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.
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.
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! (?!?!)
Artists: Ron Embleton, Mike Noble (colour reprints)
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.
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.
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!
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!
“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.
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?
“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!
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.
Spiralling 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.
So, 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.
That’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!
Artists: Frank Bellamy (#83 – #92), Don Harley (#93 – #98)
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.
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.
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-
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!
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.
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!
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 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?
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!
“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
International Rescue have to deal with killer robotic penguins and gigantic, claw-ridden polar bears in this highly entertaining yet bizarre and rather gruesome Thunderbirds strip. “The Antarctic Menace” sees another of Century 21’s heroes go up against the villainous forces of Bereznik, the on-off enemy of TV Century 21.
In this adventure, Scott, Virgil and Gordon must save a group of oil truckers transporting vast amounts of raw minerals from Antarctic plants to Australian refining facilities across a vast trans-oceanic highway. But when an army of robotic penguins (!) launch an attack on the truckers, International Rescue must save the truckers and put a stop to whoever is controlling these mechanical monsters…
“The Antarctic Menace” is yet another Thunderbirds strip that’s pure 1960’s sci-fi hokum involving killer robot animals (which obviously go haywire), and shifting ships disguised as icebergs and a maniacal genius after precious fuel for the world of tomorrow. In short, it’s got all the makings of a classic Thunderbirds adventure, but there’s a nasty undercurrent to this tale.
That sense of nastiness comes in the form of International Rescue actually failing horridly in doing their job. Plug your fingers in your ears if you want to avoid spoilers because (or plug whatever into your eyes) the oil truckers die in a crashing inferno when they and I.R. attempt to fight back against Bereznik forces.
I don’t know about you, b that’s a real kick in the rollocks for this reviewer folks.
Thunderbirds was always the optimistic one in the Century 21 universe. They were the ones who saved people in trouble, not go round fighting Aquaphibians or Mysterons. It’s true that the day is still saved somewhat by the end of “The Antarctic Menace”, but here, International Rescue fall in the line of duty.
That failure gives “The Antarctic Menace” a rather sour taste, coupled with the other moments of violent action the strip has, such as the Tracy brothers and oil truckers chained to a wall of ice with a robotic polar bear on the prowl – if Virgil hadn’t intervened, would the others have been torn to pieces? Brutal stuff.
But if you’ve got the stomach to look past these points, then “The Antarctic Menace” is still an adventurous read. There’s plenty of action and danger with every instalment, and Bellamy brings Goodall’s death-laced script to life in the usually fab manner.
“The Antarctic Menace” is a story that lives up to its name, and although its stop-the-mad-scientist entertainment factor can’t be denied, the strip’s frivolous approach to life leaves a bitter aftertaste in one’s mouth. International Rescue don’t even seem that bothered when, in all, technicality, they fail in their mission. Oh well, at least Bellamy knew how to draw some badass robot polar bears.
Have you read “The Antarctic Menace”? What did you think of it? Sound off in the comments section below! You can read “The Antarctic Menace” in Ravette’s Thunderbirds… Lift Off! and Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1
Taking you back to the yester-future strips of TV Century 21!