Category Archives: Fireball XL5

Fireball XL5: “The Giant Ant Invasion”

Original run: TV21 #27 – #33

Writer: Tod Sullivan

Artist: Mike Noble

Oh TV21, you strange, magnificent beast. You took our beloved Supermarionation/Century 21 shows and did things to them we could only dream of. You took our favourite square-jawed, fair-haired, all-American heroes and gave them drama and character. You illuminated the comic book world with tales of action and adventure almost unparalleled. Overall, you gave us some of the best stories in sci-fi comics.

TV21 #27
TV21 #27

But you also gave us “The Giant Ant Invasion”.

This bizarrely bad Fireball XL5 story pits the XL5 crew against an growing army (ba-dum-tsh!) of human animals who become giants and proceed to terrorize the Earth thanks to a couple of disgruntled aliens who wish to destroy the planet – because aliens are baddies! Or something.

This is normally where I expand on the plot and dissect it, analysing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the strip. But honestly, “The Giant Ant Invasion” is hopeless to the point where it just doesn’t lend itself well to such scrutiny. Right from the off, you can almost feel how buggered this strip is, with that classic opening line in the first instalment “It’s got me… The Mouse… Aaagh!”. Things don’t get much better from there onwards.

ants
“The ants are winning.”. That is all.

The plot itself spends most of it’s time pitting Steve Zodiac against various enlarged dogs, cats, birds, and of course ants, who are the only animal here that carry any sense of danger. The large dogs and cats just look like, well, large dogs and cats, and don’t have much menace to them at all.

It’s such a shame that this sort of story had to be delegated to Fireball XL5. As I’ve previously discussed in “The Vengeance of Saharis” and “Electrode 909”, Fireball XL5 became a darker and arguably better beast in comic form away from its TV counterpart. Here however, the reverse happens. There’s no palpable feeling of tension or danger for our heroes, the plot is executed in a mundane manner, and the dialogue is utterly wretched. “This whole ship reeks of death!” is Steve’s reaction on killing a massive mouse and an overgrown butterfly, both of which decrease to their normal size upon death. Hardly a cause for such an outburst!

If one can take anything away from “The Giant Ant Invasion”, it could be that this strip does have something of a textbook element to it. “The Giant Ant Invasion” is everything a TV21 strip shouldn’t be, it may even be the nadir of TV21. Then again, we’ve really yet to grips with Stingray on this blog…

For now however, this is one Fireball XL5 strip that, much like the enormous ants featured in this strip, you would be best to steer clear from.

Have you read “The Giant Ant Invasion? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “The Giant Ant Invasion” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection (?!) and Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Volume 2: Invasion in the 21st Century! (?!?!)

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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!

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’!