TV Century 21 – 2067


Stingray… and foreshadowing

It’s now 2067. TV Century 21 starts its new year offering a FAB1 cover and a headline suggesting the Hood has been killed as a tie-in to the newly-released ‘Thunderbirds are Go’ film.
Inside we find Secret Agent 21 and his assistant Jack Reed (no Tina, he) still escorting their SOFRAM Head prisoner through the organisation’s determined attempts to kill him, part 3 of 4 film still strips telling the story of the big film and Moonshot Apollo part 14, still telling the tale of the planned expedition to the Moon. Next, My Favourite Martian, some ads and Catch or Kill, bringing us the the Thunderbirds centre-spread with Frank Bellamy. After that, The Munsters, Get Smart! and Fireball XL5, all in black and white, and Stingray in colour. Finally a couple of feature pages before The Daleks on the back page. I retract my notion that the replacement artist could have been Eric Eden: this guy’s colours are far too garish and shouty for anyone brought up by Frank Hampson.
Issue 105 (21 January) featured a free gift and another mini-revamp. After two years, My Favourite Martian (which had been cancelled in mid-1966) was dropped, as were The Daleks. Fireball XL5 took over their back page slot, restored to colour but reduced to one page, whilst Mike Noble also popped up on the new series, Zero-X, featuring the Mars exploration craft from the Thunderbirds film, making a second trip to the Red Planet.
Moonshot Apollo, having run its course, was replaced by Countdown 54321 (or 54321 Countdown: the logo isn’t explicit), supposedly matching up 2067 technology to the 1967 developments that led up to it: an amusing conceit for the ever-interesting science features.
Issue 107 (4 February) introduced a new one page comic strip, Wright (C.H.A.R.L.I.E.), about inept scientist Professor Wright and the inept inventions he comes up with for Central Headquarters, Atomic Research Liaison for Industrial Experimentation. No trees were ripped up by the contents of this strip.
Two weeks later, art duties on Fireball XL5 changed again, presumably because Mike Noble was having difficulties producing three full colour pages per week (even two was double Frank Hampson’s maxim). The new artist had a good, softer line and produced impressive work on faces, but Noble was the classic Fireball artist and the standard by which the strip was to be judged. In fact, after a couple of weeks study, my educated guess is none other than Don Lawrence. Which was confirmed by a signature in issue 113 (18 March).

You can never have too much Frank Bellamy

Both up front stories were rocked by serious developments as Twenty-One’s former assistant Tina seemingly came back from the dead, only to prove to be a foreign agent to absolutely no-one’s surprise, and Captain Paul Travers was sentenced to death for wilful disobeyance of an order and would up on the run trying to uncover a world-threatening conspiracy. Travers ended up proving the existence of a would-be world-conquering conspiracy and getting both reprieved and reinstated.
But Twenty-One’s luck with assistants continued to be bad as Jack Reed was killed in issue 124 (21 June).
Given that Lady Penelope’s adventures during TV Century 21‘s first year were planned as a lead to Thunderbirds, there was a moment of retrospective recognition on the following issue’s cover, an above the headline announcement of a new expedition to Mars and the Rock Snake Hills that caused so many problems to the Zero-X in ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’. It’s commander was a new member of a top secret organisation. His title was Captain Black…
Another new artist took over Get Smart! in issue 128 (1 July), reintroducing a more representational look, which in the case of Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) was most welcome. Based on certain body poses used in the second week of his tenure, I suspect this to be Tom Kerr, later to draw Oddball Oates for Lion.
The new Stingray story starting in issue 129 (8 July) had me staring in disfavour, as typed narrative captions in the first three panels were credited with numbers, as was a fourth on page 2. All the other captions, much briefer than this quartet were in the traditional hand-lettering. This was either a sudden decision to treat the readers as infants who needed to be taught how to read comic strips, or else an embarrassing production cock-up.
The appearance of only one, unnumbered typescript caption, as an unboxed catch-up the following week would appear to confirm the latter.
The Countdown 54321 feature in issue 130 (15 July) had a visionary subject, as it looked at the use of solar energy in 2067, as it sprang from small beginnings a hundred years earlier. With an opening line of “Now that the Earth’s resources of coal, oil and natural gas have declined to practically nothing…”, it was both delightfully prescient and horribly depressing, when you remember that in over half that period in a children’s comic we have still to get to grips with that danger.
A week later, Agent Twenty-One and his Chief, S (Steve Zodiac Senior) foiled an attempted military takeover of the United States, intent on withdrawing it from the World Government. Both men were injured, and as a consequence, both were retired, S from the USS and Twenty-One from active service, to replace him as USS Chief. That looked like the end of the series, except that there was still a To Be Continued box at the bottom of the strip’s second page.
At the same time, Mike Noble vanished from Zero-X, after one episode of a new story: not permanently, thankfully, as he would be back after a four week absence. His replacement was sadly inadequate.
Countdown 54321 was renamed simply Countdown in issue 132 (29 July): Carol Vorderman was only six. But this was a one-week phenomenon. And Wright (C.H.A.R.L.I.E.) disappeared to be replaced by R.E.Cord, supposedly the amateur sportsman who’s always on the ball. In terms of both story and art it made the unlamented Professor Wright look like Thunderbirds.

The new Heroes

And Catch or Kill also disappeared without warning, though not John Burns, retained for Front Page. This new series, which had been subtly trailed for weeks, in a Contact Twenty-One feature about the staff of TV21, actually featured the magazine itself, as a 2067 newspaper. A mysterious stranger turns up at the editorial offices, claiming to dream disasters (i.e., past TV21 stories) the night before they happen, and predicting a fire at Liverpool Spaceport that duly happens.
The following week, the comic led with a ‘news’ story, and a blurred photo, of two unusual aircraft piloted by women pilots, attacking a British target jet. Like the Captain Black newsflash, there was nothing about it inside, but the ground was very definitely being prepared for something that would appear on ITV Midlands the following month.
And inside, an advert on page 8 told us to Beware the Mysterons, though it directed us to Solo, a short-lived boys comic, for the details.
Countdown 54321 in issue 134 (12 August) was another of those still rare moments that I remember from the Sixties, comparing jet-liners, with 1967’s Concorde being set up as a forerunner of the already known Fireflash.
Twenty-One’s elevation to chief of the USS lasted only until issue 135 (19 August), when the status quo ante was restored. Simultaneously, Mike Noble resumed duties on Zero-X, and Countdown 54321 was re-named Then and Now. The following week, John Cooper left Special Agent 21 in the hands of someone completely inadequate to replace him.
Issue 137 (2 September) devoted its entire front page to foreshadowing the newest Anderson series. Captain Black’s Mars Expedition was announced lost, an artist’s impression of something we would very soon recognise as Cloudbase was shown and an ‘editorial’ demanded answers about a new, super-secret organisation, identified by a stylised S badge. Spectrum was very nearly here.
And there didn’t look like being much longer to wait. The current Front Page story ended in issue 138 (9 September) with reporter Pete Tracker being summoned back for an urgent assignment in Nice, investigating a mysterious craft 50,000 feet above Nice. Indeed, a week later, Twenty-One sacrificed his second page for the first official announcement of Spectrum, without, as yet, any mention of any other Captains in the organisation.
The same issue added a most improbable third TV cartoon page, in the form of Sgt. Bilko, another one-pager looking to be drawn by Tom Kerr. Properly The Phil Silvers Show on TV, Bilko had no more fantastic content than had Burke’s Law, but the timing was also implausible: the show had originally been broadcast in America from 1955 to 1959, and had been a staple repeat on BBC1 from 1961 until March 1967. It’s appearance as a British produced strip six months later in an SF comic is completely inexplicable. Maybe Alan Fennell was simply a Bilko fan? (I know I was). Actually, it was a refugee from the aforementioned and now failed Solo. At least it replaced the hopeless R.E.Cord.
Issue 140 (23 September) was a set-up for change. All serials came to an end. Captain Black’s disappearance on his return to Earth was woven into and explained by Front Page, leading to the scoop headlines of the previous week. Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was advertised as a new TV in October and a new strip in issue 141. It was not a revamp as Lion did them, but another new TV21 was on the way.
Captain Scarlet was on the cover. Stingray suffered another loss of prestige, moved to pp 2-3 but reduced to B&W with yet another art change. Front Page was hauled back to one page and The Munsters had another change of artist. Captain Scarlet’s series leapt into the centrespread with a very welcome return for Ron Embleton. Fireball XL5 moved inside again, and like Stingray was also converted to black and white: either I’m very mistaken or Tom Kerr was being kept very busy by the comic. Thunderbirds, at any rate, kept its page length, its colour and its artist, though Frank Bellamy had to draw two individual pages now. Special Agent 21 got his second page and John Cooper back, whilst the back page was a 3D Spectrum photo from the TV series.
And, for the first time since its inception, TV21 got an increase in page count, to 24, and still for the original 7d!
Indeed, I was right about Tom Kerr on Fireball XL5 because the following week, he was allowed to sign his page.
Moving on to issue 145 (28 October), this was another of those rare instances where I have a recollection, and for me a poignant one. The Then and Now feature compared rock-climbing in 1967 and 2067, and it was a feature that caught my mountain-climbing Dad’s interest. I remember him poring over it, impressed. I’ve been waiting for that page to appear.
Meanwhile, Tom Kerr didn’t last long on Fireball XL5, replaced in the same issue 145, the change being a clear downgrade to someone who did not have the facility of converting puppet faces into realistic-looking ones.
As the year wound down, issue 150 (2 December) saw the newspaper concept extended into a wraparound, incorporating the back cover. This made room for a mention of a Lady Penelope assignment, presumably tying in with her ongoing series in her own title.

What is a strip aboout a 1950’s American Army Sergeant doing in a mid 21st Century SF comic?

And then the year was over, in promises of a new look TV Century 21 coming in 2068. Get Smart! didn’t quite make it to the end, and all the series were run-down to the end of their current stories, some of them very brief, in readiness.
After just short of three years, TV Century 21 was well-established and still popular, thanks to the ongoing success of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s world of futuristic puppets and machines. 2067 was the year of Captain Scarlet. The comic didn’t go quite as overboard on him and Spectrum as it had Thunderbirds, but International Rescue were still, and have always been the Anderson’s biggest and most successful creation.
As the year went on, both Fireball XL5 and Stingray underwent further downgrades, unsurprising really given the increasing amount of time since they had ceased production and appearing on our TV screens. But it was surprising that the comic began to include more original features, away from the Anderson Universe. The success of these were mixed: Catch or Kill and Front Page were decent mainly for their art, whilst I won’t even deign to re-mention the two comic pages.
The Zero X strip was more like it, but even that was because of the scope it gave Mike Noble for his ebullient art. Zero X and its crew did have their roots in ‘Thunderbirds are Go’, but they had only a limited role, as victims, and not one of the four regular characters had the least personality upon which to build their own series.
But still my verdict is as before, to which I’d add the nuance that in general, TV Century 21 does help to blanderise itself by the length of its stories. Where Lion frequently made the mistake of dragging its stories out far too long, TV Century 21 keeps them short, far too short for anything except action. Six weeks or thereabouts is not enough to build a story of decent intricacy. The comic treats its readers as kids, which almost all of them were, anyway, but it plays safe of matters of their concentration, and lets them down in that sense.
Still, there would be changes made for the next year of operations: what would they be?

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 4


The next phase of Lion began on 11 June 1966, with the formal merger of the title with Champion, cancelled after only sixteen issues. Four of Champion‘s features were brought over into the preceding issue, cutting off ‘Maroc the Mighty’ with no ending and ‘Captain Jack Wonder’ with no regrets, but the new paper saw another expansion, this time to a record 44 pages.
Lion and Champion‘s first official issue featured the following: Texas Jack (6pp), Return of the Stormtroopers (2pp), Lofty Lightyear (1p), Zip Nolan (2pp), The Flying Furies (2½pp), Jinks (1p), Robot Archie (3pp), Danger Man (2pp), Whacker (2pp), Quest of the Firebird (3pp), The Phantom Viking (2pp), Boy Kidd (2pp), Jet Jordan (2pp), The Mystery Speed Star (2pp), The Spider (4pp), and Mowser (1p). A total of eleven adventure series and five comic strips. And all still for 7d.
With the exception of ‘Danger Man’, a brand new series featuring the extremely popular ATV espionage series star John Drake, played by Patrick McGoohan (very recognisable, as if the artist was working from photographs), all the new features were decanted from the now-cancelled Champion, making the merged title a true merger. Taking these in order of appearance, ‘Return of the Stormtroopers’ was an almost immediate Vic Gunn retread, an ongoing story of resurrected Nazi Stormtroopers taking over Britain in 2046, the Vic Gunn role going to resistance leader Bill Churchill (but of course). ‘Lofty Lightyear’ featured a one hundred foot tall alien boy trying to hide on Earth from a mysterious spaceship.
‘Jinks’ was another one pager of Piloteish descent, ‘Whacker’ a two page cartoon serial in similar style, about two Liverpudlians. ‘Boy Kidd’ was taken from Spirou: the titular character was a bank and stage robber facing the attempt to catch him by one Buck Bingo, or rather Rene Goscinny and Maurice De Bever’s ‘Lucky Luke’. ‘Jet Jordan’ is a Canadian Air Force Pilot (from this point forward, ‘The Flying Furies’ Jet Power started to be called Jim Power).
The best remembered of the new series was, however, ‘The Phantom Viking’, another superhero-style serial. Meek and feeble schoolteacher Olaf Larsen has discovered an old Viking helmet belonging to a long dead ancestor that transforms him into the superstrong, flying, invulnerable Phantom Viking, as long as it’s on his head. A mixture of Superman and Thor, this famous series had surprisingly scratchy and weak art, but initially only hung around for half a dozen weeks.

Olaf Larsen and Helen

Going through the various Lion revamp/relaunches, there seems to have been a tradition that after the line-up has been thoroughly re-jigged all at once, a new series gets launched two weeks later. This time it took four weeks before ‘Trelawney of the Guards’ debuted. It was a hard-headed, deliberately gritty series of complete stories featuring a hard-as-nails Army Sergeant in WW2 that looked to have enormous realistic potential.
The Jet Jordan strip was unremarkable, and rather slow moving, but it was interesting to note that rather than the traditional sidekick, and the interminable references to the pair as ‘pals’, Mr Jordan had a ‘girl companion’ by his side, in the form of the pretty blonde Francine. Based on that, and some elements of the art-style, I’d not be surprised to find that this was yet another continental import.
But though the number of Champion series loaded into the merged comic was impressive, and though the double-barrelled name was retained for a long time, by 10 September, a mere three months, all but two were gone. These were the two one-page comedies, Lofty Lightyear and Jinks, but whereas Jinks featured some brash ligne clair and a variety of themes, Lofty Lightyear was the same thing every week, and bland to boot. These and ‘Mowser’, whose strip had been retitled to co-feature his Enemy, James the Butler, were all that was left of the comedy phase.
Needless to say, the disposition of the ex-Champion characters, plus series such as Danger Man and The Flying Furies continued the chaotic run of change, change, change, and Zip Nolan ended his British exile and returned to Pensburgh, at which point the series became very much run of the mill, with nothing new to say or do.
And there was a round of line-up changes in September, with The Phantom Viking returning for an extended run, this time with better art, The Mystery Speed Star coming to an overdue end and two new stories, one of them too be very long-lasting, in the spy thriller, ‘Code Name – Barracuda’ and the football strip ‘Carson’s Cubs’.
Add in ‘Swords of the Seawolves’ from 1 October, and suddenly Lion had it’s first truly settled line-up since 1963.
Carson’s Cubs was, I was surprised to realise, Lion’s first football series, after fourteen years in existence. Indeed, it was the comic’s first genuine sports series, in that it was about football, and not about some secret formula or crime-busting operation for which the sport was really just the peg.
But Carson’s Cubs was the real thing. It’s premise may have been gimmicky – old pro returns to failing Third Division club Newton United and revitalises its fortunes by cramming the side full of multi-talented schoolboys – but it was about the football, and the time dedicated to action on the pitch was correspondingly the greater proportion of the strip.
The villains are those who stand in the way of the club’s inexorable rise back to the First Division. At first, these included inside-forward Nick Lacey, who’s determined to make the experiment fail and get the Newton crowd to turn on the kids, but who’s out of the team pretty quickly, and the rather more long-term opposition of Director Arthur Braggart, who regards the whole idea as making the club into a laughing stock, no matter how much onfield success the Cubs bring.
Apart from the absurd premise, the Cubs themselves are eccentrics and improbable, especially the likes of Tiddler Smith and Swotty Brayne, who collectively look incapable of standing up to a gentle zephyr if it blew at them sideways.

In complete contrast, ‘Code name – Barracuda’ was a piece of crap. Barracuda, and his assistant Frollo, were the United Nations’ leading troubleshooters against the menace of WAM – War Against Mankind – the biggest criminal organisation around. Most stories lasted only a handful of weeks, the art was crude and unsubtle and so were the stories. Nor did things improve when Barracuda and his right hand man Frollo were given superhuman powers to try to turn over WAM’s conquest of the world under King Cobra.
And my parents opposed me buying American superhero comics, but were ok with me reading stuff like this?
‘Swords of the Seawolves’ was much better, as indeed it ought to be. It boasted Don Lawrence art for the first time in years, but that was no surprise, since it was nothing more than reprints of ‘Karl the Viking’, with new names: Karl was now Rolf.
The Phantom Viking’s second run was much longer and boasted better, more vigorous art. The stories were still not all that great, nor was the Viking himself, come to that: super-strength, flight, invulnerability as long as meek and mild Olaf Larsen had the helmet of his ancestor on his head, or at any rate the wind didn’t blow from the south. There were strong hints that Headmaster’s secretary Helen Yates would like to be a romantic interest for Olaf Larsen, if he wasn’t such a bloody wimp, not that she lasted long. It’s very formulaic, the only twist being that the Viking’s alter ego really is as helpless as Clark Kent and Don Blake pretended to be.
Trelawney of the Guards certainly lived up to its potential for several months, offering superb, tight cold-psychology war stories that week after week illustrated the professionalism of soldiering, from a writer who clearly was speaking from experience. But, just as ‘Paratrooper’ in Hurricane gradually morphed from war stories related by Sergeant Rock to comic book hero stories about him, the series gradually turned towards a more orthodox Trelawney-the-hero approach. It still had a gritty, realistic edge and great dark art but slowly lost its distinction by descending into into hero-worship. And even the realism was diminished as Trelawney increasingly used his rifle for swinging the butt at Jerry soldiers instead of shooting them.

Original Reg Bunn Art

Jerry Siegel’s Spider stories arouse mixed-feelings. On the one hand, he was brought in as it was clear that Ted Cowan had no real facility for direct superheroics. And Siegel, newly on the outs at DC after suing over Superman’s copyright renewal again, should have been a specialist. His first two stories continued the Spider-as-supervillain line, though the second of these saw the King of Crime up against the Exterminator, a super-assassin hired by Crime Incorporated to get rid of their greatest foe. The Exterminator could have done it too, but was deflected by the Spider offering to make him his partner. The two then whupped Crime Incorporated’s ass, until the Spider had lulled his ‘partner’ into a false sense of security and drained him. Enthralled by kicking crime, he then became a crimefighter.
By ‘The Spider vs the Crook from Outer Space’, his days as a criminal were completely forgotten. But the story is a terrible, herky-jerky affair, an endless string of unrelated episodes, with Siegel throwing in anything he can think of without the least trace of logic. These include the would-be invasion of Earth by, at first, an undersea race of mermen, then an alien space fleet, both of which being passing diversions. Then there’s the way both sides pull incredible weapons out of their ass at a moment’s notice, before immediately producing antidotes, cures and defences with equal lack of set-up. Frankly, it’s a story that would have struggled to pass muster in 1938. Did I really relish this stuff every Monday?
Robot Archie continued to ply his trade around the ignorant jungle savages of the world, with the predictable fear and superstition. Archie was now going on automatic brain more and more often, and his thought processes got to be more and more arrogant and amusing. Ken was now well-established as the more cautious of the pair of pals, often displaying a complete lack of confidence in Ted’s brainwaves.
This was self-evidently very popular, but I find the colonialist stuff sticking in my throat, and I just can’t write it off to ‘simpler’ times, probably because we are nowadays seeing an increasing number of people coming out of the closet to embrace the ultimately racist attitudes this represents. The difference is that Cowan et al. were unconsciously, almost ‘innocently’ racist whilst today’s bunch are wilfully so, but I find that distinction too subtle to make and it spoils Archie for me.
As an aside, I noted on 24 December a reference to a witchdoctor as ‘Old Rottenhat’, a phrase I’ve only ever otherwise come across in Robert Wyatt’s solo album of the same name. This is definitely not a Northern thing.
The big problem with this period of extended stability is that too many of the series’ were not as good as they’re remembered to be, or rather that instead of being stable, they were repetitive. And given that The Spider, Barracuda and Frollo and The Phantom Viking were all superheroes, whilst the increasing number of gadgets built into Robot Archie had now multiplied beyond all reason, there was insufficient variety between the stories any more. The only ones that stood out were Carson’s Cubs and, of all things, Jinks, which went missing for several weeks when the stable period finally started to crack.
Change came at long last on 28 July 1967, when ‘Trelawney of the Guards’ was renamed ‘Trelawney’s Mob’ and turned into a serial. The ‘Mob’ consisted of four of Sgt Trelawney’s men, Pyle, Cork and Kenny, who’d turned up are regulars many times and O’Rorke, a fighting Irishman. These five were sent behind enemy lines to protect a scientist looking for a German secret weapon. It was a little bit different but it also completed the downgrading of the series from the excellent and intelligent war psychology story it had been into just another Second World War serial.

Frollo and Barracuda

And a new illustrated feature, The Story of Football, made its first appearance on 18 August, taking its time to present a surprisingly comprehensive history in short chunks.
These were the herald for another revamp. The settled line-up lasted a year and a week, but on 14 October, with another set of football stickers, given away over six weeks, Lion and Champion, as it was still called, fifteen months after the merger, offered another round of new stories for its remaining stalwarts and two new series.
These were Jungle Jak, about a teenage Tarzan in Africa accidentally taken to Britain when trying to save his chimp pal from the circus, and Johnny Dynamite, embarking on a Boxing career to save his family business. Neither of them were particularly appealing, especially as the Karl/Rolf the Viking reprints were squeezed out to make room.
As for the rest of the crew, Robot Archie came back out of the jungle again, turning security guard in London, though I’m not betting against him going back to the superstitious natives, whilst The Spider found himself up against the Sinister Seven. This is the one I remembered most, the one that was all-out superheroics, with the Spider taking on other super-powered allies to battle a super-villain team. I’ll have more too say about this in the next instalment.
Trelawney’s Mob’s second outing was a ludicrous adventure bringing the team up against an Austrian Count who dressed his men in medieval suits of armour. It was the end of all credibility for the series, and a distinct blow to that of Lion overall. But the 4 November instalment did provide a moment of distinction: the first signed page of art in Lion‘s history, courtesy of artist Jose Ortiz.
Johnny Dynamite didn’t last long, racing to the British Boxing Championship in a mere ten weeks, and giving way to a new series in the first issue of 1968 which, in lieu of any more handy moment, is where this latest instalment breaks.

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 3


The latest Lion relaunch obeyed the same rules as the previous one, just over two years earlier, with all serials resetting with new stories. But whereas January 1963 was overwhelmingly a relaunch, with only one new series, 13 February 1965 fell halfway between relaunch and revamp, with four new series, and the end of, amongst others, Lion‘s last original feature, Sandy Dean and Tollgate School.
Unfortunately, this relaunch involved a definite loss of quality, with two of the new series having very little potential for long-running series, and after the strong artistic line-up that had prevailed through 1963, some very rough and scratchy work.
Thank heaven for Don Lawrence’s ongoing excellence, as the ‘Maroc the Mighty’ series started a new story, ‘The Red Knights of Morda’, but as I said last time out, John Maroc’s desert environments offered far less scope for Lawrence’s beautiful visuals than the ever changing environments of Karl the Viking.
At least ‘Robot Archie’ was now firmly established in his role as an overt crime-smasher. We had left behind the various Jungles and wild countries of the world where the ignorant natives were forever misunderstanding and fearing the heap big metal ju-ju man, at long last.
At this time, Lion‘s most substantial storyline was Vic Gunn’s ongoing secret War against Britain’s Emperor-Dictator, Baron Rudolph, drawn by John Stokes. The serial changed title again for its third story, to ‘The Battle for Liverpool’, the story being set around that City’s determined bid to establish its independence and be a conduit for supplies from the outside world, where the legitimate Government was still based in Canada. The art was vigorous if not polished and the Liverpool scenes, of the Liver Buildings and Lime Street Station had the merit of being properly researched.

Zip Nolan continued to benefit from Reg Bunn’s art, though the Spot the Clue’ stories were only better than Bruce Kent’s old beat because Nolan had two pages available. There was still rarely more than the one clue per week, as the strip had to fit in the cliched clashes with Captain Brinker and Nolan’s all-action man role in foiling the dirty criminals at the end.
Paddy Payne continued to lead Britain’s World War 2 effort in the air, despite by this point having shot down approximately twice as many aeroplanes as the whole of the Luftwaffe and the Japanese Air Force combined, whilst ‘The Silver Colt’s odyssey from owner to owner took it to the verge of the Twentieth Century.
Of the new features, ‘Bill Duggan, Sapper Sergeant’ was easily dismissible as yet another attempt to create a prose series comparable to the standards the comics series could reach, whilst ‘Jimmi from Jupiter’ was easily dismissible as utter tripe. This was the new school series, though Jimmi was actually an alien from, guess where?, who was stranded on Earth and tried to fit in by going to school. As a Jupiterian, Jimmi had a ‘gamma’ power which, stop me if you haven’t heard this one before, sometimes went on the blink. Throw in school bullies, strict masters and the overly casual way Jimmi got himself taken in by a family of complete strangers and you will appreciate that no cliché was left unturned. To be fair, ‘Jimmi from Jupiter’ was better than Eagle‘s ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’, but then radioactive lint is better than Cornelius Dimworthy, and at least the series was keeping Typhoon Tracey’s original artist in employment, now that he was no longer being used at the soon-to-disappear Hurricane.
In contrast, ‘The Sludge’ was a serious serial, about some form of practically indestructible alien life that could take over inanimate objects and bring them to pseudo-life, though it drained them to dust whilst doing so. It was just a Monster story, though its Canadian reporter-photographer team, Bill Hanley and Rick Slade, were kept on for two more ‘weird’ stories.

These were the new relaunch features but, a fortnight later, another new series started, ‘Highway Danger’. This was a nominally motor racing series, with two young independents wrecking their home-built car to save famous racing driver Milton Halder from a vicious attack. But Halder was left unable to drive so Don Dentry was asked to take his place, despite the fact there was clearly something murky going on in the background that neither he nor his mechanic were to ask about. This was the worst of the new prospects for art, with scratchy and scrappy linework operating on simplistic backgrounds, though it was a match for the colourless story. And it would go on and on, in the manner of a Fifties series, forever chasing cliffhangers with no thought for the development of the overall story.
Overall, Lion‘s new line-up was its weakest since the late Fifties.
However, the new watchword was change, first the comedy back cover, with ‘The Lion Street Lot’ finishing their run on 17 April and replaced by ‘What did you do in the war, Dad?’ Marginally a step up, this was another comic formula, with Dad’s tales of his war adventures undermined by the art that showed him to be a useless idiot of more danger to his own side than the Nazis.
John Maroc moved to the front cover, and took on the ‘Maroc the Mighty’ title on 8 May, whilst Robot Archie returned to distant jungle climes where once again superstitious natives were referring to the white men and their metal devil. I know I have the advantage of speaking over fifty years later, but this colonialist shite had worn thinner than thin before Archie’s adventures in civilised countries and this backsliding was a massive disappointment.

A week later, Lion expanded to its biggest ever size, from 28 pages to 40, and an increase in price to 7d.
Most of the new pages were taken up with short comic and cartoon strips, few of which were of any value. ‘Tug and Tich’, two incompetent handymen, was basic slapstick, ‘Charlie of the Chimps’ was a fish out of water series about an airman being turned into an apeman, to replace the original jungle lord (no prizes…) who’d scooted off to America to make movies. Sir Munchkin – Have Lance, Will Travel was just unimpressively silly.
It was still a couple of years before ITV would introduce the racially sensitive tailoring sitcom, ‘Never mind the Quality, Feel the Width’, but the principle was clearly in operation.
Nor were the two adventure series anything distinguished. ‘The Plants of Peril’, featuring Triffid-like plants, was a vegetable re-run of ‘The Sludge’ and ‘Law of the Legion’ was a straight rip off of ‘Luck of the Legion’, with dull art like another Fifties throwback. The most distinguished aspect of this first expanded issue of Lion was when Diana Rigg picked up a copy of it in The Avengers.
But comedy was now a strong element. ‘Tich and Tug’ lasted two episodes. ‘Andy’, about a bloke who goes around picking things up, also lasted two episodes, dropped out for three weeks, then returned for three more. On the other hand, ‘Sir Munchkin’ ran on and on, with a dry, droll tone and a neat running gag that each time the half-pint knight produced his card, it had a different legend appropriate to whatever spot he was currently in, but it doesn’t really do anything unpredictable.
‘Charlie of the Chimps’ had recognisably strong European cartoon art, the forerunner of a number of series that would be translated from, in two cases certainly, in the rest probably, France’s Spirou or Pilote. Unfortunately, it suffers from appallingly racist imagery with its native African characters, not to mention a pretty girl supporting character who isn’t even given a name.
And yet another comedy, this time of two pages, arrived on 29 May, ‘Lord Harry of Hardupp Hall’, about a guy who inherits a title, assumes he’s going to live a life of luxury but finds he’s even more stony-broke. This ran for about six weeks before disappearing, only to return, three months later, and again briefly in 1966.
The stable line-up of 1963 was very much a thing of the past, though Lion still had its quota of fixtures. Paddy Payne stayed stable, ‘Highway Danger’ droned on and on, and Vic Gunn went from place to place and new title to new title: Rebel Island (the Isle of Wight), Castle of Secrets (Edinburgh) and, lastly, The Battle for Britain, in which the legitimate Government organised a Normandy-style landing on the south coast, which would ultimately lead to Baron Rudolph’s toppling.
But not so elsewhere. ‘Maroc the Mighty’ lost Don Lawrence when he went off to draw ‘The Trigon Empire’ at the newly-launched Ranger, leaving another vigorous but cartoony artist to struggle in his wake over scripts by no less than Michael Moorcock. ‘The Silver Colt’ fell to earth, unnoticed, on a WW1 German airfield and was replaced by ‘The Catapult Kid’, one of the most stupid ideas for a series ever, about a schoolmaster in the Wild West who was crap with guns but shit-hot with a catapult, which he used to tame a town: it’s a wonder the pages didn’t turn brown and curl up in embarrassment.
Messrs Hanley and Slade were not the only unlikely characters to become serial stars. ‘The Garden of Fear’ was at first sight a domestic retread of ‘The Plants of Peril’, with reporter Pete Reynolds and teenager Tim Stevens getting shrunk to 2” in height and having to cross a garden, but they were resurrected immediately into Secret Agents in ‘Mission of the Mini-Men’.

Zip Nolan lost Reg Bunn at the same time Don Lawrence left, and on 23 October was sent to England for six months to study British Police methods. Captain Brinker went with him, so the formula didn’t change, and very little British stuff got past the background.
But Reg Bunn didn’t leave Lion. Instead, he found himself drawing one of the comic’s most memorable series ever. 26 May 1965 saw the debut of ‘The Spider’.
The Spider was one of those iconic characters I looked forward to every week, one of the very first I associate with Lion. The Spider, created and written by Robot Archie creator Ted Cowan, and drawn superbly by Reg Bunn throughout his career, appeared as a criminal mastermind, intent on becoming King of Crime in America, and starting by breaking out safecracker Roy Ordini and genius explosive expert ‘Professor’ Pelham as his chief assistants in his Army of Crime.
The Spider was a new highlight, and from his third adventure, starting on 8 January 1966, he acquired a new writer. I did not know this at the time, nor for decades after, and I still find it next to impossible to get my head around the fact that one of my favourite series in my British boy’s weekly comic was being written by none other than Jerry Siegel, creator of Superman. It just seems too incredible for words, even now, and a sad commentary on the treatment Siegel and his co-creator Joe Schuster received from the American comics industry.
Cowan had set The Spider up as a criminal mastermind, with two Police detectives, Pete Trask and Bob Gilmore, investigating his first case, but Siegel had them permanently assigned to The Spider. There were early signs that the villain had something resembling a decent side when in his second adventure he saved them from death. By then, he’d already been up against his first rival criminal mastermind, the Mirror Man, and Siegel was on home turf introducing Dr Mysterioso.
The Spider was an unequivocal success, but the stories around it were unquestionably mixed and the overall standard low. John Maroc’s journey home was reminiscent of the weird geography of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. For example, he left Spain for Devon but ended up in Germany (which didn’t exist then) on the Rhine, then was kidnapped to China and abandoned there, further from home than ever.
Captain Condor, once more united with Quartermaster Burke, returned from a very long sabbatical for two more serials, taking him to the end of this section. Hanley and Slade’s third adventure saw an upgrade in art but was a retread of an old Rory MacDuff story (the one running when I started getting Lion as a kid) at greater length. ‘One Man and his War’ was supposed to be an ordinary soldier’s realistic WW2 experience but turned into one of those stupid fantasies about a band of survivors of all nations evading the Japs in the jungle. ‘Wildfire’ was a dull Western about breaking in a wild horse.
The cover was redesigned on 31 July, to a dull flat logo, the image turned to an heraldic lion above a poster-style drawing referencing true-life weird stories inside.
As well as Siegel’s arrival, 1966 saw two more new series begin. ‘Quest of the Firebird’ made an unpropitious start, setting up a maverick and a middle-aged Professor pilot to be framed for a massive and bloody robbery and going on the run in their Supercar-like craft, the Firebird. ‘Mild Bill Hiccup’ was another comedy feature, 1½ pages of clearly French art on a funny Western theme . Mowser was expended to a full page and ‘Sir Munchkin’ saw off ‘What Did You Do In The War, Dad?’ on the back page. Jimmi from Jupiter disappeared without trace.
At least the pace, or frequency, of change eased off a bit. In February, Hanley and Slade’s series was replaced by ‘The Amazing Jack Wonder’, another superheroesque feature in which a South Sea trader was subjected to an experimental drug that gave him the power to change his body into inanimate objects, which he promptly put to use against the Germans in the Second World War, but it was another month before the arrival of ‘The Mystery Speed Racer’, another in the ongoing line of Fifties-style throwbacks, this one set in the world of speedway racing.
After eleven months, Sir Munchkin ended without fanfare, with the worthless ‘Wildfire’ following it a month later but, to great surprise considering that it had been Lion’s most popular series, taking Paddy Payne with it.

But Paddy had already been joined in the air by ‘The Flying Furies’, about ‘Jet’ Power and Terry Madden, new recruits to a United Nations fighter squadron. Though the art was largely serious, there was enough of a French cartoon realist style for me to immediately nominate this as another Pilote import, which an undeleted copyright notice would confirm in due course.
‘Mild Bill Hiccup’ was yet another of the uncredited French brigade, a comedy Western running about three months, but it was followed by a more serious feature, when ‘Texas Jack’ made its debut on 30 April. The title character was Captain Jonathan Morningstar, stationed alongside General Custer at Fort Starke and facing off against weekly Indian threats in Lion‘s biggest ever feature, complete six page stories every week.
The same week saw yet another short run cartoon, ‘Pooch’, which got the seemingly statutory two weeks, and then one extra after a month off. Meanwhile, Paddy Payne’s place was taken by the short-lived ‘Rockfist Rogan’, this one a prose RAF series reprinted from the old Champion comic of the Fifties and before. This makes me suspect that more than one of these Fifties-throwback series might have come from the same source.
Where Lion might have been going in this phase was brought to an abrupt end. Early in the year, Fleetway had launched another weekly comic, a new Champion, in the Hurricane mould. This was a disaster, lasting only sixteen issues. Where Hurricane had been crashed into Tiger, Champion would merge into Lion. Though the formal merger under joint names wouldn’t take place until 11 June 1966, four of Champion‘s refugees made an early start in the week before.
Thus we will end this chapter here, and take up the story with the official debut of Lion and Champion.

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 2


The Lion dated 19 January 1963 can’t be described as a revamp, not with only one feature disappearing and two new series started, but it has to be classed as a relaunch, eleven years into the comic’s existence. There was a high-profile, front-page promoted free gift, with further instalments over the next four weeks, and every single series starting new stories simultaneously.
The main newcomer was another of those series that I mistily recalled before launching into the first of these Lion DVDs, ‘Zip Nolan – Highway Patrol’. The title says it all: Nolan was a motorcycle cop in the American city of Pensburgh (was this a disguised Edgar Allan Poe pun, Pittsburgh to Pensburgh, The Pit and the Pen-dulum?). Nolan took over the complete-in-two-pages slot, although every now and then one of his adventures would be serialised over two weeks, never longer.
The stories was very formulaic. Practically every week, Nolan would let something get past him that he couldn’t realistically have been expected to stop, be chewed out for it by Captain Brinker, and would charge off alone to bring in the crooks, pretty much single-handedly.

Zip Nolan by Reg Bunn

I’m not sure why I remembered this series ahead of others with more elan, individuality or flare, because it’s pretty routine and Zip Nolan has the personality of a post-box. Probably it was the name: to this day, I have heard of no-one else being called Zip, not even as a nickname. The series also suffers from never having a regular artist for more than a couple of weeks running. Captain Condor’s dismayingly crude artist of the time served up a few episodes, Rory MacDuff’s Reg Bunn elevated the strip a few times with his customary atmospheric approach, but Nolan’s artistic level was up and down continually, and some weeks it was execrable.
But every other series was refreshed with what would nowadays be called a jumping-on point: new serials all round.
And for most of the rest of 1963, Lion offered a regular, unchanging set of features, jut as Eagle had in 1957. Except for Paddy Payne, on the cover, still drawn by the expert Joe Colquhoun and enjoying Lion‘s sole page of colour, the order would vary from week to week. But the readers, amongst whom I was now to be counted, could rely upon Robot Archie, frightening superstitious natives somewhere primitive; Karl the Viking, superbly executed by Don Lawrence; Zip Nolan; Spot the Clue with Bruce Kent; Captain Condor, whose artistic duties were, like Zip Nolan, never settled upon one artist for more than two stories running; Tales of Tollgate School, which had not forgotten Sandy Dean but which was mainly dominated by Bossy Bates; Rory MacDuff, for whom Reg Bunn delivered a credence the ghoulies’n’ghosties stories couldn’t; and the return of the prose series with an ongoing character, Tuff Dawson, yet another bloody Secret Agent.
I should also mention the two half-page comic feature. ‘The Backwood Boys’ was already established, a highly-stylised cartoon about PC One of the Mounties which was strangely charming and actually sporadically funny in a quasi-surrealistic manner. The other, which was Lion’s second new feature in January 1963, ‘Commander Cockle’, drawn in a more realistic manner except that heads were out of proportion to bodies, making everybody look like overgrown children. The Commander built a 14” dinghy on an upper floor of a block of flats, launched it out of the window and set off to sail round the world. As humour goes, the only possible word is feeble: feeble comedy featuring a feeble-brained character.

The Priceless Puss

This line-up lasted without change until 28 September 1963, when Lion was half-revamped, re-extended back to 28 pages, put up to 6d, with new stories again simultaneously, though only for Condor, MacDuff, Archie and Tollgate School, and three new features. Only one of these, ‘The King’s Musketeers’, a relatively short-lived adaptation, drawn with fragile detail by Arturo del Castillo, and with a surprising seriousness, freely but sympathetically adapted from the final third of the Alexander Dumas novel, The Vicomte of Bragelonne, pertaining to The Man in the Iron Mask, which gave its name to the later part of the story, was a comics series.
The others were a half-page boxing cartoon serial, ‘Bud and Boss’, which was not worthy of anything more than a cursory mention, and, replacing Tuff Dawson and leaving Lion without a prose serial for the first time since its inception, ‘What’s in a Name?’, brief life-stories of famous men as nominated by readers.
Though only three weeks would elapse before the line-up was joined by another short-run feature, ‘Morg of the Mammoths’, set in the Neolithic age, nine thousand years ago. Young hunter Morg spares the leader of a herd of Mammoths threatening his village, is thrown out as a consequence, brings its leader, who he names Karga, under his control and teamed up with him for two serials before the series was cancelled after six months, to nobody’s regret.
This stable period underwent one unwelcome disruption, when Don Lawrence took a sabbatical from ‘Karl the Viking’ for the story starting on 17 August. Practically any other artist would have been a disappointment, but the crudity of his temporary replacement was next to an insult, the art being little better than the worst and crudest art being wished on Captain Condor.
Ah yes, the Captain. Among old fans of British boys comics of a certain generation, Condor has a reputation second only to Dan Dare himself. Not that there were many such rivals, the only other serious contender being Tiger’s Jet Ace Logan. But after a decade plus of his adventures I have to ask why. Neither Condor nor his longstanding assistant Quartermaster Burke (what is an officer who organises stores doing as Condor’s assistant troubleshooter?) have an atom of personality, their stories do not rise above space opera, and there is neither continuity, logic nor any consistency between adventures.
Dan Dare lives a very full afterlife and has for decades: I’m not aware of any efforts to bring back Captain Condor, nor any reason to.
Lion‘s steadiness was not affected by the September 1963 semi-vamp, complete with more free gifts spread over a month, but once the comic had sailed on into 1964, its pages suddenly became prey to change after change after change, starting with the issue of 1 February.
The shift was not propitious. ‘Tales of Tollgate School’ was renamed ‘The Rock that Rocked Tollgate’, the serial format giving way to 2½pp short stories. The ‘Rock’ was a meteorite that landed in Tollgate’s grounds, with the power to grant the wishes of whoever touched it each week, wishes that faded away three panels from the end, leaving no memory of the disruption.
The following week saw the end of Commander Cockle after just over a year of wasted space and the debut of the long-lasting ‘Mowser, the Priceless Puss’. Mowser would appear sporadically over the next few weeks, as did ‘PC One – Top Cop of the Mounties’, the re-branded ‘Backwoods Boys’, as nobody seemed able to make up their mind what half-page laughter riots should appear.

breath-takingly good art by Arturo del Castillo

One more week, and Paddy Payne was booted off the front page, to be replaced by ‘Badges of the Brave’, a front and back cover feature on the histories behind famous badges, usually but not exclusively British Army Regiments. After a couple of episodes that I remembered, Joe Colquhoun was pulled off Paddy Payne to take the series over.
Rory MacDuff exposed one last supernatural event as being produced by more mundane means and he and Barney Lomax went back to being film stuntmen and having down-to-earth villains to overcome. This lasted until 22 August, when the feature disappeared for good.
A new one page comics serial, ‘Spy-Smasher Smith’ made its debut, about a middle-aged man who looked like a mundane Civil servant but who was Britain’s top spy, foiling the plans of the evil Doctor Skull. Needless to say, it was down to half a page in just over a month, and then re-named ‘Mr Smith of MI51/2’, competing with Mowser and the soon-to-disappear PC One.
Captain Condor was reduced to 1½ pages per week, and would go down further to a single page before being killed off as a comics series on 4 April, though he would return after six weeks absence, with the weekly prose story resurrected to tell the space hero’s ongoing issues, withut Quartermaster Burke but with Sergeant Willis.
‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ was faithful to the end to the spirit of Alexandre Dumas, if not the actual novel, in having the four Musketeers all die in the service of restoring Louis XIV to the throne of France. Re-reading those deaths reminded me of how how disturbing they were to a boy just turned eight, who was completely unused to the idea that the hero could die, even as he achieved his victory.
Morg and Karga ended after two serials. Bruce Kent’s appearances also became sporadic, until one Monday he pointed out his last clue to his perpetually oblivious assistant, Jim, and never came back. Zip Nolan merged with the concept on 9 May. Even Robot Archie finally came out of the jungle, battling crooks in a Thunderbirds-esque Mole in Paris and New York.

A powerful, ongoing serial

But amongst all this chopping and changing, Lion did gain a new major feature, on 29 February, that I had long forgotten but instantly remembered. Titled originally ‘Britain in Chains’, and renamed ‘Public Enemy No 1’ on 15 August, the series starred top secret agent Victor Gunn, and his West Indian assistant, Barrel. Gunn was assigned to investigate a group run by the seemingly eccentric Baron Rudolph, who was dedicated to ancient times. Gunn found that not only was Rudolph planning to overthrow Britain’s government and install himself as Dictator, but that he has been planning this for years, has very influential adherents everywhere, and a well-developed plan to paralyse the entire country whilst he takes over.
And the evil Baron succeeds. Gunn and Barrel become wanted men, threats to the new regime. They succeed in getting the real Government out of the country, to set up in exile in Canada, which was the climax of the first serial, under the original name. The pair then stayed on, to organise the fitful, passionate but incoherent Resistance, the serial hanging its name to suit. I remember further changes of name for later phases, but not how the series was ultimately resolved. I am very much looking forward to getting to that point.
But still the changes kept coming. On 11 July, ‘The Rock that Rocked Tollgate’ finished its pathetic run by being thrown down a well, paving the way for a return to serials, starting with ‘Tollgate at Sea’, and then ‘The Tollgate Treasure-Seekers’ as the entire school took to the waters and decided to sail round the world. After a dozen years, this latest switch starts ringing the alarm bells as to whether the series should be put out of its misery.
Another new series, ‘The Silver Colt’, debuted three weeks later, with no little potential. It centred upon the eponymous gun, made for a famous lawman, which had the unfortunate habit of being lost or stolen: the series followed the gun and its several owners, and what luck it brought to them. Though a strip, this series replaced Captain Condor (again). Don’t worry, the Captain was back on 14 November, albeit for a single week.
Whilst Victor Gunn and the Silver Colt were major series, and well-executed, the next new feature was considerably troubling. ‘Outcasts of Storm Island’, starting on 29 August, was a reprint of one of those awful stilted serials of the Fifties, complete with its dull, drab art. Lion had lasted twelve and a half years without needing to repeat any of its unworthy past. Doing so now seemed to be a very bad omen.
Worse still was the end of Karl the Viking, on 26 September, to be replaced by ‘The Hand of Zar’. Fears however were relieved when the new series appeared and was found to be more work by Don Lawrence. The series would be better known under its later name, ‘Maroc the Mighty’, but under either title, it starred Devon Yeoman John Maroc, outlawed during the Crusades for saving a man from his rapacious master, who came into possession of the hand of Zar, an amulet that,when exposed to the rays of the sun, gave him superhuman strength.

Maroc the Mighty

But John Maroc was no substitute for Karl the Viking, nor were the Holy Land’s desert landscapes as fertile for Lawrence’s skill with atmosphere and landscape. The Hand of Zar amulet took the series too far into American superhero territory with that half-heartedness that characterised such a move.
In contrast, Zip Nolan benefited from Rory MacDuff’s departure by acquiring Reg Bunn as his full-time artist. The Tollgate series nostalgically returned Sandy Dean to the title, with two successive stories featuring, first, a Ghost Ship and then Pirates. A new comic feature with very old-fashioned roots arrived on 28 November 1964: ‘The Lion Street Mob’ harked more to ‘Lord Snooty and His Pals’ than its class contemporary, ‘The Bash Street Kids’, with a formulaic three panel set-up leading to a half-page multigag cartoon that to my eyes is overcrowded and confusing, but I rather think would have entertained my younger self very much more.
But this phase of Lion was now nearing its end, with another relaunch, like that which starts this essay, planned for early 1965. Before that, Robot Archie took over the cover from 9 January, replacing ‘Badges of the Brave’, and Rory MacDuff made a brief return, without his sidekick Barley Lomax, in a five week short serial with an artist I don’t recognise but practically every panel of which jumped out at me from my memory.
Sadly,DVD2 misses the last two issues of this run, mistakenly reprinting two recent issues, denying me the end of ‘Public Enemy No. 1′, which was a loss, and the last of Sandy Dean, Bossy Bates and Tollgate School afloat, which wasn’t. When the latest relaunch his the newsagents’ on 13 February, despite the persistence of Robot Archie, there were no Lion features left that could claim to have been there from the beginning.

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 1


I don’t know when Lion underwent its first major revamp. On DVD1, there’s a nearly six month gap between issues 373 (11 April 1959) and 395 (31 October 1959) in which the transformation is stunning, but I’ve no idea exactly when this occurred. Though as most of the stories inside seem to be in their very early stages, I suspect the change to have been very recent, quite possibly as early as the previous issue!

Paddy Payne – Lion’s most popular strip

Even though that was still 1959, I have no hesitation in choosing that off-stage revamp as the beginning of this second essay, as the beginning of the Lion in the Sixties.
Once the DVD resumes, however, it’s almost like reading a different comic. During this gap, Lion has absorbed the first of many other titles to suffer death-by-merger, this being something called Sun, whose name appears in rather small type under a bigger and more vibrant Lion logo, this time decorated with the spectacular head of a roaring lion. Though this is still, just about, the Fifties, the effect is to drag the comic into the Sixties. It looks fresh, modern and exciting, or should I say it looks what fresh, modern and exciting would have done to a boy of my age, picking it up then (or, actually, just a couple of years later).
The new Lion has now expanded to 28 pages weekly. It’s line-up is very familiar, with ‘Paddy Payne, Warrior of the Skies’, ‘Sandy Dean’s Schooldays’ and ‘Captain Condor’ still in evidence, Robot Archie is now finally running as ‘Robot Archie’, and whilst the prose series have been reduced to one, it’s still the already long-running Secret Agent Max Malone. New features include ‘Billy the Kid’, with which I’m already pretty familiar, since this is the series re-titled ‘The Black Avenger’ when reprinted six years later in Hurricane, and ‘Rory MacDuff – Danger Wanted’, about a two-fisted daredevil film stuntman/investigator which I remembered as soon as I saw it.
Add to that a plainly one-off serial about buried treasure in ‘Captives in El Dorado’ and the arrival of a back page cutaway feature that seems oddly familiar for some reason I can’t immediately recall.
But the major advance is that the old coterie of artists and that drab, small-panelled, rigid-tiered, stiff and stilted approach has been completed overturned. Every long-running feature has a new regular artist and not only is every single one far better in line and design, but they are now varying layouts, making more dramatic choices, and better still using bigger, more spacious panels that add an immediacy to every series.

A very different Sandy Dean and Bossy Bates

Nowhere is the effect more eye-popping than on Sandy Brown: the boys not only look more realistic, but they actually look contemporary. The whiff of cobwebs has been blown away: we actually look as if we are in the rapidly-approaching Sixties, instead of the Thirties.
Nor were the stories interminable any longer. There are still more gaps on DVD1, and after a run from 395 to 397, the next issue is 411 (20 February 1960). ‘El Dorado’ is still running but everyone else has moved on to new stories. And in Paddy Payne’s case, another new artist, easily recognisable as the great Joe Colquhoun, first artist on ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and later to be famous for ‘Charley’s War’.
As for ‘Billy the Kid’, this only lasted a few months before giving way to another western series, about a travelling boxer, ‘Best of the West’, which was no great shakes. But none of Billy’s Lion adventures were familiar, and their art was in keeping with the new approach, leading me to suspect that this feature (and the actual repeats) were a carry-over from the cancelled Sun, whatever that had been.
However, despite the new Lion‘s fresh slickness, we hadn’t seen the last of old drags. ‘Bruce Kent’s Spot the Pretty Obvious Clue’ was soon back and, by issue 429, so was Lucky Guffey: lucky for everyone but the readers. And not everything was progressive: writer’s credits vanished as if they had never been displayed at all, an unwelcome step.
Mind you, Bruce Kent did improve artistically as the series went on into the Sixties, though the stories were still penny plain and, to be fair, there were only a handful of Guffeys, probably unused pages from before the revamp.
I know from previous researches that, before returning to ‘Dan Dare’ in 1962, Keith Watson had been drawing ‘Captain Condor’, and this period began somewhere between issues 441 and 451. Watson did a bang-up job, drawing three pages a week initially, though this was later cut back to two.

Keith Watson on Captain Condor

And during this same break, a new series was added, ‘The Sword of Eingar’. This was about hard-fighting Vikings, centred upon Eingar’s ‘son’, a Saxon boy kidnapped on a raid many years earlier. As ‘Karl the Viking’ from the second story, with superb, highly detailed, indeed beautiful art from Don Lawrence, the series ran for years.
Like Eagle in its mid-Fifties heyday, Lion now had a settled, strong line-up of familiar characters, benefiting from good, clear, dynamic art coming from a group of artists who were energetic, inventive and superb draughtsmen. Mostly, the comic went for the same photorealism as Eagle, though coloured by the need to draw for black and white. Panels were detailed and forceful, and there was less of a sense of a ‘house-style’.
I’ve already mentioned Joe Colquhoun and Keith Watson, and I was 98% convinced that Rory MacDuff was originally drawn by Neville Colvin, one of the latter day artists on Peter O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’, but his regular artist soon became Reg Bunn. Ted Kearon drew Robot Archie and Selby Dennison drew Sandy Dean.
The ‘new’ Sandy was an exception to the photorealism rule, as Dennison drew in a very flat, almost plastic style. There was no element of cartooning about it, and perspectives and backgrounds were always correct and realistic, but his figures, and especially faces were reduced to minimum elements, giving the art a very two-dimensional look.

No longer The Jungle Robot

Ted Cowan’s dialogue had plunged headlong into the Sixties now, completely dispelling the archaic atmosphere of the past, and, for a wonder, it isn’t embarrassing to read since it’s rarely overdone. But somewhere along the line, Sandy and Co become ‘Dean and his Doomies’, at least to Bossy Bates, which is a bit off-putting.
Paddy Payne, Sandy Dean, Captain Condor, Karl the Viking, Rory MacDuff, Robot Archie, Bruce Kent. That’s a good deal with 4½d every Monday. I’ve left ‘“Sky-High”’s Tales’ out of that, since it was such a variable strip, ‘Sky-High’ Bannion being a resurrected character from the Fifties relating stories of adventure, some from his own past, others one-offs with the tang of being real-life incidents. The standard of these was pretty variable but the one thing all had in common was that, at 2½ pages, the endings always felt rushed and perfunctory.
But there was a serious dip in quality in the Sandy Dean story that started in the autumn of 1961 and ran up to 16 December that year. The idea was a little far-fetched in comparison to most earlier tales, given that it involved a secret formula for a dangerous explosive landing at Tollgate and being pursued by a pair of Foreign (Russian) Agents who get Bossy Bates on their side in trying to find it. Admittedly, they’ve offered him £40 which was bloody rich for those days, enough that Bossy goes OTT in his attempts to earn the bribe, but what was seriously OTT were the Agents, who to put it lightly were nitwits, clowns, bozos and ignorant beyond credibility (Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle looked like the KGB beside them). You might have gotten away with them in ‘Eagle Eye’ but they were a custard pie in the face of a supposedly serious series, and just as indigestible.
It turned out to be the last ‘Sandy Dean’s Schooldays’, for the series was then renamed ‘Tales of Tollgate School’. Though Sandy and his ‘Doomies’ were still there, the new title broadened the focus a little: not by much as Bossy Bates and Co now came to the fore.

Reg Bunn art: shame about the story

Rory MacDuff’s series changed emphasis, for the worse. Gone were the down-to-earth settings and the focus on Rory’s stuntman background, replaced by long story about things like Secret Worlds below the surface, and Vampiric hunters. More damagingly, the Scottish personality and epithets disappeared, leaving very cold and characterless dialogue from someone who was now an ‘ace adventurer’.
As the end of 1962 approached, a new Rory MacDuff story, about a ‘Phantom Legion’ gave me the first spark of genuine recognition: my time with Lion was nearing, for I remember reading the closing instalments of that serial.
Sadly for me, Keith Watson’s period as Captain Condor’s artist ended just before Xmas 1961, though that freed him up to return to Dan Dare the following year, as we already know. His immediate replacement was future Eagle stalwart Brian Lewis, but the stories were slowly running out of interest again. Frank Pepper still had no interest in producing anything more than two pages of spaceship adventure setting up another cliffhanger, and it was beginning to look like thin gruel once more.
‘”Sky-High”’s Tales’ transmuted into ‘The Amazing Adventures of Sky-High Bannion’: the same deal, the same narration and the same abrupt endings but now about Bannion’s adventures and his alone. Except when they weren’t and it was billed as ‘The Amazing Stories of Sky-High Bannion’. Who’d be an old comics blogger? This feature was now being drawn by a different artist nearly every week, each one of whom made Bannion look different, even down to switches between blonde and dark hair.
There continued to be the one prose series per week. Max Malone gave way to Dan Dexter, another second world war Secret Agent, who gave way to Grit Hewson, a would-be boxer taking on tough jobs to build himself up, but this gave way to Five-Star Stories, a different one-off every week, dipping into the themes of some of the Fifties series, though with the odd twist tale.
Artistically, the highlight every week continued to be ‘Karl the Viking’. Don Lawrence’s art was head and shoulders above everything else in Lion, in detail, drama, body language, expression and sheer beauty. Even on newsprint, his work stood out as a thing of great art.

Don Lawrence – wow!

Sadly though, the second DVD is missing nine consecutive issues, 20 October to 15 December 1962 inclusive, one of which is my first regular issue of Lion. It’s a pity I haven’t got the one where I came in. For a moment, I thought of using that as a convenient point at which to end this section of the story, but this was only short weeks from a point of relaunch. On 12 January 1963, every single serial in Lion, including the current Captain Condor, of which every single panel came out of my memory, was brought to an end, as were Sky-High Bannion’s adventures.
The following week, with the exception of the half-page comic serial, ‘The Backwoods Boys’, every series in the comic started afresh. And so will I in the next essay about the Lion in the Sixties.