The Lion in the Seventies – Part 3

The last part of this series has to cover just over two final years of Lion. By now, it must be obvious that I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the comic, and I’ll be grateful for the chance to move on to one of the other comics DVDs I’ve collected this year. What Lion has become by March 1972 is a collection of formulas, lacking any real inspiration. The vividness of even the average series of the Sixties has been lost and the sole purpose of any of the stories is to provide the same thing week in, week out. Back in the Fifties, Lion‘s stories dragged on uselessly, forever racking up cliff-hangers whose only purpose was to grind another week out of a story that had lost all point but continuation. Now, the stories were shorter, but dragged out the same few ideas over and over, like Hollywood, terrified that the audience won’t accept something they haven’t seen over and over and over.
As we resume, the line-up consisted of:Carson’s Cubs (3pp); Dr Mesmer’s Revenge (2pp); The Last of the Harkers (2pp); Fury’s Family (2pp); The Spooks of St Luke’s (1p); The Spellbinder (3pp); Black Max (3pp); The Can-Do Kids (2pp); Watch Out for the White Eyes (2pp); The Steel Commando (4pp); Zip Nolan (2pp); Adam Eterno (3pp) and Mowser (1p).
Other than the still excellent art on Dr Mesmer, nothing of that line-up impresses me. These are stories for boys, and old-fashioned to boot. Nor are there any standards: having entered a form of Highland Games, Joe Harker suddenly reveals the unsuspected ability to elasticate and lengthen his limbs. Watch Out for the White Eyes reached its predictable end on 14 April, only for a new story to start two weeks later, under the title The White Eyes Strike Again. Did I say anything about dragging the same few ideas out over and over?
But first, the comic heralded The Return of the Spider, billed as a new story but as with Paddy Payne’s continual returns, a reprint of the original second story, with the character still a criminal mastermind. Only the villain’s name was changed, to the Mirror Man. At the same time, Carson’s Cubs underwent its first change in years, with the ‘rascally’ Braggart and Snooks sacked and Newton Town taken over by millionaire Colonel Fisk, bent on running the club on military lines, and installing ex-Sergeant Major Bligh to run training on military discipline. It wasn’t a propitious change, in fact it was all about getting the Cubs to lose and Joe Carson sacked, but any change was welcome. How permanent it would be I’d have to wait and see, but as the story progressed, a couple of the Cubs were injured and two new players were brought in. This was beginning to resemble a real shake-up, but the two new Cubs disappeared as fast as they’d appeared and with less fanfare, and the series just kept along the same old groove, the secret identity of the villain just as obvious as always. And who were on their way back in the last panel?
The Spooks of St Luke’s vanished without trace one week, only featuring at long intervals afterwards. The White-Eyes story turned into another repeating formula, from outbreak to temporary reversal. Zip Nolan finally went into official, full-time reprints as opposed to odd ones here and there. The Reg Bunn era was chosen, giving Lion several pages of top quality art, for a time, at least. It would be nice to think that his family received royalties for such use of his work, but we know better, don’t we, boys and girls?
It seems to have been a long-time in coming but eventually there was another reboot on 28 October 1972, with new stories and new series in the old manner. The White-Eyes were finally vanquished, Black Max apparently killed, Fury’s Family went home and Dr Mesmer’s Revenge finally back-fired on him.
In their place were four new features. The Shadow of the Snake introduced a strange, scaled-skinned villain preying on other criminals and Lab Assistant Mark Bowen coming to work for kindly, charitable scientist Professor Krait: can you spell blatant tip-off? ‘Stop this Man’ say the Camelot Clan was drawn by Fred Holmes, the Carson’s Cubs’ artist (and every bit as badly) and set in 1994, when the World Council has just approved a five year plan to turn Britain (the whole island) into a Gasworks: this heinous plot is to be opposed by raising King Arthur (again). Noah’s Ark featured wild animal collector Noah Sarker, with his floating house saving his wildlife collection from a brutal crew determined to wipe them out: why bother cancelling Fury’s Family? And Secrets of the Demon Dwarf was a Black Max spin-off, with the lead turned over to dwarfish inventor Doctor Gratz, emerging from suspended animation after 54 years and hell-bent on revenge against Britain.
What was worse was that Braggart and Snook were back in Carson’s Cubs, awarded South American military ranks and installed as manager and trainer with Joe Carson as Braggart’s assistant. If it weren’t for the fact that this was a completely retrograde step, it might have made for a fresh slant, but basically it was the same old shit again, and I do mean shit.
The Spider reprints stayed, now going over to Jerry Seigel’s first story, before his stuff got completely nonsensical. An issue later, The Spooks of St Luke’s made a surprise return after months off. And when Mowser suddenly started sharing title credit with James the Butler again, it looked like our chirpy cat was the next to succumb to reprint fever.
The new series were neither good nor popular, and by Xmas the editor was asking for reactions to them all. The Snake and Noah’s Ark were merely flat and dull, the Camelot Clan was nonsensical and ugly and Doctor Gratz was ploughing the same furrow Black Max had been left in for far too long.
And some feature’s lives were limited. The Camelot Clan came to an abrupt end on 17 March, Noah’s Ark came to land and Doctor Gratz was crushed to make way for three new stories, or rather two, and the return of Robot Archie, in what was billed as a new story. We’d heard all that before, but this time it was specifically denied this would be a reprint. And so it was, with some metafictioning as Archie complained about not appearing in Lion any more and what had the Steel Commando got that he hadn’t?
But only one of the two new stories made it alongside Archie. Stitch in Time, starring tough street kid ‘Stitch’ Cotton (oh, Lor’), one of two boys (the other a stretchy alien) who steal a time machine from its owner, a would-be evil master of the Universe. The art looked very familiar, though I can’t place where I might have seen it before, my guess being something like 2000AD, which, let us not forget, was only four years away from its first appearance.
What The Shadow of the Snake had that the other three terminated series hadn’t is impossible to determine, but it carried on. Archie’s new adventure revealed itself to be anything but new by week two, with the Robot and his pals winding up in a lost world under the surface of the Earth (another one?) dominated by a would-be Nazi world conqueror (another one?). The belated new arrival was The Flying Fortress, in which two English students, stranded in a rainstorm in Central Europe, take refuge in a Gothic castle only to find themselves imprisoned when it flies off. It did not get off to a flying start (apologies) with a change of artist in week two, and the introduction of a villain named Doctor Skurge (honestly…).
Stitch in Time quickly revealed itself to be directionless. Robot Archie ran the Steel Commando gags into the ground by repeating them every week, as if Ted Cowan was bitter about his creation having been squeezed out for so long. Even the Commando’s own strip suddenly went flat, reduced to three pages and losing all sense of pacing, especially as regarded endings.
The Last of the Harkers was drifting too. Like Carson’s Cubs, it had lost its original point, the reclamation of the Harker family trophies and spent most of its time now fending off Bert and Alf Swizzel’s inept schemes aimed at getting into Harker Hall for its treasure in silver.
The Flying Fortress proved to be a failure, ending on 30 June, after only three months. It’s replacement was Marty Wayne – He’s heading for Fame, giving more exposure to Fred Holmes’ art on a comedy series about a young impressionist and ventriloquist who wanted to be a TV star, but got swept up as an MI6 Agent. As an idea, it actually had potential, but such ugly and misproportioned art made it difficult too read at all.
And after far too many years, there was a sea-change in Mowser, with the tatty old puss suddenly getting the blame for the weekly disaster at Crummy Castle.
Another new series was to follow it on 28 July, a new football series. To make room for it, after many years, Carson’s Cubs fell by the wayside, with a total and unbelievable reversal of opinions by Messrs Braggart and Snooks, turning into fans of Joe Carson and the Cubs. It was a weak ending, albeit to a series that had run out of ideas long before. Its replacement was The Team Terry kept in a Box, in which Terry Turner, fan of the once-legendary, now bankrupt Anstey Albion, discovered a box of stereoscopic photos of old photos once owned by his grandfather, an ex-manager. But when viewed, the footballers came to life…
Incidentally, I haven’t had much good to say about Lion and Thunder this time round, so it’s only fair that the same week’s The Spellbinder was genuinely hilarious: Thomas and Sylvester have wound up in a form of Roman arena and Tom’s being faced by two lions when Sylvester magic’s him into understanding their growls as speech, and finds out they’re weary old pros who are fed up with their job…
DVD5 starts with the week of 11 August 1973, less than nine months from the end. Stitch in Time went to its meaningless end a week later, making way for The Treasure-Hunt Twins, who were given an unusual 2½ page length, not seen since the last Paddy Payne reprint from that era. The Twins were 13 year old orphans who ran away from their orphanage rather than lose their pet labrador, and who were given a broken-down old canal boat on which they found a treasure map. The feature was well-drawn, down-to-earth and, despite offering a trail of clues that could be spun out near-indefinitely, was decently readable.
There was a string of changes as The Shadow of the Snake’s time was up, on 15 September, to be ‘replaced’ by Masters of Menace, which saw the return of Ezra Creech, the villain of the second and third White-Eyes serials. But replaced goes in inverted commas, as Creech was there to team up with Professor Krait – the Snake – and the villains to be chased by their collective nemesii. A new Robot Archie story did not end the monotonous and by now extremely silly references the the Steel Commando in almost every instalment.
Decent as it was, the Treasure-Hunt Twins didn’t last, a mere seven episodes and then rewarded to be replaced on 13 October by Lost in Limbo Land, about a young, book-loving boy catapulted into the Norse myths of his current reading matter thanks to a Barry Allen-style bolt of lightning. Drawn in a confusingly dark-style by the same artist, the story rapidly proved to be directionless. So was Marty Wayne, on which the art was getting more and more inept by the week, whilst Masters of Menace showed the teamed-up villains to be twice as bad together than each had been separately.
On 8 December, the comic underwent its final price increase, a half-pence to 4p. It sounds very reasonable now, but with sales declining, it was a further step towards eventual ruin. Lost in Limbo Land came to an end the same week, having lasted only nine weeks. But the artist was retained for Sark the Sleepless, a serial about two young boys disturbed to learn that their ‘world’ was actually a generation starship that had overflown its destination by a 1,000 years.
Lion‘s last Xmas was marked by the foreshadowed reprint of The 10,000 Disasters of Dort, no more interesting than first time round, and displacing the Spider reprints. This was the last change of strip.
Going into 1974, the title was hit by the industrial troubles of the last days of Edward Heath’s Government, the Three Day Week making the title irregular of publication through January to March.
And finally, the end came on 18 May, 1974. Lion, that had swallowed up so many other titles, that still shared the masthead with its last ‘victim’, Thunder, was itself to be taken over and becoming the bottom half of Valiant. The survivors were Mowser, Zip Nolan, Adam Eterno and The Steel Commando, though only as half a series, merging with Captain Hurricane. I have a future appointment with the good Captain, and Valiant in its heyday, on another DVD. The Spellbinder settled for peace and quiet, Marty Wayne appeared on This is Your Story, Creech and Krait died again (or did they?), Robot Archie exposed The Smasher as who we’d suspected all along without one reference to the Steel Commando, Sark saved the ship, Terry’s Team in a Box stopped in the middle of nowhere and the last of the Last of the Harkers saw Joe claim his hereditary peerage.
The last page was Mowser.
Twenty-two years and three months and over 1,100 issues wasn’t a bad run, until the final years. Given the poor quality of both story and art since the absorption of Eagle, Lion‘s cancellation came as no surprise, but it was a shame to see its standards fall the way it did.
Look out for a change of style, when I start reliving another comic of my childhood.

2 thoughts on “The Lion in the Seventies – Part 3

  1. Stitch In time was drawn by Jose Munoz. He fled Argentina in the early seventies, worked for a while in the Solano Lopez studio, then worked directly for Lion drawing Stitch In Time, Treasure Hunt Twins, Lost In Limbo Land and Sark The Sleeper before teaming up with writer Carlos Sampayo on Alack Sinner and other series.

    I have a complete run of Valiant on DVD and have read the first few issues of Valiant And Lion; it was even worse than the later years of Lion, the people in charge clearly having no idea what they were doing.

  2. Interesting, but unsurprising that a newlly available artist should be used on so many unsuccessful successive series. I really was not impressed bythe artwork in Lion in the Seventies at all. Indeed, something went out of the comic in the late Sixties, and I’m not merely being fanciful in lacing it around the time it tookover Eagle. The magic had certainly gone and unfortunately I was relieved to reach the end.

    I have a 1962-68 Valiant DVD to wjhich I’ll come in due course: if the Valiant and Lion was worse than the Seventies Lion, I’m glad I didn’t spring for the full one! I’m currently reminding myself of what it was like to read TV Century 21, and will be posting my first musings in a couple of weeks.

    Thank you very much for your comments David, especially in detailing artists. If you want to stick around for TV21, I’d be delighted.

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