Black Jack Tarr Abbey Chase Cap­tain Fran­cis Blake Tara Chace Clive Re­ston Jimmy Woo

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The old Shang-Chi, Mas­ter of Kung Fu book was per­haps the best spy comic ever made, so it should be no sur­prise to find a few of its reg­u­lars on this list. Black Jack Tarr was a hulk­ing brute of a man, first in­tro­duced as “the man even kung fu can’t smash!”

As Sir De­nis Nay­land Smith’s aide-de-camp, he swiftly be­came a friend and ally, but his gruff na­ture and gen­eral rude­ness gave their re­la­tion­ship a cer­tain edge. Tarr worked for MI6, Scot­land Yard, and as part of Smith’s pri­vate band of Fu Manchu­fight­ers, but since the end of MOKF has been lit­tle seen in Marvel Comics. An­other Shang-Chi reg­u­lar, Clive Re­ston was in­tro­duced as a some­what snob­bish, pompous, even ef­fete English agent who was nev­er­the­less sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive in a brawl; in time he be­came less up-him­self, and one of the most ap­peal­ing and hu­man char­ac­ters in the strip – if never quite shed­ding the bizarre af­fec­ta­tion that ap­pears to see him claim to be a rel­a­tive of both Sher­lock Holmes and James Bond.

Though he’s shown up a few times since – no­tably the Wis­dom minis­eries and Cap­tain Bri­tain And MI-13 – Re­ston’s ca­reer ba­si­cally ended with the can­cel­la­tion of MOKF, a ter­ri­ble shame for one of Marvel’s most com­pellingly he­roes. One half of Blake And Mor­timer, Cap­tain Fran­cis Percy Blake is a dash­ing, trench­coat-favour­ing, ex-RAF MI5 of­fi­cer, in con­stant con­flict with the evil Colonel Ol­rik and aided by his civil­ian sci­en­tist buddy, the Scot­tish, red-haired Philip Mor­timer. The fa­mous first story – “The Se­cret Of The Sword­fish” – told of the rise of a das­tardly East­ern power called The Yel­low Em­pire, and the bat­tle to cre­ate a su­per-plane to counter it.

Blake is a mas­ter of dis­guise, even fool­ing his part­ner on oc­ca­sion, and one of the few spies on this list to make this clas­sic spy trick an im­por­tant part of their modus operandi. In the Jim Ster­anko is­sues he ap­peared as a sharp-suited FBI agent in bat­tles against a re­vived Yel­low Claw. Of course, his his­tory stretches back fur­ther than al­most any other Marvel char­ac­ter, back to the com­pany’s ’50s At­las in­car­na­tion, when he was cre­ated by Al Feld­stein and Joe Ma­neely. De­signed to be the hero of the short-lived Yel­low Claw ti­tle, his ad­ven­tures were con­stantly com­pli­cated by a seem­ingly doomed love af­fair with Suwan, the Claw’s hot grand­niece. Away from the span­dex and capes, the more be­liev­able world of proper es­pi­onage is rarely de­picted in comics, and though the mi­lieu of Greg Rucka’s Oni Press se­ries Queen & Coun­try is hardly to­tally real­is­tic, it’s way closer than most. The se­ries ran through­out the noughties, and cen­tres on Tara Chace, an agent for the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Sec­tion of MI6. There’s loads of ac­tion and be­trayal, but plenty of soap opera and bu­reau­cracy too – it’s been nom­i­nated for Eis­ner Awards six times, and won once.

07Hot chicks and se­cret agents – two great tastes that taste great to­gether – have rarely been con­flated with such bare-faced glee as they are in Dan­ger Girl, a sort of Char­lie’s An­gels- meetBond-girl pas­tiche with skimpier out­fits and a big­ger budget, that be­came a hit for Wilds­torm in 2001, and has bounced and jig­gled its way through a dozen or so minis­eries and a num­ber of one-shots in the years since. The brain-chicks of writer Andy Hart­nell and artist J Scott Camp­bell, the girls work for a free­lance all-fe­male spy net­work, led by some­one who may be a re­tired James Bond, and boast­ing Syd­ney Sav­age (vi­va­cious Aussie) and main girl Abbey Chase (an ex-Tomb Raider) as key op­er­a­tives.

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