Captain Scarlet: “Secret Mission”

Original run: TV21 #158 – #160

Artist: Mike Noble

Writer: Angus P. Allan

After the fairly dry “Observatory Network”, Captain Scarlet found its throttle with “Earth’s Communications”, a story so tightly-wound and superbly compact that it didn’t have the space or time to put a foot wrong in terms of quality. That Mad Max: Fury Road-esque nature spills over into “Secret Mission”, a story as deadly as it is dandy.

secretmission2In the space of three issues, Angus P. Allan mixes science fiction, political espionage, and thrilling adventure in a surprisingly topical story that’s perhaps too grizzled to appear on the television. However, the end result is one of the best stories TV21 ever did.

“Secret Mission” opens with a curiously out-of-place character motivation for Captain Scarlet – he’s assisting Professor Loot, a scientist aligned with World Government, in crossing the Bereznik border.  It’s out of place because we’re so used to seeing Scarlet fight the good fight of Spectrum, with no reference to any life for any Spectrum agent outside of Spectrum itself.

It’s a mystifying portrait of Scarlet’s non-Spectrum adventures, and an interesting development of his character. Is Paul REALLY prepared to further political tensions between the infamously volatile Bereznik and the World Government just to help out an old friend?

Unsurprisingly, Bereznik troops discover Scarlet and Loot’s attempts at safe travels, and unleash hell on them. The resulting battle appears to catch hold of the Mysterons, who use an unsuspecting Scarlet to create something of a civil war on Earth between the World Government and Bereznik.

In these three issues, Allan doesn’t get a lot of room to explain much of the logic behind “Secret Mission”‘s plot. Why were Scarlet and Loot trying to cross the border? How did the Mysterons know Spectrum would attempt to protect the Bereznik president when the president explicitly told them NOT to enter Bereznik soil? Surely doing so would only break an already-tense relationship Bereznik has with the rest of the civilised world, which Colonel White gives Scarlet a telling off for anyway because of his shenanigans with Loot?

But I digress. If I spent my time criticising the lack of logic in Captain Scarlet, be it in TV21 or the TV show, I’d be here all day!

TV21 #159
TV21 #159

What “Secret Mission” may lack in sensible plotting it makes up for with intense pace, slick action, and palpable danger. Captain Scarlet rarely got this political in other forms of media, and it’s a testament to TV21‘s fearlessness that editor Alan Fennell would give this story the thumbs up for publication.

“Secret Mission” also stands as a riveting antithesis of what the Century 21 TV shows stood for in terms of themes and representations of our future. The worlds of Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds depicted a Utopian landscape, where mankind unites together in the name of technology, peace and alien invaders. The various World Security groups even found time to befriend underwater or outer space creatures and civilisations, extending their grabs of friendship.

With Captain Scarlet however, everything goes a bit pear-shaped, and “Secret Mission” personifies this. Bereznik is shown to have a fully functioning army, capable of being deployed in what seems to be mere moments, without a great deal needed to trigger them into action. Scarlet’s unexpected responsibility for assassinating the Bereznik President is a reflection of Captain Black’s unexpected responsibility for being the cause of the Mysterons’ hatred of Earth, and the war that ensues.

There’s a sublime menace to the Mysterons in this strip. They may have been the nemesis of Spectrum, but here, they pretty much just sit back and let humanity nearly wipe itself out. Many a plot-hole has been discussed regarding why the Mysterons didn’t simply wipe humanity out in one blow, but stories like “Secret Mission” lend the Mysterons some gravitas.

secretmission1“Secret Mission” parallels how the Mysterons appeared to progress in the TV series, whereby they observed human nature and seemed disgusted by it. This culminated in “The Heart of New York”, where the Mysterons effectively punished mankind for its obsession with greed. Here, they do the same, but instead of greed, it’s war.

When I mentioned three issues wasn’t a great deal of room for Allan to deliver sensible plotting, I may well have been mistaken.

“Secret Mission” easily stands alongside “Unity City” as the best Captain Scarlet strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures. Where “Unity City” gave us a seemingly unstoppable adventure for Scarlet and the Spectrum crew, “Secret Mission” feels far more substantial a read with its themes of politics, war and brutal tone.

There’s good reason why folks bought TV21 like hot cakes back in the day, and why they remain such a popular read. “Secret Mission” isn’t just good – it’s fantastic.

Is “Secret Mission” one of your favourite Captain Scarlet strips? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Secret Mission” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!

Stingray: “The Monster Weed”

Original run: TV21 #62 – #71

Artist: Ron Embleton

Writer: Dennis Hooper

2417082-tv_century_21_v1965_063__1966__pagecover
TV21 #63

Everyone, stop what you’re doing! Put down your Matchbox figures and tuck away those lovely first edition TV21s – We’ve found a Stingray strip that isn’t, repeat ISN’T, total tosh! That’s right dudes, despite this strip’s title, “The Monster Weed”, sounding like yet another Stingray comic story that fails to rise anything above dull, b-movie fodder, this strip is a rollicking read, full of well-crafted action, sensible plotting and genuine adventure.

If anything, “The Monster Weed” bleeds its b-movie tactics dry, using all the enthusiasm it can out of a plot involving a rogue drum containing experimental chemicals falling from outer space into the Earth’s ocean floor, and the results speak for themselves! Both the World Aquanaut Security Patrol and Titan race to prevent the resulting mutating seaweed from falling into each other’s hands.

monsterweed1Oddly enough, the story doesn’t get off to that promising a start. A Fireball XL5-esque scenario, involving a rogue duo intent on stealing agricultural chemicals from under the government’s noses, has to allow the plot to happen. However, the fact that this story starts off in outer space suggests that even the TV21 crew didn’t have faith in the eerie, mystical depths of the underwater worlds Stingray lived in to be a solid draw. Instead, they go for the depths of space. Still, it’s a short-lived set-up that doesn’t hamper the strip, and allows “The Monster Weed” to hit the ground running.

There’s a terrific sense of danger to the mixture of enemies the Stingray crew face in this strip. The WA.S.P.s are caught in a dizzying scramble against the weed and Titan’s forces, who gleefully takes advantage of the substance, using it as his ultimate gateway to crushing Troy Tempest by acquiring the weed himself, and utilizes it in an attempt to swallow Marineville.

The messy nature of the plot may not stand up well against the more well-crafted plots of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet or Zero-X, but its enthusiasm is a welcome departure from previous Stingray strips. Artist Ron Embleton is in vigorous form too, illuminating the monster weed with a masculine roughness that recalls Frank Bellamy‘s apocalyptic space creature in the classic Thunderbirds strip “Solar Danger”.

monsterweed2Continuity buffs will find much to delight in “The Monster Weed” too. The rarely seen sea vessel Sea Leopard gets plenty of page space, although Marina is curiously absent from the whole affair… Other high-points include a non-bumbling Agent X20, who shows us what a dastardly spy he can be when he has his character’s sense of camp removed, and a showcase for Stingray itself as a source of breakneck adventure.

Admittedly, “The Monster Weed” isn’t all dandy thrills and spills. Nine instalments of intense, multi-layered plotting are resolved in the space of one last chapter, offering a rushed and all too neat conclusion to a story who’s biggest charm is its enjoyable mess. There are some admittedly gorgeous scenes of Stingray blowing up a small army of Terror Fish (who doesn’t love Stingray grappling with Terror Fish, after all?), suggesting that where the script ran out of room on the pages, the artwork made up for.

TV21 #66
TV21 #66

Still, “The Monster Weed” is easily the best Stingray strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures, and its long overdue. Its frantic urgency, although a trait shared by the majority of the spritely-paced strips in TV21, feels like the perfect antidote to the inconsequential fodder of “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” and the sluggish “Escape from Aquatraz”.  “The Monster Weed”‘s energetic nature may be attributed to the script possibly being written by Dennis Hooper and not TV21 regular Alan Fennell, but whoever penned the story clearly had the right ideas in mind.

Though the plot is in danger of collapsing in on itslef with its own enthusiasm, “The Monster Weed” deftly balances the natural and the unnatural against Stingray that exudes a pulpy menace that made these comic strips such a delight.

Have you read “The Monster Weed”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section! You can read “The Monster Weed” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection and Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 2!

Thunderbirds: “Chain Reaction”

Original run: TV21 #227 – #234

Writer: Spencer Howard (aka, John Theydon?)

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Often regarded as the last great Thunderbirds story in TV21, “Chain Reaction” rightly deserves that title. It’s a rip-roaring, world-destroying (sort of!) story that sees International Rescue put just about all their resources to use as they battle one of their toughest enemies yet – nature!

“Chain Reaction” initially follows International Rescue’s attempts at diverting a space freighter falling to Earth on a crash-course for San Francisco. Although a diversion into the Pacific is successful, the freighter , colliding with a dormant volcano, triggers a series of natural disasters that threaten to spread virus-like unless International Rescue can act fast – even if that means getting caught in the crossfire of erupting volcanoes, vast tidal waves, and land-destroying earthquakes!

A Tracy brother sacrificing his life? Pretty normal day for TV21 then!
A Tracy brother sacrificing his life? Pretty normal day for TV21 then!

The most apparent element of “Chain Reaction” is the plot device of nature being the villain of the day. Such an element was actually something that was hinted at in the television series, with several episodes using the effects of nature to counterbalance the technological wonderland of 2065 (think “The Mighty Atom”.). Here however, such a tactic is exploited to its full potential, with the end result being a riveting story that commands an inventive use of the Thunderbird craft as they battle nature’s disasters. Nowhere in this strip will you find your usual Thunderbird-1-holds-something-up-whilst-waiting-for-Thunderbird-2-plot-fodder. TV21 stories always made room for delivering new and exciting methods for the Thunderbirds to rescue people.

The people in need of rescuing here however are perhaps the one bad thing about this strip. An island full of tribesmen is in the line of an earthquake, meaning International Rescue have to save them. The use of tribesmen may be somewhat politically incorrect by today’s standards (cue their stereotypically shocked reaction of seeing a Thunderbird for the first time), however the flip-side of this is that they arguably lend “Chain Reaction” that vintage, retro-futuristic flavour.

Perhaps another way “Chain Reaction” doesn’t quite work is Frank Bellamy‘s artwork.

Now now children, no need to throw your toys out of the pram!

“Chain Reaction” has all the usual jaw-droppingly gorgeous illustrations and colours that we expect to be the bare minimum in a Bellamy-drawn strip. However, throughout “Chain Reaction”, Bellamy’s panel work looks crumpled and rushed, such as the space-based first instalment’s first page. It doesn’t totally spoil the strip as such, far from it, as much of the strip is drawn with depth and perspective. But the minuscule panels do pop up across the whole strip, suggesting there’s an unshakable feeling that Bellamy was perhaps tiring of his work with TV21. After “Chain Reaction”, Bellamy would only illustrate three more Thunderbirds adventures: “Jungle Adventure”, “Danger in the Deep” and “Seeking Disaster”.

Bloody Hell!
Bloody Hell!

Nevertheless, “Chain Reaction” is a raucous story for Thunderbirds, despite its shortcomings and a feeling of the overall adventure for Thunderbirds in TV21 drawing to a close. The plot itself, rumoured to have be written by John Theydon (the man behind those glorious paperbacks!), skips along at a brisk pace, and has a magnificent scope to it, thanks to multiple location changes and an aforementioned creative handling of all five Thunderbird craft in action.

Their are moments when the Tracy boys feel slightly out of character, due to their excessively grim reactions to the shifting disaster that plague their mission, not to mention a captured Scott almost being sacrificed by the tribesmen! But if anything, we can perhaps take this as another clue to the strip being penned by Theydon rather than Alan Fennell.

There have been instances in Thunderbirds‘ history where pitting International Rescue against more primitive forms of technology resulted in some admittedly underwhelming story-telling, but here it all works splendidly, as the climax sees I.R. having to shift the  unreasonable tribesmen from their island home before it’s destroyed. The balance between the uncooperative tribesmen, who can’t understand the danger their in (cause, you know, tribesmen and all… !) and the natural disasters looming towards everyone makes for a grand tale of high adventure and danger.

“Chain Reaction” is a testament to how TV21‘s slimming of multiple plot strands made for concise yet breath-taking content. Trimming down the story and characters to their barest essentials in an effort to fit them within the scaled confines of a comic but without loosing any sense of scope, what you’re left with is a thrilling ride for all.

Is “Chain Reaction” in your top Thunderbirds comic strips? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “Chain Reaction” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1 and Egmont’s Thunderbirds Comic: Vol. 4!

Fireball XL5: “The Giant Ant Invasion”

Original run: TV21 #27 – #33

Writer: Tod Sullivan

Artist: Mike Noble

Oh TV21, you strange, magnificent beast. You took our beloved Supermarionation/Century 21 shows and did things to them we could only dream of. You took our favourite square-jawed, fair-haired, all-American heroes and gave them drama and character. You illuminated the comic book world with tales of action and adventure almost unparalleled. Overall, you gave us some of the best stories in sci-fi comics.

TV21 #27
TV21 #27

But you also gave us “The Giant Ant Invasion”.

This bizarrely bad Fireball XL5 story pits the XL5 crew against an growing army (ba-dum-tsh!) of human animals who become giants and proceed to terrorize the Earth thanks to a couple of disgruntled aliens who wish to destroy the planet – because aliens are baddies! Or something.

This is normally where I expand on the plot and dissect it, analysing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the strip. But honestly, “The Giant Ant Invasion” is hopeless to the point where it just doesn’t lend itself well to such scrutiny. Right from the off, you can almost feel how buggered this strip is, with that classic opening line in the first instalment “It’s got me… The Mouse… Aaagh!”. Things don’t get much better from there onwards.

ants
“The ants are winning.”. That is all.

The plot itself spends most of it’s time pitting Steve Zodiac against various enlarged dogs, cats, birds, and of course ants, who are the only animal here that carry any sense of danger. The large dogs and cats just look like, well, large dogs and cats, and don’t have much menace to them at all.

It’s such a shame that this sort of story had to be delegated to Fireball XL5. As I’ve previously discussed in “The Vengeance of Saharis” and “Electrode 909”, Fireball XL5 became a darker and arguably better beast in comic form away from its TV counterpart. Here however, the reverse happens. There’s no palpable feeling of tension or danger for our heroes, the plot is executed in a mundane manner, and the dialogue is utterly wretched. “This whole ship reeks of death!” is Steve’s reaction on killing a massive mouse and an overgrown butterfly, both of which decrease to their normal size upon death. Hardly a cause for such an outburst!

If one can take anything away from “The Giant Ant Invasion”, it could be that this strip does have something of a textbook element to it. “The Giant Ant Invasion” is everything a TV21 strip shouldn’t be, it may even be the nadir of TV21. Then again, we’ve really yet to grips with Stingray on this blog…

For now however, this is one Fireball XL5 strip that, much like the enormous ants featured in this strip, you would be best to steer clear from.

Have you read “The Giant Ant Invasion? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “The Giant Ant Invasion” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection (?!) and Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Volume 2: Invasion in the 21st Century! (?!?!)

Captain Scarlet: “Earth’s Communications”

Original run: TV21 #155 – #157

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artists: Ron Embleton, Mike Noble (colour reprints)

ec01
You can almost hear “Star Man” playing as the Mysteron agent waits for Scarlet!

Following on from the mammoth adventure “Unity City” and the downright dull “Observatory Network”, “Earth’s Communications, Captain Scarlet‘s third story in TV21, is a brief, brisk and lively tale for the indestructible hero of Spectrum and a vast improvement over “Observatory Network”.

“Earth’s Communications” finds the Mysterons threatening to turn the Earth into a planet of silence, and despite the adventure running a grand total of three instalments, they come dangerously and tantalizingly close to their goal. There’s even enough time for Scarlet to have a quick tango with Captain Black (still wearing his Spectrum uniform, but here there’s a bit of context!), but the shortness of “Earth’s Communications” is ultimately its downfall.

TV21 #155
TV21 #155

Once again scripted by Angus P. Allan, in the space of two chapters he crafts a great sense of how deadly the Mysterons can be in achieving their goal, but even by TV21‘s lightning-quick pacing, the first two chapters of “Earth’s Communications” feel more like rough script outlines than a fully-fledged story. The story is all too short for any genuine terror to radiate from the pages, and the final chapter is given to an out-of-place showdown between Scarlet and Black. Allan clearly gets what Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons is all about and how a typical adventure should progress, but because of its shortness in length, progressing is the one thing “Earth’s Communications” struggles to do.

The Angels being attacked by a Thunderbird 5 rip-off with a ‘4’ logo? Only in TV21 folks!

Nevertheless, Allan and Ron Embleton work in tandem in bringing this all-too-small a story to life. The climax of the first chapter is riveting, both in its script and artwork. As Cloudbase erupts from the Mysteron’s plans, Captain Scarlet is, for a brief moment, brought down from his Olympian status as an indestructible human being to a far more common man. Embleton illustrates Scarlet, Colonel White and Lieutenant Green eyes screwed shut and hands clasped to their ears, trying to drown out the Mysteron attack. It’s a great bit of action from the pen and paper of Allan and Embleton.

“Earth’s Communications” has the potential to be one of the best TV21 adventures for Captain Scarlet ever, but at three chapters clocking in at a slim twelve pages (three of those pages act as little more than introductory starts, as “Earth’s Communications” marked the beginning of TV21 using Captain Scarlet strips as its front cover), it never becomes more than having potential to be stellar.

Nevertheless, “Earth’s Communications” is still a fun gallop for Captain Scarlet with plenty to enjoy. The action is non-stop, the artwork is bold and colourful and the story itself would make a fine episode of the TV series.

Have you read “Earth’s Communications”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Earth’s Communications” in Ravette Books’ Captain Scarlet: Spectrum is Green, Gerry Anderson – The Vintage Comic Collection Vol. 4 and Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!

Lady Penelope – Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger: “Mr. Steelman”

Original run: TV Century 21 #01 – #11

Writer: Alan Fennel

Artist: Eric Eden

TV21 #01
TV21 #01

Arriving eight months before Thunderbirds blasted off on-screen, a full colour spread and a high profile inclusion in an otherwise all boys comic. It’s as if Fennel knew just how popular Lady Penelope and Parker would go on to become once Thunderbirds kicked things off on the small screen. Where Thunderbirds first appeared on TV in September 1965, Lady Penelope first appeared in her very own strip in TV Century 21 earlier that year all the way back in January in the very first issue.

Her very first adventure is as simple in its story as it is nimble in its delivery. “Mr Steelman”, like many of the various characters’ debut adventures in TV Century 21, was an origin story that only spends about two or three instalments telling the actual story of how Penelope recruits Parker to be her sidekick. However, that’s an immediate thumbs down for anyone who’s been brought up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (who’ve cornered the market in origins stories) and expecting some tightly-twisted tale of dark secrets and dangerous spills in showing the reader how Lady Penelope becomes Lady Penelope. “Mr Steelman” isn’t concerned with showing you how she becomes I.R.’s most valuable agent at all.

Soooo Parker's only working for Penelope because she blackmails him. Kay.
Soooo Parker’s only working for Penelope because she blackmails him. Kay.

Instead, “Mr Steelman” spends about five minutes introducing us to Lady Penelope and Parker, as well as themselves, before leaping off into a very anti-mecha spy story that surely acted as a refreshing tonic to all the vehicle and alien-heavy tales TV Century 21 is famous for. “Mr Steelman” sees the newly teamed-up Penny and Parker having to steal and destroy the blueprints of a hydromic device that could destroy the entire world. The only way these plans can be disposed of is by bombarding them with radioactive particles.

TV21 #05
TV21 #05

‘Scuse me a second while I go take a breather – all this 1960s jargon is wearing me out! The duo set their plan into action, but a sinister foe is hot on their trail, and will stop at nothing to ensure those plans are in his cold, grey, robotic hands…

“Mr Steelman” is hardly a contender for the best TV21 strip ever written, but it’s a fun, engaging read that works well in context with the other, more hardware-influenced sci-fi strips that it was sharing pages with at the time. Fennel throws in some charming one-liners that capture Penelope’s ice-cool attitude, but the best line is saved for the enemy of the adventures, Mr Steelman himself…

“Welcome, Lady Penelope. Won’t you come in… and die!!”

Mr. Steelman himself is an, odd, adversary for Penelope to say the least. Further adventures make sense of this robotic menace, but it may have added more suspense if Mr. Steelman spent “Mr Steelman” itself as an unseen enemy ala Blofeld in From Russia With Love. Nevertheless, Mr. Steelman somehow adds to the camp, breezily executed shenanigans that’s going on here.

If only she had another boat to use...
If only she had another boat to use…

Artist Eric Eden illuminates the strip with plenty of warm, dark colours and simple panelling. Skies are perfectly clear, enemy’s lairs have rather bare walls, suggesting Eden was a great believer in economy. His was hardly the most riveting style when sandwiched between Mike Noble‘s rattling Fireball XL5 and Ron Embleton‘s robust Stingray, but like the strip itself, it almost reads as an amusing respite from those heavier tales of daring adventure.

“Mr Steelman” also must have surely played a hand in expanding the audience reach of the Supermarionation shows, implying that those behind it were keen for their productions to be more than all-boys action-adventure stories. Coming after the rather sexist Fireball XL5 and arriving when Stingray, with its slight expansion on the role for the female, was still airing, Lady Penelope in both comic strip and character proved that women could be just as badass in Century 21 as the men. “Mr Steelman” remains a solid, entertaining argument for that development.

Did Mr. Steelman invade your nightmares? Or was he a big ole softy at heart? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Mr Steelman” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1 and Carlton’s Thunderbirds: Classic Comic Strips from TV21

Thunderbirds: “Brains is Dead”

Original run: TV21 #162 – #167

Writer: Scott Goodall

Artist: Frank Bellamy

#162
TV21 #162

Brains is murdered! The Thunderbirds are destroyed! Tracy Island sinks! Jeff lamps one right up the Hood’s conk! I should probably apologize if you’re unfamiliar with TV21 and all those spoilers have ruined this particular Thunderbirds strip for you. In all honesty however, given the very name of this strip, one almost feels like they can say whatever they like about it without worrying about those dratted spoilers.

But spoilers aside, “Brains is Dead” is another pretty darn tootin’ encapsulation of how the TV21 comics did things the TV shows couldn’t. Unfortunately, “Brains is Dead” is dragged to almost subterranean levels due to Scott Goodall‘s convoluted script and unfamiliarity with Thunderbirds. We’ve covered a handful of Goodall-penned Thunderbirds strips – “The Antarctic Menace”, a weirdly violent strip yet strong all the same. “Revolt on Jupiter”, solid enough, but would probably have been better off as a Fireball XL5, Zero-X or Captain Scarlet strip. And lastly, “The Earthquake Maker”, a fairly bog standard Thunderbirds adventure, but one I hold close to my heart as it was my first ever experience of TV21!

Well if you're not going to bother SOUNDING like Brains then Gordon will probably think he is indeed still dead!
Well if you’re not going to bother SOUNDING like Brains then Gordon will probably think he is indeed still dead!

“Brains is Dead” stands as yet another entertaining enough outing for the Tracy family, but someone really should have sat Goodall down with the series bible and make sure he was glued to it from cover to cover! As the title implies, Brains is seemingly electrocuted at the hands of the villainous Hood, but just like a 1960s rapscallion, the Hood has a far more devious plan up his sleeve, one that involved the near-total destruction of Tracy Island!

For all the notoriety this strip has for a member of International Rescue seemingly being killed off, it’s the invasion of Tracy Island that makes this story such fun. Frank Bellamy, ever the legend, takes Goodall’s clunky script and pumps as much life into it as he can. His depictions of the Hood and his menacing army (when did the Hood find the time to recruit one of them anyway?) blasting away sections of Tracy Island are to die for!

However, Goodall’s script remains downright dodgy. Unlike the Stingray strips, which were often simply not that exciting, Goodall’s script is riddled with plot-holes. One of the biggest ones for me is when Jeff and Kyrano discuss launching Thunderbird 4 to go after the Hood’s army once their attack on Tracy Island reaches an interlude. The villains have succeeded in damaging Thunderbird 2, leaving Kyrano perplexed as to how TB4 can be launched. He’s adamant that TB4 can’t be put into action without TB2, meaning that he and Jeff have to drag Pod 2 (yep, Pod 2, not Pod 4!) to the beach and send TB4 off from there.

bid2
Devious artwork with devious character lets you know how devious he is!

Goodall clearly missed “Terror in New York City”, as an awful lot of fuss is made in getting TB4 to as close to the beach as possible! Likewise, he seems to think Tracy Island is completely lacking in any female influence whatsoever, as Tin-Tin and Grandma aren’t seen or heard of at all. “Brains is Dead” is littered with moments like the above, including moments where characters’ personalities just don’t match up to their TV counterparts (just look at how much fun Kyrano has with that laser gun!), a lack of familiarity with the internal running of International Rescue (Scott and Virgil are seen just chilling out in their uniforms), and unresolved moments in the story itself. The biggest of these is probably whatever becomes of Alan. The Hood’s army manages to obliterate TB3 mid-launch, but we never know if Alan survived!

Even the Hood’s plan has more holes than the M21 during rush hour. Why does he disguise himself as Brains? Where did that pair of glasses come from that Gordon treads on? Does the Hood really have to dispose of Brains completely once he discovers Tracy Island? And has mentioned, where, why and how does the Hood has a heavily armed group of mercenaries prepared to do his bidding?

TV21 #167
TV21 #167

“Brains is Dead” stands apart from other TV21 strips for all the wrong reasons. It has some interesting and exciting ideas, but its execution is nothing short of a shambles. Bellamy does what he can, but it’s almost as if his glorious artwork only highlights everything that doesn’t work with Goodall’s story. I wouldn’t blame you if you chose to give this Thunderbirds adventure a miss.

Is “Brains is Dead” not high up on your list of favourite Thunderbirds strips either? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Brains is Dead” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1, Egmont’s Thunderbirds Comic Vol. 2 and Ravette Books’ Thunderbirds: Shockwave!

Stingray: “Escape from Aquatraz” Part 2: “The Uranium Plant Invasion”

Original run: TV Century 21 #38 – #44

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artist: Ron Embleton

TV Century 21 #38
TV Century 21 #38

Oh Stingray. Stingray, Stingray, Stingray. Why was it that Thunderbirds, Zero-X, Fireball XL5 and Captain Scarlet got all the wondrous badassery in their TV 21 adventures, but you got stuck with a chunk of sub-par adventures that somehow showed a lot of promise and excitement, but for some reason fell flat on their faces nearly 100% of the time?

“Escape from Aquatraz”, the epic saga spanning two individual stories across 27 pages, was an adventure full of explosive action, human drama, and even the close Titan ever came to eliminating the World Aquanaut Security Patrol from his map for conquering the land people. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find a lot to get my blood pumping in Part 1 of this saga. However, “Escape from Aquatraz”‘s second chapter, “The Uranium Plant Invasion”, has a lot more going for it than the previous episode, but is not entirely without sin.

u1Spiralling out from the events of “Aquatraz”, Marshal Ketov suspends Commander Shore from duty after he’s captured by Titan. Fortunately, Troy and Phones managed to free Ketov, but that doesn’t stop Marinville nearly going up in smoke when its leader is relieved of duty. Meanwhile, Titan sets to work fusing his Terror Fish with the atomic power found in the captured Bathescape he stole from Ketov in “Aquatraz”, preparing a full-scale assault on the world!

Woah woah woah, wait there a second… Am I right in thinking we actually got a pretty awesome set-up for a Stingray story… in a TV 21 comic?! What is this mad bullsh*ttery? If you wanted a decent Stingray story, you stuck to the TV show! Or maybe the John Theydon novels, but perhaps that’s for another blog.

41So, does the set-up of “The Uranium Plant Invasion” fully deliver? Well, kinda. But for a Stingray strip in TV 21, ‘kinda’ was the best we could ever hope for.

The dueling plots of Titan assembling an unstoppable army of Terror Fish and Commander Shore being stripped of his position make for enticing reading, but it’s debatable whether both these stories are handled in a well enough manner. The resolution to Commander Shore’s sub-plot feels a little too quick to have any real impact on the story, almost as if once it is resolved, then the strip can begin its actual story.

The strip’s main plot is a growling beast of a build-up to a promising finale, showing Titan finally delivering on his world-domination ambitions. He successfully captures a humongous W.A.S.P. base full of the stuff needed to advance his cause, and uses it to develop a terrifyingly powerful armada of Terror Fish. During the first few instalments, this plot easily scuppers the Commander Shore on trial story, and displays Titan with a genuine sense of menace.

On the other hand, one could argue that these two plots interweave in and out of each other playfully, and both finish in each other’s laps ready for the big finale, which sadly also feels a little rushed. In a nutshell, Titan’s captured uranium workers are forced to galvanise the Terror Fish’s capabilities, but it takes Troy to tell them to adjust their uranium formulas ever so slightly so that Stingray may have the upper hand.

u2That’s all well and good, but it basically amounts to the fact that out of a town-sized uranium plant (yep, that’s how the strip itself describes the complex) full of workers, not one of them knew that by changing their methods they could beat Titan? And the person to let them know this was someone who DIDN’T work with uranium?!

Ron Embleton also fails to make a significant impact on the strip. There isn’t any of the iconic panelling that Frank Bellamy or Mike Noble gave their various Anderson strips. However, he still gleefully gambles across the story with his simple yet thick and glossy artwork, but that can’t save the anti-climactic feel “The Uranium Plant Invasion” has.

Overall, this and the “Escape from Aquatraz” adventure as a whole aren’t really bad, they’re simply disappointing, because we’re given such fruitful beginnings that ultimately turn sour, and leave a bitter after-taste. Would “Escape from Aquatraz” have worked better not being a two-parter? Perhaps, but given Stingray‘s reputation in TV 21, we may be pushing ourselves.

Have you read “The Uranium Plant Invasion”? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “The Uranium Plant Invasion” in Stingray – Battle Stations and Century 21 Vol. 3: Escape from Aquatraz!

Thunderbirds: “Solar Danger”

Original run: TV Century 21 #83 – #98

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artists: Frank Bellamy (#83 – #92), Don Harley (#93 – #98)

TV Century 21 #86
TV Century 21 #86

I guess it was only a matter of time before we got round to reviewing this juggernaut – seriously, this strip is  HUGE! It ran for nearly twenty issues in TV Century 21, that’s five months, nearly half a year! The fifth TV Century 21 adventure for International Rescue, “Solar Danger”, aka “Destination Sun”, “Operation Sunburst”, and “That One with the Giant Space Monster and the Sort of XL5 Crossover”, offered readers a dizzyingly fun début adventure for Thunderbird 3, but how does it stand up?

Pretty darn well, if you want a short, sweet review – but let’s expand!

“Solar Danger”, not unlike the first TV Century 21 tale for the poor man’s Tracy brothers those square-jawed space daredevils in Zero-X, “Solar Danger” is essentially two stories in one, with the first story aflame with some badass cosmic rescuing as Alan and Brains attempt to stop the sun from creating a meteorite colossal enough to destroy Earth. Spiralling out from their efforts, story number 2 then sees Alan and Brains having to tango with some Jurassic Park-worthy space monster on Venus.

solar1
That’s no moon, that’s a space stati… wait, no it’s not!

From my perspective, it’s rather difficult to review this as one story, because both the tales presented to us here are vastly different, even though one directly following on from the other,  but the division between stories is heightened by Bellamy taking on the actual sun-based part of the story whilst Harley tackles the Venus half. It’s not quite as loose as how “Talons of the Eagle” sequels “Mission to Africa”, but it’s close. Because of this, I’d be tempted to give “Solar Danger” a thumbs down. Was Fennel so excited at the thought of Thunderbird 3 getting its own adventure nearly a year after Thunderbirds had been introduced in TV Century 21 that he thought “F**k it!” and gave us two stories at once?

Mind you, both of these adventures are equal in their enthralling level of entertainment, the one thing TV Century 21 constantly mastered (put your hand down Joe 90, we’re pretending you don’t exist), and it’s hard to imagine a better opening blast for Thunderbird 3 in this comic.

solar2
This is what Jeff looks like in the morning before his coffee.

So let’s make things easy for ourselves and make this our own two-in-one offering for you. First up, “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy”!

-gives first half of comic a quick skim through-

Bloody Hell.

If people had a hard time swallowing the bitter pill that was Thunderbirds Are Go‘s take on real world physics, I dare them to read “Solar Danger”! The danger of the sun vomiting up enough physical matter to form a meteorite-type object capable of pulverizing everything in its wake is simple enough to digest, and makes for awesomely, stupidly fun reading, but if you didn’t enjoy how Thunderbirds Are Go tackled hydron colliders, you’d best find another comic.

Nevertheless, “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy” stands tall as not just another great example of what a fine working relationship they had, but illustrates how epic the proportions of their relationship could be taken. Bellamy’s depiction of International Rescue’s mammoth space rescue craft has such depth and scale to it, resulting in a story that’s dazzling to gawp at. I could almost let the included examples speak for themselves – I’m running out of ways to describe how awesome Bellamy’s artwork is!

solar3
“Don’t you come near me waving that red poky thing in my face!”

Harley’s artwork on the other hand is, unfortunately, less impressive. Throughout “Solar Danger: Part Harley”, his take on the Thunderbird machines and the I.R. boys appear muddy and lack the intricacy of Bellamy’s renditions, but he still brings a decent level of life to Fennell’s constantly galloping script. Ironically perhaps, he fares better when doodling away at the alien landscapes of Venus, complete with bizarre vegetation and Fireball XL5-worthy monsters. Arguably, Harley’s artwork matches the speed of Bellamy’s script, with it’s attention to thick, bright colours and panel sizes that rarely stray beyond medium.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition against Bellamy’s far more direct and eerie take on Venus, but when you gaze at that ocotpus-like creature in the final panel of Bellamy’s half, which takes up almost half of the 10th instalment’s second page (and looks gorgeous against the gargantuan Thunderbird 3 on the other page), you’re bound to be left certain as to who was artist better suited to this story.

TV Century 21 #93
TV Century 21 #93

Bellamy’s script itself is a flaming fireball of fun, although the first half of “Solar Danger” fares better than the second, which has that rather tiresome plot device of International Rescue having to rescue International Rescue. “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy” also generates a genuine sense of frightening isolation for Brains and Alan as their attempts to battle against the sun puts them in life-threatening danger. There’s even a little cameo from Commander Zero and Space City!

“Solar Danger” as a whole also features plenty of action in its story for the mecha-heavy fans of Thunderbirds. All five get to shine in “Solar Danger: Part Harley” when Thunderbirds 1 and 2 have to be equipped for space in order to save Thunderbird 3 from death by alien sea monsters. Even though “Solar Danger: Part Harley” is something of a drag because of the aforementioned plot device, there’s still a lot of punch to it, but one can’t help but wonder why Jeff didn’t call for a bit more help from the World Space Patrol sintead of spending all that time kitting out Thunderbirds 1 and 2! Kinda making a plot hole into a plot crater when the W.S.P. made an earlier appearance!

solar4
I don’t think windscreen wipers are going to cut it.

But when you’ve got a story involving vomiting suns, ravenous alien monsters, and all five Thunderbirds getting some action, such balls-ups can be forgiven. It’s hard to imagine the TV show pulling this story off in screen form, which in turn gives us another example as to why TV Century 21 was such a hit. It remained extremely faithful to its source material and yet took huge plunges into the unknown, often trying to outdo what the TV show could deliver in terms of entertainment. It didn’t always succeed, but by golly it made for ruddy good reading, and “Solar Danger” is a great example of the mission TV Century 21 set out to accomplish.

Despite some jarring oddities in plot and artwork, “Solar Danger” continues to be one of the most exhilarating Thunderbirds adventures TV Century 21 ever produced. It sure ain’t perfect, and sometimes it’s a messy affair, but theirs buoyancy in the mess – it crackles with so much energy that once you’ve finished reading it, you feel the need to call International Rescue to come save yourself once they’re done on Venus.

Does “Solar Danger” get your blood pumping? Let us know in the comments section or send us a tweet! You can read “Solar Danger” in Gerry Anderson: The Vintage Comic Collection Volume 2, Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol 4: Above and Beyond, and possibly Egmont’s upcoming second collection of Thunderbirds strips!

The Angels: “The New Recruits”

Original run: The New Lady Penelope #53 – #57

Writer: Unknown

Artist: Jon Davies

penny1
The New Lady Penelope, #54

Much like how the Lady Penelope comic gave readers a marvellous back-story into how Marina became mute after battling Titan, they went one step further and showed readers just how the Angels became the Angels. Unfortunately, compared to the 23-part Marina adventure, this first strip (of several focusing on the Angels) is a bit, well… crappy.

“The New Recruits” is a quick, pleasant breeze of a read, and only clocks in at five pages in length, one page for each instalment, just like Marina’s first story. But where “How the Mysterious and Beautiful Marina May Never Speak Again” (try saying that when you’re drunk on seaweed wine) ebbs and flows with a gallop littered with hooks for the reader, “The New Recruits” is far less rewarding from a story-telling perspective.

The story sees Dianne Simms, delivery girl for Airways Light Freight Agency, receiving a mysterious package and rendezvous destination. There, she meets pilot Karen Wainwright, Juliette Pontoin, Magnolia Jones and Chan Kwan, who have also been given strange orders. A mysterious voice, unwilling to identify itself, booms over them, revealing that their packages contain matching uniforms, and then displays five interceptor aircraft at their feet. Things get even weirder when the unknown voice promises the five pilots the danger and excitement they’ve been longing for since taking to the skies for the first time, but will their first flight in these new aircraft prove to be more dangerous than they can cope with?

Is it just me, or do those craft look... green?
Is it just me, or do those craft look… green?

Perhaps the real question here is who thought it was a good idea to let Jon Davies illustrate this strip?

Maybe we’ve all grown up on too much Frank Bellmy’s Thunderbird 2 or Mike Noble’s Zero-X, but when you absorb Davies’ take on the Angels, both the pilots and craft, you’d better have a good imagination, because you’ll need that to really bring his doodle to life.

He doesn’t get anything wrong per-say, if anything he clearly illustrated this with the series bible next to him, but the combination of a rough, scrappy appearance, a lack of diversity in colour and the craft themselves being restricted to cramped panels makes for less than impressive viewing. Was it simply a case of the Angels not being in TV Century 21, and therefore not commanding a substantial amount of popularity?

The script itself, its writer of which is lost in the depths of time, fairs better than the artwork it has to put up with, but at a mere five pages in length there ain’t a lot of room for a genuine plot to kick off. As a brief, introductory prequel to how the Angels kick-started their adventures, “The New Recruits” works on that level. Further adventures saw the Angels being sent off on more mission by the mysterious voice, which actually brings into question just how desperate for excitement they are in their lives!

penny2
The New Lady Penelope #56

“The New Recruits” does bear some handsome references to the Angel’s back-stories and personal lives, again hinting at the writer’s attention to detail when scribbling out this short flight of fancy. There’s even a moment of rare confrontation where Dianne actually address the fact that the women in Century 21 don’t get a lot of breaks, and that most of the best piloting jobs end up in the hands of the lads.

So, to cap off – is this strip worth reading? Well, it’s an interesting piece of fiction in the Andercon comic canon, but it won’t change your life. It may be best to read other Angels strips from the Lady Penelope comic to get the full picture, if you can hunt copies down that is.

For those seeking adventure as high-flying as the Angels, you’d be best to stick to TV Century 21, but for fans of the Angels and Captain Scarlet in general, your appetite may well be whetted.

You can read “The New Recruits” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection

Celebrating the comic book spin-offs of Supermarionation