Tag Archives: Captain Scarlet

Captain Scarlet: “Secret Mission”

Original run: TV21 #158 – #160

Artist: Mike Noble

Writer: Angus P. Allan

After the fairly dry “Observatory Network”, Captain Scarlet found its throttle with “Earth’s Communications”, a story so tightly-wound and superbly compact that it didn’t have the space or time to put a foot wrong in terms of quality. That Mad Max: Fury Road-esque nature spills over into “Secret Mission”, a story as deadly as it is dandy.

secretmission2In the space of three issues, Angus P. Allan mixes science fiction, political espionage, and thrilling adventure in a surprisingly topical story that’s perhaps too grizzled to appear on the television. However, the end result is one of the best stories TV21 ever did.

“Secret Mission” opens with a curiously out-of-place character motivation for Captain Scarlet – he’s assisting Professor Loot, a scientist aligned with World Government, in crossing the Bereznik border.  It’s out of place because we’re so used to seeing Scarlet fight the good fight of Spectrum, with no reference to any life for any Spectrum agent outside of Spectrum itself.

It’s a mystifying portrait of Scarlet’s non-Spectrum adventures, and an interesting development of his character. Is Paul REALLY prepared to further political tensions between the infamously volatile Bereznik and the World Government just to help out an old friend?

Unsurprisingly, Bereznik troops discover Scarlet and Loot’s attempts at safe travels, and unleash hell on them. The resulting battle appears to catch hold of the Mysterons, who use an unsuspecting Scarlet to create something of a civil war on Earth between the World Government and Bereznik.

In these three issues, Allan doesn’t get a lot of room to explain much of the logic behind “Secret Mission”‘s plot. Why were Scarlet and Loot trying to cross the border? How did the Mysterons know Spectrum would attempt to protect the Bereznik president when the president explicitly told them NOT to enter Bereznik soil? Surely doing so would only break an already-tense relationship Bereznik has with the rest of the civilised world, which Colonel White gives Scarlet a telling off for anyway because of his shenanigans with Loot?

But I digress. If I spent my time criticising the lack of logic in Captain Scarlet, be it in TV21 or the TV show, I’d be here all day!

TV21 #159
TV21 #159

What “Secret Mission” may lack in sensible plotting it makes up for with intense pace, slick action, and palpable danger. Captain Scarlet rarely got this political in other forms of media, and it’s a testament to TV21‘s fearlessness that editor Alan Fennell would give this story the thumbs up for publication.

“Secret Mission” also stands as a riveting antithesis of what the Century 21 TV shows stood for in terms of themes and representations of our future. The worlds of Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds depicted a Utopian landscape, where mankind unites together in the name of technology, peace and alien invaders. The various World Security groups even found time to befriend underwater or outer space creatures and civilisations, extending their grabs of friendship.

With Captain Scarlet however, everything goes a bit pear-shaped, and “Secret Mission” personifies this. Bereznik is shown to have a fully functioning army, capable of being deployed in what seems to be mere moments, without a great deal needed to trigger them into action. Scarlet’s unexpected responsibility for assassinating the Bereznik President is a reflection of Captain Black’s unexpected responsibility for being the cause of the Mysterons’ hatred of Earth, and the war that ensues.

There’s a sublime menace to the Mysterons in this strip. They may have been the nemesis of Spectrum, but here, they pretty much just sit back and let humanity nearly wipe itself out. Many a plot-hole has been discussed regarding why the Mysterons didn’t simply wipe humanity out in one blow, but stories like “Secret Mission” lend the Mysterons some gravitas.

secretmission1“Secret Mission” parallels how the Mysterons appeared to progress in the TV series, whereby they observed human nature and seemed disgusted by it. This culminated in “The Heart of New York”, where the Mysterons effectively punished mankind for its obsession with greed. Here, they do the same, but instead of greed, it’s war.

When I mentioned three issues wasn’t a great deal of room for Allan to deliver sensible plotting, I may well have been mistaken.

“Secret Mission” easily stands alongside “Unity City” as the best Captain Scarlet strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures. Where “Unity City” gave us a seemingly unstoppable adventure for Scarlet and the Spectrum crew, “Secret Mission” feels far more substantial a read with its themes of politics, war and brutal tone.

There’s good reason why folks bought TV21 like hot cakes back in the day, and why they remain such a popular read. “Secret Mission” isn’t just good – it’s fantastic.

Is “Secret Mission” one of your favourite Captain Scarlet strips? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Secret Mission” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!


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!

Captain Scarlet: “Earth’s Communications”

Original run: TV21 #155 – #157

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artists: Ron Embleton, Mike Noble (colour reprints)

You can almost hear “Star Man” playing as the Mysteron agent waits for Scarlet!

Following on from the mammoth adventure “Unity City” and the downright dull “Observatory Network”, “Earth’s Communications, Captain Scarlet‘s third story in TV21, is a brief, brisk and lively tale for the indestructible hero of Spectrum and a vast improvement over “Observatory Network”.

“Earth’s Communications” finds the Mysterons threatening to turn the Earth into a planet of silence, and despite the adventure running a grand total of three instalments, they come dangerously and tantalizingly close to their goal. There’s even enough time for Scarlet to have a quick tango with Captain Black (still wearing his Spectrum uniform, but here there’s a bit of context!), but the shortness of “Earth’s Communications” is ultimately its downfall.

TV21 #155
TV21 #155

Once again scripted by Angus P. Allan, in the space of two chapters he crafts a great sense of how deadly the Mysterons can be in achieving their goal, but even by TV21‘s lightning-quick pacing, the first two chapters of “Earth’s Communications” feel more like rough script outlines than a fully-fledged story. The story is all too short for any genuine terror to radiate from the pages, and the final chapter is given to an out-of-place showdown between Scarlet and Black. Allan clearly gets what Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons is all about and how a typical adventure should progress, but because of its shortness in length, progressing is the one thing “Earth’s Communications” struggles to do.

The Angels being attacked by a Thunderbird 5 rip-off with a ‘4’ logo? Only in TV21 folks!

Nevertheless, Allan and Ron Embleton work in tandem in bringing this all-too-small a story to life. The climax of the first chapter is riveting, both in its script and artwork. As Cloudbase erupts from the Mysteron’s plans, Captain Scarlet is, for a brief moment, brought down from his Olympian status as an indestructible human being to a far more common man. Embleton illustrates Scarlet, Colonel White and Lieutenant Green eyes screwed shut and hands clasped to their ears, trying to drown out the Mysteron attack. It’s a great bit of action from the pen and paper of Allan and Embleton.

“Earth’s Communications” has the potential to be one of the best TV21 adventures for Captain Scarlet ever, but at three chapters clocking in at a slim twelve pages (three of those pages act as little more than introductory starts, as “Earth’s Communications” marked the beginning of TV21 using Captain Scarlet strips as its front cover), it never becomes more than having potential to be stellar.

Nevertheless, “Earth’s Communications” is still a fun gallop for Captain Scarlet with plenty to enjoy. The action is non-stop, the artwork is bold and colourful and the story itself would make a fine episode of the TV series.

Have you read “Earth’s Communications”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Earth’s Communications” in Ravette Books’ Captain Scarlet: Spectrum is Green, Gerry Anderson – The Vintage Comic Collection Vol. 4 and Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection!

The Angels: “The New Recruits”

Original run: The New Lady Penelope #53 – #57

Writer: Unknown

Artist: Jon Davies

The New Lady Penelope, #54

Much like how the Lady Penelope comic gave readers a marvellous back-story into how Marina became mute after battling Titan, they went one step further and showed readers just how the Angels became the Angels. Unfortunately, compared to the 23-part Marina adventure, this first strip (of several focusing on the Angels) is a bit, well… crappy.

“The New Recruits” is a quick, pleasant breeze of a read, and only clocks in at five pages in length, one page for each instalment, just like Marina’s first story. But where “How the Mysterious and Beautiful Marina May Never Speak Again” (try saying that when you’re drunk on seaweed wine) ebbs and flows with a gallop littered with hooks for the reader, “The New Recruits” is far less rewarding from a story-telling perspective.

The story sees Dianne Simms, delivery girl for Airways Light Freight Agency, receiving a mysterious package and rendezvous destination. There, she meets pilot Karen Wainwright, Juliette Pontoin, Magnolia Jones and Chan Kwan, who have also been given strange orders. A mysterious voice, unwilling to identify itself, booms over them, revealing that their packages contain matching uniforms, and then displays five interceptor aircraft at their feet. Things get even weirder when the unknown voice promises the five pilots the danger and excitement they’ve been longing for since taking to the skies for the first time, but will their first flight in these new aircraft prove to be more dangerous than they can cope with?

Is it just me, or do those craft look... green?
Is it just me, or do those craft look… green?

Perhaps the real question here is who thought it was a good idea to let Jon Davies illustrate this strip?

Maybe we’ve all grown up on too much Frank Bellmy’s Thunderbird 2 or Mike Noble’s Zero-X, but when you absorb Davies’ take on the Angels, both the pilots and craft, you’d better have a good imagination, because you’ll need that to really bring his doodle to life.

He doesn’t get anything wrong per-say, if anything he clearly illustrated this with the series bible next to him, but the combination of a rough, scrappy appearance, a lack of diversity in colour and the craft themselves being restricted to cramped panels makes for less than impressive viewing. Was it simply a case of the Angels not being in TV Century 21, and therefore not commanding a substantial amount of popularity?

The script itself, its writer of which is lost in the depths of time, fairs better than the artwork it has to put up with, but at a mere five pages in length there ain’t a lot of room for a genuine plot to kick off. As a brief, introductory prequel to how the Angels kick-started their adventures, “The New Recruits” works on that level. Further adventures saw the Angels being sent off on more mission by the mysterious voice, which actually brings into question just how desperate for excitement they are in their lives!

The New Lady Penelope #56

“The New Recruits” does bear some handsome references to the Angel’s back-stories and personal lives, again hinting at the writer’s attention to detail when scribbling out this short flight of fancy. There’s even a moment of rare confrontation where Dianne actually address the fact that the women in Century 21 don’t get a lot of breaks, and that most of the best piloting jobs end up in the hands of the lads.

So, to cap off – is this strip worth reading? Well, it’s an interesting piece of fiction in the Andercon comic canon, but it won’t change your life. It may be best to read other Angels strips from the Lady Penelope comic to get the full picture, if you can hunt copies down that is.

For those seeking adventure as high-flying as the Angels, you’d be best to stick to TV Century 21, but for fans of the Angels and Captain Scarlet in general, your appetite may well be whetted.

You can read “The New Recruits” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection

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…

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

“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.

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’!