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.

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.

We Who Would Valiant Read – Part 7

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

The suicide one

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

The misery porn one

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

The ‘Football ‘ one

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

The shitbag one

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

The Dirty Harry rip-off one

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

We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 6

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

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

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

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

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

We who would Valiant Read – Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

We who would Valiant Read – Part 4

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

Valiant 1968

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

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

House of Dolmann

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

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

We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 3

We pick up again with issue 163, cover date 13 November 1965. Between the last part and this, a little boy in East Manchester had his tenth birthday. As I’ve had cause to say before, I didn’t get Valiant in the Sixties. It wasn’t one of my comics, but at least one of my friends read it, so I was familiar with it. But for how much longer? I was now in Junior Four, the highest class in my local Primary School, looking down the barrel of Eleven-Plus Exams. A year from now, I would barely see any of my old school-mates. Thirteen months, and I would move away, and never swap for the Valiant again.
Brrr, morbid. Let’s have our usual reminder of what reading Valiant entailed as we start Part 3.

Valiant 1966

The comic is still 40 pages for 7d. The only colour is on the cover, still devoted to It Happened This Week… Inside, Captain Hurricane offers WW2 comedy adventure at 4½pp, Master-Mind, a supposed cartoon strip (1p), Kelly’s Eye, still protected by the Eye of Zoltec (2pp), Crime-Busters, true life crook-catching (1p), Legge’s Eleven, a funny football strip (2½pp), The Nutts, another supposed cartoon strip (1p), The Astounding Jason Hyde, a prose serial about a scientist with x-ray vision (3pp), Jackaroo Joe, a new strip about an Aussie who’d inherited a lairdship (2pp), The Steel Claw, an invisible secret agent (2pp), 2pp of letters and a half page What Do You Know?, Sporting Roundabout (1p), Mytek the Mighty, a giant robot gorilla menacing the world (2½pp), Billy Bunter, who needs no introduction (2pp), The Space Explorers, third and final part of a reprinted US SF short (2pp), The Wild Wonders, a comic series about two kid sportsmen (3pp), Sporty, a one page atrocity, Jack O’Justice, highwayman turned thief-taker (2pp), Gabby McGlew (1½p), plus The Crows (½p), two supposed cartoon strips, and lastly but far from leastly, on the back page, the Belgian comic strip It’s a Dog’s Life (originally Boule et Bill).
One week later, Mytek the Mighty was at last laid low, and Gogra captured. Time was up for the giant gorilla robot. Or was it? A new maybe-EC reprint story started, but I’m not going to record all the titles, just the existence of the series.
Of course Mytek was not finished, but the series changed course. Gogra escaped, planning to work on his super-robot that would outclass the giant gorilla, who was supposed to be dismantled. But Mytek’s batteries got recharged and his own developing brain set him off independently, deflected towards Gogra as his enemy.
Legge’s Eleven’s current story was an object lesson in the flaws of such a series. Having built up the team, and won Fourth Division promotion, Rockley get taken over by a certifiable nutter, Colonel Bagshott, who appoints himself trainer and starts running things like an Army instead of a football team. It’s cheap, it’s stupid, it’s repetitious and it’s so far beyond credible that it’s a waste of paper. It’s almost a rule for any artistic venture that centres upon a sport that the sporting exploits rapidly become extraneous and are replaced by increasingly mad stories about crooks and exploiters instead.
To general surprise, Jackaroo Joe’s mysterious enemy was revealed in issue 171 (8 January 1966) to be his identical distant cousin Craig, next heir, determined to get his hands on the Scottish estate. The reason for this was still a mystery, just to keep interest up, not that it had ever left the ground in the first place.
The next issue saw Valiant expand to an unprecedented 44 pages, at no extra cost, but all the extra pages were only an advert for the Valiant picture library.
There was a touching moment in Jack O’Justice in issue 174 (29 January) when, in order to bait a trap for new villain, The Hawk, Jack persuades Moll, despite her tomboy ways, to dress up as a French princess, and is somewhat taken aback when his brave girl companion turns out to be a knockout. Unfortunately, whilst Moll may have looked a doll, her long dress, primped wig and discernible bosom locked her out of the action until the next story.
There were three weeks of 44 page issues starting with no 177 (19 February) to accommodate four page plugs for the new comic, Champion. Unfortunately, if you’ve read my series on the Lion, you know how that turned out.
When it came to issue 187 (30 April), there was a partial revamp, Lion-style, with most of the existing series starting new stories and four new features in a jump to 44 pages, plus free gifts. Crime-Busters, after a long run, was replaced by Operation ‘Rescue’, a true-life series featuring daring rescues. The Last Boys in the World was a new series about three schoolboys who, by being underground, retrieving a cap thrown down a grating by a bully, emerge to find the entire population of the world vanished. Sports Roundabout’s artist was on temporary assignment to draw the Valiant Book of Football, a series of four page instalments building up into a 32 page booklet in anticipation of the forthcoming World Cup in England. The worthless SF reprints were replaced by Danger-Hunter, former Paratrooper Simon ‘Glory’ Boyes, a professional trouble-shooter, who gave off the vivid sense of being a Rory MacDuff rip-off. Even the art was like a rougher Reg Bunn. And it looked like The Crows had finally got the bird, to be replaced by Tatty-Mane, a comic series about a Lion. Don’t get your hopes up: we had both of them the next week, but that was two weeks without Sporty. Maybe…
As for the continuing stories, Jackaroo Joe finally took up his inheritance in Scotland, having accidentally killed off cousin Craig the previous week whilst learning that the rotter had half a map to treasure in the Bahamas, the other bit of which was at Glenawe. Then it was off to the Bahamas. Frankly, expatriate Aussie boys might have enjoyed this but overall the series rivalled Legge’s Eleven for tediousness.

To go back to the Book of Football supplement, there was a delightful irony in a small feature pointing out that no team wearing red shirts had ever won the World Cup, and pointing to Russia, Chile, Hungary, Spain and Switzerland as red teams. Maybe this might be the year for the Reds? And what colour were England’s change shirts in the Final?
Once the free gift cover passed, a new cover series began, It Could Happen, micro-features about how modern-day inventions might be developed in an SF future. In its second week it forecast undersea glass boat tours of the ocean bed… by the year 2000. I think not.
The same week’s instalment of Danger-Hunter had a telling slip. Simon Boyes is supposed to be an ex-Paratrooper, but one caption describes him as ‘The Stuntsman’. That was MacDuff’s profession when he wasn’t advertising himself out to dangerous jobs. And when I started to look closer at the lettering, it was easy to tell that the letter GL were in a thinner style than the ORY, as if space were tight. Once one such lettering change was recognised, they started to come thick and fast. I didn’t recognise the story, but its original provenance was obvious.
Sadly, like the vorwulka that cannot be confined to its grave, Sporty was back in issue 192 (4 June), as unliving as ever.
Jack O’Justice’s latest adventure, against a villain named Doom who was kidnapping appropriate people to become living chessmen, ended in issue 194 (18 June) with Moll Moonlight is a skin-tight, head-to-toe black costume. It was an unexpected piece of titillation to crown the series’ last episode, ‘a rest from the perils of the highway’. It’s replacement was to be a bit of a surprise. Enter… Jack Justice.
Yes, the decision was taken to jump the series into the Sixties, replacing Jack with Jack, his three greats grandson by his wife Moll O’Justice (that all-black skin-tight costume clearly put ideas into three greats grandad’s… head). Young Jack came complete with his own daring girl companion, Diana Dauntless. No doubt it was perversity on the writer’s part to make Jack and Diana’s first opponent a Phantom Highwayman.
‘Glory’ Boyes started a new adventure in issue 199 (23 July), with the same, familiar, early Reg Bunn art, but none of the blatantly obvious relettering, nor was the opening episode at all familiar. Then again, my Lion DVDs were not complete. The same issue saw ‘Gabby’ McGlew off the paper: a substantial relief, but of course not permanent.
Valiant reached its 200th issue on 30 July 1966, the date of the World Cup Final at Wembley. Like Lion, there was build-up but no reference to England’s successful outcome, presumably down to printing deadlines that would have made celebrations old news by the time they could appear in print.
Legge’s Eleven returned to England and took up their position in the Second Division, The Steel Claw defeated the Magician, Jack and Diana defeated the Phantom Highwayman and moved on to the Birdman and The Last Boys in the World continued its meaningless way, with the kids and Mr Boyce unable to get on any form of transport without another disaster occurring within five panels and forcing them to abandon it. The series was going nowhere, literally. For the moment, Valiant had plateaued: decent each week, but lacking in peaks or troughs, or anything new.

Dolmann and his ‘children’

The It Could Happen front page feature continued to give amusement at its enthusiastic predictions, the latest of which (issue 208, 24 September) was both funny and disheartening. Referring to the expectation of a Moon landing by 1970, it went on to evoke the year 2000 again, claiming that trips to our neighbour would be commonplace, and Moon tours an exciting feature. As always, future predictions are a mug’s game: who would have ever believed though that in that year, it would have been a quarter century since we had last walked on the Moon.
But one change at least was at hand. Jackaroo Joe reached the end of his Bahamian adventure in issue 209 (1 October) and took himself and his kangaroo back to Australia, forgetting conveniently that he was a Scottish laird with a welcome in the Highlands. Change was welcome, and it took the form of another classic Sixties series, The House of Dolmann.
Dolmann was a brilliant inventor and ventriloquist, an agent of International Security who lived as a shabby puppet-shop owner in a London back-street, and built highly-talented puppets/robots to carry out missions in four page complete stories. Dolmann was drawn by Eric Bradbury, who’d been drawing Mytek the Mighty up to now.
Mytek’s new artist was engaged on a story that saw Gogra back, trying to cannibalise the giant ape robot for his new nefarious plans for world conquest. Tom Kerr was drawing Diana Dauntless with a more than perceptible bosom – in a boy’s comic! – and the Wild Wonders’ latest adventure was taking place in an African kingdom with plenty of opportunity for dodgy caricature.
There was a degree of accuracy to It Could Happen on the cover of issue 216 (19 November) which extrapolated from motorway cameras to the surveillance society, eyes on every corner. Typically, the feature saw this as a good thing, with squads of highly mobile Police swooping to stop crime even as it was committed. Well, they got it half right. A quarter right, maybe. Predicting the future is a mug’s game.
Tim Kelly’s latest adventure was an amusing pre-echo of Eagle‘s The Guinea Pig, with the holder of the Eye of Zoltec testing the experimental creations of Dr Diamond, a brilliant scientist with a complete lack of concern for other human beings, whilst Legge’s Eleven’s Second Division series was a copy of their Third Division tale: eccentric trainer forces new and idiotic ideas on team who succeed by subverting them only for eccentric to claim, and be given, credit for success.
I don’t find Jack Justice as impressive as his illustrious forebear, though Tom Kerr’s art is superb, week-in, week-out. The modern setting isn’t as interesting and I confess to being unimpressed at junior Jack’s insistence on wearing a spotted cravat at his throat, in the manner of how Bruce Wayne was depicted back then. It’s smug, and suggests autocracy. Nor is Diana as much of an equal as was Moll Moonlight, having no observable skills but bravery.
Then it was 1967, and Dollman had had enough time to make an impression on me, and that impression is dull. The problem is that the story is told in complete, three or four-page episodes, or the occasional two-parter. The stories are always the same, there are no setbacks that aren’t overcome instantly, the solution is always the same, and Dollman himself has no personality. Such personality as there is isall invested in the puppets, whose voices are provided by Dolmann’s ventriloquism.
As if aware of this, the series started the new year with a three parter, but it made no great difference.

The Steel Claw in costume

For once, It Could Happen got it spot on in issue 226 (28 January), forecasting airbags in cars to save lives in the event of accidents.
I don’t usually comment on the adverts in the Sixties comics I’m re-reading, though they are a frequently fascinating reminder of things past and missed, such as old games, and toys, and fruit-flavour Spangles (fetch me a time machine, will you?) but February 1967 saw Valiant start to run the A.N.G.L.O. Ace commercials, for Anglo’s Tip Top bubble gum. And I only want to mention these for one point that still puzzles me.
It was Eagle who started the idea of making adverts in comics form, and of offering the services of its artists. The practice continued in the Sixties, but in comics like Valiant and Lion, with great, good and even passable artists on display, why did Anglo – to offer one extreme case – choose such an awful artist to draw for them? With the exception of Tom Kerr’s run on the Clark’s Commandos series, I cannot think of a drawn advert worth appearing alongside the series it accompanied. Instead, they stick out so awfully that I would have thought the effort counter-productive. A.N.G.L.O. Ace was abominable, and I’d have been ashamed to chew the bubblegum (not that anyone was letting me do so back then).
Back to the strips. The Steel Claw was struck a mortal(ly stupid) blow in issue 231 (4 March) when the Shadow Squad stuck him in a superhero costume (they hadn’t brought Jerry Siegel in to write, had they?)
The real disaster, for me, was issue 239 (29 April), for this was the last of It’s A Dog’s Life. I had had just over three years worth of the series, 159 issues, so I shouldn’t grumble, but it had been my favourite part of Valiant, and I sorely missed it.
Pete and Larry’s replacement in issue 241 (13 May) was Sam Sunn, the strongest boy in the world. One look was enough to identify this as a local product and, in keeping with the likes of The Nutts, The Crows and Tatty-Mane, devoid of all humour. It might amuse a four year old, if they’d never seen a cartoon strip before, that is.
One issue later, The Last Boys in the World came to its long overdue ending, with a reboot back to the beginning that was only one SF step up from ‘…and he woke up and it was all a dream.’ It had taken 56 weeks to go nowhere, and demonstrated a point common to both Valiant and Lion, that the strips that relied for their stories from situations were inevitably inferior to those that derived from continuing characters. By that token, its successor, Lords of Lilliput Island, did not auger well.
Once again, change was in the air. It Could Happen was replaced on the cover by They All Laughed, But…, a series on inventions pooh-poohed at the time that because established, starting with the Wright Brothers and the invention of flight. Lilliput Island was the island of Mayo (refuse obvious joke), a Falklands-style British possession in the South Atlantic where a plane carrying atomic waste crashed into the lake that supplied its drinking water. Anyone who drank the contaminated water shrank to a few inches in height. The only ones who didn’t were a bunch of schoolchildren. There was an obvious clash of leaders between Clive Driscoll, the good boy and Tug Wilson the bad boy, who saw the opportunity to do whatever he wanted now the grown-ups seriously needed to grow up.
But not only The Last Boys made way, for Jack Justice was also gone. It had never lived up to its forebear, but it had still been a decent series, and there was now no Tom Kerr art to enjoy every week. Jack and Diana were replaced in issue 244 (3 June) by The Laird of Lazy Q. I suppose enough time had passed since the Duke of Dry Gulch for us to be bored by another fish-out-of-water Western, this time with a stereotype Scottish Highlander, Duncan McGregor, inheriting a spread in Kansas.
Sam Sunn went only three weeks before being replaced on the back page by a colour ad for Dinky Toys but I somehow suspected we hadn’t seen the last of the little pest. And I was right.
All this time, Captain Hurricane was being Captain Hurricane week-in, week-out, always in a different theatre of the War and a different period. Consistency was not the watchword here but after several strips of the big Marine hastening the Allied advance across Europe leading towards VE-Day, it was nevertheless a bit much to have him pushing the Japanese back across Burma at the same time (issue 245, 10 June).
Legge’s Eleven were off on another of their ridiculous inter-season stories, having been invited to America by a tribe of smugly caricaturised Red Indians – it’s the Sixties, repeat after me, it’s the Sixties – hoping to learn football and beat the white man at his own game.
Tim Kelly had segued into another adventure at the hands of Dr Diamond, with the self-centred little bastard inveigling the possessor of the Eye of Zoltec into his Time Clock and straight to the Stone Age, with the determined intent to roam time and solve fascinating mysteries. Here I part company with the noble Mr Kelly: given that the Eye enhances his intelligence something rotten, I would have kicked the little bugger so hard up the backside my boot imprint would register on his tongue and leave him in the past. Guess I’d have never made a Valiant scripter, eh?
The big difference between Valiant and Lion is that the former offers no natural cut-off points, so this instalment ends on a round number, issue 250 (15 July 1967). I think it fair to say that, despite its profligacy with unreadable elements, this has been Valiant‘s strongest period to date, an era of a solid line-up of classic characters. It wasn’t perfect: updating Jack O’Justice was a mistake that led to the series terminating and, despite its status, The House of Dolmann has never risen above dull. But overall, the standard is high enough. As we move further towards the end of the Sixties next time, here’s hoping things don’t start to slip.

We Who Would Valiant Read: Part 2

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

Tim Kelly

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

Rick and Charlie, the Wild Wonders

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

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

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

Jack O’Justice

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

Boule et Bill, aka Pete and Larry

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

We who would Valiant read – Part 1

Captain Hurricane

The latest in my DVD collection of British Boys comics of the 1960s is one that’s a step into the unknown for me. Valiant, to which the short-lived Hurricane was a companion paper (i.e., you like that one, you’ll like this, except that not enough of them did) doesn’t exist in my memory like Eagle, Boy’s World or Lion. It was never one of the comics my parents would buy me, for reasons that seem inexplicable now. Certainly, in classic old features such as ‘Kelly’s Eye’ and ‘The Steel Claw’, it was as good as anything I read in those distant times, and in ‘Captain Hurricane’ it had a lead feature every bit as iconic, in a completely different way, as the legendary ‘Roy of the Rovers’.
No, I only saw Valiant sporadically, when I would read it at my mate Alan’s, whose parents approved of it for him. But in these days of being able to acquire great swathes of old stuff, in tiny packages for cheap prices, why not apply myself to things for which the nostalgia level is at its most minimal?
Valiant made its debut on Monday 6 October 1962, published by the soon-to-be-reorganised Fleetway Publications, costing 6d for 32 pages, with full colour only on the front and back covers. The front cover featured a big thumbs-up from Captain Hurricane, the character most indelibly associated with the comic, and the good captain’s origin was told in the opening feature, 3½ pages, along with his batman and reluctant sidekick, the skinny Maggot Malone.
The rest of the line up consisted of The Nutts (1 page) a comedy about a skiving family, It Really Happened (1 page), illustrated stories of weird and wonderful happenings, Hawk Hunter and the Iron Horse (2 pages) a western about a 17 year old white boy brought up as an Indian becoming a trouble-shooter for the advancing railways, Paladin the Fearless (2 pages), a medieval strip about an old woodsman who rescues a baby from the invading Vikings and brings him up as his own, The Steel Claw (2 pages), anti-hero lab assistant Louis Crandell who becomes invisible except for his metal right hand on touching electricity, Percy the Problem Child (1 page), a quiz page in cartoon style, To Glory We Steer (3 pages), the life story of Admiral Nelson, Hey Presto and Shorty the Sheriff, two half-page cartoons, Blade of the Frontier (4 pages), Captain Brett Blade on the North Western Frontier in India, Sixer and The Crows, two more cartoon strips sharing a page, Kid Gloves (2 pages), about a mild-hearted boxer, Jack O’Justice (2 pages), a Highwayman style hero, and on the back page, Famous Fighters, this week the Red Indian.
Phew! That’s an impressively varied line-up for a brand new comic.
Of those debut features, Captain Hurricame and The Steel Claw were obviously familiar, and I’d heard of Jack O’Justice though I didn’t remember anything of it. But none of the other series meant anything to me. The cartoon style of Paladin the Fearless was rather European, so I’m immediately guessing it was adopted from something like Pilote or Spirou, though it used a much darker ink-line that most of the French strips I’ve seen.
And in a manner with which I should be familiar, there were new cartoon strips in each of the next two issues, first Tommy Hawk and Mo Cassin in issue 2, then Mark Tyme, the scruffiest soldier in issue 3.

The same issue saw the Famous Fighters transfer to the cover, giving up their back page slot to Soccer Roundabout, a kind of It Really Happened for football stories.
I decided I’d give Valiant thirteen weeks, to the end of 1962, before I commented on its contents, although with some of the series this was an unnecessarily generous allowance in coming to a conclusive opinion.
I didn’t find any of the comedy strips funny, and there were many more than the usual average of them for an adventure paper weekly. The Soppy Happorths was much the worst of them, two schoolkids, a weak and old joke and a final panel in which the joke-teller gets a punchline appropriate comeuppance, but nothing stood out in any way, at least not to the adult me: I might have been more amused if I were still under ten.
Pretty much the same thing went for Captain Hurricane at first. The giant captain, first name Hercules, starts off as a rather callous tramp steamer captain whose craft is torpedoed by a German U-Boat, with all hands going down except the scrawny Maggot Malone, towards whom Hurricane has nothing but contempt. When the U-Boat captain leaves them stranded, Hurricane’s great strength rescues the pair, and they promptly join the Royal Marines. Two years later, Hurricane is a captain, Maggot his batman and the chance of revenge arises.
After that, the stories settled down to a seemingly unbreakable formula. The Marines are sent on a secret mission. At some point, something gets on Hurricane’s wick, and he gets a raging fury on, during which he basically smashes everything in sight. That was all, really. The raging furies all came about in the same way. Week in, week out. But with ten issues under its belt, the series started to play a bit more subtly with the giant Marine.
After Captain Hurricane, the strip I was most familiar with was The Steel Claw, but this phase is very different from the strip I read occasionally. At the beginning, Louis Crandell was a surly, selfish lab-assistant with a metal hand who discovered, thanks to a lab accident, that if charged up with electricity, he became invisible, except for his Steel Claw.
This version of Crandell immediately thought of the power he might accumulate from being invisible, and sets out to take over the world. Not only was he not very efficient at it, but along the way he demonstrated that he had the personality of wallpaper paste. The art, by Jesus Blasco, was good and would get sensationally better, but the story, by Ken Bulmer was a howler. Then the Professor dropped in a significant line about believing Crandell to have been mentally affected by the accident, no doubt some foreshadowing. Thank heaven I knew it was going to get better.
I had a very different response to Blade of the Frontier. This is Captain Brett Blade of the British Army, on the Northwestern Frontier in India, facing off against the hostile tribes intent on sweeping the Raj out of India. But this isn’t an India story, it’s a Western. It’s dynamics and its situations are those of a Western. And it’s not just a Western, it’s a very specific one: it’s Buffalo Bill from Comet, the one that was reprinted in Lion as Tiger Jack. I’d recognised the dynamics before I recognised the first of several stories that I remembered from Lion.
Whoever the writer was, he was recycling Buffalo Bill stories with minimal amendment. It made the series very weird to read, because Captain Blade is tissue-thin and the Western story is unignorable and the stories are a direct rip-off. It doesn’t have any independent life.

Jack and Moll by Tom Kerr

The other major series, Jack O’Justice, managed to run through its first story in only nine weeks. Jack’s a highwayman, described originally as a sword-wielding fighter for justice and later as King of Highwayman, and his constant companion (though they slept in different rooms) was Moll Moonlight, a very progressive step for 1962, especially in someone who was treated as all but equal to the star.
Unfortunately, the first story, featuring a Siberian Giant and the Eighteenth Century equivalent of a Mad Scientist, was a bit too much of a dip into the fantastic for the setting. I was hoping for something more grounded next. Instead, I got ghosts and phantoms, no Moll and a new supporting character described week in, week out as a Negro, and cursed with some of the most condescending ‘Lawdy Massa’ dialogue imaginable. Keep repeating: it’s 1962, it’s 1962…
As for the story itself, how good can it possibly be when seven consecutive episode end with the same ‘menace’?
Of the rest, Hawk Hunter was decent without being special, the Nelson life story well-portrayed, but subject to varying standards of art, and Kid Gloves – whoever seriously calls their son Kid, especially with a surname like that? – is a relatively unimaginative sports strip that at least reflects the era when sportsmen used to live amongst, and like, the rest of us.
As for Paladin the Fearless, which falls between the two stools, the more I see of this, the more I am convinced it is French. Indeed, there is a great deal of Albert Uderzo in the young blond giant strongman, Paladin, and almost an inversion of Asterix in his relationship with his adopted grandad, Cedric.
The first, purist incarnation of Valiant only lasted twenty weeks, and then on 23 February 1963, the fledgling paper proved its infant strength by taking over Knockout.
The survivors were Captain Hurricane, The Nutts, Kid Gloves, The Steel Claw (now transformed into a hero), The Crows (why that of all the awful options?), Hawk Hunter, Paladin and Jack O’Justice (reunited with pretty Moll): in short, practically all the comics and features, Blade of the Frontier and Nelson’s story, which completed in issue 20, were out.
From Knockout, which had been running since 1939, the merger imported ‘Battler’ Britton, RAF Pilot, to co-star with Captain Hurricane, Billy Bunter (which had been running since the days of the Magnet and still looked like it, From the Vaults of Time, a series about Professor Kraken raising prehistoric monsters that menaced the present day, one page cartoon strip Sporty (easily down to the level of those not missed), and the legendary Kelly’s Eye, featuring Tim Kelly, who was invulnerable as long as he held the Eye of Zoltec. Tim’s adventures, drawn by Francisco Solano Lopez, had first appeared the previous year.

Tim Kelly

Rounding off the line-up were the new features, Spotters’ Special and Cars A to Z, and the only all-new series, The Man Named 39 (Secret Agent Nick Shadow whose cover is as Convict 39, serving life at Fenmoor Prison. The art looked like Tom Kerr again to me, employing a more serious approach than his ‘Oddball Oates’ style of the other end of the decade.
And having recorded all that, it was frustrating to find Percy the Problem Child back the very next week!
Battler Britton’s role as second fiddle to the Marine Captain only lasted three weeks before it was back to business as usual, having demonstrated that a regular partnership was simply too awkward to sustain. But his appearance was popular enough to warrant handing him his own series again, replacing Hawk Hunter in issue 31. And The Crows’ unwarranted reprieve lasted only that same three weeks. However, their absence was anything but permanent.
Issue 35 (1 June) saw new stories for Battler and the rival Professors, Kraken and Needler, whose series was re-named Kraken and the Time Machine. This really was an oddball strip, with Professor Needler, the ‘good’ scientist being heavily overweight and possessed of a low-hanging double chin: what a model for a Valiant kid! Meanwhile, Jack O’Justice ended his third adventure, and prepared for another with a supernatural theme. And Battler was back in new action again in issue 39 (29 June), his stories being very much of the brief kind.
The Man Named 39 clearly didn’t go down well with the readers for Nick Shadow was retired after only one adventure. Paladin the Fearless followed him quickly afterwards. Their replacement, in issue 44 (3 August), was The Big Shot, a series about gangster and Public Enemy No. 1, Nero Cortez. The next week, a curious change of art-style, and a more cramped and crowded use of panels convinced me that the comic had gone to Knockout‘s vaults and was saving money by reprints.
So far, there’s been nothing to remind me of reading Valiant when I was a boy, but in issue 46 (17 August) came an exchange in Captain Hurricane that I did recall, with the big marine fulminating at bing sent on an admin course to learn about ‘Marine’s flamin’ bootlaces and Officers’ perishin’ pips’ only to be corrected by a jovial Aussie in admin-speak as ‘Laces, boots, flamin’, Marines and Pips, perishin’, officers for the use of’. Isn’t it funny what can stick in your mind for so many years?
Valiant‘s first year concluded with issue 52 (28 September) and new series for Tim Kelly, Jack O’Justice and Professor Kraken. The Big Shot having come to a sticky end the week before, there was a new series, the first Western since Hawk Hunter was dropped. This was The Duke of Dry Gulch, another of the English Fish Out of Water brand of Westerns, starring Captain Basil de Montcalf, former Bengal Lancer and new owner of Dry Gulch. Ol’ Basil had the statutory monocle, foppish appearance, lazy drawl and punch like a mule-kick of the formula, but he also had a gigantic Indian servant, and not Red.

Professor Kraken looking modest as usual

And there was a minor surprise in store as Battler Britton was once again dropped, and with him his four pages, with Valiant reducing to 28 pages weekly from this point.
There was a stunning surprise for me in issue 59 (16 November) with a new series, Little Fred and Big Ed, in colour on the back page. These were two ancient Britons defending an isolated village from the Romans. Little Fred was a half-pint with a big yellow moustache, Big Ed a rotund bloke with a red moustache and striped pants… Yes, you’ve guessed it, this was Asterix and Obelix, with a British debut preceding their appearance in Ranger, again as Britons instead of Gauls, under the names of Beric and Son of Boadecia. This was a reprint of the first Asterix adventure.
After fifteen months and sixty-five issues, with 1964 about to arrive, it’s time to take stock of Valiant, and try to give some reasoned responses to the comic and it’s major series. By this I mean the ones that have lasted which, from Valiant‘s debut consist of Captain Hurricane, The Steel Claw, Jack O’Justice and, though I don’t really class it as major, Kid Gloves, and from the Knockout merger, Kelly’s Eye. Nothing else from the first twenty issues lasted until the end of 1963 (I am purposefully excluding The Nutts and the irregularly appearing The Crows from this), and nothing really deserved to. The only other long-standing series were Battler Britton and the one featuring Professors Kraken and Needler.
Captain Hurricane’s original formularity did give way to a wider story approach, though every episode does include Ragin’ Furies, impatience with standard approaches, the alternate maligning and defending of Maggot Malone and increasingly improbable scenes off Hurricane beating up multiple enemies and equipment without even being scratched by their heavy armament: what the hell, this is more a cartoon than a realistic war strip, right?
What it also includes, as a standard feature, are racial epithets that in 2019 have me pursing my lips in disapproval. Hurricane’s exploits take place at random on various theatres of War, facing the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese, and wherever he is, Captain Hurricane is full of racist vitriol. It’s particularly noticeable in stories featuring the Japanese, since every insult is based in a supposed physical characteristic of the Japanese as a race. The Italians are addressed in stereotypes that are almost as blatant.
Oddly, though, I don’t feel anything like the same revulsion at the German insults. They just don’t register on the same scale, and I’m left wondering if I have just been too exposed to such things, from childhood onwards, so that I accept them as normal. And to be fair, whether they offend modern ears or not, all these insults are at least realistic for the War period, when nobody was concerned about the delicate sensibilities of the enemy.

The hard-hitting boxer with the soft heart

The Steel Claw was one of the series I was really looking forward to reading, and I’ve already made it clear how disappointed I was with it at the outset. The artwork is consistently good, dynamic and detailed, but I found the idea of Crandell as an unthinking megalomaniac to be trite and cliched, and his competence a long way below what might be necessary to pull off his goals.
But we didn’t have to go too far into the first story before Professor Barringer, he to whom Crandell was lab assistant when the accident happened, was nervously opining that it wasn’t Crandell’s fault, that he was a good man really and that the accident had turned his mind. This would prove to be the case, though it didn’t do Crandell much good in his second story, when Doctor Deutz, who was supposed to be helping him, succumbed to a similar accident with electricity that turned him into a brutish apeman on incredible strength. Crandell naturally got the blame, which the not-so-good Doctor played upon by dipping his paw in aluminium paint to make it look like a steel claw.
Each story moves Crandell nearer to being a hero, though all he wants is the quiet life and not to be recognised. To defend a scientist friend whose invention is stolen by pirates, Crandell has to break his oath not to turn invisible again, this time on the side of the angels, but all that does is persuade him that he wants to just disappear. Tom Tully took over the writing at this point, bringing Crandell the final steps of the way into being a hero, as an Agent of British Intelligence’s Shadow Squad.
Jack O’Justice was something I knew only by name. I had no recollection of ever reading it, though clearly I must have. The title character is something of an anomaly: he’s a gentleman of the road, often described as the Prince of Highwaymen, but he and his companion Moll Moonlight are effectively crime-fighters, and when it comes to dealing with their arch-enemy The Spectre, they are treated as being as respectable as constables, not just by Prime Minister Pitt the Younger but also by His Majesty, King George III.
I give plus points to the series for having a female character who’s treated as more or less an equal to the star, though not enough to outweigh the awful black character in the second story. But the series suffers from its art, which is weak and lacking in detail or weight, because it’s actually re-lettered reprints of the Dick Turpin strip from the Sun comic in the late Fifties.
And the other major series is Kelly’s Eye, which has a lot going for it. It’s a good, vigorous adventure series that’s somehow reminiscent of Robot Archie when it’s not being stupid or colonial. Solano’s art is strong and active, and the story is pacey. Tim Kelly’s gimmick is the Eye of Zoltec: whilst this is on him, he’s invulnerable as well as being a bit superhuman, so the story’s only flaw is the necessary one of just how often the Eye comes loose, reducing him to the extremely vulnerable.
As for the rest, Kid Gloves is an amiable semi-comedy with nothing to distinguish it except for Kid (which is apparently his real name) having a girl-friend, albeit one with whom he doesn’t even hold hands, and her having the name Velvet Mittens (think about it).
The one about Professor Kraken and his rival Professor Needler is basically a dinosaur strip, mingled in with time travel to various dinosaur eras of the past, competently drawn but curiously unappealing, whilst Battler Britton, even before it went down the reprint route was neither better nor worse nor really different in any way from Lion‘s Paddy Payne (nor Victor‘s Braddock, or any RAF strip of the Fifties or Sixties come to that).
I’ve purposely made no comment on the Billy Bunter strip, which looks like a refuge from the Thirties and, for all I know, may very well be. It’s drawn in archaic fashion, it’s humour is dated and I just don’t find Billy Bunter interesting any more. Indeed, I don’t even read it as I scroll through Valiant‘s pages, any more than I do The Nutts.
Probably because I have no pre-existing emotional resonances to this material, I’m not yet over-impressed. But this is still the early Valiant: I’m expecting a mid-Sixties ‘golden age’ coming up that will knock my socks off. Here’s hoping.

The Lion in it’s glory – an overview

I was harsh about the Lion of the Fifties, and I’ve been even harsher about the Lion of the Seventies, but have I been fair about the history of Lion overall? Given that it is all more or less a matter of opinion, the answer depends, I suppose, upon how far you agree with my conclusions.
In writing an overview, there are two very relevant factors to bear in mind. The first is that Lion ran from February 1952 to May 1974, twenty-two years and three months and however many generations of British boys that you choose to count poring over its pages. Collectively, they read the whole of Lion over twenty-two years: I did it in a matter of months. If I found the comic stale in its final years, how much of that staleness came from me?
And let’s not forget that I am an unabashed Eagle fan, which makes me guilty of expecting standards and intentions that Lion was never meant to embody.
Lion was, from first to last, a much less ambitious title. It was the classic cheap’ncheerful British boys comic, printed in black and white on cheap newsprint, it’s sole intent (apart from turning a profit) to entertain its target audience, of seven to twelve year old boys, once a week.
Eagle‘s aim was always that little bit higher, above their audience’s presumed heads: not by so much as to bore or confuse them in pursuit of their parents’ approval, but to stretch them, to inspire them, to make them aspire to something better, and to educate them in the best possible manner. In contrast, Lion was pitched straight at their adrenal glands: make them thrill, make them gasp, make them laugh and, above all, make them come back next week.
If too many of them don’t, the comic eventually doesn’t either.
That Lion lasted so long, and swallowed up so many failing rivals along the way, is testament to how well it did that.
The Fifties Lion was nevertheless dull, in thrall to the old way of making comics, pinched and pawky, stiff and awkward, long, rambling stories with no greater purpose than setting up the next cliffhanger.
The Seventies Lion was even worse. It had outlived its period of genuine glory and lost its way between features that had long since flensed all creativity or inspiration and inadequate ideas with no originality or scope. It’s only thought was to provide exactly the same elements, every single week.
But for nearly ten years in between, from that first extensive 1958 revamp that brought Lion in style and approach into the modern era, to somewhere around 1968 or1969, Lion was something else. I’m tempted to point the finger at the week in 1969 when Lion absorbed the poison pill of Eagle, a comic that had been resented by its own management for nearly a decade itself, but that’s too obviously prejudice.
The Sixties Lion was brilliant. It was loud, it was confident and it had the chops to back it up. Tight, well-written stories in a variety of genres. Well-drawn, in a variety of styles, especially by Don Lawrence and Reg Bunn. Not afraid to cherry-pick European strips, both adventure and humour (though I don’t hold with the re-naming of Lucky Luke, not when it had a good Anglo name already: Modeste and Poupee was a gallic horse of a different colour). There was a magic about the comic in those years that entitled Lion to its proper place in the outflowing creativity and optimism of the legendary decade. There was definitely something in the air, then, or was it in the water?
Above all, I’ve been reading Lion in all its phases as a 60 plus year old man, not the excited pre-teen of the audience it was geared to. Nostalgia played its part, but it was a kettle upon a low light that rarely if ever boiled hot enough to brew a proper cuppa. I simply enjoyed the Sixties Lion as I would any great piece of work, as if I was coming to it for the first time. After fifty years, I might well have been.
So that’s that. Coming up at some point will be six years of Valiant, 1962 to 1968, where I will be reading for the first time. I only ever saw this comic intermittently as it was never one of mine, just something I occasionally saw at friends. I have high hopes of it though, especially in those years.
That’s for the future, mind. Valiant is too much like Lion for my immediate comfort and I don’t want to come to it stale on that kind of title. Let me take a trip down a different Nostalgia Avenue first, into the vastly different world of Supermarionation, Gerry Anderson and TV Century 21, which I did get for years.
But when Lion was good, it was very very good, and when it was bad it was, mostly, just dull. That to me is a deserving enough epitaph.