Modesty Blaise: The Grim Joker by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Badia Romero (graphic novel review).

Just when you think that the ‘Modesty Blaise’ newspaper strips couldn’t get better, writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Enric Badia Romero come up with ‘A Present For The Princess’. This story is unusual in that it cross-references to the novels as it features Steve Collier and his wife and dowser, Dinah, and reference to the pearls Willie Garvin dived for to make Modesty a necklace as seen in the novel ‘A Taste For Death’.


Willie is off on one of his jaunts, unknowingly to Modesty, he is looking for emeralds in the shale of the Republic of Montelero where fellow cut-throat prospectors will kill anyone who has a find. He even comes across a former Network member, Ramon, who is led by this lust as well and doesn’t trust him neither. When he leaves, Willie is pursued and although he removes some of his pursuers, he has to take a long dive into a gulley and knocks his head. He wakes in a village and helped by the widow Rima but is an amnesic. Back in England, Modesty feels something is wrong but doesn’t know where to look for her ally. It is Dinah’s dowsing skill over maps that finds the country and another psychic psychometrist who provides further clues.

Meanwhile, Willie sorts out some problems for Rima and she accompanies him to the nearby port where he makes some money playing poker, discovering that he is quite a card sharp. When members of the local underworld recognise him and discover his condition, he is persuaded that he is Harry Brett wanted for murder. Willie leaves Rima and goes up into the hills with Azul’s bandits but clearly feels out of place, especially when he finds them keeping sex slaves there.

Modesty is finally on his trail and initiates a rescue with poor Willie not really knowing who she is but always doing the right thing but why spoil a good ending.

Romero’s art has never been better and captures the environment and mood superbly. O’Donnell’s vignettes of various characters shows marked contrasts but instantly recognisable as different people. Does Willie keep his emeralds? Ah, you’ll love the twist in the heel.

If you thought the tension was strong in that story, then ‘Black Queen’s Pawn’ will have you wondering where the edge of your seat was. Back in 1834 Madagascar, Queen Ranavalona had a good way to keep her treasure secret. Kill the slaves first and then the officers who ran the operation. She liked killing her population under any pretext already. As the treasure’s purpose was to keep her immortal, she saw it as a small price to pay.

In modern day, Modesty is accompanying veterinary surgeon Greg Lawton to the village of Mandofo, seeking a fossilised prehistoric bird egg for the island’s museum. One detail gets in the way, a criminal gang ran by Koch, who works for Salim, is there with a damaged map looking for Ranavalona’s treasure. Both Modesty and Koch have met before during her Network days but it is the local missionary Father Brienne who keeps the peace. After all, they aren’t after the same thing. Even so, Koch forces the local villagers to work for him. Koch is ultimately kept at bay from killing Modesty and Lawton with the knowledge that Willie Garvin would kill them.

A sort of truce is made with only one incident until a week later Willie arrives and the situation becomes ever more terse and an awareness that regardless of the treasure being found, they might also be killed. It’s then that the pair take things more into their own hands and convince both Salim and Koch that their interests are one and the same and Modesty second guesses Ranavalona to locate the treasure.

Unusually for the comicstrip story, the Nailer is used. In the novels, this is where Modesty appears topless knowing that men will be frozen for a couple seconds that gives them enough time to attack. This time, it’s done with a ghostly difference. This story also demonstrates all of the pair’s skills and makes for a superb story.

The title story ‘The Grim Joker’ is also the last in this volume. Actually, it’s more than one joker. Three of them and they aren’t really there for laughs but to conceal the reason for their ironic murders to later kill their rich uncle. Mark and Matthew Goodchild and their lover, Prudence Hill, contrive and commit murders. A journalist crushed by a roll of newsprint. A headmaster hung by a bungee rope around his neck after expelling two sixth form pupils for bungee jumping. Getting the inside information from Police Inspector Brook and despite him saying no, they ignore him and initiate a plan where Willie Garvin becomes the bait and Modesty acts as his hidden guardian angel on the island of Moggaire that they normally use as a mediation retreat.

Although the pair of them anticipated a team of two, they hadn’t realised there was a third and Prudence succeeds in drugging Willie. Fortunately, Modesty realises that there is something wrong and gets him away and convinces the trio that he drowned. Prudence enjoys the murders and thinks her two lovers plan to stop is wrong, more so when she thinks something is going wrong when they find themselves stranded on the island. She uses Willie’s mini-recorder to make a confession but that she was coerced to cover her own involvement. Unfortunately, the brothers find the recording and murder her. A recovered Willie convinces Modesty than he’s been somewhat on the sidelines throughout and convinces her to let him take the initiative and…well, time for you to buy your own copy.

Three marvellous newspaper strip stories from O’Donnell and Romero in showing how to use the three panel story a day to incredible effect that has yet to be beaten and why they are so revered. Even if you only start buying from this point, you will find Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin highly additive characters to read and cherish and want to chase the other books in this series down as its now the definitive collection. The fact that each of these stories are diverse from each other with an intensity all of their own will make you realise why SF fans still take them to their hearts. Find out why for yourselves and the only thing you’ll be glad about is not having them as your enemies.

GF Willmetts

December 2014

(pub: Titan Books. 104 page softcover graphic novel. Price: £11.99 (UK), $19.95 (US), $22.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78116-711-3)

check out website: www.titanbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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