going to spend it together on the Island of Taupita, in the Indian Ocean, at a luxury villa owned by MB’s lover, multi-millionaire John Dall. However, they are the target of Eastern Bloc agents, ‘Comrade’ Doctors Vole (female, thin, round spectacles) and Yago (male, short, fat, bald, glasses with thick lens). The first kidnap attempt fails, and ‘Plan B’ uses a fake policeman. Meantime, back in London MB is with Tarrant attending a ballet at Covent Garden, when Jack Fraser says the CIA are requesting a discreet investigation of the University of Health on Taupita. MB blocks Tarrant from activating Maude and volunteers to go herself, flying there in 12 hours by Dall’s private jet. While MB is penetrating the University of Health, disguised as a rep, the Comrade Doctors are attempting to subject WG and Maude to narco-hypnotic suggestion, before rendering them unconscious. They wake to find themselves on a gigantic table-top, 30ft above the ground. Having got down from the table, they start to explore, only to fall unconscious again from knock-out pads on their backs. Back in the laboratory they annoy the doctors with fake experiences, who put them back into the ‘Brobdingnag’ world. MB has found her way into the secret underground chambers beneath the main building, and already encountered two typical Colvin communist types. When – to her surprise and shock – she discovers WG and Maude, they at first think she is part of the ‘hallucination’. As the guards close in, MB and WG prepare counter-measures, first Maude distracting them going topless (the ‘nailer’), while WG and MB blowing the table legs. Having overwhelmed the guards and wrecked the Brobdingnag world, they confront the Comrade Doctors, and Yago switches sides, asking to seek asylum in the USA. MB hands them over to the American representative. Maude, however, still has one of the hypo-pads stuck to her slacks and falls asleep.
Critical comments: Maude Tiller had first appeared in “The Puppet Master” (1972) and “The Wicked Gnomes” (1973), and briefly in “Idaho George” (1978), but this time she is depicted by Colvin rather than Romero. Colvin would illustrated her again, in “The Double Agent” (1986), bring out more character to her appearance, before she returned again as another typical, ‘Axa’ lookalike Romero blonde. In the comic strips Maude became WG’s principle on-going love interest, whereas Lady Janet was in the novels. That said, both characters ‘crossed over’ – and Maude appeared in Last Day in Limbo (1976) and again in Dead Man’s Handle (1985). In the earlier book she finishes up being romanced by Danny Chavasse, another ex-Network member who we only really meet properly in the last comic strip story “The Zombie” (2000/01). We are told her and WG had previous had three frustrated attempts to romance together, but we only count two, at most, notably “The Wicked Gnomes”. John Dall, also, had appeared before, in “Yellowstone Booty”, drawn by Burns (1978/79), and is mentioned at the beginning of “The Gallows Bird” (1973). Jack Fraser also subtly changes his appearance, Holdaway and Burns being perhaps the best versions. Here Tarrant has another assistant named as ‘Giles’. Brobdingnag, of course, is the land of the giants in Jonathan Swift’s satirical fantasy Gulliver’s Travels. Vole and Yago are played as rather comic characters, with their silly use of Marxist terminology and petty egos. However, Yago was to appear again, but by then much more sinister, in “Fraser’s Story” (1997) – perhaps a reflection of the darker tone of the later MB stories in general. The fake policeman gambit (‘Plan B’) is used a number of times – notably Japanese policemen in “The War-Lords of the Phoenix” (1970), and a British policemen in “The Moon Man” (1980/81). When stopped by Yago and Vole’s men (in ‘Plan A’), WG tells Maude “The Laurel and Hardy routine”, to which Maude responds “Roger,” – it being WG and MB’s ‘knockabout’ – “Another fine mess you’ve got me into” distraction ploy.

48: Story name: The Scarlett Maiden – 1981 *****
Location: The island of St. Cyprian, Caribbean West Indies.
Villains: Dimples Calhoun and gang.
Other characters: Barney; Rick; Lisa (Barney’s sister and married to Rick); Major Redmont (descendant of a pirate); Tompkins (Redmont’s butler).
Body count
: 0
Modesty’s lover: none.
Willie’s lover: previous to the story, WG is dumped by Angelia in Barbados.
Nudity rating: MB and Lisa in bikinis.
Who kills who? : Not applicable. Calhoun bruises MB’s face, and finishes up with his hand cut by WG’s knife in retaliation.
Summary/theme: Crime/treasure hunt caper. The story starts with a flashback to 1730, and Caribbean pirate Jethro Redmont going down with his treasure-laden ship, The Scarlet Maiden, while his pregnant mistress is rescued. Fast-forward and MB is on a diving holiday the island of St. Cyprian, and has found a sunken century-old cotton-carrying sailing barque with a large freak air bubble. Local crime boss (gambling, drugs, vice) Dimples Calhoun sends two ‘heavies’ to put the frighteners on her to leave. She easily deals with them, just as WG arrives to join her. Other people having been watching her, however: the elderly Major Redmont, Jethro’s descendant, whose villa stands across the bay; and three young American treasure hunters: Barney, his sister Lisa, and brother-in-law Rick, who had discovered that the long-lost treasure wreck is underneath the barque. Major Redmont, too, has known this for decades. Thinking MB and WG are also after the treasure, the three treasure hunters pretend (very badly) to be dangerous gangsters, ‘kidnapping’ them from their hotel, and forcing them to help in the diving operation to find and retrieve the treasure. Amused and intrigued, MB & WG play along, pretending, in turn, to be frightened and intimidated. Meantime, Major Redmont sends his butler, Tompkins, to “recruit mercenaries” to scare off the treasure hunters from Jethro’s treasure. Tompkins goes to Dimples Calhoun, who arrives just after MB, WG and the team have finally found and retrieved the first part of the horde. By then Barney and Co have confessed the truth about themselves. Calhoun, of course is after the treasure himself, but his ‘muscle’ come off badly against MB and WG, until Liza is threatened by Pinkie, one of Calhoun gang, high on drugs and trigger-happy. Having turned the tables, they are taken on-broad Calhoun’s yacht, but MB and WG, despite being shackled, drive into the sea, swim to the barque airlock, use their tools to free themselves, then return. By then Redmont and Tompkins have also been taken prisoner. Another fight, once Pinkie is taken out, and Calhoun’s are beaten and subdued. Redmont agrees to let Barney and Co keep the treasure, and, after the police are called, MB and WG do their routine end-of-story disappearing act.
Critical comments: The story was originally written for the Sunday Express but who cancelled the project halfway. Colvin, who had started drawing this original story, then suggested finishing it for the Standard. On the internet there exists a sample of the original Colvin story artwork, which is quite different, especially the appearance of the young treasure hunters. Overall the final revamped version captures the characters better. In the Titan Books edition there is also an example (strip 5303) of the earlier Colvin draft, again different from the final version. With the Burns/Wright cross over we can compare how the two artists had quite different ideas for the same story panels, but here we have the same artist, several years apart. Despite the usual, highly improbable, coincidences, this is a fun story, apparently a favourite of Peter O’Donnell’s grandson. Colvin’s depiction of the dramatis personae (Dimples and his gang especially, and Major Redmont) are quite superb. Two years later, in “The Alternative Man” (1983), again set in the Caribbean, O’Donnell used the name ‘St. Cyprian’ again, but now it is an uninhabited island 20 miles from Grand Turk!

*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge On the Artists who drew Modesty Blaise


Of the five artists who drew Modesty Blaise 1963-2001, Jim Holdaway (1963-70) was by far the best, while my least favourite was Pat Wright’s brief stunt, one and a half stories (1980). Wright was a good enough artist (rather in the Brian Lewis mode), just not the right (no pun intended) artist for Modesty Blaise – being too light, not enough dark, and strangely flat. Sadly John M. Burns (born 1938) never got to finish “Eve and Adam”, for whatever crazy reason the London Evening Standard editor had for sacking him on the spot. Potentially he was a much better artist than longest-running (and, in consequence, the best-known Modesty artist) Enique (Enric) Badia Romero, as Burns’ two and a half stories, “Yellowstone Booty”, “The Green Cobra”, and even the first half of “Eve and Adam”, shows. Like Holdaway, he was particularly brilliant with faces (I would argue much better than Romero), although his Modesty’s hair-do seemed a bit top-heavy and exaggerated at times! In addition to other projects, Burns illustrated Danielle, a sort of blonde female version of Garth; a more contemporary version of Norman Pett’s original Jane (in the Daily Mirror); and later the early, black and white version of George and Lynne in the Sun. The pity is just how good and underrated he was, and what he might have contributed to the Modesty Blaise stories that followed. The two and half stories he did illustrated showed great potential.

At first my next least favourite after Wright was Neville Colvin (1918-1991), but gradually I’ve come to appreciate him more. His style is often scratchy, messy, and sometimes his stuff could be quite ‘scrappy’. On the plus side, however, as others have remarked, he would occasionally hint at the heyday of Holdaway; for instance, in his rather cinematic ‘pull-back’ images, but, in particular, at the originality of the appearance of characters. However, unlike Holdaway or Romero or John Burns, he wasn’t always particularly confident at drawing sexy females, although his women didn’t all fit into same mode (as with Romero) and his artwork certainly improved over the time-period, 1980-86, while his swansong, “The Double Agent”, is justly a classic, in every way. However, by contrast, if we look at his first story, “Dossier on Pluto”, although he depicted Willie’s latest girlfriend as cuddly and sexy, suddenly Modesty had a really narrow wasp waist – almost like a Victorian lady in a corset! In fairness, Colvin saw himself more as a cartoonist, and he was much more constrained than his predecessors in depicting Modesty minus her clothes, even for the apparent ‘tastes’ of a ‘family newspaper’. However, Holdaway’s Modesty always looked real, flesh and blood, natural, and her facial expressions in particular. Holdaway’s ‘style’ was realism. Burns, like Romero, excelled at the female nude, but (as we will argue below) the Spaniard often made all his non-Modesty women characters, especially the blondes, look rather alike. Ultimately his style was always much more ‘comic strip’.

Unfortunately (facial features aside) Colvin’s Modesty, especially in those early strips, looks, at times, rather like a Barbie doll. While he was good (if not always consistent) at depicting Modesty’s and (for the most part) Willie’s faces (something, in retrospect, I started to appreciate more also with his other characters), there were times when he could sink into something more like a crude caricature. Examples of this are Tarrant in “Dossier on Pluto” strip 5012A; or Willie, same story, in strip 4937, where they are rendered almost unrecognisable, or at other times distorted. Other examples are: Zahki in “The Lady Killers” strip 5087; Steve Taylor, again in “Pluto” strip 4987; or (perhaps to a lesser extent) occasionally Colonel Greb in “Return of the Mammoth”. Incidentally, another oddity during the Colvin period was Tarrant occasional took to smoking a pipe. Before that (under Holdaway) he always smoke cigars!

Both Holdaway and Burns had a very dramatic style, almost cinematic at times, different angles, sudden close-ups, unusual angles. Wright’s brief tenure, by contrast, was quite static at times. Colvin, in fairness, improved, but never measured up to the master, Holdaway…But then Holdaway was always going to be a hard act to follow.

One of the great things about Holdaway’s Modesty was that she was sexy without ever being tarty or pornographic. At that time (1960s into the 70s), of course he was still quite restrained by what was acceptable in a so-called ‘family’ newspaper. She never intentionally got her kit off like Jane, or Romero’s own later science fiction Axa character in the 1980s – a sort of Logan’s Run type of story, but a naked blonde. Right from the start, however, Modesty dressed and undressed, slept nude, sometimes swam nude, like to have baths and showers, but at most the reader saw only a bare back.

Despite having worked with O’Donnell before (on the Romeo Brown stories) Holdaway was not apparently the editorial first choice. However, we now know that choice to have been offered to Frank Hampson, late of Eagle comic, creator and on/off illustrator (from 1950 until the early 1960s) of “Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future”. Hampson was a wonderful artist in his own right, able to create in magnificent detail exotic worlds, whether it be an alternative Venus, the moons of Saturn, distant planets, or the Biblical story of Jesus. However, science fiction was his forte, and he mostly worked in colour, and on a less restrictive pictorial scale than a newspaper comic strip of three panels per day maximum. Also, although while he was perhaps ahead of his time in introducing the female character of Professor Jocelyn Peabody into a boy’s comic as early as issue No. 5 (May 1950; initially based on fellow team artist Greta Tomlinson), in reality women – and especially sexy women – were simply not his forte. Away from “Dan Dare” or his graphic (if rather over idealised) depiction of the life of Jesus, his style was too prim, too 1940s/50s, more appropriate for Women’s Own magazine. Looking at Hampson’s sketches for the first half a dozen or so episodes, O’Donnell hated it (although, even years later, he remained too much the gentlemen to actually name names), and fortunately he was able to insist on Holdaway instead. It was a splendid choice. Modesty was as much the creation of Holdaway’s penmanship as of O’Donnell’s own imagination.

In fact, Hampson’s Modesty was rather bland and devoid of any eroticism, and the action scenes with the unwanted American would-be boyfriend also rather static, lacking drama. Almost needless to say, Sir Gerald looked remarkably like Sir Herbert Guest, Space Fleet Controller from “Dan Dare”, who had been based on Hampson’s on father. With all due respects to Hampson as an artist (and alas, sadly he never found his niche after being forced out of illustrating “Dan Dare”), we can only be thankful he didn’t get the job of illustrating Modesty! Indeed, in all likelihood, maybe he knew this wasn’t his kind of thing, and probably deliberately didn’t put much ‘heart’ into it!

Holdaway stamped his interpretation of Modesty, Willie Garvin, Sir Gerald Tarrant and Jack Fraser on the characters that no subsequent artist dared to change – but then perhaps Peter O’Donnell would never have sanctioned any such drastic change…especially after the awful 1966 Modesty Blaise movie, whose Italian actress (Monica Vitti) insisted on being blonde – which was foolish and unfortunate, because with a black wig she actually looked like Modesty. Pity about the butchered script and that Willie Garvin was played by Terence Stamp, who has dark hair. After that debacle, Peter O’Donnell was perhaps right to be protective of his creation.

Continuing on from Holdaway, both the Romero and Burns versions of Modesty were quite erotic, sizzling with sexuality, while keeping her exotic. As the comic strip moved into the less repressed 1970s (at least in the UK, if not the USA), both delighted in depicting her (and occasionally other female characters) in the nude. However, what may have been Burns’ downfall, his wonderful depiction of Lucy Grant in “Yellowstone Booty” had full-on boobs, very daring. But that really justify his instant dismissal in mid-story?

Romero especially, in his second and final period as artist, grew ever more daring throughout the 1980s and 90s, thereby showing a side to her that Peter O’Donnell had previously really only explored in the Modesty Blaise novels. The greatest tragedy was Jim Holdaway’s untimely early death in 1970, midway through the Japanese-based “The War-Lords of Phoenix” story – itself one of the few in the comic strip to be most like a James Bond story, and actually not one of the best of the early Modesty stories. The decision was made to recruit (very quickly) the Spanish (actually Catalonian) artist Enrique (or Enric, as he later styled himself) Badia Romero, despite him being based in Barcelona and speaking little, or no, English.

Unlike the visually jarring Burns/Wright changeover in “Eve and Adam”, he did at first continue the Holdaway style in the second half of the story, perhaps to conceal Holdaway’s demise from the reader. The artists were uncredited until Colvin took over, although Holdaway and Romero both had their ‘signature’ logo. However, in the next story (the less than successful “Willie the Djinn”), he quickly evolving into his own bold, soon to be familiar, style. He was competent and often visually interesting, and – as remarked – the major characters (Modesty, Willie, Sir Gerald Tarrant, Jack Fraser) continued to be recognisable, but, in retrospect, he never quite equalled Holdaway, or had that visual flare for characters Burns showed, even in his all-too-brief tenure.

Later, in the last phase of the Modesty strips from the 1990s to 2001, his style subtly changed again. Personally I think it greatly deteriorated; becoming rather mechanical, less vivid, not so strong perhaps, even crude at times, and more ‘typical’ comic strip. However, even before this period, there were occasionally visual mistakes and a few outright howlers, either through lack of personal knowledge of locations, or either haste or indifference. Eventually his style became lighter, details more scrappy, repetition crept in, and realism seeped away. Perhaps, in truth, Romero had, by then, tired of the strip, and it was more of a chore that brought a regular pay-packet, rather than enjoyable anymore. However, the sheer length of his tenure, and the sexy quality of his depiction of Modesty (including ‘off-story’ nudes – although Holdaway did a few also) has made him the Modesty artist for many.

During that time, the quality and style of O’Donnell’s stories changed also, but strangely (for me) I enjoyed them less when Romeo was the artist after Holdaway. The stories seemed to improve under Burns and Colvin, only to decline again, become darker in both tone and plot, the previous humour less apparent. One thing Peter O’Donnell was good at, in both comic strip and the novels, were villains. They were almost always delightfully evil, but not as merely demented and two-dimensional as Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” villains. At the same time they were often complicated, clever or ruthless geniuses, who often (at least at first) managed to get one step ahead of Modesty and Willie. Time and again, this meant it took that extra measure of intelligence, cunning, skill and literal thinking for our two heroes to finally win out.

Their enemies might be evil, even sometimes a bit crazy, but they were never stupid like comic strip “Garth’s” villains, who often left me wondering how had they ever got to what and where they were supposed to be? The Garth character, too, was brawn rather than brain, and only won in the end because his enemies were so intellectually challenged. There was never that imaginative cleverness to his success, no more than to Fleming’s James Bond. Even in the shorter – and, hence less complex – comic strip stories (or the short stories), that rarely was the case with Modesty. Garth, in his earth-bound or non-science fiction stories, often displayed little forethought or planning, and sometimes idiotic negligence, in a way that was unthinkable with Modesty, who (together with Willie Garvin) was always the intellectual superior.

For much of his career writing Modesty, Peter O’Donnell was a master story-writer, although I personally still think it was the majority of his early comic strip stories that were amongst his very best. Into that category I put “The Long Lever”, “The Gabriel Set-Up”, “Uncle Happy”, “The Red Gryphon”, “The Hell-Makers”, “The Mind of Mrs Drake”, “The Magnified Man”, even “Mister Sun”. All brilliant stories, clever, complex, challenging, with exceptionally evil (but at that time, still believable) villains who often finished up justly dead.

As we have remarked, both Holdaway and Burns were brilliant at faces. Observe Holdaway’s gallery of emotions on Modesty’s face (strips 184-5, 189-95) in the magnificent “The Long Lever” story; and again (strips 1817-26) in “The Hell-Makers”. And together they created some wonderful heroes and villains: Holdaway’s Gabriel (who, together with Sir Angus McBeal, was the only villain to ‘cross over’ into the novels), Uncle Happy, Gus Fletcher (again a delightful character from “The Hell-Makers”), Korzin in “The Mind of Mrs Drake”, almost all of the characters (both important and peripheral) in “The Red Gryphon”, another excellent, emotive story. Sadly, we have only Burns’ Pandora and the dwarfish but sinister Doctor Vigo, his excellent portrayal of Sir Angus McBeal (“Green Cobra”), Jed Bowley and Mr Hogan (the superb “Yellowstone Booty”) and millionaire Dan Galt in the first half of “Eve and Adam”.

They, together with the clever panel compositions, give a hint at just what was so foolishly lost by Burns’ abrupt, needless dismissal. It’s worth just pausing to look at the handful of ‘cross-over’ strips the Evening Standard secretly commissioned from Pat Wright, his version of the ongoing “Eve and Adam” story, with those of Burns. It’s quite obvious which is the better, which has the drama and most evokes the two lead characters, yet still they dumped Burns and enlisted Wright. One can only speculate just how Burns would have depicted the rest of the story, with its abrupt (and, I think, rather disappointing) plot twist, but, again in retrospect, Wright’s effort is valiant perhaps, but horribly flawed.

Incidentally (given this was 1980) that story at first seemed to very much shake us out of Modesty’s original 1960s time-period and into the contemporary world of space satellites, but it was an idea, however, O’Donnell had previous already used in his 1971 Modesty Blaise novel The Impossible Virgin. Later, especially in the novels, but also in the 1980s/90s technology like mini-computers and mobile phones, that discord between the character’s origins and World War II time-period and apparently still being in her late twenties/early thirties at best, would only get more glaring and obvious. It was – along with the apparent fundamental lack of continuity between strip and novels – the most annoying and disappointing flaw to O’Donnell’s wonderful creation. This is the problem perhaps when an author creates a character (one thinks of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or, more especially Georges Simenon’s Chief-Inspector Maigret), but which is still being writing about two, three or four decades later. Simenon’s Maigret, for example, first appeared in 1930, aged (Simenon immediately informed the reader) 45. Despite ‘retiring’ him at one point in the 1940s (as a Parisian police office he would have retired at 55), Simenon continued to write more Maigret novels throughout the 1950s and 60s (the period, in retrospect, most associated with him) and on into the late-1970s, by which time the still serving Chief Inspector would have been pushing 90! In truth, Simenon’s best writing pre-dated 1965. Most books after that period – the Maigret novels in particular – were inferior, lacking his originality or descriptive magic.

The same was true of Modesty, who we are told in the first comic strip story, “La Machine” (1963), to be “about 26” – hence born c.1937. On that basis, by 2001 (and the last Modesty strip, “The Zombie”) she would be 64, while in the last of the novels, Dead Man’s Handle (1985), she would still have been aged 48. The one exception to this, of course, was the short story “Cobra Trap” (1996), in which Modesty is in her early fifties, and (apparently with an incurable brain tumour) sets out on her final death mission. For most Modesty fans (myself included) it is hardest to read. Indeed, some hardened fans claim they still haven’t read it, deliberately. Given that Modesty could still have been physically active at least into her mid-forties (therefore the late-1970s), O’Donnell could have aged her, while keeping her within the time-frame, and that would have been more credible. Of course the counter-argument is she was just a fictitious character anyway, but O’Donnell often remarked he thought of her otherwise. He remarked on occasion that he was merely her ‘biographer’, or that, on his own travels about the world (presumably places like the USA, France, or Malta, where he also had a villa, like Modesty) he half-expected to see her and Willie sitting in a nearby cafe or restaurant!

Looking back at the first run of Romero (1970-78) one cannot help but wonder how different they might have looked under another artist, like Holdaway, had he lived, or even Burns, for instance. But actually there was another artist working away at about the same time, who might have been equally interesting, both in his interpretation of Modesty and Willie, but also in his visual and physical depiction of other characters – villains especially. To my knowledge no one has suggested this, but what a pity Martin Asbury never got the opportunity to illustrate Modesty. Alas, in our parallel universe, Asbury inherited The Daily Mirror’s “Garth” strip following the tragic death of Frank Bellamy. Asbury was equally competent drawing stories set in the Wild West, Greek mythology, Medieval, Tudor, or eighteenth century England (“Hell-Fire”, about the Hell Fire Club, is especially good), or conventional science fiction (futuristic architecture, spaceships, aliens and alien planets), but it is his ‘contemporary’, mostly crime, “Garth” stories that (for me) peaked my interest (despite, as we have said above, being greatly inferior to Modesty Blaise, or even the earlier, 1940s to 50s-period Buck Ryan stories, drawn by Jack Monk), and got me thinking “If only….”

Three in particular, “The Don’s Daughter”, “Sapphire” and “The Fishermen”, all show Asbury’s ability for the vivid angle or prospective we see with both Holdaway and Burns, but (perhaps more important) was his talent at depicting faces. Compare the early strips of “The Fisherman” in conference, or the wacky (but totally stupid and incompetent) villains in “Sapphire”. They are original, believable, vivid. Sadly (and “Sapphire” is a good example) he was let down by an inferior story and the totally unbelievable beefcake of a hero, who all too often uses muscle rather than much brain, and mostly against the most stupid villains or evil, so-called, geniuses. Even the weakest of O’Donnell’s Modesty stories (and there were a few) was still much better written, cleverer and more intellectually challenging than anything from the “Garth” stable. But I still contend that Asbury might have excelled at illustrating Modesty, had he been given the chance.

Instead let us consider the Neville Colvin period of 1980 to 1986. I’ve already remarked his – at first – shaky ability to depict Modesty’s body (although, even in his first story, he drew two well-proportioned bit-part bikini-clad and nude females); also his tendency to slip into caricature (he thought of himself as a cartoonist first, comic strip artist afterwards), but, while we might wish in vain for the (sometimes over the top) detail of Holdaway, or the strong clarity of Burns, many of his faces or characters are first rate. Consider Gasper in “Dossier on Pluto”; or ‘Comrade Doctors’ Vole and Yago in the rather crazy, but enjoyable, “Garvin’s Travels”; or the Russian diplomats in “The Moon Man”; (and again in his swansong, “The Double Agent”, another excellent story); almost all of the characters in “The Wild Boar” (the French policeman, in particular); or Colonel Spooner in “A Few Flowers for the Colonel”. Colvin’s version of Maude Tiller (who first appeared in “The Puppet Master”, drawn by Romero) is blonde, beautiful, but somehow quite distinct, whereas Romero’s blondes all came to rather look alike, variations of his sexy sci-fi heroine “Axa”.

Probably Colvin’s best creation was the Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli and his blonde girlfriend Aniela. Guido, who has a touch of Salvador Dali about him, is a wonderful and memorable visual creation, who Romero was to later depict, competently enough, but without much flare, in several more later stories. Less successful, however, was Romero’s later depiction of Aniela. As I’ve already remarked, all his blondes (Maude and Aniela especially) somehow looked much like Axa. Go back and look at Colvin’s version, and somehow she actually looks Italian. Again, she is quite distinctive, with an interesting profile.

And this was Romero’s main artistic weakness. Modesty and Willie are OK, although Modesty was still lacking that magic which Holdaway, Burns and even Colvin gave her sometimes, but Romero’s other faces are a bit like well-drawn masks. Just occasionally (like with his blondes, or elderly women characters) they actually start to look alike, as if he had a limited repertoire of faces he merely ‘tweaked’ with different stories. Maybe I’m being unfair, but the best Modesty stories (even in the later period, when the really original clever stories were less frequent) needed a subtly and believability that Romero lacked, Colvin had perhaps 60% of the time, and Holdaway almost every time. In my opinion “Bad Suki” and “The Vikings” were perhaps the least successful of that early fertile Holdaway period, but that was through no fault of Holdaway as an artist.

If one were to divide up the strip into that of the three main artists, I would say Holdaway’s period (1963-1970) has the greatest concentration of the best stories – Peter O’Donnell at full-flight. Even the (mostly introductory) “La Machine” is excellent, and the characters and setting already almost fully formed, while “Mister Sun” saw the introduction of ‘houseboy’ Weng. What followed was newspaper strip comic at its most adult and complex. No wonder the American newspaper editors at the time didn’t ‘get it’, and wanted to cut the length, the clever (and funny) sub-plots, even the ‘naughty’ bits – a naked female back! Horror! Blood and gore, yes. Nudity (especially female nudity) a no-no. As is often the case with British comic strip artists (one thinks of both Hampson and Sydney Jordan, who draw the science fiction “Jeff Hawke” and later “Lance McLean” strips), they are more appreciated in Europe than in Britain. Virtually all of Sydney Jordan’s work has been reproduced in Italian, whereas less than a dozen “Jeff Hawke” stories (mostly from the Willie Patterson scripted period) were reprinted in their original English by Titan Books. Likewise, Modesty was especially popular (both comic and books) in Scandinavia, the comic strips often coloured, and both they and the books with very competent colour covers – we believe at least some by Burns, others by Romero, others but unidentified artists.

Holdaway’s “The Head Girls” (1966) saw the second (and in the strip stories, last) appearance of evil arch-criminal Gabriel, the only villain who also appeared in the novels Modesty Blaise (1966) and in A Taste for Death (1969), when O’Donnell rather briskly killed him off! “The Black Pearl” (1966), set in Chinese-occupied Tibet, followed, and first introducing the more mystic/occultist aspect to some of the Modesty stories. As we will see this had a ‘sequel’, but one of the final Modesty stories, “Death Symbol”, written in 1999, which bizarrely reintroduces both the Tibetan setting and some of the Tibetan freedom-fighting partisans from 32 years previous, but we are told the earlier adventure had happened only two years earlier! Eight or ten years maybe, even that would be stretching it! Again the time scale makes no sense.

“The Magnified Man”, another clever story, featuring an exo-skeleton, something that was being researched in that time, but never really took off. “The Jericho Caper”, and “The Galley Slaves” followed, both competent and miles better than anything from the “Garth” stable, then two wonderful stories “The Red Gryphon” and “The Hell-Makers”, the former showing just how dangerous it could be as Modesty’s boyfriend, the latter a classic, illustrated the bond between Modesty and Willie. “Take-Over” was next, on a theme I think was used again by O’Donnell, and (I believe) in a Garth story, but never as cleverly plotted, and then “The War-Lords of Phoenix”, which sadly brought the Holdaway period to its conclusion.

Romero’s first period (1970-78) saw a slightly dropping-off in the really edgy, clever stories, although “The Puppet Master”, “The Bluebeard Affair”, “The Gallows Bird”, “The Iron God”, “Highland Witch” (with some clever trickery from Modesty), “Cry Wolf”, and “Idaho George” were good, if not quite reaching brilliance. There followed (1979-80) the brief Burns/Wright interlude, then the Colvin period, 1980-86. This latter period saw the competent “Dossier on Pluto”, the very clever plot twists (and more Modesty ingenuity) of “The Lady Killers”, the crazy cleverness of “Garvin’s Travels”, the again competent “The Scarlet Maiden” (an old story O’Donnell had started back in the 1960s), followed by “The Moon Man”, a goodish espionage story. “A Few Flowers for the Colonel”, had a story-line not dissimilar to “The Jericho Caper” (or the 1972 short story “A Better Day to Die” from his Pieces of Modesty collection).

That was followed by “The Balloonatic”, which first introduced the reader to one of O’Donnell’s re-occurring characters: the roguish Italian journalist Guido and his beautiful, but long-suffering girlfriend, Aniela, who ‘Weelie’ gets to bed on more than one occasion! Not for the last time we get a hint of a back-story of previous encounters between the two, never elaborated further. This, however, was a routine Italian-based espionage/terrorist gangs story made memorable by the Modesty/Guido, Willie/Aniela on-going banter. It sees Modesty in a hot-air balloon and Willie and Aniela following by car, except Aniela can only read a map if facing north – hence her leaning over the passenger seat with her bottom in the air!

This is followed by the revenge thriller “Death in Slow-Motion” (in which Willie waylays a truck using ingenious disguises), then “The Alternative Man”, both good, if not quite ‘excellent’. “Sweet Caroline” is so-so, but like “The Vanishing Dollybirds” is now very dated, relying on the Neil Diamond pop-song context. Colvin does good work on illustrating some of the minor characters – compare his middle-aged, working-class lady hostage with any similar aged females Romero draw! However, the better stories are timeless. “The Return of the Mammoth” is competent, set in Finland and the Soviet Union, introducing Russian army Colonel Greb; while “Plato’s Republic” and “The Sword of the Bruce” are both workable capers. In the former – like the earlier Romero-illustrated story “Death of a Jester” – Modesty literally ‘sleeps with the enemy’, not for the only time either.

“The Wild Boar” (1985) raises the stakes, as well as introducing a character from the novels, Dr Giles Pennyfeather, who featured in The Impossible Virgin (1971) and The Xanadu Talisman (1981). While Colvin’s depiction sometimes looks gross, nevertheless it is how we envisage him, and Romero again followed the earlier portrayal of him in later stories. This was back to Modesty at her best, as was the final Colvin story (“Kali’s Disciples” being so-so), the excellent “The Double Agent”, with Modesty coming face to face with her evil communist agent dopplegänger! One almost regrets Colvin bowing out by then, especially as the next and last phase of stories seem to move more towards the dark, gritty style of the novels, away from the early clever, tricky, playfulness of the Holdaway period.

With the (this time) permanent return of Romero (1986-2001), both story and style seems to be darker. “The Vampire of Malvescu” is competent (set in much the same location as “Top Traitor”, 1965, Holdaway, actually Transylvania), while “Samantha and the Cherub” (1987) introduces the young, feisty Samantha character who appears in “Ivory Dancer” (1992) and “The Special Orders” (1998) – this last being another dark story about the white slave trade. Between Sam’s first appearance and her last there is actually a several years’ time gap. Samantha was probably only about age ten in the first story, before becoming a 15-year-old teenager in the last story. The problem is more in Romero’s art. He isn’t good at depicting children (as exampled in his first illustrated story, the dated and rather silly “Willie the Djinn”), and Samantha finished up looking too much like a young Modesty.

Another failing perhaps – which Holdaway or Colvin would never have done – is Romero’s obvious lack of direct knowledge of Britain, and London in particular. Sam, we are told is a working class girl living in the East End, but her house, when we see it, is much too posh. Tarrant’s office, originally in the Whitehall/Foreign Office area, is now depicted as some anonymous modernist block, surrounded by equally unidentified modern buildings, having almost a hint of some futuristic science fiction city-scape. Likewise, Romero’s depiction of the architecture of the capital of the communist East European country in “Death Trap” (1977/78) just looks quite wrong, again more like something out of science-fiction – nothing like Soviet-style architecture, although the villain looked a bit like the long-time president/dictator of post-Soviet Belarus! In other illustrations – of Paris, for instance, or views of Big Ben from across the Thames, both landmarks and scale are all wrong. We will give examples below, including his totally wrong depiction of both an English village and castle.

“Milord” (1988) is equally dark, with a grim theme (it has Guido and Aniela again, but not much humour left, with girls being kidnapped for extreme porno and stuff movies). So too is “The Astro” (1994, again featuring women being sold into the criminal sex trade). On a happier note is “The Girl from the Future” (1989), with a rather crazy plot to swindle a gullible mega-rich science fiction publisher (not a writer, but, given he thinks to change the future of humankind, why did I think of L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology man?) “Lady in the Dark” (1989/90) was another ‘cross-over’ from the novels, featuring Steve and Diana Collier, but, while they are sympathetically portrayed by Romero, neither are perhaps particularly visually outstanding to anyone first having read the novels.

“Walkabout” (1990) is another of O’Donnell’s favourite locations, the Australian outback, and again features Mafia hoods. There followed a gritty, but very good, “The Girl in the Iron Mask” – my only complaint being that the back-story of the Bone brothers having their reason to hate Modesty is only alluded to, but doesn’t appear in either the strips or novels, although the master planner of the rather inapt criminal gang in “Idaho George” (1978) was named Bone. O’Donnell often repeated names (as well as a few plot ideas or accessories) over his near-40-year period. George was a likeable con-man, and another one whose pretty and sexy girlfriend (like Aniela) flirted outrageously with Willie – except Aniela we know did enjoy having nooky with Willie – Maisie apparently was less lucky!

“My Friend Maude” (1992) is again passable espionage, although again the plot itself is rather silly, while “The Maori Contract” (1995, which rather repeated “The Sword of the Bruce” story idea), “Durango” (again with overtones of previous stories, like “The Iron God”), and “The Murder Frame” (1997, a revenge caper) are so-so. The previous playful humour has completely evaporated now, as exampled by “Fraser’s Story” (1997), which reintroduces the character Doctor Yago (from “Garvin’s Travels”), but he too is no longer a comic villain, instead gone completely to the dark side, now quite unlikeable. Towards the end Jack Fraser (Tarrant’s assistant and ex-field agent) breaks his neck. There is no more ‘Mr Nice-Guy’. Villains are über-villainous and meet nasty deaths accordingly. However, at least Maude and Willie are now, at long last, getting to enjoy sex together! In the novels Willie’s regular bed-partner was Lady Janet Gillam, but she only appeared a couple of times in the comic strip world, and only as a major plot character in one, “Murder Frame”.

We have already mentioned “Death Symbol” (1998, the series is near to its end) which was again set in Tibet, and with some of the same characters as “The Black Pearl” (1966), but it has the utterly bizarre plot line that the two stories (actually 32 years apart!) are only two years apart! Sorry, Peter, but that’s nonsense! Why did you say that? But that too is a much darker story, with Modesty being beaten and raped at the hands of a sadistic Chinese renegade – something that happened several times in the novels, but rarely in the comic strips. If she went to bed with the villain (Saint-Maur in “Death of a Jester”, Plato in “Plate’s Republic”, Dom Tregallion in “Those About to Die”), it was by her choice, not force.

“The Last Aristocrat” features Guido and Aniela again (they also featured in “Guido the Jinx”, 1994, along with Russian GPU Colonel Greb from “The Return of the Mammoth”), and does have some humour still, with Aniela again promising the faithless Guido “I will keel him! Slowly!”, although Romero does treat us to five strips of a very naked Aniela in bed with Willie and getting dressed afterwards! But the ‘macguffin’ is a plague bomb, again rather grim, and more in the James Bond spirit, which the greater majority of the comic strip stories were not. At the end Aniela and Guido finally get married, although one must question just why would she want to do so, knowing he was an unrepentant liar and womaniser! The penultimate story, “The Killing Game”, again returns to a theme used before, in the 1968 story “The Killing Ground” (reworked as a short story “Bellman”, 1996, in the Cobra Trap collection), and also “Eve and Adam”, with Modesty and Willie in ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ skimpy jungle outfits being hunted by a team of professional killers. However, the best that can be said it is competent.

The strip ending (unlike the more downbeat “Cobra Trap” short story) is the ultimate crossover between the two genres, with Modesty suggesting they go dig up the priceless Roman treasure that was re-buried in the North African desert at the end of the novel A Taste for Death, and afterwards donate the lot to the Salvation Army! Maybe, we know Modesty had a phenomenal sense of direction and place, but, as David Attenborough would tell you, the Sahara is a never-ending, wind-driven shifting place with no land-marks. Would they really find the treasure again? Given the near-forty years, it ends there, in a rather timeless limbo and anti-climax, as they apparently walk off into the sunset whilst planning their final caper. One is rather reminded of the unimaginative ending to the “Jane” comic strip, as she finally marries her idiotic boyfriend Georgie Porgy. Compare perhaps to the ending of the French science fiction comic saga “Valerian and Laureline” by Pierre Christin, in which the two heroes are projected back from the 28th century to early 21st century Paris, but as young children, remembering nothing of their past adventures as space-time agents. Like it or hate it (fandom was mixed), but it was an ending, with finality of sorts, rather than disappointing let-down.

Again it might have been better if O’Donnell had allowed Modesty to have aged just a bit (even 15 years perhaps), or to ended on a story that wrapped things up in a more satisfactory way – perhaps with the retirement (not before time!) of Sir Gerald, Willie selling his half of the circus (perhaps to Lady Jane), and it might have been better if Maude Tiller and Danny Chavasse (ex-Network operative, who had featured in a lot of novels) had partnered up, instead of the female, Leda, daughter of the latest villain in “The Zombie” (2001). It was too much a ‘routine’ story, rather than the ending it should have been.

ILLUSTRATIONS:

Fig. 1: Jim Holdaway, 1927-1970, the original Modesty Blaise artist, and the best. He had previously illustrated Romeo Brown, also written by Peter O’Donnell. He died, aged 43, mid-way through “The War-Lords of Phoenix”.

Fig. 2: Holdaway, 1963 – Jack Fraser and Sir Gerald Tarrant visit Modesty at her penthouse apartment (I suggest Bayswater Road), overlooking Hyde Park.

Fig. 3: Holdaway, 1963 – His first image of Modesty Blaise. Note the intricate background detail in both this, and the previous, illustration. The Rolls-Royce parked at the kerb in panel 2 is probably Modesty’s.

Fig. 4: Holdaway, 1963 – His first image of Willie Garvin. Modesty visits him at his Thames riverside pub, the ‘Treadmill’. Note the interesting angles in panels 1 and 2. All three illustrations are from the first story La Machine.

Fig. 5: Holdaway, 1965/66 – Willie Garvin, Tarrant’s assistant Jack Fraser, and Modesty. Illustration from the story Top Traitor. Fraser is a former field agent whose outward persona is now that of a rather dull desk-bound bureaucrat. He, along with Sir Gerald, featured in many of the Modesty stories, both comic strip and the novels.

Fig. 6: Holdaway, 1963/64 – The first appearance of arch-criminal Gabriel.

Illustration from the third Modesty story The Gabriel Set-Up. Gabriel made one more appearance in the comic strip, in The Head Girls (1966), and featured in two of the Modesty Blaise novels, Modesty Blaise (1965), and A Taste for Death (1969), in which he is rather unceremoniously killed off.

Fig. 7: Holdaway, 1964 – The introduction of another regular character, that of Modesty’s ‘houseboy’ Weng, seen here in the fourth story Mister Sun. Again, take note of the detail of Mister Sun’s underground inner sanctum, the expressions and body language of the characters. Mr Sun was something of an Ian Fleming-type villain, in a story set in Hong Kong (then still a British colony) and during the Vietnam War, whilst emphasising Modesty’s hatred of the drug trade.

Fig. 8 : Holdaway, 1964 – Another episode from Mister Sun. A masterstroke to have the Chinese criminal villain practising his cartography while hoping to corrupt Modesty into the drugs trade. Probably only Neville Colvin equalled Holdaway in his ability to capture facial expressions and body language so effectively.

Fig. 9a : Holdaway – Modesty taken captive by another Cold War espionage villain, osteopath V. N. Korzon, from the fifth story The Mind of Mrs Drake. As with the second story, The Long Lever, often the good guys get killed; in this instance one of Tarrant’s agents, blonde Jeannie Challon. Holdaway’s artwork and characterisation is at the top of its game, except for the old Hollywood mistake that silencers aren’t actually effective on revolvers, only automatics!

Fig. 9b : Unknown artist (perhaps John Burns?), cover to a later Swedish language edition of Modesty, the title apparently changed to Psyko-spionen – psycho-espionage.

Fig. 10 : Holdaway, 1964/65 – Again from The Mind of Mrs Drake, and just one of numerous examples of the incredible detail Holdaway put into what was just a daily newspaper comic strip. Look at the third panel in particular as Modesty and Willie drive through London in her sports car convertible. Cars feature a lot in the Modesty comic strips.

Fig. 11 : Holdaway, 1969 – And another Cold War espionage villain from The Hell-Makers. Like the earlier Uncle Happy, this too was set in the USA, with the final action taking place in Montana. In addition to the larger than life Alex Kazin, Peter O’Donnell introduced another fascinating character, Gus Fletcher.

Fig. 12 : Holdaway, 1968/69 – Another example of Holdaway’s incredible attention to detail, as Modesty and her latest lover, Italian architect Max Aquino, attend Count Alborini’s Venetian ball in the palazzo on the Grand Canal. Another ruthless villain, driven by arrogance and greed. How long would it have taken for Holdaway to ink in all this intricate detail, only for it to be reduced down to probably a quarter of the size of the original, and with all the smudgy imperfections of 1960s/70s newspaper print?

Fig. 13a : Holdaway, 1968/69 – Another example of Holdaway’s almost cinematic compositions and mastery of light and shadow, especially in the top first panel. The (by now) slightly insane Count Alborini and his henchman hunting Modesty in the spooky derelict palazzo on its own island in the Venetian Lagoon, Modesty still with her wrists in handcuffs.

Fig. 13b : Unknown artist, the cover to the Swedish publication Agent X9, featuring translated Modesty Blaise stories, again from The Red Gryphon.

Fig. 14 : Holdaway, 1969-70 – Yet another example of Holdaway’s maticulous artwork, this from the story Take-Over. Modesty is being wined and dined by another comic strip regular, Inspector Brook of Scotland Yard. Although the story text does not say so, my guess this is the ‘Trafalgar Tavern’ at Greenwich.

Fig. 15 : Holdaway, 1970 – From The War-Lords of Phoenix, set in Japan, with the crazy mega-rich industrialist brothers Kato and Fumiya having forcefully ‘recruited’ Modesty and Willie to train their warrior fanatics. This was the penultimate Holdaway-drawn episode before he died so suddenly.

Fig. 16 : John M. Burns, 1978/79 – In November 1978 John Burns took over illustration with the departure of Enric Badia Romero to concentrate on his “Axa” science fiction comic strip in the Sun newspaper. The first Burns story was Yellowstone Booty, another American story, and featuring the mega-rich American businessman and Modesty’s lover, John Dall, another ‘cross-over’ from the novels. Burns used strong black and white, and, while less meticulous in detail than Holdaway, he was excellent on faces, expressions and composition.

Fig. 17 : John M. Burns, 1978/79 – Two more illustrations from Yellowstone Booty, featuring the feisty Lucy Grace, half-Native American Indian treasure-hunter, and her husband Brad, about to rescue an unconscious Willie Garvin in a canoe. Was the nudity really too up-front for the Evening Standard readers in 1978? Why else was Burns given instant dismissal half-way through only his third Modesty Blaise story?

Fig. 18 : John M. Burns, 1978/79 – Another episode of Yellowstone Booty. Note that Burns is credited as artist, as later was Neville Colvin. Was it just a coincidence that a strong story also had a strong artist in the same vein as Holdaway? Burns’ portfolio is huge and impressive, and includes “The Seekers”, a Modesty Blaise-like comic strip (written by Les Lilley, 1966-71); “Danielle” (1973-74, 1978); George and Lynne (1977-84); “Bionic Woman” (1976-77) and “Eartha” (written by Donne Aveness, 1981-82).

Fig 19 : John M. Burns, 1979 – Peter O’Donnell’s equivalent of Ian Fleming’s SPECTRA was Salamander Four, which appeared in both novels/short stories and here, in one of several examples, in the comic strip. Sir Angus McBeal also featured in the novels, and the short story “Old Alex” (1996). This is from the story Green Cobra, another strong espionage story in which Tarrant’s assistant Jack Fraser is kidnapped – a twist on the much earlier story Top Traitor, or the novel The Silver Mistress, when Tarrant was the kidnap victim.

Fig. 20 : John M. Burns, 1979 – Another episode from Green Cobra, and an example of Burns’ strength at creating memorable (if eccentric) characters – the ruthless Pandora, egocentric martial arts fighter with a chip on her shoulder concerning Modesty, and the Toulouse-Lautrec-like midget Dr. Vigo.Fig. 21 : John M. Burns, 1979 – Although Burns’ Modesty occasionally looks wrong – her hair piled too high, lips too full, by his third story, Eve and Adam, he had already stamped his strong, distinctive style on the strip, and drawn some memorable characters, here the slightly bonkers Dan Galt, convinced the world was about to end, and planning to transplant Modesty and Willie to an isolated, fertile valley in Africa to be the new Adam and Eve. The perfect excuse for some discreet nudity and the odd flash of Modesty’s bare boobs, but then suddenly, mid-story, Burns is gone and replaced by another artist, Pat Wright, whose style is completely different. As editorial decisions go as far as a popular comic strip was concerned, it was completely crazy.

Fig, 22a and 22b : John M. Burns and Pat Wright – John Burns was dismissed by orders of the then Evening Standard editor Charles Wintour in September 1979, and hurriedly replaced by Pat Wright. The last two Burns strips were not printed and replaced by the Pat Wright version instead, thus giving us an interesting opportunity to compare the two artists and their individual interpretation of Peter O’Donnell’s script. The contrast is apparent. Burns’s style was strong and realistic, and, like his two predecessors, Holdaway and Romero, he used shadows a lot. Wright’s style was much lighter, often almost devoid of shadow, and, while he was quite good with his depiction of Modesty’s face, he was weak on figures in general, and even more so on background. He was the son of comic artist David Wright (1912-1967), who draw the comic strip “Carol Day” (written by Peter Morris, 1956-67) for the Daily Mirror. Perhaps had Wright been drawing a completely new comic strip, he might have survived and thrived, but there is no denying that he was the weakest and least able of the five artists, and his tenure lasted only one and half stories, before he, too, was replaced in May 1980 by Neville Colvin, and the artistic style dramatically changed yet again. Pat Wright had previously drawn for The Eagle, 2000AD, and the Commando comics, and later for Private Eye. His forte were single panel cartoons. Continuity error! Willie is weeks in the wilderness but is still clean-shaven!

Figs. 23 and 24 : Pat Wright, 1979-80 – Wright completed the story Eve and Adam, ironically taking over almost at the point where the story took on a totally unexpected twist, and a more brutal edge. Alas, one can only imagine how John Burns might have illustrated this change of direction. Wright’s version is disappointing. Between January to May 1980 he completed the next story, Brethren of Blaise, a routine crime caper set in a small village in winter. Artistically, this too was, at best, serviceable, at worst, mediocre. As the two examples above show, his Modesty and Willie were perhaps better even than Romero’s, and certainly nearer to the original Holdaway images. But little else worked – the backgrounds were scrappy and vague; there was little detail, the style was sketchy rather than realistic, and the composition was workaday, nothing else. Sadly, Pat Wright’s Modesty was the least successful.

Fig. 25 : Neville Colvin, 1980 – This from the opening episodes of the first story Colvin illustrated, Dossier on Pluto, and from the man, who – so the story goes – when offered the job of being the replacement Modesty Blaise artist, claimed he couldn’t draw women! Straightway he was drawing Willie’s latest squeeze, American former cheer-leader and prize bimbo, Cheryl, and in the skimpiest of micro-bikinis! Later, in the same story, he draw a very nude Rosita, another of Willie’s horizontal playmates (although this time in the noble cause of duping the villains, of course!) Given how American newspaper editors had so heavily censored Romero’s artwork in The Gallows Bird (1973) from even the hint of bare feminine flesh or Willie sleeping with his girlfriends, one can only suppose the later Modesty stories never saw the light of day in the USA. Like Pat Wright who he replaced, New Zealand-born Colvin regarded himself as more of a cartoonist, and his artwork was not without flaws and failings, but, in retrospect, he did restore something of the Holdaway spirit – most notably in his depiction of characters and often real emotion in their faces – something that both Pat Wright and Enrique Badia Romero often failed at.Figs, 26 and 27 : Neville Colvin, 1980 – The two villains from Dossier on Pluto, Squire Maitland and Gaspar (an overweight Captain Hook type). This story has the third appearance of another of Modesty’s lovers, American Steve Taylor, the F.B.I. agent who first appeared in Uncle Happy (drawn by Holdaway) and then The Gallows Bird (by Romero) – so three different artists. Now retired, he is conducting dolphin research – Pluto being the name given to one of the dolphins. During the Cold War (and perhaps since) such research was actually being carried out by both the USA and the Soviet Union. One feature which distinguished Modesty from her fictional rivals, especially government-employed thugs like James Bond, was her empathy for dumb animals, donkeys and dolphins in particular. Maitland is the first of several posh, rather autocratic, long yellow- or silver-haired villains portrayed by Colvin; we see his type again in Sweet Caroline (perhaps the least successful of the O’Donnell/Colvin stories), Plato’s Republic, and the foreign office sleeper agent in the last Colvin illustrated story, The Double Agent.

Figs. 28a and 28b : Neville Colvin (above) and Enric Badia Romero (below).

The Neville Colvin period was from 1980 until 1986, and included some excellent stories, but also Peter O’Donnell reintroduced some previous characters, like circus-owner Georgi Gogol, French intelligence chief René Vaubois, and Maude Tiller, who had first appeared in The Puppet Master (1971-71), drawn by Romero. Here she is again in Gavin’s Travels, and – while still a blonde – looking completely different, actually with more character!Fig. 29 : Neville Colvin, 1981. Here is Maude Tiller again in Gavin’s Travels, with comrade Doctors Yago (with the bald head) and Vole, rare comic book incompetent villains in Peter O’Donnell’s world, although Dr. Yago made a later reappearance in Fraser’s Story (1997, drawn by Romero), in which he was no longer comic and inapt, but a true nasty who merits getting his neck snapped! Holdaway would have handled the background with more subtlety and perhaps detail, while Romero would had perhaps emphasised contrasting shadow more, but the two villains are distinctive (if perhaps comic), and Colvin’s version remains the best ever depiction of Maude, here and in The Double Agent.Fig. 30 : Neville Colvin, 1984 – Circus owner Georgi Gogol is another character who made a few ‘guest appearances’ over the span of stories, first in The Bluebeard Affair (1974, Romero), then Death Trap (1978, also Romero), but seen here by Colvin in The Return of the Mammoth, ten years later, in 1984. Once again, it is Colvin who really captures Gogol’s appearance and character to match O’Donnell’s dialogue. The second illustration by Romero (2001).Fig. 31 : Neville Colvin, 1985 – When it came to depicting another of Modesty’s regular lovers, the medically talented, if mildly eccentric Doctor Giles Pennyfeather, Colvin did occasionally stray into caricature. This is one of his less comic portrayals, from the excellent crime caper The Wild Boar (which also features another regular from both comic strip and novels, Rene Vaubois). Giles first appeared in the novel The Impossible Virgin (1971) and again in The Xanadu Talisman (1981), and in the comic strip stories The Young Mistress (1992), Honeygun (1996) and Children of Lucifer (1999, all drawn by Romero).Fig. 32 : Neville Colvin, 1985 – Just in this one story, The Wild Boar, where the action moves from Tangiers to Cannes to Corsica, there are a number of fleeting characters, yet all vividly depicted by Colvin. Whether it be Cannes police inspector Durand, seen here on his day off at the marina, and looking characteristically French, or the elderly Corsican gentleman with his white flowing moustache, or Vaubois’s scheming deputy in French intelligence, who looked a bit like Mitterrand!Figs. 33 and 34 : Neville Colvin, 1984 – Two episodes from The Return of the Mammoth, in which Willie loses his favourite circus elephant Chloe in Russia. G.R.U. Captain Novikov doesn’t believe Willie’s story, until an old Soviet army officer acquaintance, Colonel Greb, rescues him. Greb appeared again, in Guido the Jinx (1994, drawn by Romero). But even if we allow for the time lapse, Romero’s Greb looked nothing like Colvin’s, who, as we see here, depicts a much more typical, stocky, ruddy-faced Russian. Romero’s Greb is just a fat man of no discernible nationality with short fair or cropped hair. I always felt that O’Donnell’s Greb was a nod to Len Deighton’s Colonel Stok as featured in his early novels Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain.Fig. 35 : Neville Colvin, 1982 – From the story A Few Flowers for the Colonel, this is Colonel Rodney Spooner, retired, Royal Engineers, a story set in another fictitious O’Donnell South American country, and a variation on The Jericho Caper (1967/68) and the short stories A Better Day to Die and Cobra Trap.Figs. 36 and 37 : Neville Colvin, 1982 – Two illustrations from The Moon Man, seen here in the second frame, Herbert Duck, aka The Moon Man, the UK agent of an unnamed East European (e.g. communist) foreign power, who uses his apparent claim to be in contact with extra-terrestrials aliens in UFOs as ‘cover’. Perhaps even aside from his time writing the “Garth” stories for the Daily Mirror (1953-65), Peter O’Donnell obviously had an interest in science fiction and so-called flying saucers, or UFOs. They feature in at least two other Modesty comic strip stories, “Take Me To Your Leader” (1974, Romero), and The Girl from the Future (1989, also Romero). The story sub-plot has Modesty posing nude for a painting by her latest lover, again a plot idea used (but sculpture) in The Jericho Caper, and the short story Salamander Four. Aside from the dastardly East European villains, Colvin depicts a cast of characters, including the painter’s young daughter and a motley collection of ufologists!Figs. 38 and 39 : Neville Colvin, 1982-83 – Perhaps Colvin’s most enduring visual creation was the lying, scheming, fantasizing and womanizing Italian journalist Guido Biganzoli and his long-suffering blonde girlfriend Aniela, both seen here in different episodes of Guido’s introductory story The Balloonatic. Despite her misgivings, Modesty agrees to take part in a hot-air balloon race in Italy, while Willie (“Weelie”) and Aniela follow by car, except Aniela can only read maps if facing north! As usual in Peter O’Donnell’s world, murder and terrorist gangs very soon come to dominate the plot. Colvin’s Guido has a touch of Salvador Dali about him. They appear again in Guido the Jinx (1996), Milord (1988), and finally The Last Aristocrat (1999-2000). All three were illustrated by Romero, but now Aniela looked just like Romero’s version of Maude Tiller, and Guido is recognisable, but rather ‘stiff’, and the last two stories in particular are rather nasty and brutish – snuff porno movies and biological warfare terrorism.Figs. 40 and 41 : Neville Colvin, 1986 – In retrospect we must regret that Colvin decided to retire from drawing Modesty, and, perhaps even more, the editorial decision to again engage Romero to take over illustrating the comic strip again. Colvin had got better and better which each story, but bowed out in style, with the excellent – and at times, quite comic – espionage story The Double Agent, which, as almost immediately becomes apparent, has itself a double meaning: Modesty is up against her own double! With the communist operative Havil, not for the first time in Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty universe, we have a villain who has apparently crossed swords with her before, but in some previous, untold story. His intended revenge is to use a ruthless and highly trained Modesty-lookalike to assassinate Tarrant, with Modesty taking the blame. The problem being, of course, that, no matter how good the double, Willie would know. This story – Colvin’s swansong, culminating in a hand-to-hand battle between Modesty and Gemini, her double – is O’Donnell at his creative best, evoking both tension and humour. The story again features Maude Tiller, at her most seductive, but also a cast of villains (seen above, two underlings and Havil himself), a circus bear, a man in a clown suit, holograms, an ingenious murder attempt on Willie, and the final confrontation on a golf-course – I like to think somewhere in Surrey. Colvin bows out, and Romero returns, and once again it almost seems as if the tune of the stories start to change also.

Fig. 42 : Romero, 1970 – The first Enric Badia Romero period was from 1970 to 1978, and Willie the Djinn (above) was the first complete story illustrated following Holdaway’s untimely death. It was not one of Peter O’Donnell’s best or most memorable stories, set in a fictitious Middle Eastern Arab country (perhaps not unlike Kuwait) now rich from oil wealth, whose eccentric ruler knew Modesty in her teenage wandering days. O’Donnell returned to a similar plot in 1977/78 with the equally mediocre The Vanishing Dollybirds, also one of his less successful titles. Romero’s style is bold and strong, but, while he was excellent at drawing young women, he seemed strangely unable to draw very young children. For instance, compare the middle panel of the top episode with the much smaller, almost babyish girl in the last panel of the bottom episode. In The Stone Age Caper (1971) the Aboriginal children look quite grotesque, while the later character of Sam Brown (Samantha and the Cherub, 1987) often looked like a miniature Modesty.

Fig. 43 : Romero, 1971 – The third fully-illustrated Romero was Death of a Jester, a competent, if not particularly outstanding, quasi-espionage/crime caper, whose lordly, ex-British Army commando villain is the bearded and ruthless John Vandeleur Saint-Maur. Both monasteries and castles feature a lot in the Modesty stories, but Romero’s castles are always rather ridiculous, like out of fairy stories. His artwork is detailed, and his Modesty already quite exotic (not for the only time, in either novels or comic strip, she sleeps with the bad guy). Also not for the only time, Peter O’Donnell has a reoccuring name – in his 1982 novel The Night of the Morningstar, one of the villains is Major Ronald St. Maur, a.k.a. the Earl St. Maur. Had O’Donnell forgotten he had used the same name back in 1971?Fig. 44 : Romero, 1971 – The Puppet Master was more of a revenge caper, featuring the evil-looking Mahmoud, former vice-ring boss, seen here with the title character, mind-molding psychiatrist Dr. Hans Baum. Set mostly in Italy, with excursions to the South of France and Athens, this story also introduces Maude Tiller, another one of Tarrant’s blonde female agents, who became a Peter O’Donnell favourite, featuring in over half a dozen comic strip stories, as well the novel Last Day in Limbo. Strangely enough, an early Romero sketch for Maude, reproduced in the Titan reprints, shows more character than his later depiction, when she became rather a ‘typical’ Romero blonde. The final action takes place on the Monte Solaro chairlift in Carpi, O’Donnell supplying Romero with photographs as to the location.Fig. 45 : Romero, 1971 – Another favourite O’Donnell location was Australia, and especially the Outback, which featured in a number of the Modesty comic strip stories, The Stone Age Caper (opening episodes above), and Walkabout (1990-91), as well as one of his ‘Madeleine Brent’ pen-name novels, The Golden Urchin (1986, something of a literary tour de force, being written in the first person, whose heroine is a young white girl brought up as an Aborigine). This introduces both another recurring villain, Chinese Mr Wu Smith, who perhaps inherited Mr Sun’s criminal empire, and Australian Aborigine Jacko, former of the Network, whose tracking skills are occasionally called upon. Here too we meet one of Modesty’s one-off, one-time lovers, Australian zoologist David Collins, whose persona is remarkably similar to that of near-namesake Steve Collier, another former Modesty lover, who first appeared on the 1967 novel I, Lucifer, but only appeared in the comic strip in 1989. Fig. 46 : Romero, 1971 – Horror, shock! Modesty shows her nipples! Tame by the standards of the 1980s – “George and Lynne” or “Axa”, but still got reader complaints apparently, and a mild rebulk to Peter O’Donnell. Laughable now.Fig. 47 : Romero, 1972-73 – The Bluebeard Affair was a more conventional crime caper, the wicked Baron Rath and his two hideous daughters, Hortense and Celeste, planning to murder his fourth wife for her money. The setting is the South of France, near Cannes, although Romero’s depiction of the town at night, viewed from the bay, is strangely unconvincing. However, the would-be victim is the niece of French intelligence chief, Rene Vaubois, who first appeared in The Magnified Man (Holdaway, 1967). This also sees the first appearance of Georgi Gogol’s circus, who Willie half-owns (much to the surprise of both us, the reader, and Modesty herself!) The circus will feature again in Death Trap (Romero, 1977-78), and Return of the Mammoth (Colvin, 1984), and The Zombie (2000-2001). Fig. 48 : Romero, 1973 – Next to guns (Modesty’s speciality), cars feature a lot in both comic strip and books, and – apart from Willie’s London black cab – mostly left-hand drive. I suspect both Holdaway and Romero enjoyed drawing them. This final episode of The Bluebeard Affair is especially good.fig. 49 : Romero, 1978 – American con-man Idaho George and his girlfriend Maisie has him pretending to be misogynist Indian mystic Ram Dal Singh, supposedly able to materialise gold or silver. I believe O’Donnell had a personal interest in stage magic, and several of his stories use this theme – The Girl From the Future and “Take Me to Your Leader”, for instance. A routine crime caper, with a thuggish gang of incompetents lead by Anastasia Bone, following the death of husband Alfred Potts. Maisie is another, like Guido’s girlfriend Aniela, who flirts with Willie, but less successfully. This story is notable for bringing together (if only briefly) Maude, Weng, Steve Collier, Lady Janet (who featured more in the books) and Inspector Brook’s nephew Rufus, who had appeared in the story From Rufus With Love (Romero, 1972). It also has Modesty badly beaten up, and performing a self-inducing near-death coma. Other stories of interest in this first Romero period are The Gallow Bird (1973), a USA caper in which the villains (an elderly pseudo-Confederate ‘General’ and his crazy wife, obsessed with hanging) plan to flood New Orleans – 32 years later Hurricane Katrina was unfortunately more successful; The Iron God (1973-74), set in New Guinea, with roguish bearded Irishman O’Mara as villain – although Romero had him looking not unlike John Saint Maur (above). Romero can at least draw believable black adults, as exampled in this story, unlike the dreadful effort of Pat Wright in Eve and Adam. Finally one of the better stories, even if a routine crime caper, Highland Witch (1974), featuring another sarcastic Steve Collier-type named Dr. Gordon Ritchie, and another samey Romero blonde-lookalike girl-in-peril, Peggy Western, looking like Maude Tiller much of the time. The villain is Sister Binks, middle-aged and fat, another Romero stereotype. Aborigine Jacko makes a brief appearance, but the best part of the story is Modesty’s ingenious frightener on the bad guys who think Peggy is dead, only to keep seeing and hearing her ‘ghost’… Fig. 50 : Romero, 1986-87 – Enric Badia Romero returned in 1986, with the cowboy/western-themed Butch Cassidy Rides Again, featuring a English-born, gun-slinging villain named The Preacher – a throwback perhaps to the Revd. Uriah Crisp in the 1978 novel Dragon’s Claw. There seems to be a subtle change in Romero’s art, but also increasingly in the nature of the stories in this final fifteen year phase. Workaday art for a workaday story, but it does see a brief intervention by Modesty’s favourite multi-millionaire boyfriend, John Dall.Fig. 51 : – Romero, 1987 – The story The Million Dollar Game is one of several Modesty comic strip stories over the entire period with a hunting theme – more often Modesty and Willie being the hunted. These are the short, fill-in story The Killing Ground (1968, Holdaway – O’Donnell later wrote a short story version, Bellman, 1996), and The Killing Game (Romero, 2000). This story, eventually about large-scale poaching in Africa – sadly, still on-going in real life – actually begins with a flashback to Modesty’s Network days in Tangier, and her love of dumb animals, donkeys in particular. Grey Lawton is the animal doctor, eventually, after a bumpy start, another of Modesty’s lovers. When he later appears, shaven-headed with a beard, in one image he looks a bit like the American actor Tom Selleck.Fig. 52 : Romero, 1987 – Samantha and the Cherub (in retrospect, not one of Peter O’Donnell’s best titles) introduces young Sam Brown, working class London East Ender, into martial arts, who was to feature in a number of subsequent stories, below.Fig. 53 : Romero, 1992 – Sam’s second appearance, seen here with Modesty’s millionaire American boyfriend, John Dall, another cross-over character who appears in both comic strip and the books. Sam shows herself to be both intelligent and brave, with another Modesty characteristic, empathy with animals, in this instance Dall’s champion race-horse, the title’s ‘Ivory Dancer’. Fig. 54 : Romero, 1998 – Sam Brown again, no longer a child, now about 15, seen here in The Special Orders, and looking quite different! This story is set in the Far East, this is about girls being kidnapped for a vice ring.

Fig. 55 : Romero, 1989 – The Girl from the Future is another caper set in the USA, so almost inevitably also featuring John Dall, the Texan tycoon. It features Alex Gant, a rather arrogant, self-centred multi-millionaire science fiction publisher and flying saucer enthusiast, who believes he has been visited by a girl from the 25th century AD, so he might prepare humankind for cosmic enlightenment. However, to return her to her own time requires two solid gold spheres worth a mere $4million each. It’s a scam, but by whom, and how was it done? Peter O’Donnell could still think up an ingenious plot. Romero depicts Modesty in skimpy swimwear, his usual gruesome ruffians, and some non-Modesty female nudity in one of the better stories from this last phase.Fig. 56 : Romero, 1989-90 – Another enjoyable workaday story is Lady in the Dark, which finally (belatedly) introduces Steve and Diane Collier, regular characters from the novels and short stories. Romero’s depiction of them is seen here, from another, later, comic strip story, Durango (1996-97). Collier is another of Modesty’s ex-lovers, while Diane, who is blind, but has compensated with enhanced psychic senses, first appeared in A Taste for Death, when her sister was murdered by Gabriel, and she was rescued by Willie Garvin. Lady in the Dark features another, rather ridiculous-looking, castle in Carinthia, together with Salamander Four villains. Thereafter the Colliers appear as both key- or bit-players in a number of subsequent stories.Figs. 57 and 58 : Romero, 1991 – The Girl in the Iron Mask is another revenge caper – so like The Killing Ground (Holdaway), The Puppet Master (Romero), Death in Slow Motion, and The Double Agent (Colvin), Live Bait, or The Murder Frame (Romero), but this time by the retired millionaire Bone brothers, Reggie and Humphry, seen here with their servant, Celeste, at their home in the Swiss Alps. Modesty is kidnapped, fitted with the iron mask, and put down a deep pit, Kippel Hole, in an operation carried out by the ‘Magpie’ gang. Again, Peter O’Donnell hints at a backstory not chronicled in either book or comic – that Modesty foiled an attempt by the vindictive brothers to ruin John Dall. The ‘Bone’ name, however, was also used before, in the 1978 story Idaho George. Figs. 59, 60 and 61 : Romero, 1999-2000 – Romero’s version of the lying, womanizing Italian journalist Guido and girlfriend Aniela (also seen here, commiserating with ‘Weelie’ having been jilted at the altar by Guido); this from their final appearance in The Last Aristocrat. Even at this late stage, as we see here, Romero continued to draw what was perhaps his true speciality, faces and naked, or near-naked, women, to perfection – even if his villains started to look more and more like grotesque masks and his blondes all looked like Axa, his other ‘creation’ after his version of Modesty. However, by the 1990s his previous attention to detail – whether it be cars, planes, room interiors, or background locations – had greatly declined, become more slapdash and indifferent. Always rather eccentric in how he depicted places, as we shall illustrate below, I get the impression drawing the Modesty comic strip had – for the most part – became a chore, made only enjoyable perhaps by the opportunities to draw her – or other female characters, friend or foe. It was a slow, steady deterioration into what was often – at best – crude simplicity; or worst, the kind of scrappiness only previously seen with Pat Wright. Fig. 62 : Romero, 2001 – the last Modesty Blaise comic strip – ever. 38 years, 95 adventures (excluding the novels and short stories) and they’ve barely aged. Peter O’Donnell, however, was then 81 when he finally retired from writing. He died in 2010, aged 90. He expressed the wish that no one write any further Modesty Blaise stories. The short story Cobra Trap (published 1996) was to have been Modesty’s true swansong, with her (then in her fifties and with an incurable brain tumour) and Willie dying in a sort of A Few Flowers for the Colonel situation. The “Evening Standard” comic strip ending, by comparison, is an anti-climax, rather tame. With Peter O’Donnell’s permission, Romero illustrated one more story, The Dark Angels, another short story from the 1996 collection. Romero also illustrated the covers to the Scandinavian translated reprints. Romero is, therefore, now the artist most associated with Modesty. Like Colvin, his art was 60% very good, but none of the other four artists matched Jim Holdaway for talent, detail or skill. John Burns had also illustrated some of the short stories, and – we believe – some of Swedish translation magazine covers. If so, we can only lament yet again what might have been had he continued the “Evening Standard” comic strip.Figs. 63 and 64 – Possibly John Burns – covers to the Swedish edition of The Dossier on Pluto and The Alternative Man, both originally by Neville Colvin.Figs. 65 and 66 : Two more covers to the Swedish translation, this time of The Head Girls, and Top Traitor, both originally by Jim Holdaway.

Fig. 67 : The now classic image of Modesty Blaise, as illustrated by Romero, black, zip-up bodysuit, gun and holster, hair up.Fig. 68 : Contrast to the John M. Burns version, much less sexy!Fig. 69 : Another John M. Burns illustration, this time to Uncle Happy, recognisably in the style of the original Jim Holdaway illustration.Fig, 70 : Italian actress Monica Vitti (born 1931 as Maria Luisa Cecilarelli) as Modesty Blaise in the 1966 movie of that name, directed by Joseph Losey and produced by Joseph Janni. Vitti was a natural blonde, but did actually look like Modesty in a wig. Sadly the movie was awful, about which less said the better!

Figs. 71 and 72 : Over a period of time Romero also draw illustrations loosely based on the comic strip stories. These actually bore little relation to the stories themselves, and were essentially excuses to depict Modesty in various states of undress, exposing legs or upper body, as seen in these two examples. The first is supposedly the scene from Colvin’s A Few Flowers for the Colonel, where Modesty is holding off the advance of the bandits in the narrow gorge, but Romero has inflicted serious damage to her trademark bodysuit that never happened in the actual story. The second illustration is from Walkabout, when Modesty goes ‘native Abo’ with her ex-Network operative, Australian Aboriginal Jacko – a good excuse to depict her near-naked, if still strategically concealing her breasts! Actually, in the story, Modesty let the Aborigines kill the kangaroo!Figs. 73 and 74 : Romero and Holdaway – Modesty in the nude.Fig. 75 – Romero – Axa (with Donne Avenell, 1978-86) and Modesty.Figs. 76 and 77 : Enrique (Enric) Badia Romero (born 1930, Barcelona, Spain); Peter O’Donnell, British journalist, writer and novelist (1920-2010), who also wrote under the pen-name of Madeleine Brent.

Fig. 79 : Superb illustration by Romero depicting a nude Modesty about to fight the villainous killer ‘Mr Sexton’, from the novel The Silver Mistress.

However, below we review some of Romero’s less successful work, repetition, and (we suggest) artistic decline:

Castles: Along with monasteries, castles often featured in the Modesty Blaise comic strip stories, most of which were illustrated by Romero. The most obvious exception is in the Holdaway illustrated story “Top Traitor”, featuring Storgen Castle, in the “Savinsken Alps”, which at least some readers insist are now known as the Savinja or Savinjska Alps, located on the Austrian/Slovenia border. If so, we must assume, from the date of the story (1965) it was in Austria, rather than Yugoslavia! Holdaway’s rather low-key depiction certainly has a Central European appearance, whilst also elements typical of Hapsburg architecture. The castle in the later (1987) story “The Vampire of Malvescu” is set in “Transylvania”, actually in Romania – which again at that period was still part of the Eastern communist-controlled Bloc. It is perhaps questionable if Modesty and Willie would have been allowed to travel there so freely.

This is Romero’s illustration:

The interior is even more grand:

Romero’s depictions of French chateaux are also rather over the top. Here, in “Our Friend Maude” (1992), the chateau looks almost Central European again:By contrast below is the French crime boss Reppo’s chateau “on the Aisne”, apparently once owned by Modesty during her Network days:

However, Romero’s English castles are both more exaggerated and unbelievable. Below we see Saint-Maur Castle, Cornish home of crazy ex-commando Earl Saint-Maur, in “Death of a Jester”:

Oddly enough, it has both drawbridge and moat, and a grand entrance for Modesty’s Rolls-Royce!

If this seems a bit over the top, consider Stutley Castle, supposedly in Nottinghamshire, near Sherwood, in the story “The Greenwood Maid” (1975), what might be described as a ‘Robin Hood Caper’. Peter O’Donnell has mixed Locksley, the supposed birth-place of the legendary Robin Hood, with the equally folklore character Will Stutely, sometimes associated with Will Scarlett. There is a Studley Castle, but it looks nothing as fanciful or exotic as this! This image is grand to the point of being quite ridiculous. Just look at the scale!

I’m afraid Romero really lost it in this story, supposedly set in a rural England that he obviously had no personal knowledge of. His depiction of ‘Stutely village’ isn’t just wrong, it is crazily and recognisably wrong! The architecture of the façades and roofs are German, not English, and, indeed, it has been directly lifted from photographs of that of the German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria! hat presumably both O’Donnell and the London Evening Standard editors let this one go, surely was an insult to their readers’ intelligence. Or did no one not notice?

CITIES: Let us move on to Romero’s depiction of cities and places. In the story “Death Trap” (1977) we see several images of the “capital of an (unnamed) minor East European” communist country. Given that there are mountains “on the northern border”, and Willie talks about walking “for two or three hundred miles”, one must assume this mysterious country to be in the Balkans rather than Eastern Europe. The geography, in fact, makes little sense. The capital, as envisaged by Romero, is even less believable. It looks like something out a Flash Gordon comic, almost science fiction. Again, really, even at the time one would expect something a bit more realistic. I cannot imagine Holdaway drawing something quite so absurd. Later Romero depicted similar tower-blocks into an unrecognisable London.

Two views of Paris, both featuring the Eiffel Tower, the first from the story “The Killing Distance” (1994), the second from the earlier “Those About to Die” (1976), perhaps illustrating the deterioration in Romero’s artwork – the later illustration being crude, scrappy and slapdash. My issue with the earlier illustration is scale. Is the Eiffel Tower in the background really so much taller than the modern skyscraper tower-block we see in the foreground? Although Peter O’Donnell said he often sent photographs of real locations to help Romero (Monte Solaro on Carpi, for instance; and possibly Mdina, on Malta), my feeling is that Romero was much less meticulous in his illustrations of foreign locations – be it London, the South of France, the USA, New Zealand or Australia – than either Holdaway, or even Colvin. And, sadly, as time went on, Romero played less attention to detail or background, concentrating only on figures and faces. Fine artist as he could be – the above illustration to The Silver Mistress shows that – he had limitations, and gradually these became more apparent.

Two views of London – both very scrappy, the first from “The Big Mole” (1989), a view supposedly from the direction of St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Albert Embankment towards the Houses of Parliament, with a misshapen Big Ben, and the bad guys seemingly located in the buildings facing onto the Victoria Embankment; while the second – from “The Vanishing Dollybirds” (1976), supposedly of Willie, driving a London black cab down The Mall, which what looks like Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial in the distance. Again, the art is very crude, especially for this earlier period. However, another small point of criticism: in the story Willie and Modesty pick up Sir Gerald from his Whitehall office, and we then see them drive around Trafalgar Square. However, if they then turned from Admiralty Arch into The Mall, they would be going towards Buckingham Palace, not away from it.

Repetitious places: Of course when the comic strip was originally drawn, to be published Monday to Saturday in a British newspaper, perhaps no one really thought it would be reprinted or become collector’s items. No one was going to go back and look at illustrations from years earlier. Titan Books only began to reprint the entire comic strip series in English in 2004, finally completed in 2017. Much earlier, Modesty was reprinted in various European countries – most notably in Sweden and in Swedish – and even (surprisingly, given some of the images) in India – we presume from samples seen, edited and, in part, redrawn. Romero was at least consistent in depicting the interior and roof-terrace of Modesty’s London penthouse apartment, as it was originally envisaged by Holdaway. For the most part Romero also maintained the general exterior views – mostly of the upper floors and roof of the building, with glimpses of street level. In the comic strip it is always described as “overlooking Hyde Park”, which could put it in three possible locations – on the south side (Knightsbridge), to the east (Park Lane), or north (Bayswater Road). Both the first and last are most likely options, but I personally prefer the Bayswater Road. However, there are a number of quite different variations for Modesty’s “cottage in Wiltshire”, including the original depiction from Holdaway in “The Gabriel Set-Up”; one, quite different version, from Romero, in “The Grim Joker”, which he used again in “The Young Mistress”; but a different house completely in “Lady in the Dark”. There is yet another quite different version again from Pat Wright in “The Brethren of Blaise”; and, finally, one – perhaps the best and most believable – from John Burns in “The Green Cobra”, which is at least still loosely based on the Holdaway version. Likewise, Jim Holdaway, right from the first comic strip “La Machine”, gives a wonderful image of Willie’s Thames riverside pub in Berkshire, “The Treadmill”. Colvin gives a tantalizing glimpse in “the Moon Man”, and again the rear, facing onto the river, in “Death in Slow Motion”. Romero gives two half-views in “Murder Frame”, which do at least match Holdaway’s original vision, although at the same time contrasting their styles. Otherwise, there are only interior views, too tiresome to compare!

Jim Holdaway – Modesty’s cottage in Wiltshire.

The John M. Burns’ version – my preference!

The Pat Wright version – more a shack! One Romero version, in “Lady in the Dark”, more a English country house than a cottage! Completely different!

Romero’s second version – completely yet different again, back to being a cottage, but now with a thatched roof!

The Treadmill”, Holdaway’s version.

Romero’s version of “The Treadmill”, pretty much the same, but cruder!

Colvin, by contrast, gives us this rather scratchy rear view. It doesn’t look to be the same building – too wide!

Modesty’s London penthouse apartment, by Jim Holdaway, 1963/64.

And as depicted by Romero, with some detail in “Death of a Jester”, more crudely in “The Killing Distance”, but consistent with the Holdaway original.

The Murder Frame” was the one comic strip story that featured (other than a fleeting bit-part) Willie’s regular lady lover, Lady Janet Gillam, who had more prominence in the novels and short stories. Somehow, Romero’s depiction of her never seemed quite right, to say nothing that the comic strip version makes no mention of her artificial leg. Here, however, is her farm house, surprisingly credible in its appearance, if not unlike the earlier Romero version of Modesty’s cottage in “Lady in the Dark”!

More oddly is Romero’s apparent repetition in his depiction of other houses. This only becomes apparent when trawling through the entire Romero period. The house on the top is from “The Puppet Master” (1971) and is supposed to be on the Italian island of Carpi. However, the house on the bottom is from “The Wicked Gnomes” (1973), and is supposed to be on the Cornish coast, England.

These two houses look virtually the same, even to the foreground trees, yet the one on the top is meant to be in Australia (from “Walkabout”, 1990), while the one on the bottom is supposed to be in Italy (Willie with Aniela) in “The Last Aristocrat” (1999)! Both have a passing similarity to the Cornish house above.

Another example of repetition from Romero – again hauntingly similar, yet depicting entirely different locations, even countries! On the top, is supposed to be an English village in “The Killing Distance” – it looks more urban, nothing characteristically rural English. On the bottom, again from “The Last Aristocrat”, this is supposed to be an Italian village. The parked vehicles look much the same, as do the planted trees and the building, with its low wall, on the right frame. Again it does not look at all Italian. It could be anywhere. Both illustrations are rather crude compared to Romero’s style in the 1970s. Sadly, this shows Romero’s later, more slapdash, indifference to places or things.

In “Butch Cassidy Rides Again” (1986), or even “Ivory Dancer” (1992), Romero’s depiction of towns or buildings in the USA is credible. Here, however, in “The Children of Lucifer” (1999), his art is flat, crude, composition and scale wrong.

Faces. On Wikipedia Romero is described as a “good-girl artist”, and his depictions of women, especially semi-clad or nude, never faltered. However, we have already remarked his blondes all rather look alike – Maude Tiller, Aniela, Carmen in “The Vanishing Dollybirds”, Peggy Western in “Highland Witch”, Debbie Grant in “Walkabout”, Sophie in “The Big Mole”, or even Marian Hall in “The Young Mistress” – and all rather like his science fiction comic strip character Axa. His depiction of young Modesty (in “Tribute of the Pharaoh”) looks like the younger Samantha Brown, while the female character in the New Zealand-based story “The Maori Contract”, Carol Nash, also looks rather like Modesty.

That said, even some of male characters started to look vaguely alike.

Here is Gilbert Bone, husband to crime gang boss Anastasia, from “Idaho George” (1978), compare to Reppo, French crime boss in “Those About to Die” (1976). Compare again, the evil looking Mahmoud, ex-vice gang boss and Modesty enemy in “The Puppet Master”, with the equally evil Sangro in “The Greenwood Maid”.

Two more villains, ‘Friar’ Tuck, in “The Greenwood Maid”, and Stanley Boote, in “The Wicked Gnomes”.

Perhaps the more obvious – Brosni, Director of Security of a “minor East European country”, from “Death Trap” (1977), and Felix, a minor underling to “Ripper Jax” (1995).

What Might Have Been: We have remarked the sudden – and still, really, unexplained – dismissal of John M. Burns, an British artist of considerable talent, who, even in his brief tenure, showed empathy toward the key characters – Modesty, Willie, Tarrant and Jack Fraser, and even in depict their environment – Modesty’s “cottage in Wiltshire” looks just right, not too dissimilar to what Holdaway illustrated. Burns illustrated the Pieces of Modesty short stories, and – we believe – some of the magazine covers for European editions, as well as other stand-alone illustrations. This implies – whatever the opinion of the London Evening Standard editor – that Burns felt a continued affiliation with Modesty, and one, we have to presume, that Peter O’Donnell also approved. Both Burns and Colvin had another advantage also over Romero. They knew Britain. They knew London and British rural architecture, countryside, and British faces. It was not a foreign country. Although his style was not as bold or ‘realistic’ as Burns, Colvin showed himself more than capable to vividly illustrate foreign localities also – the West Indies, North Africa, South America, Italy, the South of France and Corsica, and India. Both the characters and their environment look right. However, Colvin was the eldest of the five artists, and eventually chose to retire – if, nothing else – on a high note, another of O’Donnell’s more classic stories.

Reluctantly, and with no disrespect to Romero, we would argue that the editors should have looked to other talent to have continued what was to be the remaining 15 years of the comic strip. At least one talented British artist was already working in the newspaper comic strip field, and that was Martin Asbury (born 1939), from 1976 to 1997 on the “Garth” strip for the Daily Mirror.

This is Martin’s “Garth” in the original black and white, giving a taste of his style, at times not unlike Frank Bellamy. More important, if we look at the reprints of the “Garth” stories on-going on the Garth Comic Facebook website, now reproduced in colour, we can see Asbury’s ability to illustrate places and faces – especially the latter. Below are some random samples. Look, and reflect, imagine if it had been Asbury drawing Modesty in her final one-and-a-half decades.

Modesty Blaise Story List:

  1. La Machine – 1963 – Artist: Jim Holdaway

  2. The Long Lever – 1963-64

  3. The Gabriel Set-Up – 1964

  4. Mr Sun – 1964

  5. The Mind of Mrs Drake – 1964

  6. Uncle Happy – 1964-65

  7. Top Traitor – 1965-66

  8. The Vikings – 1966

8A. In The Beginning – 1966

  1. The Head Girls – 1966

  2. The Black Pearl – 1966-67

  3. The Magnified Man – 1967

  4. The Jericho Caper – 1967-68

  5. Bad Suki – 1968

  6. The Galley Slaves – 1968

14A. The Killing Ground – 1968

  1. The Red Gryphon – 1968-69

  2. The Hell-Makers – 1969

  3. Take-Over – 1969-70

  4. The War-Lords of Phoenix – 1970 – Jim Holdaway & Romero

  5. Willie the Djinn – 1970 – Artist: Enric Badia Romero

  6. The Green-Eyed Monster – 1970-71

  7. Death of a Jester – 1971

  8. The Stone-Age Caper – 1971

  9. The Puppet Master – 1971-72

  10. With Love From Rufus – 1972

  11. The Bluebeard Affair – 1972-73

  12. The Gallows Bird – 1973

  13. The Wicked Gnomes – 1973

  14. The Iron God – 1973-74

  15. Take Me To Your Leader” – 1974

  16. Highland Witch – 1974

  17. Cry Wolf – 1974-75

  18. The Reluctant Chaperon – 1975

  19. The Greenwood Maid – 1975-76

  20. Those About To Die – 1976

  21. The Inca Trail – 1976

  22. The Vanishing Dollybirds – 1976-77

  23. The Junk Men – 1977

  24. Death Trap – 1977-78

  25. Idaho George – 1978

  26. The Golden Frog – 1978

  27. Yellowstone Booty – 1978-79 – Artist: John M. Burns

  28. Green Cobra – 1979

  29. Eve and Adam – 1979-80 – John M. Burns & Pat Wright

  30. Brethren of Blaise – 1980 – Artist: Pat Wright

  31. Dossier on Pluto – 1980 – Artist: Neville Colvin

  32. The Lady Killers – 1980-81

  33. Gavin’s Travels – 1981

  34. The Scarlet Maiden – 1981

  35. The Moon Man – 1981-82

  36. A Few Flowers for the Colonel – 1982

  37. The Balloonatic – 1982-83

  38. Death in Slow Motion – 1983

  39. The Alternative Man – 1983

  40. Sweet Caroline – 1983-84

  41. The Return of the Mammoth – 1984

  42. Plato’s Republic – 1984-85

  43. The Sword of the Bruce – 1985

  44. The Wild Boar – 1985

  45. Kali’s Disciples – 1985-86

  46. The Double Agent – 1986

  47. Butch Cassidy Rides Again – 1986-87 – Artist: Enric Badia Romero

  48. Million Dollar Game – 1987

  49. The Vampire of Malvescu – 1987

  50. Samantha and the Cherub – 1987-88

  51. Milord – 1988

  52. Live Bait – 1988-89

  53. The Girl From the Future – 1989

  54. The Big Mole – 1989

  55. Lady in the Dark – 1989-90

  56. Fiona – 1990

  57. Walkabout – 1990-91

  58. The Girl in the Iron Mask – 1991

  59. The Young Mistress – 1991-92

  60. Ivory Dance – 1992

  61. Our Friend Maude – 1992

  62. A Present for the Princess – 1992-93

  63. Black Queen’s Pawn – 1993

  64. The Grim Joker – 1993-94

  65. Guido the Jinx – 1994

  66. The Killing Distance – 1994

  67. The Aristo – 1994-95

  68. Ripper Jax – 1995

  69. The Maori Contract – 1995-96

  70. Honeygun – 1996

  71. Durango – 1996-97

  72. The Murder Frame – 1997

  73. Fraser’s Story – 1997

  74. Tribute of the Pharaoh – 1997-98

  75. The Special Orders – 1998

  76. The Hanging Judge – 1998-99

  77. Children of Lucifer – 1999

  78. Death Symbol – 1999

  79. The Last Aristocrat – 1999-2000

  80. The Killing Game – 2000

  81. The Zombie – 2000-2001

Novels & Short Stories:

  1. Modesty Blaise, 1965

  2. Sabre-Tooth. 1966

  3. I, Lucifer, 1967

  4. A Taste for Death, 1969

  5. The Impossible Virgin, 1971

  6. Last Day in Limbo, 1972

  7. Pieces of Modesty, 1972 – A Better Day to Die

The Goggle-Wrecker

I Had a Date with Lady Janet

A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck

Salamander Four

The Soo Girl Charity

  1. The Silver Mistress, 1973

  2. Dragon’s Claw, 1978

  3. The Xanadu Talisman, 1981

  4. The Night of Morningstar, 1982

  5. Dead Man’s Handle, 1985

  6. Cobra Trap, 1996 – Bellman

The Dark Angels

Old Alex

The Girl with the Black Balloon

Cobra Trap

Jim Holdaway.

Lady Penelope – for a fuller figure


It’s not all that long ago that I did a necessarily partial review of the mid-Sixties Lady Penelope comic, a spin-off from TV21 and the whole wonderful world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. I don’t need to explain to anyone where Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward fits in, but the source material I was working from was a bonus on the TV21 DVD, consisting of issues 1-20 and a smattering of later issues.
But now I have a Lady Penelope DVD, featuring issues 1-125, and a smaller smattering of those beyond. A chance for a much more detailed and, I hope, considered overview of this particular ground in the strange territory of Girl’s Comics.
If you think you’ve read some of this before, you have. What I said about issues 1-20 still pertains, and I have only made amendments where necessary. To begin…
The first Lady Penelope (22 January) offered us, or rather our sisters, a free fabulous signet ring and the following features: a letters page with details of next week’s free hairband and secret x-ray device: a one page b&w Perils of Parker comic strip: The Man from UNCLE, two pages in colour, both richly drawn and coloured, a two page prose serial, Flinch from Every Shadow with a girl leading character, Sandy Barton, whose life is yanked out of its comfortable routine when she is snatched by jewel robbers: a one page feature on Schooldays – Italian Style: a Beverley Hillbillies one-page cartoon with a familiar artistic style, that turned out to be Paul Trevillion: Lady P herself in full colour across the centrespread – Eric Eden didn’t survive the transition to Penny’s title, with art duties going to Frank Langford: the equally transplanted Lady Penelope Investigates feature, given a full page (but did it have to be not-funny-even-then Liverpool comedian Jimmy Tarbuck?): a one page b&w strip featuring a family of Robinsons that evoked the imported American SF show Lost in Space, but going by Space Family Robinson (I don’t know about the rest of the country but Granada gave Lost in Space about eight weeks before dropping it mid-cliffhanger): a FAB Club page equivalent to TV21‘s Contact 21 page, with a hair care piece, a full-colour fashion page and a competition to design drawing room curtains for Creighton-Ward Manor (this really is NOT a boy’s comic, is it?): a two page Bewitched strip, drawn by the same artist who drew My Favourite Martian: and on the back cover, in colour, Marina, Girl of the Sea, the story of the silent girl from Stingray, and how she lost her voice.
An interesting mix, to say the least.

Penny by Frank Langford

The Schooldays featured turned out, as I’d already guessed, to feature a different country and culture every week, which made for entertaining and informative reading. And the Bewitched/Favourite Martian artist stood revealed as Bill Tilcombe in issue 2, when he was allowed to sign his art.
Space Family Robinson had some splendidly angular b&w art, ‘signed’ with the initials JB, from which I deduce the presence of John Burns. The series had nothing directly to do with the TV series: it was in fact a British version of an American Gold Key Comic of the same name that inspired (i.e., was ripped off by) Lost in Space.
Sandy Barton’s story concluded after seven brief but decent weeks with a deus ex machina rescue by a big-nosed chauffeur and a beautiful blonde aristocrat, making way for a new story from the Creighton-Ward secret files. Penny’s own adventure lasted exactly as long, and whilst she escaped under her own admirable devices, she still needed to call in Jeff Tracy to intercept the baddies.
The new serial starred Cathy Beswick and went by the name of What Did That Dog Say? which was a fair and accurate reflection of the contents of the story. And the first UNCLE adventure ended after eight weeks, with Illya getting the (highly efficient Agent) girl instead of Napoleon. I used to love The Man From UNCLE, both in the Sixties and when repeated in the late Eighties, and apart from the excellent art, the story caught the feel of the show very well.

say UNCLE

Issue 8 (12 March)’s Lady Penelope Investigates interviewed the not-quite fifteen year old daughter of Viscount Bangor, who’d found some repute as an artist and a poet. She came over as a self-confident young lady, though the aristocratic background and her manner were a bit prejudicial. But this was another of those amazing little coincidences, for the teenager was someone whose name we recognise from something quite different and many years later, she being future actress and Time Lord Romana, Lalla Ward, the former wife of Richard Dawkins. Funny old world.

A dozen issues in and the comic had established its shape admirably. Perils of Parker, whilst not actually funny, had a gentle, domestic aspect to it, dealing with life below stairs. Parker seems to have a good relationship with Lil, the cook and housekeeper, which had me wondering about what went on between episodes, and a good friendship with Perce, the gardener. The art on the UNCLE strip grew more and more impressive every week, with a fine colour scheme and its artist growing in confidence and skill at depicting faces in wonderful detail and not just those of Solo and Kuryakin: even the new creations looked like real people.

Space Family Robinson was beautifully drawn, although Burns’ propensity for greywashed tones makes the pages look dark, but its stories were dull and dragging. Penny’s own strip was well-drawn and made good use of colour, though it suffered in comparison with UNCLE by being inevitably cartoonish in comparison. Marina’s strip was also beautifully produced but felt very slow because it only had one page per week.
The two TV comedies were, in their way, neither better nor worse than any of those that appeared in TV21. The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran as a serial for the first five issues, enjoyed the better art, being by Paul Trevillion, but the stories in Bewitched were better realised, or am I just more sympathetic to a series that starred the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, and which I have rewatched since the Sixties, unlike the Clampett family?
And the Lady Penelope Investigates feature I found fascinating, week in, week out, in its choice of people, the things that make them famous, and the contemporary attitude to them, however shallow. Things like Morecambe and Wise, Patrick McGoohan as Danger Man, Gerry Marsden on Five O’Clock Club, and even Ollie Beak and Fred Barker, this is my childhood we’re replicating here.
Though the one about Jimmy Saville in issue 15 (30 April), whilst completely innocent, turns the stomach…

Lady Penelope’s second adventure ended in issue 16 (7 May). It had involved an organisation ostensibly set up to promote equal rights and opportunities for women (how depressing that, a hundred years in the future, this was apparently still going to be necessary, what a message to serve to your audience of young girls). This was seemingly to be achieved by training women as super-efficient secretaries, who then stole all manner of industrial secrets with a refreshing lack of morality or honesty, to then manufacture and exploit as from a woman’s industry (no, still insulting to suggest women have to steal men’s ideas instead of coming up with their own). And when Penny completes the rescue of Susan Cliveden and returns her to her mother, the story has the cheek to have Penny warn Mrs Cliveden against letting her daughter join Equal Rights for Women organisations because “We girls should be dominated some of the time by the men.” The reason? “They feel more important that way.”
Ok, I know this was 1966 (I was there at the time), and coming from Lady Penelope it’s a two-edged comment. The trouble is, I’m not confident that it is meant ironically…
Once I reached issue 21 (11 June), I was breaking new ground. The file was not far short of only half the size of issue 20 but was nevertheless complete, suggesting my fears were baseless. And the first big moment came in issue 23 (25 June) when the adventures of Marina finally explained what Stingray had never done, which was why she couldn’t speak whereas she’d been chatting her way through the first twenty-two episodes. The answer was a curse, Titan’s curse. It was an ingenious notion: to silence a great orator for peace such as Aphony, Marina’s father, provide it that one word from either him or Marina will kill the. Pretty sophisticated for the audience that Gerry Anderson’s creations reached, but circumvented within a week by both spontaneously developing telepathy: minus 5 for that.

The Man from UNCLE changed artists in issue 24 (2 July), still maintaining a careful of level of photorealistic detail and the same brightly coloured inks. The new artist maintained good likenesses, without the same profusion of close-ups and a less pointillistic technique when inking faces. As his confidence developed, the stories once again started going in for photorealistic close-ups.
And in issue 35 (17 September), we were treated to the sight of Lady Penelope sunning herself on the deck of FAB2 in a rather brief bikini: face-down only, sadly.
The same issue featured a preview of The Monkees, an interview with the supposedly struggling band, three months in advance of their TV series hitting the British screens. Yes, we were being introduced to Davey, Mickey, Peter and Woolhat. No, I am not joking: at this point, Mike Nesmith was being presented under the name Woolhat, in both the interview and in the new Monkees’ strip that started the following week. What on Earth brought that on?
The new Monkees strip went in on pages 2-3 and was quite clearly another effort by Tom Kerr (did he get around, or what?). Frnk Langford was restored to Lady P’s own strip whilst the Girl’s Adventures from the Creighton-Ward files was replaced by adventures from Penny’s family tree: Ancestresses through the Ages.
There was another new artist on the UNCLE series with issue 40 (22 October) as the familiar style of Ron Embleton checked in, whilst Lady Penelope made only her second connection with International Rescue, as Thunderbird 1 was sent out to rescue her from her latest plight. And with five episodes now seen, it’s a safe moment to conclude that The Monkees suffer from far too much self-conscious wackiness to be any good, or even readable.
With Paul Trevillion no longer drawing the increasingly stupid The Beverley Hillbillies, or at least not signing it (you can see why he would be ashamed), these two strips were the only blot on the generally high standard of Lady Penelope as it worked towards the end of its first year in print.
The release of Thunderbirds are Go! in the cinema was celebrated as much here as in TV21, with a prose serialisation of the story from Lady Penelope’s point of view and a couple of photo-features, including a cover feature on ‘Cliff Richard Jr. and The Shadows’. The Monkees TV show received a countdown that had Micky Dolenz as Mike and Mike Nesmith still as Woolhat. Boy, were they going to get a surprise in January 1967.
And that landmark was celebrated in issue 50 (31 December) with a disappointing artistic downgrade on The Man from UNCLE, as Ron Embleton departed for pastures new, leaving behind the worst art of the entire series to date. Not bad in itself, but drab and perfunctory in comparison with the extremely high standards of what had gone before.

We’re only Monkeeing around…

Issue 51 (7 January 1967) featured a new masthead for the title, and issue 52 marked the end of Lady Penelope‘s first year. Just like TV21, a revamp was heralded for the next issue, promoting five new series. Clearly, a radical shake-up was planned.
In fact, six new series began in issue 53, with Lady Penelope’s own series, Perils of Parker, The Monkees, Marina and Bewitched keeping their spots. The Man from UNCLE was superseded by its own TV spin-off, The Girl from UNCLE, in black and white. Daktari, the popular TV series about a vet in Africa arrived with one page of colour, and another b&w series with a Lady P input also had a medical theme: Creighton Ward was about a children’s ward, endowed by the titled lady, centred upon student nurse Pat Langdon. Jenny Ware was an unpromising one pager about a girl who, in science class, accidentally creates a potion whose fumes enable her to go back in time. Marina was bumped inside and into black and white to accommodate a new colour back page, The Angels, which began the story of how five girl pilots were recruited for Spectrum. The Monkees were upgraded to colour, without Tom Kerr but with an artist who had finally been given, or allowed to use likenesses: Woolhat was still Woolhat, which I loathe with a passion. Last but not least, Cathy Thompson, the star of the second prose story, What Did That Dog Say? was back as a comics series, two more pages per week for Bill Tilcombe, though without an explanation for how she’d recovered the mysterious ring that gave her that strange ability. This time round, it was definitely going to be a comedy.
The phase 2 comic was steady fare but no match for the first year’s work. Daktari was unimpressive and the Girl, as in real life, no match for the Man from UNCLE, even despite some strong art from John Cooper. Jenny Ware was silly at best and The Monkees no better story-wise. Lady Penelope gained a new artist with issue 60 (11 March), with John Burns taking over from Frank Langford. Surprisingly, this rapidly became a disappointment, with Burns going for a quasi-cartoon approach that looked artificial, though his run only lasted until issue 65.

A nursing strip

Creighton Ward was an odd little thing, probably very much representative of the standard girl’s comic story, but somehow feeling shallow. Pat Langdon’s struggles with the children, and with Sir Marcus Debenham, the Chief Surgeon, have her stumbling through, making mistake after mistake, only to come through at the end for reasons that have nothing to do with any competency on the nurse’s part. It makes her look and feel very feeble.
The Monkees were very much the order of the day, with the first of four weeks of four page pull-outs of each member appearing in issue 64 (8 April), and so many covers that you start to wonder if the point of the original comic is being lost, or rather deliberately forgotten. Still, after many weeks of not being referred to by any name, in issue 73 (10 June), Mike Nesmith was finally referred to as Mike – or rather Michael.
Unfortunately, the very next week he was W*****t again. Gah!
As for the covers, each week featured a selection of mini-shots of the comic’s readers, complete with their names. I bet they would be so thrilled, their friends dead jealous… and their brothers reading TV21 calling them pathetic!

Still just about supermarionated…

There was one for the Supermarionation fans in Lady P’s series in issue 76 (1 July). Penny has to go to the Moon to prevent it being blown up, which means a trip in an unidentified XL ship of the World Space Patrol. And which XL ship is it? No numbers, but it’s unnamed Captain is our old friend, Steve Zodiac.
Something I do find intriguing about Lady Penelope is a letters page feature called Star Query in which readers write in to ask questions of pop stars and bands. These include the well-known and famous of 1967, such as Lulu, The Tremeloes and The Herd, but there are as many directed to bands of which I’ve never heard, such as The £oot (formed by an ex-Trogg), The Richard Kent Style (from Manchester) and The Breakaways (from Liverpool). I must spend sometime on YouTube to listen to them.
Monkee-mania was still accelerating, but issue 81 (5 August) at least allowed artist Harry F. Lindfield to sign the strip for the first time, even though his workload had been reduced a few weeks earlier by pasting in a couple of photos of Monkees speaking the lines for the ‘panel’. But neither the signature nor the photos lasted long. And they were still using that god awful name, W*****t! Won’t somebody stop them? Think of the children!
The following issue, without warning or explanation, Daktari was cut back to one page, and in black and white, to make way from a new colour pop star pin-up page (surprise surprise, guess which band featured in issue 85?). The reduction in artist Jon Davies’ workload (he was also responsible for The Angels) didn’t help his story-telling anyway, as Paula Tracy (no relation) was promptly winged in the right shoulder and put her sling on the left one.
But from issue 84, Daktari was taken over by former Eagle alumnus Eric Kinkaid, who brought a much smoother line to the feature.
Sadly, with the pin-up page arriving there was no longer any room for Perils of Parker, but public demand led to his reinstatement in issue 89 (30 September)
The Angels had been labouring on all year as a flying team ordered about by a mysterious voice, and their (and our) patience was finally rewarded in issue 84 (26 August) when their latest training mission took them to a remote desert location and a ‘trainer’ who promised them a more strenuous programme than ever before, and gave his name as… Colonel White. John Cooper dropped off The Girl from UNCLE, which also lost about a third of a page and in issue 86, Marina, captured yet again by Titan, found herself set-up to meet Troy Tempest and Phones in Stingray.
With both series now on a collision course with the TV show continuities, I sense a change is gonna come. And when Perils of Parker returned, it was to replace Marina, who had gone off to Marineville to fight the good fight with the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, and get up Atlanta Shore’s pretty little nose for good measure!
John Cooper returned to April Dancer and Mark Slate and the strip recovered its natural proportions. And The Angels formally moved up to Spectrum and Cloudbase in the aforementioned issue 89.
There was a reminder of the comic’s roots on the cover of issue 93 (28 October). With Captain Scarlet now revealed on television, he and Destiny Angel shared a split cover. And Lady Penelope herself took the next cover, meaning that for the first time in months, we had gone two whole covers without a Monkee in sight. Ironic then that this was also the issue in which the four lads bumped Penny out of the centre-spread of her own title, into a two separate page format, and with a change of artist again. And issue 95, reverting to the girl’s fashion theme, made it three. Was the phenomenon wavering? With them in the centrefold, what do you think?
And no, it wasn’t four in a row.

Going psychedelic

One other thing that’s only become slowly noticeable is the shortening of the stories. Whereas in its first year you could rely on seven to eight week serials, with a bit of depth of them, now everything was being resolved in four episodes, as if the audience could not be trusted to concentrate for so long. This was yet another instance of Lady Penelope diverging from its origins. Its concerns were getting more ephemeral, its adventures less adventurous. From being a girl’s comic oriented to exciting and fun television series, it was transitioning into a girl’s comic, without its unique aspects.
On 16 December, Lady Penelope celebrated its hundredth issue. That left only four issues to the second anniversary, but instead the new facelift was premiered in issue 103 (6 January 1968). It was to prove fateful.
There was a new masthead with a decidedly psychedelic design, though we still had to have a Monkee on board. Out went The Girl from UNCLE, Daktari, Jenny Ware, Creighton Ward and Perils of Parker (again!), with John Cooper switching to the new one pager, Class Six-Sterndorf, about a spy school for girls. The Monkees strip was joined by a new one-pager featuring The Spectrum, the five-piece London hopefuls whose biggest success was recording the theme song to Captain Scarlet. The art on this looked familiar but it was not until the second episode that I was certain it was Tom Kerr again.
The Angels moved inside and onto two pages, though the second page was only black and white, fitting really since Captain Black was introduced, which the local dog’s plan to seemingly get Cathy Thompson’s magic ring that let her talk to them turned out to be a plot to buy her a similar ring from a local antique shop… that let her talk to cats as well!
But the other new story was another TV adaptation, this time of the Midlands-set soap, Crossroads. This one I just refuse to read at all, and there’s nothing about the art that would make me change my mind.
I was a little premature in waving Perils of Parker off as this returned after a one-issue gap, but transformed into a one-page prose story. And issue 105 (20 January) saw Cathy Thomson’s series re-named, awkwardly, as ‘What Did That Dog (And Cat) Say? And revert to just the bit about the Dog two issues later. Soon, it became clear that it could be either in any issue.
With a four page fashion and pop pull-out, the comic was still drifting towards the mainstream, but there was also a drift towards the cheap in issue 110 (24 February) as Penny’s second page was reduced to black & white and so was The Angel’s first page. From issue 119 (27 April), Penny herself dropped into black and white, meaning that the only colour left in the comic was The Monkees,in the centre pages.
By now, reading the comic is becoming tedious. Weak art, skimpy, black and white, stories over and done with almost immediately, plus the new emphasis on pop (interesting in its own way as a reference to bands and records that never made it) make this more like a girl’s magazine that has comic strips in it. And of those strips, only Class Six – Sterndorf, inelegant though its premise was, remained interesting.
There was another step away from Gerry Anderson’s world in issue 121 (11 May), when The Angels were replaced by To Win a Gold, about a girl trying to get to the ’68 Olympic Games to win an ancestor’s challenge in her will. It was drably drawn and stereotypical girls comic fodder and that was just the first episode.
Class Six’s popularity was demonstrated the following week when it was awarded a second page, although without John Cooper to draw either of them.
But bigger changes were in the offing as, with issue 123, (25 May), the comic was retitled simply Penelope. A further step was taken away from the title’s TV roots with the cancellation of Crossroads (we should have been so lucky) and its replacement by My Pony Blaze, about a girl trying to get her pony back from gypsies that have stolen him (so, no stereotyping there).
By this point, I was grateful to be almost at the end of the expanded run on the new DVD. This ends at no 125, but continues briefly with three of the next five issues. Penelope’s series changed irrevocably in issue 127 (22 June), when it was reset to Penny as a nine-year old girl, returned from India due to illness and rebelling against a boring governess. And My Pony Blaze clearly went down like the traditional brick pigeon because it was replaced in issue 130 (13 July) by Return of the Osprey.
And that’s where this account must end. Three random issues also appear on the DVD, so let me mention these briefly. Firstly, issue 147 (9 November) has little Penny befriending gypsies and having to deal with tinkers. Bewitched, Class Six-Sterndorf and What did the Dog (and Cat) Say? are still going, and have been joined by Challenge of the Blades, about an orphan girl learning how to ice-skate, Up Up and Away, a colour centrespread about a girl in a balloon race and Flying’s for the Birds, a pop group serial about, of all talentless Sixties bands, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. The comic is a proper girl’s comic now.
Issue 174 (17 May 1969) has Penny at school now. Challenge of the Blades is still running, as are Class Six-Sterndorf, Bewitched and Cathy Thomson’s strips, though Bill Tilcombe has left both of these latter (Peter Ford is signing Cathy’s strip). Everything else has been replaced.
Which leaves only issue 197 (25 October). There are only seven issues left before the comic’s cancellation. Having outlived TV21, Penny’s now in her late teens and run away from home (all trace of the Twenty-First Century gone). Bewitched is still going, set fair to be the only feature to last from start to finish in its original form. Everything else is just ‘girls’ comics, with all the cliches to be expected under that term. Everything that formed Lady Penelope when it was launched has been excised and Century 21 Magazines no longer owns the comic. There’s still a contemporaneous 1969 Penelope annual, but so many cancelled comics lived on in Annuals for years later…
What began as an exciting venture, with strong stories, a taste for adventure and some exceptionally good art has died a death in cheapness and cliché. How much of that was the preference of the audience? I mean, the comic was cancelled after exactly four years. How much of it was the fading of the Gerry Anderson empire as the Sixties wound down? And how much was it nervous management, deciding that when in doubt, play incredibly safe and be like everybody else?
I have no answers and I don’t actually want them. It was enough to know that a comic I’d have despised and run a mile from when I was its age was as good as it was, but in order from me to find out then I would have had to have a twin sister with whom I swapped everything.
If another, even fuller DVD appears, I shalln’t be trading up. I’m not interested in reading any further.

Boy’s World Revisited


I’ve already written about Boy’s World once, but that was based on two-thirds complete poor condition paper copies that excluded the first twenty-three issues of the comic that was supposed to replace the Eagle.
Why you should want to replace one of the most successful boys’ weekly comics that ever existed is a matter for speculation, but that was what Leonard Matthews, of Longacre Press, wanted to do from the first moment Eagle fell under his purview. But then again, Eagle was, even after three years in the hands of professionals like Odhams Press, the comic created by the amateurs, the C of E Vicar and the Southport Art Student, and a lot of people were put out by their success and thought it no more than one massive fluke.
So Boy’s World was going to be the professionals showing the amateurs how to do it. It would outshine Eagle, eclipse it and allow Longacre to close it.
We all know what happened. Boy’s World, which lost an editor before one copy was even printed, which had to be substantially revamped in less than six months, failed to last as many as two years, and suffered the ignominy of death-by-merger into Eagle, surviving only as a second name on the masthead of the comic it was meant to replace.
I find that heart-warming, don’t you?
This was my first chance to read the first twenty-three issues, which were missing from my original paper haul. Internally, there are no great differences between the original Boy’s World and the more conventional comic following the issue 24 revamp, but the provision of a full-bleed cover gives the paper a completely different feel. This first six issues featured boys in various, bright, shiny, ordinary circumstances that were more than a bit bland, then the ‘What would you do?’ series took over until the end of the run, dangerous real-life situations in which the participants only had a limited time in which to find a way out, a challenge the reader had to confront before turning page 2 and reading the solution.
The effect of the full-bleed is to make Boy’s World look more like a magazine than a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (another brainchild of Leonard Matthews, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
For a comic, and one intended to usurp Eagle, with its long tradition of great and varied comics series, Boy’s World didn’t half carry a lot of print. An editorial page stretching over two pages, a short story series written by Donne Avenell, from the point of view of various animals, birds and fish, a prose serial, a complete short story AND the Ticket to Adventure series.
This left space for only four comics series, three at two pages, only one of which in colour, the last at one page. Taken in order, these were: Pike Mason, a sea-going adventurer with his Filipino assistant, Quarro, drawn in a dark and moody greywash style by Luis Bermejo: John Brody, science correspondent of the Daily Correspondent, a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible: Wrath of the Gods, a superb colour centrespread featuring all manner of adventures in Greek mythology, written by Jeff Hawke’s Willie Patterson and drawn by Ron Embleton; and The Boys of Castleford School, a conventional boarding school story with a suspicious new boy.

The Star Feature

Let’s be at bit more specific about these stories. Whilst the Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Castleford School stories were brought to a simultaneous conclusion in issue 23 (Castleford School in the form of a short second serial), Pike Mason’s adventure, ‘The Sea Ape’, couldn’t quite squeeze into that strait-jacket and needed a final episode in the revamp issue. It was well-drawn although its pages consistently looked dark and murky, but the story relied too heavily on superstitious primitive natives whose Gods could only be appeased by sacrificing white men (and Filipinos) for my liking.
Brody’s ‘What is Exhibit X?’ was about an invading intelligence trying to hypnotise and takeover the country, that could only be opposed by people who could hear ultra-sonics, whilst the Castleford School story featured the suspicions of Tom Bannister and Beefy Paget about their new study-mate, Benbow, about whom there was a mystery. Was Benbow a villain, working with crooks? No, he was the nephew of a British intelligence Agent, aiding Uncle to expose Diamond-Smugglers. The second, six week story, was about proving the local legend of the Phantom Rider true, though he was actually a guise to stop racehorse nobblers.
Both Castleford stories were straight schoolboy serials, neither better nor worse than any of their contemporaries, such as Sandy Dean in Lion, but their big problem was that this was 1964, and the boy’s boarding school story was all but played out. Castleford School would not survive the revamp, at least, not in this form.
Boy’s World‘s jewel was ‘Wrath of the Gods’. It starred Arion, a Greek warrior who, on finding his family and friends slaughtered in his absence at the wars, cursed Zeus and the whole rotten lot and found himself appointed a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Gods to carry out fantastic missions. But though Arion’s adventures were gorgeous to look at, the story seemed paper-thin. It had no structure beyond that of the daisy-chain: each week or so a new instruction o seek something else leads Arion into another encounter, with the Furies, the Minotaur, Atlas and so on. Willie Patterson is legendary for writing Jeff Hawke but I’ve always found everything else he wrote to be passionless and static.

Pike Mason

The revamp made no difference to the cover except to make Boy’s World look like a comic by introducing a half-inch band of white paper around everything. Inside, however, the number of comics series went up, although as the paper gained an extra four pages, this didn’t diminish the prose features.
Pike Mason, John Brody and Wrath of the Gods remained, although the latter was for some reason ripped out of the centrespread and dropped onto the back pages, with a young and initial somewhat rough and ready John Burns taking over art duties, albeit still in colour, as Arion found himself charged with finding the Nameless God in order to have the plague-carrying Chalice of Apollo destroyed.
For Mason, it was the same again, hired to find a lost civilisation’s treasure protected by the Curse of Zentaca, whilst Brody dealt with the House on Scar island, going ghost-chasing.
Castleford School wasn’t so lucky. In theory, it continued, but it underwent a comprehensive change of style, tone and art by turning into ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’, a comedy strip about a useless, fumble-fingered swot who came into possession of a spare pair of glasses that filled him with confidence and overwhelming athletic prowess at every sport he tried. Benbow and Tom Bannister made a few token appearances in the early weeks but were rapidly forgotten as Binns became the target of the jealous school bully, Middleton, and his cronies.
It was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another, nor did the supposedly highly-intelligent swot, or anyone else at the school, ever make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B. It was neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories were generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.

John Brody

‘Brett Millions’ pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though only until the stories began in issue 24 finished in the same week, whereupon they swapped back. This was written by SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first tale, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. It’s dull fare, drawn competently but to no better standard, and Millions has the personality of a pancake. He’s supposed to be a gambler, but turns into an interplanetary troubleshooter without any real qualifications.
What turned out to be Boy’s World‘s most successful series in terms of longevity was ‘The Iron Man’, who would survive for years once transferred to Eagle. The Iron Man, as I’m sure you recall, was an international crime-busting robot whose mechanical nature was concealed by an amazing suit of plastic skin. He was initially drawn by Ron Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a naturalistic look that could be mistaken for human. For Robert’s second story, Embleton Jr was replaced by Martin Salvador – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and the robot’s features slowly became much more, well, robotic.
Harry Harrison had a second string to his bow in the form of ‘Merlo the Magician’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. He’d debuted in issue 13 as the second prose serial, but was popular enough with the readers to be retained as a page and a half strip, cleanly drawn, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding.
One final new feature was the mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, about which nothing need be said. It was better than Eagle’s ‘Fidosaurus’ or ‘XYZ Cars’ but not as good as Lion’s ‘Mowser’, though equally as repetitive.
A couple of Boy’s World‘s minor features should be mentioned before we go any further, the first being the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon. These were micro Spot the Clues that were Howdunnits rather than Whodunnit, since the villain was almost always the only other person in the story. ‘What’s in a Name?’ was an etymological series in words and pictures about people’s surnames, though the honourable name of Crookall was never featured.
The Hand of Fate was a one (sometimes half-)page real lifestory whose theme was the intervention of Fate in unusual circumstances, usually but not exclusively to save the life of someone who would normally have been expected to die. And towards the end of Volume 1, the great Frank Humphris began a b&w half-page feature on real-life Western tales, ‘The Flaming Frontier’, which once again brought Humphris’ knowledge and enthusiasm into play.

Brett Millions

Last and best of these other features was a weekly prose account called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
There was another general change round in issues 45 to 47, new stories for Pike Mason, John Brody, Wrath of the Gods and Brett Millions, the latter two series exchanging places again to wind up where they first began. Merlo had only just edged into the Army of Crime. Ron Embleton returned to draw Arion’s latest adventure, whilst none other than Frank Bellamy was selected for Million’s ‘The Ghost World’.
It’s probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned in bibliographies of his work, which is not surprising because Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.
Boy’s World‘s first volume consisted of 49 issues, it’s second and last of 40, starting from the first week of January 1964. That the title was struggling could be seen when another free gift was given away in issue 18, and there was a mini revamp, with a temporary change of logo box, and new stories starting for Merlo and John Brody. The latter shifted to the back page and into colour, with art by Luis Bermejo, whilst Brett Million was replaced by Raff Regan, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, certainly not in comparison to Lion‘s Paddy Payne.
A new prose feature debuted, featuring schoolboy dodger Tricky Jones: the name should be enough to clue you in to how awful this was going to be and it was not misleading, though I suppose the kid I was then enjoyed it.
Bermejo wasn’t called upon to draw two series for long, because Pike Mason went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.
Another, and final new series started alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’, Dr What and his Time Clock, which was a parody of Dr Who, In fact, the first ever parody of the classic BBC series. Sadly, nothing else distinguished it.
Other than some minor art changes – Frank Langford soon replaced Bermejo on John Brody, Eric Kincaid filled in on some Flaming Frontiers, Humphris drew one in colour – there was little else to the story.
Boy’s World ended on 2 October 1964, after only 89 issues: the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because I was getting both, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I didn’t get a new title to replace it. Gone for good were Merlo and Inspector Nixon, John Brody, Tricky Jones, Private Proon and Dr What. Billy Binns, Wrath of the Gods, Raff Regan and Th Iron Man carried over, although only The Iron Man lasted. Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
In the end, a comic stands or falls upon one thing: the strength or otherwise of its comics series. It’s what we buy them for. What failed Boy’s World more than anything else was that its stories just weren’t good enough. They had strong artists, but none of the characters were memorable in themselves and, with the exception of the entirely too prosaic Merlo, everything went too far overboard into fantasy. Even John Brody, supposedly a Science Correspondent, dealt only with the irrational and unreal.
And where it should have all have fit the best, in Wrath of the Gods, the stories were thin and lacking in any structure.
On top of this, Boy’s World was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, a time exemplified by the much ballyhooed Wham! (with which it shared Billy Binns) launching in the last three months of Boy’s World‘s life. It launched in a declining market, with a stodgy, stilted name, and it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.

TV Century 21 – 2066


It’s 2066. Thunderbirds are still coming, but they’re closer now. Thunderbird 1 had the big pin-up in issue 50 (1 January) and Lady Penelope received a mysterious postcard, telling her that Thunderbirds were nearly go… And the Lady Penelope Investigates investigated Maxwell Smart in advance of a new series starting two weeks hence.
The changes planned for issue 52, completing TV Century 21‘s first year, were announced on the front page of issue 51: the arrival of Thunderbirds, the arrival of Get Smart!, the expansion of Agent 21 to two pages – and the departure of Lady Penelope to ‘edit’ her own weekly comic, TV21’s first spin-off, echoing the Eagle path by spawning a girl’s paper for the readers’ sisters. Inside, the preview also included The Munsters, and a new feature, Dateline 2066.
The last issue of the ‘old’ comic saw Fireball XL5 return to the future with the aid of a man called Zodiac. Venus muses that it might have been Steve’s grandfather, only for Steve to pour cold water on it immediately: his father (who was also named Steve) only adopted the name Zodiac when he joined the U.S.S (United Secret Service: remember, he’s Twenty-One’s ultimate boss), when he changed his named from Kalinski! It also saw Lady Penelope contacted directly by Jeff Tracey, offering her the job of International Rescue’s British Agent.
But when revamps around, there are departures as well as arrivals. Burke’s Law was out, giving up it’s position on pages 2-3 to 21 Special Agent, as the expanded feature was renamed. Stingray was booted out of the centrespread onto pages 4-5, with Ron Embleton now drawing the feature as two individual pages. My Favourite Martian held its place whilst The Munsters slipped onto page 9. Initially, I thought this was drawn by Amos Burke’s former artist, the presumed Gerry Embleton, whose facility with real faces made him ideal for the strip, but a signature in issue 54 (29 January) revealed it to be yet another ex-Eagle alumnus, former Spot the Clue man Paul Trevillion.
Thunderbirds took the new pride of place, occupying the centre spread in full colour, and with the honour of an unprecedented third page, in black & white. Drawn by the inimitable Frank Bellamy, this was the instant flagship series. It even included a visit from Penny and Parker, in direct continuation from the last of her former strip. And Bellamy was the first of the Anderson artists to genuinely capture the dynamics of machines in motion (of course he was, he was Frank Bellamy, wasn’t he?) and to inject a greater degree of character into the puppets, by simply refusing to draw them as puppets, and as people instead.
Dateline 2066 was a news page set in 2066, reinforcing the notion of the Anderson era as a world in itself. Get Smart immediately captured the silliness of another of my favourite American sitcoms of the time, a spy spoof starring Don Addams (and let’s not forget Barbara Feldon as Agent 99), which was good going when you consider that the show’s regular writers included Mel Brooks.
Fireball XL5 moved into the back half of the comic but was business as usual. Supercar, however, was out, along with Lady Penelope. Saddest departure of all for me was Roger Dunn’s page on the real story of space exploration, replaced by a page devoted to real-life rescues, under the inevitable heading of International Rescues.
Lastly, The Daleks continued to head up the back page, but with a change of artist, Richard E Jennings having left. My educated guess was Eric Eden, but I was completely wrong on that, the strip becoming the work of Ron Turner.
Initially, the comic made a meal of all things International Rescue, but it only took until issue 55 (5 February) before reverting to normal with a non-Thunderbirds front page. And though Lady Penelope was now off entertaining the girls as opposed to the boys, the continuity of the Anderson universe was again reinforced by a major Dateline 2066 report of the story she was leading in her own title.
Lady Penelope was not the only female to be excised from the comic in its new line-up. Agent Twenty-One’s move to two pages seemed to have been achieved by excising his right-hand-woman, Tina, until issue 61. With Twenty-One wounded and undergoing life-saving surgery, Agent Twenty-Three is sent to protect him from Bereznik assassins (Bereznik is the Soviet Union style country that haven’ joined the World Government and thus function as all-purpose enemies for the Anderson Universe.
Tina arrives just in time in issue 62 (26 March) to foil the hit squad, but at the price of her own life. So, now we know, unless you’re Venus, Atlanta Shore or Marina, don’t be a female in TV Century 21.
Interestingly enough, Twenty-One wants revenge for Tina, and when S refuses it, in issue 66 (23 April), Brent Cleever resigns from the USS to go it alone. The same issue saw Thunderbirds abruptly cut back to two pages, the colour centrespread, as a mysterious aircraft appears over Tracey Island and attacks Thunderbird 2, leading to a long and morally dubious story about International Rescue attacking the US Air Force to steal a jammer that’s fooling their security devices.
Issue 71 (4 June) saw the replacement of Ron Embleton on Stingray by an artist with a much simpler line. The following week saw My Favourite Martian’s artist take over the Get Smart strip as well, and a week later a new strip series, The Investigator, was trailed, based on the Australian engineering company, UEI, starring their top troubleshooter, Bob Develin.
This started running in issue 74 (21 June), which introduced a new artist to My Favourite Martian, but made no substantial changes to the series. The International Rescues feature was of personal resonance for me now, though not then, with the still-to-play World Cup marking my real introduction to professional football, dealing as it did with the Munich Air Disaster.
The Investigator got off to a slow start. It was an anomaly in having no apparent connection either to the Andersonverse or to any TV series, and Develin himself came over at first as a bad-tempered semi-hysterical shouter with nothing to shout about. Meanwhile, Ron Embleton dropped off Stingray, though his replacement made a similarly good job, and Agent Twenty-One achieved his mission of delivering the Bereznik Security Chief responsible for Tina’s death to Western… er, World Government justice, only to become a fugitive wanted by both sides and doomed to death.
Then the My Favourite Martian/Get Smart artists swapped back assignments again, rather untidily. And in issue 80, Paul Trevillion came off The Munsters for a week.
A new The Investigator story started in issue 82 (13 August), with more delicate art, giving the impression that the artist is drawing real people. I’ve googled the title but can’t find anything to confirm that the strip was based on any TV series of the era (a period when Australian imports were relatively rare, but cheap, and were not restricted to soaps). That makes the series an oddity, given TV21‘s otherwise total reliance upon TV series. What made it a further oddity was that, to save the day in issue 89 (1 October), Develin sacrificed his life and his series, evidence that the story had not worked.
This led into a mini-revamp in issue 90. There was a re-ordering of features, bringing Fireball XL5 back into the front half again and pushing Stingray further back, a superb regular feature on the Apollo Moon programme, predicting a Moon landing (accurately) within three to four years. The Investigator was replaced with another black and white strip, Catch or Kill, a two-pager about playboy Craig Raymond Alan Gorton, known as Crag, who inherits his hunter Uncle’s fortune but only if he completes Uncle John’s last assignment. It’s another anomaly in the TV world of the title, but it boasted superb art from John Burns.
A long, involved Thunderbirds story that saw Thunderbird 3 crash, burned out on Venus, requiring Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to be modified for space flight was abruptly disturbed in issue 93 (29 October) when Frank Bellamy left the series temporarily, not returning until the follow-up story started in issue 99 (10 December). His replacement did a sterling job, but he was no Frank Bellamy, because nobody else was. International Rescue continued to dominate the comic as no other series did.
Stingray’s art was slowly getting rougher and sketchier, with an increased amount of white space, but the story came up with a neat bit of Anderson crossover, when Titan’s agent in trying to discredit Troy Tempest turned out to be the Hood, taking a temporary break from trying to get Thunderbird plans and going after the WASP’s flagship craft.
Catch or Kill took the opportunity to attach itself to the Anderson universe in issue 98 (3 December) when Crag and Kipper’s latest hunt, for a pre-historic bird on an alien planet, uncovered a hostile robot civilisation: Crag called Space City for assistance, resulting in the despatch of Fireball XL9 to the scene.
TV Century 21 reached its 100th issue on 17 December 2066 with nothing more to distinguish it than the announcement of a serialisation of the soon-to-be released ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ feature length film (which I saw on the big screen at the Odeon in Manchester City Centre, my Gran and Grandad taking me to an 11.30am performance as soon as the school holidays started) and another art change on Stingray, to the strip’s increasing detriment.
With a front page headline and a massive photo of the Zero-X spaceship, the four-part adaptation began on Xmas Eve. It was presented in strip format, but not with art but rather stills from the film itself, with extensive captioning. Sadly, all this proved, yet again, was that photographs do not a successful comics series make, even ones of sharper reproductive quality than these.
The Munsters offered a Xmas board game in addition to their weekly slot. Catch or Kill started a new story, cut back to one page. Fireball XL5 was dropped into black and white with a new artist, whose style had a very strong Frank Hampson influence.
And the year rounded off with everything in mid-story.
TV Century 21‘s 2066 was undoubtedly the year of Thunderbirds. Both in terms of the centre-page strip, drawn but for that six week interruption by Frank Bellamy, the best artist to work for the comic, and in terms of the non-stop advertising, of toys, uniforms, records etc., International Rescue dominated the comic week-in, week-out. In contrast, Stingray was first displaced from its original role as centre-spread, before losing Ron Embleton’s art and undergoing a number of changes of artist, each a little worse.
I was sorry to see Supercar and Lady Penelope go, but the latter was probably inevitable: TV21 was pitched firmly at the boy’s market and it made commercial sense to spin Penny off into a girl-oriented weekly of her own. Their ‘replacements’, one-pagers based on popular American sitcoms that I watched avidly and still have fun memories of, boasted vigorous art but never quite matched up to their originals. Perhaps it’s that I remember it the least, because I had been just that bit younger, but My Favourite Martian, still going strong after nearly two full years, still seems to be the most successful representation.
Agent Twenty-One continued to be pretty good all year, but the comic’s foray into other series were very mixed. The Investigator was basically a nothing and whilst Catch or Kill had impressive art, its stories were not really anything to write home about.
So the end of year report is the same as before: excellent technical quality, vivid colours but overall unengaging: the pre-teen me got far more out of this than the adult does. On to 2067.

The Boy’s World Story, or, The One Without Marcus Morris


cover by Ron Embleton

Boy’s World, a Longacre/Odhams red-top boys weekly comic, joined the stable of titles originated by the Reverend Marcus Morris as editor in 1962, it’s purpose being to replace Eagle. Instead, it lasted 89 issues and disappeared in 1963, merging into Eagle for protection. Only one of its features lasted more than three months after its death.
Many years ago, on one of my many trips to the Old Magazine Shop in Sheffield, I bought a job lot of Boy’s Worlds, 64 in total, just under three-quarters of the comic’s entire run. My collection, which is in poor condition, each issue having been stapled together in from the spine, with staples that were rusty when I bought them, basically consists of a near-complete run from Volume 1 issue 24 onwards (when the title had clearly undergone a substantial revamp) to the end, with a missing five issue run early in Volume 2, and a handful of missing single issues.
I’ve seen the covers of some of those early issues, which present a much different comic: large, full-page, domestic boy scenes, full-bleed, the red-box title forming part of the image. The effect is of a magazine cover, not a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (a brainchild of Leonard Matthews, the man who was determined to destroy Eagle, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
Without sight of any of that first five month’s efforts, I can only speculate. Certainly, what passes for an editorial in Vol 1 issue 24 makes it explicit that one of the title’s established series, ‘Merlo the Magician’ (a prose story of which was reprinted in the 1969 Hamlyns’ published Adventure Stories for Boys) was now being translated into comics form. Of the eight stories repeated in ASOB, seven originated in Boy’s World, including a Merlo story. Three of these come from the issues I possess, meaning four prose serials of varying length across 23 issues: it’s pushing it to assume they all ran serially.
There was two or three existing comics series that survived the revamp. I remembered ‘Pike Mason’, drawn mainly by Luis Bermejo in a wash-dominated black-and-white. This was a bit of a sub-Storm Nelson affair, a sea-adventurer, but with one sidekick, the Filipino, Quarro. And ‘John Brody’, a science reporter for a London Daily who kept encountering fantastic adventures: like a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible.
But Boy’s World‘s most prestigious series, it’s home-grown Heros, was the highly-regarded ‘Wrath of the Gods’. This starred Arion, a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Greek Gods to carry out fantastic missions. Written by Jeff Hawke‘s Willie Patterson, it had been drawn in those first 23 issues by Ron Embleton, across the centrespread, but now it was knocked back to the back page and given over to a young and, initially unimpressive John Burns.

John Burns’ first page

Three new series entered at this point, a revamp intended to mirror the still more successful Eagle. The longest-lasting of these was naturally ‘The Iron Man’, initially drawn by Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a much more naturalistic look. This squarer-faced stockier version could well be mistaken for human, though Embleton didn’t last too long before Martin Salvador replaced him – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and before long, the robot’s features became much more, well, robotic.
The second of these was ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’. Apparently, this was a continuation from the initial strip, ‘The Boys of Castleford School’, focussing on just the one pupil. I mean, apart from Billy accidentally getting his miraculous spare glasses in the first episode preparatory to his discovering their wonderful powers in the second (at which point, the supposedly highly-intelligent swot utterly failed, then or later, to make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B), it was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another. It’s neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories are generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.
And third was ‘Brett Millions’. Though it’s not credited as such, both ‘Brett Millions’ stories are written by the SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. This strip pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though amusingly, once they’d finished the stories begun in issue 24, the same week, the strips swapped back! The second ‘Brett Millions’, ‘Ghost World’, was actually drawn by Frank Bellamy, and is probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned.
Which is hardly surprising, since, apologies to Harry Harrison fans, the whole series was pretty poor. Millions, who starts off as a professional gambler but winds up an interplanetary troubleshooter, hasn’t an ounce of character, and Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.

Which leaves us ‘Merlo’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. It was a very cleanly drawn strip, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding. He’d actually been created by Harry Harrison but his last two adventures, in Vol 2, were written by Ken Bulmer.
What else went into this new Boy’s World mark 2? There was mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon on page 2, in which the villain was almost always the only other person in the story, especially if the crime was murder, and a weekly prose feature called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
Vol 2 saw some changes to features. ‘Brett Million’ was replaced by ‘Raff Regan’, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, whilst ‘Pike Mason’ went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.

Pike Mason original art

Let me not forget the other new series to start alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’. This was ‘Dr What and his Time Clock’, which was, as you’ve probably already guessed, a parody of Dr Who. In fact, it was the first ever parody of Dr Who, which is the only distinction it holds.
So, after only 89 issues the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because at some unguessable point, I’d started getting Boy’s World, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I (selfish) didn’t get a new title to replace it. As we already know, only ‘The Iron Man’ lasted, though oddly enough Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
I’d venture to suggest that the reason Boy’s World failed to make the mark it was expected to make was a combination of things: it was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, it was launching in a declining market and most of all it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.