Captain Scarlet: “Unity City”

Original run: TV Century 21 #141 – #149

Artist: Ron Embleton

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Plummeting Cloudbases, fisticuffs with Captain Black and a Sam Shore cameo! Where could Captain Scarlet‘s “Unity City” strip go wrong? Well, it actually does go wrong on a couple of levels, but we’ll ramble about those later.

For all the world-building and continuity creating that TV Century 21 did for the Century 21 puppet shows, action was always emphasized over plot. The end result would sometimes be less than stellar, and “Unity City” displays both the good and bad of these elements. “Unity City” centres on the Mysterons announcing their intentions to destroy, you guessed it, Unity City – specifically the World Government HQ. In doing so, they slither their way in and out of Spectrum AND the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. Can Scarlet prevent the devious Captain Black from sending Cloudbase to its certain doom as well as escaping from being brought back under Mysteron control?! Given the strong focus of action over any intellectual content TV21  comics may posses, let’s take a look at that for starters.

2417178-tv_century_21_v1965_149__1967__pagecover IT ROCKS!

Throughout the nine instalment adventure, there’s a real sense of Scarlet and the gang being against the clock in order to stop the Mysterons. Embleton’s artwork is thicker, richer and sharper than the dynamic, broad styles of Bellamy, and it serves the story’s pace well. Its a real shame then that the story is so, well, poorly executed. First off, the Mysertons intend to crash Cloudbase into Unity City, sounds good! But Spectrum quickly get wind of this and decide to move Cloudbase. However, the Mysterons still intend to destory Cloudbase anyway, even when they move to right over Australia.

Of course, using their powers, the Mysterons could easily ‘guide’ Cloudbase back towards Unity City and destroy it that way, but it still seems a flimsy plan. Also, the Mysterons hardly display their powers at all. When Captains Scarlet and Black, on escaping Cloudbase, crash-land in a remote island and are captured by island natives, it doesn’t seem to occur to the Mysterons that they could just teleport Black away and out of trouble. Instead, they go through what feels like a rather convoluted plan of having a Myseronised W.A.S.P agent pick both Scarlet and Black up, then make their way back to Mars to put Scarlet back under Mysteron control.

It’s nice to see that both the W.A.S.P’s and Spectrum do indeed exist in the same world, also alongside the World Space Patrol who lend a hand in getting Scarlet back from Black, but it just seems like the Mysterons are making life difficult for themselves. But of course, that’s what you get when you play a war of nerves I suppose. So, wait… was the Mysteron’s actual plan to capture Scarlet all along, and the whole Unity City thing a red herring? Again, that might fit in well with their war of nerves, but given how the events of the story pace out, it seems unlikely. And there you have a rather odd entry in TV Century 21‘s take on Captain Scarlet – a romp of a story to be sure, but one that feels too much like a hodgepodge of multiple story ideas flung together in an attempt at some grand adventure.

Have you read “Unity City”? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

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

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Thunderbirds: “The Revolution”

Original run: TV Century 21 #130 – #136

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Writer: Alan Fennell

2417156-tv_century_21_v1965_132__1967__pagecoverPolitics was something that the Anderson’s puppet shows always seemed to be a part of but was played down immensely. These were of course shows designed mostly for children to enjoy, and having references to government goings on the futuristic worlds of 206-whenever would surely go over their little heads. That doesn’t bother “The Revolution” however, and in doing so TV Century 21 gave readers one of the best Thunderbirds stories never seen on TV.

“The Revolution” mixes a truly dramatic rescue with treachery in underprivileged communities who aim for the same prize, but use very different methods. The story itself hows the darker side of the seemingly perfect futures that Gerry and his team were keen to project in their TV shows. Foreign third-world settlements were unseen in Thunderbirds, but here they play a vital role.

“The Revolution” concerns a band of Nicaraguan citizens who attempt to cause a small amount of havoc for their greedy, uncaring government to hear via causing damage to The President, a newly launched atomic liner. Their plan goes astray when they manage to run the huge ship aground, but cause the canals to burst and flood their homes. All the while, several Nicaraguan rebels take matters into their own hands and threaten to kill those on-board the liner. International Rescue find themselves doubly full when having to deal with a stranded ocean liner that’s causing villages to flood and rebel soldiers making the situation worse through violence.

This strip is simply glorious. End of.

Oh, you want to read more about it? Alright then.

The initial villain of the strip, Juan, is one of the most balanced villains in all Thunderbirds fiction. Initially using his plan to run the liner aground, he never wishes to injure anyone in the process, and is shocked and disgusted when his plans go wrong. He even manages to save Gordon from being crushed by the shifting liner in Thunderbird 4.

The plot itself has a brilliant level of pace to it, as the Thunderbirds attempt to save the liner without realising several particularly nasty rebels lie to nearby army forces and tell them that International Rescue has come to help the rebels destroy the liner.

2417162-tv_century_21_v1965_136__1967__pagecoverThe strip itself, while glorious in its execution of story, has a rather bittersweet ending. The liner is saved, but Juan’s reason for attacking the liner in the first place is to better his life for himself and his surrounding communities. That’s never truly resolved, and in fact Juan’s admission of his faults lands him in even further trouble.

But “The Revolution” still packs a whopping punch – the action, the drama, the rescues, and the artwork are all explosive – quite literally, as there’s several scenes near the end where the Nicaraguan army attack Thunderbird 1 and 2 believing them to be rebels. In just those panels alone, Bellamy shows us all why he was such a force to be reckoned with.

Despite its uneven ending, “The Revolution”, with its mixing of politics with dramatic rescues, gives International Rescue one of the finest comic-based adventures its ever had. Viva el Thunderbirds indeed!

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

You can read “The Revolution” in Eaglemoss’s ‘Gerry Anderson: The Vintage Comic Collection Vol. 5 and Ravette’s ‘Thunderbirds to the Rescue’!

Stingray: “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen”

Original run: TV Century 21 Issues #23 – #30

Artist: Ron Embleton

Writer: Alan Fennell

Mr. Fennell is the reason we’re here today. He is, after all, the man who created TV Century 21 and was its first editor. But before that, he wrote a hefty chunk of Fireball XL5 episodes and penned some of the best Stingray episodes ever. From such atmospheric titles as “The Subterranean Sea” and “The Invisible Enemy”, the pop culture send up “Titan Goes Pop”, and the weird dream-based episodes of “The Cool Cave Man” and “Tomb Thumb Tempest”.

stingrayghosts2Its a shame then that this strip of his, “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen”, is a bit of a let down. Having already dealt with ghosts in the on-screen  adventure “The Ghost Ship”, “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” feels like a rehash of that episode, even though it’s enjoyable enough on its own terms.

“The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” very neatly sums up what occurs plot-wise with its title. The Stingray crew are sent to investigate some strange goings on at one of their tracking stations located in a converted castle. The tracking station staff have abandoned the station after sightings of ghosts, but those ghosts turn out to have a far more sinister plan than scaring Marinvelle employees…

Were this a story made for the screen and not for the comic, it would be fairly bog standard stuff. As mentioned, Fennell made several goes with dream based stories, so why not the same for ghost stories? But “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen”, even with its pedestrian story, is still fun to read.
1601136-tvcentury21_25For a comic that placed action over plot, Fennell does a brilliant job balancing both elements where other writers sometimes put one over the other. There’s a lot of twists and turns in the strips seven-part run, and coupled with Ron Embleton’s thick, boisterous artwork gives the story a delightful drive.

However, another thorn in this strip’s side is not only its rehash feel of “The Ghost Ship”, but the fact that several plot strands are re-used in this very strip!

Aside from a haunted castle, there’s an ancient galleon involved that’s piloted by an underwater race of monsters who wish to destory Marineville and then overthrow the terrainean world.

Sound familiar?

There’s still enough spark and bounce in this strip for it to be enjoyable, as Fennell rarely let his standards slip – even in this case where he was ripping off his own work! “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” was still one of the earlier TV Century 21 stories, so its unoriginality could be forgiven somewhat. The comic would go on to include more world-building and grander stories between the Anderson’s various space-age puppet heroes, making “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” an adventures that’s downright dandy in its own regard.

Have you read “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen”? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can read “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” in Ravette’s ‘Stingray – Battle Stations’ and ‘The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection Vol. 3’!

Thunderbirds: “The Earthquake Maker”

Strip: “The Earthquake Maker”

Original run: TV21 issues #141 – #146

Writer: Scott Goodall

Artist: Frank Bellamy

Issue 145
Issue 145

And so the Megaventures begin! We start with taking a look back at the very first Century 21 comic strip I ever read, “The Earthquake Maker”. This particular strip sees Scott, Virgil and Brains dashing to Persia when a series of earthquakes rupture several cities there. But the more earthquakes erupt, the curiouser the incident becomes, and it becomes obvious that these natural phenomenons may not be so natural after all…

By the time this strip hit the newstands, TV 21 had already established itself as one of the leading comics in England in the 1960’s, and “The Earthquake Maker” is testament to that. I recall reading this strip as a tender seven year old, and was, to be frank, shocked by the blistering gritty and realistic artwork. There’s a reason Frank Bellamy is held in such high regard in Gerry Anderson circles, and if you ever wanted to know why, just go read any TV21 strip he illustrated. In “The Earthquake Make” for instance, Thunderbird 2 transforms from the gorgeously made model seen on the small screen to a lumbering, Godzilla-like force of nature. The panel in the third chapter where Thunderbirds 1 and 2 are caught up in a whirlwind and crash-land is breath-taking.

Speaking of panels, the manner in which they’re laid out across each page heightens the dramatic impact of the artwork considerably. So, we like the artwork then, yes? But how about the actual story? Is it any good? Well… its certainly not the TV show, that’s for sure! Across six instalments with only two pages per story, the pace is dramatically quicker than that in any given TV episode of Thunderbirds. Indeed, it only takes one panel before the action begins and Tashfar is hit by the first earthquake. I seem to recall in “The Mighty Atom” it took at least half an hour or so before we saw any actual Thunderbirds on screen!

Issue 146
Issue 146

The story itself is pure sixties sci-fi fantasy – devious villain plans to overthrow his own country via sending man-mad earthquakes rippling through the land, brave, swashbuckling Tracy boys vow to save the day – and do! Those expecting a lengthily, slow-burning saga of adventure may well have to go elsewhere, but part of TV21’s success and enjoyment is the rattling speed its stories are in duration. They offer themselves as perfect companion pieces to the television shows, and are great balls of fun in their own right.

It was certainly a shot of adrenaline reading this strip for the first time, and curiously offered a far greater dash of excitement than the TV show could. Don’t get me wrong, Thunderbirds on screen is a blast, but as a comic there seemed to be a very different type of enjoyment on offer. These strips would go on to differentiate themselves from the series in such manners.

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

You can read “The Earthquake Maker” in Egmont’s ‘Thunderbirds The Comic Collection Vol. 1’!

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