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.

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.

The Lion in the Seventies – Part 3

The last part of this series has to cover just over two final years of Lion. By now, it must be obvious that I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the comic, and I’ll be grateful for the chance to move on to one of the other comics DVDs I’ve collected this year. What Lion has become by March 1972 is a collection of formulas, lacking any real inspiration. The vividness of even the average series of the Sixties has been lost and the sole purpose of any of the stories is to provide the same thing week in, week out. Back in the Fifties, Lion‘s stories dragged on uselessly, forever racking up cliff-hangers whose only purpose was to grind another week out of a story that had lost all point but continuation. Now, the stories were shorter, but dragged out the same few ideas over and over, like Hollywood, terrified that the audience won’t accept something they haven’t seen over and over and over.
As we resume, the line-up consisted of:Carson’s Cubs (3pp); Dr Mesmer’s Revenge (2pp); The Last of the Harkers (2pp); Fury’s Family (2pp); The Spooks of St Luke’s (1p); The Spellbinder (3pp); Black Max (3pp); The Can-Do Kids (2pp); Watch Out for the White Eyes (2pp); The Steel Commando (4pp); Zip Nolan (2pp); Adam Eterno (3pp) and Mowser (1p).
Other than the still excellent art on Dr Mesmer, nothing of that line-up impresses me. These are stories for boys, and old-fashioned to boot. Nor are there any standards: having entered a form of Highland Games, Joe Harker suddenly reveals the unsuspected ability to elasticate and lengthen his limbs. Watch Out for the White Eyes reached its predictable end on 14 April, only for a new story to start two weeks later, under the title The White Eyes Strike Again. Did I say anything about dragging the same few ideas out over and over?
But first, the comic heralded The Return of the Spider, billed as a new story but as with Paddy Payne’s continual returns, a reprint of the original second story, with the character still a criminal mastermind. Only the villain’s name was changed, to the Mirror Man. At the same time, Carson’s Cubs underwent its first change in years, with the ‘rascally’ Braggart and Snooks sacked and Newton Town taken over by millionaire Colonel Fisk, bent on running the club on military lines, and installing ex-Sergeant Major Bligh to run training on military discipline. It wasn’t a propitious change, in fact it was all about getting the Cubs to lose and Joe Carson sacked, but any change was welcome. How permanent it would be I’d have to wait and see, but as the story progressed, a couple of the Cubs were injured and two new players were brought in. This was beginning to resemble a real shake-up, but the two new Cubs disappeared as fast as they’d appeared and with less fanfare, and the series just kept along the same old groove, the secret identity of the villain just as obvious as always. And who were on their way back in the last panel?
The Spooks of St Luke’s vanished without trace one week, only featuring at long intervals afterwards. The White-Eyes story turned into another repeating formula, from outbreak to temporary reversal. Zip Nolan finally went into official, full-time reprints as opposed to odd ones here and there. The Reg Bunn era was chosen, giving Lion several pages of top quality art, for a time, at least. It would be nice to think that his family received royalties for such use of his work, but we know better, don’t we, boys and girls?
It seems to have been a long-time in coming but eventually there was another reboot on 28 October 1972, with new stories and new series in the old manner. The White-Eyes were finally vanquished, Black Max apparently killed, Fury’s Family went home and Dr Mesmer’s Revenge finally back-fired on him.
In their place were four new features. The Shadow of the Snake introduced a strange, scaled-skinned villain preying on other criminals and Lab Assistant Mark Bowen coming to work for kindly, charitable scientist Professor Krait: can you spell blatant tip-off? ‘Stop this Man’ say the Camelot Clan was drawn by Fred Holmes, the Carson’s Cubs’ artist (and every bit as badly) and set in 1994, when the World Council has just approved a five year plan to turn Britain (the whole island) into a Gasworks: this heinous plot is to be opposed by raising King Arthur (again). Noah’s Ark featured wild animal collector Noah Sarker, with his floating house saving his wildlife collection from a brutal crew determined to wipe them out: why bother cancelling Fury’s Family? And Secrets of the Demon Dwarf was a Black Max spin-off, with the lead turned over to dwarfish inventor Doctor Gratz, emerging from suspended animation after 54 years and hell-bent on revenge against Britain.
What was worse was that Braggart and Snook were back in Carson’s Cubs, awarded South American military ranks and installed as manager and trainer with Joe Carson as Braggart’s assistant. If it weren’t for the fact that this was a completely retrograde step, it might have made for a fresh slant, but basically it was the same old shit again, and I do mean shit.
The Spider reprints stayed, now going over to Jerry Seigel’s first story, before his stuff got completely nonsensical. An issue later, The Spooks of St Luke’s made a surprise return after months off. And when Mowser suddenly started sharing title credit with James the Butler again, it looked like our chirpy cat was the next to succumb to reprint fever.
The new series were neither good nor popular, and by Xmas the editor was asking for reactions to them all. The Snake and Noah’s Ark were merely flat and dull, the Camelot Clan was nonsensical and ugly and Doctor Gratz was ploughing the same furrow Black Max had been left in for far too long.
And some feature’s lives were limited. The Camelot Clan came to an abrupt end on 17 March, Noah’s Ark came to land and Doctor Gratz was crushed to make way for three new stories, or rather two, and the return of Robot Archie, in what was billed as a new story. We’d heard all that before, but this time it was specifically denied this would be a reprint. And so it was, with some metafictioning as Archie complained about not appearing in Lion any more and what had the Steel Commando got that he hadn’t?
But only one of the two new stories made it alongside Archie. Stitch in Time, starring tough street kid ‘Stitch’ Cotton (oh, Lor’), one of two boys (the other a stretchy alien) who steal a time machine from its owner, a would-be evil master of the Universe. The art looked very familiar, though I can’t place where I might have seen it before, my guess being something like 2000AD, which, let us not forget, was only four years away from its first appearance.
What The Shadow of the Snake had that the other three terminated series hadn’t is impossible to determine, but it carried on. Archie’s new adventure revealed itself to be anything but new by week two, with the Robot and his pals winding up in a lost world under the surface of the Earth (another one?) dominated by a would-be Nazi world conqueror (another one?). The belated new arrival was The Flying Fortress, in which two English students, stranded in a rainstorm in Central Europe, take refuge in a Gothic castle only to find themselves imprisoned when it flies off. It did not get off to a flying start (apologies) with a change of artist in week two, and the introduction of a villain named Doctor Skurge (honestly…).
Stitch in Time quickly revealed itself to be directionless. Robot Archie ran the Steel Commando gags into the ground by repeating them every week, as if Ted Cowan was bitter about his creation having been squeezed out for so long. Even the Commando’s own strip suddenly went flat, reduced to three pages and losing all sense of pacing, especially as regarded endings.
The Last of the Harkers was drifting too. Like Carson’s Cubs, it had lost its original point, the reclamation of the Harker family trophies and spent most of its time now fending off Bert and Alf Swizzel’s inept schemes aimed at getting into Harker Hall for its treasure in silver.
The Flying Fortress proved to be a failure, ending on 30 June, after only three months. It’s replacement was Marty Wayne – He’s heading for Fame, giving more exposure to Fred Holmes’ art on a comedy series about a young impressionist and ventriloquist who wanted to be a TV star, but got swept up as an MI6 Agent. As an idea, it actually had potential, but such ugly and misproportioned art made it difficult too read at all.
And after far too many years, there was a sea-change in Mowser, with the tatty old puss suddenly getting the blame for the weekly disaster at Crummy Castle.
Another new series was to follow it on 28 July, a new football series. To make room for it, after many years, Carson’s Cubs fell by the wayside, with a total and unbelievable reversal of opinions by Messrs Braggart and Snooks, turning into fans of Joe Carson and the Cubs. It was a weak ending, albeit to a series that had run out of ideas long before. Its replacement was The Team Terry kept in a Box, in which Terry Turner, fan of the once-legendary, now bankrupt Anstey Albion, discovered a box of stereoscopic photos of old photos once owned by his grandfather, an ex-manager. But when viewed, the footballers came to life…
Incidentally, I haven’t had much good to say about Lion and Thunder this time round, so it’s only fair that the same week’s The Spellbinder was genuinely hilarious: Thomas and Sylvester have wound up in a form of Roman arena and Tom’s being faced by two lions when Sylvester magic’s him into understanding their growls as speech, and finds out they’re weary old pros who are fed up with their job…
DVD5 starts with the week of 11 August 1973, less than nine months from the end. Stitch in Time went to its meaningless end a week later, making way for The Treasure-Hunt Twins, who were given an unusual 2½ page length, not seen since the last Paddy Payne reprint from that era. The Twins were 13 year old orphans who ran away from their orphanage rather than lose their pet labrador, and who were given a broken-down old canal boat on which they found a treasure map. The feature was well-drawn, down-to-earth and, despite offering a trail of clues that could be spun out near-indefinitely, was decently readable.
There was a string of changes as The Shadow of the Snake’s time was up, on 15 September, to be ‘replaced’ by Masters of Menace, which saw the return of Ezra Creech, the villain of the second and third White-Eyes serials. But replaced goes in inverted commas, as Creech was there to team up with Professor Krait – the Snake – and the villains to be chased by their collective nemesii. A new Robot Archie story did not end the monotonous and by now extremely silly references the the Steel Commando in almost every instalment.
Decent as it was, the Treasure-Hunt Twins didn’t last, a mere seven episodes and then rewarded to be replaced on 13 October by Lost in Limbo Land, about a young, book-loving boy catapulted into the Norse myths of his current reading matter thanks to a Barry Allen-style bolt of lightning. Drawn in a confusingly dark-style by the same artist, the story rapidly proved to be directionless. So was Marty Wayne, on which the art was getting more and more inept by the week, whilst Masters of Menace showed the teamed-up villains to be twice as bad together than each had been separately.
On 8 December, the comic underwent its final price increase, a half-pence to 4p. It sounds very reasonable now, but with sales declining, it was a further step towards eventual ruin. Lost in Limbo Land came to an end the same week, having lasted only nine weeks. But the artist was retained for Sark the Sleepless, a serial about two young boys disturbed to learn that their ‘world’ was actually a generation starship that had overflown its destination by a 1,000 years.
Lion‘s last Xmas was marked by the foreshadowed reprint of The 10,000 Disasters of Dort, no more interesting than first time round, and displacing the Spider reprints. This was the last change of strip.
Going into 1974, the title was hit by the industrial troubles of the last days of Edward Heath’s Government, the Three Day Week making the title irregular of publication through January to March.
And finally, the end came on 18 May, 1974. Lion, that had swallowed up so many other titles, that still shared the masthead with its last ‘victim’, Thunder, was itself to be taken over and becoming the bottom half of Valiant. The survivors were Mowser, Zip Nolan, Adam Eterno and The Steel Commando, though only as half a series, merging with Captain Hurricane. I have a future appointment with the good Captain, and Valiant in its heyday, on another DVD. The Spellbinder settled for peace and quiet, Marty Wayne appeared on This is Your Story, Creech and Krait died again (or did they?), Robot Archie exposed The Smasher as who we’d suspected all along without one reference to the Steel Commando, Sark saved the ship, Terry’s Team in a Box stopped in the middle of nowhere and the last of the Last of the Harkers saw Joe claim his hereditary peerage.
The last page was Mowser.
Twenty-two years and three months and over 1,100 issues wasn’t a bad run, until the final years. Given the poor quality of both story and art since the absorption of Eagle, Lion‘s cancellation came as no surprise, but it was a shame to see its standards fall the way it did.
Look out for a change of style, when I start reliving another comic of my childhood.

The Lion in the Seventies – Part 2

We resume Lion‘s story with the issue of 31 October 1970. The comic is trundling along with a set of stories evenly divided between old stalwarts that have, individually and collectively, run out of steam, and relatively recent arrivals that offer little to justify their appearing in a comic that was now running in its third decade. Lion‘s sales are in decline, it has just shed its spectacularly badly re-drawn reprints of Dan Dare, and has one new series beginning, the peg on which this latest instalment hangs. On the positive side, it is still only 7d per week, though 3 New Pence now shares cover space in anticipation of the forthcoming decimalisation, and there are 40 pages weekly.
The current line-up consisted of: Carson’s Cubs (3pp), General Johnny (2pp), Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan (2pp), Oddball Oates (2pp), Paddy Payne (2½pp), Sweeper Sam the Mild Matman (2pp), The Boy from Jupiter (2½pp), Flame o’the Forest (3pp), The Spellbinder (3pp), Robot Archie (3pp), Britain AD2170 (3pp) and Mowser (1p). Paddy Payne was a reprint, as was the ‘new’ series, which had appeared in the Sixties as the tedious and unfunny Jimmi from Jupiter, who wasn’t even renamed here, unlike the Karl the Viking reprints. Zip Nolan was either a reprint or indistinguishable from one.
The only top quality art was the ongoing excellence of Reg Bunn on The Spellbinder, the only other art of distinction being the light, cartoony style on Oddball Oates. Flame o’the Forest had good clear art, albeit too slick and uninvolving, and the rest ranged from cheap to ugly. This included Carson’s Cubs, which had never been impressive to look at and, after all this time without improvement, was positively painful to the eye.
Mowser was all that remained of Lion‘s history of purely comic one-pagers, and this had long been another strip that had the same formula week after week, hitting the same beats in the same panels over and again. The line-up this week is that of a comic that was played out.
But Flame o’the Forest and Oddball Oates, who was after all, let us remember, a multi-sport drugs cheat, had only one more episode apiece, which meant two new chances to recapture that old energy and inspiration.
But let’s not get too hasty. The first of these was another reprint, Maroc the Mighty, with prime Don Lawrence art, under the title The Steel Band but the other was at least new. The King of Keg Island was about orphan Peter Cable, who inherited an island as he was running away from the cruel and vicious orphanage owner Simon Lashley, who plotted to steal Peter’s valuable inheritance from him. With this set-up, would this be just another compilation of cliches? Probably.
Unfortunately, there was a massive wait to see how that might develop, as a ‘production issue’ killed off publication of Lion and its companion papers until 6 February 1971. This isn’t referenced in Wikipedia, but I remember the first of the power cuts striking in December 1970, so I’m going to venture a guess that it was industrial action by the minors causing electricity shortages and badly affecting the printing industry. Whatever the cause, Lion had lost eleven weeks, not that the difference was apparent just going from issue to issue on DVD3.
Though it appeared I may have been overly pessimistic about The King of Keg Island, with Peter and his three mates holding on to their independence on the titular island, and seeming to dispose of Lashley’s menace incredibly quickly. Artistically, I kept detecting resemblances in line-work and faces to the artist who had drawn Oddball Oates, now adopting a more realistic style.

But changes were once again necessary. Another of Fleetway’s new weekly comics had failed rapidly, so with effect from 20 March there was another merger, this time into Lion and Thunder. Sweeper Sam was carted off from 6 March, making room for a six page Spellbinder episode to tie up the current storyline. General Johnny got sent back to school permanently, Paddy Payne was given an extended run out to end his reprint story and Britain 2170AD was left to re-establish civilisation in peace and quiet. Lashley’s overly rapid discomfiture signalled a rapid curtailment to the Keg Island story, with a handy deus ex machina, food-wise, and the Jimmi Jupiter reprints were returned to deserved obscurity.
But the biggest shock of all was that, from 6 March, Robot Archie was no more. He, and the pals, Ken and Ted, would adventure no more, after a run of fourteen years.
The new paper was left with Carson’s Cubs, Zip Nolan, The Spellbinder (though without Reg Bunn, who passed away in 1971, aged 66, after a long and honourable association with the comic) and Mowser. From Thunder came Black Max, about a German First World War Richthofenesque Air Ace and his overly large Bats, Fury’s Family, about a lad who had liberated his animal friends from a hateful circus, Phil the Fluter, about a lad with a magic flute that stopped time when it was played, a two page strip that broke with all Lion tradition by being in full and rather rich colour, The Jet-Skaters, a bunch of kids with jet-powered skates, The Steel Commando, a Second World War story about a metal version of Captain Hurricane and The Jigsaw Journey, in which traveller Dr Wolfgang Stranger took on a quest to find a lost city whose whereabouts could be located if you assembled a map cut into nine pieces.
Also added to the title was Adam Eterno, about a gaunt 421 year old, time-travelling man who could only be killed by gold, which was written in a curiously lugubrious and stilted fashion.
It was a bit of a jolt, which was what Lion needed. But, as other mergers had amply demonstrated, which if any of Thunder‘s features would last more than a couple of months?

The tradition of adding a comedy one pager after a merger or revamp certainly continued, with the debut of The Spooks of St Luke’s, and also of Sam, making a delayed arrival from Thunder with pure Beano style art. Sam would only ever be an irregular features at first, but after several weeks on and off, The Spooks became a weekly affair.
The issue of 24 April 1971 sees me move on to DVD4. The comic has gone decimal, and costs 3p weekly. By now, it’s possible to see where the Thunder imports are heading. Phil the Fluter’s colour was very erratic to begin with, badly off-register most of the time, but it’s there to highlight the time-stopped panels, when everything is black and white except Phil himself. However, the Jet-Skaters is risible, with the four kids spending most of their time bent over with their arses thrust out in a manner that I cannot see any other way than as obscene.
Fury’s Family is also dull, with Fury a jungle boy with no understanding of the modern world and too prone to fly off the handle, albeit with the odd beautifully drawn panel of one or other of his animal friends, whilst The Steel Commando isn’t as funny as it would like to be, and certainly not original. But the widened range of subjects at least makes this period of Lion‘s history much more palatable than was the last, tedious phase.
There was a shock on 8 May as Mowser moved into colour (off-register, naturally), replacing the back page ad, though this was just a one-off. However, the colour Mowser was repeated in August and September, and became an occasional thing. Speaking of the tatty old puss, a letter published on 3 July, advocating dropping the feature, elicited the remarkable statistic that it was 8th favourite out of 13 in Lion, the only cartoon feature in any IPC adventure comic not to be least favourite.
To my surprise, the Thunder imports proved more long-lasting that their predecessors, with The Jigsaw Journey the first to conclude on 17 July. But this just gave way to yet another return by Paddy Payne, billed as being in a new story, but of course another reprint.
The problem was that, whilst the latest merger had given Lion a much-needed kick-start, before long all the new series had become just as repetitious and unimaginative as those they had replaced. Each one just recycled the same ideas, over and over again, like the utterly hollow Zip Nolan or the increasingly ludicrous Carson’s Cubs, which really, seriously needed to ditch the two rascally Directors, Braggart and Snook, and find a new threat. But you know they never would.
Not before time, another trio of new series arrived simultaneously on 16 October, pushing out The Jetskaters and, yet again, Paddy Payne. The new series were Dr Mesmer’s Revenge, about an Egyptologist whose home, a personal museum was robbed, and who sought revenge on the crooks by raising a mummy to life, The Last of the Harkers, about a big-eared lad who set out to restore his family’s sporting honour with the aid of a ghost of his ancestor, and The Can-Do Kids, about four school-leavers setting up an any-task business to raise funds to go round the world. One drama with mystical overtones and two comedies: what difference would these make?

Though it was the least propitious of the new series, and far too reminiscent of The Waxer in having one lone Policeman suspect and be disbelieved by everyone, Dr Mesmer’s Revenge proved interesting, thanks to some clear, crisp and solid art, realistic and detailed. It was the best we’d seen since Reg Bunn and Don Lawrence. And certain panels and settings seemed very familiar, leading me to initially suspect that the artist could be David Lloyd, of V for Vendetta fame, though according to Wikipedia, Lloyd didn’t start his career until much later in the decade.
The Can-Do Kids had a certain silly charm to itself but was spoiled by giving them an adversary in the form of an ex-Brigadier, still wrapped up in 1944, intent on driving them out of his neighbourhood. A little of stereotypes like that goes a long way, and a lot gets very dull very quickly.
The Last of the Harkers was a more overt comedy, drawn in a broad cartoon style, but it was set up to be inherently formulaic, and by this time, Lion just did not need more formulaic stuff.
As the comic passed over into 1972, approaching its twentieth anniversary, Paddy Payne was back yet again, with yet another reprint. And there was an interesting touch in The Spellbinder as Nyarlhotep was used as a magic world. Given that Sylvester Turville had already referred to a spellbook by one Al-Hazred, it leads me to wonder if the editor was aware of these Lovecraftian references. I doubt very much the audience were.
Phil the Fluter was dropped at the end of the month, as was the colour centrespread, to be replaced by a horror story called Watch Out for the White-Eyes, as a strange gas affects first a flock of crows then a mild-mannered schoolteacher, turning them into superhuman aggressors.
Another passing moment of note was in the final panel of The Can-Do Kids for 19 February, when a fleeing bystander was drawn as an obvious caricature of then American President, Richard Nixon. The next issue saw the official celebration of Lion‘s twentieth birthday, and the first absence by Mowser in years.
Which is as good a moment as any to draw a line under the penultimate part of this series.

The Lion in the Seventies – Part 1

Lion and Eagle. As an unreconstructed Eagle fan, even as one whose collection deliberately excludes the last two years and four months of its history, I cannot help but see that title as a tragedy. I received Eagle week by week from the first week of January 1964 until its last issue in the last week of April 1969, and I carried on with the merged comic for maybe another seven or eight weeks before ending my connection. I was growing out of comics anyway, I was getting football magazines weekly and monthly, I do not know if any other comics remained on my order. But Eagle was not recognisable as Eagle in any of this, and I did not wish to see more.
As for the host, there was a mass attempt to bring existing stories to a rapid, and in come cases, rushed conclusion. Some old favourites, and several new car-crashes came to an end: The Spider in the first category, the Captain Condor and Rory MacDuff reprints crashed, Andy’s Army, Wyatt Earp and The Mind Stealers were terminated.
In their place were a whole host of new series, all of them to the Lion born, and four transfers from the hapless Eagle, the most significant of which being Dan Dare, for whom the ‘Rogue Planet’ reprints had been cut to ribbons to allow the Pilot of the Future to start with a reprint of ‘Reign of the Robots’ to celebrate his new berth. Though celebrate was not the word: all the new setting did was to demonstrate just how integral the Hampson studio’s painted colour was to the art.
It was not long before faces were being touched up to render them more distinct for B&W and done pretty badly too.
Accompanying Dan was The Gladiators (drawn by Archie’s Ted Kearon), about six Gladiators from the Roman Arena who had escaped thanks to an old sorcerer, who had sent them 2,000 years forward in time, to the middle of World War 2, Lightning Stormm, about a wheelchair bound crime-fighting ex-racing driver, obviously inspired by TV’s Raymond Burr vehicle, Ironside, and The Waxer (with art by Reg Bunn), in which ex-cop Mike Martin tried to convince his old colleagues that sinister waxworks owner, Septimus Creech, was bringing waxworks to life to commit dastardly crimes.

Paddy Payne (going into reprints), Robot Archie, Zip Nolan and Carson’s Cubs all survived from Lion, as did Mowser. New series were Turville’s Touchstone, Gargan and Oddball Oates. The new mix was widespread and it would be some time before the value of these could be assessed. But in a single issue, what was Eagle was buried, deep and dead.
In traditional Lion manner, another new series turned up just four weeks into the merger, a one page cartoon with overtones of Charlie Drake’s sitcom, The Worker, in the form of Chester the Cheerful Chump. Like every such one-pager except the inescapable Mowser, this only appeared when they felt like it.
Frankly, I remember absolutely nothing about the other Eagle transfers, even though I was still reading the comic until the end. Discovering them now, as if anew, they are a mixed bunch. The Gladiators is actually quite entertaining. There’s is a pretty basic fish-out-of-water series, but the writer creates an authentic feel to the gladiators, their attitudes and their speech, that gives the story a strong underpinning.
The Waxer is cheerfully OTT on spookiness, but then if you have Reg Bunn as your artist, I suppose it’s only natural. The story premise is goofy and without Bunn it would probably be an ugly mess, but it’s atmospherics (and the fact that it is not as idiotic as The Spider, which it effectively replaced) sustained it in the first instance.
In contrast, Lightning Stormm is a real loser. It apparently ran in Eagle as Lightning Strikes Again. I don’t know how long it had been around but it was awful: ex-racing driver Dan Stormm, crippled and confined to a wheelchair, fights crime in the motor-racing game. The practically paraplegic Dan, sat ramrod still in his over-armoured Supercar of a wheelchair, was a ridiculous image and the strip no better.
The new series was a similar mix in quality. The best of these was Turville’s Touchstone, a comedy drama. Thomas Turville inherits the family mansion, which is dilapidated and badly run-down. There is a lost family fortune which ‘rascally’ Solicitor Crabtree is determined to get to first. Tom however is aided by his 16th Century alchemist ancestor Sylvester, possessor of the titular touchstone, who is not all that fazed by the difference between the world in which he was cursed and that in which Tom has awoken him.
Oddball Oates, as the title implied, was a straight comedy series. Albert Oates is a mild-mannered, scrawny, bespectacled botanist who has discovered a wonder herb which, when smoked and sniffed, gives him wonderful athletic powers. Oates, who prefers to wander around in a caravan, becomes the target of Dr Vulpex, who wants to kidnap him, learn the secret of the herb and turn his country into a sporting superpower. This was a straight comedy, with exaggerated, quasi-cartoonish art and all sorts of sporting feats.

It’s not steroids, but the story rests on a very dodgy basis that you couldn’t write today. In Carson’s Cubs, at one point, Arthur Braggart calls Herbert Snook a Coke-head. Given that Oddball Oates was getting his ‘powers’ by smoking a wonder herb, and getting one heck of a high off it, I start to wonder just what the writers might have been smoking themselves.
The last series, Gargan, was a bust. Gargan was a big Yeti-type monster from the Himalayas, gentle as a lamb but looking like a monster. He and his sherpa boy companion Rhurki are kidnapped to America by a crooked circus owner who intends to exhibit him as a monster. Cash Maddack has a hold over Rhurki because he steals the magic mirror belonging to the ancient Reega the Wise, who is immortal as long as the mirror isn’t broken.
The series never rises above the predictable and, even as a ‘monster’, Gargan looks too silly to be convincing.
Of the Lion stalwarts, Paddy Payne reverted to reprints, and Robot Archie to the jungle, although without overwhelmed and superstitious natives. Zip Nolan was the same as it always was, week in, week out, as was Mowser, but with the excuse of being reasonably amusing. Chester the Chump totalled only four appearances, and was not a great loss, or any loss at all.
There were a few Reg Bunn Zip Nolans along the way, one of which I definitely recognised. These had to be reprints, leaving me to suspect that Nolan’s stories were the same every week because they were literally the same, reprints from years of formula tales impossible to distinguish any longer.
As for Carson’s Cubs, this had now gone stale as indicated by the fact that the stories were no longer about the Cubs’ progress on the football field but about the distracting shenanigans that took place off. It was rather like the Nineties’ TV series, Playing the Field, about a woman’s football team: two series about the club and its fortunes, and then it collapsed into a soap opera about a group of women whose link happened to be being in a football team.
The new line-up was pretty much settled for the rest of the year, but Lightning Stormm was the first to crack, lasting only twelve issues before transforming into Tales from the Tracks, a series of weekly motor racing stories narrated by Dan Stormm, which got rid of the embarrassing crime-fighter-in-a-souped-up-wheelchair aspect. These were actually surprisingly decent, but the feature was pulled after 29 November, making way for Drive for your Life.

This was a pretty implausible motor-racing story. Count von Drakko’s cowardice on the track causes a massive pile-up, as attested to by six fellow-drivers, resulting in his banning from racing. Six years later, all six drivers are kidnapped to drive a private race track designed by the Count, who means to show them what being scared really is: the track is a vicious obstacle race with fatal traps designed to kill five of the drivers. Only the race winner will survive, and it’s obviously going to be the American, Rev Ryder, because he’s the one with the stupid hero’s name.
The Gladiators had already lost both Ted Kearon and his successor when, on 4 October, The Waxer’s series lost Reg Bunn, and renamed itself Palace of Villainy. However, Bunn was back in harness ten weeks later, for the series’ next phase, When Midnight Chimes, The Waxworks Walk, which has to be one of the most stupid titles in Lion‘s history.
Gargan was now rambling with no real direction and Rhukri just whined all the time. Archie’s time-travelling adventures were having less and less point, and now the pals found themselves in some undated near future period battling the Sludge, that old jelly-like monster from 1964.
These changes apart, the Lion and Eagle line-up occupied the last months of the Sixties, and held over until the end of January 1970, but once again it was time for a revamp, with stories and series coming to abrupt endings and a new round of features starting up.
To begin with, Eagle was gone: we were back to being Lion again, until the next swallowing up of a weaker rival. Dan Dare, whose reprinted adventure had been chopped down into an unnaturally short four page finale to make room, was all that remained. Turville’s Touchstone was renamed Spellbinder and acquired Reg Bunn on art, although the boring rascally Solicitor Crabtree was kept on. Carson’s Cubs started a new story in which they found themselves playing the Circus Wanderers, that is the stars of the Eagle series that didn’t get carried over into Lion. Zip Nolan was no different, Paddy Payne was still in reprints, Archie, Ted and Ken finally got back to the right time and place but, as telegraphed the previous week brought The Sludge with them, Oddball Oates went Rugby League and Dan Dare brought up the rear with an untitled reprint of The Phantom Fleet. The quality of Frank Hampson’s art still shone through, but it was a close run thing, and as the story went on, it stopped being close and more often than not turned into a travesty. And Mowser rolled on, but James the Butler was demoted from co-billing.

Four new series of mixed quality began. Stringbean and Hambone was a comedy thriller about two mismatched wrestlers teaming up to tag-wrestle, with the unknown benefit of a magic wish-granting stone from China, which was marred from the offset with incredibly racist bullshit in the form of Chinese ‘dialogue’ in which no-one could plonounce the letter ‘R’. Yes, 1970, kids comic, blah-de-blah-de-blah, it’s still racist bullshit, and I simply refused to read it.
Flame o’the Forest was an altogether more serious affair, set just after the Norman Conquest, with a young Saxon sworn to vengeance on a vicious Norman baron who’d tortured his father to a premature death, whilst The Fugitive from Planet Scorr was a lumpen SF story about a rebel alien trying to stop his race’s plan to destroy Earth, only to be hated and feared as a monster whatever he did: like Gargan, then. As for General Johnny, this was an unwelcome re-run of Andy’s Army, with a schoolboy military tactician genius becoming a World War 2 General, about which you have to say it’s a wonder we won the bloody thing at all, given some of the notions weekly comics writers came up with in the Sixties. Except that Andy’s Army was actually better and more plausible than this.
This latest line-up was worse than weak, it was dull. Thanks to Reg Bunn, Spellbinder was visually interesting, but there was insufficient variation in the storyline, whilst Flame o’the Forest, after an initially interesting premise, got bogged down in having the Flame act like another superhero, as if this were still 1967. Lion had never pretended to be anything but a boy’s action, adventure and humour comic, but it had always had series, and frequently several off them, that proved interesting to an older audience. Now, the knack of spanning those generations seemed to have been lost. The title was lodged in a very narrow band of appeal, and its stalwart series had gotten very very tired indeed.
Reading it at this point is more of a chore than an enthusiasm. Nor am I surprised to learn that this is when the sales started to dip.
Apart from a run of poorly-reproduced Sky-High Bannion stories, billed as complete adventures, there was no change to the line-up until 25 July, when both The Fugitive from Planet Scorr and Hambone and Stringbean gave up the ghost together. Their replacements were Britain 2170AD, in which a four man spaceship crew returned from a five year mission to a Britain regressed to jungle primitivity and Sweeper Sam the Mild Matman, which I don’t even want to talk about.
Archie, Ted and Ken abandoned the time-travelling Castle at last as if it had never existed, for a trip to Mexico (superstitious peons, sigh), in search of a Golden City under the ocean whilst beating off a villainous rival who sticks at nothing to beat them to it, snore.
It’s not as if any of the new series had decent art, either. By now, only Reg Bunn’s pages for The Spellbinder were of any quality. Frank Hampson’s carefully prepared Dan Dare art was being trashed weekly by catastrophic cross-hatching and shading that looked as if it had been applied with a carpenter’s pencil, and whilst Flame o’the Forest’s artist maintained a decent smooth line, it was no better than bland. But bland was vastly superior to the horrifically scruffy art everywhere else.
At least Dan Dare was put out of its misery on 24 October 1970, when The Phantom Fleet reached an unabridged end. That was it as far as the old Eagle was concerned, and as far as this blog goes. I’ll make one new series an excuse for the next instalment.

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 5

The Lion of 6 January 1968 doesn’t represent any kind of revamp or relaunch so far as the contents were concerned, but it did mark the comic’s reversion to just Lion, dispensing with the Champion name, and restoring the lion’s head to the logo.
The boy who placed a regular order with his newsagent to take Lion from the beginning of 1968 would find himself reading the following series: The Spider (5pp), written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegal and drawn by Reg Bunn; Jungle Jak (2pp); Carson’s Cubs (3pp); Robot Archie (3pp); Barracuda (2pp); Lofty Lightyear (1p); Trelawney’s Mob (2pp); Jinks (1p); Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan (2pp); Texas Jack (6pp but usually 4pp); The Phantom Viking (2pp) and Mowser the Priceless Puss and his enemy James the Butler (1p) on the back cover. Texas Jack and Zip Nolan offered complete stories weekly, the other features were serials. The three one-pagers were all comedies (provided that you stretch the definition of the word to its most elastic in the case of Lofty Lightyear) and Jinks only appeared irregularly. Lion was 44 pages weekly, in black and white with the exception of a poster-style colour cover, and still cost 7d.

With the exception of Jungle Jak, which had only been introduced in October 1967, this line-up had been running unchanged except for occasional page-lengths, for fifteen months. And the new story was not so new, since it was already swinging on the Tarzan/Lord Greystoke vine.
But the following week, a new series, ‘The Speed Kings’ debuted, starring the King brothers, professional stuntmen, speedsters and, in the case of Sandy, inventors, who were undergoing a series of tests to see if they were good enough to undertake a secret mission for the mysterious Mr Kelsey. It was pretty clear from the get-go that Kelsey had selected Joe and Sandy for their expertise, ingenuity and hare-brained courage, but also because they were too dumb to spot that they were being used. Since they were the stars of the story, it was equally obvious that they weren’t going to be dumb after all.
It looked like Robot Archie was out of the jungle again, and established in England as well. Writer Ted Cowan had ideas to shake up the series even further. With Archie spending more and more time on automatic, and getting boastful with it, Ted and Ken decided to create a duplicate Archie, one who would stay firmly under the control of Ted’s transmitter. Unfortunately, something went wrong, and what emerged was Junior, a schoolboy-sized robot, complete with school cap and shorts inbuilt, and with a stereotypical prankster personality.
Another ‘new’ series, using individual story-titles, started up on 10 February, starring pilot Mike Masters or, as anyone who’d read earlier instalments of this series recognised, ‘Sky-High’ Bannion as he’d been known when these stories first saw print. As with Karl the Viking/Swords of the Seawolves, Lion was cutting costs by pillaging its own past. On the other hand, as these reprints bumped Barracuda out, the comic ended up ahead on points.
The problem was that, in part due to the static line-up, Lion was starting to feel stale. Too many series offering long-familiar formulas, without freshness or invention. Robot Archie had made the effort to change but had done so in a stupid and demeaning fashion. Barracuda had never been any good, The Phantom Viking was as weak as Olaf Larson himself, Texas Jack had long gone past the point of interest. Trelawney’s Mob was a betrayal of the original intention and quality of the series and, in terms of realism, was now closer to the never-ending War Serial of the Fifties. Zip Nolan was deadweight, and all the Spider did was to remind those who knew the identity of the writer how far he had fallen.
The current story when this blog starts saw the Spider battling The Sinister Seven. Before I started this long read, there were characters I remembered, but only one story that, unprompted, I could have recalled, and this was it. The Sinister Seven were a septet of supervillains, organised by the master villain, Limbo, and in order to combat this multiple menace, The Spider joined the Society of Heroes, teaming up with six other crime-fighters: Captain Whiz, Tigro, Rockman, The Snowman, Rex Robot and Mr Gizmo.
What impressed me, and impressed my memory, was that here was a genuine, unalloyed British equivalent to the DC Comics I still favoured, to the Justice League of America, and the Justice Society of America.
That the story is as freewheelingly ramshackle and just plain awful as it is was not what I expected to find. I can’t believe that, as a twelve year old boy, I couldn’t see that this story was not fit to be compared to the stuff from DC, flawed as that was. I think it must have been a case of Dr Johnson’s maxim: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

The next change was another case of Old Home Week, as Rory MacDuff returned on 23 March, by popular demand, with what appeared to be an all-new story that saw Rory and Barney Lomax out of their stuntman jobs when their employers went bust and setting themselves up as professional danger seekers. But as the story unfolded, it became very familiar indeed, revealing itself as another reprint.
A week later, a new one page Cartoon appeared, apparently replacing Lofty Lightyear, who’d gone missing a few weeks earlier. The Lion Lot were a full page multigag schoolkids affair, and Jungle Jak bowed out with a rather precipitous finish one week later, signalling that despite the presence of most of the stalwarts of the 1966/67 run, the monolithic line-up was now seriously beginning to shift.
The Phantom Viking took a week off and returned with a new, and more dynamic artist. Also back on the scene was the lovely Helen Yates, as Olaf Larsen’s officially recognised girlfriend, though without any explanation as to why: I mean, even the Viking thought he was pathetic.
And once Robot Archie had reset Robot Junior to Automatic Good Behaviour, the series took a massive sideways lurch, renaming itself Robot Archie’s Time Machine for the foreseeable future and sending Archie and his human pals hurtling about in time, starting with the 14th Century. At the same time, Trelawney’s Mob was put to bed: had the series run independently, with new characters, it would have been a decently light affair, with consistently good, brisk art, but it didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the original, and far better Trelawney of the Guards.

Trelawney’s replacement was yet another overt superhero series, Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid. It was terrible. Even Barracuda was better than this. The writer had clearly been inspired by nothing better than the Batman TV show: only the first series had ever been shown in Granada but on the evidence of this tripe, the third series must have got to wherever the writer lived. Incredibly, the strip proved very popular, undoubtedly amongst boys whose parents let them watch the TV show but not buy Batman comics, which were never as bad as this, even at the height of Camp.
Meanwhile, all six of the Spider’s allies in the Society of Heroes died, but what was worse, halfway through the 4 May episode, artist Reg Bunn either left or drastically simplified his style, all but completely dropping the elaborate cross-hatching that had distinguished his work since his first commission from Lion. The change in style lasted throughout the final instalment of the story, but Bunn was back to full speed when the next story started.
The same week saw another new two page series, ‘The10,000 Disasters of Dort’, set in the unbelievably distant future of the year 2000, and starring Professor Mike Dauntless, up against a would-be conqueror of Earth. This took the place of The Speed Kings, and offered some crisp, clean art that in no way made up for the basic dullness and unoriginality of the story.
But Joe and Sandy were not gone for good, and by 10 August they were back for a new adventure, displacing the superbly drawn but horribly weak Phantom Viking. Just in time for a drastic change in Lion‘s page count, dropping from 44 to 36 pages. The Spider, Gadgetman, Archie and Dort all dropped a page, but think of what could have been achieved by dropping the long since tedious Texas Jack.
Another new series followed on 28 September, Andy’s Army, a WW2 story about a 14 year old boy, son of a Colonel, who was not only at the front with his father but who sprung three of the biggest villains from the glasshouse (the Army prison) and drove them across the front line into German territory to become his private Army. I begin to wonder if Editorial wasn’t now competing to see what flagrantly stupid idea they could come up with next.
But even bad things come to an end and, far sooner than I feared, Gadgetman and Gimmick-Boy were given their marching papers, to make way for the return, on 2 November 1968, of Paddy Payne, in actual new adventures.
And Paddy Payne wasn’t the only old star to return. Just three weeks later, Captain Condor was back, albeit like Rory MacDuff only in reprints. Three new features debuted the same week, another one page cartoon, Scrapper’s scrapbook, Murphy’s Magic Mauler, another comic Western, about a travelling fighter who was give an Indian belt he thought made him immortal and a serious Western, Trail of Vengeance, whose art made it plain that here was another Fifties reprint.
To make room for all these new features, Texas Jack was finally dropped, whilst The 10,000 Disasters of Dort fizzled out into an extremely weak ending after only ten, to make room for another new series, starting on 30 November, The Day The World Drowned, another disaster series that at first looked like yet another reprint, but which clearly had Ted Kearon art to go with his work on Robot Archie.
And it was change, change and yet more change, with The Mind Stealers debuting in Xmas week, in the 28 December issue, this being a horror story about strange plants that absorbed human beings, turning them into soulless replicas. This was yet another in an increasingly long line of new features with neither personality or inspiration. The story starred two students, Bob and Steve, the latter of whom never once took his hunting cap off, irrespective of where they were: he must have had baaaaad hair.

There hadn’t been a full-scale revamp since 1967, so this was long overdue when this finally happened on 8 March 1969: seven features resetting simultaneously with new stories and one new series, Wyatt Earp, in Gold-Strike in Heather Hills. One look is all that is needed to pin this one down as another cheapie, a Fifties reprint, every bit as ugly and outdated as that implies. With Rory MacDuff and Captain Condor also existing as reprints, Lion was cutting its budget at the expense of its quality.
And Carson’s Cubs took a nose-dive, with Joe and the Cubs decoyed out to Storm Island by an invitation to play an exhibition match coming from a mysterious benefactor. Instead of a football story, here was a haunted house cliché, perverting the idea behind the series.
But this revamp was not well-timed, for another, bigger, most-astonishing revamp was on its way, only eight weeks later, as Lion took over another title. That’s my cue to bring this latest blog to an end, and although there’s still some eight months of 1969 to come, I’ll be treating the next instalment as the first of The Lion in the Seventies.

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 4

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

Olaf Larsen and Helen

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

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

Original Reg Bunn Art

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

Frollo and Barracuda

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

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lion in the Sixties – Part 2

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

Zip Nolan by Reg Bunn

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

The Priceless Puss

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

breath-takingly good art by Arturo del Castillo

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

A powerful, ongoing serial

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

Maroc the Mighty

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