Tag Archives: Vintage

Stingray: “The Monster Weed”

Original run: TV21 #62 – #71

Artist: Ron Embleton

Writer: Dennis Hooper

2417082-tv_century_21_v1965_063__1966__pagecover
TV21 #63

Everyone, stop what you’re doing! Put down your Matchbox figures and tuck away those lovely first edition TV21s – We’ve found a Stingray strip that isn’t, repeat ISN’T, total tosh! That’s right dudes, despite this strip’s title, “The Monster Weed”, sounding like yet another Stingray comic story that fails to rise anything above dull, b-movie fodder, this strip is a rollicking read, full of well-crafted action, sensible plotting and genuine adventure.

If anything, “The Monster Weed” bleeds its b-movie tactics dry, using all the enthusiasm it can out of a plot involving a rogue drum containing experimental chemicals falling from outer space into the Earth’s ocean floor, and the results speak for themselves! Both the World Aquanaut Security Patrol and Titan race to prevent the resulting mutating seaweed from falling into each other’s hands.

monsterweed1Oddly enough, the story doesn’t get off to that promising a start. A Fireball XL5-esque scenario, involving a rogue duo intent on stealing agricultural chemicals from under the government’s noses, has to allow the plot to happen. However, the fact that this story starts off in outer space suggests that even the TV21 crew didn’t have faith in the eerie, mystical depths of the underwater worlds Stingray lived in to be a solid draw. Instead, they go for the depths of space. Still, it’s a short-lived set-up that doesn’t hamper the strip, and allows “The Monster Weed” to hit the ground running.

There’s a terrific sense of danger to the mixture of enemies the Stingray crew face in this strip. The WA.S.P.s are caught in a dizzying scramble against the weed and Titan’s forces, who gleefully takes advantage of the substance, using it as his ultimate gateway to crushing Troy Tempest by acquiring the weed himself, and utilizes it in an attempt to swallow Marineville.

The messy nature of the plot may not stand up well against the more well-crafted plots of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet or Zero-X, but its enthusiasm is a welcome departure from previous Stingray strips. Artist Ron Embleton is in vigorous form too, illuminating the monster weed with a masculine roughness that recalls Frank Bellamy‘s apocalyptic space creature in the classic Thunderbirds strip “Solar Danger”.

monsterweed2Continuity buffs will find much to delight in “The Monster Weed” too. The rarely seen sea vessel Sea Leopard gets plenty of page space, although Marina is curiously absent from the whole affair… Other high-points include a non-bumbling Agent X20, who shows us what a dastardly spy he can be when he has his character’s sense of camp removed, and a showcase for Stingray itself as a source of breakneck adventure.

Admittedly, “The Monster Weed” isn’t all dandy thrills and spills. Nine instalments of intense, multi-layered plotting are resolved in the space of one last chapter, offering a rushed and all too neat conclusion to a story who’s biggest charm is its enjoyable mess. There are some admittedly gorgeous scenes of Stingray blowing up a small army of Terror Fish (who doesn’t love Stingray grappling with Terror Fish, after all?), suggesting that where the script ran out of room on the pages, the artwork made up for.

TV21 #66
TV21 #66

Still, “The Monster Weed” is easily the best Stingray strip we’ve covered so far on Operation Megaventures, and its long overdue. Its frantic urgency, although a trait shared by the majority of the spritely-paced strips in TV21, feels like the perfect antidote to the inconsequential fodder of “The Ghosts of Station Seventeen” and the sluggish “Escape from Aquatraz”.  “The Monster Weed”‘s energetic nature may be attributed to the script possibly being written by Dennis Hooper and not TV21 regular Alan Fennell, but whoever penned the story clearly had the right ideas in mind.

Though the plot is in danger of collapsing in on itslef with its own enthusiasm, “The Monster Weed” deftly balances the natural and the unnatural against Stingray that exudes a pulpy menace that made these comic strips such a delight.

Have you read “The Monster Weed”? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments section! You can read “The Monster Weed” in Egmont’s The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection and Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 2!

Zero-X: “Mission to Saturn”

Original run: TV21 #122 – #129

Writer: Angus P. Allan

Artist: Mike Noble

TV21 #123
TV21 #123

Fans are forever thankful that Zero-X got a far better run in comic book form than it did on the big screen, and its debut adventure was one of TV21‘s most stirring strips ever! What’s even better is that the initial sense of high thrills and riveting adventure wasn’t just a one off. Zero-X‘s third TV21 adventure, “Mission to Saturn”, doesn’t quite have the scope of the two-part epic “Return to the Red Planet”/”Prisoners of the Star”, but it’s still a fine entry in the Zero-X saga, and an oddly timeless tale of malfunctioning technology that other Anderson series failed to ouch upon.

“Mission to Saturn” begins with the Zero-X boys gearing up for another deep-space mission, this time to the second largest planet in the Solar System. The nutty professor Brian Trent and his Brainman-esque invention, a mobile computer capable of collecting and analysing data, are joining them for the mission, which has Captain Paul Travers uneasy. The team’s mission soon becomes compromised when Trent’s computer becomes sentient, acting on orders transmitting directly from Saturn itself! A routine mission becomes a desperate fight for survival for both the Zero-X crew and their enemy…

When people as me why I love Mike Noble, I show them this!
When people as me why I love Mike Noble, I show them this!

“Mission to Saturn” develops the marriage of internal conflict and outside enemy for the Zero-X crew, and condenses it down into a snappier affair than “Return to the Red Planet”/”Prisoners of the Star”, but thanks to the lightning-speed pacing of TV21, looses none of its drive.

Much of the strip’s internal conflict is derived from the insane Trent hell-bent on letting his contraption take them into the depths of Saturn, which perhaps weaken’s the story’s impact. Character development was not the reason one regularly bought TV21 back in the day, and Zero-X is perhaps the prime example of this. Trent plays his clichéd role of crazed scientist one found in all manners of retro sci-fi entertainment down to a T.

It’s fortunate for us then that “Mission to Saturn” never lets up on the action. After tangoing with the sentient techmobile contraption, the Zero-X crew find themselves at the mercy of yet anther self-aware technology, one that’s evolved from a deceased alien race and driven by a mad desire for survival by any means necessary. The simple act of these aliens capturing both the Zero-X crew and ship becomes a platform for some fantastic retro-futuristic proto-Star Wars space battles TV21 was well known for.

The computer aliens who the Zero-X crew come up against in the finale bear a striking resemblance in their concept to the Mysterons,  (even though such a back-story wouldn’t come until later for the Mysterons) but that lack of originality doesn’t detract from “Mission to Saturn”‘s cautious message about human beings’ over-reliance of technology. Both Trent and the alien civilisation allow themselves to become one with technology, although its debatable how the Zero-X gang managed to figure how exactly the alien menace had transformed from neutral beings to corrupt computers.

TV21 #126
TV21 #126

The Captain Scarlet connection is strengthened by “Mission to Saturn”‘s grim finale, in which both Trent and the alien civilisation meet a deadly fate in an extreme form of out-of-control technology. They become encased in an icy tomb, as if nature reclaims them from their mechanical selves.

“Mission to Saturn” remains a taut, gruesome tale of technology’s ability to overpower its creator. The fact that you’re reading this review online shows that the strip’s message remains as true as ever! Combined with some spectacular action and artwork (was Mike Noble ever on bad form?), it all makes for a top class TV21 adventure.

Have you read “Mission to Saturn”? Did it make you turn away from your laptops or smartphones? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Mission to Saturn” in Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Vol. 4: Above and Beyond!

And many thanks to Thunderbirds Are Go writer Peter Briggs for making this episode of Operation Megaventures possible!

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: “Brains is Dead”

Original run: TV21 #162 – #167

Writer: Scott Goodall

Artist: Frank Bellamy

#162
TV21 #162

Brains is murdered! The Thunderbirds are destroyed! Tracy Island sinks! Jeff lamps one right up the Hood’s conk! I should probably apologize if you’re unfamiliar with TV21 and all those spoilers have ruined this particular Thunderbirds strip for you. In all honesty however, given the very name of this strip, one almost feels like they can say whatever they like about it without worrying about those dratted spoilers.

But spoilers aside, “Brains is Dead” is another pretty darn tootin’ encapsulation of how the TV21 comics did things the TV shows couldn’t. Unfortunately, “Brains is Dead” is dragged to almost subterranean levels due to Scott Goodall‘s convoluted script and unfamiliarity with Thunderbirds. We’ve covered a handful of Goodall-penned Thunderbirds strips – “The Antarctic Menace”, a weirdly violent strip yet strong all the same. “Revolt on Jupiter”, solid enough, but would probably have been better off as a Fireball XL5, Zero-X or Captain Scarlet strip. And lastly, “The Earthquake Maker”, a fairly bog standard Thunderbirds adventure, but one I hold close to my heart as it was my first ever experience of TV21!

Well if you're not going to bother SOUNDING like Brains then Gordon will probably think he is indeed still dead!
Well if you’re not going to bother SOUNDING like Brains then Gordon will probably think he is indeed still dead!

“Brains is Dead” stands as yet another entertaining enough outing for the Tracy family, but someone really should have sat Goodall down with the series bible and make sure he was glued to it from cover to cover! As the title implies, Brains is seemingly electrocuted at the hands of the villainous Hood, but just like a 1960s rapscallion, the Hood has a far more devious plan up his sleeve, one that involved the near-total destruction of Tracy Island!

For all the notoriety this strip has for a member of International Rescue seemingly being killed off, it’s the invasion of Tracy Island that makes this story such fun. Frank Bellamy, ever the legend, takes Goodall’s clunky script and pumps as much life into it as he can. His depictions of the Hood and his menacing army (when did the Hood find the time to recruit one of them anyway?) blasting away sections of Tracy Island are to die for!

However, Goodall’s script remains downright dodgy. Unlike the Stingray strips, which were often simply not that exciting, Goodall’s script is riddled with plot-holes. One of the biggest ones for me is when Jeff and Kyrano discuss launching Thunderbird 4 to go after the Hood’s army once their attack on Tracy Island reaches an interlude. The villains have succeeded in damaging Thunderbird 2, leaving Kyrano perplexed as to how TB4 can be launched. He’s adamant that TB4 can’t be put into action without TB2, meaning that he and Jeff have to drag Pod 2 (yep, Pod 2, not Pod 4!) to the beach and send TB4 off from there.

bid2
Devious artwork with devious character lets you know how devious he is!

Goodall clearly missed “Terror in New York City”, as an awful lot of fuss is made in getting TB4 to as close to the beach as possible! Likewise, he seems to think Tracy Island is completely lacking in any female influence whatsoever, as Tin-Tin and Grandma aren’t seen or heard of at all. “Brains is Dead” is littered with moments like the above, including moments where characters’ personalities just don’t match up to their TV counterparts (just look at how much fun Kyrano has with that laser gun!), a lack of familiarity with the internal running of International Rescue (Scott and Virgil are seen just chilling out in their uniforms), and unresolved moments in the story itself. The biggest of these is probably whatever becomes of Alan. The Hood’s army manages to obliterate TB3 mid-launch, but we never know if Alan survived!

Even the Hood’s plan has more holes than the M21 during rush hour. Why does he disguise himself as Brains? Where did that pair of glasses come from that Gordon treads on? Does the Hood really have to dispose of Brains completely once he discovers Tracy Island? And has mentioned, where, why and how does the Hood has a heavily armed group of mercenaries prepared to do his bidding?

TV21 #167
TV21 #167

“Brains is Dead” stands apart from other TV21 strips for all the wrong reasons. It has some interesting and exciting ideas, but its execution is nothing short of a shambles. Bellamy does what he can, but it’s almost as if his glorious artwork only highlights everything that doesn’t work with Goodall’s story. I wouldn’t blame you if you chose to give this Thunderbirds adventure a miss.

Is “Brains is Dead” not high up on your list of favourite Thunderbirds strips either? Let us know in the comments section below! You can read “Brains is Dead” in Egmont’s Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Vol. 1, Egmont’s Thunderbirds Comic Vol. 2 and Ravette Books’ Thunderbirds: Shockwave!

Stingray: “Escape from Aquatraz” Part 2: “The Uranium Plant Invasion”

Original run: TV Century 21 #38 – #44

Writer: Alan Fennell

Artist: Ron Embleton

TV Century 21 #38
TV Century 21 #38

Oh Stingray. Stingray, Stingray, Stingray. Why was it that Thunderbirds, Zero-X, Fireball XL5 and Captain Scarlet got all the wondrous badassery in their TV 21 adventures, but you got stuck with a chunk of sub-par adventures that somehow showed a lot of promise and excitement, but for some reason fell flat on their faces nearly 100% of the time?

“Escape from Aquatraz”, the epic saga spanning two individual stories across 27 pages, was an adventure full of explosive action, human drama, and even the close Titan ever came to eliminating the World Aquanaut Security Patrol from his map for conquering the land people. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find a lot to get my blood pumping in Part 1 of this saga. However, “Escape from Aquatraz”‘s second chapter, “The Uranium Plant Invasion”, has a lot more going for it than the previous episode, but is not entirely without sin.

u1Spiralling out from the events of “Aquatraz”, Marshal Ketov suspends Commander Shore from duty after he’s captured by Titan. Fortunately, Troy and Phones managed to free Ketov, but that doesn’t stop Marinville nearly going up in smoke when its leader is relieved of duty. Meanwhile, Titan sets to work fusing his Terror Fish with the atomic power found in the captured Bathescape he stole from Ketov in “Aquatraz”, preparing a full-scale assault on the world!

Woah woah woah, wait there a second… Am I right in thinking we actually got a pretty awesome set-up for a Stingray story… in a TV 21 comic?! What is this mad bullsh*ttery? If you wanted a decent Stingray story, you stuck to the TV show! Or maybe the John Theydon novels, but perhaps that’s for another blog.

41So, does the set-up of “The Uranium Plant Invasion” fully deliver? Well, kinda. But for a Stingray strip in TV 21, ‘kinda’ was the best we could ever hope for.

The dueling plots of Titan assembling an unstoppable army of Terror Fish and Commander Shore being stripped of his position make for enticing reading, but it’s debatable whether both these stories are handled in a well enough manner. The resolution to Commander Shore’s sub-plot feels a little too quick to have any real impact on the story, almost as if once it is resolved, then the strip can begin its actual story.

The strip’s main plot is a growling beast of a build-up to a promising finale, showing Titan finally delivering on his world-domination ambitions. He successfully captures a humongous W.A.S.P. base full of the stuff needed to advance his cause, and uses it to develop a terrifyingly powerful armada of Terror Fish. During the first few instalments, this plot easily scuppers the Commander Shore on trial story, and displays Titan with a genuine sense of menace.

On the other hand, one could argue that these two plots interweave in and out of each other playfully, and both finish in each other’s laps ready for the big finale, which sadly also feels a little rushed. In a nutshell, Titan’s captured uranium workers are forced to galvanise the Terror Fish’s capabilities, but it takes Troy to tell them to adjust their uranium formulas ever so slightly so that Stingray may have the upper hand.

u2That’s all well and good, but it basically amounts to the fact that out of a town-sized uranium plant (yep, that’s how the strip itself describes the complex) full of workers, not one of them knew that by changing their methods they could beat Titan? And the person to let them know this was someone who DIDN’T work with uranium?!

Ron Embleton also fails to make a significant impact on the strip. There isn’t any of the iconic panelling that Frank Bellamy or Mike Noble gave their various Anderson strips. However, he still gleefully gambles across the story with his simple yet thick and glossy artwork, but that can’t save the anti-climactic feel “The Uranium Plant Invasion” has.

Overall, this and the “Escape from Aquatraz” adventure as a whole aren’t really bad, they’re simply disappointing, because we’re given such fruitful beginnings that ultimately turn sour, and leave a bitter after-taste. Would “Escape from Aquatraz” have worked better not being a two-parter? Perhaps, but given Stingray‘s reputation in TV 21, we may be pushing ourselves.

Have you read “The Uranium Plant Invasion”? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet! You can read “The Uranium Plant Invasion” in Stingray – Battle Stations and Century 21 Vol. 3: Escape from Aquatraz!

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!