Star Trek Classics Volume 4: Beginnings


By Mike Carlin, Pablo Marcos & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-671-1 (TPB)

Many companies have published comic book adventures based on the exploits of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary brainchild, and the run from the 1980s produced under DC’s aegis were some of the finest. Never flashy or sensationalistic, the tales embraced the same storytelling values as the shows and movies, and were strongly character and plot-driven.

A fine example can be found in this epic primer by long-time writer Michael Carlin, illustrated by the underrated Pablo Marcos, which collects miniseries Star Trek: The Next Generation #1-6 from February – July 1988 and not to be confused with the monthly comic-book that followed it.

With inks by Carlos Garzon & Arne Starr, colours by Carl Gafford and letters from Bob Pinaha, the bold adventures – available in trade paperback or in digital formats you can scan on your personal PADD™ – commence with double length saga ‘…Where No One Has Gone Before!’

Here, the revamped and reimagined NCC-1701-D starship Enterprise heads into a completely unexplored sector of the galaxy. As freshly-installed and formidably prestigious Captain Jean-Luc Picard acclimatises to his new crew and mission, the ship is fired upon by beings unknown on recently discovered planet Syntagus Thelev.

That’s a bizarre mystery, considering the unseen inhabitants are currently negotiating with the Starfleet vessel and claim they know nothing about the attacks…Although the ship is in no imminent danger, the quandary Picard to despatch a top-level Away Team to find out where the barrages are coming from…

In the end, it requires the uncanny psychic abilities of Ship’s Counsellor Deanna Troi to reveal the uncanny source and motives of the astral assaults…

The second tale is a Christmas yarn wickedly spoofing a certain tale by Dr. Seuss, as ‘Spirit in the Sky!’ finds the Enterprise in festive mode, with the many cultures and families all celebrating their particular version of the Yule Season, before a flock of mysterious strangers invite themselves to the feasts. Happily, their obsessive covert hunt for a eerie energy spirit ends joyously… after a few tense moment and close encounters…

Issues #3-5 comprise an extended repeat confrontation with an apparently omnipotent moral gadfly. ‘Factor Q’ finds the crew assaulted by terrifying memories made real. Particularly targeted is Security Chief Tasha Yar who relives her appalling abusive early years as a survivor of The Colony, when an Away Mission traps her on an alien vessel, even as the almighty Q attempts to seduce Picard into a shooting war with an equally-manipulated stranger ship.

Events escalate in ‘Q’s Day’ as the increasing unstable instigator turns the screw: bringing Yar’s old abuser back to torment her, killing helmsman Geordi LaForge, terrifying the crew and rapidly descending into frustration-induced insanity, before the impossible becomes commonplace as more judgemental intruders from the Q Continuum manifest with their own imponderable agenda in concluding chapter ‘Q Affects!’

Wrapping up this initial foray into the future, ‘Here Today’ sees Enterprise ordered to investigate seeming paradise planet Faltos via concealed orders somehow hardwired into android crewman Lieutenant Data. An extragalactic Shangri-La, the weird world has – over uncounted eons – been able to pacify and integrate every hostile visitor, but when the benevolent emissaries of the Foundation beam down, they find that the miraculous haven is a unique and inescapable trap…

Or is it?

These tales originate from the earliest days of the TV series so there are a few uncertain moments and quirks of characterisation obsessive fans might quibble over, but overall these are solid adventure yarns in the tried-&-trusted Rodenberry manner that will astound and satisfy Trekkies, Trekkers, comics fans and even the Next-est Generation just coming to the franchise via the current Star Trek: Picard TV revival/revamp…
® & © 2013 CBS Studios Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. © 2013 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All rights reserved.

Countdown Annual 1972


By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Supercar Annual


By Alan Fennel, G. Wood and H.J. Cauldwell (Wm. Collins and Sons)
No ISBN:

For its entire existence British Comics have tapped into and exploited other entertainment icons such as stage, film and radio stars. As television became commonplace in the 1950s and exploded during the late 1960s – especially in the range and variety of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for cheap weeklies but especially the Seasonal Annual market, not just for celebrities such as Arthur Askey or Abbott & Costello but increasingly the shows themselves: adding extra episodes to little aficionados’ finite canon.

Moreover, in an era before home recordings of any sort, these were exploits that could be enjoyed over and over again…

During that critical developmental period, Gerry Anderson’s innovative and increasingly high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films), and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children, and further proving to our comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilisations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Before all that, however, there were far simpler and more inclusive epics for kids at Christmas from the Anderson stable: such as this charming tome, credited to future Anderson staff writer Alan Fennel with cartoon art, strips, puzzles and illustrations by G. Wood and H. J. Cauldwell.

Supercar was Anderson’s (in conjunction with designer Reg Hill and scriptwriters Hugh and Martin Woodhouse) second marionette series, following on from comedy western Four-Feather Falls. Soundly science fictional, it was the first to be internationally syndicated and detailed the exploits of a futuristic flying car, as piloted by dashing test pilot Mike Mercury. His adventure prone entourage included batty boffins Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker – who invented and built the mechanical beast – as well as boy sidekick Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous pet Mitch who was a monkey…

Located in a desert base at Black Rock, Nevada, the team had daring adventures all over the world (seen in the 39 episodes recorded between 1961-1962), and frequently faced wicked enemy agent Masterspy and his henchman Zarrin.

Broadcasts began in January 1962 and were eagerly awaited by millions of fans who found solace when the show closed by buying TV Comic for further exploits.

There were three annuals released, of which this is the last, offering an unconventional experience since all the strips and prose adventures comprise one large complete saga.

Following an enthralling painted double-page frontispiece of the wonder vehicle at the bottom of the sea, the action opens with Cauldwell’s full-colour strip ‘Killer Whale’ as the action-ready team save ocean-going scientist Doctor Bombay from one of his own maddened experiments. In the aftermath, they learn the savant has been recently been restored to his previous role as Maharajah of Subahn and agree to escort him home to take up the reins of power…

Before they can set off, however, a fresh emergency occurs, and Supercar is needed to fix a sabotaged trestle in Wood’s 2-colour strip ‘Bridge of Danger’ and their base is plundered of secrets in prose mystery yarn ‘The Workshop Robbery’. Thankfully, Mike is as adept at crimefighting and counterespionage as he is at flying…

Following puzzle page ‘World Flight’, monochrome strip ‘Close-Up on Danger’ finally sees the journey to Subahn begin, but during a stopover in London deposed former dictator Randah Singh deploys a hired assassin to kill Bombay in front of a live studio audience…

Plot foiled, the voyagers resume their flight, leaving us to enjoy a puzzle-maze in ‘S-O-S’ before a flashback prose tale details how Beaker and Popkiss discovered ‘The Treasure of Mesa Verde’ despite the larcenous efforts of Masterspy and Zarrin…

Another full-colour section begins with activity pages ‘What is Wrong with this Picture?’ and ‘Memory Game: Exploring Space’, before ‘Sahara Inferno’ finds Supercar diverted again to help extinguish a blazing natural gas well. General knowledge teaser ‘Nevada Quiz’ then segues into a new restricted colour section foe Wood’s ‘Kidnapped’ wherein Randah Singh hires Masterspy and Zarrin to ensure Maharajah Bombay never takes up his throne…

Rebus page ‘The Lost Diplomatic Plane’ leads to another prose flashback for ‘Mission to Destroy’; revealing how Supercar was instrumental in eradicating an illegal weapons cache in Malaya, after which a return to the present sees Bombay’s triumphal accession procession interrupted by the ‘Eruption!’ of the local volcano…

Memories evoked, a prose tale follows of a time in Switzerland when a souped-up mechanical doll triggered ‘The Avalanche’ before the extended saga concludes in full-colour with ‘The Triumphant Procession’ as Randah Singh plays his last murderous ace…

Blending charm with action and exoticism with big laughs, this is a splendid example of simpler times and all-ages storytelling that no nostalgia-afflicted baby boomer could possibly resist.
© 1963, A.P. FILMS and A.T.V. Ltd. All rights reserved.

TV Comic Annual 1965


By Chick Henderson, Neville Main, Bill Titcombe, Dick Millington & various (TV Publications Ltd)
No ISBN

British Comics have always fed heavily on other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers, and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a wealth of photographs of any cast member (although the frontispiece and endpapers are spiffy publicity shot spreads of Gerry Anderson’s Supercar and Fireball XL5), but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi and adventure thrills, dashing derring-do and a horde of hilarious gag strips to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.

This book from 1963 was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited 2-colour and full-colour pages but none in simple monochrome: a sign of its high-end book trade aspirations. The make-up is comics, brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine.

TV Comic launched on 9th November 1951, an offshoot of the Beaverbrook newspaper concern and aimed explicitly at toddlers and pre-school children. It expanded its remit over the decade but didn’t really take off until 1960 when Polystyle Publications expanded the adaptations to include television adventures series enjoyed by kids who could read and choose their own entertainments such as Treasure Island, Black Beauty and the Lone Ranger.

Always a huge hit, the magazine absorbed companions and rivals such as TV Land, TV Express, TV Action, Tom and Jerry Weekly and Target. Amongst its most memorable features were early Gerry Anderson series such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5, Doctor Who (running from 1964-1979), Tarzan, Space Patrol, The Avengers (John Steed and Cathy Gale/Emma Peel), Star Trek and perennial cartoon hits such as Popeye, Pink Panther and many others.

Often eclectic and esoteric, the comic followed the tone of the TV times faithfully before finally going off air in 1984 with #1697.

This splendid example hails from 1963 and, eschewing bought in pre-existing material, offers British takes on many US icons such as the full-colour Popeye clash with brutish Brutus that gets the ball rolling before a beautifully painted adventure by Neville Main sees the crew of Fireball XL5 captured by alien technology bandits.

Main shows his versatility with a broadside of sci fi gags in Pick of the Jokes before venerable comedy feature Mighty Moth (by sometime editor Dick Millington) puts a strange spin on the traditional roles of man and wife…

A Supercar Christmas yarn (with art by Mike Noble, H Watts or maybe Bill Mevin) sees pilot Mike Mercury and Professor Beaker crush a Yuletide crimewave to close the first full-colour section before autograph-hunting TV TerrorsCuthbert, Buttons and Monica clash once more with mean TV Studio doorman Hoppit in their search for famous names in glorious two-tone orange and black on white…

US soldier Beetle Bailey then gets to act out one of the oldest jokes on Earth before the TV Terrors again clash with their officious nemesis, Beetle Bailey fails a medical and long-forgotten cartoon buddies Foo Foo and Gogo by Halas & Batchelor (or at least from their studio) have fun and fear in the snow…

Millington’s Mighty Moth indulges in some wildlife documentary making whilst a domestic sitcom sneaks in as The Dickie Henderson Family sees his unnamed wife make some radical wardrobe corrections in a strip beautifully rendered by Bill Titcombe.

The TV Terrors join a painful episode of This is Your Life, Foo Foo and Gogo indulge in hat hijinks and (some of) The Dickie Henderson Family enjoy a quiet round of golf and Mighty Moth helps out an enemy to get a bit of peace and quiet before Beetle Bailey revolutionises tank warfare with the aid of canteen utensils, after which the Technicolor turns on with Popeye and Wimpy at a barbecue. Oooh! Bad idea!

Mighty Moth and the TV Terrors revel in their full-colour escapades before a traditionally rendered tale of Robin Hood(but not the TV version with Richard Greene) sees the hero save a beekeeper from the Sheriff of Nottingham…

A Dickie Henderson Family country retreat turns into a rout before we pause for activities, courtesy of a Continental Tourboard game, supplemented by Party Puzzles and two more Main Pick of the Jokes pages, leading to a bizarre personal favourite as Bill Titcombe delineates deucedly deranged pastiche The Telegoons (based on characters devised on radio by Harry Secombe, Peter Sellars, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan). It’s even more gloriously mad today than it ever was…

A theatre visit goes badly wrong for The Dickie Henderson Family whilst The Telegoons dabble with fortune telling and Foo Foo and Gogo bring the colour to a close with another pointless domestic spat…

Mighty Moth then wrecks dinner and the TV Terrors practise making faces, before more Party Puzzles bracket a short faux advertising episode for Foo Foo and Gogo and Mighty Moth ships out with the Royal Navy.

The Telegoons setting up as firemen segues into a historical battle as little Davie of the Glen attempts to save the doomed army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Mighty Moth picks up a trumpet and the TV Terrors participate in a game show whilst the The Telegoons go fishing and Foo Foo and Gogo go birdwatching before another Pick of the Jokes selection brings us to a prose thriller set in the world of motor racing.

‘Johnny’s Big Chance’ leads to more Party Puzzles and the commencement of the last colour session, with boating fools Foo Foo and Gogo giving way to a thrilling Supercar yarn involving lost submarines and giant crustaceans.

A suit Mighty Moth can’t eat and a new pet for Popeye’s boy Swee’ Pea lead us to one last parcel of Party Puzzles before Main’s exuberant Fireball XL5 fable posits the risks of letting all kids have their own spacecraft…

A barrel of fun from start to finish, this book concludes with Popeye demonstrating his incredible strength and even has a back-cover Marathon board game to enjoy when the reading concludes.

A true gem from a far nicer and more indulgent time, this is a perfect example of why Christmas Annuals have lasted and should never be forgotten.
© TV Publications 1964.

Noggin the Nog



By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
Nogbad Comes Back ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8155-3
Noggin and the Dragon ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8154-6
Nogbad and the Elephants ISBN 978-1- 4052-8142-3
Noggin and the Moon Mouse ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8141-6
Noggin and the Storks ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8144-7
Noggin and the Money ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8143-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wonderful Stories By and For Human People… 10/10

Baby Boomers like me consider our childhoods – no matter how personally privileged or deprived – to have been a golden age in terms of liberty, agency and especially entertainment. That’s probably due in large part to being exposed to the gentle, life-affirming fantasy worlds of these guys.

Richard Oliver Postgate was a writer puppeteer, animator and unrepentant storyteller who was born to an extremely prestigious, overachieving and drama-drenched family. He was born April 12th 1925 in Hendon Middlesex and educated at Woodstock School, Woodhouse Secondary, Dartington Hall College and Kingston College of Art.

He joined the Home Guard in 1942 but when at last called up, declared himself a Conscious Objector – just as his father did during the Great War. Court martialled and sentenced to Feltham Prison, he eventually became a land-worker growing crops. After the war Postgate worked for the Red Cross in Occupied Germany. He returned to Britain in 1948, went to Drama School and drifted from job to job.

In 1957, whilst working as a stage manager for ITV company Associated Rediffusion, he observed the appalling quality of children’s programming up close and knew he could do better for the same paltry money offered. He wrote Alexander the Mouse and convinced a Central School of Art tutor named Peter Firmin to draw the backgrounds for him.

After moving on to short-lived deaf-viewer project The Journey of Master Ho, in 1959 the creators formalised their partnership as independent studio Smallfilms. The rest is history…

When not shaping the minds of 30-years-worth of kids, Postgate continued trying to save and refine mankind. He was active in the CND movement and wrote their pamphlet The Writing on the Sky and 1981 book Thinking it Through: The Plain Man’s Guide to the Bomb.

In 1986, he created a 15-meter artwork for his latterday romantic partner Naomi Linnell’s book Illumination of the Life and Death of Thomas Beckett, repeating the exercise for the Triumphant Failure (about Christopher Columbus) and triptych A Canterbury Chronicle. You can see them if you visit the city’s Royal Museum Art Gallery and Eliot College Campus…

Working when he pleased, Postgate narrated – in that calm quiet compelling voice hardwired into the brains of millions – radio comedy and documentary shows, wrote more books such as autobiography Seeing Things, and accompanied his greatest creation Bagpuss (voted in 1999 the Most Popular Children’s Television Programme of All Time) as the stuffed cat accrued awards such as an honorary degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury.

He died – hopefully properly and rightly well-contented – in Broadstairs Kent, on December 8th 2008.

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11th December 1928. Following training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy, he attended Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by audacious, up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids’ viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became equal partner in new venture Smallfilms, which grew in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, Pingwings, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers.

Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets. Their spouses and friends were often dragooned if they showed useful talents such as sewing or knitting…

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. That creation soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Postgate’s Seeing Things – An Autobiography.

Firmin also worked as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 he was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate & Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips, spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. One of the most charming and enduring was a series of “Starting-to-Read” books released by Kaye & Ward between 1965 and 1973. Postgate & Firmin crafted all 8 books in a kid-friendly format gently sharing the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Available again in superb hardcover editions – perfect for tiny hands – the first two (Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965) were reviewed here; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin. Now with the gift-giving season in full swing let’s tempt you with the splendid rest…

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: wife Nooka – who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit or Inuuk princess these days) – bluff old codger Thor Nogson and talking green cormorant Graculus.

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Originally released in 1966, Noggin and the Dragon sees little Prince Knut and his chums pestering the royal couple to let them go on a dragon hunt. Noggin and Nooka are reluctant at first – Dragon Valley is no place for little boys and besides, the best thing to do with dragons is give them sweets and make friends – but eventually the proud parents capitulate to pester power.

To ensure things go smoothly they insist old warrior Thor Nogson goes with them, but as the unruly boys trek out into a gathering storm, no one has any idea regarding the shocking surprise in store for them all…

From the same year, Nogbad Comes Back highlights the return from exile of Noggin’s wicked usurping uncle, just in time to try and spoil the King’s annual animal and vegetable show. Living up to his name, Nogbad the Bad tries to win the glittering jewel-encrusted cup for best flora and fauna by devious cheating and, when that fails, through simple shameful theft.

Luckily, Nooka is not as forgiving and kind as her husband and has been keeping a close eye on her outlaw in-law…

The next year saw two more books: one of which was a distant precursor to one of Smallfilms’ most successful franchise creations…

Noggin and the Moon Mouse begins with Knut enacting an official ceremony at a water trough. The proceedings are utterly disrupted when a strange silver ball crashes down and a child-sized rodent-like creature emerges. Caught up in the excitement, the prince and his unruly pals give chase until Queen Nooka takes charge. After admonishing the boys, she and Noggin befriend the strange visitor (who actually comes from another world) and help him gather the odd household items he requires to return to the stars…

And yes, a few years later a peculiar band of woolly beasties began communicating with us all in their universally comprehensible penny-whistle pipings in a little show called The Clangers

Nogbad and the Elephants proves that there are many perks to being royal. One is wonderful presents such as the gigantic gem-encrusted, long-nosed big-eared beast presented to Prince Knut by the King of Southland. Sadly, the wonderful creature is constantly unhappy and falls under the sway of crafty Nogbad who lures it away to steal its jewelled coat. Realising it’s been hoodwinked, the piteous pachyderm takes restorative action in its own unique manner, compelling Knut to make his first grown-up decision…

The last brace of tales comes from 1973, and begins with the hilarious Noggin and the Money wherein Court Inventor Olaf the Lofty suffers a setback in his dream to modernise the nation. The Nogs have been happily soldiering on using barter and trade as long as anyone can remember, so when the big thinker creates coins as currency, he thinks he’s made life easier for everybody. Thor Nogson soon learns to disagree after he’s despatched to acquire eggs for the royal breakfast and meets rather a lot of resistance to the new-fangled nonsense…

Wrapping up the fun is Noggin and the Storks which finds the King sagely dealing with a minor ecological crisis. Sooty Storks have nested on the chimneys of the town for decades, using the heat of cooking fires to warm their eggs. This year, as the birds are particularly numerous, the populace are continually being smoked out of their own homes.
Angrily, they petition Noggin to let them chase the pests away, but as king of birds as well as people, the smooth sovereign seeks another, more equitable solution. Cue Olaf the Lofty, who has an idea involving an old chalk quarry, a stand of hollow trees, masses of convoluted piping, steel sheets and tons of firewood….

Serenely bewitching, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin shaped generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets, haunt the streaming services and buy these books. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965-1973. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965-1973.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Emerald Knight


By Landry Q. Walker, Sholly Fisch, Adam Schlagman, Robert Pope, Eric Jones, Carlo Barberi & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3143-9 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with flamboyant if fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by other ones: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53.

The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – quickly evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary and Earth-1’s Wonder Woman with Supergirl, an indication of things to come came when Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and magically plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s other heroic creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #13, 14, 16, 18, 19 and 21 in an immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages originally released between March and November 2010. Best of all, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #13 sees the Caped Crimebuster break a leg while working with Angel O’Day and Sam Simeon (the astonishingly daft but wonderful Angel & The Ape) and laid up for main feature ‘Night of the Batmen’ (by Sholly Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae) as an army of (uninvited and unwelcome) heroic comrades – including Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman and Shazam!-powered Captain Marvel among others – impersonate the Dark Knight to keep Gotham safe from fiends such as Bane, Killer Croc, Penguin, Deadshot and Catwoman. However, when the Joker joins the party, it results in the real deal ending his recuperation early…

Crafted by Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones, the next yarn opens with Bats and Plastic Man tackling the Scarecrow before the Gotham Gangbuster meets the Huntress. She is having trouble with a costumed crazy with a nasty obsession and ends up briefly ‘Captured by Mr. Camera!’

The same creative crew return for #16 as a battle with the Teen Titans against Nocturna hatches a sinister sub-plot in ‘Egg Hunt! or: The Evil of Egg Head!’ as the ovoid mastermind revives antediluvian elder god Y’ggphu Soggoth (offering a guilty treat for old fans of truly naff supervillains) and Batman needs the aid of Wonder Woman to scramble the scheme…

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #18 alters the format slightly with a brace of linked tales from Walker & Jones. ‘Life on Mars’ features Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz defeating the human extermination plans of super-psionic shapeshifting White Martian Ma’alefa’ak before a strangely off-kilter Dark Knight calls in mystic master Doctor Fate to diagnose and treat a case of possession in follow-up thriller ‘All in the Mind’

The last two yarns collected here both co-star Hal Jordan and other stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps. From #19 and by Adam Schlagman, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty, ‘Emerald Knight’ details how the ring-slinger is captured by ultimate tech pirate Cyborg Superman and robotic Manhunters. Unable to prevail alone, Jordan temporarily bequeaths his power to Batman who lead his comrades in the Corps to victory, after which a brief interlude battling dinosaur gangsters beside the Lady Blackhawks leads to the Gotham Guardian and the fully-restored Jordan uniting to defeat ‘The Menace Known as Robert’. Another Walker & Jones production, this depicts the calamitous threat of a primordial alien horror invading Earth and the terrifying lengths Batman will go to save the world…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously fun rollercoaster ride and confirms the now-seamless link between animated features and comicbooks. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Follyfoot Annual 1973


By anonymous, illustrated by Mike Noble & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0138-6

The Follyfoot review was scheduled to run on Christmas Day as part of our annual Annual feature but when news reached us of the death of Mike Noble we decided to retool it and put it somewhere where it could stand on its own.

Mike Noble was born in South Woodford, attended a technical art school in Walthamstow and, after graduating in 1946 and attending St. Martins School of Art, worked as an advertising junior for a firm in Holborn. Called up in 1949, he served with the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire. During a follow-up three-year stint with the Territorial Army he drew graphics of military hardware.

In the early 1950’s he joined Leslie Caswell at Cooper’s Studio in Oxford Street, learning the sleek, slick techniques of magazine illustration for the likes of Woman’s Own, John Bull, the Birmingham Weekly Post and others.

In 1953 he landed his first comics strip: Simon and Sally for Hulton Press’ Robin. He went full freelance in 1956 and by 1958 was tackling lead features like The Lone Ranger and Tonto for TV-themed Express Weekly and Range Rider for TV Comic.

He was a mainstay of TV Century 21 as Gerry Anderson shows took Britain and the world by storm, illustrating with stunning vividness Fireball XL5, Zero X and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. As fads came and went, he proved equally compelling on Star Trek and Joe 90.

His gift for capturing likeness and staging dynamic action made him indispensable as licensed comics dominated UK publications and moving on Look-In (a “junior TV Times” produced by Independent Television Publications) he drew Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, The Famous Five, Kung Fu, The Freewheelers, Robin of Sherwood, Worzel Gummidge, Space: 1999 and others. A huge fan and master of equestrian art, two of Mike’s favourites were The Adventures of Black Beauty and Follyfoot.

Although largely retired from comics since the 1980’s, he kept his hand in – especially during periodic Anderson revivals – and was working on a new Captain Scarlet project when he died on November 15th this year.

Follyfoot was a joint British/West German co-production that aired between 28th June 1971 and 15th September 1973. It was inspired by the Monica Dickens novel Cobbler’s Dream (1963) and its broadcast success prompted her to write four more books between 1972 and 1976.

The series for young teens was set in contemporary North Yorkshire and featured the tribulations of a rest home/sanctuary for horses with clean cut youngsters and their hard-pressed elders keeping barely solvent whilst addressing social issues of the time. When the feature was adapted in Look-In Mike Noble produced some of the most impressive and inspirational art of his career, superbly augmented by top-of-the-line colour printing.

Sadly, that’s not available here, but even so, the strips by the master are bursting with power, grace and authenticity.

The Annual opens with a page reprinting the show’s theme lyrics ‘The Lightning Tree’ after which full-colour strip ‘Odds Against the Favourite’ finds our heroine Dora targeted by crooked bookies as she tries to win a local race and pay off the farm’s latest debts…

‘Storybook Steeds’ then recounts the legends of a quintet of historic horse heroes, before ‘Statues with a Story’ offers a photo feature on famous equine art and ‘Davy’s daring rescue’ sees a new four-footed arrival earn his oats despite being old and blind…

A directory of famous breeds follows in ‘All Kind of Horses’, after which a quiz on ‘Horse Sense’ and a page of ‘Horsing About’ gags segues neatly into another dazzling Noble effort as Dora finds ‘The Mystery Mare’ on the moors and seeks out its negligent owner…

Aging family retainer Slugger’s birthday leads to Dora finding welcome work for an old dray horse and his destitute owner in ‘Mystery at Follyfoot’, after which a cheery diagram aids ‘Getting to Know Your Horse’ and ‘Horseback Holidays’ reveals the long-abandoned joys of kids vacationing on their unsupervised own. More fact features follow: a review of blacksmithing and the farrier’s art in ‘A Country Craftsman’ and another quiz ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’

When Dora and Steve find a frantic mare ‘Lost in the Snow’ it all leads to a big crisis and joyous event before military steeds are acclaimed in ‘Horses from History’, while ‘Stable Record-Breakers’ share some unlikely facts about Man’s other best friend and ‘This is your Lucky Day’ traces the superstitions connected to horseshoes.

Boardgame ‘Gymkhana at Follyfoot Farm’ leads into the truth behind many traditional songs in ‘Horse Rhymes and Reasons’ before Noble’s big finish finds our northern heroes going all cowboy for a good cause in ‘The Wild West Riding’ before this lost treat concludes with a quirkily illustrated final fact file on ‘The History of the Horse’.

Although the annual itself has a certain allure, the main point about this book is that it typifies a problem we have in British comics. Because – I presume – of rights and copyrights issues, there is a wealth of stunning and important comics material that remains in limbo, simply because no prospective publisher thinks it’s worthy of the legal hassles of resurrection.

Surely the likes of Mike Noble, Ron Embleton and their illustrious ilk are a big enough draw that we can find some way of collecting and reprinting their unseen works?
© 1972 Yorkshire Television Ltd.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale


By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11 December 1928. After training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. The puppet soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: bluff Thor Nogson, talking green cormorant Graculus and his wife Nooka who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit princess these days).

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

Charming, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin affected generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets and books like these. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965.

Superman Adventures volume 1


By Paul Dini, Scott McCloud, Rick Burchett, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5867-2

A decade after John Byrne galvanised, reinvigorated and reinvented the look and feel of the Man of Steel animator Bruce Timm returned to comicbook country to meld modern sensibility and classic mythology with Superman: The Animated Series.

With Paul Dini he had designed and overseen Batman: The Animated Series: a 1993 TV show that captivated young and old alike and breathed vibrant new life into an old concept. In 1996 lightning struck a second time. The show was another masterpiece and led to a tranche of sequels and spin-off including The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

Although the Superman cartoon show (which originally aired in the USA from September 6th 1996 to February 12th 2000) never got the airplay it deserved in Britain, it remains a highpoint in the character’s long, long animation history, second only to the astounding and groundbreaking seventeen shorts produced by the Max Fleischer Studio in the 1940s.

These stylish modern visualisations became the norm, extending to the Teen Titans, Legion of Super Heroes, Young Justice and Brave and the Bold animation series that so successfully followed.

The broad stylisation – described as “Ocean Liner Art Deco” – also worked magnificently in static two dimensions for the spin-off comicbook produced by DC as seen in this first of four (so far) trade paperback and eBook compilations, gathering Superman Adventures #1-10 from November 1996 through August 1997.

With no further ado the all-ages action opens with ‘Men of Steel’ by show writer Paul Dini and illustrated with dash and verve by Rick Burchett & Terry Austin. Because they know their audience, the editors wisely treated the animated episodes and comicbook releases as equally canonical and here shady mega-billionaire Lex Luthor is a public hero even whilst clandestinely organising clandestine criminal deals, international coups and a secret war against the Man of Tomorrow.

The devil’s brew of dark deeds culminates here in the oligarch’s creation of a new secret weapon: a hyper-powerful robot-duplicate of Superman, which he uses to initially discredit and ultimately battle against the Caped Kryptonian. If it manages to kill him, Lex will mass-produce them and sell them to warlords around the world…

Comics grand master Scott McCloud comes aboard as regular scripter with the second issue as ‘Be Careful What You Wish For…’ sees the return of Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. The mechanical maniac – like the rest of Metropolis – erroneously believes lonely, attention-seeking Kelly to be Superman’s girlfriend, but his sadistic revenge scheme hasn’t factored in how Lois Lane might react to the claim…

Computerised Kryptonian relic Brainiac resurfaces in ‘Distant Thunder’, having placed its malign consciousness into Earth artefacts (such as robot cats!) before building a new body to facilitate a new attack on the Metropolis Marvel. As ever, Brainiac’s end goal is assimilating data, but Superman quickly realises how to turn that programmed compulsion into a weapon ensuring the computer tyrant’s defeat…

Apprentice photo-journalist Jimmy Olsen’s dreams of success and stardom get a big boost in issue #4’s ‘Eye to Eye’. After Luthor orchestrates a deadly attack on Superman with an enhanced gravity-weapon, the cub reporter learns it’s as much about grit and guts as it is being in the right place at the right time…

Bret Blevins pencils fifth exploit ‘Balance of Power’ as electrical villain Livewire awakes from a coma and sets about equalizing gender inequality by taking over the world’s broadcast airwaves. With all male presences edited out thanks to her galvanic power, the sparky ideologue then returns to her original agenda and attempts to eradicate too-powerful men like Superman and Luthor

McCloud, Burchett & Austin reunite for the astoundingly gripping ‘Seonimod’ wherein Superman utterly fails to save Metropolis from complete annihilation. All is not lost however, as Fifth Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Man of Steel in a backwards-spiralling time-loop, allowing the hero one last chance to track a concatenation of disasters back to the inconsequential event that triggered the string of accidents which wiped out everything the hero cherishes…

‘All Creatures Great and Small part 1’ opens a titanic two-part tale which sees Kryptonian Phantom Zone villains General Zod and Mala escape the miniaturised prison Superman had incarcerated them in. In the process they also shrink our hero to a few centimetres in height, but the endgame is far more devilish that that.

When scientific savant Professor Hamilton and top cop Dan “Terrible” Turpin join Lois in using a growth ray to restore Superman, Zod intercepts them and transforms himself into a towering colossus of chaos and carnage. Utterly overmatched and without options, the miniscule Man of Tomorrow is forced into the most disgusting and risky manoeuvre of his career to bring the gigantic General low in the concluding ‘All Creatures Great and Small part 2’

Mike Manley pencils Superman Adventures #9 as ‘Return of the Hero’ focuses on an idealistic boy whose two heroes are Superman and Lex Luthor. However, as a series of arson attacks plagues his neighbourhood, Francisco Torres learns some unpleasant truths about the billionaire that shatter his worldview and almost destroy his family. Happily, the Caped Kryptonian proves to be a far more dependable role model…

Wrapping up this first cartoon collection is a classic clash between indomitable hero and deadly maniac as twisted techno-terrorist Toyman returns, peddling Superman action figures designed to plunder and rob their owners’ parents. ‘Don’t Try This at Home!’ by McCloud, Burchett & Austin once again proves that no amount of devious deviltry can long deter the champion of Truth, Justice and the American Way…

Breathtakingly written and spectacularly illustrated, these stripped-down, hyper-charged rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible examples of the most primal kind of comics storytelling, capturing the idealised essence of what every superman story should be. This is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1996, 1997, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Captain Scarlet Annual 1969


By various (Century 21 Publishing /City Magazines Ltd)
No ISBN:

During the 1960s Gerry Anderson’s high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films) and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children, and further proving to British comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilizations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Although Thunderbirds did not premiere on TV until September (with Frank Bellamy’s incredible strip joining the line-up in January 1966) Lady Penelope and Parker had an earlier debut to set the scene, and eventually the aristocratic super-spy won her own top-class photogravure magazine in January 1996.

And as Anderson’s newest creations launched into super-marionated life, their comics exploits filtered into TV21 and even their own titles.

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was originally broadcast from September 1967 to May 1968, sold to 40 other countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In case you aren’t au fait, the series details the struggle between super-security agency Spectrum and disembodied intelligences from Mars. After an Earth survey mission resulted in the accidental destruction of a Mysteron City, the invisible aliens declared a vengeance war on humanity, using their ability to reconstruct matter and reanimate the dead.

Their prime agent is Captain Black, resurrected after he destroyed the Martian base, and their major obstacle is Captain Scarlet. The latter was killed by Mysterons too, but when he was brought back to life, he threw off the alien programming and fights for Spectrum. Thanks to the process, Scarlet can detect the presence of “Mysteron-ised” agents and cannot be killed…

Progressively multi-ethnic and considerably darker in tone, the series made a seamless jump to strip form in TV21 – under the auspices of creators such as Alan Fennell, Mike Noble, Eric Eden, Ron Embleton, Howard Elson, Don Harley, Scott Goodall, Frank Bellamy and Frank Langford.

There were three annuals during the1960s first run and this middle edition – released for Christmas 1968 – employed the company’s policy of total immersion in the subject matter. Every strip, story, fact feature and photo all worked under the assumption that the reader was enjoying a piece of journalism, not drama…

Opening with a Contents spread teeming with series stills, the thrills come quickly following as full-colour strip ‘The Mysterons Will Destroy International Engineering’s Workshops’ finds Captains Scarlet and Blue striving diligently to stop an insidious scheme to eradicate the company supplying Spectrum’s incredible vehicles, after which the first of three quizzes tests your potential as a Spectrum Agent in ‘Counterpoint 7 part 1’

Following cartoons and jokes in ‘Spectrafun’ schematics and blueprints for a new patrol jet are revealed in ‘Spectrum Research SPJ’ before ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy the Entire Northern Hemisphere’ finds our heroes racing against time to stop the deliberate detonation of Earth’s mothballed nuclear arsenal.

A text-&-photo profile of ‘Captain Black’ then segues into prose thriller ‘We, the Mysterons Will Cause a Germ War Throughout Earth!’ wherein the indestructible agent faces a diabolical biological weapon. Balancing the tension comes the specs for ‘Spectrum Research Saloon Car’ and an exploded cutaway technical feature on the ‘Spectrum Clam Sub’, after which colour strip ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy Kalipur’ results in a partial victory for the extraterrestrial aggressors…

A tense prose yarn sees the Free World’s greatest freelance spy hired to breach the ‘Security’ of Earth’s most advanced organisations including W.A.S.P. and Spectrum, after which a rapid response is called for in strip form when ‘In Six Hours Time, We, the Mysterons, Will Assassinate Colonel White!’

Faux road ‘Signs of Fun’ and details of Scarlet’s jet pack in ‘Spectrum Research SPV’ leads to photo feature ‘Operation Jigsaw’, disclosing how agents like Captain Ochre are recruited before prose yarn ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy World Peace!’ shows just how devious the implacable aliens can be…

More technical info follows: designs for the ‘Spectrum Research Helijet’, an exploded view of a ‘Spectrum Hovercraft’, anticipate strip thriller – and Martian triumph – ‘We, the Mysterons, Will Use Wallis Simpson to Flood the Atlantic Tunnel’ (by John Cooper) before more tests in ‘Counterpoint 7 part 2’

An exploded view of Spectrum’s ‘Radar Van’ and more ‘Spectrafun’ gags segue neatly into plans for the ‘Spectrum Research MSV’ and Mike Nobel’s enticing strip ‘Tomorrow Morning as Big Ben Chimes, the City of London Will be Destroyed’ sees Captain Scarlet perform one of his most daring feats…

More ‘Spectrafun’ leads to the job assessment concluding with ‘Counterpoint 7 part 3’ and details of ‘Spectrum Research Angel Craft’ before the future shocks spectacularly end with Cooper’s cataclysmic strip saga ‘We, the Mysterons, Will Destroy the New Houston Oil Depot!’

Crisp, imaginative writing, great characters and some of the most evocative science-fiction art of all time make this a must-have book for just about anybody with a sense of adventure and love of comics. This fabulous album is a superb example of the quality of those old British comics and there can be no greater argument of the necessity for a new and permanent collection of these strips books.
© 1968 Associated Television (Overseas) Ltd.