Friday, April 19, 2024

Modesty Blaise: Warlords of Phoenix

Warlords of Phoenix collects three Modesty Blaise comic-strip stories from the tail end of the 60s. If you’ve only read the Modesty Blaise novels (which are wonderful) I urge you to check out her comic-strip adventures which are also excellent.

Peter O’Donnell created the character in 1963. He wrote the comic strip until 2001. It became the last of its breed - the ongoing comic-strip story unfolding three panels at a time in a daily newspaper.

Halfway through the second story in this collection, Warlords of Phoenix, the strip’s original artist Jim Holdaway passed away. He was replaced by a Spanish artist, Enrique Badía Romero. The result was a very slight change in style, with Modesty’s appearance subtly changed.

It’s also noticeable that there’s just a bit more nudity compared to the earlier strips.

The 1969 story Takeover was the last to be drawn entirely by Jim Holdaway whose collaboration with O’Donnell went back to the 1950s when O’Donnell was writing the popular Romeo Brown comic strip.

In this adventure the Mafia is trying to take over organised crime in Britain. O’Donnell portrays the Mafiosi as smooth business types (albeit with a brutal and ruthless streak) capable of passing as reasonably respectable citizens. In 1969 this was still a slightly unusual approach in fiction dealing with the Mob.

The Mafia’s methods are sufficiently ruthless to discourage informers who might be tempted to talk to the police. Modesty will have to offer herself up as bait. Willie with then spring the trap closed. Her plan is sound enough, provided the Mafia guys are not suspicious enough to scent a trap. But these Mafiosi are very suspicious indeed and Modesty and Willie could be in trouble.

What’s most interesting about this story is that Modesty’s criminal past is a crucial plot ingredient. Her criminal past is also the key to her whole attitude towards the case but I won’t say any more about that for fear of revealing spoilers.

In Warlords of Phoenix Modesty and Willie are in Japan, visiting a very dear friend (and famed judo master). He’s 70 years old but he’s still a formidable master of the art.

His granddaughter’s boyfriend tries to murder her, apparently because she found out about his involvement with an organisation called Phoenix. Nobody knows anything at all about this organisation.

This organisation does however know quite a bit about Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin. They have plans to use Modesty and Willie. Modesty and Willie will need all of their combat skills and experience - they are going to come up against some very highly trained killers.

There are plenty of clever action scenes.

Willie the Djinn takes Modesty and Willie into the desert, to a sheikh’s palace. It all started with the sheikh’s obsession with playing games with Modesty. Not sinister games - he genuinely just wants to play backgammon with her.

Modesty and Willie are caught up in palace plots and they have a whole troupe of pretty English dancing girls (the delightfully named Dollyrockers) to protect as well. And Willie is mistaken for a djinn.

There’s plenty of mayhem and the Dollyrockers join in with great enthusiasm. These girls just love having the chance to use submachine guns.

By this time O’Donnell was well and truly in the groove and these are three fine adventures. Highly recommended.

I’ve reviewed two other early Modesty Blaise comic-strip collections, The Gabriel Set-Up and The Black Pearl, as well as the first three novels - Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth and I, Lucifer.

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