Fireball XL5: “Electrode 909”

Original run: TV Century 21 issues #52 – #64

Writer: Alan Fennell (?)

Artist: Mike Noble

TV21 #60
TV21 #60

Implausible physics, shoot first ask questions later, and a dollop of raw sexism – no dear reader, this ain’t your bog standard Fireball XL5 episode, but a rather riveting TV21 adventure for Steve and the gang. TV Century 21 strips weren’t strangers to tackling such themes as deceit and treachery, just look at the Thunderbirds tale “Revolt on Jupiter” or Zero-X‘s double-bill of “Return to Mars/Prisoner of the Star“, and “Electrode 909” is another one of those stories.

“Electrode 909” sees a hapless handful of World Space Academy novices truly screwing up their training, with one particular student harbouring a maniacal agenda to prove to everyone that he has what it takes to be the best astronaut ever – even better than Steve Zodiac!

Dun dun DUUUUUUUN!

Rather than perform some act of pure heroism, Rod Snyder convinces a couple of unwilling chums  to steal the space fighter Electrode 909. What exactly Snyder hoped to accomplish once the 909 is in his hands is never discovered, but once XL5 is sent to capture Snyder, there’s plenty of adventure to get lost in and make you forget that Snyder’s great plan may not have been that great.

elec1“Electrode 909” has one of the most brutally breakneck plots of the TV21 strips – from XL5’s and 909’s initial battle in space, to the two of them crash-landing on some barren, alien world, to Steve’s near-impossible rescue, to Snyder’s utterly devilish plan in removing his 909 crew and the XL5 pack from the picture entirely, it’s all glorious stuff. They’d never have shown a guy like Snyder on television!

The script gives Mike Noble plenty to play with as well, and his depictions of a wrecked, Fireball Junior-less XL5 is intoxicatingly raw. What’s also raw is what poor old Venus gets up to, or rather what she doesn’t get up to.

The pre-Stingray years of Supermarionation were never the best for women in these shows, and Venus was no exception, often on the receiving end of some casual sexist remark from the World Space Patrol’s near-totally male staff. However, this strip came about in 1966, when women were getting a slightly better time in Anderson shows, but you wouldn’t think so seeing Venus in “Electrode 909”. The only thing she does of any interest is becoming crystallized by shards of alien rock, conveniently being shoved out of the plot’s way just as it reaches it’s peak of entertainment.

Feeling a little space sick, Venus?
Feeling a little space sick, Venus?

However, you still get one hell of a kick out of “Electrode 909”. There’s not a whiff of some malevolent alien menace to be seen, except for Venus’ weird crystal beings (maybe in that respect she actually did something useful?!) and yet “Electrode 909” has some genuine grit and drama to it. Snyder get this close, THIS close I tell you, in getting away with his insane ideology of being the best astronaut in the world – just how do Steve and Matt plan to take the guy down with only a battered XL5 body and no conventional means of blast off? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out, won’t you?

Have you read “Electrode 909”? What do you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “Electrode 909” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!

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