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Captain Scarlet: “Earth’s Communications”

Original run: TV21 #155 – #157

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artists: Ron Embleton, Mike Noble (colour reprints)

ec01
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!

Lady Penelope – Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger: “Mr. Steelman”

Original run: TV Century 21 #01 – #11

Writer: Alan Fennel

Artist: Eric Eden

TV21 #01
TV21 #01

Arriving eight months before Thunderbirds blasted off on-screen, a full colour spread and a high profile inclusion in an otherwise all boys comic. It’s as if Fennel knew just how popular Lady Penelope and Parker would go on to become once Thunderbirds kicked things off on the small screen. Where Thunderbirds first appeared on TV in September 1965, Lady Penelope first appeared in her very own strip in TV Century 21 earlier that year all the way back in January in the very first issue.

Her very first adventure is as simple in its story as it is nimble in its delivery. “Mr Steelman”, like many of the various characters’ debut adventures in TV Century 21, was an origin story that only spends about two or three instalments telling the actual story of how Penelope recruits Parker to be her sidekick. However, that’s an immediate thumbs down for anyone who’s been brought up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (who’ve cornered the market in origins stories) and expecting some tightly-twisted tale of dark secrets and dangerous spills in showing the reader how Lady Penelope becomes Lady Penelope. “Mr Steelman” isn’t concerned with showing you how she becomes I.R.’s most valuable agent at all.

Soooo Parker's only working for Penelope because she blackmails him. Kay.
Soooo Parker’s only working for Penelope because she blackmails him. Kay.

Instead, “Mr Steelman” spends about five minutes introducing us to Lady Penelope and Parker, as well as themselves, before leaping off into a very anti-mecha spy story that surely acted as a refreshing tonic to all the vehicle and alien-heavy tales TV Century 21 is famous for. “Mr Steelman” sees the newly teamed-up Penny and Parker having to steal and destroy the blueprints of a hydromic device that could destroy the entire world. The only way these plans can be disposed of is by bombarding them with radioactive particles.

TV21 #05
TV21 #05

‘Scuse me a second while I go take a breather – all this 1960s jargon is wearing me out! The duo set their plan into action, but a sinister foe is hot on their trail, and will stop at nothing to ensure those plans are in his cold, grey, robotic hands…

“Mr Steelman” is hardly a contender for the best TV21 strip ever written, but it’s a fun, engaging read that works well in context with the other, more hardware-influenced sci-fi strips that it was sharing pages with at the time. Fennel throws in some charming one-liners that capture Penelope’s ice-cool attitude, but the best line is saved for the enemy of the adventures, Mr Steelman himself…

“Welcome, Lady Penelope. Won’t you come in… and die!!”

Mr. Steelman himself is an, odd, adversary for Penelope to say the least. Further adventures make sense of this robotic menace, but it may have added more suspense if Mr. Steelman spent “Mr Steelman” itself as an unseen enemy ala Blofeld in From Russia With Love. Nevertheless, Mr. Steelman somehow adds to the camp, breezily executed shenanigans that’s going on here.

If only she had another boat to use...
If only she had another boat to use…

Artist Eric Eden illuminates the strip with plenty of warm, dark colours and simple panelling. Skies are perfectly clear, enemy’s lairs have rather bare walls, suggesting Eden was a great believer in economy. His was hardly the most riveting style when sandwiched between Mike Noble‘s rattling Fireball XL5 and Ron Embleton‘s robust Stingray, but like the strip itself, it almost reads as an amusing respite from those heavier tales of daring adventure.

“Mr Steelman” also must have surely played a hand in expanding the audience reach of the Supermarionation shows, implying that those behind it were keen for their productions to be more than all-boys action-adventure stories. Coming after the rather sexist Fireball XL5 and arriving when Stingray, with its slight expansion on the role for the female, was still airing, Lady Penelope in both comic strip and character proved that women could be just as badass in Century 21 as the men. “Mr Steelman” remains a solid, entertaining argument for that development.

Did Mr. Steelman invade your nightmares? Or was he a big ole softy at heart? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Mr Steelman” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1 and Carlton’s Thunderbirds: Classic Comic Strips from TV21

Thunderbirds: “Solar Danger”

Original run: TV Century 21 #83 – #98

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artists: Frank Bellamy (#83 – #92), Don Harley (#93 – #98)

TV Century 21 #86
TV Century 21 #86

I guess it was only a matter of time before we got round to reviewing this juggernaut – seriously, this strip is  HUGE! It ran for nearly twenty issues in TV Century 21, that’s five months, nearly half a year! The fifth TV Century 21 adventure for International Rescue, “Solar Danger”, aka “Destination Sun”, “Operation Sunburst”, and “That One with the Giant Space Monster and the Sort of XL5 Crossover”, offered readers a dizzyingly fun début adventure for Thunderbird 3, but how does it stand up?

Pretty darn well, if you want a short, sweet review – but let’s expand!

“Solar Danger”, not unlike the first TV Century 21 tale for the poor man’s Tracy brothers those square-jawed space daredevils in Zero-X, “Solar Danger” is essentially two stories in one, with the first story aflame with some badass cosmic rescuing as Alan and Brains attempt to stop the sun from creating a meteorite colossal enough to destroy Earth. Spiralling out from their efforts, story number 2 then sees Alan and Brains having to tango with some Jurassic Park-worthy space monster on Venus.

solar1
That’s no moon, that’s a space stati… wait, no it’s not!

From my perspective, it’s rather difficult to review this as one story, because both the tales presented to us here are vastly different, even though one directly following on from the other,  but the division between stories is heightened by Bellamy taking on the actual sun-based part of the story whilst Harley tackles the Venus half. It’s not quite as loose as how “Talons of the Eagle” sequels “Mission to Africa”, but it’s close. Because of this, I’d be tempted to give “Solar Danger” a thumbs down. Was Fennel so excited at the thought of Thunderbird 3 getting its own adventure nearly a year after Thunderbirds had been introduced in TV Century 21 that he thought “F**k it!” and gave us two stories at once?

Mind you, both of these adventures are equal in their enthralling level of entertainment, the one thing TV Century 21 constantly mastered (put your hand down Joe 90, we’re pretending you don’t exist), and it’s hard to imagine a better opening blast for Thunderbird 3 in this comic.

solar2
This is what Jeff looks like in the morning before his coffee.

So let’s make things easy for ourselves and make this our own two-in-one offering for you. First up, “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy”!

-gives first half of comic a quick skim through-

Bloody Hell.

If people had a hard time swallowing the bitter pill that was Thunderbirds Are Go‘s take on real world physics, I dare them to read “Solar Danger”! The danger of the sun vomiting up enough physical matter to form a meteorite-type object capable of pulverizing everything in its wake is simple enough to digest, and makes for awesomely, stupidly fun reading, but if you didn’t enjoy how Thunderbirds Are Go tackled hydron colliders, you’d best find another comic.

Nevertheless, “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy” stands tall as not just another great example of what a fine working relationship they had, but illustrates how epic the proportions of their relationship could be taken. Bellamy’s depiction of International Rescue’s mammoth space rescue craft has such depth and scale to it, resulting in a story that’s dazzling to gawp at. I could almost let the included examples speak for themselves – I’m running out of ways to describe how awesome Bellamy’s artwork is!

solar3
“Don’t you come near me waving that red poky thing in my face!”

Harley’s artwork on the other hand is, unfortunately, less impressive. Throughout “Solar Danger: Part Harley”, his take on the Thunderbird machines and the I.R. boys appear muddy and lack the intricacy of Bellamy’s renditions, but he still brings a decent level of life to Fennell’s constantly galloping script. Ironically perhaps, he fares better when doodling away at the alien landscapes of Venus, complete with bizarre vegetation and Fireball XL5-worthy monsters. Arguably, Harley’s artwork matches the speed of Bellamy’s script, with it’s attention to thick, bright colours and panel sizes that rarely stray beyond medium.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition against Bellamy’s far more direct and eerie take on Venus, but when you gaze at that ocotpus-like creature in the final panel of Bellamy’s half, which takes up almost half of the 10th instalment’s second page (and looks gorgeous against the gargantuan Thunderbird 3 on the other page), you’re bound to be left certain as to who was artist better suited to this story.

TV Century 21 #93
TV Century 21 #93

Bellamy’s script itself is a flaming fireball of fun, although the first half of “Solar Danger” fares better than the second, which has that rather tiresome plot device of International Rescue having to rescue International Rescue. “Solar Danger: Part Bellamy” also generates a genuine sense of frightening isolation for Brains and Alan as their attempts to battle against the sun puts them in life-threatening danger. There’s even a little cameo from Commander Zero and Space City!

“Solar Danger” as a whole also features plenty of action in its story for the mecha-heavy fans of Thunderbirds. All five get to shine in “Solar Danger: Part Harley” when Thunderbirds 1 and 2 have to be equipped for space in order to save Thunderbird 3 from death by alien sea monsters. Even though “Solar Danger: Part Harley” is something of a drag because of the aforementioned plot device, there’s still a lot of punch to it, but one can’t help but wonder why Jeff didn’t call for a bit more help from the World Space Patrol sintead of spending all that time kitting out Thunderbirds 1 and 2! Kinda making a plot hole into a plot crater when the W.S.P. made an earlier appearance!

solar4
I don’t think windscreen wipers are going to cut it.

But when you’ve got a story involving vomiting suns, ravenous alien monsters, and all five Thunderbirds getting some action, such balls-ups can be forgiven. It’s hard to imagine the TV show pulling this story off in screen form, which in turn gives us another example as to why TV Century 21 was such a hit. It remained extremely faithful to its source material and yet took huge plunges into the unknown, often trying to outdo what the TV show could deliver in terms of entertainment. It didn’t always succeed, but by golly it made for ruddy good reading, and “Solar Danger” is a great example of the mission TV Century 21 set out to accomplish.

Despite some jarring oddities in plot and artwork, “Solar Danger” continues to be one of the most exhilarating Thunderbirds adventures TV Century 21 ever produced. It sure ain’t perfect, and sometimes it’s a messy affair, but theirs buoyancy in the mess – it crackles with so much energy that once you’ve finished reading it, you feel the need to call International Rescue to come save yourself once they’re done on Venus.

Does “Solar Danger” get your blood pumping? Let us know in the comments section or send us a tweet! You can read “Solar Danger” in Gerry Anderson: The Vintage Comic Collection Volume 2, Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol 4: Above and Beyond, and possibly Egmont’s upcoming second collection of Thunderbirds strips!

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’!