Stingray: “Escape From Aquatraz” Part 1: “Aquatraz”

Original run: TV Century 21 #31 – #37

Writer: Alan Fennel

Artist: Ron Embleton

aquatraz2FINALLY! We’ve got round to getting more Stingray on the blog! Yay! Could this day get any better?

Well, actually, the strip itself could be a bit better, a whole lot better even. The Fennel-scribbled/Embleton-doodled “Aquatraz” is the first in a two-part story called “Escape from Aquatraz” that sees Titan gain the upper hand against the WA.S.P.s in ways we almost never saw in the TV series. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of that happen in “Aquatraz” itself.

aquasting2“Aquatraz” itself sees Troy and the gang babysitting Marshal Ketov, doing their best to impress him with their badass WA.S.P technology. It’s all going swimmingly, until Titan launches a surprise attack on the Marshal and the crew of the B-1 Bathescaphe. Capturing both crew and vessel, Titan orders his minions to reassemble the B-1 for his own devious plans, but sends Ketov and co. to the underwater prison of Aquatraz for immediate execution!

Rescuing Ketov from Aquatraz is the order of the day for this strip, but all the while reading this, you’re left wondering just what is Titan up to with the B-1? Not much of that is shown save for the first two instalments, which leads to a rather long-winded rescue mission for Troy and Phones.

aquatraz1Ketov is such an obnoxious character, who appears to be a carbon copy of Ali Khali, that you don’t really care if he’s rescued or not – if anything, if he did get executed, at least he’d shut up! But there is still some impending drama to “Aquatraz”. From the beginning, it’s made concrete clear that everyone’s heads will be on the block if the W.A.S.P.s if Ketov is unsatisfied with what he sees in anyway, and Titan’s plans for the B-1 do keep the reader turning the pages.

The best thing about “Aquatraz” however is Ron Embleton’s artwork. Aquatraz itself is located in a subterranean sea, giving Embleton a perfect canvas to spew forth some wonderfully colourful seascapes and creatures . Aquatraz itself has a gorgeously haunting appearance, a mass of seaweed-covered shipwrecks with the seabed hugging each section of the makeshift prison.

aquasting1It’s a wonder Embleton managed to piece together some magnificent visuals to Fennel’s limp script. It’s hard to pinpoint any one fault to “Aquatraz” as a story, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough excitement or danger to Fennel’s story. Embleton’s artwork does distract you long enough to keep your mind off from being more interested in what Titan has in store for the WA.S.P.s, but that distraction doesn’t last forever.

“Aquatraz” suffers from having a ‘set-up’ feel for the following adventure, “The Uranium Plant Invasion”, and coupled with it’s rather uninteresting story, it remains one of the weaker adventures for Stingray. Darn it.

Have you read “Aquatraz”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read Aquatraz in Stingray: Battle Stations and Century 21 Volume 3: Escape from Aquatraz!

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Captain Scarlet: “Observatory Network”

Original run: TV21 #150 – #154

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artist: Ron Embleton

network1Captain Scarlet’s second TV21 adventure takes him across snow-laden mountains to barren deserts and wild jungles in an attempt to stop the Mysterons destroying the Observatory Network which monitors the Mars-based aliens’ every move. However, Captain Black (still clad in his Spectrum uniform?!?!) is hot on his trail, and deadly keen to stop Scarlet from ruining the Mysterons’ plans – which Black wouldn’t have to do anyway had the Mysterons not taken the time to tell Spectrum they were going to destroy the Observatory Network in the first place! Oh well…

cs1
Flame on, Johnny!

“Observatory Network” has a great ‘race against time’ feel to it as Scarlet and Black continuously gain the upper hand against each other, flowing back and forth between one being in the lead and one behind, and vice-versa. At a mere five chapters long however, the ‘race against time’ aspect takes up a lot of the plot, so there isn’t much room for anything else to develop. Our last strip looking at Captain Scarlet, “Unity City”. has an epic nine-part span and gave readers one hell of an adventure. Here, there’s still just as much to enjoy, but far less time to enjoy it in.

network2However, there’s still a fine pace to this adventure – Allan’s script is full of action and has some enjoyable vigour in its execution. Visually, Ron Embleton’s artwork retains that smooth, streamlined appearance he put to good use in “Unity City”. The two of them fuse together effectively, and produce a snappy, entertaining comic strip that’s fairly faithful to the TV series.

The story’s five-part spread, with it’s wide reach of locations, means that “Observatory Network” has a somewhat annoyingly condensed sense of scale. The mountain-based observatories are often delegated to having to sit within the tiniest of panels, reducing the impact of the Mysertons’ threat somewhat.

network3But the story itself, perhaps borrowed somewhat from the TV series, as this wouldn’t be the first time Scarlet has tangled with the Mysterons when it comes to observatories (or did “Shadow of Fear” do the borrowing? This strip came out in December ’67, whilst “Shadow of Fear” would have to wait until February ’68), is fun in it’s own right. Seeing Scarlet having to take on lions and elephants is something we never saw on screen, and is itself a nice expansion of the TV series.

“Observatory Network” would make an enjoyably bog standard episode. Well, technically it did, with “Shadow of Fear”! That episode had a true sense of terror to it, leaving “Observatory Network” as perhaps a poor man’s answer to that particular episode. It’s still an enjoyable strip however, if somewhat pedestrian, and continued to cement Captain Scarlet’s adventures in TV21.

Have you read “Observatory Network”? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “Observatory Network” in Ravette’s ‘Captain Scarlet – Indestructible’ and Gerry Anderson: The Vintage Comic Collection Vol. 4′!

Thunderbirds: “Revolt on Jupiter”

Original run: TV21 issues #179 – 183

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Writer: Scott Goodall

tb3
“Hey Alan, let’s take our only means of space rescue for a nosey peak at my old enemy. I’m sure no-one will need our help while we’re gone.”

For all of International Rescue’s adaptability for tackling any kind of rescue, on or off this planet, we rarely saw rescues based in the depths of outer space. Thankfully, TV21 would often step in to give us wild and wonderful strips that perhaps wouldn’t have felt at home on the small screen. “Revolt on Jupiter” is a fine example of that expansion, but it’s debatable whether it’s a solid enough adventure for International Rescue.

As the strip’s name suggests, “Revolt on Jupiter” is chock-full of deceit and betrayal as Jeff Tracy learns that his old alien rival Kranol, after decades worth of uprising against humanity on Jupiter, now appears willing to make peace with the Earth. Understandably sceptical, Jeff and Alan venture into space to visit Kranol, where they become entangled in a web of deadly deceit as Kranol becomes hunted down by his very own son, Tragan.

TV21 #
TV21 #179, the first instalment of “Revolt on Jupiter”

There IS something of a flaw in “Revolt on Jupiter” – what would happen if Thunderbird 3 was needed during Jeff’s jaunt to visit Kranol? It’s rather out of his character to use an I.R craft unless someone is in grave danger. Mind you, there was that time when Brains and Tin-Tin went treasure hunting… Additionally, the inclusion of aliens in the world of Thunderbirds was always something I found a tad jarring, but “Revolt on Jupiter” presents it’s non-humans as intelligent civilisations – it’s not quite like International Rescue go up against space monsters, that was Zero-X’s job.

jupiter1
So yeah, Thunderbird 3 can float and stuff.

The strip has all the galloping excitement that was the usual standard of TV21, but at just five chapters, it feels a tad short. Nevertheless, Tragan keeps things spirited as a truly ruthless villain, who refuses to accept defeat at the hands of International Rescue, even during the finale when he and his rag-tag army of revolutionaries crash-land to Earth and all hell breaks loose.

Artwork-wise, it’s far more morose than our last space-based adventure with the Zero-X dudes. Frank Bellamy’s take on the unknown depths of space  is far darker (both figuratively and literally!) than Mike Noble’s. Noble painted his space with a tuck shop-amount of stars and gave space itself a warm blue/purple haze, whereas Bellamy’s comics landscapes are far bleaker, almost nothing but dark emptiness, illuminated only by his jaw-dropping scribbles of Thunderbird 3.

TV21 #180, the second instalment of
TV21 #180, the second instalment of “Revolt on Jupiter”

But no amount of fab artwork detracts from the fact that “Revolt on Jupiter” feels like it would be far more at home were it a Captain Scarlet or Zero-X strip and not a Thunderbirds one. Throughout, International Rescue tangle to-and-fro with Tragan and his destructive ways, but they don’t actually perform any sort of rescue. “Revolt on Jupiter” is a fun adventure but feels rather out of place for a Thunderbirds story.

Have you read “Revolt on Jupiter”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “Revolt on Jupiter” in Signum’s ‘Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 5: Menace from Space’ and Egmont’s ‘The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection’!

Zero-X: “Return to the Red Planet”, “Prisoners of the Star”

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

zerox3I 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!

zx01Nevertheless, 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!

zx02Where “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…?

zerox1Involving 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’!

Marina, Girl of the Sea: “How the Mysterious and Beautiful Marina May Never Speak Again”

Original run: Lady Penelope #1 – #23

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artist: Rab Hamilton

gots1One of the finest stories to come from the comic spin-off’s of the Century 21 productions didn’t come from a TV Century 21 issue at all. Instead, Marina, Girl of the Sea was featured in the Lady Penelope comic, a title aimed at the female audiences of Gerry and Sylvia’s Supermarionation shows.
It’s a shame that such a good strip had to be sidelined and not included in the official comic spin-off itself, because this first strip detailing Stingray‘s answer to the femme fatale character, Marina, is a thoroughly enjoyable prequel to her adventures with the W.A.S.P.s The Marina strip was a regular feature of the short-lived Lady Penelope comic, and this particular tale acts as perhaps the first chronological story of Stingray.

1622120-ladypenelope_10One of the annoyingly flippant aspects of Stingray was the explanation for Marina’s lack of talking – she simply didn’t know how. Well, hold on to your hats folks, because it turns out that explanation is all a load of codswallop. The truth is far darker, has a great emotional bearing and provides a far more 3D aspect to Marina’s character.

2978402-lady+penelope+019+(1966)+pagecover“The Full Story” opens with Marina, her father Aphony, and the rest of the peace-loving Pacifians on the verge of spreading total peace to the underwater worlds. Only the ruthless Titan stands in their way, but he apparantly agrees to join them in their quest for peace. In true Titan fashion however, it turns out to be a devious trick, and he lays waste to the city of Pacifica, prompting Marina, Aphony and Pacifica’s first minister Barinth to being another quest sending their message of peace and hope by word of mouth – without their gorgeous city, their words are all they have left.

The strip itself takes the trio on a cinematic adventure through many a strange and bizarre underwater world, including the fire-breathing Volcans and the shipwreck-dwelling Coonadas. The Volcans themselves are a near-mouth-opening race of beings, who live near the centre of the Earth – could they have been the aliens the crew of Stingray almost met in the episode “The Subterranean Sea”? They themselves were certainly creatures the likes of which we rarely saw on the small screen.

gots2The strip climaxes in the restoration of Pacifica and Titan’s eventual assault on them once more, but in a far more horrid and personal manner. Rather than turn this new Pacifica to rubble, he places a curse on the Pacifians, meaning that should any of them utter a single word, a random Pacifian will die. It takes the accidental death of Barnith to bring the curse to life.

Overall, this darkly camp adventure is a treasure trove for any Stingray lover. Seeing Marina actually speak adds some new depth to her persona. Although we don’t really see anything new in her character, her powers of speech make her somewhat more real than she was on Stingray.

The strip itself tells a marvellous adventure coupled with the world-building Gerry Anderson comics were well-known for. Indeed, whenever Stingray came a cropper with an undersea race, there only ever seemed to be two of them, and if they were hostile in anyway, they were blown clean out of the water! Here, that’s not entirely the case, as we a vast array of aquatic characters who display evil, good and sometimes both. Again, this added depth was something that could have really been expanded on in the TV series, and also lent a further dollop of menace to Titan

2978381-lady+penelope+013+(1966)+pagecoverRab Hamilton’s artwork is both colourful and full of perspective – he has a smudginess that works wonders in illuminating an underwater scene,  but that smudginess is something that appears throughout, lending both flavour to the comic but ultimately slowing down the visual punch. Additionally, no panel is larger than the other, meaning we have a minuscule visual scope of the underwater canvases that Marina and co traverse through.

However, with far more pluses than minuses, “The Full Story” is almost the perfect tonic to the blitzkrieg Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet strips found in TV21. “How the Mysterious and Beautiful Marina May Never Speak Again” remains one of more intoxicating adventures in the comic strip worlds of Century 21.

Have you read “Marina, Girl of the Sea”? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “Marina, Girl of the Sea” in Egmont’s ‘The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection’!

Thunderbirds: “Blazing Danger!”

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Original run: TV Century 21 #52 – #58

Much like how “The Earthquake Maker” introduced me to the wonderful strips of TV21, “Blazing Danger!” introduced the world to Thunderbirds as an exciting and substantial force to be reckoned with as a comic, and not just a TV show. 2417073-tv_century_21_v1965_052__1966__pagecover

The first Thunderbirds strip to delight readers via the dynamic duo of scribbler Alan Fennel and doodler Frank Bellamy, “Blazing Danger!” packs an almighty punch with a script that’s heavy on the thrills and has some nice world-building elements to boot. The artwork is a blitzkrieg of explosions, dramatic panelling and gorgeously drawn vehicles – which also give way to an odd sensation when reading the strip. The Thunderbird vehicles illustrated by Bellamy are rather different in style to Bellamy’s usual drawings. They seem far more rooted in being as realistic as possible, as do the characters, who appear more human and less puppet than in any other Bellamy-drawn Thunderbirds strip. Given that this was the first ever Thunderbirds strip, such differences in style can be put down it being early days.

“Blazing Danger!” is set in the very early days of International Rescue, and begins with Lady Penelope and Parker arriving for the first time on Tracy Island and being introduced to the Tracy family via Jeff. At this point, Thunderbird 5 is unmanned, which gives way to International Rescue being involved in a deadly forest fire via John overhearing a radio conversation between Lincoln, a ruthless baddie who wants to take over Canadian Engineering from his fishing friend, and his cohorts. 2417078-tv_century_21_v1965_057__1966__pagecover

His plan is to kill his friend and make it look like an accidental forest fire, which he’s in fact responsible for, but in true TV Century 21 fashion the fire gets out of control, and its up to the Thunderbirds to save both Lincoln and his friend.

The story itself has an enjoyably predictable pace to it – villain’s plan goes awry, Thunderbirds arrive to save both parties, all appears to end on a happy note. However, the story kicks up a few gears when the impending fire spreads to nearby homes and Lincoln succeeds in stealing International Rescue equipment in order to make his escape!

A race against time puts several of the Tracy brothers in danger, and allows Scott to show his more brutal side as he tries every trick in the book to stop Lincoln from escaping.

“Blazing Danger!” introduces the bare bones of the Thunderbirds concepts to new readers in a tightly scripted and visually powerful manner. While Bellamy would go on to gain a more unique, and frankly better, style of artwork when drawing the adventures of International Rescue, “Blazing Danger!” fires on all cylinders as the perfect introduction to Thunderbirds as a comic strip.

Have you read “Blazing Danger!”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “Blazing Danger!” in Carlton’s ‘Thunderbirds: Classic Comic Collection’ and ‘Gerry Anderson: The Vintage Comic Collection Vol. 1’!

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’!

Taking you back to the yester-future strips of TV Century 21!