I’m returning to Valiant‘s first and longer-lasting companion paper, Hurricane, giving the comic a fresh look on the basis of acquiring a DVD of the complete run, Steve Holland’s excellent Hurricane and Champion Index, not to mention the extra perspective derived from a year of reading other comics of the era since I began this series.
According to Holland, just as Valiant had been a response to DC Thomson’s Victor, Hurricane was a response to the same publisher’s look-a-like, Hornet. Hurricane made it’s debut on 29 February 1964 with a breezy confidence justified by the strength of its debut line-up. By the time of its demise, 62 issues later, on 8 May 1965, it was on its fourth and least successful phase, a third revamp.
Hurricane billed itself as an attempt to provide something a little different to Fleetway’s other comics, with only one sports strip (Tiger was full of them) and only one comic strip (Lion overflowed with them). It had three excellent series in ‘A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’, ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’, and two strong characters who would go on to outlive the title. These were Typhoon Tracey, a more genial and easy-going civilian equivalent of Captain Hurricane, and Skid Solo, an aspiring racing car driver.
Tracey was Hurricane‘s flagship character, a big, blond, burly bloke who loved a good punch-up, but who lacked the underlying tone of nastiness that, let’s be frank, runs through Captain Hurricane like ‘Blackpool’ through seaside rock. He was the same kind of semi-cartoon character, treated to round, quasi-cartoon art. Solo, whose given name was actually Edward, though his Aunt Mabel only called him that in issue 2, was a serious strip, with appropriately realistic art that I enjoyed more then than now. It’s not bad in any sense, but it’s not great.
And as far as I’m concerned, ‘A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’, ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’ are. It was for the first two of these that I bought the original DVD, the latter being a glorious bonus.
Let’s have a rundown of Hurricane‘s opening line up. After a full colour cover we had Typhoon Tracey (4½pp); Skid Solo (3pp); Epics of Sport (1p); Two Fists Against the World (2pp), A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (2pp); Sword for Hire (5pp); Rod the Mod and his old pal, Percy Vere (1p); The Worst Boy in the School (2pp); HMS Outcast (3pp) and He Rides Alone (4pp). The back page featured the true-life story of the RAF pilot who was to pilot the Government’s much-bruited TSR2 fighter, a model of which was given away in Hurricane‘s first issue, but which was scrapped by the Labour government voted in later that year.
Hurricane‘s editorial spoke of the comic being bright and breezy, and indeed it was. It was 32 pages in length, for the first six issues, and no less than three of its features ran to four pages or more, giving the stories space to breathe, and offer deeper experiences. And it was a strong line-up, one of the best, if not the best I’ve come across in the past year or so.
One thing I was surprised to learn courtesy of Steve Holland was how great the Italian influence on Hurricane. Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Carlos Roume, Lino Landolfi, Renato Polese, Giovanni Ticci and Georgio Trevisan: these were the artists who drew the series that ran through those first issues of the comic, with the exception of the only English artist, Geoffrey Whittam, who drew The Worst Boy in the School. And with an irony that’s unavoidable, provided the worst art in the comic.
At this stage, only two series offered complete stories each week, Typhoon Tracey and Drago, the star of the western, He Rides Alone, although after a four part sequence, Captain Hugo Dinwiddie of Sword for Hire joined them. Skid Solo’s something of an anomaly: each week is a different story, but it’s all part of a globe-trotting tour set up over a semi-serialised first couple of episodes.
Actually, Tracey’s series reads better on second acquaintance. It’s as formulaic as Captain Hurricane, but the art is brighter, the settings less serious and the absence of rage makes it much more fun. And Skid Solo is much more entertaining now I have the full range of Lion and Valiant to compare it to, not to mention the realisation of how rare a first person narration was in the Sixties.
The Worst Boy in School, featuring the no-other-name Duffy, has not gone up in my estimation. It’s another formulaic story: misfit boy causes havoc at boarding school but gets away with his escapades, despite a secret enemy trying to provoke his expulsion. In this instance, what’s at stake is the circus Duffy will inherit if he survives his education, and of course it’s his circus background that’s the problem. It’s sole merit is that it’s still not Cornelius Dimworthy, but why did it have to be this disposable schtumer that didn’t get Italian art?
In complete contrast, Jim Trim’s adventures in the bare-knuckle fighting game of Regency England are brightly portrayed, and there’s a well-measured sense of time and place to the dialogue. Indeed, every series shows a far higher level of attention to dialogue, which marks out He Rides Alone especially, which places much more emphasis on atmosphere than on the mere functionality of plot.
On the other hand, the best you can say about Rod the Mod is that it doesn’t touch the depths of either Lion or Valiant‘s unending catalogue of crappy comedies. Rod was no Mod, just this guy who, each week, bought some new, with-it or trendy thing or gadget, expecting to impress the girl next door with it. And each week, it would backfire in some slapstick way. Half the time, she’d end up going out with Percy Vere, which was odd in that he was only about three feet tall
But the big three are still shining examples for me of how good comics’ serials aimed at 7 to 12 year old boys (I was 8 at the time) could be. HMS Outcast was the big surprise, the one I didn’t remember, with its ramshackle Navy destroyer, fit only for the scrapyard, its crew of misfits and its big-jawed, enthusiastic Commander, Lt. Wildeblood, discovering a streak of invention to go with his sense of independence resulting in a gloriously inventive series of misadventures on the high seas, as Outcast bumbled its way through one unlikely victory after another.
Sword for Hire, like Two Fists and He Rides Alone, sets itself firmly in its chosen era, here Roundhead London, with its attitudes and expressions, and in the happy-go-lucky Dinwiddie, an Errol Flynn type swashbuckling hero who’s only real skill is with the sword, goes long on the derring-do with a healthy dose of comedy and the best art of the bunch: fine, detailed, accurate but also dynamic: Giovanni Ticci’s eye for detail never overwhelms the central image nor distracts the eye from the action, but it is beautifully balanced.
And my beloved ‘Connecticut Yankee’, the briefest memory of which (plus a little nudging from David Simpson for which I am very grateful) sent me down this route, it hums with energy and some of the finest ligne clare cartooning of the era, making Twain’s mean-spirited story into a joyful, buoyant, fine account. The sparkle in both writing and art led me to purchase a hardback collection of the series – in the original Italian, which I don’t read – about which I’ll speak more when we get to the end of the run in Hurricane.
This is fun!
And Hurricane, from issue 6 onwards, distinguished itself with a panoramic colour cover painting, a widescreen shot of multi-character (primarily) battle scenes that no other comic boasted. True, the colour could be badly off-register, and the natural Occidental left-to-right orientation meant that the picture ‘started’ on the back page, with its rightmost prominent elements being the first thing you saw, but it was a distinctive feature and I remember it well.
Having cleared up the German fleet in the Caribbean in issue , HMS Outcast was despatched to the Pacific to be kept out of the way of another disbelieving Admiral, only to bump into the Japanese whilst off course. The first Duffy story ended in issue 13 (23 May). Now Duffy and his pals formed a pop band. Meanwhile, the art got worse. Two issues later, Skid Solo returned from his round he world racing and took up a job with the Papyrus racing team for the duration.
But all of this was merely the first of four parts of the story. Despite its qualities, Hurricane hadn’t captured the audience Fleetway wanted for it so, like Valiant in its early days, a revamp was drawn up, with four new stories in issue 19 (4 July) and three to be ditched. Sadly, these were Two Fists, He Rides Alone and, saddest of all, A Connecticut Yankee.
He Rides Alone could have stopped at any point, but the other two were serials, and it was obvious that their termination was abrupt. Two Fists had developed along a series of what is now called arcs: Jim Trim framed for murder, pressed into the Navy, fearing his manager Toby was a highwayman. This last arc was cleared up in issue 18, with the last panel cut down to slip in a narrative box confirming that some months later Jim became champion of England.
Even in 1964, there seemed to be something overly abrupt about the end of A Connecticut Yankee, with Hank Morgan’s tale, its telling to an English retainer interspersed with his adventures in Arthurian times, suddenly abandoned to another last second box telling how he woke up and was back in Connecticut. One of the things I most wanted to see from my Italian compilation was how many more episodes there had been, but to my surprise that was where and how it ended anyway.
But this was Landolfi’s second version of the novel. The collection contains an earlier version, a little more roundly drawn, told as an ongoing story. The thirty six primarily four tier pages of the Hurricane version were covered in thirty three-tier pages in the first version… which went on for ten additional pages, mostly constituting a joust between Hank and Sir Sagamore (with Hank on the equivalent of a scooter), during which Hank makes the bullet hole in Sir Sag’s armour that led him to start telling the retainer the story in the first place.
During these extra pages, Hank sustains the blow on the head that causes him to wake up in his own time, separated from the girl he loves, Sandy, but in a gently sentimental ending, after his story is told, Hank meets the retainer’s daughter, who is the double of Sandy.
Why Connecticut Yankee was terminated so swiftly, and the story left incomplete, I don’t know, unless it’s covered by the book’s (Italian) introduction. I like the ending, and I’m happy to absolve Hurricane for its too-brief truncation.
I doubt I would have wanted to say something like, “Awww!” aged 8.
So what was Hurricane mark 2 like? It’s easy to look back now and say that the revamp was a sign the comic was doomed, but whilst hindsight is infallible, the augurs were depressing. The new Hurricane was an object lesson in doing it cheaper. Two of the new features were new, but the other two were reprints.
The revamp introducd a cover feature in ‘“Hurry” of the Hammers’, full colour on front and back, but “Hurry”’s real name was Roy Race, as in Roy of the Rovers, from Tiger. I remembered “Hurry” from back then, when I loved it, but at eight I never met a football series I didn’t like. Now it’s merely interesting as the beginning of a phenomenon, not that it showed any sign of what it might develop into, even with Joe Colquhoun art.
The Black Avenger (3 pages) was a like-for-like replacement for He Rides Alone, a lone-gunman Western long on cliché, a reprint from Sun where it ran as Billy the Kid. Johnny Bishop grows up a top-notch gunhand but grows sick of having to be a gunfighter and settles down to ranch, gun-free, near the prairie town of Gunshot. But, once a week, bad guys come along so Johnny has to dress up as The Black Avenger and save the day. It completely lacked Drago’s individuality and subtlety, or any individuality actually.
The Juggernaut from Planet Z (2 pages) had the advantage of being new, but squandered it by being pure crap from start to finish. A giant, glowing sphere crash-lands in Britain, north of the Lake District and disgorges a fifty-foot tall cliché robot which immediately starts walking in a direct line towards London, heedless of what’s in its path, except when it heeds them. Two scientists assist the military in weeks upon weeks of trying to stop it in its tracks but every effort fails. Ultimately, it reaches Westminster, raises a ginormous fist and promptly explains it’s from Planet Z and is looking for help from Earth against a menace affecting the home planet, which is not only a complete let-down but begs the question that if Planet Z were clever enough to send a robot that could home in on London like that, why weren’t they clever enough to set it down in, say, Hertfordshire? It could have saved us nine weeks of going through artists like water for a start.
However, Paratrooper (4 pages), drawn by Drago’s Renato Polese, was a success that lasted to the end of Hurricane and beyond. Each week, Sergeant Rock (no, not that one) would relate a tale of a Second World War Paratrooper and his experiences. The series strength was the humanity of the stories. Each subject was a real person, complex, individual, facing one or other of the many aspects of War. Rock, a big, blonde-haired guy, was an able host, positive, serious and unstinting in his admiration for men who, in many different ways, proved themselves to be heroes.
So, one and a half hits out of four, and still a decent and settled line-up overall, even after Sword for Hire lost a page to accommodate The Black Avenger going up to four. On a purely personal note, I was seriously disappointed by a Skid Solo story that depicted him as having some very seriously misogynistic attitudes, although to be fair, a few weeks later, he was complimentary about a female co-driver despite her being, well, a girl. Yes, I know, eight year old boys. That doesn’t change my distaste for it now.
Mark 2 Hurricane only lasted twelve issues.
The comic compounded the error of its first revamp by ditching both Sword for Hire and HMS Outcast, and even though Duffy went at the same time, the blow was irreparable. Planet Z remained, the action switched to the planet itself and the series retitled Peril on Planet Z. It was thankfully short but actually managed to be even worse. Typhoon Tracey was reduced to two pages, assigned a new artist and turned into a serial in which form it rapidly became silly and stupid, “Hurry” moved to the centrespread and reduced to black and white. Sergeant Rock continued to present war stories, but gradually became the star of his own tales, which rapidly turned him into another boring soldier-superman, and Skid Solo dropped the first person narration.
Four new series arrived over the next five weeks, only one of them palatable. When the Lights Went Out was a Fifties-style disaster novel: one day, all the electricity in the world just conks out, sending mankind back to a quasi-savage state. Philip Masterson, ex-Army Captain turned hermit after being cashiered over a superior’s mistake, undergoes many adventures before building Britain back up again and ultimately being crowned King Philip I of a United Europe. But there’s a heavily racist side to the story, with a Bandit Arab chief from a Saharan statelet sweeping all of Europe before him before being killed by Philip. Nasty stuff.
Rob O’the Wood, supposedly Robin Hood’s son with all the same Merry Men around (hey, you do know Robin Hood’s out of copyright, don’t you?) upped the reprint quotient with pretty dire material, dull as ditchwater and archaic to boot. The art, resized from Knockout Picture Library, changed practically every week and the reproduction was often shockingly poor.
In contrast, The Phantom of Cursitor’s Marsh was an atmospheric serial set in Georgian times: the Phantom was a seemingly spooky character plaguing a corrupt and rotten Newgate Judge who was ultimately revealed to be working for both revenge and justice using the pre-discovery of electricity. Long on atmosphere with art from Mike Hubbard tending towards the impressionistic, which is a nicer way of saying rough, this was the one qualified success of Mark 3.
This was not a reprint, but it was a comics adaptation of a text story first published in 1931.
The last new strip was the return of the one-page, one-gag cartoon strip, with the highly-stylised Sir Hector the Spectre… and his chum Duke Dim. This was actually worse than Rod the Odd Mod, with it’s cash-strapped Duke deciding to open his home to coach-parties arousing the opposition of one of his ghostly ancestor.
Add to this the fact that what little appeal The Black Avenger had ever mustered dissipated entirely as the art grew smaller and more cramped and the stories more predictable, and the Mark 3 Hurricane, which had marginally the longest run at 19 issues, left the comic practically unreadable.
The last phase was little better than spinning things out until the inevitable cancellation. When the Lights Went Out got out two issues short of the last revamp, giving way to Carlos of the Wild Horses, set in 16th Century Mexico: the eponymous Carlos is the eight-year old son of the Spanish Governor whose mare runs off with him to join a band of wild horses. This featured some beautiful, detailed art by Carlos Roume, though the story was dull and lifeless.
Two weeks later, the Phantom revealed his identity as the only other regular character in the story and Sir Hector rattled his last chain, to be replaced by two like-for-likes that I actually remembered. Birk’n’Ed, the Mersey Deadbeats was a one page cartoon about a pair of scouse layabouts trying to find a job they can skive at: I’ll bet Hurricane sales just shot up on Merseyside. The Phantom was replaced by The Shadow (again, not that one), same era, just updated to the Regency. Though it’s once again nothing more than a Scarlet Pimpernel knock-off – foppish fool Basil Blythe is secretly the Shadow, feared underground fighter for Justice – it’s vigorously atmospheric art made it a more enjoyable feature whilst never producing anything original.
But by now, Hurricane was firmly on the skids. There were more attempts to halt the slide. Rob o’the Wood inflicted himself on us for the last time in issue 56, his four pages split equally between two 1952 Lion reprints, Brett Marlowe, Detective and Danger Island, the latter originally printed as The Naval Castaways. Two issues after that saw the arrival of Danny Jones and his Time Clock, resurrected from Tiger where he’d last appeared two months previously. Danny got four episodes (and three different artists), which was insufficient to impress either way. I make note, however, of the two-part story set in the hidden city of Tanalorn (sic), ruled by Rackhir, an archer: Michael Moorcock fans will understand.
For the last couple of issues, Typhoon Tracey got a couple of complete five pagers by his original artist and there was even a leftover Rod the Mod from before the first revamp, but issue 63 announced that Hurricane would merge with Tiger to create a combined paper of 40 pages for only 1d more. Apparently Valiant didn’t need a pick-me-up whereas Tiger – still in tabloid format and always more of a sports comic – needed the boost, and was reformatted to match both Lion and Valiant as part of the merger.
Typhoon Tracey and Skid Solo would go on, as would Sergeant Rock, although the final episode of Paratrooper saw the good Sergeant being recruited for the Special Air Service, in which form the strip continued in its new home. I seem to remember reading that, though I don’t remember ever getting Tiger, but apparently it didn’t last long in its new home or form. There was no place for Hurry of the Hammers and why should there be? He was only ever a disguised reprint of Roy of the Rovers and given that the real thing was running in new adventures in Tiger, who needed him?
Hurricane flopped. It lasted fifteen months and after that initial, strong line-up, each of the increasingly desperate reboots made the comic progressively worse, duller and cheaper, with its growing reliance on Fifties reprints to help it limp along. But what was good was superb.