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.
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 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.
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 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 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.