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.

Like a Hurricane


A Sixties Comic

In the beginning, there was a dreamlike quality to it.
Reading an Ursula le Guin essay, I had a lightning flash of memory: a comics version of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court in a boy’s weekly comic in the Sixties. I wrote about it the same day, bemoaning, mildly, that I’d never get to test my sudden and shining recollection.
The same day, I had a comment from David, who identified it for me: the comic was Hurricane, the strip was a reprint of an Italian series, written and drawn in the Fifties by Lino Landolfi, and there were DVDs of the whole run of Hurricane on eBay. I didn’t look immediately, but when I did, I found one immediately. Any doubts about buying it disappeared when I recognised Hugo Dinwiddie.
Within ten days of remembering it, I was reading ‘A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’. And ‘Sword for Hire’, which was Dinwiddie’s series. And, bloody hell, ‘Skid Solo’ too! I was in my nostalgic element, and I was going to write about this. The enthusiasm, the liveliness, the real, surprising quality of some of these series, written and drawn at a time when my gold standard Eagle was getting more and more hit and miss. Why on earth had I forgotten ‘H.M.S. Outcast’? I was in delight.
But the story turned out to be far different. Hurricane only lasted 63 issues in total, 29th February 1964 to 8th May 1965, and that bright, bouncy, confident paper that hit the market lasted less that a third of that run. As early as issue 19 (4th July 1964: there were no issue numbers but I’ll use them for ease of reference), Hurricane underwent a massive revamp, with half its features cancelled, ‘Yankee’ among them. Two of the replacements either were, or appeared to be, reprints of old series owned by Fleetway.
And that was to be the story. Three times again during the remainder of its run, Hurricane tried to reinvent itself into something that would sell better. More and more of its series were an obvious attempt to cut costs with reprints. Less and less of the comic holds any appeal for the adult me, who read the original run, week after week, from being 8 to 9, who remembers almost nothing of Hurricane that I haven’t already mentioned here, although in that first eighteen week run I kept coming across panels from practically every series that aroused shouts of delighted recognition. Writing about Hurricane was not going to be the joyful explosion of enthusiasm I expected, except in the beginning.
(I should mention that, as David has also pointed out, I could put names to what I describe, and convert guesses into facts by buying Steve Holland’s book on Hurricane. Much as I’d love to, I have other commitments at present, so I’ll be going on perceptions, as I usually do! All mistakes are the product of ignorance and are apologised for in advance.)

For its first six weeks, Hurricane ran 32 pages per week, before settling into a 28 page length thereafter. Typhoon Tracey, who was as much the flagship character as Dan Dare was for Eagle, decorated the first cover, which featured a big red logo across a bright yellow strip, giving the comic a vibrant recognisability. Hurricane was also plugged as ‘a companion paper to Valiant throughout (though when it demised, that wasn’t with which it merged). From issue 6, it distinguished itself with a ‘panoramic’ cover, a single widescreen illustration stretching across front and back.
There was no colour inside, just eight black-and-white features, ranging from one to four pages each week. There were three serials, ‘Yankee’, ‘Two Fists Against the World’ and my favourite rediscovery, the wonderfully daft ‘HMS Outcast’. Everything else managed complete stories each week.

Let me list that debut line-up, in order of appearance. Upfront was ‘Typhoon Tracey’, very much in the Captain Hurricane mould, a big, blond, burly trouble-shooter who loved nothing more than a good punch-up. Tracey’s four pages were drawn in a quasi-realistic cartoon style ideally suited to the broad comedy and executed with great vigour. In contrast, ‘Skid Solo’ (3 pages), adopted a more detailed and realistic style that looked darker. Skid – which seems to have been his real name – was an aspiring racing driver living with his Aunt Mabel. Skid narrated his stories in a happy-go-lucky manner.
Next was the aforementioned ‘Two Fists’, a decent but unspectacular 2 page series with decent but unspectacular art. This starred Jim Trim, an aspiring bare-knuckle prizefighter in Regency Britain, and was told in a series of short phases, or what we now call ‘arcs’, overcoming various obstacles.
This was followed by ‘Yankee’. I was delighted to find that this was every bit as quirky, visually delightful and wonderful as by first recollections had told me. The art is a version of the ligne clair style, very clean and crisp in both its dimensions, and the adaptation is a very straight one from what I can recall of the original novel. It’s been brought up to date, in that Hank Morgan is very much a motor mechanic of our present day and not that of Twain, but there is very little writing down to the young audience it is produced for.
The openly cartoonish art has a completely different quality to the other strips, a clarity to the linework that I find very effective, and I also have to praise the quality of the reproduction on the DVD. Given the paper quality these were printed on, it’s nothing short of brilliant, with no bleed-through from the opposite page.
The same can be said for ‘Sword for Hire’ (4 pages), set in Roundhead London during the Commonwealth. Captain Hugo Dinwiddie was a Cavalier who, after King Charles was executed, took up residence at the Blue Boar Tavern where he offered the services of a swordsman who had never been defeated to help people in trouble. It’s the classic freelance troubleshooter set-up with its infinite flexibility, but with highly detailed and very realistic art, complex, vigorous and either well-researched or a superb bluff. And not just the art. Dinwiddie had the true Cavalier’s outlook on life and swordfighting, an enthusiasm and a joie de vivre that came through in spades. ‘Sword for Hire’ was something Eagle could not have done, not then, and probably not before, but its enormous buoyancy deserves to be far better known.
In contrast, ‘Rod the Odd Mod… and his old pal Percy Vere’ was a piece of crap, a repetitious and unfunny one page cartoon. 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, which was odd in that he was only about three feet tall. I hope the eight year old me didn’t find it funny.
Artistically, ‘The Worst Boy in School’ (2 pages), was a great let-down. This was about Duffy (no first name), who had been brought up in the circus and thus was high-spirited, unpredictable and undisciplined. However, in order to inherit the circus from his uncle, Duffy to undergo education at Camborne School. This was just a bog-standard chaos-causing schoolboy strip, lacking even the distinction of Billy Binns or Cornelius Dimworthy and cursed with some scruffy, scrappy art that tried to create a kind of impressionist realist view but just looked ugly and unfinished.
Apart from the odd panel here or there, I had no memories at all of ‘HMS Outcast’, which I could look at as if for the first time. I loved it. It was a gentle, comic gem. The series was set in 1942, and starred Lieutenant Wildbloode, an amiable, grinning, wide-jawed bloke with serious competence issues.
As punishment for being pretty useless, Wildbloode was given his own command, HMS Outcast, the oldest ship in the Navy. His orders, the true import of which were known only to his efficient second-in-command, Lieutenant Fitzjohn, were to take Outcast to the breaker’s yard. Instead, Outlook got lost en route, wound up in the middle of a German fleet and, by a mixture of Wildebloode’s innate sneakiness, opportunism, luck and the kind of inspired chaos the ship drags in its wake, captured them all. It was wildly improbable, yet fantastic, and the art, a delightfully sketchy realistic impression, was perfect for something so inspiredly silly.
Last of all, but not least, was ‘He Rides Alone’ (4 pages) a western strip. For its time, the series, starring the soft-spoken, immaculately dressed, short in stature but tall in the saddle Drago, was wonderfully sophisticated. Drago was a complete mystery, appearing out of nowhere whilst casting a long shadow before him, righting wrongs before riding away again, alone. There was a strong elegiac element to the narration, like a campfire telling of old stories of a man forgotten, save in these, and whilst the art was not especially distinguished in terms of linework, the artist was a genius at layout and atmosphere, in perfect harmony with the narration.
So there it was, Hurricane, a happy rediscovery, a comic for eight to ten year olds, with a wide variety of stories, well worth time time of an old nostalgiac who could enjoy this work in its own right.

But that’s only the second part of the story. I have no idea what I thought then, but the announcement in issue 18 of so many new series all at once filled the adult me with misgivings. That kind of revamp spells only one thing: trouble. Circulation trouble. To need so radical a kick up the bum so soon was not good.
Gone were Rod the Odd Mod, who was no loss, and gone too was Jim Trim, but the two serious losses for me were Hank Morgan and Drago. Nothing that replaced these two could match up to them.

Even at the age of eight, I thought the ending of ‘Yankee’ to be oddly abrupt. The arc where Hank takes Arthur in cognito to see how his countrymen are treated ends with rescue in one panel, and the next says ‘The End’. It could easily be that the adaptation had ended, and certainly want remains of the novel could well have been deemed too much for its audience, but ‘Two Fists’s termination is equally swift: the current arc is resolved and suddenly, five lines are stuffed into the last panel to explain that five months later Jim Trim won the All-England title The End. Add to this that Rod the Odd Mod will come back much later and my conclusion is that this was all a bit of a rush job.
So what was Hurricane mark 2 like? Typhoon Tracey and Hugo Dinwiddie stayed where they were, Skid Solo moved back and HMS Outcast forward. What of the new features?
The first of these, literally, was ‘“Hurry” of the Hammers’, in full colour on the front and back covers. I’m grateful to David for spilling the beans that Hurry (which I not only remembered but associated with Hurricane all along) is really the early ‘Roy of the Rovers’ running as a disguised reprint. I loved it when I was eight, but then I never met a football series I didn’t like. At this distance, it’s more interesting for what it really was, and an interesting look at the early days of the world famous Roy Race: you’d have never have thought it would go on to be that big on this evidence.
On the other hand, ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ (2 pages) was 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 rough-edged art for a start.
‘The Black Avenger’ (3 pages) was a like-for-like replacement for ‘He Rides Alone’, a lone-gunman Western long on cliché. 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. Judging by the small-panelled, square art, and in particular the appearance of the later supporting character, Miss Mary Dixon, my guess is that this is a Fifties reprint, probably from Lion. (Indeed so: it first appeared there in 1959 as ‘Billy the Kid’). Either way, it lacks anything of Drago’s individuality, and is dull and repetitious.
Last, but not least, was ‘Paratrooper’ (4 pages), a success both artistically and popularly, lasting to the end of Hurricane and beyond, and another I remembered on sight. Each week, Sergeant Rock (no, not that one ) would relate a tale of a different Paratrooper during the Second World War and the actions in which he took place. The series was good and solid, with bold, realistic art, but its real strength was in 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 ‘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.
This time, Mark 2 Hurricane only lasted twelve issues.

Second time around, the upheaval wasn’t so dramatic. Only two series ended, three if you count the renaming of Planet Z to ‘Peril on Planet Z’, a thankfully short sequel set on Planet Z itself and even worse than the original. But as the two series to be cancelled were ‘Sword for Hire’ and ‘HMS Outcast’, the effect was massive.
Four replacements arrived over the next four weeks, only one of which with any appeal. ‘When the Lights Went Out’ was a Fifties-style Disaster novel in comic book form: 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 builds Britain back up again after many adventures and ultimately becomes 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.

Hank Morgan – From a collection of the Italian original

At least ‘When the Lights Went Out’ was a new strip. ‘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?) was pretty dire Fifties reprint material, dull as ditchwater and looking archaic.
This pair appeared together in issue 31 (26th September 1964), in which there were other changes. Hurry Cane was moved into the centrespread and reduced to black and white, whilst Typhoon Tracey was pushed right back and cut to two pages: in addition, it was turned into a serial, and assigned a new artist, whose style angled more to the cartoon aspects of Tracey and his world. Sergeant Rock became the star of his own stories, which became a bit more formularised as a consequence.
The other two new strips were a study in contrasts. ‘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 tending towards the impressionistic, this was the one qualified success of Mark 3.
The last, debuting a week later, 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 ancestors.

The Mark 3 Hurricane had the longest run, just about, totalling 19 issues, though ‘When the Lights Went Out’ fell two short of that, 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 stark and complex detailed art though the story was completely dull.

Sword for Hire

Two weeks later, the Phantom revealed his identity and Sir Hector rattled his last chain. Oddly enough, I remembered both replacements where I’d had no recall for these two. Sir Hector gave way to ‘Birk’n’Ed, the Mersey Deadbeats’, 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 his last tedious story on us in issue 56, his four pages going equally to ‘Brett Marlowe, Detective’ and ‘Danger Island’, both reprints from Lion in 1952, the latter as ‘The Naval Castaways’. Two issues after that saw the arrival of ‘Danny Jones and his Time Clock’, which didn’t have time to impress either way, though I was intrigued by the two-part story set in the hidden city of Tanilorn (sic), ruled by Rackham, an archer: Michael Moorcock fans will recognise the similarities.
Incredibly, issue 62 saw Typhoon Tracey and Skid Solo get their original artists back, and Tracey revert to four page complete stories. Even Rod the Odd Mod popped up, unchanged from the mark 1 Hurricane, leading me to suspect that that first revamp was indeed a last minute decision, leaving a couple of unused pages now being brought out of the drawer.
But only for two weeks. Issue 63 led with the announcement of Hurricane‘s merger with Tiger. The combined paper would offer 40 pages for only 1d more. 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. 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?
I remember reading Sergeant Rock as ‘Special Air Service’ for a good long time, so I assume I was allowed to transfer to Tiger and Hurricane, though I don’t remember ever reading ‘Roy of the Rovers’ on a weekly basis. But I must have.
There’s no question about it, Hurricane flopped. It lasted fifteen months and after that initial, strong line-up, with which it’s been a delight to reacquaint myself, 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 it’s been worth it to re-read ‘A Yankee at King Arthur’s Court’ again.

A Connecticut Yankee in an old comic revisited


If there was ever a delightful case of casting your bread upon the waters…

It’s barely a week since I wrote about a chance nudging of a very old memory of reading a comic version of Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court. After an almost immediate response from my commenter David, alerting me to this having appeared in the short-lived Hurricane, I ordered a DVD ROM of practically the entire series.

By Saturday, I was actually reading this series!

There’ll be a longer article about Hurricane, and how I found it after 50 years, once I’ve finished reading the whole run, but thank you once again David, because I’ve already had a whale of a time, and I’m not yet a third of the way in!

A Connecticut Yankee in an Old Comic


This is not who this is about

Though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, Eagle was not the only boy’s comic I used to devour in my personal Golden Age of the Sixties. It’s just the one of which I had the most clear and comprehensive memories, spurring me to pursue it, even to the extent of a dozen years worth of issues before I ever read my first.

Everything else exists in just brief flashes, odd, generic scenes of old but exciting series: Kelly’s Eye, The Steel Claw, Robot Archie, The Spider… ah, the Spider! I am still in awe at the discovery that some of those stories I relished back then, in 1965 or so, when we still lived at Brigham Street, were being written by Jerry Seigel, the Jerry Seigel, creator of Superman. Writing for _Lion_. I would love to grab hold of those old comics, to read them and try to see in them the work of the man who created American comics.

What comics did I read? The ones of my real childhood are unimportant to me: Robin, of course, and TV Comic are the ones I do remember, not that I would want to re-read any of these, except for the extraordinarily anarchic ‘Goon Show’ series, which really ought to be reprinted for us fans.

But of the older titles? Though I remember several recurring series from Victor and Hornet, and enjoying them then, I have curiously little attachment to their memories, and no idea which title housed which character I recall. The D.C.Thompson titles looked and felt cheap: slim, brittle, regimented in even rectangular panels in static tiers, and that permeates my recollections.

There’s only one story I would like to re-read, and that was one of which I never reached the end. This was a Wilson story, William Wilson, the mystery recluse and super-sportsman, and it involved cricket. The plane carrying the England Test party to Australia had crashed, injuring everyone. Mysteriously, a second plane with a replacement party also crashed, leaving no viable Test team. Wlison, the marvelous eccentric, put together a team of amateurs and eccentrics and weirdos who, under his unorthodox tutelage, played entertaining games and won them. Despite official MCC opposition, there was talk of offering the Tests to Wilson’s XI…

And then I gave up Victor or Hornet, whichever one it was, and never read the rest of the story. It wasn’t the only story left uncompleted by changes in my allegiances but, like my once-unfinished ‘High Quest’, it is still in my memory fifty years later.

If anyone did read that story to the end and remembers its outcome, please write!

I’m hazy on what comics I did get and which I only read when swapping with my mates. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember which comic Sergeant Hurricane (Valiant) featured in, only that it was never one of mine, but I remember getting Hurricane from its first issue, but not its contents, with the exception of its cover strip, a football series featuring the career of up and coming striker, Harry Kane (would you believe it?), nick-named ‘Hurry’, which for some reason I tried to pronounce mentally as Huhry.

But with very few exceptions, it’s the serious stories that provide me with these flashes of memory, the adventure series, the ones with a consistent, ongoing lead character. Just as with Eagle‘s features, the comedy has not worn well, and why should it? Just because I can still appreciate Laurel & Hardy as much as I did fifty years ago doesn’t mean that I am going to be in tune with cartoons and comics aimed at a ten year old’s mind and imagination.

Except that what’s caused this burst of nostalgia is a sudden recollection of a comic series that I haven’t thought of in decades.

I hold Ursula Le Guin responsible: since her death earlier this year, I have been engaged in a private re-read of all her books that I have collected, which is about 90% of her portfolio. I’m up to the non-fiction, and today, sitting in the sun with a bag of chicken nuggets, idling before my shift, I found myself reading an essay about Mark Twain, listing various of his books.

There was a reference, and a slighting one at that (with which I am in accord) to Connecticut Yankee (or A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court). Now this has been filmed, quite successfully, with Bing Crosby playing a smoothed down version of the character – you may remember the song ‘Busy Doing Nothing’ which comes from this film, but suddenly I remembered that one of my comics did a serial adaptation of the book – updating its central character to a 1960’s motor mechanic, and having a great deal of fun with it.

I seem to remember that titular Yankee having the name Huck, or maybe it was Hiram – utterly American names I was familiar with from TV – Huckleberry Hound and The Adventures of Hiram Holliday (hell’s bells, that’s another old memory springing out at me without warning!). It’s Hank in the original, and most likely in this version, I suppose. Probably, Twain’s satire, and the stinging snipes at Arthurian times and Kings in general, were removed and the series may well have taken nothing bit the basic set-up and played with it, but the point is that it’s arrived back into my head, and I want to know. I want to read it again, to test it against fifty years, to see how much of it, if any, still hits me. Because I have this irrational belief that I would remember this the way I don’t remember most of its contemporaries.

I did read the book, once. I’d read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, of course – at that age, the first was practically compulsory – but I tackled Yankee precisely because of the comic strip version I remembered so well. Like Ursula Le Guin, I didn’t particularly like it, and indeed resented it in places. This was substantially down to a kind of nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, an early sense of being British and being formed from the attitudes, beliefs and experiences of my country, and instinctively opposed to having our ancient past criticised by some damned upstart Yankee. I couldn’t then see that Twain was using the mythical times of Arthur to criticise contemporary Britain.

There was none of that in the strip version, or if there was it was softened for so young an audience. That this was being produced in Britain, and in an age when many of the differences between the nations in the back half of the 19th Century had decreased, it was more purely a modern versus ancient theme.

Of course, Connecticut Yankee has been adapted to comics many times, mostly straight, and apart from my memories, there’s no evidence of this version ever existing. It would have dropped out of copyright in England fifty years after Twain’s death in 1910, so the series could have used the proper title. But I can almost see actual panels in my mind, images of Hank (if they did follow the book), his wide open brash grin, his lankiness and his motor-goggles.

The chances of confirming any of this would seem to be slim. But thank you the late Ursula for triggering this rush, and your patience for reading this, especially you younger readers for whom this might as well have been in a foreign language!