We pick up again with issue 163, cover date 13 November 1965. Between the last part and this, a little boy in East Manchester had his tenth birthday. As I’ve had cause to say before, I didn’t get Valiant in the Sixties. It wasn’t one of my comics, but at least one of my friends read it, so I was familiar with it. But for how much longer? I was now in Junior Four, the highest class in my local Primary School, looking down the barrel of Eleven-Plus Exams. A year from now, I would barely see any of my old school-mates. Thirteen months, and I would move away, and never swap for the Valiant again.
Brrr, morbid. Let’s have our usual reminder of what reading Valiant entailed as we start Part 3.
The comic is still 40 pages for 7d. The only colour is on the cover, still devoted to It Happened This Week… Inside, Captain Hurricane offers WW2 comedy adventure at 4½pp, Master-Mind, a supposed cartoon strip (1p), Kelly’s Eye, still protected by the Eye of Zoltec (2pp), Crime-Busters, true life crook-catching (1p), Legge’s Eleven, a funny football strip (2½pp), The Nutts, another supposed cartoon strip (1p), The Astounding Jason Hyde, a prose serial about a scientist with x-ray vision (3pp), Jackaroo Joe, a new strip about an Aussie who’d inherited a lairdship (2pp), The Steel Claw, an invisible secret agent (2pp), 2pp of letters and a half page What Do You Know?, Sporting Roundabout (1p), Mytek the Mighty, a giant robot gorilla menacing the world (2½pp), Billy Bunter, who needs no introduction (2pp), The Space Explorers, third and final part of a reprinted US SF short (2pp), The Wild Wonders, a comic series about two kid sportsmen (3pp), Sporty, a one page atrocity, Jack O’Justice, highwayman turned thief-taker (2pp), Gabby McGlew (1½p), plus The Crows (½p), two supposed cartoon strips, and lastly but far from leastly, on the back page, the Belgian comic strip It’s a Dog’s Life (originally Boule et Bill).
One week later, Mytek the Mighty was at last laid low, and Gogra captured. Time was up for the giant gorilla robot. Or was it? A new maybe-EC reprint story started, but I’m not going to record all the titles, just the existence of the series.
Of course Mytek was not finished, but the series changed course. Gogra escaped, planning to work on his super-robot that would outclass the giant gorilla, who was supposed to be dismantled. But Mytek’s batteries got recharged and his own developing brain set him off independently, deflected towards Gogra as his enemy.
Legge’s Eleven’s current story was an object lesson in the flaws of such a series. Having built up the team, and won Fourth Division promotion, Rockley get taken over by a certifiable nutter, Colonel Bagshott, who appoints himself trainer and starts running things like an Army instead of a football team. It’s cheap, it’s stupid, it’s repetitious and it’s so far beyond credible that it’s a waste of paper. It’s almost a rule for any artistic venture that centres upon a sport that the sporting exploits rapidly become extraneous and are replaced by increasingly mad stories about crooks and exploiters instead.
To general surprise, Jackaroo Joe’s mysterious enemy was revealed in issue 171 (8 January 1966) to be his identical distant cousin Craig, next heir, determined to get his hands on the Scottish estate. The reason for this was still a mystery, just to keep interest up, not that it had ever left the ground in the first place.
The next issue saw Valiant expand to an unprecedented 44 pages, at no extra cost, but all the extra pages were only an advert for the Valiant picture library.
There was a touching moment in Jack O’Justice in issue 174 (29 January) when, in order to bait a trap for new villain, The Hawk, Jack persuades Moll, despite her tomboy ways, to dress up as a French princess, and is somewhat taken aback when his brave girl companion turns out to be a knockout. Unfortunately, whilst Moll may have looked a doll, her long dress, primped wig and discernible bosom locked her out of the action until the next story.
There were three weeks of 44 page issues starting with no 177 (19 February) to accommodate four page plugs for the new comic, Champion. Unfortunately, if you’ve read my series on the Lion, you know how that turned out.
When it came to issue 187 (30 April), there was a partial revamp, Lion-style, with most of the existing series starting new stories and four new features in a jump to 44 pages, plus free gifts. Crime-Busters, after a long run, was replaced by Operation ‘Rescue’, a true-life series featuring daring rescues. The Last Boys in the World was a new series about three schoolboys who, by being underground, retrieving a cap thrown down a grating by a bully, emerge to find the entire population of the world vanished. Sports Roundabout’s artist was on temporary assignment to draw the Valiant Book of Football, a series of four page instalments building up into a 32 page booklet in anticipation of the forthcoming World Cup in England. The worthless SF reprints were replaced by Danger-Hunter, former Paratrooper Simon ‘Glory’ Boyes, a professional trouble-shooter, who gave off the vivid sense of being a Rory MacDuff rip-off. Even the art was like a rougher Reg Bunn. And it looked like The Crows had finally got the bird, to be replaced by Tatty-Mane, a comic series about a Lion. Don’t get your hopes up: we had both of them the next week, but that was two weeks without Sporty. Maybe…
As for the continuing stories, Jackaroo Joe finally took up his inheritance in Scotland, having accidentally killed off cousin Craig the previous week whilst learning that the rotter had half a map to treasure in the Bahamas, the other bit of which was at Glenawe. Then it was off to the Bahamas. Frankly, expatriate Aussie boys might have enjoyed this but overall the series rivalled Legge’s Eleven for tediousness.
To go back to the Book of Football supplement, there was a delightful irony in a small feature pointing out that no team wearing red shirts had ever won the World Cup, and pointing to Russia, Chile, Hungary, Spain and Switzerland as red teams. Maybe this might be the year for the Reds? And what colour were England’s change shirts in the Final?
Once the free gift cover passed, a new cover series began, It Could Happen, micro-features about how modern-day inventions might be developed in an SF future. In its second week it forecast undersea glass boat tours of the ocean bed… by the year 2000. I think not.
The same week’s instalment of Danger-Hunter had a telling slip. Simon Boyes is supposed to be an ex-Paratrooper, but one caption describes him as ‘The Stuntsman’. That was MacDuff’s profession when he wasn’t advertising himself out to dangerous jobs. And when I started to look closer at the lettering, it was easy to tell that the letter GL were in a thinner style than the ORY, as if space were tight. Once one such lettering change was recognised, they started to come thick and fast. I didn’t recognise the story, but its original provenance was obvious.
Sadly, like the vorwulka that cannot be confined to its grave, Sporty was back in issue 192 (4 June), as unliving as ever.
Jack O’Justice’s latest adventure, against a villain named Doom who was kidnapping appropriate people to become living chessmen, ended in issue 194 (18 June) with Moll Moonlight is a skin-tight, head-to-toe black costume. It was an unexpected piece of titillation to crown the series’ last episode, ‘a rest from the perils of the highway’. It’s replacement was to be a bit of a surprise. Enter… Jack Justice.
Yes, the decision was taken to jump the series into the Sixties, replacing Jack with Jack, his three greats grandson by his wife Moll O’Justice (that all-black skin-tight costume clearly put ideas into three greats grandad’s… head). Young Jack came complete with his own daring girl companion, Diana Dauntless. No doubt it was perversity on the writer’s part to make Jack and Diana’s first opponent a Phantom Highwayman.
‘Glory’ Boyes started a new adventure in issue 199 (23 July), with the same, familiar, early Reg Bunn art, but none of the blatantly obvious relettering, nor was the opening episode at all familiar. Then again, my Lion DVDs were not complete. The same issue saw ‘Gabby’ McGlew off the paper: a substantial relief, but of course not permanent.
Valiant reached its 200th issue on 30 July 1966, the date of the World Cup Final at Wembley. Like Lion, there was build-up but no reference to England’s successful outcome, presumably down to printing deadlines that would have made celebrations old news by the time they could appear in print.
Legge’s Eleven returned to England and took up their position in the Second Division, The Steel Claw defeated the Magician, Jack and Diana defeated the Phantom Highwayman and moved on to the Birdman and The Last Boys in the World continued its meaningless way, with the kids and Mr Boyce unable to get on any form of transport without another disaster occurring within five panels and forcing them to abandon it. The series was going nowhere, literally. For the moment, Valiant had plateaued: decent each week, but lacking in peaks or troughs, or anything new.
The It Could Happen front page feature continued to give amusement at its enthusiastic predictions, the latest of which (issue 208, 24 September) was both funny and disheartening. Referring to the expectation of a Moon landing by 1970, it went on to evoke the year 2000 again, claiming that trips to our neighbour would be commonplace, and Moon tours an exciting feature. As always, future predictions are a mug’s game: who would have ever believed though that in that year, it would have been a quarter century since we had last walked on the Moon.
But one change at least was at hand. Jackaroo Joe reached the end of his Bahamian adventure in issue 209 (1 October) and took himself and his kangaroo back to Australia, forgetting conveniently that he was a Scottish laird with a welcome in the Highlands. Change was welcome, and it took the form of another classic Sixties series, The House of Dolmann.
Dolmann was a brilliant inventor and ventriloquist, an agent of International Security who lived as a shabby puppet-shop owner in a London back-street, and built highly-talented puppets/robots to carry out missions in four page complete stories. Dolmann was drawn by Eric Bradbury, who’d been drawing Mytek the Mighty up to now.
Mytek’s new artist was engaged on a story that saw Gogra back, trying to cannibalise the giant ape robot for his new nefarious plans for world conquest. Tom Kerr was drawing Diana Dauntless with a more than perceptible bosom – in a boy’s comic! – and the Wild Wonders’ latest adventure was taking place in an African kingdom with plenty of opportunity for dodgy caricature.
There was a degree of accuracy to It Could Happen on the cover of issue 216 (19 November) which extrapolated from motorway cameras to the surveillance society, eyes on every corner. Typically, the feature saw this as a good thing, with squads of highly mobile Police swooping to stop crime even as it was committed. Well, they got it half right. A quarter right, maybe. Predicting the future is a mug’s game.
Tim Kelly’s latest adventure was an amusing pre-echo of Eagle‘s The Guinea Pig, with the holder of the Eye of Zoltec testing the experimental creations of Dr Diamond, a brilliant scientist with a complete lack of concern for other human beings, whilst Legge’s Eleven’s Second Division series was a copy of their Third Division tale: eccentric trainer forces new and idiotic ideas on team who succeed by subverting them only for eccentric to claim, and be given, credit for success.
I don’t find Jack Justice as impressive as his illustrious forebear, though Tom Kerr’s art is superb, week-in, week-out. The modern setting isn’t as interesting and I confess to being unimpressed at junior Jack’s insistence on wearing a spotted cravat at his throat, in the manner of how Bruce Wayne was depicted back then. It’s smug, and suggests autocracy. Nor is Diana as much of an equal as was Moll Moonlight, having no observable skills but bravery.
Then it was 1967, and Dollman had had enough time to make an impression on me, and that impression is dull. The problem is that the story is told in complete, three or four-page episodes, or the occasional two-parter. The stories are always the same, there are no setbacks that aren’t overcome instantly, the solution is always the same, and Dollman himself has no personality. Such personality as there is isall invested in the puppets, whose voices are provided by Dolmann’s ventriloquism.
As if aware of this, the series started the new year with a three parter, but it made no great difference.
For once, It Could Happen got it spot on in issue 226 (28 January), forecasting airbags in cars to save lives in the event of accidents.
I don’t usually comment on the adverts in the Sixties comics I’m re-reading, though they are a frequently fascinating reminder of things past and missed, such as old games, and toys, and fruit-flavour Spangles (fetch me a time machine, will you?) but February 1967 saw Valiant start to run the A.N.G.L.O. Ace commercials, for Anglo’s Tip Top bubble gum. And I only want to mention these for one point that still puzzles me.
It was Eagle who started the idea of making adverts in comics form, and of offering the services of its artists. The practice continued in the Sixties, but in comics like Valiant and Lion, with great, good and even passable artists on display, why did Anglo – to offer one extreme case – choose such an awful artist to draw for them? With the exception of Tom Kerr’s run on the Clark’s Commandos series, I cannot think of a drawn advert worth appearing alongside the series it accompanied. Instead, they stick out so awfully that I would have thought the effort counter-productive. A.N.G.L.O. Ace was abominable, and I’d have been ashamed to chew the bubblegum (not that anyone was letting me do so back then).
Back to the strips. The Steel Claw was struck a mortal(ly stupid) blow in issue 231 (4 March) when the Shadow Squad stuck him in a superhero costume (they hadn’t brought Jerry Siegel in to write, had they?)
The real disaster, for me, was issue 239 (29 April), for this was the last of It’s A Dog’s Life. I had had just over three years worth of the series, 159 issues, so I shouldn’t grumble, but it had been my favourite part of Valiant, and I sorely missed it.
Pete and Larry’s replacement in issue 241 (13 May) was Sam Sunn, the strongest boy in the world. One look was enough to identify this as a local product and, in keeping with the likes of The Nutts, The Crows and Tatty-Mane, devoid of all humour. It might amuse a four year old, if they’d never seen a cartoon strip before, that is.
One issue later, The Last Boys in the World came to its long overdue ending, with a reboot back to the beginning that was only one SF step up from ‘…and he woke up and it was all a dream.’ It had taken 56 weeks to go nowhere, and demonstrated a point common to both Valiant and Lion, that the strips that relied for their stories from situations were inevitably inferior to those that derived from continuing characters. By that token, its successor, Lords of Lilliput Island, did not auger well.
Once again, change was in the air. It Could Happen was replaced on the cover by They All Laughed, But…, a series on inventions pooh-poohed at the time that because established, starting with the Wright Brothers and the invention of flight. Lilliput Island was the island of Mayo (refuse obvious joke), a Falklands-style British possession in the South Atlantic where a plane carrying atomic waste crashed into the lake that supplied its drinking water. Anyone who drank the contaminated water shrank to a few inches in height. The only ones who didn’t were a bunch of schoolchildren. There was an obvious clash of leaders between Clive Driscoll, the good boy and Tug Wilson the bad boy, who saw the opportunity to do whatever he wanted now the grown-ups seriously needed to grow up.
But not only The Last Boys made way, for Jack Justice was also gone. It had never lived up to its forebear, but it had still been a decent series, and there was now no Tom Kerr art to enjoy every week. Jack and Diana were replaced in issue 244 (3 June) by The Laird of Lazy Q. I suppose enough time had passed since the Duke of Dry Gulch for us to be bored by another fish-out-of-water Western, this time with a stereotype Scottish Highlander, Duncan McGregor, inheriting a spread in Kansas.
Sam Sunn went only three weeks before being replaced on the back page by a colour ad for Dinky Toys but I somehow suspected we hadn’t seen the last of the little pest. And I was right.
All this time, Captain Hurricane was being Captain Hurricane week-in, week-out, always in a different theatre of the War and a different period. Consistency was not the watchword here but after several strips of the big Marine hastening the Allied advance across Europe leading towards VE-Day, it was nevertheless a bit much to have him pushing the Japanese back across Burma at the same time (issue 245, 10 June).
Legge’s Eleven were off on another of their ridiculous inter-season stories, having been invited to America by a tribe of smugly caricaturised Red Indians – it’s the Sixties, repeat after me, it’s the Sixties – hoping to learn football and beat the white man at his own game.
Tim Kelly had segued into another adventure at the hands of Dr Diamond, with the self-centred little bastard inveigling the possessor of the Eye of Zoltec into his Time Clock and straight to the Stone Age, with the determined intent to roam time and solve fascinating mysteries. Here I part company with the noble Mr Kelly: given that the Eye enhances his intelligence something rotten, I would have kicked the little bugger so hard up the backside my boot imprint would register on his tongue and leave him in the past. Guess I’d have never made a Valiant scripter, eh?
The big difference between Valiant and Lion is that the former offers no natural cut-off points, so this instalment ends on a round number, issue 250 (15 July 1967). I think it fair to say that, despite its profligacy with unreadable elements, this has been Valiant‘s strongest period to date, an era of a solid line-up of classic characters. It wasn’t perfect: updating Jack O’Justice was a mistake that led to the series terminating and, despite its status, The House of Dolmann has never risen above dull. But overall, the standard is high enough. As we move further towards the end of the Sixties next time, here’s hoping things don’t start to slip.