Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell

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Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell

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Buy Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A cult figure you might not gel with, but these four stories are certainly interesting flashbacks to an innocent time of daily newspaper comic strips.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1848566736

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Meet Modesty Blaise. You've had countless opportunities to meet her before, mind - she was daily in the London Evening Standard from 1963 to 2001, and this is the eighteenth collection of her comic strip. She's a feisty, unfettered femme fatale with a bottomless fortune and a great supply of both friends and enemies. We see these combine here in four stories, when an enterprising gang of murderous blackmailers force Modesty to become their enemy, an old friend's name is used to dupe her into letting go her criminal secrets from her past, and when a new-found friend, fresh from saving her life in a gliding accident, comes up against some hoodlums.

It's a world rife with the playgirl lifestyle and common criminals, and Modesty is perhaps best at fitting into both, with her tactical nous and ability in unarmed combat. She's definitely rich, a lady of leisure if it weren't for all the crimes she has to stumble on and solve. There's a welter of sex in her life too, considering this was in a family publication - she and other heavily made-up females are often seen in their skimpies, or svelte in jodhpurs. Even a tale on a Greek monastery island does not mean she can avoid sex.

A lot of that is the fault of her best friend Willie. He has a great part to play in all adventures here - too great a part, some might say, for such a sidekick figure, but he definitely comes with the package. None more so than in the second story, where his circus background allows him to utter the priceless line "Why the hell should Mother Russia steal my elephant?!" Why, indeed. (You'll see how deftly I've avoided quoting Modesty herself saying she'd go all the way for Willie.)

So there's comedy and drama here, but are there really thrills? Well, in part. The stories do perhaps suffer from being from the third decade of non-stop creativity from Peter O'Donnell. By their nature they suffer for being designed for daily consumption, with too much disposable exposition before anything meaty ever occurs. Indeed some strips were designed to be completely disposable, when the Evening Standard wanted five strips a week and other publishers needed six.

Possibly coming out of the whole thing better is Neville Colvin, one of only five people ever to illustrate the strip. You'd be hard pressed to tell this was his daily output, for the character design, shot and angle selection, strong shading and kinetic ink lines belie that on every page. He has fun with buxom Willie-lovers in their see-through nighties, rugged old gun-toting crooks, landscapes - and yes, the elephant.

As a graphic novel then this is a welcome volume. I'd seen copious editions of previous compilations in my library but had never officially met Ms Blaise. I found a book that packs a lot of action into its jumbo sized pages, and reproduces the vintage strips well, with sensible one-page introductions. And these stories are more than serviceable, as far as comic strip thrillers go. There will be many who find the stories, with their basic one-act conflict/resolution format, a bit too flimsy. But this has some of the content and more than enough of the style to see how Modesty Blaise is a cult many are very capable of buying into.

I must thank the kind Titan Books people for my review copy.

For more sequential art thrillers, we enjoyed Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'Edera.

Buy Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Modesty Blaise: Sweet Caroline by Neville Colvin and Peter O'Donnell at Amazon.com.

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