Lord Peter Flint Modesty Blaise MACH 1
The huge British weekly comic book hit of the mid-’70s, Warlord, began a combat story revival and early issues revolved around the adventures of Lord Peter Flint (Codename: Warlord), an aristocratic WW2 secret agent with a nice line in white suits, clearly modelled on Roger Moore’s Bond. His cover is that he’s a foppish conscientious objector, giving him something of a Scarlet Pimpernel vibe, too. His boss was the Kingpin and, post-war, he’d teach his ward to shoot, drive, fight, et al. The lad would grow up to become another secret agent, this one a very ’70s moustache-sporting man-about-town codenamed Fireball in the short-lived comic. 2000 AD, like Action Comic before it, gleefully raided every popular movie and TV archetype of the time, then added its own dark, violent twists, and so it was with MACH 1 – a British take on The Six Million Dollar Man, with agent John Probe (yeah, right) given super-speed, strength and agility by the magic of acupuncture (MACH stands for Man Activate by Compu-Puncture Hyperpower). Arriving with 2000 AD’s first issue, in 1977, he shared his brain with a tactical computer he talked to, much like Marvel’s Deathlok of a couple of years earlier. While Steve Austin’s TV adventures became increasingly light and family-friendly, MACH 1 got ever darker, not least with the arrival of a broken, Frankenstein’s monster-like predecessor, the insane MACH Zero. We were unkind to 007, relegating him to #18 because “comic strips don’t count”. Well, welcome to our hypocrisy: Modesty Blaise charts much higher, despite being a daily newspaper strip character (also, novels, comic books and a little-loved film too). How come? Well, perhaps because 007’s newspaper strips, no matter how good, are a minor add-on, whereas they’re core to Modesty Blaise. Or maybe because she’s been so very influential on the wider comic book world, her origin stolen for Marvel’s Storm, her look and methods by half the female agents on this list. An orphan who rose to head a criminal organisation, then retired to the London highlife, she and tough East End sidekick Willie Garvin keep boredom at bay by accepting freelance missions from the British Secret Service. Supervillains, beware! Modesty’s strip ran in the London Evening Standard and across the world from 1963 until 2001, and most have been collected in relentlessly excellent Titan Books albums.