The Leopard from Lime St. Book One


By Tom Tully, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 9-781-78108-597-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

They – apart from lawyers – say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You can make your own mind up on that score if you seek out these quirky and remarkable vintage thrillers offering a wonderfully downbeat and sublimely British spin on a very familiar story…

Until the 1980s, comics in the UK were always based on the anthological model, offering variety of genre and character on a weekly or sometimes fortnightly basis. Primarily humorous periodicals like The Beano would be leavened by the Q-Bikes or General Jumbo and action papers like Lion, Valiant or Smash! included gag serials like Grimly Feendish, Mowser, The Nutts or a wealth of other laugh treats.

Buster seemed to offer the best of all worlds. Running 1902 issues from May 28th 1960 to 4th January 2000, it finely balanced drama, action and comedy, with its the earliest days – thanks to absorbing Radio Fun and Film Fun – heavy with celebrity-licensed material like Charlie Drake, Bruce Forsyth and Benny Hill or the eponymous cover star billed as “the son of (newspaper strip star) Andy Capp”. The comic became the final resting place of many, many companion papers in its lifetime, including The Big One, Giggle, Jet, Cor!, Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper, Oink!and Whizzer & Chips, so the cumulative roster of strip content is wide, wild and often wacky…

At first glance, British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look, though, would confirm that there was always a subversive merging, mixing undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace or our rather strained understanding of the concept of superheroes. Just check out The Spider or the early Steel Claw

We had dabbled with the classic form in the Batman-influenced 1960s and slightly beyond, but Tri-Man, Gadgetman, Johnny Future and the Phantom Viking remained uncomfortably off-kilter oddities. In the March 27th 1976 edition of Buster that all changed…

Now part of Rebellion Publishing’s line of British Comics Classics, The Leopard from Lime Street originally ran 470 episodes comprising 50 adventures until May 18th 1985 – and even later as colorized reprints and a wealth of foreign-language and overseas editions.

For most of that time it was a barely-legal knock-off of Marvel’s Spider-Man – with hints of DC Thomson’s Billy the Cat – as seen through a superbly English lens. It was also, however, utterly unmissable reading…

This first volume – available as large paperback (213 x 276 mm) or digital edition – was released in 2017 and reprints strips from Buster March 27th 1976 to June 11th 1977. The incredible stories are preceded by a superbly informative Introduction from comics historian and author Steve Holland ‘Behind the Mask’ before we head to the middle (or maybe north-ish) of England where in Selbridge, scrawny 13-year-old Billy Farmer is being bullied again: this time by the kids at school…

His abiding interests are journalism and photography and Billy publishes a school newspaper all by himself, probably to compensate for his home life. He lives with loving but frail Aunt Joan and vicious, indolent, work-shy and physically abusive Uncle Charlie who avoids work like the plague but is always ready to deliver a violent lesson with fist, boot or belt…

Life changes for Billy when he visits the Jarman Zoological Institute and is accidentally scratched by Sheba, an escaped leopard being treated with radioactive chemicals for an unspecified disease.

In the days before Health and Safety regulations or a culture of litigation, Billy is given a rapid once-over by the scientists in charge and declared fine before being sent home.

Only when Uncle Charlie tries to hit him and ends up thrown into the dustbins does Billy realise that something has changed: he now has the strength, speed, stamina and agility of a jungle cat as well as enhanced senses and a predator’s “danger-sense”…

Soon, he’s wearing a modified pantomime costume and prowling the dark streets and low rooftops, incurring the curiosity of Editor Thaddeus Clegg of the Selbridge Sun whilst ever-more confidant Billy sells news photos of the burglars, kidnappers and crooks the vigilante “leopardman” preys on. He’s also a dab hand at getting candid shots of the secluded celebrities no pro journo can get near…

School remains a nightmare of bullies and almost-exposure of Billy’s secret, but home life gets much better after the police identify Billy as being an official confidante of the cat creature even as Uncle Charlie is regularly brutalised by the feral fury in defence of his “friend”…

A major storyline sees the mystery prowler framed for arson and theft, but always Billy or the beast eventually clear the Leopard’s name and reputation. Moreover, the boy’s earnings – grudgingly paid by Clegg – start making life easier for Aunt Joan, while the beast’s constant proximity to Lime Street ensures Charlie keeps his outbursts verbal and his drunken fists unclenched…

All that almost ends when a crooked circus owner first tries to capture and exhibit the Leopardman and then creates his own inferior version, before earning a very painful object lesson. After crushing robbers, child abductors and a masked wrestler who all successively learn to fear the beast, the next challenges are even worse as a circus acrobat mimics the cat’s abilities to very publicly frame the Leopard for a string of crimes before a bullying classmate’s dad infiltrates the school trip to a stately home/safari park to pull off a million quid blag, leaving Billy trapped and accidentally reunited with his accidental creator Sheba.

Is that why his powers seem to be increasing beyond his ability to control them?…

Enthrallingly scripted by British comics superstar Tom Tully (Heros the Spartan; Janus Stark; Mytek the Mighty; Steel Claw; Adam Eterno; Johnny Red; Harlem Heroes; Roy of the Rovers) and collaboratively illustrated by British comics royalty Mike Western (Lucky Logan; No Hiding Place; Biggles; The Wild Wonders; Darkie’s Mob; The Sarge; HMS Nightshade; Jack O’Justice; The Avenger; Billy’s Boots; Roy of the Rovers) and Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty; House of Dolmann; Maxwell Hawke; Cursitor Doom; Von Hoffman’s Invasion; Death Squad; Hook Jaw; Doomlord; Rogue Trooper; Invasion; Mean Arena; Tharg the Mighty and more) this moody pre-modern masterwork offers a fascinating insight into the slant a different culture can bring to as genre. The concept of a “real-life” superhero has never been more clearly explored than in these tales of the cat kid who survives not supervillains but a hard-knock life…
The Leopard from Lime Street ™ & © 1976, 1977, 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.