Tag Archives: vintage comics

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!

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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!