Original run: TV Century 21 #105 – 109 (“Return to the Red Planet”), issues #110 – 121 (“Prisoners of the Star”)
Artist: Mike Noble
Writer: Angus P. Allan
I don’t know about you guys, but I’d hate to go bopping around the stars in Zero-X – it always struck me as the Titanic of Century 21. Whatever adventure Captain Sean Connery -ahemahemahem- I mean, Captain Paul Travers and the gang found themselves in, Zero-X seemed to just have a way of getting in to trouble. I don’t just mean the aliens they came a cropper with, I mean the huge, hulking starship would often run into technical difficulties. The craft itself bombed as spectacularly in Thunderbirds Are GO as the film itself – twice!
Nevertheless, the good folk at A. P. Films probably saw more merchandise potential in the starship, and so Zero-X would go on to have its very own strip in the TV Century 21 comics. This two-part story (well, it consists of an introductory part and a more rounded part) takes place fairly swiftly after the events of Thunderbirds Are GO, and develops on both the appeal and purpose of Zero-X nicely.
The first part of this adventure, “Return to the Red Planet”, sees the Zero-X crew return to Mars in the Mark III Zero-X, presumably in order to continue their exploration mission. I say presumably because, well, it’s never really stated directly WHY they’re going back to Mars. And even then, their mission runs afoul due to a more-than curious scientist they have onboard, who takes a strong interest in the devilish Rock Snakes, who make a brief return here.
Unfortunately, that’s about all that happens in “Return to the Red Planet”. It’s an apt title actually, because that’s just about all Zero-X does. However, when venturing back to Earth, the crew are diverted to an orbital fuelling station in order to receive some top secret orders.
This is where the story REALLY starts folks!
Where “Return to the Red Planet” had a mere five instalments to it, “Prisoners of the Star” was relayed to readers through a whopping 13 chapters, allowing for a far more interesting story to emerge. Arriving at the orbital fuelling station, Zero-X is fitted with an experimental engine and the crew are tasked with acting as space guinea pigs in order to see how well the engines work. However, unbeknownst to all, a prisoner convicted of murder steals away on-board Zero-X. Is he out to kill the crew? Or does he have another motive, one which may involve saving the entire human race from extinction…?
Involving treachery, deceit, Paul being placed up against a firing squad for his unconventional actions and a surprising twist in the tale mixed together with the traditional blitzkrieg action/adventure TV Century 21 was well-known for, “Prisoners of the Star” would have made a great sequel to Thunderbirds Are GO.
Mike Noble, perhaps the second best loved Anderson comic artist behind Frank Bellamy, has a softer and more rounded take on the worlds of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson than Bellamy, but it’s no less enjoyable. His depictions of outer space are gorgeously dreamy, whilst his take on the Zero-X ship itself is playfully faithful to the original.
When put together, “Return to the Red Planet” and “Prisoners of the Star” is an electrifying story with plenty of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am action that manages to keep a strong hold on the actual plot. More than often, the action was given stronger focus than the plot in TV Century 21 strips, but here there’s a decent balance of both. Perhaps the story itself would have benefited from being fused into one, but given how this story is deliberately set after the events of Thunderbirds Are GO, “Return to the Red Planet” makes sense in whetting reader’s appetites and makes them want to know more of what happens to Zero-X. A belter of a story, and easily makes up for the rather lacklustre turn of events for Zero-X Thunderbirds Are GO.
Have you read any of TV21’s exploits of Zero-X? What did you make of them? Let us know in the comments section below!
You can read both these thrilling Zero-X stories in Egmont’s ‘The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection’!