We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 6

It’s September 1971, the 11th to be precise. Issue 455 of what is now officially entitled Valiant and Smash is published, a British boys weekly comic of 36 pages for 3p, decimalisation having supplanted the old cover price.
The paper’s current cover feature is still Who Is It? Its contents consist of Captain Hurricane (4½pp), The Crows (½p), The Nutts (1p), Janus Stark (2½pp), Wacker (1p), Raven on the Wing (3pp), The Swots and The Blots (2pp), The Return of the Claw (2pp), letters page It’s All Yours (1p), Kelly’s Eye (2pp), The Wild Wonders (3pp), His Sporting Lordship (2pp), The Ghostly Guardian (2½pp), Sporting Roundabout (1p) and Billy Bunter (2pp). Of the original line-up from 1962, only four features remained, though Louis Crandell, after a hiatus, had returned under a new title.
There had been many changes since I last listed a contents, with stalwarts like Mytek and Dollman having been lost along the way. The staleness that had set upon Valiant had been dispelled by the new series, and especially the merger with Smash, though Tim Kelly and Dr Diamond were still flapping around in time and boring the pants off at least one latterday reader, and The Wild Wonders’ madcap antics were also getting a bit long in the tooth.
On the other hand, Raven on the Wing had its repetitive tropes – the gypsy boy’s superstitions – but had to be praised for keeping most of it stories focused on the football, instead of just using it for background to idiot threats.
But the Valiant and Smash era was to be short-lived. For issue 457 (25th September), the comic was back to being just Valiant, but that was for one week only, for the issue contained the announcement that Valiant was taking over none other than TV21, in one of the most bizarre and unlikely death-by-mergers there could be.
The survivors from the once great TV21 numbered only two: The Tuffs of Terror Island, four kids stranded on an island of prehistoric monsters (oh great, that again) and Star Trek, which broke with Valiant’s history by being two pages of colour! Kelly’s Eye finally got back to England only to find Tim and the ‘old faggot’ wanted by the Police. Nothing got left out of Valiant, though after all these years, Captain Hurricane lost his half page.

The following week, Star Trek took over the front and back pages of the comic, which made sense as far as the colour was concerned. The Steel Claw story took a turn for the better when a wounded Louis Crandell found himself reunited with Professor Barringer, the man in whose laboratory Crandell had had his famous accident, and who had believed in the Claw in his megalomaniac phase. It was a welcome good moment in a stupidly fantastical story.
And, like Japanese knotweed, Sporty was back…
Then, to accommodate the latest free gift of soccer stickers, Star Trek was beamed back inside (I’m sorry, that was going to happen once, but I promise not to do it again), giving the distinct impression that nobody had any idea what was going on.
The Nutts had been moved out to the back page but the big surprise was issue 461 (23 October) when they appeared in colour after 460 b&w pages. And this was permanent… for three weeks at any rate.
The set-up with The Nutts was that when the comic had a back page ad, they would sit inside, in black & white, but if the page hadn’t been sold, they would feature there in colour. The strip was no more funny than it had been in 1962, but the colour work was superb, and perfectly in register.
His Sporting Lordship finally won the last championship he needed to bring us relief from this repetitive story in the Xmas issue, no 470 (25 December). It’s New Year replacement was Yellowknife of the Yard, a not-at-all cliched story about um Red Indian Brave who becomes a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector in the most realistic manner, yeah, right. This one didn’t even get to page two before I had its number.
Valiant and TV21 had certainly escaped the staleness I complained of, but the number of pages not worth reading was still increasing. Even Star Trek was dull, with skimpy, bland art in which more effort went to drawing likenesses of the cast than making the tale exciting. Captain Hurricane never varied from its formula, the Steel Claw looked gorgeous each week but was next to unreadable, and Janus Stark the most satisfying feature. Unless you counted Jo Hagan, who seemed to spend her whole life in the tiniest of shorts.
Something went badly wrong with the cover colouring in issue 476 (5 February 1972). It didn’t look so bad on the Who Is It? cover (Marty Feldman, incidentally) but it ruined The Nutts, which looked as if at least one colour level had been left out entirely.
Two issues later, the comic underwent only its second ever increase in price, from 3p to 3½p. This level would not be held for anything like as long.
Yet another Tim Kelly Time Clock story ended in issue 482. Yet another Tim Kelly Time Clock story started in issue 483 (25 March). I assume they go on forever. Two issues later, the latest in the list of supposed comedy strips debuted, Sir Moone Lyte (Knight), which is such a pain to type, I won’t mention it again.
Issue 488 (29 April) saw a change of artist for Janus Stark, eschewing the thick black lines of the original for a scratchier style with increased use of white space which did not seem so well suited to the series, though his regular artist was back two issues later. At the same time, Louis Crandell set himself up to make money out of his Steel Claw, by becoming a paranormal investigator.

The Tuffs of Terror Island, which I never bothered to read but which appeared to be just an excuse for cliffhangers to prevent a story developing, finally got off the island in issue 489 (6 May), making room for Kid Pharaoh. This was Zethi, cursed to inanimation in darkness, sealed in a pyramid for centuries, re-awoken by archaeologist Frank Jennings and introduced to the modern world. The problem was that Zethi conked out every time it got dark. Nevertheless, this actually looked interesting, though it looked obvious that Zethi would run up against a modern reincarnation of his curser, Thotek.
Meanwhile, Louis Crandell, who had now taken to referring to his modified and updated Claw as if it was a separate and sentient entity, gained a sidekick of sorts in Carol Dane, the first serious female character I can remember since Moll Moonlight/Diana Dauntless. On the other hand, there was a serious failure of imagination in having Crandell’s opponent refer to himself as The Stealer.
Tim Kelly’s adventures were now taking place in an alternate dimension he and Dr Diamond called ‘Earth 2’ (yar, boo, sucks, I know where you stole that from!) where Tim found himself press-ganged into being Robin Hood and having it go to his head and wanting to play.
Odd Job Bob appeared in issue 494 (10 June), another comedy strip: see all previous comments. Three issues later, he was joined by Joe’s Transport Cafe, drawn by the familiar Fiddy: see all previous comments (I’m too old for this stuff, seriously).
And though there was nothing out of the ordinary in it, let us pause a moment to record Valiant‘s 500th issue, cover date 22 June, 1972.
I know I moan about the comic strips in Valiant a lot and especially about the zombie that is Sporty, but issue 504 (19 August) took the biscuit, with the last six pages running Sporty, The Nutts, Joe’s Transport Cafe, Odd Job Bob and Billy Bunter, one after another: crazy.
Another issue is that I’ve wondered from time to time whether some of the long-running series were sustaining themselves on reprints. I never read Billy Bunter enough to recognise any story, and the same goes for The Nutts and The Crows, which are essentially repetitive. So too is Captain Hurricane, and in issue 507 (9 September), I am convinced I caught the strip in a reprint, albeit doctored to fit the four page format, and it wasn’t much first time round.
I’ll also confess to a growing sense of unease at the ever-increasing use of racial slurs directed at Raven and his fellow Lengros. Some of it is to be expected, as identifying the bad guys, but the latest story saw overuse by a bunch of lads who were being held out as semi-heroes, to the point where the balance of use felt as if the strip was endorsing the usage.
Yet another comic strip was poured in in issue 508 (16 September), Our ‘Great’ Grandpa, the fourth such in less than six months, though the tide is much more remorseless when you’re reading these in series. And One Man and his Dog, about a tramp, was added in issue 512 (14 October).
Soccer Roundabout continued to enliven nearly every issue, and every now and then an insignificant name might appear. Like in a piece about Bayern Munich being presented with a new mascot donkey for winning the German FA Cup and the Cup-winners Cup. They named it Sepp after their goalkeeper: Sepp Maier.
I mention issue 516 solely because it was cover-dated for my seventeenth birthday. Next issue, the list of helpless cartoons was extended by The Bungle Brothers. Leaving aside my personal prejudice against the unfunny crap, this was starting to smack of desperation, or at least indirection. What was the editor thinking? Was he thinking at all? Obviously not: issue 520 (9 December) Brain Drayne, making the third in the last nine issues. He was gone next issue, marking one of the shortest runs ever, but I doubted we’d seen the last of him: the idiot turned up again in issue 523 (30 December).
At this point, I’m up to issue 531 (24 February 1973). I’d like to take stock of the comic I’m reading. There are still 36 pages each week but, discounting adverts, I am actually only reading 17½ pages. There are a total of 23 pages devoted to serials, and a further 6½ in this issue for comic strips, including Billy Bunter, which I do not and never have read. Indeed, it’s arguable that Yellowknife of the Yard should be counted amongst that tally, but it does belong in serials, and is one of three I am not reading. To complete the tally, there are 5 full pages of ads, plus the letter’s page. The odd half-page, which I do read, is made up of Soccer Roundabout.

So that’s slightly less that half the issue that I scroll over unread. What I do read is the Who is It? cover-feature, Captain Hurricane (though I can’t think why: it is so bloody repetitive), Kid Pharaoh, Janus Stark, Raven on the Wing, The Return of the Claw and The Wild Wonders (which is not only repetitive but beyond far-fetched, but which survives on the sheer energy of Mike Western’s cartooning). Until the most recent story began, I would have included Kelly’s Eye but I have had enough of these increasingly ridiculous time travels. I am also bypassing Star Trek, for art that is so bland it slides off the eye, and characterisation that bears no relationship to the TV version: have you looked at what they have Mr Spock say?
It makes for fast progress through issues, but Valiant‘s Golden Age is long gone.
Just as I’ve said all of that, there was a shock in issue 532 (3 March) when The Nutts went missing and The Bungle Brothers got the back page in colour. But it was only a one-week vacation. And, would you credit it, there was another new cartoon in 534 (17 March) in Tubby, the All-Round Sportsman. Tubby was by Reg Woollet. Yes, that Reg Woollet, of Sporty. Add in The Wild Wonders going into space the same week, and things look even grimmer.
But that clearly wasn’t enough, because issue 537 (7 April) introduced Mickey the Mimic. I’m sorry, but so many new strips jostling for attention is unsustainable. The next issue’s Captain Hurricane was another I recognised as a reprint.
Frankly, Valiant was in need of a change in the drama department, to try to refresh its line-up, most of which had now outlived its appeal, but who at this point would trust any new series to be worthwhile?
There was a subtle change to The Wild Wonders in that suddenly their stories were much shorter. I’d like to know the reason behind the change: editorial direction? A new writer unable to sustain long sagas? None of the other serials had changed.
And it was noticeable now that after that insane welter of desperate cartoons, not only had there been nothing new for several months now, but that everything apart from Tubby and Mickey the Mimic had been dropped.
The Raven on the Wing episode in issue 556 (18 August) contained another of those rare moment between Raven and Jo Hagen. The story has Raven promoting football in Florida, with Jo roped in to be a lines-girl, wearing a bra-top and micro-shorts: our young gypsy’s response? “Cor!” The lad had his eyes open for once. And I spoke too soon about shorter serials, the latest Steel Claw wrapping up after only two episodes.
And I also spoke too soon about the cartoon strips, with another one tried out in issue 559 (8 September), Wally Whale and Willy Winkle: do you need more than the name?
But then there was a change in the line-up, and it was the least palatable one possible, as Louis Crandell, in search of peace and quiet, disappeared for a second and final time, the Steel Claw retiring for good after issue 566 (20 October).
There was no new series for ten issues and then, in issue 576 (5 January 1974), School for Spies debuted, with 12 year old orphan linguistics overachiever Danny Conway transferred to the title school, along with two other orphans, a kung fu expert and a pickpocket. They were not the Steel Claw’s belated replacements, but the successors to Star Trek, the extra two colour pages reverting to black and white. Despite this, the comic remained Valiant and TV21.
There was an oddity, as Valiant dropped to fortnightly publication from issue 577 (12 January) to 580 (23 February), a consequence of the Miner’s Strike and the three-day week. Weekly publication resumed with issue 581 (2 March).
I have to give the paper credit for going off at a radical tangent with Raven on the Wing. The gypsy boy fell for a trickster who conned him out of several thousand pounds, including £600 of the Lengros’ money, purportedly to buy them a permanent site. Raven was even conned into giving up football to become a filmstar, which was where everything blew up in his face. Highboro’ wouldn’t take him back, no First Division club would have him because he was unreliable, so Raven ended up at bottom Fourth Division club, Wigford Town, where he became player-manager, aiming to build the struggling club up so he could pay his debts. No Highboro’, no Baldy Hagan, no Jo Hagen (booo!), a complete change of scene. It was a fascinating rethinking of the series, and an approach many other things could have benefited from.

Issue 588 (20 April) was the last to bear the official masthead of Valiant and TV21, though the latter had been redundant for ages. The comic returned to its solo status until issue 593 (25 May), when the merger with Lion that we’ve already seen from the other side took place. This meant change, drastic change.
Valiant‘s survivors were Captain Hurricane, yoked (at least to begin with, whilst reader reaction was gauged) to Lion‘s Steel Commando, Kid Pharaoh, taking on a crippled kid as his second, Billy Bunter, and The Nutts. Apart from the Steel Commando, the transferees from Lion were Adam Eterno (which I still disliked), Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan (which I thought I’d gotten away from forever), and Mowser the Priceless Puss.
The new features were Challenge Charlie, a cartoon strip based on reader challenges, The Lincoln Green Mob, four kids with names from Robin Hood who discover a mysterious horn that freezes people, Valley of the Giants, about a lost Brazilian valley with extinct animals and dinosaurs, Trail to Nowhere…, pairing trapper Colorado Jones on a mysterious quest and spoilt brat Army colonel’s son Simon Grant, and Danny Doom, a 13th century boy sorceror transported to modern times.
This spelt finis for Kelly’s Eye, Janus Stark, Yellowknife, The Wild Wonders, School for Spies, The Crows and, the biggest loss of all, Raven on the Wing. Not one of the new series looked like they could hold a candle to the longstanding but now lost series (I obviously exclude Yellowknife and The Crows from that comparison.
A week later, the new cover feature, The Rivals, took over, comparing the Spitfire to the Messerschmitt 109 first off.
I’ll be looking at the new comic more closely in the next part but I’d like to record that the Captain Hurricane/Steel Commando merger immediately made the feature unreadable. Early impressions were distinctly unfavourable, especially on Valley of the Giants in which the non-white dago was cowardly, self-centred, vicious, stupid and out to kill and cheat the white men, just as any racist writer might have devised. And the combined comic had shrunk to 32 pages as well as gone up to 4p. Also, at least one of the Zip Nolan’s was another reprint.
The Captain Hurricane/Steel Commando mash-up only lasted four weeks before the big marine and his pint-sized batman were back to their solo formula, and in reprint. The Commando and his buddy, Ernie Bates, simply vanished, just like Battler Britain all those years and issues ago.
This chapter ends with issue 600 (10 August), and so did Valley of the Giants, which wasn’t worth eight weeks worth of paper. In the next instalment, I’ll look at the new Valiant and Lion in more depth. Don’t wait up.


We who would Valiant Read – Part 5

So far, we’ve travelled six and a half years and 350 issues from Valiant‘s debut in 1962. Issue 351 is cover-dated 21 June 1967. Only six months remain of the Sixties. There are still five series that appeared in issue 1. Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ was the UK no. 1 single. I was coming to the end of my third year in Grammar School.
Valiant had now dropped to 36 pages for 7d. The only colour is on the cover, continuing Is It True? The contents consist of Captain Hurricane (4½pp), The Nutts (1p), Kelly’s Eye (2pp), Sexton Blake (2pp), letters page It’s All Yours (1p), The Crows (½p), Raven on the Wing (3pp), Sporty (1p), The Steel Claw (2pp), The Secret Champion (1½pp), The House of Dolmann (3pp), ‘Gabby’ McGlew, His Yarns aren’t True (1p), Billy Bunter (2pp), Mytek the Mighty (2pp), The Wild Wonders (3pp), Sporting Roundabout (½p), The Shrinker’s Revenge (2pp) and Bluebottle and Basher (1p).
But by now Valiant was feeling very stale. Tim Kelly had been trailing around behind Dr Diamond in time, and The Steel Claw trying to clear his name for well over a year each, with no sign of either story coming to an end. Even The Wild Wonders had been facing the same menace for months on end, coming to cliffhanger after cliffhanger, though their story at least had only two more episodes left.
Of the newest features, nothing was of any great worth. The Secret Champion had the feel of one of those cheap, nasty series introduced into Eagle at the end so that none of the still-decent series could remain to transfer into Lion. Meanwhile, Sexton Blake and Tinker kept falling through holes wherever they went: I know the series is supposed to be set in the Thirties, but the shoddiness of Planning Control is still frightful.
A couple of issues expanded to forty pages again, but only to present four page plugs for Fleetway’s new weekly football paper, Shoot: that’s another fond memory. Such magazines as that and 1968’s Goal were displacing my old line-up of British boy’s comics, and my comics-oriented enthusiasms were concentrating on DC’s full-colour floppies, albeit not for much longer.
Tim Kelly finished his adventure in the future in issue 362 (6 September) and set off back to the Twentieth Century. You’d think he’d have learned by now that Dr Diamond was a thoroughgoing shitbag and would take them somewhere else in time, and guess what the little weasel did? This string of stories, its complete lack of variety, and Kelly’s ongoing failure to stomp the treacherous little rat into a greasespot had by now ruined Kelly’s Eye, and further demonstrated Valiant’s determination not to come up with any new ideas. No doubt Gogra would be back the next time Mytek started a ‘new’ adventure.

The same issue saw the start of a new one page comic strip, Hymer Loafer, the Tiredest Man in Tennessee. I need say no more about this than I have about any of the other disastrously unfunny ‘funny’ features, save that this was another reprint from Buster, where it had run as Lazy Sawbones, though the look suggests it’s European in origin. Meanwhile, the Shrinker went on to the fourth of his reprints from Buster: there had only been five so the pain could not go on forever. As for The Steel Claw, his interminable story was rendered even worse by a change of artist: gone were the delicate lines, the confident composition, the mastery of chiaroscuro: in short, the art had gone crap.
Valiant had turned into a near-total mess. Sexton Blake got shot in the chest at point-blank range in issue 364 (20 September) but was only scratched by the bullet the next week.
But credit where it’s due. The Secret Champion was still pathetic but looked to be the latest home for Tom Kerr’s art, whilst Reg Bunn turned up on House of Dolmann. All was not yet lost. The Wild Wonders were once again being manipulated into advertising sports gear for a dodgy shop-owner, but the story took a dip into blatant racism territory again, by introducing an Indian fast bowler full of superstitions about what was evidently caste breaking.
The Shrinker in Space began in issue 368 (18 October). This was the last of the Buster stories: an end was in sight. And Hymer went missing after a half dozen episodes, no doubt to join the great unwashed mass of one-page funny strips that might come and go whenever the editor felt like it.
Tim Kelly finally got Dr Diamond ready to go home and insisted on setting the controls himself so there was no chance the bag of bones would aim somewhere other than 1969. Except that he promptly set the controls for pirate times himself, for reasons that had better be very good ones and not just a demented writer trying to drag things out just one more time. And The Steel Claw’s quest to clear his name somehow warped into defending Earth against alien invasion: are we sure Jerry Siegel wasn’t writing it?
But at long last the tale was told, and in issue 374 (29 November), Louis Crandell was free to start a new adventure. Unfortunately, the villain of this was a rock-faced individual calling himself the Boulderman. (It had to be Jerry Siegel). At this point, I disappointedly declare the series dead and received no reason to change my mind when, in contrast to the previous marathon, it ended in seven weeks.
The Steel Champion came to an end in issue 377 (20 December) to make room for World in Peril, another ‘situation’ series with indistinct characters, some of them children. And Tim Kelly finally revealed that he’d dropped himself and Dr Diamond in it to meet his pirate ancestor, Forkbeard Kelly. So that was not two long-standing series, great in their time, but dead of stupidity.

With issue 399 (3 January 1970), Valiant left the Sixties behind. By issue 380 (10 January), The Shrinker reprints at last were all used up, and the first new series of the new decade was The Lurking Menace. This starred hero frogman Tod Titan against a mysterious metal deep sea pirate menace, The Blue Shark, under the command of Captain Y.
Reg Bunn seemed to be hanging around Valiant now, contributing a few Steel Claw episodes (without Blackie Morris or that stupid copper mesh suit).
I’ve avoided mentioning Billy Bunter throughout all these years of Valiant but the strip forced itself upon me in issue 383 (31 January) with an abrupt change of artist, the series suddenly becoming 1½ pages, and the style even more archaic. Had a source of reprints run out, or one had to be introduced? Either way, the change was a one-off and the old format and artist resuming the next issue.
There was an even bigger surprise the same week, as Mytek the Mighty came to an end, the giant robot ape being released into the wilds of Africa to put his feet up, and a new series, billed both as College Cowboy and ‘hilarious’ (your heart just sinks, doesn’t it?) to replace it. It was a familiar formula: misfit attends public school to get the education that will earn him his inheritance. Presumably, dirty tricks will start to happen, caused by the alternative heir. The humour may have been more detectable when I was still fourteen, but it’s evaporated by now.
An early change of artist on The Lurking Menace (issue 384, 7 February) immediately aroused suspicions that this was yet another reprinted series as the style and look immediately took on the faint blurriness of some definite reprints, as if the original art was no longer available, as well as the look of the characters. And within a few weeks there were a couple of episodes that looked to be drawn by a less-polished Reg Bunn, cementing my opinion.
World in Peril came to an abrupt end in issue 394 (18 April). It was not replaced at first, but there was a partial revamp planned for issue 399 (23 May), with four new series. And for all I’ve said about it, I was still sorry to see The Steel Claw come to an end, with a couple of Jesus Blasco art jobs, after such a long time. The House of Dolmann was also cancelled, together with Sexton Blake, and The Lurking Menace came to an end. With all the other ongoing series clearing the deck for new stories, it was a full-scale renewal.

And an uncannily timely one. It must be obvious that I have not been enjoying Valiant for a long time now. I have said so many times that the comic has gone stale, unable or unwilling to come up with any new ideas, and I had intended to stop at issue 400 to comprehensively review the title and the failings I saw in it. For a long time, the comic had had no better idea than to be a replica of itself every week, to present the same thing over and over again, reliant on the innate conservatism of its boy audience in wanting familiarity, but which has become deadly to the adult mind.
I’ve compared Valiant‘s progress in the Sixties as resembling Lion‘s timescale, and I am aware that it fared no better in the Seventies, and by many accounts worse. But for the moment, it’s reacted to the drabness of recent issues, and dropped one of the five series that have run since issue 1 so, for the moment, let’s give it another chance.
The other new element in issue 399 was the start of the countdown to the 1970 World Cup, the only one England ever entered as Holders, with the cover, free gift wallcharts and stickers and a picture feature on the Squad. Otherwise, we were off to a bad start as Tim Kelly’s adventures obstinately refused to change as he was once again stuck in time.
The new quarter started with The Trouble-Shooters, friendly rival construction gang bosses, cheerful cockney ‘Knocker’ White and gloomy Welshman ‘Jinx’ Jenkins sent to clear up trouble spots for Anglo-Gobal, which The Ghostly Guardian featured teenage runaway Jim Frobisher and his dog Trap, running away from Jim’s hateful and grasping Alf Hudson, five years after Jim’s Captain Dad had disappeared and turning up at the derelict Frobisher mansion in Cornwall to find it inhabited by a pirate ghost.

Neither looked promising on first acquaintance but they were prime standard compared to Slave of the Screamer, a steaming great pile of cliches, but drawn by Jesus Blasco, poor sod. The last strip, Humbert Higgs, The Gentle Giant, immediately sold itself as a reprint from the model of the car washed-up boxer ‘Rocky’ Salmon (groan) sent off the road.
Issue 400 (30 May) saw a new cover feature, with the long-running Is It True replaced by Who Is It? a guess-the-famous-person idea, starting with boxer Joe Louis and another of those archaic Billy Bunters. But this seemed to be the order of the day now for the Fat Owl of the Remove. Issue 404 (4 July) introduced a new one-page ‘funny’ strip, Banger and Masher, about two feuding teenage terrors which, apart from a metafictional appearance by Valiant’s editor, had the usual square root of nothing going for it. There was also a new one-page oddball stories feature, going by Well, Fancy That, which was a lot more interesting.
A dozen issues on, I was no longer convinced that Humbert Higgs was a reprint, but I was convinced it was a rip-off of Kid Gloves from the comic’s early years, only horribly condescending towards the supposedly backwards Humbert.
Speaking of disappointing attitudes, Raven on the Wing was being consistently portrayed as something of a misogynist. Apart from him being a teenager, there’s no indication of how old Raven is, nor of manager Baldy Hagen’s blonde-haired daughter Jo, who was increasingly getting drawn in micro-skirts and knee-length boots. Raven’s attitude towards Jo was contemptuous at best from the start, he only ever calls her ‘yacky-chops’ and despite her friendliness towards him, with a hint of genuine affection underneath her frequent exasperation at his behaviour, he can’t be anything but dismissive and even aggressive towards her. I’m not expecting Friday night at the pictures or anything, but after a while it gets very noticeable. It’s a long time since Jack O’Justice and Moll moonlight, or even Kid Gloves and Velvet Mittens.
The increasingly difficult to maintain Humbert Higgs was abandoned in issue 417 (3 October) to be replaced by The Star of Fortune, a former western Sheriff’s star, magicked by Indians into enabling its wearer to foresee the future, and winding up in the hands of Texas schoolboy Willie Wilson. Meanwhile, The Troubleshooters, having started off with realistic, if broadly drawn characters running into mysterious obstacles, had now ‘progressed’ to equipping Messrs Knocker and Jinx with an egghead scientist and a robot plane. Two more pages to skim past without reading (though they did discover a monster in Loch Craggan , but not the same one as in the Eagle story about the same place!)
In a foretaste of the future, the following issue saw a dual-price on the cover, the traditional 7d and the forthcoming 3 new pence.
The miner’s strikes and powercuts of the winter of 1970-71 meant an eleven week gap between issues 423 (14 November 1970) and 424 (6 February 1971), though none of the stories were interrupted. What the suspension meant to Valiant‘s sales figures is anybody’s guess, but I imagine the comic lost a lot of readers.
Issue 427 (27 February) re-demonstrated my point about Raven. Determined to enter a team of his tribe’s boys in a National Youth Cup, Raven’s plans were stymied by Baldy Hagen, but Jo found a way round her father’s refusal to aid Raven. Her thanks? To be called ‘yacky-chops’, and get no thanks.
There were more changes on the way. First, the unfunny College Cowboy bowed out in issue 431 (27 March), then, the following issue, after nine years of unyoked existence, Valiant announced its first merger, taking over the cancelled Smash. The merged paper stayed at 36 pages, with four of Smash‘s features crossing over, which meant curtains for The Star of Fortune, Slave of the Screamer and The Troubleseekers.
The new Valiant and Smash debuted on 10 April. All the retained Valiant features reset with new stories. Incoming was Janus Stark, Victorian escapologist, the long-running classroom rivalry of The Swots and The Blots by the legendary Leo Baxendale, Simon Test, adventurer and His Sporting Lordship, commoner Henry Nobbins who inherited the title Earl of Ranworth but had to become champion in multiple sports before he could touch his inheritance of £5,000,000.
With the exception of the eternal Nutts and Crows, and the execrable Basher and Masher, none of Valiant‘s other comic series crossed the divide but never say never, especially in the case of Sporty.
The new blood did indeed invigorate the comic, though Simon Test, whose adventure was bland and art on the rough side, only lasted until issue 440 (29 May) before being dropped for the Return of an old favourite. His Sporting Lordship was similarly dull, but I found Janus Stark, with its bold, dark lines and heavy blacks, surprisingly enjoyable. Like House of Dollman, it went in for only short stories, yet unlike Dollman it did not obey a formula.
Yes the Return was a Return, Return of the Claw, a new series featuring Louis Crandell and his amazing Steel Claw, and the even more amazing Jesus Blasco, and apparently having returned to villainy. Needless to say, it was only the public who thought that, leaving Crandell to come out of his much-deserved retirement to clear his name.
Yet another new ‘comedy’ page debuted in issue 442 (12 June) in the form of Wacker, a simple sailor. By the name alone, this had to be a reprint, because the overuse of the Scouse term of endearment had died a death outside Liverpool by 1966 at the latest. And yes, the terror that was Sporty was back in the next issue…
To my everlasting surprise, issue 445 (3 July) featured Raven calling Jo Hagen by the name Jo! Was the Lengro going soft, or was he finally being influenced by her extremely short shorts? Sadly, it was just a one-off: despite her attempts to help him overcome a curse, she was yacky-chops again (the shorts were still shoooort, mind you).
Speaking of how people address each other, for some considerable time, Tim Kelly had been calling Dr Diamond a ‘silly old faggot’, which was hardly respectful (though what had the silly old faggot done to deserve respect?) but also something I know my parents would not have been pleased to know I was learning.
The Return of the Claw had been progressing decently, with a half naturally developing storyline until issue 449 (31 July) when the mastermind(s) were revealed to be two genius eight year olds set on luring Crandell out of a retirement for their ‘project’: immediate nose-dive.
The Ghostly Guardian, which had always reminded me in town of Lion‘s Turville’s Touchstone, was perpetuating the format of heir meets spook, but growing more ridiculous by the week.
Issue 454 (4 September 1971) marks the end of DVD3, and this part of the series.

We who would Valiant Read – Part 4

Valiant now has 250 issues under its belt and a stable line-up, which still includes five features from its first issue. Issue 251 is cover-dated 22 July 1967. The Summer of Love is in full swing, psychedelia and flower power are in the air, I am about to end my first year at Grammar School. All’s well in the world, for now.
Let’s remind ourselves of Valiant‘s line-up as we hit Part 4.
We continue to be 40 pages for 7d. The only colour is on the cover, offering the recent They All Laughed, But… Inside is Captain Hurricane (4½pp), The Crows (½p), The Nutts (1p) Kelly’s Eye (2pp), Operation ‘Rescue’ (1p), Legge’s Eleven (2½pp), letters page It’s All Yours (1p), The House of Dolmann (4pp), The Steel Claw (2pp), The Astounding Jason Hyde (3pp), Mytek the Mighty (2½pp), Billy Bunter (2pp), The Wild Wonders (3pp), Lords of Lilliput Island, the newest series (2pp), The Laird of Lazy Q, another new series (2pp), Tatty-Mane, King of the Jungle (1p), and Sam Sunn (1p). Sporting Roundabout (½p), which had been a feature of the comic almost since it began, was left out, but was back two weeks later. And ‘Gabby’ McGlew, His Yarns aren’t True (1½pp) was the bad penny. Even the atrocious Sporty kept coming back.

Valiant 1968

Two issues into the new instalment and The Steel Claw was struck another idiotic blow. Not content with equipping him with a superhero costume, the creators stuck him with, wait for it, a teenage sidekick, by the name of Blackie Morris, another of those handy orphans who swan around looking for father-figures to get them into extreme danger: where were Social Services, I ask you?
Looking at Lords of Lilliput Island after it had had a decent chance to impress, I’m going to repeat what I said in the last instalment: the series that are built around a situation instead of around recurring characters are vastly inferior. I can’t summon up any interest in goings on amongst the midgets and the good and bad boys on Mayo Island, none of whom have any afterlife. They aren’t conceived as characters and thus have very little of it.
Much the same could be said of The Laird of Lazy Q, which was also a one-off story, and done by issue 258 (9 September) but McGregor had got character, and he could easily be seen capable of returning in future stories, which makes this series considerably more involving. It was replaced by When Britain Froze, another situation story about… well, if you can’t guess… This was a mere 1½ pages but was unusual in its heroes being brother and sister: that’s right, a girl. The first one since Diana Dauntless.
I’ve already expressed disappointment in The House of Dolmann, which has good, strong art but little else but some of its stories veered into the horrible territory of Jerry Siegel on the later Spider, or, even worse, Gadgetman and Gimmick Kid. A villain named the Ghastly Gardener who dressed like a scarecrow and whose tools were oversized gardening equipment was so far beyond the Pale that the Pale couldn’t be seen from Jodrell Bank.
Sporting Roundabout in issue 261 (30 September) threw up another of those mini-features whose significance only arrives in retrospect, matching Bobby Charlton (41) and Jimmy Greaves (44) as the only two footballers to have scored over 30 goals for England, and wondered if one of them would be the first to score 50 goals. We know now that neither would, but who could have guessed it would take another fifty years before that landmark arrived?
Lords of Lilliput Island was progressing in the same repetitious manner that The Last Boys had, an endless series of potential advances constantly anticipated and shot down by Tug Wilson, sending everything back to zero again.
The Steel Claw’s battle against the crystalloid invaders of Earth was unworthy of the series in every respect except the continually excellent art. Blasco’s line-work was perfectly detailed and his mastery of shadow absolute, making this Valiant’s best strip by a mile.
The Xmas issue, no 273 (23 December) saw When Britain Froze expand by half a page to 2 pages, but not improve in dullness. Since it was back at its normal length for the last issue of 1967, that extra half page was clearly just a Xmas bonus…
And we moved on into 1968 with the end of Lords of Lilliput Island and the news that it was being replaced by a feature that stood a decent chance of being decent, a revival of the popular detective, Sexton Blake. When Britain Froze then put in another two page shift to spoil my little joke but its kid-heroes finally found their father who unwittingly had invented the antidote to the freezing frogs, which raised hope that that too would soon melt away. It only took two more instalments.
Sexton Blake’s debut, linked to the then-successful lTV version of his adventures that I used to watch so avidly, was promoted on the cover on issue 276 (13 January 1968). Once again, the comic’s term for it was ‘picture-story’ and once again I wonder. But this was a one-off, and They All Laughed was back a week later.
Unfortunately, Sporty was starting to appear more regularly again, and in full page stories. The strip’s biggest problem, apart of its completely predictable unfunniness, was that Reg Wootton’s art was not only ugly but looked completely out of place, a stranger from a distant decade with no correspondence to the year 1968, or indeed any year in which Valiant’s target audience had ever lived.
When Britain Froze was replaced by the first Western since The Laird of Lazy Q, in the shape of Red Kerrigan, Fighting Sheriff of Red Gulch. Unfortunately, all it took was a second’s look to spot that this was a reprint of some Fifties series, no doubt first run under a different name, and now filling space and looking wrong.
However, Kerrigan was only a short term stopgap, designed to fill a spot until issue 283 (2 February), when Valiant underwent its first ever full-scale revamp. Two long-standing stories, Legge’s Eleven and Mytek the Mighty finished, as did the unwanted Sam Sunn, and a horde of new series began. I know I’ve not said much about Mytek, but it was always a good, solid, entertaining series, with strong, if not exceptional art, and there’s just something so appealing about a 100 feet tall robot gorilla. I’d miss it.
They All Laughed ended in favour of a promo for the Red Arrow, the issue’s free gift of a plastic flyer, and would be replaced the following week by Is It True (no question mark), presenting odd incidents that the reader had to decide were true or false before page 12. Inside, it was all change. Tim Kelly and Dr Diamond’s increasingly dull time travel adventures took them to the Wild West and there were new adventures for Sexton Blake, the Wild Wonders, whose adventure looked like it was going to return to the original idea now that we were once again in an Olympic year, this time Mexico, and The Steel Claw,. Though still the art highlight of the comic, the series badly needed some better, i.e., less ridiculous storylines.

The new football series was Raven on the Wing, drawn by Tim Kelly’s creator, Francisco Solano Lopez, in which Baldy Hagan, the new manager of fading Highboro’ United, was trying to break through the Club’s high-minded chivalry by introducing a bare-footed gypsy boy with super senses into the team. Bluebottle and Basher was a new one-page cartoon about a small cop and a big crook. Little Orvy was a two-pager about a little boy’s imaginary adventures whilst learning at school. Credited to Rick Yager, it was an oddly drawn affair of highly-stylised cartoon realist art in tiny panels, and was a reprint of a short-lived American newspaper strip that had run from 1959 to 1963.
The Ironmaster seemed to be a Phantom Viking rip-off, with street kid Danny Ventor falling down a ventilation shaft, finding a load of strange gear and being transformed, in an electric shock, into an armoured gladiator, whilst The Shrinker was sinister little scientist Capek, who had invented a machine to, what else, shrink people, starting with RAF pair Squadron-Leader Flint and Sergeant Slake. This was a reprint of the series as it originally appeared in Buster, from 1962 onwards.
Finally, the new back page feature was Master Spy, the Schoolboy Secret Agent. I agree. Actually, this broke with back page tradition by being a serial, but that didn’t make it any better. At least I didn’t last more than a handful of weeks.
I began this read through with a two DVD set that only went up to 1968, but when the second disc proved to be faulty, I had to invest in a six DVD set that covers the complete run. With issue 288 (6 April), I’m moving into disc 3.
Issue 290 (20 April) seemed a good point to assess the state of Valiant and the new stories that had come in at the start of the year. Raven was the outstanding character, with a serious football story to tell, albeit through exaggerated positions and characters. Neither The Ironmaster nor The Shrinker had anything interesting abut them, whilst the new cartoons were as completely unfunny as those that had gone before them. Little Orvy had good art, and an educational aspect to it, but stood out more for how tedious everything else was than on its own slender merits.
It reminded me of reading Lion last year, and how the comic’s early, strong showing in the Sixties started to drain away in 1968, as the influence of superhero comics started to expand. The Steel Claw even offers a direct parallel to The Spider: great art, shame about the stories. There’s a sense that the comic may have peaked, and be entering into a decline. If so, I hope it will be at least gradual for some time yet.
The peripatetic Tom Kerr was now drawing Kelly’s Eye, though in a style that initially attempted to mimic Solano, but week in, week out moved closely to his own approach and linework. And time was up for Jason Hyde in issue 293 (18 May), closing his X-Ray Eyes for good.
There was good news in issue 296 (1 June) with the end of the unliked Ironmaster and the announcement of the return of Mytek the Mighty, though the fact that the enemy was the dwarfish Gogra yet again was boring: how come he kept surviving being stepped on by a gigantic robot gorilla? Meanwhile, the Sexton Blake series was getting a bit repetitious with Blake or Tinker or both of them falling through trapdoors at least every other week: did their villains not have the imagination, or perhaps not the money, to build anything else?

House of Dolmann

Dolmann continued on in the same way every week, but for at least one contemporary reader, Dolmann’s habit of throwing his voice into his puppets was growing somewhat irritating. Given that some of the little bleeders were quite openly nasty about each other, the practice grew increasingly schizophrenic, with the only interpretation that different sectors of Dolmann’s psyche were at war with each other. Or that the guy was plain nuts. Either way, it wasn’t the most mentally healthy set-up.
A new series, Voyage of No Return, arrived in issue 310 (7 September) as a replacement for Little Orvy: not so much like for like, though. Meanwhile, Raven on the Wing was going the way of all football strips: one story about football then straight into the same old nonsense about secrets and rich inheritances.
There was no need to wait nine weeks to assess Voyage of No Return: three were enough to mark it as crap. Indeed, but for the art, I’ve have assumed it to be a Fifties reprint. Perhaps it was a remake from the original scripts? The Shrinker returned to normal size in issue 312 (21 September) and made way for… Return of the Shrinker, tacking implausibility onto a weak idea with no room for development.

The new Sexton Blake adventure, starting the same week, suddenly dated Blake’s series to the 1930s, a more natural setting for him, but hardly one that had been noticeable thus far. And the villain in the new Mytek the Mighty story was… Gogra.
There was also a change of artist for the strip. The new man was another decent artist with a good and fairly detailed line but he assembled his pages in square and rectangular panels with clear gutters between them, in consequence to the other artists, the majority of whom blended their pages with overlapping dialogue bubbles, varied and angular layouts and partial or total ommission of panel borders. Mytek, in this style, felt hopelessly juvenile.
This was a period when the whole of Valiant was just jogging along, producing nothing demanding a comment positive or negative, so I find myself mentioning the issue 320 (16 November) Is It True? simply because it anticipates the plot for Jurassic Park… And despite my original assessment of its art, I’ve now come to the conclusion that Voyage of No Return, with its tiny panels and stilted dialogue, is an actual Fifties reprint, and further evidence that Eagle had the only good stuff of that decade. And a longer exposure to Sexton Blake half-convinced me that it too was reprint material, only for the length of Tinker’s sideburns.
Speaking of retreads, Sporty still kept cropping up irregularly, and even ‘Gabby’ McGlew was restored for issue 325 (21 December), just in time for Xmas (had it been in time for Easter, I’d have probably used ‘resurrected’).
Two issues later, Valiant entered 1969. Sexton Blake’s adventure with the Museum of Fear was going on longer than any of his previous stories, but only had three more instalments left. The Steel Claw’s attempts to clear his name of being a traitor were going on considerably longer, with no end in sight, especially when his quest to receive the Shadow Squad’s Code Bullets (what secret organisation worth bothering with conceals its list of agents in bullets?) were split up between three locations.
Still, the tedious Voyage of No Return reached a dull ending in issue 330 (25 January 1969), arousing hope for a better replacement. But the two-page River of Fire had the instant look of another Fifties wash-up.
And on the subject of art, there was a subtle change to that on Raven on the Wing in issue 334 (22 February) when, after one page of Solano Lopez, a new artist mimicking his style took over, and unless I’m very much mistaken, this was a return for our old friend Tom Kerr. And as a few weeks passed it became clearer and clearer that this was welcome back, Tom. As for Lopez, changing political conditions in his native Argentina had allowed him to return there from exile in 1968, though sadly not permanently, ending his association with Fleetway.
Return of the Shrinker, meanwhile, just dragged on and on through endless cliffhangers whose only point was to postpone the end of the series for another week, long past the point of any remaining interest. Even The Wild Wonders were starting to drag now, following the faceless criminal Number One around Australia without ever getting any nearer capturing him. Between this and Tim Kelly’s adventures in time, there was growing to be an air of staleness about Valiant, as though its writers had run out of new stories to devise.
At least River of Fire didn’t outstay its welcome, but its protagonist Chris Carron stuck around for a new story starting in issue 340 (5 April), Mission of Fear. This was no more enticing than Carron’s first, and underwent a radical change of art style as early as issue 342 (19 April). But Carron’s second outing only lasted until issue 346 (17 May), when it gave way to something that was at least different.
Return of the Shrinker saw Capek finally defeated in issue 343 (26 April), but, dismally, the editor saw no reason to end the series just because it was repetitious and the Shrinker re-returned for another adventure the following week, this time intent on shrinking people for The Shrinker’s Revenge. This was ridiculous. Valiant was providing far too many parallels to Lion‘s progression into doing the same thing over and over again.
The new story was a sports series, The Secret Champion, starring sports-mad, but sports-incompetent Mark Keen. Keen couldn’t play for toffee, so he became a sports reporter. He also became some ludicrous whiting out in captions since the series was blatantly a repeat whose original hero clearly had a longer name. But on assignment overseas Mark accidentally released a 2,000 year old Roman gladiator, Marcus Canus Brittanicus, a long dead ancestor, who swore to watch over him.
There’s not enough time to assess that one properly, though it looks initially like another deadbeat idea, for with 14 June 1969, Valiant hit its 350th issue, almost half its long run. This section has now run 100 issues, and it’s time for a breather.

The Last *Last* Eagle

About two years ago, I celebrated buying the last issue of the classic Eagle comic that I needed to build the collection I had long dreamed of. And how it was incomplete, missing the centre sheet.

When I set out to read Eagle in chronological order, I also started a list of those that were imcomplete, or badly damaged, or in just too poor a condition. There were about two dozen or slightly more of them.

Today, I have replaced the last of them, ironically from the same seller as last time. Volume 11, no. 1, whole, intact, complete. As is my collection.

What am I going to do now?

Double Dead Comics Weekend: Heroes in Crisis 9 and Doomsday Clock 10

So I was right when I predicted, maybe six months ago, that I’d see Heroes in Crisis 9 before Doomsday Clock 12, for here is the former appearing the same week as issue 10 of the latter, with the penultimate issue due in another three months time and the final issue in sight of no published schedule at all. Let’s put the two together and talk about which is the biggest bust.

For me, it’s got to be Heroes in Crisis. I was expecting something interesting, thought-provoking, original and ground-breaking. I was expecting it to enslave me. I was expecting it to be good. Doomsday Clock has done nothing but live down to my expectations.

Last issue, Heroes in Crisis revealed that its villain was neither Booster Gold nor Harley Quinn, as had been trailed from the start, but instead Wally West, the series’ most controversial and unwelcome victim. What was so bad, as well as just dumbfuck stupid, about it was that whilst the multiple deaths were a tragic accident, Wally’s actions in covering up, concealing and fabricating evidence and framing innocents, placed him at or below the level of the most evil of supervillains.

Worse still than that, was the choice of Wally as the villain: Wally West, the victim of the New52, the wellspring of Rebirth in 2016, the character whose reappearance was a deliberate beacon, a symbol of hope, and who less than three years later has been trashed beyond recovery. And in choosing to make Wally such a manipulator of evidence, Tom King destroyed his own story: literally everything in issues 1-7 has been a fake, a red herring, a lie. None of it meant anything, except seven months’ waste of paper, ink and colour. Did nobody at DC realise this in advance?

The series has made Wally West irredeemable. The character is poisoned beyond any hope, except as a villin or a madman, for at least two decades: that was how long in took to bring Hal Jordan back after Emerald Twilight, and that only tenuously possible by having him be possessed by Parallax, the Fear-Demon. In the late 2030’s, assuming the comic book industry hasn’t disappeared up its own backside at last, someone can try to rehabilitate Wally. It would be nice if someone could come up with something that isn’t as cheap and casuall, or as blatant a rip-off, as having him be possessed, and not in his right mind.

Was this what Tom King planned all along? There’s been rumour, and circumstantial evidence, of editorial interference by Interferer in Chief Dan Didio. Who is known to dislike Wally West almost as much as he does Dick Grayson. Who was the force behind the conceptual approaches of the New52, which was rejected by Geoff Johns in Rebirth. Who has come out on top in a power-strugle with Johns, who made wlly the Hope of Rebirth.

Would DiDio be so petty? Are you kidding? He works in comics, doesn’t he? The industry is littered with the petty, the obsessive, the maladjusted.

You may by now be wondering why I am going on at such length on what is essentially a reprise of my comments on issue 8, but this is the bar that the last issue has to overcome when it tries to present the Redemption of Wally West, by doing more or less the same thing issue 8 did, that is, to wipe out what has gone before, and render the worst parts of issue 8 non-existent. It doesn’t work, not even for a second.

What happens is that, amongst another slew of single panel trauma investigations at Sanctuary, which we later learn is the new, repaired, publicly-known Sanctuary, the Booster-Beetle-Harley-Batgirl team catches up with Wally five days in the future where/when he’s about to strangle Wally West for his crime and take him back to Day Zero for his body to be found. Wally has decided against using time travel to, you know, like, stop himself from killing all those people in the first place, because of Flashpoint.

So, in the least convincing of manners and most cheap of reverses, Wally and Wally talk Wally out of it, Booster scoots into the future to grab a clone of Wally + 5 so that can be dumped at Day Zero, everybody hightails it out of Day + 5 before the Justice League get there,  and Wally can go back to Day Zero and confess his crime and get therapy, and go on to his bright and bountiful future in the DC Universe. The fact that in doing so he has now changed time in contravention of his principles in not changing time is not allowed to cross the mind of anyone except awkward readers.

It’s bullshit, pure bullshit from start to finish. Worse than bullshit, it’s pathetic. The series has been dull, static and uninvolving, and it has undercut itself over and over to the point where it holds no reality whatsoever. And to prove this yet further, Poison Ivy is returned to life is issue 9.

That leaves Roy Harper as the only prominent dead character, along with a bunch of neverwases, and that isn’t going to last.

I really had hopes for Heroes in Crisis but it disappointed from the outset. According to one of the spoilers that I’ve avoided until now, King, as the writer, submitted his outline story and had the characters to use dictated to him, but I’m still not going to let him off. That’s stupid nonsense. Look for a complete set on eBay from Sunday afternoon onwards.

As for Doomsday Clock 10, this armpit of a story has dragged on for so long that I no longer have the energy for any truly visceral commentary. At this late stage, on this attenuated schedule, you’d think that Johns and Frank would be making at least some effort to move the story towards its glacial conclusion, especially given that Doomsday Clock is meant to be the future of the DC Universe and nobody as yet has any idea what they have to do to get there, and that it supposed to be the springboard for the long overdue returns of The Justice Society of America and The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Issue 10 has been trailed for longer than prehistoric beasts have existed as heralding the return of the Justice Society, and it is true that we have some new dialogue from their first meeting, but in which version of reality that takes place is beyond determining. Essentially, Johns has decided to spend this issue in the head of Dr Manhattan, who does not perceive time in linear fashion, and using this to summarise what the Doc has been doing since departing the Watchmen Universe and arriving in DC’s.

It basically wanders about haphazardly whilst the Doc adjusts to the idea of being in a Multiverse in which time shifts at periodic intervals, until he realises that the DC Earth is actually not a Multiversal construct but a metaverse, whose history is constantly shifting.

I mean, ho-hum or what, so very rose by any other name. In the end, we get back to the same old conundrum we’ve had waved under our noses for about a year of real time, that Manhattan’s perception of the future ends with Superman throwing a punch at him, meaning that either Superman destroys him., or Manhattan destroys the metaverse. And aside from all other considerations, the odds of Manhattan destroying something Johns has only just named/defined this week are non-existent.

This latest instalment essentially writes the series off as a crossover series, as well as its already pronounced failure as a Watchmen fuck-with. We haven’t had any of that for an issue or two, so in one sense it’s cheering to see Johns flash back to Manhattan’s last conversation with Ozymandias in Watchmen 12, but really it’s not since Johns has to lie through his teeth about what Alan Moore had these two talk about, and invent something that never happened and which demeans the good Doctor yet more.

With Tom King’s run on Batman suddenly announced as ending twenty issues prior than we’d been led to believe, and the only other DC title I’m getting being The Terrifics, I foresee discarding the contents of each of these series asbeing beyond easy. I doubt I’ll even have to read anything in which they have consequences.

Will someone put this thing out of its misery? Before August and issue 11.

We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 3

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.

Valiant 1966

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.

Dolmann and his ‘children’

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.

The Steel Claw in costume

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.

We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 2

It’s 1964. Valiant and Knockout, to give it it’s official title, starts a new year. Let’s remind ourselves of what that means.
The comic is 6d for 28 pages, a reduction of four on its original count. It divvies these up between a front cover of Famous Fighters, Captain Hurricane (3½ pp), The Nutts (1p), Spotlight on… (1p), Kid Gloves (2pp), Kelly’s Eye (2pp), Billy Bunter (2pp), The Steel Claw (2pp), letters (2pp), Kraken and the Time Machine (2pp), Cars from A to Z (1p), Sporty (2/3p), The Duke of Dry Gulch (2pp), Soccer Roundabout (1p), The Crows (½p), Jack O’Justice (2pp) and Little Fred and Big Ed (who, we all remember are Asterix and Obelix), in full colour on the back page.
But a new comic, with which we’re already familiar, was in the works and in issue 73 (22 February), Knockout was credited for the last time, it’s place on the masthead the following week (a 29 February issue) being taken by the tag-line ‘A companion paper to Hurricane‘.
Internally, all ran smoothly, with no changes until issue 76 (14 March), when the Professors Kraken and Needler series, now amplified in cast to include young electrician Chris Blower, gave up the Time Machine. Re-named Kraken and the Giant Menace, the new story involved harvest mice of unusual size. But not just harvest mice: caterpillars and pigeons were also growing to giant-size, horrendously so in the case of the caterpillar: a disaster was brewing!

Tim Kelly

Change, once commenced, has a momentum of its own. Cars from A to Z reached W the following week, and with no cars beginning with X, Y or, sadly, Z, that was it. Jack O’Justice began a new story that was not a Dick Turpin, but rather an original, with a new artist and a Sixties style, though Moll wasn’t drawn quite as pretty as before. In addition, The Duke of Dry Gulch came to its end at the same time, to be replaced by a new ‘picture serial’ (as the editor described it: picture serial? It’s a comic, man, just say so), The Wild Wonders.
The new series was timed to run up to the Tokyo Olympics of that year, and involved the GB Athletics team – women as well as men, ooh mother – being stranded (deliberately) on a remote Hebridean island that’s supposed to have some sort of monster prowling it (would the GB Olympic Committee have chosen any other kind? Are there any other kind?). Needless to say, the rumours are true, but not as you might imagine, unless you were reading boy’s adventure comics.
The island would prove to be home to two wild boys, primitive humans, brothers, who only happened to be super-athletes. This is how you win big at the Olympics.
Though I would end up being very wrong in that respect.

Rick and Charlie, the Wild Wonders

The Wild Wonders was essentially a comedy series, about the two primitive brothers, Rick and Charlie, who were super all-round sportsmen, permanently in demand to help failing organisations, perpetually wanted to tackle impossible challenges, make unscrupulous people rich, overcome nefarious plans to make them fail, and ultimately, thanks to one of these adventures, miss the Olympics completely!
Tim Kelly’s latest adventure, which had begun by his becoming Britain’s first astronaut and which had developed into a world-threatening battle against sentient plants, started winding down when Kelly accidentally discovered the one thing that completely destroyed the plants. Rather bathetically, it turned out to be ordinary weed-killer.
Asterix… I’m sorry, Little Fred and Big Ed (they really worked on those names, didn’t they?) completed his first adventure in issue 79 (4 April) and was replaced by It’s A Dog’s Life. The little Gaul would return to Britain, in Ranger in 1966, still purportedly one of us, under the name of Beric in a cheerfully titled ‘In the Days of Good Queen Cleo’ (we know which adventure that one was, don’t we?) The new series was another French or Belgium import, in la ligne clair style, Larry the Dog in a family strip, vigorous and boisterous.
The addition of a page of the original on the file for issue 86 (23 May) confirmed that certain things, like Policemen’s helmets, were being redrawn for the Valiant version. I did some research and discovered that the strip was Belgian and had been running since 1959 as Boule et Bill, the work of Jean Roba, who continued the strip until his death in 2006. Four albums were translated into English between 2009 and 2012, as Billy and Buddy (and they’re delightful).
Louis Crandell, or Shadow Five as we learned his code name, also started a new adventure the same week. This issue, no. 81 (18 April) had a one-off change of artist on Captain Hurricane, Typhoon Tracey’s artist on Hurricane doubling up.
And the changes kept spinning out. After 81 cover pages, the Greatest Fighters feature was replaced by The Greatest…, a series on World Records of all kinds. Six weeks later, Cars from A to Z was finally replaced by Crime-Busters, true accounts of famous Police exploits.

I’ve not had much to say about Reg Wootton’s Sporty. It’s repetitive and unfunny, and drawn in an horrible old-fashioned style that made Bully Bunter look up to date, but I can’t contain myself when it comes to the issue 88 (6 June episode), which featured some disgusting cartoon blacking up. Other times, other standards, I know, I know, but this was disgraceful and I cannot believe it was ever thought acceptable.
There was an unusual treat two weeks later when, as a one-off, the comic expanded to 32 pages to present a four page complete story set in Victorian London, featuring the face-changing master crook Charlie Peace. This was a plug for Mr Peace’s ongoing series, starting in the following week’s Buster, but would have made a fitting addition to Valiant, especially if it replaced Professor Kraken’s rather ponderous adventures.
Speaking of which, Kraken’s latest adventure, with The Curse from the Past, commencing in issue 97 (8 August) had a distinctly Tom Kerr look around the artwork: that man got around. And I’m pretty sure he took over Kelly’s Eye for a fortnight, the following week, instead of Solano.
By 29 August, Valiant had brought up its 100th issue, which I’m going to make an excuse for saying just how much I’m enjoying It’s a Dog Life: precise, simple but distinctive cartooning and vivid situations that never fail to come up with a final panel gag that leaves me laughing, there’s a beautiful innocence to it combined with absolute mastery. It’s been massive in Europe for decades: we can be so dumb sometimes over here.
Kraken’s latest adventure turned out to be his shortest, at a mere six weeks, for with issue 104 (26 September), two new series started. The first of these was another of Valiant‘s major features, Mytek the Mighty, whilst the second was a football strip, Legge’s Eleven. It wasn’t quite two-for-one as the horribly outmoded Sporty was also defenestrated, though it kept coming back on a sporadic basis, whenever there was space to spare (probably when the ad count was down).
Mytek was introduced as a hundred-foot tall mechanical gorilla created by Dr Arnold Boyce. The legend of Mytek was that he was the ape-god of the Akari tribe, whose war-like ways struck at Boyce’s laboratory, so he built an actual Mytek to get them to turn peaceful. Except that Boyce’s dwarfish assistant, Gogra, decided that he wanted that power for himself. Unlike the Steel Claw, however, Mytek would remain a villain under Gogra’s control at least to the end of the first DVD.

Legge’s Eleven was a different kettle of fish, a sort of Carson’s Cubs but without the (same kind of) crap art. Ted Legge, a very lanky and unorthodox inside left (what’s one of those, granpa?) was kicked out by a First Division Club on a free transfer and promptly snapped up by Fourth Division Rockley Rangers, whose chairman, Dusty Binns, made him player/manager and gave him ten weeks to form a new team, or else the club would fold. This was already obvious from the strip’s logo, with Legge’s face in the centre and ten question-marked silhouettes of faces flanking it. New face would be added with every new character.
The comic also chose to shift some of its series around, with both the Nutts and Billy Bunter bounced into the back half, though Captain Hurricane remained up-front and Jack O’Justice at the rear.
Tim Kelly’s new idea saw the introduction of something that would have to return, despite being destroyed at the end of the adventure. After years of using the Eye of Zoltec, Kelly learned for the first time that it was but one of two, the right eye, the good eye. The left eye was its opposite, a source of evil power. Tim immediately went in search of it, but found it already in the possession of the evil Diablo.
Meanwhile, Jack O’Justice reverted to Fifties style art again for a couple of stories before rebounding up to date, in January 1965, with another Tom Kerr job, though Mr Kerr proved to be surprisingly poor at depicting the gallant Moll Moonlight, who certainly was not behind the door at having Jack’s back. You’d hardly think this was a boy’s comic at all.
There was a new cover feature in issue 126, 27 February, in It Happened This Week, whose title was self-explanatory. Though there always seemed to be an incident from the recent War, the feature roamed far and wide in time. Tim Kelly finally mopped up the Evil left eye of Zoltec, four weeks later, shattering into fragments that led to Diablo’s death, then dropping the pasted-together eye into the deepest ocean. From where, of course, it would never return. And if you believe that…
And a week later, the giant robot ape Mytek walked into the ocean with the evil dwarf Gogra in his control room in the head. Mytek’s creator, Professor Boyce and sharp-shooting game warden Dirk Mason had saved the day. But there was no new feature starting up…

Jack O’Justice

We all know that Hurricane didn’t last more than fifteen months, but even before the plug was pulled on it, it ceased to be billed as Valiant‘s companion paper, last seen on the masthead in issue 128 (13 March). It’s formal merger with Tiger was not announced until issue 136 (8 May), the same issue that carried big news about Valiant itself, coming up one issue later. This was about an increase in price by one penny, to 7d, but also a massive expansion from 28 to 40 pages. Business was clearly booming.
The additional pages brought new features, starting with Master-Mind, a one page comedy strip about a supposed criminal brain, The Astounding Jason Hyde, Valiant‘s first prose series, about a man with x-ray eyes, Fort Navajo, a western strip that rung instantly to me as being a translation of Jean (Moebius) Giraud’s Mike Blueberry, What do you Know? a half-page snippets feature, Twelve Guilty Men, a crime story starring former Police Detective Rod Marsden, framed for corruption by Crime Incorporated and determined to identify their twelve chiefs (do convicted prisoners really get to wear suits and ties?) and ‘Gabby’ McGlew, about a story-telling blowhard. My deeply cherished It’s a Dog’s Life still occupied the back page but probably as a cost-cutting measure, was reduced to black and white.
Week two of the new paper confirmed my instinct about Fort Navajo when the irregular stranger actually named himself Mike Blueberry…
Six weeks worth of story were enough to confirm that Fort Najavo was the best new addition by a country mile, Giraud’s cynical Army Lieutenant putting a hard edge on the Western setting. Neither of the comedies were worth the paper they were printed on and Jason Hyde, like every other prose serial going, was cliche-rotten. Twelve Guilty Men had potential but was wasting it on indifferent art and perfunctory stories, as Marsden, with only one assistant, was taking out the twelve heads, each very rich and powerful men protected not only be the Police but their own criminal organisation, with an ease and swiftness that was ridiculous.
The strip did arouse some vague memories, but these could have come from any similar series, for this was not a unique premise – it wasn’t a million miles from the concept of the first Legge’s Eleven story, nor the later Carson’s Cubs in Lion. But as the series reached its climax – eleven heads captured, the twelfth a mystery man – there was a very direct recollection, as the twelfth man turned out to be the Chief Constable to whom Marsden took the signed confession to his framing.
Despite the last man getting the drop on him, it only took Marsden one more episode to win and get his CID job back, 21 weeks all told. The series was replaced in issue 158 (9 October) by Son of the Stars. The half-page ad for it looked well-drawn but archaic, and the concept filled me with dread.
My premonitions were fulfilled in the first episode. The art-style marked this as a product of the Fifties, and most likely the early Fifties at that. There was a strong Wally Wood influence to the art, and I suspect it to be an American reprint. The art, make no mistake, was excellent, and reproduced very cleanly, but it was so dated that, in late 1965, it stuck out like a sore tentacle but, unbelievably, it lasted only three weeks: I’m putting my money on it having been a one-off story from EC’s Weird Science.
There was a rather more unwelcome termination in issue 160 (23 October) when Fort Navajo came to an abrupt and rather unsatisfying ending that smelled distinctly of an editorial decision to wrap it up, though any such instruction could not have come from Valiant’s editor. Blueberry went on in France and other parts of the world, but that was the end for us, and he was replaced a week later by Jackaroo Joe, who sounded Australian, and was.
This was the first of two new series, and its formula was obvious. Australian stockman with kangaroo sidekick inherits Scottish lairdship and sets off for Britain whilst an alternate heir tries to drive him off. When he gets there, it’s bound to be fish-out-of-water time because he’ll insist on being Australian through and through (hey, you don’t suppose Paul Hogan read this before he wrote Crocodile Dundee, do you?).
The other was The Space Explorers, and half a panel was enough to show that this was from the same stable as Son of the Stars, with all the same failings.
Issue 162 (6 November 1965) isn’t a round number. Nor is it an anniversary, or the eve of a revamp, though as it happened, Jack O’Justice came to the rather brief end of his and Moll’s latest adventure. But it is the last issue on the first DVD, which makes it the end point for this second instalment.

Boule et Bill, aka Pete and Larry

After the end of Part 1, I pronounced Valiant a good, but not yet inspired comic. We’ve covered nearly two years in this essay, and even with the addition of a dozen extra pages in 1965, the comic is still dominated by most of the same long-lasting strips I talked about at the end of 1963. Kid Gloves and Professor Kraken have gone, and Mytek the Mighty has arrived, along with The Wild Wonders and Legge’s Eleven, but Valiant is still made up of Captain Hurricane, Tim Kelly, Louis Crandell and, though I shudder to admit it, Billy Bunter, The Nutts and The Crows.
There’s a good, solid core to the comic, based around its long-running strips. Captain Hurricane remains a formulaic cartoon with dodgy racial overtones whenever the mighty Marine faces the Japanese, whilst Kelly’s Eye tests the bounds of the fantastic over and over, but it’s quasi-primitive art and writing is vigorous and dynamic, enough to forgive the the repetitious ways in which Tim either doubts the Eye of Zoltec can save him this time or loses it temporarily.
The Steel Claw is running smoothly with Crandell as a (super)hero, and it frequently is filled with gorgeously detailed chiaroscuro art of sometimes delicate brilliance that cries out for reproduction on a higher grade of paper than Fleetway’s traditional newsprint, whilst Mytek is another of the primitive energy strips, full of shriekingly-large gestures. And Jack O’Justice is enjoying a high level of art under Tom Kerr, though the stories are getting a bit too brief for complete satisfaction: still, Moll is still being treated as an equal partner and not just the damsel in distress, which I find remarkable for 1965.
The Wild Wonders is another strip that rides the edge of goofy humour and succeeds thanks to an artist whose rounded style maintains a good balance between cartoon realism and cartoon exaggeration. There’s a fluidity to the approach that builds conviction, whereas Legge’s Eleven goes too far in the opposite direction. There’s no effort at all to make the footballers or the football even remotely realistic, and indeed some of the poses make me wonder if the artist has ever seen a human body in motion, let alone one stripped to shirt, shorts, socks and football boots. By its second story, the series had become boring and the third looks like going down a well-worn path that Carson’s Cubs will be taking: I know they’re not due for half a decade yet, but I read them first.
The comedy stuff still goes down like a cup of cold sick with me, especially Sporty. These are pages I just skim through, like the Jason Hyde serials, to get back to the good stuff. The glorious exception is still It’s a Dog’s Life. The jokes are still pretty basic and frequently predictable, but the strip’s lightness, and the panel by panel staging never fails to draw me into laughing. I wish it was still in colour, but I love it all the same, for its deft depictions of its small but brilliantly incarnated cast, and a tip of the hat to the translator, who’s handling the dialogue superbly.
Have I left anything out? Valiant at this point is rock solid and stable. If it lacks anything, it is just the tiniest of sparks of imagination. I’m hoping to see that in the next part, as we head into and through 1966.