Thunderbirds: “Chain Reaction”

Original run: TV21 #227 – #234

Writer: Spencer Howard (aka, John Theydon?)

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Often regarded as the last great Thunderbirds story in TV21, “Chain Reaction” rightly deserves that title. It’s a rip-roaring, world-destroying (sort of!) story that sees International Rescue put just about all their resources to use as they battle one of their toughest enemies yet – nature!

“Chain Reaction” initially follows International Rescue’s attempts at diverting a space freighter falling to Earth on a crash-course for San Francisco. Although a diversion into the Pacific is successful, the freighter , colliding with a dormant volcano, triggers a series of natural disasters that threaten to spread virus-like unless International Rescue can act fast – even if that means getting caught in the crossfire of erupting volcanoes, vast tidal waves, and land-destroying earthquakes!

A Tracy brother sacrificing his life? Pretty normal day for TV21 then!
A Tracy brother sacrificing his life? Pretty normal day for TV21 then!

The most apparent element of “Chain Reaction” is the plot device of nature being the villain of the day. Such an element was actually something that was hinted at in the television series, with several episodes using the effects of nature to counterbalance the technological wonderland of 2065 (think “The Mighty Atom”.). Here however, such a tactic is exploited to its full potential, with the end result being a riveting story that commands an inventive use of the Thunderbird craft as they battle nature’s disasters. Nowhere in this strip will you find your usual Thunderbird-1-holds-something-up-whilst-waiting-for-Thunderbird-2-plot-fodder. TV21 stories always made room for delivering new and exciting methods for the Thunderbirds to rescue people.

The people in need of rescuing here however are perhaps the one bad thing about this strip. An island full of tribesmen is in the line of an earthquake, meaning International Rescue have to save them. The use of tribesmen may be somewhat politically incorrect by today’s standards (cue their stereotypically shocked reaction of seeing a Thunderbird for the first time), however the flip-side of this is that they arguably lend “Chain Reaction” that vintage, retro-futuristic flavour.

Perhaps another way “Chain Reaction” doesn’t quite work is Frank Bellamy‘s artwork.

Now now children, no need to throw your toys out of the pram!

“Chain Reaction” has all the usual jaw-droppingly gorgeous illustrations and colours that we expect to be the bare minimum in a Bellamy-drawn strip. However, throughout “Chain Reaction”, Bellamy’s panel work looks crumpled and rushed, such as the space-based first instalment’s first page. It doesn’t totally spoil the strip as such, far from it, as much of the strip is drawn with depth and perspective. But the minuscule panels do pop up across the whole strip, suggesting there’s an unshakable feeling that Bellamy was perhaps tiring of his work with TV21. After “Chain Reaction”, Bellamy would only illustrate three more Thunderbirds adventures: “Jungle Adventure”, “Danger in the Deep” and “Seeking Disaster”.

Bloody Hell!
Bloody Hell!

Nevertheless, “Chain Reaction” is a raucous story for Thunderbirds, despite its shortcomings and a feeling of the overall adventure for Thunderbirds in TV21 drawing to a close. The plot itself, rumoured to have be written by John Theydon (the man behind those glorious paperbacks!), skips along at a brisk pace, and has a magnificent scope to it, thanks to multiple location changes and an aforementioned creative handling of all five Thunderbird craft in action.

Their are moments when the Tracy boys feel slightly out of character, due to their excessively grim reactions to the shifting disaster that plague their mission, not to mention a captured Scott almost being sacrificed by the tribesmen! But if anything, we can perhaps take this as another clue to the strip being penned by Theydon rather than Alan Fennell.

There have been instances in Thunderbirds‘ history where pitting International Rescue against more primitive forms of technology resulted in some admittedly underwhelming story-telling, but here it all works splendidly, as the climax sees I.R. having to shift the  unreasonable tribesmen from their island home before it’s destroyed. The balance between the uncooperative tribesmen, who can’t understand the danger their in (cause, you know, tribesmen and all… !) and the natural disasters looming towards everyone makes for a grand tale of high adventure and danger.

“Chain Reaction” is a testament to how TV21‘s slimming of multiple plot strands made for concise yet breath-taking content. Trimming down the story and characters to their barest essentials in an effort to fit them within the scaled confines of a comic but without loosing any sense of scope, what you’re left with is a thrilling ride for all.

Is “Chain Reaction” in your top Thunderbirds comic strips? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “Chain Reaction” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1 and Egmont’s Thunderbirds Comic: Vol. 4!

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