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