Book Review – Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask

modestyironmask1963 saw a boom in the British spy genre after James Bond hit the big screen the year before in Dr. No.  As a result, it wasn’t just the spies who took center stage; a number of creations with a criminal past also lit up the intrigue of the time.  One of the standout creations of this genre was the character of Modesty Blaise, who appeared in newspaper comic strips that ran for an impressive 38 years, 3 feature films, 13 novels, a series of short stories, and a radio adapation.  Titan Books has followed in their tradition of reprinting the lost classics for modern audiences, and they were good enough to send us a copy of the latest collected edition of newspaper strips in the line, Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask.

From the publisher:

Features the classic stories ‘Fiona’, ‘Walkabout’ and ‘The Girl In The Iron Mask’ written by popular British crime writer Peter O’Donnell and beautifully illustrated by Enric Badia Romero! Willie’s admirer Fiona returns, Modesty faces the outback alone and an iron mask could mark her end in this latest gripping volume! With story introductions by Modesty Blaise archivist Lawrence Blackmore, this outstanding collection of never-before-reprinted material is not to be missed.

Not being overly familiar with the character, I decided to do a bit of research before breaking into it and learned this is volume 23 in the line!  If that doesn’t say staying power, I don’t know what does.  I guess it’s easy to have that kind amount of product after 38 years of publication.  Regardless a character with a legacy like that usually has something special to offer.  In this case, she offers a dangerous quality and fierce independence that was not the norm in the 60s, which lends to the appreciation by modern audiences quite well.  Interesting weaponry, exotic fighting styles, and a strong personality to back it all up are what you’ll find within these pages.

Reprinting 3 full stories from the old strips, there are two incredible reasons to check out these collections for yourself.  The first is the writing.  These stories hold up, largely because of the qualities of Modesty and her supporting cast.  There is an understated sophistication to the writing, with I attribute as a side effect of the era.  As a James Bond fan myself, I find Modesty Blaise to be a more than worthy character that spun from his influences, and the geeky part of me wants to see a crossover now.  As it is a collection nowhere near the beginning of the run, the new fan (like myself) may be a bit disoriented, but the writing of the era allows for new readers to catch up quickly and learn as you go.  The second and most important reason to pick this up is the art.  Much like with the Flash Gordon reprints, the art is guaranteed to have never looked so good in its original format.  The age of modern printing and digital remastering (if you’ll pardon the film lingo for a book review) captures the depth and beauty of the artist’s original work and pulls you in.  It’s the kind of art you tend not to see much in the modern era, and fans of comic art have a prize in Mr. Romero’s style.  It’s a gorgeous book.

Modesty Blaise: The Girl in the Iron Mask is available from Titan Books on March 26.  While you’re waiting, I’d recommend picking up some of the other collections.  I certainly will now that they’re on my radar.