It’s that time again, lets grab a random single issue of a classic British comic and review it!
… last time I did this, I was pretty spoilt for choice, but this time, I really only had this one (or a bunch of recent Viz, Beano or Commando issues). I bought it from an antiques shop in Kyoto for ￥1000, though a comparable one bought in the UK would probably be no more than a quarter of that.
Anyway, Valiant is a well-known British comic, even amongst people who normally only like American ones. This is probably because most of it’s “serious” characters had powers, and these people can’t fathom the idea of a comic about ordinary people (unless it’s some small press pamphlet about a hipster’s life, which would have been better off as a blog entry).
TV21, on the other hand, ought to be a better-known British comic. It is, in conventional wisdom, the second best British comic, after the almighty Eagle. It contained stories of the various Gerry Anderson productions, the comic and television arms of Century 21 productions complementing each other perfectly, without the comic being some bland, hacked-out retread of the TV show with a bunch of clipart chucked all over it.
By 1973, and the merger, the stars of both comics had waned considerably, though as the senior partner, Valiant has retained a number of it’s classic characters. TV21’s only contribution is Star Trek, which occupies the coloured centre pages (but doesn’t really gain anything from the colour). Even before the merger, the latter day TV21 had long since relegated the Gerry Anderson material to black and white reprints, while the colour pages were occupied by strips based on imported TV shows (though at least they were hand-illustrated especially for that comic, even this would be a rare miracle in today’s Britain).
Anyway, in the style of a number of comics at the time, the cover is not taken up by some dramatic image from a story within, but with a “factual” page about a famous sports star. Valiant did a lot of this, and DC Thomson’s Victor ran “true war stories” for decades. A waste of the colour if you ask me, but it sold in numbers any publisher in the anglosphere would kill for, today!
The first story is Captain Hurricane, the long-running comedy war story in which a huge marine would go into a “ragin’ fury” and start punching tanks, calling the occupants “bratwurst-munching Brandenburg bootmakers” or “slant-eyed yellow weevils” every week. The people who sing Valiant’s praises as the “acceptable face” of retro British comics like to quietly pretend this story never existed. I, on the other hand, want a collected book of the funniest episodes. At least 300 pages, please!
Anyway, in this particular episode, Captain Hurricane’s batman, “Maggot” Malone, is writing his “memwars”, in which he calls himself a general, on the assumption he’ll have been promoted that far by the time the war ends. Some Germans assume he’s a secret agent writing a report, and try to capture him, one thing leads to another and soon the Squareheads are being shaken out of tanks like pepper.
The next story is Kid Pharoh, who is an ancient Egyptian who was cursed to “sleep while darkness reigns” by an evil wizard, then shut up in a tomb for thousands of years. Released by American archaeologists in modern times, he went to America and became a pro wrestler (that’s the first thing you’d do, right?). Anyway, the curse is still in effect, so he falls asleep the instant the lights go out, he’s also up against the descendants of the wizard, who are now his enemies in other ways (rival wrestling promoters, I’d imagine).
The next story is one of Valiant’s best-remembered ones, Janus Stark. He’s a famous escapologist from Victorian times, who is somehow never recognised by the various villains who keep trapping him in complicated ways and leaving him to a slow death. In this story he’s also clapped in irons by the well-meaning crew of a ship, but casts off the “mere trinkets” when he spots real saboteurs approaching. One thing leads to another, and he ends the episode tied up once again, this time watching the fuse on a barrel full of gunpowder burn down!
Yellowknife of the Yard follows. If we’ve had an ancient Egyptian wrestler, why not a Red Indian detective, still dressed in full regalia? Anyway, he’s captured by Count Terror (who looks like Count Dracula) and subjected to the “fear machine” which has already terrified several MI5 agents. Yellowknife, however, finds it “um heap big bore”, before rather conveniently escaping and lassooing the badmen.
Now it’s The Nutts, one of Valiant’s pure comedy strories, and only a single page long. It’s about a family living in a tiny house, the husband always has money-making (or saving) schemes that go wrong.
I don’t normally cover adverts, but here’s one for some other comics! Battle Picture Library was, at the time, putting out eight issues per month, but unlike today’s Commando, they released them all in one bunch on the third Monday. Like today’s Commando, I doubt that was eight NEW stories per month! The descriptions make the stories sound far more interesting than they probably were. The best war picture library was, well, War Picture Library, but only up to the mid 60’s! After that, Commando was running away with the title, and it’s certainly the only one to have reached 5000 issues!
After that, another staple of British comics, a football strip! This one’s called Raven on the Wing, and is about a gypsy boy, with amazing ability, who signs up for Highborough United, aka The Toffs. Here another of his tribe, Spider Mulford, is competing with the team’s back-from-injury goalie, Lionel Jeeps, for custodian duties at an upcoming championship match. Other members of the tribe have got into the crowd and are trying to put the regular keeper off during the first half, but Raven, naturally, doesn’t want to see any of that, preferring a fair contest.
No doubt there would be howls of derision at such a story today, making as it does the stereotyped suggestion that gypsies have strong family ties, even though it’s true. Mind you, family ties among a lot of regular brits are pretty strong too, these days. They side with their own kids against teachers and the police, undermining social order… filthy savages.
After that, we have The Swots and the Blots. Which is a bit like The Bash Street Kids if the class goody-goody, Cuthbert, was mob-handed. It’s resemblance to The Bash Street Kids is mainly due to the fact it has the same creator! Leo Baxendale left DC Thomson in the 1960’s, after a disagreement about the scale he did his artwork at, and went to Odhams, who were later swallowed up in the IPC Empire. Anyway, the strip is across the centre pages, with a huge title, and centres around cooking class. You can well imagine the chaos that ensues!
After that, we get the, erm, “colour” strip, on the centre pages, and it’s a contribution from the junior partner, TV21! As I said before, the days of TV21’s gravure-printed Gerry Anderson epics were behind it even before the merger, but here we have a Star Trek story coloured (badly) with the four-colour overlay method. This story is really Star Trek in name only, it’s more like a World War 2 spy caper given a Trek coat of paint, just replace the Germans with Klingons and the Italians with thier Morkolian allies.
After that, the letters page, with some illustrated jokes (when I was young, I always thought the senders provided the illustration, too, and got quite dispirited that people the same age as me already had skills equal to the pros!) and an interesting notice about the introduction of VAT.
Now for another stone-cold Valiant classic (and one due a Rebellion reprint?), The Claw! This is about Louis Crandell, who has a mechanical hand, and also the power to become invisible when he gets an electric shock (no chance of something like this appearing in a kids’ comic these days!). While not a cop or secret agent, he keeps coming up against flamboyant super-criminals, enemy spies and so on, and must use his powers to bring them to justice. Here a man pretending to be a ghost has nicked the takings from a funfair.
One classic follows another, as the rather spoiled reader now gets their weekly dose of Kelly’s Eye. In this story, Tim Kelly is a time-travelling adventurer who ends up in various times and places. As long as he holds the Eye of Zoltec, a magic stone, he cannot be harmed by anything but a weapon made of gold. Guess what material the villains of the stories always had a fondness for forging their custom knife, sword or bullets out of! When that gimmick had been used too often, he would simply lose the stone instead. I believe the story began with him simply fighting modern-day crimes, but here he is travelling through time in “Doctor Diamond”‘s time machine. Though it also appears able to travel vast distances and land on inhabited alien planets, too. I presume alien planets are used as a shorthand for “the future”. Anyway, if I remember a randomly-purchased annual from later in the 70’s correctly, he later started falling through time at random, by magical means.
Anyway, in this story he and Dr Diamond have joined a rebel movement on the planet Lyrius, which is ruled by intelligent apes (because why nick ideas from just one franchise?). They are in the sewer system, which can amplify a whisper in one place into a shout in another, which doesn’t seem like a very safe idea, to me. A workman burping in the wrong place could devastate a city with the resulting earthquake.
After that, there’s a half-page comedy strip called The Crows, pretty standard material.
I don’t usually cover adverts on my blog, because I’ll get braindead comments from people who are amazed that Matchbox cars used to cost “only” 16p (made you scroll up), as if inflation doesn’t exist and a new Ford Cortina wasn’t £1100 at the same time. But here’s an advert which is also a full-page strip. It appears to be the end of a serial, but that might just be to make it look “comic-ey”. It’s pretty fluffy, as these things are, but better than some generic clipart slapped on a page.
Brain Drayne is another comedy strip, in the Corporal Clott mould. He’s a tad more intelligent, though, coming up with half-baked “clever” ideas that cause more problems than they solve!
After a quick “soccer roundup” page, which reports the usual facts about the early days of football that were in every other one of these comics (fans used to bring planks to stand on because the field was muddy, etc), we get to The Wild Wonders, a comedy adventure strip about two amazing boy athletes. Here they have been tricked into blasting off in an experimental rocket, and have now landed on an “alien planet”, but some things don’t seem quite right…
And last, and definitely not least, we have Billy Bunter, who has hardly changed at all from his debut back in 1908. Only the 1908 stories were text, and Billy was not usually the main character (more of a force of nature that drove the plot). He’s still coming up with “get stuffed quick” schemes to secure a supply of food with minimal effort!
The full-colour back page of the issue is just used for another model car advert, so I’m sure I don’t need to waste your bandwidth with that 😉