Hurricane Revisited: A Whirlwind Existence

I’m returning to Valiant‘s first and longer-lasting companion paper, Hurricane, giving the comic a fresh look on the basis of acquiring a DVD of the complete run, Steve Holland’s excellent Hurricane and Champion Index, not to mention the extra perspective derived from a year of reading other comics of the era since I began this series.
According to Holland, just as Valiant had been a response to DC Thomson’s Victor, Hurricane was a response to the same publisher’s look-a-like, Hornet. Hurricane made it’s debut on 29 February 1964 with a breezy confidence justified by the strength of its debut line-up. By the time of its demise, 62 issues later, on 8 May 1965, it was on its fourth and least successful phase, a third revamp.
Hurricane billed itself as an attempt to provide something a little different to Fleetway’s other comics, with only one sports strip (Tiger was full of them) and only one comic strip (Lion overflowed with them). It had three excellent series in ‘A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’, ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’, and two strong characters who would go on to outlive the title. These were Typhoon Tracey, a more genial and easy-going civilian equivalent of Captain Hurricane, and Skid Solo, an aspiring racing car driver.

Tracey was Hurricane‘s flagship character, a big, blond, burly bloke who loved a good punch-up, but who lacked the underlying tone of nastiness that, let’s be frank, runs through Captain Hurricane like ‘Blackpool’ through seaside rock. He was the same kind of semi-cartoon character, treated to round, quasi-cartoon art. Solo, whose given name was actually Edward, though his Aunt Mabel only called him that in issue 2, was a serious strip, with appropriately realistic art that I enjoyed more then than now. It’s not bad in any sense, but it’s not great.
And as far as I’m concerned, ‘A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’, ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’ are. It was for the first two of these that I bought the original DVD, the latter being a glorious bonus.
Let’s have a rundown of Hurricane‘s opening line up. After a full colour cover we had Typhoon Tracey (4½pp); Skid Solo (3pp); Epics of Sport (1p); Two Fists Against the World (2pp), A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court (2pp); Sword for Hire (5pp); Rod the Mod and his old pal, Percy Vere (1p); The Worst Boy in the School (2pp); HMS Outcast (3pp) and He Rides Alone (4pp). The back page featured the true-life story of the RAF pilot who was to pilot the Government’s much-bruited TSR2 fighter, a model of which was given away in Hurricane‘s first issue, but which was scrapped by the Labour government voted in later that year.

Hurricane‘s editorial spoke of the comic being bright and breezy, and indeed it was. It was 32 pages in length, for the first six issues, and no less than three of its features ran to four pages or more, giving the stories space to breathe, and offer deeper experiences. And it was a strong line-up, one of the best, if not the best I’ve come across in the past year or so.
One thing I was surprised to learn courtesy of Steve Holland was how great the Italian influence on Hurricane. Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Carlos Roume, Lino Landolfi, Renato Polese, Giovanni Ticci and Georgio Trevisan: these were the artists who drew the series that ran through those first issues of the comic, with the exception of the only English artist, Geoffrey Whittam, who drew The Worst Boy in the School. And with an irony that’s unavoidable, provided the worst art in the comic.
At this stage, only two series offered complete stories each week, Typhoon Tracey and Drago, the star of the western, He Rides Alone, although after a four part sequence, Captain Hugo Dinwiddie of Sword for Hire joined them. Skid Solo’s something of an anomaly: each week is a different story, but it’s all part of a globe-trotting tour set up over a semi-serialised first couple of episodes.
Actually, Tracey’s series reads better on second acquaintance. It’s as formulaic as Captain Hurricane, but the art is brighter, the settings less serious and the absence of rage makes it much more fun. And Skid Solo is much more entertaining now I have the full range of Lion and Valiant to compare it to, not to mention the realisation of how rare a first person narration was in the Sixties.

The Worst Boy in School, featuring the no-other-name Duffy, has not gone up in my estimation. It’s another formulaic story: misfit boy causes havoc at boarding school but gets away with his escapades, despite a secret enemy trying to provoke his expulsion. In this instance, what’s at stake is the circus Duffy will inherit if he survives his education, and of course it’s his circus background that’s the problem. It’s sole merit is that it’s still not Cornelius Dimworthy, but why did it have to be this disposable schtumer that didn’t get Italian art?
In complete contrast, Jim Trim’s adventures in the bare-knuckle fighting game of Regency England are brightly portrayed, and there’s a well-measured sense of time and place to the dialogue. Indeed, every series shows a far higher level of attention to dialogue, which marks out He Rides Alone especially, which places much more emphasis on atmosphere than on the mere functionality of plot.
On the other hand, the best you can say about Rod the Mod is that it doesn’t touch the depths of either Lion or Valiant‘s unending catalogue of crappy comedies. Rod was no Mod, just this guy who, each week, bought some new, with-it or trendy thing or gadget, expecting to impress the girl next door with it. And each week, it would backfire in some slapstick way. Half the time, she’d end up going out with Percy Vere, which was odd in that he was only about three feet tall
But the big three are still shining examples for me of how good comics’ serials aimed at 7 to 12 year old boys (I was 8 at the time) could be. HMS Outcast was the big surprise, the one I didn’t remember, with its ramshackle Navy destroyer, fit only for the scrapyard, its crew of misfits and its big-jawed, enthusiastic Commander, Lt. Wildeblood, discovering a streak of invention to go with his sense of independence resulting in a gloriously inventive series of misadventures on the high seas, as Outcast bumbled its way through one unlikely victory after another.

Sword for Hire, like Two Fists and He Rides Alone, sets itself firmly in its chosen era, here Roundhead London, with its attitudes and expressions, and in the happy-go-lucky Dinwiddie, an Errol Flynn type swashbuckling hero who’s only real skill is with the sword, goes long on the derring-do with a healthy dose of comedy and the best art of the bunch: fine, detailed, accurate but also dynamic: Giovanni Ticci’s eye for detail never overwhelms the central image nor distracts the eye from the action, but it is beautifully balanced.
And my beloved ‘Connecticut Yankee’, the briefest memory of which (plus a little nudging from David Simpson for which I am very grateful) sent me down this route, it hums with energy and some of the finest ligne clare cartooning of the era, making Twain’s mean-spirited story into a joyful, buoyant, fine account. The sparkle in both writing and art led me to purchase a hardback collection of the series – in the original Italian, which I don’t read – about which I’ll speak more when we get to the end of the run in Hurricane.
This is fun!
And Hurricane, from issue 6 onwards, distinguished itself with a panoramic colour cover painting, a widescreen shot of multi-character (primarily) battle scenes that no other comic boasted. True, the colour could be badly off-register, and the natural Occidental left-to-right orientation meant that the picture ‘started’ on the back page, with its rightmost prominent elements being the first thing you saw, but it was a distinctive feature and I remember it well.

Having cleared up the German fleet in the Caribbean in issue , HMS Outcast was despatched to the Pacific to be kept out of the way of another disbelieving Admiral, only to bump into the Japanese whilst off course. The first Duffy story ended in issue 13 (23 May). Now Duffy and his pals formed a pop band. Meanwhile, the art got worse. Two issues later, Skid Solo returned from his round he world racing and took up a job with the Papyrus racing team for the duration.
But all of this was merely the first of four parts of the story. Despite its qualities, Hurricane hadn’t captured the audience Fleetway wanted for it so, like Valiant in its early days, a revamp was drawn up, with four new stories in issue 19 (4 July) and three to be ditched. Sadly, these were Two Fists, He Rides Alone and, saddest of all, A Connecticut Yankee.
He Rides Alone could have stopped at any point, but the other two were serials, and it was obvious that their termination was abrupt. Two Fists had developed along a series of what is now called arcs: Jim Trim framed for murder, pressed into the Navy, fearing his manager Toby was a highwayman. This last arc was cleared up in issue 18, with the last panel cut down to slip in a narrative box confirming that some months later Jim became champion of England.
Even in 1964, there seemed to be something overly abrupt about the end of A Connecticut Yankee, with Hank Morgan’s tale, its telling to an English retainer interspersed with his adventures in Arthurian times, suddenly abandoned to another last second box telling how he woke up and was back in Connecticut. One of the things I most wanted to see from my Italian compilation was how many more episodes there had been, but to my surprise that was where and how it ended anyway.
But this was Landolfi’s second version of the novel. The collection contains an earlier version, a little more roundly drawn, told as an ongoing story. The thirty six primarily four tier pages of the Hurricane version were covered in thirty three-tier pages in the first version… which went on for ten additional pages, mostly constituting a joust between Hank and Sir Sagamore (with Hank on the equivalent of a scooter), during which Hank makes the bullet hole in Sir Sag’s armour that led him to start telling the retainer the story in the first place.
During these extra pages, Hank sustains the blow on the head that causes him to wake up in his own time, separated from the girl he loves, Sandy, but in a gently sentimental ending, after his story is told, Hank meets the retainer’s daughter, who is the double of Sandy.
Why Connecticut Yankee was terminated so swiftly, and the story left incomplete, I don’t know, unless it’s covered by the book’s (Italian) introduction. I like the ending, and I’m happy to absolve Hurricane for its too-brief truncation.
I doubt I would have wanted to say something like, “Awww!” aged 8.

So what was Hurricane mark 2 like? It’s easy to look back now and say that the revamp was a sign the comic was doomed, but whilst hindsight is infallible, the augurs were depressing. The new Hurricane was an object lesson in doing it cheaper. Two of the new features were new, but the other two were reprints.
The revamp introducd a cover feature in ‘“Hurry” of the Hammers’, full colour on front and back, but “Hurry”’s real name was Roy Race, as in Roy of the Rovers, from Tiger. I remembered “Hurry” from back then, when I loved it, but at eight I never met a football series I didn’t like. Now it’s merely interesting as the beginning of a phenomenon, not that it showed any sign of what it might develop into, even with Joe Colquhoun art.
The Black Avenger (3 pages) was a like-for-like replacement for He Rides Alone, a lone-gunman Western long on cliché, a reprint from Sun where it ran as Billy the Kid. Johnny Bishop grows up a top-notch gunhand but grows sick of having to be a gunfighter and settles down to ranch, gun-free, near the prairie town of Gunshot. But, once a week, bad guys come along so Johnny has to dress up as The Black Avenger and save the day. It completely lacked Drago’s individuality and subtlety, or any individuality actually.
The Juggernaut from Planet Z (2 pages) had the advantage of being new, but squandered it by being pure crap from start to finish. A giant, glowing sphere crash-lands in Britain, north of the Lake District and disgorges a fifty-foot tall cliché robot which immediately starts walking in a direct line towards London, heedless of what’s in its path, except when it heeds them. Two scientists assist the military in weeks upon weeks of trying to stop it in its tracks but every effort fails. Ultimately, it reaches Westminster, raises a ginormous fist and promptly explains it’s from Planet Z and is looking for help from Earth against a menace affecting the home planet, which is not only a complete let-down but begs the question that if Planet Z were clever enough to send a robot that could home in on London like that, why weren’t they clever enough to set it down in, say, Hertfordshire? It could have saved us nine weeks of going through artists like water for a start.

However, Paratrooper (4 pages), drawn by Drago’s Renato Polese, was a success that lasted to the end of Hurricane and beyond. Each week, Sergeant Rock (no, not that one) would relate a tale of a Second World War Paratrooper and his experiences. The series strength was the humanity of the stories. Each subject was a real person, complex, individual, facing one or other of the many aspects of War. Rock, a big, blonde-haired guy, was an able host, positive, serious and unstinting in his admiration for men who, in many different ways, proved themselves to be heroes.
So, one and a half hits out of four, and still a decent and settled line-up overall, even after Sword for Hire lost a page to accommodate The Black Avenger going up to four. On a purely personal note, I was seriously disappointed by a Skid Solo story that depicted him as having some very seriously misogynistic attitudes, although to be fair, a few weeks later, he was complimentary about a female co-driver despite her being, well, a girl. Yes, I know, eight year old boys. That doesn’t change my distaste for it now.
Mark 2 Hurricane only lasted twelve issues.
The comic compounded the error of its first revamp by ditching both Sword for Hire and HMS Outcast, and even though Duffy went at the same time, the blow was irreparable. Planet Z remained, the action switched to the planet itself and the series retitled Peril on Planet Z. It was thankfully short but actually managed to be even worse. Typhoon Tracey was reduced to two pages, assigned a new artist and turned into a serial in which form it rapidly became silly and stupid, “Hurry” moved to the centrespread and reduced to black and white. Sergeant Rock continued to present war stories, but gradually became the star of his own tales, which rapidly turned him into another boring soldier-superman, and Skid Solo dropped the first person narration.
Four new series arrived over the next five weeks, only one of them palatable. When the Lights Went Out was a Fifties-style disaster novel: one day, all the electricity in the world just conks out, sending mankind back to a quasi-savage state. Philip Masterson, ex-Army Captain turned hermit after being cashiered over a superior’s mistake, undergoes many adventures before building Britain back up again and ultimately being crowned King Philip I of a United Europe. But there’s a heavily racist side to the story, with a Bandit Arab chief from a Saharan statelet sweeping all of Europe before him before being killed by Philip. Nasty stuff.
Rob O’the Wood, supposedly Robin Hood’s son with all the same Merry Men around (hey, you do know Robin Hood’s out of copyright, don’t you?) upped the reprint quotient with pretty dire material, dull as ditchwater and archaic to boot. The art, resized from Knockout Picture Library, changed practically every week and the reproduction was often shockingly poor.
In contrast, The Phantom of Cursitor’s Marsh was an atmospheric serial set in Georgian times: the Phantom was a seemingly spooky character plaguing a corrupt and rotten Newgate Judge who was ultimately revealed to be working for both revenge and justice using the pre-discovery of electricity. Long on atmosphere with art from Mike Hubbard tending towards the impressionistic, which is a nicer way of saying rough, this was the one qualified success of Mark 3.
This was not a reprint, but it was a comics adaptation of a text story first published in 1931.
The last new strip was the return of the one-page, one-gag cartoon strip, with the highly-stylised Sir Hector the Spectre… and his chum Duke Dim. This was actually worse than Rod the Odd Mod, with it’s cash-strapped Duke deciding to open his home to coach-parties arousing the opposition of one of his ghostly ancestor.
Add to this the fact that what little appeal The Black Avenger had ever mustered dissipated entirely as the art grew smaller and more cramped and the stories more predictable, and the Mark 3 Hurricane, which had marginally the longest run at 19 issues, left the comic practically unreadable.
The last phase was little better than spinning things out until the inevitable cancellation. When the Lights Went Out got out two issues short of the last revamp, giving way to Carlos of the Wild Horses, set in 16th Century Mexico: the eponymous Carlos is the eight-year old son of the Spanish Governor whose mare runs off with him to join a band of wild horses. This featured some beautiful, detailed art by Carlos Roume, though the story was dull and lifeless.
Two weeks later, the Phantom revealed his identity as the only other regular character in the story and Sir Hector rattled his last chain, to be replaced by two like-for-likes that I actually remembered. Birk’n’Ed, the Mersey Deadbeats was a one page cartoon about a pair of scouse layabouts trying to find a job they can skive at: I’ll bet Hurricane sales just shot up on Merseyside. The Phantom was replaced by The Shadow (again, not that one), same era, just updated to the Regency. Though it’s once again nothing more than a Scarlet Pimpernel knock-off – foppish fool Basil Blythe is secretly the Shadow, feared underground fighter for Justice – it’s vigorously atmospheric art made it a more enjoyable feature whilst never producing anything original.
But by now, Hurricane was firmly on the skids. There were more attempts to halt the slide. Rob o’the Wood inflicted himself on us for the last time in issue 56, his four pages split equally between two 1952 Lion reprints, Brett Marlowe, Detective and Danger Island, the latter originally printed as The Naval Castaways. Two issues after that saw the arrival of Danny Jones and his Time Clock, resurrected from Tiger where he’d last appeared two months previously. Danny got four episodes (and three different artists), which was insufficient to impress either way. I make note, however, of the two-part story set in the hidden city of Tanalorn (sic), ruled by Rackhir, an archer: Michael Moorcock fans will understand.
For the last couple of issues, Typhoon Tracey got a couple of complete five pagers by his original artist and there was even a leftover Rod the Mod from before the first revamp, but issue 63 announced that Hurricane would merge with Tiger to create a combined paper of 40 pages for only 1d more. Apparently Valiant didn’t need a pick-me-up whereas Tiger – still in tabloid format and always more of a sports comic – needed the boost, and was reformatted to match both Lion and Valiant as part of the merger.
Typhoon Tracey and Skid Solo would go on, as would Sergeant Rock, although the final episode of Paratrooper saw the good Sergeant being recruited for the Special Air Service, in which form the strip continued in its new home. I seem to remember reading that, though I don’t remember ever getting Tiger, but apparently it didn’t last long in its new home or form. There was no place for Hurry of the Hammers and why should there be? He was only ever a disguised reprint of Roy of the Rovers and given that the real thing was running in new adventures in Tiger, who needed him?
Hurricane flopped. It lasted fifteen months and after that initial, strong line-up, each of the increasingly desperate reboots made the comic progressively worse, duller and cheaper, with its growing reliance on Fifties reprints to help it limp along. But what was good was superb.


Doomsday Clock 11

I have no enthusiasm left for reading this series. Not the enthusiasm of finding out how the story ends, not the enthusiasm of seeing how many of my predictions are accurate, not even the enthusiasm for a good and savage kicking of the whole thing’s manifold failings. At the moment, my only motive for buying this and the final issue is to have a saleable item on eBay after the latter: I’m not going to get rid of a 10-issue incomplete package, am I?

We have gone through the whole of months June, July and August since the last issue finally appeared, and on the current schdule, which is the only foreseeable one, the hardback collection of the entire series will appear before Doomsday Clock 12 is published.

This is one of the biggest disasters of comic book publishing there has every been, and I do not need any hyperbolic similes to convey that.

Whilst I was waiting, a month ago, I thought I’d try re-reading what we had so far, just as a refresher. I ran into a problem. I couldn’t re-read it. It was nothing to do with the ripping on Watchmen. I have nothing further to say about that. It had everything to do with the story being incomprehensible shite. It’s an out-of-control mess that’s opted for throwing in all sorts of bits and pieces from all over the place to create an apparently multi-level story, the unravelling of which will clearly take far longer than the actual series itself, with no concern for the hah-hah, you should laugh, story .

I have a problem with Geoff Johns’ writing that goes back to his JSA series. As far as I’m concerned, he cannot write stories. He cannot write beginings, middles and ends, only ongoing middles that set-up the next story without actually resolving the one he is writing. Doomsday Clock is this stylistic tic writ awfully large. Johns has introduced stuff from everywhere that he has no intention of wrapping up. Not if they gave him another twelve issues could he draw together what he has thrown in, because he never intended to in the first place.

I found it physically impossible to complete re-reading as far as issue 10. And now I’m supposed to comment on how issue 11 ‘develops’ this shapeless mess to its ‘climax’. That’s next to impossible. There is very little one can say about this comic but I have to try.

To begin with, Johns strives very noticeably and very ineffectually to be apocalyptic. DCEarth is going downhill until it’s just like WatchmenEarth when we left that; Batman destroys the nuclear trigger but is dragged down by the US Army, Metropolis has turned into Gotham, Putin’s given America until midnight to hand over Superman or he’ll invade with his superheroes, people have gotten sceptical about superheroes all over, so you know it’s really going all Pete Tong.

And none of it arouses any response greater than indifference. It’s as cliched as it can be, but without the sense of involvement you can still get with cliches. It’s just unconvincing crap, and it’s honestly not even strong enough to be called uninteresting fucking crap.

There are essentially two expository scenes. Lex Luthor takes Lois Lane inside his deepest, darkest, most double-secret bunker to show her the most horrifying and invidious secret evidence he’s collected, which is that everywhere Jon (Doctor Manhattan) Osterman appears, he leaves behind him, oh my God, the horror! an exact duplicate of the tatty photo of him and Janey Slater from Watchmen 4. And, what’s even more terrifying is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s doing it. Are you rattled? Are you intrigued? Are you asking yourself, what the fuck? I waited over three months for this? If it’s the last one, you’re definitely me.

Oh, and before we get this game-changing revelation, Johns has Lex tell Lois about Ozymandias and his Big Lie plan in Watchmen, just so that he can shit on Watchmen again by having Lois call Ozy ‘more of a madman’ than Luthor (when your series is based in ripping off Watchmen down to the tiniest little detail, Johns, you might want to think twice about showing such fucking ingratitude).

The rest of the isue is mainly about Adrian Veidt explaining his masterplan to Saturn Girl, gloating over his own cleverness at how he manipulated everybody in so many psychologically deep ways. In contrast to Veidt’s plan in Watchmen, which had at it’s core a very simple idea, this is ridiculous. Johns has mistaken convolution for cleverness. He’s also converted Veidt from the manipulative yet earnest figure of Moore and Gibbons’ creation into a smug bastard, contemptuous of others because they’re not as smart as him, instead of because he sees their aims and intentions as harmful. In fact, in Johns’ hands, Ozymandias is every bit the Republic Serials Villain he wasn’t in Watchmen: I still remember the visceral shock of that simple line: “I did it thirty-five minutes ago”.

Which apart from anything else, was a damned sight better penultimate cliffhanger than Johns produces here, which is Superman and Dr Manhattan meeting each other, just before the big pointless punch-up.

Well, what do you know, seems like I could still whip up some decent sized anger of this rubbish, not even half-baked but practically raw ingredients.

It’s now 5 September 20189, which means there are 117 days left before Doomsday Clock extends into a fourth year. Get a bleeding move on with issue 12, will you, I want to get this turkey onto eBay before Xmas.

Champion: Hardly…

renamed Jet Jordan

One of the many little ironies that make life bearable is the knowledge that back in the Sixties there were two British weekly boys comics that billed themselves as ‘Companions’ to Valiant, because they were produced by the same editorial staff. The first of these was Hurricane, that lasted for sixty three weeks across four distinct editorial phases. The second was an even short-lived title named Champion, that lasted a mere fifteen weeks before being cancelled.
Yet when the time came for each of these ‘Companions’ of Valiant to fold, neither merged into their senior stable-mate. Hurricane folded into Tiger, Champion into Lion. You have to wonder.
Now, courtesy of a tip from the invaluable David Simpson, I’ve been able to download the entire fifteen issue run of Champion and read the same, and to be frank, it’s not that impressive.
Champion debuted on 26 February 1966, costing 7d for a 40 page comic. It’s contents consisted of Jet Jordan (2pp, front and back covers, colour and b&w respectively); School for Spaceman (3pp); Return of the Stormtroopers (4pp); Knights of Konigsfeld (3pp); Lofty Lightyear (1p); War Eagle (3pp), Bartok and his Brothers (3pp, illustrated prose); Spider Webb – The Scrapper of the Scrapyard (2pp); Letters (2pp); When the Sky turned Green (3pp); Cosmic Nick – the Clot from Outer Space (1p); Hunters without Guns (2pp), World of Champions (4pp, featuring racing driver Stirling Moss this week); Boy Kidd (2pp) and The Phantom Viking (3pp). And already there were promises of new series starting in issue 2, such as Dr X and Jinks.
Some of these series I have already written about when reviewing the history of Lion, and I certainly don’t intend to repeat myself in the case of Lofty Lightyear. With the exception of the European material – and of course Boy Kidd is a translation of the 1962 Rene Goscinny/Morris Lucky Luke adventure ‘Billy the Kid’, with Luke renamed Buck Bingo – none of the comedy strips of the Sixties work for me and Cosmic Nick is no different.
One immediate problem is that, by the standards of what was being published at the time, and with particular reference to both Valiant and Hurricane, Champion looks cheap. There’s a greater use of white space on the cover, and minimal, badly off-register colour in the first Jet Jordan page. That is a decent flying adventure strip, but none of the rest are immediately appealing. The closest the title comes to a character-dominated series is The Phantom Viking, and meek, weak Olaf Larsen, the Viking’s ‘secret identity’ is scarcely adequate in that role.

renamed Buck Bingo

There’s an overload of what I defined as situation series, none more obviously so than When the Sky turned Green, a cliched disaster story about the crew of a submarine having to save the world because they were all underwater when the sky turned green: it took about three panels to see there was no chance ever of a new idea in its pages.
Return of the Stormtroopers, about a fanatical Nazi general awaking from suspended animation to attack the peace-loving world of 2046 and Hunters without Guns, about a family of wildlife photographers in Africa played with German war machines, though the latter had very outline art, whilst War Eagle was about an eagle becoming mascot and master technician to a WW2 RAF Squadron. Yes, you heard that right, tactician.
But Knights of Konigsfeld, Dr X and Hunters without Guns, like Jet Jordan, were all translations of European series, making Champion half bought in, a much higher proportion than anyone would have expected. Jet Jordan, which was the long-running ‘Dan Cooper’ series to the rest of the world, had decent, clean art (albeit resized and redesigned to fit the comic’s front page specifications) but the others suffered from quasi-cartoon art, all plain outlines and no detail.
Indeed the best art, detailed, carefully hatched and filled with depth, was on War Eagle, although it looked somewhat archaic. That the series was a reprint seemed clear from the different lettering in which ‘War Eagle’s name appeared, overwriting a longer name for the bird.
Wacker, another European strip (real name Starter), a two-pager, started in issue 3, with a noise-averse Liverpudlian looking for somewhere quiet in the country, only to get ripped off with a broken-down Hall.
After five issues – a third of Champion‘s life, remember – it’s already possible to come to a conclusion as to why it failed: it isn’t good enough. It looks and feels like the runt of the litter, fed the scraps and crumbs that weren’t considered up to scratch for either of its companions. The only decent strips are the continental ones: Jet Jordan, Boy Kidd, Jinx (Wacker isn’t up to their standard). Only The Phantom Viking has any credentials among the home-produced material, and its scratchy, uncertain art is a major hindrance.

renamed Jinx

War Eagle only lasted five weeks before being replaced by a similarly old-fashioned looking War strip, The Fighting Fifteenth. Dr X was ended in issue 7, having totally lost control over what it was supposed to be about. It’s replacement, The Space Travellers, was perhaps emblematic of the type of story Champion was producing. A school teacher with a head full of science fiction builds a space rocket in his back shed running on cosmic radiation converted from sunlight. It accidentally gets launched whilst he’s showing it to a boy from the school and a reporter. They fly to the planet Centaur which has a identical atmosphere to Earth, and the same kind of cows. There is literally nothing about that that a boy aged over five can take in the least bit seriously, especially in a world where ‘Thunderbirds’ exists. What kind of idiot thought this workable I don’t know, but no comic can survive on stuff like that.
The second instalment makes out its a comedy. What’s the phrase again? Yeah, right.
The Fighting Fifteenth also lasted five issues and it’s replacement was RAF Pilot, Battler Britton, who would survive into Lion in the very near future. When the Sky turned Green bowed out in issue 14, beating the rush, the good guys winning the day by committing genocide (think of that, eh?) The Space Travellers decided to bugger off back to Earth at the same time.
And so, on 4 June 1966, Champion reached its fifteenth and final issue: a short life and a far from merry one. With the exception of the Knights of Konigsfeld, all the stories that didn’t make the cut fizzled out emptily, none more so than Spider Webb, which fell on its face. Jet Jordan, Battler Britton, Return of the Stormtroopers, The Phantom Viking, plus Jinx and Wacker lived on, the first three in mid-story.
In this necessarily brief survey, I’ve saved comment until the end on the one Champion feature I did remember before starting it, and that I had looked forward to re-acquainting myself with. Bartok and His Brothers deserves some kind of accolade for being the most disappointing memory in all the comics I’ve been re-reading this past eighteen months or so.

The series was set a century into the future, in a world dominated by a Chinese crime organisation, the Sons of Ying, led by the Master Dragon. After a Genghis Khan-like warlord sacks his laboratory in Central Asia, Dr Hans Bartok uses his Duplicator Machine to create four duplicates of himself, i.e. clones, to create a Brotherhood to fight evil. Each duplicate has a superpower but one of them is potentially evil. Bartok-2 is super-intelligent, Bartok-3 is super-agile and fast, Bartok-4 is, er, super-courageous and fierce (seriously) and Bartok-5 is super-strong. Hint, the evil one is… Bartok-4, who is reformed through hypnosis but he and Bartok-2 get killed at the end.
What I remembered of this, which included the designated powers, the deaths and Bartok-4’s treachery (which I resented deeply, having adopted 4 as my lucky number), was vivid enough, but where so many things have been good enough still to justify my lifelong recollections, the Bartok stuff is cheaply and badly-written, flavourless and melodramatic. The author was Michael Moorcock’s friend and near-protege, Barrington J Bayley. The one time I met Moorcock, he signed a Boy’s World annual story credited to him but actually written by Bayley, who needed the money. I make no comment.
Had Lino Landolfi’s ‘Connecticut Yankee’ been so much a let down last year as this is, I would hardly have bought another comics DVD, so I was lucky there. Champion was created cheap, it lived cheap and even its own editor was convinced it was created to fail, and be merged into something else to give that a sales bump. After fifteen issues, Champion‘s audience must have been more like a pothole.

By the light of a Green Flame: All-American Comics

All-American Comics was the flagship publication of the newly-formed All-American Publications, the company founded by M.C (Charley) Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics’ Harry Donenfeld, who put up the capital in return for a 50% silent partnership and a role as Business Manager for Detective’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz.
Though Detective was making its waves on the back of its two masked men characters, Superman and Batman, and though Gaines had sought the money to set up his own company because of the success of Donenfeld’s titles, the new series did not at first feature any superheroes. That would not come until issue 16, and when it did the new hero would be All-American‘s mainstay for the rest of its run.
The first issue, from April 1939, is very much a thing from a bygone age. All-American led with Red, White and Blue, three American boys who’d grown up as friends, entered different branches of the services in the war and, thanks to their chivalrous impulses towards a beautiful woman in a tight situation, found themselves transferred as a special unit to G2, America’s secret service. There were Mutt and Jeff reprints, Sunday pages from Bud Fisher’s classic newspaper strip, and the same from Percy Crosby’s highly acclaimed but largely forgotten Skippy. Gene Byrnes’ Reg’lar Fellers was another newspaper strip, one I’d never heard of before, and not hard to understand why.

Hop Harrigan, by Jon L. Blummer (credited as Jon Elby), a future phenomenon as America’s air pilot hero of the airwaves also debuted. Editor Sheldon Mayer contributed his quasi-autobiographical Scribbly, Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, of which more would come. Adventures in the Unknown, the Mystery Men of Mars, by Carl Claudy, started off like the crassest and stupidest of SF. Edwin Alger’s Ben Webster started like a continuation of an ongoing series, which it was, a pretty bog standard juvenile adventure newspaper strip.
Harry Lampert, of The Flash fame, produced Spot Savage, about a news reporter and there were more from Gene Byrnes and Bud Fisher, half-pagers featuring Daisybelle and Cicero’s Cat, respectively, which appeared as ‘header’ series on the newspaper Sunday pages. Tippie, by Edwina, was a silent strip about a dog. Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks was yet another reprinted Sunday strip, as was George Storm’s Bobby Thatcher, though that strip had been defunct two years when All-American 1 came out. Lastly, there was Wiley of West Point, by Lieut. Richard Rick.
It’s hardly an impressive line-up. Superman had been in existence since April 1938, and Batman was brand new. All-American offered very little new material and was overloaded with newspaper strip reprints of varying quality, making it almost a premature throwback to the very first comic books of the early part of the decade. Mutt and Jeff is legendary, but it’s humour is tilted to the age, Skippy is more of a cult than anything else, and Scribbly has potential it certainly doesn’t use in issue 1.

This is an eighty year old comic book with an amateurish logo. And it looks it.
Weirdly enough, Red Dugan developed ‘mental telepathy’ in issue 2, which was an altogether cheaper issue, with limited colouring of the kind you used to get in the Victor and the Hornet in Britain in the Sixties. And in issue 3, Scribbly Jibbet met Huey Hunkel and, what’s more important, his Ma, Ma Hunkel. And there was a very familiar opening line to Huey’s Great American Novel (5 pages with every other word crossed out because Huey kept thinking of a better one). It was a dark and stormy night. You just know someone’s going to use that!
The first addition to the line-up was an adaptation of the renowned play starring Fredric March, The American Way, a patriotic play about German immigrants learning to be American. The title also added Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy (have you noticed something of a theme developing around here?), though that was based on a real contest winner from the Popsicle Company.
So far, with the exception of Scribbly, so not much, but the first quasi-superhero hit the front cover on issue 8, introducing Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. Concord, who took over the lead slot from Red, White and Blue, is the High Moderator of America in 2239 but to begin with he had to play second fiddle to the life story of his father, a 20th century worker for peace carried into the future in suspended animation. Spot Savage dropped out, unnoticed. And to keep pace with what was going on around, issue 9 carried a full page advert for All American Publications’ new title, Flash Comics. The true superhero was arriving at the company.
It only took until issue 10 before Red, White and Blue were back in pole position, and Gary Concord moved further within. The perpetually stiff Wiley of West Point disappeared without warning after issue 12, in mid-cliffhanger, which also saw the last Toonerville Folks, but the unspeakably worthless Adventures into the Unknown was kept.
All of this, however, was but a generally unmemorable prelude to issue 16. All-American gained a new, and much more professional logo, a new cover character and a new leading feature, the one the comic is known for: enter the Green Lantern.
It’s a well-known story: young railroad engineer Alan Scott (who was originally going to be called Alan Ladd – as is in Al Ladd-in’s lamp – before the famous actor appeared) should have died when a bomb sabotaged the new line he’d built. Instead the mysterious green railroad lantern saved him and granted him power over metals, from the Green Flame of Life. Green Lantern was the creation of artist Martin Nodell (going by Mart Dellon), fleshed out by writer Bill Finger, to whom Nodell was far more generous than Bob Kane had been. GL’s far from green costume only appeared in one panel, but it was the start, of something very much bigger.

The classic history has Scott moving to the city (not named as Gotham until issue 91) and becoming a radio announcer so as to be ahead of breaking news of crimes, but he doesn’t even join Apex Broadcasting until issue 20, and then as a radio engineer, a status he retains for ages. In later issues, Scott would work for Station WCMG (once) before settling at WXYZ, and he would bounce around various roles like Special Events Director, Radio Announcer (see!), Program Director and Presenter.
As an employee of Apex Broadcasting, Scott would work for, alongside and in charge of Irene Miller, his Producer, Broadcaster and eventually secretary until, one day, the young lady with a crush on Green Lantern just drifted away, completely forgotten.
Green Lantern’s immediate success quickly emboldened Mayer to commission another costumed hero, The Atom, in issue 19. Written and drawn interchangeably, I believe, by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, this was 5’1” tall college student Al Pratt, looked down upon for his height, who was trained by boxing trainer Joe Morgan to become a fighter, but instead used his scrapping abilities to become a hero, to rescue his fellow student and would be date, Mary James. Whichever man drew at any time, they were both lousy, as in barely better than I can draw.
Gary Concord’s run came to an end in issue 19, only for Adventures into the Unknown to return after an all-too-short breather. Sadly, Percy Crosby’s Skippy and its header also left the scene, though Bud Fisher and Gene Byrnes hung around. For a short time: Reg’Lar Fellers was the next to depart, leaving its header strip, Daisybelle, behind.
Suddenly, they were everywhere. In issue 20, the Green Lantern’s fame spread as far as Scribbly’s series, prompting Ma Hunkel to put on red longjohns and a saucepan with eyeholes cut out to rescue Dinky Jibbet and Sisty Hunkel as The Red Tornado, the first parody superhero and, beating Wonder Woman by a clear year, the first superheroine. A couple of issues later, the feature was re-titled Scribbly and The Red Tornado. By issue 24, Sisty and Dinky had joined in the fun as the Cyclone Kids. And the Red Tornado’s name kept getting bigger, and Scribbly’s kept getting smaller…

All-American was now accelerating towards its remembered shape. Ben Webster’s stout-hearted adventures came to an end in issue 24, to accommodate the debut of blinded surgeon-turned-superhero, Charles ‘Dr Mid-Nite’ McNider, created by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier. He was followed two issues later by Sargon the Sorceror, the work of John B Wentworth and Howard Purcell. This latter made All-American a fully-fledged superhero comic, like Flash Comics. Of the newspaper strips, only Bud Fisher’s work remained, and weirdly some of these were reprints from earlier in the run.
I’ve refrained so far from substantive comment, but I do have a two pennorth to put in about Red, White and Blue. Though it’s supposedly about the three friends, Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Army Sergeant Whitey Smith and Sailor Blooey Blue, most stories see them operating as a quartet, at first under the orders of, then usually with established G2 agent Doris West. Doris is a beautiful woman, of course, and winds up, in the background, becoming Red’s girlfriend.
There’s a visual dichotomy from the start in that she and Red are drawn realistically, but that Whitey and Blooey are cartoon figures, one big and blonde, the other small and dark. Whitey’s the brawn, Blooey the comic relief: well, both of them are, but he’s the overt one, the put-upon one, the Johnny Thunder.
It’s very noticeable that, as time goes on, Red forgets that Doris is the experienced one who arranged for him to join G2. Increasingly, he starts getting macho on her, leave it to the men, stay at home with your knitting, sneering at her ideas. Thankfully, the series doesn’t: Doris is always right but Red never learns. This really is a boy’s comic, because the some thing goes on in Hop Harrigan, whenever Gerry, aka Geraldine, crops up, no matter how competent she shows herself to be, and Gary Concord was equally snotty about women.
It’s annoying because it shows itself widely across several series. It’s not like Flash Comics, where The Flash and Hawkman have girlfriends who insisting on getting involved in their game, where the misogynist elements are only a reflection of the times, and the attitude of the men is mainly one of humouring. There was a genuine anger, almost a foot-stamping aggression, in Red, White and Blue and the other series at this point.


Green Lantern was the title’s flagship character, its cover star and first feature, almost throughout the entire run, though his hold on that role would be shaken as All-American neared the end of its life. By rights, this should have been a top-notch Forties series, but with issue 27, Nodell and Finger permanently crippled the series by introducing a full-time comic relief character in scrappy little taxi-driver Doiby Dickles.
Doiby, who took his name from his trademark derby (or bowler) hat as pronounced in his Brooklyn accent, was a constant drag on the idea of taking Green Lantern seriously. There was some decent amusement to be had from his outlandish speech patterns at the first, but that was forgotten before too long. In issue 35, Doiby was allowed to see Green Lantern without his mask and, being Apex Broadcasting’s official cabbie by then, recognise him as Alan Scott.
On a lighter note, Bill Finger demonstrated a penchant for knocking off crooks in the course of climactic fights, by knocking them off gantries into vats of acid. Everywhere criminals went, they kept vats of acid under gantries. No wonder the Health and Safety Laws had to be toughened up. Even The Atom got in on the act in issue 29, but to be fair he only dropped Nazi saboteurs into molten steel, whilst Red, White and Blue burned their spies to death.
There was a nadir to come, that thankfully passed. Bill Finger left the series at issue 41, with the stories now credited to Mart Nodell (under his real name) and Irwin Hasen. Sadly, the new regime got the idea of putting Doiby Dickles into a Green Lantern costume (greugh! Bad sight!) and calling him Devastatin’ Doiby (come back Bill Finger!)

I said I can draw better than this

Hop Harrigan had early on developed a supporting cast of veteran flier Prop Wash (not a nickname), and big, red-headed mechanic Ikky Tinker, which confused me as I knew the latter as Tank Tinker from the prose stories appearing in All-Star Comics. Now, issue 32 revealed his full name to be His Grace Tutankhamen Anastasius Angustora Ichabod Tinker: you know why he immediately became Tank, but just what was so wrong with Ikky (apart from the obvious)?
Flinton and O’Connor stayed with The Atom until they were drafted, and never returned to comics. Replacements, in the form of Joe Gallagher (art) and Ted Udall (scripts) had to be found. Matters improved, marginally at any rate: at least the Atom’s cape looked like a cape, and not a hand towel. And Al Pratt finally managed to get a date with Mary James! Who started switching, inconsistently, from brunette to blonde and back again.
The War arrived with a vengeance in issue 42. Hop Harrigan had already gone into Air training and we got a piece of utter nonsense masquerading as a Dr Mid-Nite story involving the Germans and a rather more serious, and better story for Sargon the Sorceror, foiling the Japanese.
Continuity was not due to be a thing in comics for nearly twenty years but there were changes galore in Green Lantern over issues 41 to 45. On the other hand, The Red Tornado was consistent: consistently funny, silly and, in issue 45, gloriously metafictional, with Ma Hunkel and the kids getting fed up of the same old malarkey every month and getting Mayer himself to come down and argue with them! Mayer would play about with the strip again, re-imagining its characters in historical times and as funny animals, but always wonderfully.
Enthusiasm for the War led to Hop Harrigan replacing GL on the cover of issue 47, with The Atom sitting out to make room for the Story of Joshua, the Bible tale. Charley Gaines had a thing for educational comics and had started a half-yearly title, Picture Stories from the Bible. The Joshua story probably came from that, but if it was at all representative of Gaines’ new project, then it was a bust in comics terms: undramatic, weak, perfunctory cartooning that was probably much too respectful of its source to be of the least value as entertainment or education.
Just as wartime paper-rationing affected All-Star and the Justice Society, All-American came in for its share of pain from issue 51, reducing from 68 to 60 pages. The drop was quite easily accommodated by taking the comic’s junior feature with it: farewell Sargon the Sorceror.

Two issues later, Alan Scott’s Oath, the one he’s used in every post-Golden Age appearance, was replaced with a new one used in every remaining story in the series, a familiar but incongruous verse beginning “In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…” It looked so strange coming from the ‘wrong’ GL. It’s recognised that this Oath was composed by future SF legend Alfred Bester, though his name wasn’t credited, not on this or any other Green Lantern story.
Hop Harrigan’s series, now supported by a five days a week radio programme, had always been a more or less realistic air ace adventure, especially when Hop was going through Air Force training. Suddenly, it added a silent pageboy-bobbed young lad called Hippity, who carried a machete and acted daft, and the strip spiralled into idiocy. The annoying thing was that I was sure I recognised Hippity from something else, but I have no idea what. Hippety would eventually disappear in favour of more serious, if still at times fanciful stories, but the little bugger would keep coming back and crashing future episodes every time.
Interestingly enough, Dr Mid-Nite’s adversary in issue 57 went by the name of The Shade. He was no relation to the Flash’s villain of that name in Flash Comics (who was no relation to any version of the character who appeared in that legendary issue, The Flash 121, in 1961).
The further All-American went into 1944, the more noticeable it was that the stories were getting sillier, as if the writers had run out of conviction in what they were doing and could only maintain series by starting to make fun of them. Admittedly, more and more of the better creators had been drafted into the Army now. Paul Reinman was drawing Green Lantern, Sheldon Mayer was getting increasingly metafictional within The Red Tornado, nobody knew from issue to issue what colour Mary James’ hair would be, and that was before she started hiring would-be crooks to unmask the Atom. Red White and Blue got dafter and worse drawn, until everybody, Red Dugan included, looked like cartoons. Suddenly, the three fighting men, and Doris West, were split up into solo stories, told as letters amongst them, which rendered the whole series pointless. It was as if the entire comic was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Paper rationing had reduced All-American to 52 pages, and bi-monthly publication alternating with Flash Comics. More changes had to be made. The first of these was the cancellation of Scribbly and The Red Tornado after issue 59. Such a shame. It had been All-American’s most consistently entertaining series from day one.
Better was on its way for Green Lantern, at least for the debut, in issue 61, of Solomon Grundy, though it was a shame that this should be one of the relatively few issues on the DVD available only in fiche form. Unfortunately, this was a one-off, with the decline into asininity resuming immediately. The same issue was the last of The Atom’s continuous adventures to be published in All-American. His place was taken by Picture Stories from American History, which was being shared in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade, but he would be back after a nine issue hiatus, for three further stories, the first being as childishly drawn as anything Flinton and O’Connor had ever perpetrated, before going for good.
The intention was cancellation, and replacement in the Justice Society, but this fell foul of a fluke circumstance, and the Mighty Mite would re-emerge in Flash Comics.
The Green Lantern story in issue 64 featured a horse that liked to sit on eggs. The only other place I’ve heard that referred was Alan Plater’s TV serial and novel, Oliver’s Travels. Was this some sort of contemporary gag, an in-joke for 1945? I found a Google link, but the page refused to open, so I remain ignorant.
Wars, however, do not last forever. In issue 66, Red White and Blue were reuniting separated German families whilst Hop Harrigan was still fighting in the Far East. On the other hand, a month later Whitey was still writing fighting letters from Berlin and Hop and Tank were heading home to Hippity (I’d rather have stayed bombing the Japanese).
We’re now at the era of the All-American/Detective Comics split, ended after six months by the merger of the two companies and the dissolution of All-American Publications. Issue 70 saw the old DC logo return to the cover. The increasingly dismal Red White and Blue strip was put out of its misery in issue 72, in favour of The Black Pirate (and his son Justin), transferring over from his old berth in Sensation Comics.
The Atom’s second departure was in favour of The Flash’s Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy in a solo story. The Black Pirate lasted two stories but was soon back on a permanent basis, The Flash turned up in the second Three Dimwits story. And Alan Scott was broadcasting for Station WXYZ in issue 76.
The quality of All-American had now become so poor that a fiche that was next to unreadable was a relief, since it was the best excuse not to read an issue. Was there ever going to be a decent issue again? Only Dr Mid-Nite attempted to offer straight stories any more. Green Lantern’s stock had fallen so far that he was displaced from the cover for two consecutive issues, first by Hop Harrigan, then by Mutt & Jeff, with the latter also displacing his position as lead feature. They were a reprinted newspaper strip, remember? They were the lead.

Sargon the Sorceror

Mutt and Jeff took the cover again, and the lead, in issue 83. Green Lantern dropped Paul Reinman from the art and Doiby from the meat of the story for once and came up with a perfectly decent, neatly drawn tale, and The Black Pirate dropped back in, albeit to meet blue-skinned aliens: sigh, why can’t they get things right? But the same issue had a surprisingly good Hop Harrigan story, the first in months worth reading, as Hop received letters from the past from his mother, and went searching for her in Colombia. There he found that she was long dead, but that he had a sister, who returned with him to America.
The Forties were not a great time for supervillains, unless you were Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. With the exception of that solitary Solomon Grundy tale, Green Lantern had gone without in All-American (his regular villain, The Fool, only ever appeared in GL’s solo title).
Suddenly, the series had a rash of supervillains. ‘Crusher’ Crock, aka The Sportsmaster, the World’s dirtiest sports player, debuted in issue 85, only to die at the end of it: did the editors have no idea? Similarly, The Icicle was killed off in his first story, in issue 90. Don’t worry, both returned from their apparent deaths, The Icicle in issue 92 and The Sportsmaster as The Sportsmaster in issue 98.
More notable, and sensible, was the debut in issue 89 of Green Lantern’s ‘friendly’ enemy, the red-headed Harlequin. Alan Scott was back at the radio station for the first time in ages, as Program Director, with a new secretary, a Miss Maynne (Molly), who rather likes the crimefighter and, after years of being starved of beaus because of her athletic prowess, decided to become a villainess in order to attract Green Lantern’s attention. It was a silly notion, especially as a redhead who looked like that would be fighting them off in droves in real life.
The Harlequin, who made no secret of being in love with Green Lantern and wanting to marry him (this was still years before the Comics Code but even villains couldn’t have sex without a Marriage Licence). She and Molly Maynne made five appearances, including three consecutive ones, in seven issues of All-American only to disappear completely but for two back of the head cameos by Molly thereafter.
One of those stories did not show Green Lantern up in a particularly good light, when he decided to ask Molly out on a date to play on The Harlequin’s jealousy. What effect this might have on the ‘innocent’ Miss Maynne was not in his thinking, the asshole.
The Harlequin’s debut was accompanied by the first appearance by Cotton-Top Katie, a cartoon feature about a young girl with fluffy white hair, and her idiotic classmate the Perfesser. Cotton-Top ran for ten issues and was All-American’s penultimate new feature.
The Harlequin’s streak was brought to an end in issue 96 which introduced Streak the Wonder Dog. Actually, the story was more Streak, assisted by Green Lantern than the other way round, though having Alex Toth on the art made up for a lot. But it was a sign that the Golden Age was entering into its dog days. Where Flash Comics displayed a late burst of strength, its senior was collapsing in upon itself with a whimper.
After 99 issues, and a return bout with girl pirate ‘Jolly’ Roger, Hop Harrigan’s strip came to an abrupt end. It’s replacement was a western series, Johnny Thunder, no relation to the former JSA member with a magic lightning bolt. It was a foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a future rushing towards All-American’s readership faster than they would have expected.
The comic reached issue 100 under a cover date of August 1948, suggesting it went on sale two months beforehand. Johnny Thunder, a strange mix of sharpshooter and costumed hero rubbed coal dust in his hair to disguise his ‘real’ identity of blond schoolteacher Johnny Tane, the Sheriff’s son. He also took over the cover, denying Green Lantern the landmark that he deserved. The series looked good, because it too was drawn by Alex Toth.
But Johnny was the future. All-American Comics 102 was a fiche copy: Johnny Thunder, Dr Mid-Nite, The Black Pirate, Green Lantern and, for the first and only time, no Mutt & Jeff, and it was over. When issue 103 appeared, a month later, it was as All-American Western Comics. Time was up for Green Lantern and Dr Mid-Nite, except for two more years in the Justice Society and All-Star Comics. The Golden Age was all but done. Westerns, Crime comics, Comic comics, but not superheroes in the way they’d been.

We Who Would Valiant Read – Part 7

This is the final part of my survey of the Valiant, covering issue 601 (17 August 1974) to issue 712 (19 October 1976). It begins less than two months after the radical revision of the comic on merger with the failed Lion, at which time a great many long-lasting series were cancelled. Neither the incoming Lion characters nor the new series (one of which had already concluded) were suitable replacements.
For the last time, let’s summarise the position as at issue 601. Valiant and Lion costs 4p for 32 pages, of which only the front and back covers are in colour, the latter usually being a full page ad. Three series still remain from issue 1. The paper consists of the cover feature, The Rivals ,Captain Hurricane (4pp), Challenge Charlie (1p), Airfix Modellers Club Page (1p), Adam Eterno (3pp), The Lincoln Green Mob (3pp), Billy Bunter (1½pp), Kid Pharaoh (2pp), Yellowknife of the Yard (2½pp), Mowser the Priceless Puss (1p), It’s All Yours (letters page) (1p), Trail to Nowhere… (3pp) and Danny Doom (2pp).
Yellowknife was a special case: this had been one of the cancelled series, and the one most begging for it, and the Editor explained that, from time to time, old Valiant favourites would return like this.
Frankly, nothing appeals much out of that. Captain Hurricane was formulaic and whilst I only occasionally recognised repeated strips, it was impossible to tell how many others might be slipping past because the stories were just too generic to tell apart. Challenge Charlie was a cartoon series in the grand Valiant tradition of being completely unfunny to adults. Adam Eterno had been too repetitious and dreary for me in Lion and was no better here, whilst the Lincoln Green Club was lightweight and unable to make interesting use of its magic horn that froze things for five minutes.

The suicide one

Billy Bunter was. Kid Pharaoh had started out interesting but had overused its formula, and the exchange of a crutch-wielding kid for a middle-aged archaeologist as sidekick had improved things not at all. Yellowknife was racist tripe, Mowser had long since lost any spark it had, Danny Doom, a teenage sorceror sported here from mediaeval times was cliched and dull. Trail to Nowhere…, a Western, was the only series with any spark to it, thanks to its pairing of wily drifter Colorado Jones and Army Colonel’s brattish son, Simon Grant, but even that was just about hunting for a goldmine.
There are two omission from that list above, one of them significant. Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan was rested but the big one was Valiant‘s last lifetimer, The Nutts. Was this just an odd issue off, or a longer term thing? Issue 602 saw Nolan back but the Nutts’ exodus was extended, the first time they had missed two issues together. Three in a row suggested that they too had bitten the dust but not so. They would appear, erratically up till the end. Thankfully, Sporty had finally been staked through the heart and his head cut off and buried under a crossroads.
Yellowknife’s return was only for three issues, the usual length of his stories. The next turn went way back, a repeat appearance for The House of Dolmann and Mickey the Mimic.
The price went up again in issue 606 (21 September), reaching 5p. It would reach 6p within eight months, in issue 640 (10 May 1975).
An air of desperation first reared its head with issue 608 (5 October) with a cover plugging 1,000s of prizes and pull-out eight page bonus books. The first of these was side-on mini Mytek the Mighty (bloody difficult to read on a laptop!)
The next temporary return, in issue 612 (2 November) actually came from the Lion half and was Robot Archie, though with a brand new artist doing an inadequate job of drawing the likenesses of Archie, Ted and Ken, who suddenly all shrank to stocky figures about 5′ 6” in height.
Another prize competition appeared as early as issue 614 (16 November), whilst there was a return for the Nutts in issue 616 (30 November). A much more welcome return visitor was Raven on the Wing in issue 618 (14 December), still leading Wigford Town, but giving me three pages worth reading for however long this story would last. Which was a good job as Trail to Nowhere… ended the following week, to be replaced by Whiz-Along Wheeler, a speedway rider, in a strip that looked quite like the old days, especially with art from Mike Western.
Though I still didn’t find the content of Danny Doom more than trivial and cliched, I was growing ever more impressed by the art, which made it well worthwhile stopping to read as I scrolled through. And it was amusing to find that the teenager acquired a(n older) girlfriend in Carol Langden in issue 627 (15 February).
Sadly, Raven’s story only ran six weeks (with no appearances from either Hagan) and then it was Spellbinder’s turn in issue 624 (25 January 1975), the former Turville’s Touchstone.
Though it kept its series running regularly, when it came to the cartoon pages, these were a jumble, a random selection of two or three out of Mowser and The Nutts, who frequently alternated, and such things as Mickey the Mimic and even The Crows. I can’t speak with any certainty but I strongly suspect these were all reprints, from either of the papers, just as I’m sure Zip Nolan is reprint. Valiant and Lion’s audience in 1974/5 would have been in their cradles (or wombs) when these series were running, and it cut the comic”s budget massively to reduce the number of pages for which payment was required. Even Sporting Roundabout was wall-to-wall reprint.

The misery porn one

The next ‘guest’ feature was Janus Stark, in issue 630 (8 March). The same issue, Whiz-Along Wheeler also met a ‘girlfriend’, a female motocross rider he’d beaten in a competition, who didn’t take kindly to his attempts to be friendly and who turned out to be the daughter of his speedway team’s manager. First Danny Doom, now Wheeler? This is definitely the Seventies.
Or so it looked. Times were getting desperate, and Valiant underwent a full-scale revamp in issue 633 (29 March), dropping Lion from the masthead, restarting all series, Whiz-Along Wheeler (whose story was a long way from concluding), The Lincoln Green Mob and Danny Doom chucked out, and adding new series in The Potters of Poole Street, Sergeant Strong and The Test Match Terrors.
The new cover feature, the next week, was the Daredevils, starting with Evel Knievel. A fourth new series, The Boy Who Went To War, started in issue 637 (26 April).
Only one of the new crop was interesting. The Potters was an odd tearjerker about a very poor family in which schoolboy Alfie was being the man of the family whilst dreaming of buying a bike against all his setbacks, Sergeant Strong a quasi-superman thank to a space accident and the Boy a fifteen year old sharpshooting poacher who lied about his age to join up in the Second World War. The Test Match Terrors was a cricket version of the Legge’s Eleven/Carson’s Cubs formula, an ex-England all-rounder building a team of oddballs to challenge for the Ashes, heavily reminiscent of the Wilson story interrupted in the Sixties when I stopped buying Victor.
Valiant is visibly sliding towards oblivion now. Captain Hurricane, and the random mixture of cartoon strips that changes from week to week, are all reprints, as is Zip Nolan when he appears. Kid Pharaoh has long since lost any freshness or individuality, grinding out the same old same old. The same goes for Adam Eterno, whining about the threat of gold every third panel or so, in case the reader has forgotten. Sergeant Strong is a stupid mess, The Potters some appalling Victorian morality play translated into modern times, the kind of thing that should have appeared in Mandy or Bunty, not a boy’s comic, whilst The Boy who went to War just a war story, no better, no worse, but no different from the thousands before it.
Only The Test Match Terrors continued to amuse, despite being as predictable as all get out, but I wonder what they’ll do for the second story, if there is a second story. In the end, the series came to an abrupt ending in issue 658 (4 October), as Ashe’s Eleven got selected for England, played a very close draw against the Australians and totally abandoned the plot about someone trying to sabotage them unsolved and unmentioned (I’m sure I guessed the villain). I guess I was in a minority in enjoying it. So there was no second story.

The ‘Football ‘ one

I couldn’t help but smile at the advert in issue 657 (27 September) for Fleetway’s newest comic, Vulcan. Only three features were mentioned, two of them being very familiar to Valiant readers, namely Mytek the Mighty and The Steel Claw (the third was The Trigon Empire). The ad for the second issue mentioned The Spider. Presumably Vulcan‘s budget was limited to paper and ink?
The next new series, in issue 659 (11 October), was The Prisoner of Zenga, in which an evil scientific assistant secretly copied the brain patterns of vicious criminal genius Max Zenga into a super-powered robot. What was worse, this was all happening in Birmingham! The prisoner side of it became apparent in week 2 when the scientist realised he was under metal Zenga’s control, not the other way round.
And The Boy who went to War ended in issue 660 (18 October), with Danny’s age being exposed and him being sent home, his orphaned mate being invalided out and coming with him, and the two setting up as poachers. In their place, The Wild Wonders returned, presumably as a restart of the ‘guest’ feature feature, with a first trip back to Worrag Island since they debuted eleven years earlier. Meanwhile, The Potters from Poole Street trudged on, three pages of pure poverty porn every week.
There was a complete cover-re-design in issue 667 (2 December), with a new logo, white backgrounds and Adam Eterno being plugged on the cover. Inside, Captain Hurricane was still in reprint but the decision had been taken to overwrite the original hand-lettering with mechanical lettering in an overlarge and flat font. It made every balloon look like shouting, and reduced the amount of text possible in each frame. The change went for every series. It was ugly, it was out of proportion to the art, and in the reprinted strips it was a waste of time and money. For what? If it cut costs, it was short-term gain only. No-one would long buy a comic looking like that.
Kid Pharaoh finished the same week, still wrestling, still cursed by darkness, still after Baron Munsen, in short unresolved after all those repeated adventures. May one ask the point? It was replaced by (cover-featured) They Couldn’t Break Brady, another football strip.
A week later, Alfie Potter was rewarded with his dream bicycle (the family remained in poverty, but so what?), the Zenga robot blew up and the Wild Wonders got their feral dog, so that was three series blown away and three more new ones in issue 669 (20 December).

The shitbag one

The big shock was that after 668 appearances, Captain Hurricane was no longer the lead feature. This was a war story of a different stripe, Death Wish, about a sergeant who got his men killed and sought death, if he could take loads of Jerries with him. Next was The Lout Who Ruled The Rovers, about a guy banned from his local football club until he inherits it and takes over. The other was One-Eyed Jack, about a New York Police Detective, a Dirty Harry rip-off. Captain Hurricane was found all the way back on page 22.
The three new series all had one thing in common (apart from shit art). They were violent, rebellious and rough. Six months ahead of The Sex Pistols, they were anticipating punk. This was the work of new editor, John Wagner, co-creator in 1975 with Pat Mills of Battle Picture Weekly, and soon to co-create a minor title called 2000AD.
Both writers wanted to get away from the sanitised type of traditional comic and move from middle-class to working-class ideas and characters, and the more unwashed working-class at that. Valiant had become dull and predictable, and was plainly dying, but based on just the first issue of Wagner’s revamp, I think I’m going to wish they’d just killed it off. Within ten months, they would.
And then it was 1976. This latest version of Valiant was a bust. One-Eyed Jack was immensely popular, so much so that it was promoted to lead feature in issue 679 (28 February) but it was still repetitious macho crap. The two football stories were the only ones that retained any of my interest, but the Lout ground out very old ground, with the Chairman constantly ineptly trying to pull a scheme to get rid of Joe Carson… sorry, I meant Monty Montgomery, and Dave Brady getting mired up in plots to get rid of him: if every footballer in British comics who lost his place to a newcomer worked as hard to get it back as they did to sabotage their rival, they’d be shoo-ins for international call-ups.
The problem was that everything was run by formula, the same thing every week and, in the case of Death Wish and Adam Eterno, several times a week. Things were made worse by Wagner’s next new feature, also in 679, Soldier Sharp, the Rat of the Rifles, about a little shitbag of a Quartermaster who was scheming the Army, got caught and got sent into the lines where he cheats his way around. Enter the anti-hero, exit any shred of Valiant‘s reputation. Sharp replaced what had been a modest run for Zip Nolan.
They couldn’t break Brady ended in issue 684 (3 April), alongside the news that Vulcan had failed (not that it was put that way) and was to merge into Valiant. One-Eyed Jack, Soldier Sharp, Billy Bunter, Adam Eterno, The Lout (albeit for a final episode) and Death Wish survived. Wee Red, another football strip about a goes-his-own-way talented kid, was the only new feature first week, whilst Captain Hurricane was in the unusual position of having been appearing in both comics, and so surviving and transferring all at the same time.

The Dirty Harry rip-off one

The oddest feature of all was a mini-Valiant pull-out, eight sideways pages featuring Mytek, Kelly’s Eye, Robot Archie, The Spider, Billy’s Boots and The Trigan Empire in one or two shrunken pages each. The Trigan Empire’s full colour art, not just shrunken but printed in monochrome, suffered the most. The ones I recognised were reprints so no doubt all the others were.
Another new series, on an unexpected fortnightly schedule, started in issue 686 (17 April). This was Paco, about a killer half-dog, half-wolf. No, thanks.
This time, even the football story wasn’t worth reading. This meant that I was skimming through the entire comic, reading nothing, just noting any changes between now and the inevitable end. Like Paco going weekly as of issue 689 (8 May), and the minimag disappearing by issue 691 (22 May). The usual crop of cartoons kept popping up irregularly but even Billy Bunter was missing the odd week or two. They, like Captain Hurricane, were stuck in the back pages. These were the only features offering a standard of art commensurate with Valiant‘s peak.
Issue 700 rolled up on 24 July. Wee Red would finish in issue 703 (14 August), cut for another football series, Stryker, a big, mean guy on a revenge mission. Issue 706 (4 September) saw the last price increase, to 7p. Death Wish ended in issue 708 (18 September) with Joe Bannon finally killed in action so, yes, this was entertaining the audience with a suicide strip. There was another like-for-like replacement in The Black Crow, starring an ever bigger bastard of a ‘hero’, a scarred Gestapo Major out to trap and kill a British Secret Agent. Excuse me while I puke in disgust.
Everything now was too late. Issue 712 was Valiant‘s last, cover-dated 16 October, just two weeks after the comic’s fourteenth birthday. The last line-up consisted of One-Eyed Jack, The Black Crow, Paco, Stryker, Billy Bunter, Soldier Sharp, Challenge Charlie, Captain Hurricane, Adam Eterno and The Nutts. Some features carried on into the comic that killed Valiant, Battle Picture Weekly, mostly the shitty ones. I stopped caring ages ago.
I feel sorry for Valiant. Like Lion, it fell into decline around about 1969/70, but Lion was never subjected to the indignities served upon Valiant but put decently out of its misery. Valiant lasted just long enough to reach the era of thuggish, brutish, violent comics, and attempt to pervert itself to the coming form. Its last issue was a mercy killing, one that demanded a stake through the heart. Let me read something radically different next.

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.