Fireball XL5: “The Vengeance of Saharis”

Strip: “The Vengeance of Saharis”

Writer: Tod Sullivan

Artist: Mike Noble

Original run: TV21 issues #6 – #14

rsz_xl5saharisThis Cold War-flavoured ditty is, in many ways, a perfect encapsulation of the Andersons’ Supermarionation spectacles. “The Vengeance of Saharis” focuses on a handful of aliens plotting revenge against the Earth after their home planet is attacked by a group of missiles launched from Earth. Unfortunately for Earth, it was an accidental assault, and the Fireball XL5 crew have to foil a a devious plan to annihilate the Earth seventy eight years in the making!

The fact that these strips were aimed squarely at a young audience doesn’t slim down the influence the Cold War and the threat of nuclear invasions had on them – indeed, “The Vengeance of Saharis” reads almost like a warning to kids on the dangers of this kind of conflict. The combined plot devices of accidental missile launches that seemingly renders an entire planet uninhabitable and the spy-like tactics of the Saharis’ plan to destroy Earth make for an immensely interesting read for a comic aimed at kids!2417028-tv_century_21_v1965_006__1965__pagecover

Such themes were nothing new in the worlds of Century 21 – there’s bags of episodes, particularly from the Fireball/Stingray-era, that take these concepts and trim them down into child-friendly, edible chunks of rollicking fun. What sets “The Vengeance of Saharis” apart then is that, when it came to Steve Zodiac’s on-screen adventures, the aliens were very much modelled as aliens, whereas the aliens in this strip appear 100% human in their physicality.

A lazy excuse to avoid designing a new species, or a further reflection of how in a Cold War scenario, the enemy can be more recognisable than you think?

But historical allusions aside, “The Vengeance of Saharis” is a blast of a strip. Each instalment, only two pages long, offers cliffhangers so snappy in their thrills that you’re more than likely to cut your fingers on flicking the pages to find out what happens next. The plot itself, like so many of the TV21 strips, reads as pure pulpy space adventure. Its finale sees the Saharis aliens managing to elude the XL5 crew, possibly thinking their plan went ahead a-okay. This provides the strip with a limp ending, but its still a fun read.

2417032-tv_century_21_v1965_010__1965__pagecoverAnother plot element that drives this story is the possibility that Steve has to destroy a space passenger liner that has a nuclear bomb attached to it in order to save the Earth. Something like this rarely occurred in the television series, and it separates the comic strip from its on-screen counterpart very well, giving the strip itself an extra boost of flavour and depth.

Mike Noble’s artwork is warm and rich, blending a fine array of bright colours with thick shadowing – his illustrations of missiles, XL5’s and space liners are dramatic and imposing, and lend a real sense of scope to the story, although his style in general is a tad more 2-D than Frank Bellamy’s Thunderbirds illustrations. But again, this fits in well with Fireball XL5‘s child-friendly nature, as Thunderbirds would go on to target a family audience while XL5 remained squarely aimed at a younger audience.

“The Vengeance of Saharis” is a fine addition to TV21’s early repertoire, and a thoroughly interesting expansion of its TV cousin.

Have you read “The Vengeance of Saharis”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “The Vengeance of Saharis” in Egmont’s ‘The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection’!

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