A Buzz Around The Hornet: Part 2

Here’s the next 100 issues of The Hornet, the youngster of the D.C.Thomson stable, taking us from 14 August 1965 to 8 July 1967. It starts with series such as Muscles Malone MA, hiding his secret as an all-in wrestler to keep his job as a Form Master at a sports-hating Private School, the final episode of the current Nick Smith story, as he leads Kingsbury to the double of the Third Division and the FA Cup, The Bent Copper continuing his vendetta against the gang that framed him and the Second World War Private Army, the Deathless Men, in V for Vengeance. Will there be any nostalgic remembrance when we arrive in July 1967? Will I find I had given the paper up before then? Stick around.
Losing Nick Smith so quickly was a bit of a blow, and when The Bent Copper cleared his name in issue 103 (28 August), I was starting to think my reading material was getting thin, but I should have known better. Nick and Arnold Tabbs were back again next issue, under the It’s Goals That Count heading and, after an unprecedented fifteen week absence, so too was Briggs, Bernard the Boot, turning his multi-talents and mono-minded personality to Rugby Union. Something tells me I’m going to get the Tennis series in this tranche of issues.
For Nick and Arnold, it was the same old story, even though they were back in the First Division with Redburn Rovers, tasked with bringing the club the title and up against the usual self-important Director who thought Nick should have to defer his ideas to him, whilst Briggs’s new series set off on a slightly different tack. For once, Briggs was ignorant of Rugby League (I was surprised that we weren’t in the snootier territory of Union) and even had to practice a bit before he could kick the ball reliably each time. But after that, we all knew what would be coming…
Sadly, Muscles Malone was done the week after, when an understanding Governor secured his position as the new Headmaser. I could have stood a few more weeks of that.
Briggs’ story was a cut above his previous outings. For one thing, he had acquired an artist who could draw a normal sized mouth and jaw, and for another he was being a bit more humble than before. Though his kicking was every bit as pretenaturally good, he had a lot to learn about the game and for once wasn’t lording it over everyone else’s ignorance.
V for Vengeance ended on a panel I recalled in issue 109 (9 October), with a panicked Hitler trying to kill Himmler because news of the Deathless Men’s successes had been withheld from him. I’m hoping, indeed I’m pretty sure, it will be back: after all, this series didn’t explain why the Deathless Men take the name Jack.
This left Messrs Briggs and Smith to entertain me, plus a mixture of mildly interesting to dull series that left no great impression, and Smith’s latest series ended in issue 115 (20 November) on the dramatic point of working out goal difference to discover Redburn had won the League by one-hundredth of a goal. Oh what fun we had.
The popular The Swamp Rat was back again. I haven’t mentioned this before as I find it dull. It’s a Second World War series about an Australian jungle expert with multiple tattoos on his body, which obviously delighted the readers, just not me. And a new prose serial (yes, they’re still running) began, starring the mysterious Mr X. And no, this was not Lion‘s Mr X.
And as usual Nick Smith wasn’t gone long, returning in issue 117 (4 December) for the first in a series of complete stories drastically multiplying the number of clubs he played for.
Suddenly, it was old home week. A scar-faced RAF Corporal calling himself Greene undertook the task of first training POW Tom Vale to overcome a ‘dead’ leg and, post-War, to train him as a runner, all under the series title Has Wilson Come Back? (answer: yes, you fool) in issue 119 (18 December), whilst the following issue saw Bernard Briggs’ successful venture into Rugby League replaced by The Big Palooka in Chicago. And the unfunny Ugg, a neanderthal wrestler, also came back the same issue.
Once again, one of our comics reviews comes to 1966, to the year of the World Cup, and England’s Glory. Hornet began its celebrations with a World Cup wallet in issue 123 (15 January) and three new series, one and a half of them new. The wholly new was The Wonder from the Western Isles, another football strip from out of the recesses of memory, not for its star, 17 year old Rory Grant, but for Grant’s mentor, the Blind Laird, a man obsessed with reverting tactically to the days of the attacking centre half, and equally obsessed with down-at-fortune Longport Wanderers, for reasons that must already be obvious to anyone who knows boys comics.

The returnee was, to my delight, V for Vengeance, once more sacrificing to halt the Nazis, this time concentrating on the German Navy in Hamburg dockyard, whilst the halfway series was The Blitz Kid, starring Nick Smith’s best pal, Arnold Tabbs, as a 13 year old during the War. To escape the blitz on Rudley, Arnold is evacuated and placed with a mean, cruel, miserly couple (did any other kind take in an evacuee in the comic book version of the War?) Arnold runs home to Rudley only to discover his house has been bombed and everyone, including his dog, have been killed. This did not look like being a cheerful series.
Another new feature came on board in issue 126 (5 February), another War series about Captain Spencer, Britain’s top intelligence agent in the Middle East, aka The Limping Man. This is supposedly one of the classic Hornet features but I have no recollection of it and on the strength of the first couple of episodes, I can’t see why it’s so highly regarded.
Wilson finally admitted to being Wilson in issue 129 (26 February) in order to prevent a fraudster cashing in on his name, which made room for a new series the following week, The Blind Boxer, about a boxer slowly losing his sight but needing to keep boxing to pay for treatment for his sick son. And The Big Palooka brought down the Mr Big of Chicago before turning to England in the same issue.
It was another of those spells where most of the series were of little interest to me, just The Blitz Kid, the Wonder of the Western Isles and the perennially interesting V for Vengeance. Though there’s one aspect about the football story that has me reserving judgement: it’s one thing for the rogue to keep Rory’s real identity hidden from his bereaved father and another for Rory’s mentor, the Blind Laird, to do the same. Where is this going?
Having said that, V for Vengeance wrapped up in issue 134 (2 April) with the Deathless Men playing a vital part in the real-life sinking of the Bismarck, to be replaced, ‘like-for-like’, by The One-Pip Wonder. This was about a sharp Second Lieutenant taking over a Reconnaissance Patrol that had gotten sloppy, which was decently interesting.
And Rory Grant’s story ended in issue 136 with the Laird making a clean breast of everything, AND admitting he’d been a total bastard over the missing boy, which I didn’t expect. Oh yes, and winning the FA Cup too.
Just when it looked like I was in danger of running out of series to enjoy, an old favourite came to the rescue in issue 138 (30 April). The Forbidden Quest of William Wilson, set at a guess in the late Forties, concerned itself with Wilson’s desire to climb Mount Everest, via the then-primary route from Tibet. And the relief became a rush for, though Arnold Tabbs’ teenage years came to an end in issue 139, there was the simultaneous return of both Nick Smith and Bernard Briggs the following week and, yes, just as I predicted this was Briggsy’s stint as a tennis player.
The series went under the sub-title of The Roughneck of the Courts, and set Bernard up with two soon-to-be-competing interests: tennis and winning Lorry Driver of the Year. I remember a fair amount of this one. I don’t remember anything at all about the new It’s Goals that Count, but it’s got me hooked already. Nick and Arnold’s latest club are the English representatives in the new World League, a team of internationals except for J.P. Sedley, an unknown amateur brought in as right half, captain and tactician. Sedley, whose touch is cool, whose expression never changes, and who has all the unique skills of the former international Steve Woolmer, who vanished in the Blitz, but who would be over 60 by now…
And to cap it all, Rob Higson followed the list of stalwarts back into action in issue 141, in The Nameless One, another set-up I remember. The title character was Len Hamlet, a foundling seventeen year old super-cricketer from the Highshire groundstaff. But where was he born? Did he qualify to play from Highshire or did he belong to Broadshire? (This is the relic of the days when only men born within the County could play for the County Cricket Club).
The One-Pip Wonder ended in issue 146 (25 June), having proved to be a pretty decent, realistic War story, set in the Battle of the Bulge, though this was never referred to as such. A one-off story covered that slot, then in issue 148, three new stories started up. None of these looked immediately inspiring, and the SF one, The Purple Planet, paid all the attention to scientific and astronomic reality of Captain Condor at his stupidest.

But all good series come to an end. The Nameless One ended with the inevitable revelation that Len Hamlet was qualified to play for Highshire, and his crazy father faced up to justice in issue 151 (30 July). A week later, Wilson reached the summit of Everest, not that he admitted it, and took a breather, though to my delight this made way for one of those features I’d never forgotten, Nightingale Nobbs.
Nobbs was one of those natural ideas, funny without being silly, and flexible. Nobbsy was a wrestler, a beaten-up bloke with a broken nose, two cauliflower ears and missing teeth, a real horrorshow. He also had the voice of and angel, you just couldn’t put him on stage. Ken Barry was a reporter. He had the matinee idol looks but couldn’t sing. So music Manger Mike Mason put Ken on stage miming to Nobbs, singing in the wings, a trick they couldn’t afford to have exposed. Except that Nobbs still had contract to wrestle and a list of names as long as his arm – in fact, it was tattooed on it – on whom he wanted revenge.
Nick Smith made it three out of three endings when Granton United won the World League and Sedley finally remembered which past footballer he actually was, though the mystery of the ice-cold skin was conveniently forgotten, naughty naughty (just like with Fergus). Not that it mattered because, after just one week’s absence, Wilson was back, reunited with his usual artist, in Wilson and the Black Olympics.
The title tempered my usual enthusiasm for a Wilson story and the opening episode was not propitious. In the London Olympics year of 1948, prominent white sportsman were being kidnapped, to Africa, where for propaganda purposes the ‘simple’ black natives would see their own beating the white man. This was an inherently dodgy subject.
The clean sweep followed in issue 155 (27 August) in the remembered fashion. Briggs reached the Men’s Singles and Doubles Finals at Wimbledon, dropped out of the former to win the Lorry Driver of the Year Competition instead and then carried his crocked partner to victory in the Doubles. This time, he didn’t even take a week off, following in Arnold Tabbs’ footsteps in The Boyhood of Bernard Briggs, little Briggsy aged 11.
This was the start of another fluid spell, with new stories starting singly practically every week, none of any great substance. The best of these was The Rifleman of the Rocks, about a sniper in Borneo, the sole survivor of an ambushed platoon, single-handedly holding up the Japanese advance, because this had Hornet’s best artist on it, with some beautiful detailed figurework and backgrounds.
Nightingale Nobbs’ fun little story carried me through to issue 167 (19 November) and Wilson’s Black Olympics lasted only a week longer. Though the subject was dubious and the outcome severely colonial, it was better than it could have been, and the Zulu leader Chaka, though a fanatic intending to raise the whole of Africa, was presented with dignity and as a strictly fair man. And the Rifleman completed his self-imposed duty in issue 170 (10 December, and the last I read at Brigham Street in Openshaw; so I did read Hornet past the move to Burnage Lane).
If I was taking the contents of Hornet as any portent, life in my new home didn’t get off to a great start, as Briggs’ boyhood was the only decent series, and that had settled into a repetitive round, plus one half-bearable football story that was neither funny enough nor sporty enough.
Fortunately for my 21st century interest, Nick Smith and It’s Goals that Count returned in issue 173 (31 December). Nick and Arnold were transferred to their umpty-gazillionth club (and it’s only 1958), newly bought by an American Corporation who reckon that a successful football club is the way to British hearts, even in a Rugby League town: Nick’s going to have a lot of explaining to do, isn’t he?
This is an aspect of the entire comic that had long been evident but which has only now been made explicit: there are absolutely no contemporary series. We are one page away from 1967 and the setting for Nick and Arnold is almost a decade before. Wilson hasn’t even reached the Fifties yet. Contrast this with Lion and Valiant, if not the futuristic TV21. The DC Thomson papers all occupy a very narrow range of styles and it cannot be coincidence that they refuse to enter the modern era. I’ve heard some things about hidebound management, and this is in keeping with those stories.
Briggs’ Boyhood came to an end with an implausible twist in issue 175 (14 January 1967), which saw him set up for himself with business premises… at age 11? But I was more intrigued by the Nick Smith episode, and the unexpected appearance of Bert Bunting. Who? do you say? I have vivid memories of Bert, who is Rob Higson’s best pal at Highshire, his equivalent of Arnold Tabbs. It’s an unusual step for two separate series to have a crossover, but what concerns me most is that Bunting hasn’t yet been introduced in It’s Runs that Count. I want an explanation.
And five seconds research reveals the bitter truth that also accounts for the fixation with not setting stories in the Sixties: these are all bloody reprints! Nick and Arnold and Rob and Bert, from The Rover, at different times in the Fifties. What a chiz! (which is a swizz and a swindle, as any fule kno).
Bert turned out to not just be a bird expert who cured all the Blackford pigeons, but an enthusiastic supporter and a more than useful inside right, but I’m now waiting for his ‘debut’ where he really belongs, at Highshire.

For a few weeks, I only had It’s Goals that Count to keep me interested, and it’s not even that good a serial, but relief was on hand in issue 180 (18 February), with three new series, seeing the simultaneous return of Arnold Tabbs as The Blitz Kid, the ever-welcome Wilson and a third V for Vengeance. Arnold was now 15, homeless again and having to rebuild himself after his broken leg and blood-poisoning, Wilson was helping the British Government on an experiment in severe cold conditions and the Deathless Men were helping two British agents follow a trail of rare butterflies to rescue a third (no, seriously).
There was also a return from the Swamp Rat in issue 182 (4 March), even though the War in the Pacific was over, plus another in a recent run of gimmicky-boxing stories, this one with Tibetan overtones. And, to be honest, whether it’s a sign of the times now we’re solidly into 1967, or it’s me reading too many Hornets too fast, not only are the one-off series dull and uninvolving, the favourites are well below par this time. Only The Blitz Kid is maintaining the standard of its earlier run, and that consists of him being made homeless again every two to three weeks.
V for Vengeance came to an end in issue 188 (15 April) without the Deathless Men ever being more than supporting characters in their own series, a big letdown, and Wilson’s lacklustre story followed it two issues later. And I owe The Blitz Kid an apology for having prematurely accused it of being repetitive, for it did break out of the cycle of homelessness for Arnold.
There was a tremendous surprise in issue 192 (13 May), when Hornet entered new territory with an adaptation of the popular American TV Western series, Laramie, though appearances were kept up since the series had been off the air sine 1963 and the adaptation was of the first season, broadcast in 1959: never even unknowingly up-to-date.
Nick Smith ended his season in issue 196 (10 June), with another Double, Second Division Championship and yet another FA Cup (was there a season this man didn’t win the Cup?), making room for It’s Runs that Count, billed as starring Rob Higson and Len Hamlet, and introducing Bert Bunting. You really do wonder at times.
Arnold Tabbs’ back-story ended in issue 199 (1July) with his meeting with Nick Smith as seen so long ago, putting him into the First Division at the age of 26. Which ought to make him 40 at least when you count up the number of clubs he and Nick have been jointly transferred to by now, but who’s counting?
So another 100 issues goes by, with the teaser of a new Bernard Briggs story to lead off the next lot. This lot has been a mixed bag, with some glorious rolling in nostalgia giving way to a feeling of malaise. For the last half of this bunch, reading Hornet has been a mostly flat experience. After Nightingale Nobbs, there have been some series I have followed, but many more that, after a week or two, and several before the end of the first episode I have scrolled past.
Because this is a boy’s comic, and an archaic boy’s comic at that. It has no interest in reflecting its times, or in exercising the imagination of its audience. It is tied to the idea that what worked in the past is still the only way of doing things, and not even the only right way. It’s for kids, and no-one else, and it’s got more reprints than I realised, and the only reason I didn’t realise this sooner is because the new stories that wrap themselves round the reprints are created in the same mould.
I will produce a third instalment, though not necessarily for this slot next time. Two hundred issues in just over four weeks is a bit too much and I need to cleanse my palate a bit. And if the third instalment gives me the end of my Wilson’s Ashes story, it may be a long while before we see a fourth.

A Buzz Around The Hornet: Part 1

I know that I said, not that long ago, that I had no interest in investigating either of the D.C. Thomson comics, Victor or Hornet, that I read in that long ago childhood, but I did happen to come across a 3-DVD set of the latter, 648 copies for a mere £4, free postage. And it’s not like they take up that much space…
Hornet was a younger brother to Victor, which I discovered first, though I don’t know when. For some reason, I was under the impression that The Victor – to give it its formal title – had been around for years and years when it had first appeared on 25 January 1961, when I would have been jut turned five and still too young for it. The Hornet, to again be formal, did not debut until 14 September 1963, and I started getting it weekly with something like issue 27, making it seem like something much more new. I was then eight, and the right age.
How long I read both comics, I don’t recall. Did they survive our move from Openshaw to Burnage in December 1966? Surely they would have been swept away by my eager conversion to Football magazines in 1968? Will the comics on these DVDs give me any clues as to that? How many of these series will I remember?
And why, given its regimented layouts, homogenised art and structured stories, was Hornet the first comic to spark a thought about how these stories were drawn and who did it and how?

The first issue wasn’t much to write home about, nondescript characters, dated, small art reminiscent of the Fifties Lion, bog standard genres: Westerns, War, (both real and fictional), Comedy and Sport, a generous page allowance to each strip (guaranteeing hurried art if you’ve got to churn out five pages a week) and two prose serials crammed into a 32 page package with full colour only on the covers and one series allowed a red monotone.
On the other hand, that sports story featured a very recognisable figure I knew well and always read avidly. ‘Bouncing Briggs’ was Bernard Briggs, scrap dealer with a highly developed sense of ethics and over-developed natural athleticism and sporting ability. Briggs was the amateur’s amateur, refusing to be paid for playing football and becoming the independent goalkeeper for First Division Blackton Rovers.
This is only the first Briggs story and I’m not going to judge it that quickly, but it’s not quite my cup of tea yet. Briggs is drawn with an oversized mouth and jaw that makes him half a cartoon, and at this stage he’s a bit of a knobhead. The man’s a bombastic loudmouth, monomaniacal about himself in every respect except his football, and even then he carries the Laws of Football around with him on the field so he can pedantically correct everyone who gets something wrong. I hope he mellows.
We were only seven issues in (26 October) when another familiar series debuted. Dopey Dan was a prose series, the title character being 17 year old Dan Davidson, the founder, secretary and least athletic member of the Carthorse Club, an all-purpose amateur sports club, eager yet incompetent at everything. A bit like me, except for his lucky ability to come out on top despite being crap at everything: I never did that.
But I never saw Hornet remotely this early in its career, which means I am destined to see it again, as a repeat, somewhere nearer the mid-Sixties.
Ten issues in, I’m surprising myself by finding the most interesting feature to be Deeds of Glory, a true life feature oriented to War experiences and Victoria Crosses. The stories told are patriotic enough, but they give an immediacy to such scenes that I find extremely interesting, especially when they cross the same paths trodden by that noted Victorian Soldier Hero Harry Flashman…
A third of the long-term characters I recalled debuted in issue 13 (6 December) but in an unexpected format. Nick Smith was star of the series It’s Goals That Count, about his adventures as a top-flight inside left (that’s another one for your Grandad) but I wasn’t aware he’d first appeared as a prose serial, looking back after a late career FA Cup winning goal to his earliest days, as a ball-juggling circus boy, an orphan. It’s still only 1963 and that was three memories revived already.
There are no credits in a D.C. Thomson comic and there never will be, but the Slade of the Pony Express strip in issue 15 (20 December) looked to be the work of Tony Weare, who contributed to Moore and Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.
There had already been several changes of series already in Hornet, far too many to start recording in my usual manner, especially as the stories are equally uninspiring and the art nearly indistinguishable at this point, but the first Briggs story came to an end in issue 16, with Blackton winning the FA Cup. Don’t worry, Bernard would be back.

His replacement was The Wonder from Winter Island, 16 year old Gordon Jones, who developed an uncanny talent for crossing the ball on his remote and recreation-free island, based on a trunk of kit washed ashore and a handbook that gave him a very one-sided impression of football. I got the idea of something familiar about this which crystallised into near-certainty when Gordon, signed for Everley Rovers, got a heading partner in a Spanish lad, Pedro. This I am sure I have read, probably as soon as I started getting Hornet for I’m convinced I came in partway through this series. There’s a specific plot point or two I’m expecting to see.
One thing different abut Hornet, even as early as this, is that features tend to come and go quickly, and some, like Dopey Dan, drop in and out with no pattern.
I got my first piece of real fun out of The Champion Nobody Knew, which started in issue 23 (15 February 1964). This was a boxing strip, which centred upon Mr Pearson, an immaculately dressed man of faintly aristocratic mien who wandered into a boxing gym to hire a manager to manage him. Pearson was a complete novice who’d studied boxing scientifically but never boxed. And, of course, he was better at it than anyone, as well as being a total mystery. It’s a formula, and it’s easily recognisable, but the absurdity of it, and Pearson’s overwhelming competence had me chuckling. I was looking forward to reading this.
There was also something familiar about the art to my eyes. Though I can’t remember if it was in Hornet or Victor, there was a series called The Big Palooka, about a British Police Inspector on exchange duty in New York, and I suspect it might have been the same artist.
And exactly on cue, in fact in issue 27 (14 March), Gordon Jones and Pedro Alvarez combined inexactly the manner I remembered – and in practically the panel image I recalled – to identify this series as the story I thought it was, and this issue as the very one I first read. And the other twist I remembered was in issue 28, as were some familiar panels in Swim, Jim, Swim.
The Nick Smith series ended in issue 29 (28 March) to be replaced by the return of Dopey Dan and the Carthorse Club, answering the question of when I first saw them: not reprints after all. And my memory once again proved sharper than I had credited it to be, with another instantly familiar sequence, this time in Squadron X.
Bernard Briggs was back in issue 34 (2 May), this time as a cricketer, under the heading Briggs the Bowler. Briggs was still the same obnoxious arsehole he was as a goalkeeper, perpetually self-righteous about being right, to the point that I actually started sympathising with the toffee-nosed ‘gentlemen’ of his county, Camshire. Did I really love his stories when I was a kid?
The Champion Nobody Knew came to an end in issue 38 (30 May) with Mr Pearson’s retirement as undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World and the revelation that he was really Sir Hereward Parkinson, genius Atomic scientist, working on top secret projects, who’d turned to boxing as a hobby, a bit of mental relaxation! Dopey Dan’s run also finished in that issue, and he was replaced by It’s Runs That Count, introducing Rob Higson as a young batsman trying to make his mark in cricket. Like Nick Smith, Higson would become a recurring stalwart of Hornet, in strip form.
There’s not much to say about most series, but a couple of them – The Secret of Jameson’s Schooldays, about a crooked private school headmaster trying to secure a legacy his school did not deserve, and Mr Frozen Face, a motor-cycling strip – both featured mystery men whose true identities were obvious, none more so than the latter, whose title character was expressionless due to plastic surgery, who called himself Jim Ellyk (you’ve probably got it already) who first appeared at the Jimmy Kelly Trophy meeting, Kelly having been a motor-cycling champion who’d disappeared after a bad crash… Must try seriously harder.
With issue 52 (5 September), Hornet completed its first year. I can’t pretend to have anything like the enthusiasm for it that I have had for most other comics I’ve re-read on DVD-Rom, and the reasons are fairly obvious. Hornet, like all the DC Thomson titles, is a cheap comic, printed on poor quality paper with poor quality art. It is aimed down at an audience that is presumed to have low standards. Though the differing art styles that have appeared over the first twelve months have surprised me by not being the homogenised style I recollected, neither has any of them been attractive. There’s an overall rushed look to practically every story, as if the artist has to rattle off each page quickly in order to draw enough of them to earn a wage. Story-wise, the paper is roughly split between war stories in different theatres and sports stories of different sports but always with an emphasis on football and cricket. Nor is the characterisation more than minimal and repetitive. The most distinctive character in the whole of year 1 was Bernard Briggs and I’ve already given my opinion of him. There’s a constant chopping and changing of series, sometimes so fast that it seems rare for a week to go by without at least one story starting. Nor do series develop in any great fashion, just piling up incident after incident until time is up, with no sense of climax.
On the other hand, I’ve been continually surprised at how many panels and moments I’ve recognised across the board, most often in the sports strips. And issue 52 saw the start of another familiar series, No Game for Jimmy, whose shape I could see instantly from its first episode, even as I recognised it for old.
But this was preparation for the biggie, probably the most memorable series to come out of Hornet, and one I am genuinely looking forward to reading. Issue 53 (re-)introduced Wilson. William Wilson, that is, the amazing athlete who ran in his black longjohns and broke record after record, not for fame or glory or winning but to test himself against records from the past that outdid the records of today – or rather just before the Second World War.

Wilson debuted in a story titled The Truth about Wilson. This had originally been told in prose in The Wizard in 1943, written by Gilbert Lawford Dalton under the pen-name W.S.K. Webb, and was now re-presented comics-style drawn by Jack Glass, a very rare instance of credits being available. Like Nick Smith and Rob Higson, Wilson would recur, over and over but this was his introduction to me and my generation, the template for the individual with immense sporting prowess.
Bernard Briggs was back in issue 56 (3 October), as Briggs the Goalie again. After accidentally crocking the goalkeeper of Fourth Division prop-ups Blackstock Town, Briggs signed as the usual amateur, despite the club being ramshackle, badly run and lacking in players of spirit, let alone ability. You can almost smell promotion already.
With Xmas 1964 coming close, Nick Smith and It’s Goals that Count returned in issue 65 (5 December), this time in ‘picture-story’ form (practically every comic I’ve re-read seems to have an unbeatable aversion to describing its series’ as comics). As well as putting Nick in pictures, as he transferred to relegation-threatened Chidsea, the series introduced Nick’s co-star, Arnold Tabbs, left-half. Tabbs was the epitome of the kind of character British comics regularly threw up, working-class heroes, rough and ready, defiantly refusing to be looked down upon, blessed with natural ability that refused to allow itself to be stifled. Briggs is an exaggeration of the type into self-righteousness.
Still the unexpected memories crop up. Sergeant Leather Lungs was only a two-page complete story in issue 66, but I recognised it immediately and the last panel came out of my memories entire.
Bernard Briggs’ series came up with a dramatic idea in the Xmas issue (no. 68, 26 December). Now earning his living as a demolition man, Briggs found a dirty silver trophy hidden in the wall of a house he was bringing down. Now, I recognised it instantly, from the art as well as the memory, for this was the FA Cup, the legendary first Cup, stolen from a Birmingham shop window when held by Aston Villa and never seen again.
The first Wilson story ended in issue 70 (9 January 1965). His reporter confidant, W.S.K.(Bill) Webb had, the previous week, finally realised that Wilson must be over one hundred years old, and the several past feats of his ‘grandad’ were Wilson’s own. Now, in the last episode, Wilson related his origin and gave some idea of his methods. But War had been declared, and Wilson volunteered for the RAF. Only Webb would know that he had been born in 1795, and thus was 146 years old.
The final paragraph recorded the disappearance of Squadron Leader William Wilson, plane shot down, missing believed dead.
Perhaps because Wilson’s story was a serious tale that dealt in complete impossibilities, I found it the most interesting, and most strangely affecting in Hornet thus far. Wilson will return and return, and I relish reaching the next part of his story.
Briggs was on his way after issue 72 (23 January), having taken Fourth Division Blackstock to an FA Cup semi-final defeat (Briggs was off the field when the goal was scored) and left them solvent. But he didn’t leave them with the first FA Cup as that got restolen: a necessary but ridiculous outcome when you think what security would have been brought in if the real Cup had ever been found.
That left me with just two series of interest, It’s Goals That Count, and Deadline Dan, The Headline Man, about a go-ahead Australian Sports journalist with a promotional streak a mile wide that had already delivered me a few remembered panels. But suddenly I was swamped with memories.
It began in issue 74 (6 February). Suddenly, in mid-series, Nick Smith and Arnold Tabbs were both transferred to promotion-chasing Second Division Manningford City, a club that suddenly seemed struck by a hoodoo. Up popped the mysterious figure of Fergus, producing for them a goalkeeper signed months previously to fill a keeper-less crisis that had just happened. Who was Fergus? What was his secret? His story filled my head with wonder at age 9.
And only one issue later, after a mere four issue gap, Wilson was back, in The Further Truth About Wilson, developing into his ages-old history, and he was joined by another Hornet regular, The Big Palooka (a-ha!), bowler-hatted Scotland Yard Detective-Sergeant Jim Ransom, on loan to the New York Police, who expected him to be useless at their Law and who were going to be very surprised indeed. As for Fergus, there was an immediate and specific memory: the mystery man buys Manningford an international right winger out of his own pocket and poses for a picture with him. When the picture is printed, Fergus is not in it.
High Wire Needs Nerve, which started in the following issue, was another trip to the memory well, about a fourteen year old boy who comes into the family high-wire act, building up to where they can once again perform their big act, the Six (a 3-2-1 pyramid on the high wire, without a net).

Bernard Briggs was gone for only six weeks before being back in goal for First Division Blackton Rovers, this time in the European Cup: plenty of opportunity for continental scrap.
It’s Goals that Count reached the end of its first strip story in issue 81 (27 March), with Manningford securing promotion by the production of one last player by the mysterious Fergus, whose mystery went unsolved – indeed was clearly never meant to be solved, explained or given any kind of rationalistic basis – and was written off as a secret that should be best forgotten and as a man who would have been a great manager/coach but for “an appalling calamity in his private life”. My theory, at age 9½, based on his non-appearance in that photo, was that Fergus was actually a ghost. I can’t come up with anything better today.
Nick Smith’s replacement was Johnny Guitar, another that I recognised instantly. I have to give Hornet for not being merely up with the times but ahead of it because there were none of the many comics I’ve re-read by now had a genuine pop music series by 1965.
Now the legend of Bernard Briggs has always been that he was the goalkeeper who never let in a single goal. I was convinced there had been one, and my conviction was justified in issue 83 (10 April) and exactly as I remembered: playing an away tie in Europe, Briggs deliberately conceded a goal from a diving header to prevent the centre forward continuing his dive into the post and breaking his neck. What a memory! (Of course, if I’d only been able to remember the important things…)
And then he went and conceded a second goal the very next week, a deflection off the referee. I didn’t remember that…
Meanwhile, Nick Smith was back in Nick Smith Builds a Team, taking on the player-managership at Kingsbury Town, Third Division strugglers, and up against a sloppy attitude in the team and an overly-dominant attitude among the Directors. And all without his best pal, Arnold Tabbs, at least to begin with.
Nick had been missing for just four issues. Add together Briggs and Wilson and it appears that the Hornet way was not to have ongoing series as such, crossing from story to story, but to have virtual regulars who would only take short breathers between tales.
And Rob Higson was back in issue 87 (8 May), now in strip format but with the surprising change of title to It’s Wickets That Count, which I remembered but hadn’t thought cam this early. The basic idea is that, due to injuries, Higson is forced to try out his fast bowling for England in India, and takes five wickets. Since they’re short of bowlers, Highshire play him as a bowler, dropping him down the order, and threatening his chances of keeping his Test place as an opener. Rob will have to fight to be accepted as an all-rounder…
As for Briggs, having won the European Cup for Blackton in issue 88, three years before a real English club did it, he qualified for another breather. This proved to be a more extended one that previously.
The Further Truth About Wilson, having carried the wonder athlete from his Yorkshire birthplace (bloody Tykes) in 1795 to his escape from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 by not just swimming the Channel but also climbing the White Cliffs, came to an end in issue 95 (3 July), leaving only Nick Smith, Rob Higson (who was gone himself, two issues later, after winning the Ases with both bat and ball) and Johnny Guitar to amuse.
I don’t think I remember Muscles Malone M.A., which started in issue 96, but I liked the premise. Malone is an all-in wrestler of great strength tied to a contract that commits him to a fight a month, but he’s also a new Housemaster at a swanky Public School that sneers at sports, forcing him to pretend to be a weakling. How can he keep his two roles apart? It’s the first series not to trip a memory that I found interesting.
There was something of the feel of Nightingale Nobbs about this series. I hope I get to see Nobbs again soon, though he may have been in Victor: I always found the two titles interchangeable.
But there was a big moment for the nostalgia in me in issue 99 (31 July) with the first appearance of V for Vengeance, a Second World War story about The Deathless Men, an underground Resistance Army who called themselves Jacks, as in the little lever that lifts a car, organised by British Spy Aylmer Gregson, who had risen to a high position in the Nazi hierarchy. I used to love that!
Gregson, a plant in the Gestapo since 1936, was Colonel von Reich, second-in-command in the Gestapo, and the Deathless Man, who had all died before, were concentration camp victims, tortured and horribly scarred, supposedly dead and buried, who dressed in grey uniforms and wore grey masks hiding their faces. They had a list of brutal, vicious officials who they killed in turn.
Johnny Guitar’s band, The Signets, hit Number 1 in both Britain and America in issue 99, which saw their series to an end. There was another interesting story had started a week earlier, which I half recalled, The Bent Copper. Ex-Police Detective John Bright had been on the track of a gang when he was framed as a member and sent to gaol. Bright was free now and determined to bring down The Big Man’s gang secretly. After all, no-one trusts a Bent Copper, which was the symbol of his campaign, pennies bent in his strong fingers.
And then there were 100 issues. There aren’t going to be any convenient points at which to break up the commentary, no reboots or resets. Hornet changes series nearly all of the time, and there are no concerted moments. A decimal approach, breaking the title down into 100 issue chunks, is as good as any and that’s what I shall do: perhaps not for the entire run but for as long as the comic has something in it to interest me.
So this has been Hornet 1-100. It’s been an unexpected experience, with many more memories of many more series, and panels, than I imagined, and which have arrived earlier in the comics’ existence than I thought. And the variety of art has surprised me, though in afterthought it shouldn’t have. I am the boy who could not tell the least difference between any of DC’s artists: between Mike Sekowsky and Gil Kane. Or Carmine Infantino. Or Murphy Anderson. There are so many different art styles in Hornet, but I couldn’t tell back then.
Let’s see where the next hundred issues take me. After all, I have a vivid recollection of leaving one Wilson story incomplete when I made my decision to swap to a different comic, and I’m eager to finally learn how the story ended.

Lady Penelope – for a fuller figure

It’s not all that long ago that I did a necessarily partial review of the mid-Sixties Lady Penelope comic, a spin-off from TV21 and the whole wonderful world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. I don’t need to explain to anyone where Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward fits in, but the source material I was working from was a bonus on the TV21 DVD, consisting of issues 1-20 and a smattering of later issues.
But now I have a Lady Penelope DVD, featuring issues 1-125, and a smaller smattering of those beyond. A chance for a much more detailed and, I hope, considered overview of this particular ground in the strange territory of Girl’s Comics.
If you think you’ve read some of this before, you have. What I said about issues 1-20 still pertains, and I have only made amendments where necessary. To begin…
The first Lady Penelope (22 January) offered us, or rather our sisters, a free fabulous signet ring and the following features: a letters page with details of next week’s free hairband and secret x-ray device: a one page b&w Perils of Parker comic strip: The Man from UNCLE, two pages in colour, both richly drawn and coloured, a two page prose serial, Flinch from Every Shadow with a girl leading character, Sandy Barton, whose life is yanked out of its comfortable routine when she is snatched by jewel robbers: a one page feature on Schooldays – Italian Style: a Beverley Hillbillies one-page cartoon with a familiar artistic style, that turned out to be Paul Trevillion: Lady P herself in full colour across the centrespread – Eric Eden didn’t survive the transition to Penny’s title, with art duties going to Frank Langford: the equally transplanted Lady Penelope Investigates feature, given a full page (but did it have to be not-funny-even-then Liverpool comedian Jimmy Tarbuck?): a one page b&w strip featuring a family of Robinsons that evoked the imported American SF show Lost in Space, but going by Space Family Robinson (I don’t know about the rest of the country but Granada gave Lost in Space about eight weeks before dropping it mid-cliffhanger): a FAB Club page equivalent to TV21‘s Contact 21 page, with a hair care piece, a full-colour fashion page and a competition to design drawing room curtains for Creighton-Ward Manor (this really is NOT a boy’s comic, is it?): a two page Bewitched strip, drawn by the same artist who drew My Favourite Martian: and on the back cover, in colour, Marina, Girl of the Sea, the story of the silent girl from Stingray, and how she lost her voice.
An interesting mix, to say the least.

Penny by Frank Langford

The Schooldays featured turned out, as I’d already guessed, to feature a different country and culture every week, which made for entertaining and informative reading. And the Bewitched/Favourite Martian artist stood revealed as Bill Tilcombe in issue 2, when he was allowed to sign his art.
Space Family Robinson had some splendidly angular b&w art, ‘signed’ with the initials JB, from which I deduce the presence of John Burns. The series had nothing directly to do with the TV series: it was in fact a British version of an American Gold Key Comic of the same name that inspired (i.e., was ripped off by) Lost in Space.
Sandy Barton’s story concluded after seven brief but decent weeks with a deus ex machina rescue by a big-nosed chauffeur and a beautiful blonde aristocrat, making way for a new story from the Creighton-Ward secret files. Penny’s own adventure lasted exactly as long, and whilst she escaped under her own admirable devices, she still needed to call in Jeff Tracy to intercept the baddies.
The new serial starred Cathy Beswick and went by the name of What Did That Dog Say? which was a fair and accurate reflection of the contents of the story. And the first UNCLE adventure ended after eight weeks, with Illya getting the (highly efficient Agent) girl instead of Napoleon. I used to love The Man From UNCLE, both in the Sixties and when repeated in the late Eighties, and apart from the excellent art, the story caught the feel of the show very well.


Issue 8 (12 March)’s Lady Penelope Investigates interviewed the not-quite fifteen year old daughter of Viscount Bangor, who’d found some repute as an artist and a poet. She came over as a self-confident young lady, though the aristocratic background and her manner were a bit prejudicial. But this was another of those amazing little coincidences, for the teenager was someone whose name we recognise from something quite different and many years later, she being future actress and Time Lord Romana, Lalla Ward, the former wife of Richard Dawkins. Funny old world.

A dozen issues in and the comic had established its shape admirably. Perils of Parker, whilst not actually funny, had a gentle, domestic aspect to it, dealing with life below stairs. Parker seems to have a good relationship with Lil, the cook and housekeeper, which had me wondering about what went on between episodes, and a good friendship with Perce, the gardener. The art on the UNCLE strip grew more and more impressive every week, with a fine colour scheme and its artist growing in confidence and skill at depicting faces in wonderful detail and not just those of Solo and Kuryakin: even the new creations looked like real people.

Space Family Robinson was beautifully drawn, although Burns’ propensity for greywashed tones makes the pages look dark, but its stories were dull and dragging. Penny’s own strip was well-drawn and made good use of colour, though it suffered in comparison with UNCLE by being inevitably cartoonish in comparison. Marina’s strip was also beautifully produced but felt very slow because it only had one page per week.
The two TV comedies were, in their way, neither better nor worse than any of those that appeared in TV21. The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran as a serial for the first five issues, enjoyed the better art, being by Paul Trevillion, but the stories in Bewitched were better realised, or am I just more sympathetic to a series that starred the lovely Elizabeth Montgomery, and which I have rewatched since the Sixties, unlike the Clampett family?
And the Lady Penelope Investigates feature I found fascinating, week in, week out, in its choice of people, the things that make them famous, and the contemporary attitude to them, however shallow. Things like Morecambe and Wise, Patrick McGoohan as Danger Man, Gerry Marsden on Five O’Clock Club, and even Ollie Beak and Fred Barker, this is my childhood we’re replicating here.
Though the one about Jimmy Saville in issue 15 (30 April), whilst completely innocent, turns the stomach…

Lady Penelope’s second adventure ended in issue 16 (7 May). It had involved an organisation ostensibly set up to promote equal rights and opportunities for women (how depressing that, a hundred years in the future, this was apparently still going to be necessary, what a message to serve to your audience of young girls). This was seemingly to be achieved by training women as super-efficient secretaries, who then stole all manner of industrial secrets with a refreshing lack of morality or honesty, to then manufacture and exploit as from a woman’s industry (no, still insulting to suggest women have to steal men’s ideas instead of coming up with their own). And when Penny completes the rescue of Susan Cliveden and returns her to her mother, the story has the cheek to have Penny warn Mrs Cliveden against letting her daughter join Equal Rights for Women organisations because “We girls should be dominated some of the time by the men.” The reason? “They feel more important that way.”
Ok, I know this was 1966 (I was there at the time), and coming from Lady Penelope it’s a two-edged comment. The trouble is, I’m not confident that it is meant ironically…
Once I reached issue 21 (11 June), I was breaking new ground. The file was not far short of only half the size of issue 20 but was nevertheless complete, suggesting my fears were baseless. And the first big moment came in issue 23 (25 June) when the adventures of Marina finally explained what Stingray had never done, which was why she couldn’t speak whereas she’d been chatting her way through the first twenty-two episodes. The answer was a curse, Titan’s curse. It was an ingenious notion: to silence a great orator for peace such as Aphony, Marina’s father, provide it that one word from either him or Marina will kill the. Pretty sophisticated for the audience that Gerry Anderson’s creations reached, but circumvented within a week by both spontaneously developing telepathy: minus 5 for that.

The Man from UNCLE changed artists in issue 24 (2 July), still maintaining a careful of level of photorealistic detail and the same brightly coloured inks. The new artist maintained good likenesses, without the same profusion of close-ups and a less pointillistic technique when inking faces. As his confidence developed, the stories once again started going in for photorealistic close-ups.
And in issue 35 (17 September), we were treated to the sight of Lady Penelope sunning herself on the deck of FAB2 in a rather brief bikini: face-down only, sadly.
The same issue featured a preview of The Monkees, an interview with the supposedly struggling band, three months in advance of their TV series hitting the British screens. Yes, we were being introduced to Davey, Mickey, Peter and Woolhat. No, I am not joking: at this point, Mike Nesmith was being presented under the name Woolhat, in both the interview and in the new Monkees’ strip that started the following week. What on Earth brought that on?
The new Monkees strip went in on pages 2-3 and was quite clearly another effort by Tom Kerr (did he get around, or what?). Frnk Langford was restored to Lady P’s own strip whilst the Girl’s Adventures from the Creighton-Ward files was replaced by adventures from Penny’s family tree: Ancestresses through the Ages.
There was another new artist on the UNCLE series with issue 40 (22 October) as the familiar style of Ron Embleton checked in, whilst Lady Penelope made only her second connection with International Rescue, as Thunderbird 1 was sent out to rescue her from her latest plight. And with five episodes now seen, it’s a safe moment to conclude that The Monkees suffer from far too much self-conscious wackiness to be any good, or even readable.
With Paul Trevillion no longer drawing the increasingly stupid The Beverley Hillbillies, or at least not signing it (you can see why he would be ashamed), these two strips were the only blot on the generally high standard of Lady Penelope as it worked towards the end of its first year in print.
The release of Thunderbirds are Go! in the cinema was celebrated as much here as in TV21, with a prose serialisation of the story from Lady Penelope’s point of view and a couple of photo-features, including a cover feature on ‘Cliff Richard Jr. and The Shadows’. The Monkees TV show received a countdown that had Micky Dolenz as Mike and Mike Nesmith still as Woolhat. Boy, were they going to get a surprise in January 1967.
And that landmark was celebrated in issue 50 (31 December) with a disappointing artistic downgrade on The Man from UNCLE, as Ron Embleton departed for pastures new, leaving behind the worst art of the entire series to date. Not bad in itself, but drab and perfunctory in comparison with the extremely high standards of what had gone before.

We’re only Monkeeing around…

Issue 51 (7 January 1967) featured a new masthead for the title, and issue 52 marked the end of Lady Penelope‘s first year. Just like TV21, a revamp was heralded for the next issue, promoting five new series. Clearly, a radical shake-up was planned.
In fact, six new series began in issue 53, with Lady Penelope’s own series, Perils of Parker, The Monkees, Marina and Bewitched keeping their spots. The Man from UNCLE was superseded by its own TV spin-off, The Girl from UNCLE, in black and white. Daktari, the popular TV series about a vet in Africa arrived with one page of colour, and another b&w series with a Lady P input also had a medical theme: Creighton Ward was about a children’s ward, endowed by the titled lady, centred upon student nurse Pat Langdon. Jenny Ware was an unpromising one pager about a girl who, in science class, accidentally creates a potion whose fumes enable her to go back in time. Marina was bumped inside and into black and white to accommodate a new colour back page, The Angels, which began the story of how five girl pilots were recruited for Spectrum. The Monkees were upgraded to colour, without Tom Kerr but with an artist who had finally been given, or allowed to use likenesses: Woolhat was still Woolhat, which I loathe with a passion. Last but not least, Cathy Thompson, the star of the second prose story, What Did That Dog Say? was back as a comics series, two more pages per week for Bill Tilcombe, though without an explanation for how she’d recovered the mysterious ring that gave her that strange ability. This time round, it was definitely going to be a comedy.
The phase 2 comic was steady fare but no match for the first year’s work. Daktari was unimpressive and the Girl, as in real life, no match for the Man from UNCLE, even despite some strong art from John Cooper. Jenny Ware was silly at best and The Monkees no better story-wise. Lady Penelope gained a new artist with issue 60 (11 March), with John Burns taking over from Frank Langford. Surprisingly, this rapidly became a disappointment, with Burns going for a quasi-cartoon approach that looked artificial, though his run only lasted until issue 65.

A nursing strip

Creighton Ward was an odd little thing, probably very much representative of the standard girl’s comic story, but somehow feeling shallow. Pat Langdon’s struggles with the children, and with Sir Marcus Debenham, the Chief Surgeon, have her stumbling through, making mistake after mistake, only to come through at the end for reasons that have nothing to do with any competency on the nurse’s part. It makes her look and feel very feeble.
The Monkees were very much the order of the day, with the first of four weeks of four page pull-outs of each member appearing in issue 64 (8 April), and so many covers that you start to wonder if the point of the original comic is being lost, or rather deliberately forgotten. Still, after many weeks of not being referred to by any name, in issue 73 (10 June), Mike Nesmith was finally referred to as Mike – or rather Michael.
Unfortunately, the very next week he was W*****t again. Gah!
As for the covers, each week featured a selection of mini-shots of the comic’s readers, complete with their names. I bet they would be so thrilled, their friends dead jealous… and their brothers reading TV21 calling them pathetic!

Still just about supermarionated…

There was one for the Supermarionation fans in Lady P’s series in issue 76 (1 July). Penny has to go to the Moon to prevent it being blown up, which means a trip in an unidentified XL ship of the World Space Patrol. And which XL ship is it? No numbers, but it’s unnamed Captain is our old friend, Steve Zodiac.
Something I do find intriguing about Lady Penelope is a letters page feature called Star Query in which readers write in to ask questions of pop stars and bands. These include the well-known and famous of 1967, such as Lulu, The Tremeloes and The Herd, but there are as many directed to bands of which I’ve never heard, such as The £oot (formed by an ex-Trogg), The Richard Kent Style (from Manchester) and The Breakaways (from Liverpool). I must spend sometime on YouTube to listen to them.
Monkee-mania was still accelerating, but issue 81 (5 August) at least allowed artist Harry F. Lindfield to sign the strip for the first time, even though his workload had been reduced a few weeks earlier by pasting in a couple of photos of Monkees speaking the lines for the ‘panel’. But neither the signature nor the photos lasted long. And they were still using that god awful name, W*****t! Won’t somebody stop them? Think of the children!
The following issue, without warning or explanation, Daktari was cut back to one page, and in black and white, to make way from a new colour pop star pin-up page (surprise surprise, guess which band featured in issue 85?). The reduction in artist Jon Davies’ workload (he was also responsible for The Angels) didn’t help his story-telling anyway, as Paula Tracy (no relation) was promptly winged in the right shoulder and put her sling on the left one.
But from issue 84, Daktari was taken over by former Eagle alumnus Eric Kinkaid, who brought a much smoother line to the feature.
Sadly, with the pin-up page arriving there was no longer any room for Perils of Parker, but public demand led to his reinstatement in issue 89 (30 September)
The Angels had been labouring on all year as a flying team ordered about by a mysterious voice, and their (and our) patience was finally rewarded in issue 84 (26 August) when their latest training mission took them to a remote desert location and a ‘trainer’ who promised them a more strenuous programme than ever before, and gave his name as… Colonel White. John Cooper dropped off The Girl from UNCLE, which also lost about a third of a page and in issue 86, Marina, captured yet again by Titan, found herself set-up to meet Troy Tempest and Phones in Stingray.
With both series now on a collision course with the TV show continuities, I sense a change is gonna come. And when Perils of Parker returned, it was to replace Marina, who had gone off to Marineville to fight the good fight with the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, and get up Atlanta Shore’s pretty little nose for good measure!
John Cooper returned to April Dancer and Mark Slate and the strip recovered its natural proportions. And The Angels formally moved up to Spectrum and Cloudbase in the aforementioned issue 89.
There was a reminder of the comic’s roots on the cover of issue 93 (28 October). With Captain Scarlet now revealed on television, he and Destiny Angel shared a split cover. And Lady Penelope herself took the next cover, meaning that for the first time in months, we had gone two whole covers without a Monkee in sight. Ironic then that this was also the issue in which the four lads bumped Penny out of the centre-spread of her own title, into a two separate page format, and with a change of artist again. And issue 95, reverting to the girl’s fashion theme, made it three. Was the phenomenon wavering? With them in the centrefold, what do you think?
And no, it wasn’t four in a row.

Going psychedelic

One other thing that’s only become slowly noticeable is the shortening of the stories. Whereas in its first year you could rely on seven to eight week serials, with a bit of depth of them, now everything was being resolved in four episodes, as if the audience could not be trusted to concentrate for so long. This was yet another instance of Lady Penelope diverging from its origins. Its concerns were getting more ephemeral, its adventures less adventurous. From being a girl’s comic oriented to exciting and fun television series, it was transitioning into a girl’s comic, without its unique aspects.
On 16 December, Lady Penelope celebrated its hundredth issue. That left only four issues to the second anniversary, but instead the new facelift was premiered in issue 103 (6 January 1968). It was to prove fateful.
There was a new masthead with a decidedly psychedelic design, though we still had to have a Monkee on board. Out went The Girl from UNCLE, Daktari, Jenny Ware, Creighton Ward and Perils of Parker (again!), with John Cooper switching to the new one pager, Class Six-Sterndorf, about a spy school for girls. The Monkees strip was joined by a new one-pager featuring The Spectrum, the five-piece London hopefuls whose biggest success was recording the theme song to Captain Scarlet. The art on this looked familiar but it was not until the second episode that I was certain it was Tom Kerr again.
The Angels moved inside and onto two pages, though the second page was only black and white, fitting really since Captain Black was introduced, which the local dog’s plan to seemingly get Cathy Thompson’s magic ring that let her talk to them turned out to be a plot to buy her a similar ring from a local antique shop… that let her talk to cats as well!
But the other new story was another TV adaptation, this time of the Midlands-set soap, Crossroads. This one I just refuse to read at all, and there’s nothing about the art that would make me change my mind.
I was a little premature in waving Perils of Parker off as this returned after a one-issue gap, but transformed into a one-page prose story. And issue 105 (20 January) saw Cathy Thomson’s series re-named, awkwardly, as ‘What Did That Dog (And Cat) Say? And revert to just the bit about the Dog two issues later. Soon, it became clear that it could be either in any issue.
With a four page fashion and pop pull-out, the comic was still drifting towards the mainstream, but there was also a drift towards the cheap in issue 110 (24 February) as Penny’s second page was reduced to black & white and so was The Angel’s first page. From issue 119 (27 April), Penny herself dropped into black and white, meaning that the only colour left in the comic was The Monkees,in the centre pages.
By now, reading the comic is becoming tedious. Weak art, skimpy, black and white, stories over and done with almost immediately, plus the new emphasis on pop (interesting in its own way as a reference to bands and records that never made it) make this more like a girl’s magazine that has comic strips in it. And of those strips, only Class Six – Sterndorf, inelegant though its premise was, remained interesting.
There was another step away from Gerry Anderson’s world in issue 121 (11 May), when The Angels were replaced by To Win a Gold, about a girl trying to get to the ’68 Olympic Games to win an ancestor’s challenge in her will. It was drably drawn and stereotypical girls comic fodder and that was just the first episode.
Class Six’s popularity was demonstrated the following week when it was awarded a second page, although without John Cooper to draw either of them.
But bigger changes were in the offing as, with issue 123, (25 May), the comic was retitled simply Penelope. A further step was taken away from the title’s TV roots with the cancellation of Crossroads (we should have been so lucky) and its replacement by My Pony Blaze, about a girl trying to get her pony back from gypsies that have stolen him (so, no stereotyping there).
By this point, I was grateful to be almost at the end of the expanded run on the new DVD. This ends at no 125, but continues briefly with three of the next five issues. Penelope’s series changed irrevocably in issue 127 (22 June), when it was reset to Penny as a nine-year old girl, returned from India due to illness and rebelling against a boring governess. And My Pony Blaze clearly went down like the traditional brick pigeon because it was replaced in issue 130 (13 July) by Return of the Osprey.
And that’s where this account must end. Three random issues also appear on the DVD, so let me mention these briefly. Firstly, issue 147 (9 November) has little Penny befriending gypsies and having to deal with tinkers. Bewitched, Class Six-Sterndorf and What did the Dog (and Cat) Say? are still going, and have been joined by Challenge of the Blades, about an orphan girl learning how to ice-skate, Up Up and Away, a colour centrespread about a girl in a balloon race and Flying’s for the Birds, a pop group serial about, of all talentless Sixties bands, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. The comic is a proper girl’s comic now.
Issue 174 (17 May 1969) has Penny at school now. Challenge of the Blades is still running, as are Class Six-Sterndorf, Bewitched and Cathy Thomson’s strips, though Bill Tilcombe has left both of these latter (Peter Ford is signing Cathy’s strip). Everything else has been replaced.
Which leaves only issue 197 (25 October). There are only seven issues left before the comic’s cancellation. Having outlived TV21, Penny’s now in her late teens and run away from home (all trace of the Twenty-First Century gone). Bewitched is still going, set fair to be the only feature to last from start to finish in its original form. Everything else is just ‘girls’ comics, with all the cliches to be expected under that term. Everything that formed Lady Penelope when it was launched has been excised and Century 21 Magazines no longer owns the comic. There’s still a contemporaneous 1969 Penelope annual, but so many cancelled comics lived on in Annuals for years later…
What began as an exciting venture, with strong stories, a taste for adventure and some exceptionally good art has died a death in cheapness and cliché. How much of that was the preference of the audience? I mean, the comic was cancelled after exactly four years. How much of it was the fading of the Gerry Anderson empire as the Sixties wound down? And how much was it nervous management, deciding that when in doubt, play incredibly safe and be like everybody else?
I have no answers and I don’t actually want them. It was enough to know that a comic I’d have despised and run a mile from when I was its age was as good as it was, but in order from me to find out then I would have had to have a twin sister with whom I swapped everything.
If another, even fuller DVD appears, I shalln’t be trading up. I’m not interested in reading any further.

An Adventure in Comics: The Golden Age

This third post about a Golden Age comic featuring characters who were members of the Justice Society of America will sadly be different to those I wrote about Flash Comics and All-American Comics. It’s nothing to do with Adventure Comics being published by Detective Comics Inc., rather than All-American Publications, and therefore falling under Harry Donenfeld’s purview instead of Charley Gaines. Rather it’s a fundamental difference in both the comic and the DVD.
This time, I’m not working from a complete run: Adventure was not cancelled nor turned into a Western title. Instead, it continued uninterrupted through the Fifties and well beyond, to 1983 before its first cancellation after 490 issues. The period I’m seriously interested in is the Golden Age era of characters like The Sandman, Hourman and Starman, beginning with issue 40 and continuing to issue 102, after which there was a radical change of content, with Adventure becoming a vehicle for Superboy, at first as a solo star and from 1959 as part of the Legion of Superheroes.
The DVD starts with issue 40 and its run over those sixty two issues is far from complete, neither in numbers nor complete issues. I confess to little interest in the post 1946 Superboy era. But I’ll run my eye over it and comment.
As a prelude to the first issue on the DVD, and cribbing shamelessly from Wikipedia, I’ll quickly summarise the pre-history. The comic started as New Comics in 1938, a humour comic. It was re-named New Adventure Comics with issue 12, before adopting Adventure from issue 32 onwards. It evolved into an adventure series, including stories about futuristic scientist-detective Jor-L, a year before Superman debuted, and arrived at a superhero series with the introduction of The Sandman in issue 40.
Which is where I come in.
The Sandman went straight onto the cover of Adventure 40, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him now… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I’ve seen before in reprint, is credited to Larry Dean but it’s actually by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Apart from a surprisingly slow and atmospheric sequence where Wesley Dodd (not Dodds) mooches round his house and leaves a doll in his bed before cracking open the secret tunnel to The Sandman’s lab, it’s not a good story, naïve simple, uninterestingly drawn. It’s just a start.
The rest of the issue is undistinguished. Tiny is a one-page cartoon about a tough-talking, tough-acting bulldog, Barry O’Neill an ongoing serial about some kind of crime buster and Federal Men an FBI story about G-Man Steve Carson that’s interesting only for being by Siegel and Shuster. These are all in full colour, but Jack Woods, a cowboy serial, offered two pages of monocolour, all red shades, like Victor and Hornet used to, before dropping to B&W, and Captain Deesmo, an aviator series, was B&W throughout. Don Coyote, a cartoon two-pager set in some vague and implausible Sixteenth Century Britain that looks like Camelot, was full colour, and dreadfully silly, but it was back to B&W for Bulldog Martin, a broad-shouldered amateur troubleshooter, and Socko Strong, a boxer. Back to colour for Skip Schuyler, Government Agent, and the rather more Terry and the Pirates-esque Rusty and his Pals, which was credited to Bob Kane. Last up was Anchors Aweigh!, starring Don and Red, two Navy adventurers.
In short, the line-up, as might be expected, was a bunch of adventurers in various genres, with art and stories crudely ripped off from newspaper strips. Nothing stands out as more than enthusiastic, or crudely energetic and, The Sandman aside, nothing is interesting except to see the likes of Siegel and Shuster and Kane on series that didn’t make them famous. Adventure 40 was cover dated July 1939, making it contemporaneous with Action 14, and two months after Batman’s debut in Detective 27. The next complete issue available is Adventure 70: long before then, I’m pretty sure neither Federal Men nor Rusty continued.

Next available issue, no. 48 is represented only by the six-page debut of Hour-Man, and not even from Adventure but its reprint in a 1974 Giant-Size Justice League of America comic I once had. Issue 51 is represented only by the ten-page Sandman adventure, by which time art is by Craig Fleishman and it’s all running, jumping and leaping. And issue 57 offers only an eight-page Hour-Man adventure, featuring his buddies the Minute-Men of America and introducing his recurring enemy, Dr Togg.
From Adventure 61 onwards, the DVD offers a solid run of consecutive issues, but these are no more complete. This issue was Starman’s debut, catapulted onto the cover to displace The Sandman, and of course expected to be Detective Comics’ next break-out star, to stand alongside Superman and Batman. Jack Burnley’s art distinguished the feature, being by one of the best Golden Age artists there was. The run consists of no more than the Starman series, not of itself a hardship, until issue 70.
Unfortunately, apart from all these Sandman and Hour-Man adventures we’re missing, the debut of The Shining Knight in issue 67 also goes by offstage.
From various reprints down the years, I was already familiar with a couple of the stories in this initial eight-issue run, so this was my first chance to really see Starman in solo action. The highlight is Jack Burnley’s art, intelligent, well-rounded and anatomically superior to everyone else around him. It’s too simplistic overall to be termed photorealism but it goes closer to that than any other comics artist of the era in its avoidance of exaggeration. The stories? I can be quite as enthusiastic about them. As short adventures, they’re usually competent at worst, and Starman’s wise-cracking is a foretaste of the likes of Spider-Man.
On the other hand, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is laid on with a fourteen foot trowel. That’s not so bad in itself, but it begs the question why his fiancee, Doris Lee, an attractive, forthright, intelligent young woman, puts up with him for more than one story, given that most people faced with such a weak wuss, convinced he’s got every malady under the sun whilst actually being physically hale, would have concluded that the only thing wrong with him was the absence of a spine and given him the very elegant pointed-toe sandal in the unmentionables.
Either that or concluded that he’s a hopeless addict forever racing off for his fix.
In contrast, issue 70 is a complete comic, with The Shining Knight appearing next after Starman. It’s my first solo story with the Knight, and interesting for that, but it’s a slapdash effort with a bits and pieces story, and I found it weird that Justin, museum assistant, talks natural American English when he’s in street clobber but slips back into ‘Forsooth’ language the moment he gets his armour on, and comments on it!

Though he’d been bounced out of the Justice Society by Starman, Tick-Tock Tyler is still around as The Hour Man, minus the hyphen. Bernard Bailey’s art is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to faces, and he’s drawing Hour Man’s hood as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, which I’ve certainly never seen before, but the story’s a joke, with the villain a dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not. Maybe I’m not missing much?
The Adventurer theme of issue 40 hasn’t been abandoned completely, as the next strip is Steve Conrad, Adventurer, an ocean diver hired to find buried treasure who’s up against modern pirates. This was the last episode of a story, if not the story, I don’t know. It’s all very early Terry and The Pirates wannabe (as an irrelevant aside, has there ever been a more exciting title for an adventure strip?)
After a brief prose story with a twist ending, next up was… ok, I was wrong… Federal Men, though judged on its art, it certainly wasn’t Joe Schuster any more. And judged by the way the story didn’t throb with frenetic energy, it wasn’t Jerry Siegel either. It certainly wasn’t good.
I was surprised to see Paul Kirk – Manhunter as the next strip, especially as it’s nothing like the series as I have always known it. I discovered Manhunter as that classic back-up story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson in Detective way back in 1974 – I had the privilege of reading it month-by-month – and later in a handful of Simon-Kirby reprints of the costumed hero original, but this Paul Kirk is by Ed Moore who, if he’s the artist, was the worst so far in this issue. Who and what Kirk is is never explained but he never gets out of street clothes and comes over as more of a private detective than anything else, certainly not a big-game Hunter.
Bringing up the back of the book is, thankfully, still the Sandman, but this is that brief period between the adoption of the yellow and purple costume, plus Sandy the Golden Boy, both accoutred with capes, and the arrival of Simon and Kirby. The dream theme is absent, the art crude and ill-proportioned – this guy can’t get legs right – and the story nondescript, lacking the manic energy of the business-suited Sandman stories.
It was interesting to see a complete issue, but the next eight issues on the DVD, not all consecutive, were back to single stories, Starman once more.
Interestingly, Manhunter replaced Starman for the cover of issue 73 (though we only get to see Starman’s story) and this is the costumed Manhunter, and what’s more it’s Simon and Kirby at their excellent best. And they cover feature again next issue before Sandman and Sandy take back the cover on a full-time basis, from which I take it that the determined push to build Starman into a Superman/Batman level star was already showing itself to be doomed.
Issue 78 switched things up with a Manhunter story, though it was taken from a reprint edition, not Adventure itself. This was vintage Simon/Kirby, all-out action, distorted figures, a truly ugly villain and a pretty girl. I’m not sure I’d want to read too many Manhunter stories all at once, but it was good fun.
It was back to Starman for issue 81, the last of the single story issues, and a change of artists with the story, a reprint from the Seventies, credited to Mort Morton Jr and Jerry Roussos. Given that it features a blind boy getting shot in the head and discovering he can now see, the new firm are clearly not an improvement.
There’s a gap next to issue 87, but that represented a sea change, as from hereon, with only a couple of exceptions, we get complete issues. Sandman kicked off the issue with a story I’d already seen in reprint, but next up was the oddball and little-considered Genius Jones, by Stan Kaye. It’s a crackpot cartoon about a boy genius who knows everything and gives answers at a dime a time. This was my first known exposure to the original and it had me goggling, unable to tell if it were genius or madness.

No, seriously…

The Shining Knight was still running, though his art was disappointingly poor. Starman was back as fourth feature, with only three pages to his name. Manhunter got a full share but with terrible art that was trying desperately to ape Jack Kirby with none of the weight of line or detail.
A terribly unfunny one-page cartoon, Jack Potts, gave way to Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, an all-purpose freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Europe and the one last story to represent the pre-superhero Adventure. Apart from the independent female French resistance Agent, Captain Hwarti (what kind of French name is that?), turning up in Holland, the episode was little better than mediocre and of course it featured a dyke being breached, why would you think it wouldn’t?
Four issues later, paper rationing was cutting a bit deeper. Adventure was down to a bi-monthly status, plus a cut in pages, the cut being Mike Gibbs. The next issue available was no. 100, cover dated October/November 1945, making its actual publication date somewhere round the end of the War in the Pacific. Guerilla was back, in a story with a powerful anti-racism message all the stronger for being set in a War context, but Manhunter was gone now. I wish there were more issues to track these changes more accurately.
At least issue 101 was available, with a dreadful Sandman cover. The previous issue looked like Jack Kirby but wasn’t credited as such, but this story was just plug-ugly, an attempt to copy Kirby by someone with no capability whatsoever. Starman’s story suffered from weak art and dumb writing. We were a long way from the days of Woodley Allen, Doris Lee and Ted Knight’s hypochondria, leaving the stories perfunctory in the extreme and full of incidents like Starman escaping noticing by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.

Superboy as drawn then

And then, with a jump to issue 109, everything had changed, and I mean everything. In fact, it had happened with issue 103: Sandman and Starman cancelled, Genius Jones shipped out to Detective’s More Fun Comics and a complete line-up switched from that title to take over Adventure. It’s still the Golden Age, for a few years yet, but this is not the stuff I wanted the DVD for.
Because Adventure had become the home of Superboy, from now until 1969. Coming with the Boy of Steel were Aquaman (technically, the Earth-2 version, as would later be defined, with the yellow gauntlets), Johnny Quick, the formula-reciting super-speedster (also featuring in Action Comics) and the Green Arrow (who was also appearing in World’s Finest). The Shining Knight was the only surviving feature. Johnny’s adventure had a bit of vigour to it, but the new watchword was bland.
Frankly, Superboy doesn’t interest me at all, especially knowing how Jerry Siegel wanted to write the character, as a prank-player. The first few stories feature Clark and his schoolfriends, in little do-good stories, and young Kent is nothing like the klutz we expect. But I have to credit the Xmas story in issue 113 (cover-dated February!) as a touching little tale, involving neither crime nor villain, just the response of a community to the terrible misfortunes of a man who, for 32 years, has played a secret Santa to the town’s kids, and who needs the good offices of a Santa himself. It managed to be sweet without being sentimental: just a small-town America story that rang true.

Yellow gauntlets

Twenty issues or so onwards, not all of them available, enables me to give a bit of a reasoned assessment of Adventure in this form. Superboy’s series is definitely not what I expected from my exposure to the character in the early Sixties. There’s no Ma and Pa Kent, no Smallville and precious little villains. Instead, Superboy uses his powers to help his friends, sometimes in the face of rich boy cheating from Orville Orville, or just genuinely to help against misfortune. There’s not even any melodramatic disasters going on. It’s decidedly low-key and, except as a change of pace, undramatic.
The Green Arrow is just bland. He’s definitely The Green Arrow at this point, and as far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy have any personality, and we practically only see them out of costume when they’re just about to change into it. And the era of the trick arrow hasn’t started yet: there’s the occasional use of the boomerang arrow and little else. You really couldn’t imagine this guy becoming the Ollie Queen we’ve know since 1969.
Aquaman is similarly drab, but what do you expect from two characters created by Mort Weisinger to be knock-offs. Again, though the blond stiff is described as the Monarch of the Sea, we’ve a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack. Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. Oh for the relative depth of the All-American characters.

The Green Arrow: never on Adventure’s cover

Johnny Quick, however, is head and shoulders above the rest, though his slot at the back of the comic suggests he wasn’t as popular as he deserved to be. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy, and the stories are jam-packed with incidents. And to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.
Though the Shining Knight would go on until issue 166, he disappeared from Adventure after issue132 due to a profusion of ad pages, which even started appearing in the middle of stories as opposed to between the various features. I hate to say it, but a lot of those ad pages featured art better than Sir Justin was getting! The chivalrous hero was back in 137, after two missing issues, with his occasional sidekick, the Bronx boy, Sir Butch of Beeler’s Alley. And by issue 143, he was enjoying the best art of his career, though not yet from the young Frank Frazetta, but rather Ruben Moreira.
To be honest, the is-he-or-isn’t-he? of whether there’ll be a Shining Knight story is the most interesting thing in this phase of the title, no disrespect to the still-entertaining Johnny Q. For instance, in issue 149, he’s bumped for a five-page tale of the life of author Jack London.
Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features, although I couldn’t help but be amused to discover Johnny Quick’s villain – a man who hypnotised people into believing that he could walk through walls – being named The Spectre. Nah, buddy. And Frank Frazetta made his debut (?) on The Shining Knight: nice art, and the first to make a flying horse’s wings look realistic.

The Shining Knight’s last adventure in Adventure would be in issue 166 but that’s yet another issue that isn’t included on the DVD. Since I bought it for the Golden Age issues, for those up to and including 102, and since issue 164, the nearest to that point, is cover-dated May 1951, three months after All Star 57, the generally acknowledged end of the Golden Age, I’m treating this as the terminus point for this post. It’s same as ever, no Shining Knight to go out on, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, The Green Arrow.
There’s the best part of 330 other issues on the rest of the DVD, extending to the final issue of the run in the early Eighties. When I get round to those, it’ll be a whole other story.

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.