Stingray: “The Monster Weed”

Original run: TV21 #62 – #71

Artist: Ron Embleton

Writer: Dennis Hooper

2417082-tv_century_21_v1965_063__1966__pagecover
TV21 #63

Everyone, stop what you’re doing! Put down your Matchbox figures and tuck away those lovely first edition TV21s – We’ve found a Stingray strip that isn’t, repeat ISN’T, total tosh! That’s right dudes, despite this strip’s title, “The Monster Weed”, sounding like yet another Stingray comic story that fails to rise anything above dull, b-movie fodder, this strip is a rollicking read, full of well-crafted action, sensible plotting and genuine adventure.

If anything, “The Monster Weed” bleeds its b-movie tactics dry, using all the enthusiasm it can out of a plot involving a rogue drum containing experimental chemicals falling from outer space into the Earth’s ocean floor, and the results speak for themselves! Both the World Aquanaut Security Patrol and Titan race to prevent the resulting mutating seaweed from falling into each other’s hands.

monsterweed1Oddly enough, the story doesn’t get off to that promising a start. A Fireball XL5-esque scenario, involving a rogue duo intent on stealing agricultural chemicals from under the government’s noses, has to allow the plot to happen. However, the fact that this story starts off in outer space suggests that even the TV21 crew didn’t have faith in the eerie, mystical depths of the underwater worlds Stingray lived in to be a solid draw. Instead, they go for the depths of space. Still, it’s a short-lived set-up that doesn’t hamper the strip, and allows “The Monster Weed” to hit the ground running.

There’s a terrific sense of danger to the mixture of enemies the Stingray crew face in this strip. The WA.S.P.s are caught in a dizzying scramble against the weed and Titan’s forces, who gleefully takes advantage of the substance, using it as his ultimate gateway to crushing Troy Tempest by acquiring the weed himself, and utilizes it in an attempt to swallow Marineville.

The messy nature of the plot may not stand up well against the more well-crafted plots of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet or Zero-X, but its enthusiasm is a welcome departure from previous Stingray strips. Artist Ron Embleton is in vigorous form too, illuminating the monster weed with a masculine roughness that recalls Frank Bellamy‘s apocalyptic space creature in the classic Thunderbirds strip “Solar Danger”.

monsterweed2Continuity buffs will find much to delight in “The Monster Weed” too. The rarely seen sea vessel Sea Leopard gets plenty of page space, although Marina is curiously absent from the whole affair… Other high-points include a non-bumbling Agent X20, who shows us what a dastardly spy he can be when he has his character’s sense of camp removed, and a showcase for Stingray itself as a source of breakneck adventure.

Admittedly, “The Monster Weed” isn’t all dandy thrills and spills. Nine instalments of intense, multi-layered plotting are resolved in the space of one last chapter, offering a rushed and all too neat conclusion to a story who’s biggest charm is its enjoyable mess. There are some admittedly gorgeous scenes of Stingray blowing up a small army of Terror Fish (who doesn’t love Stingray grappling with Terror Fish, after all?), suggesting that where the script ran out of room on the pages, the artwork made up for.

TV21 #66
TV21 #66

Still, “The Monster Weed” is easily the best Stingray strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures, and its long overdue. Its frantic urgency, although a trait shared by the majority of the spritely-paced strips in TV21, feels like the perfect antidote to the inconsequential fodder of “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” and the sluggish “Escape from Aquatraz”.  “The Monster Weed”‘s energetic nature may be attributed to the script possibly being written by Dennis Hooper and not TV21 regular Alan Fennell, but whoever penned the story clearly had the right ideas in mind.

Though the plot is in danger of collapsing in on itslef with its own enthusiasm, “The Monster Weed” deftly balances the natural and the unnatural against Stingray that exudes a pulpy menace that made these comic strips such a delight.

Have you read “The Monster Weed”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section! You can read “The Monster Weed” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection and Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 2!

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