Wednesday, 7 October 2015


First up, this is the 150th post on here.  I know this is but a drop in the ocean for some blogs but seeing as how this started out as a little fun thing to do and I wasn't even convinced my attention span (which has let me down in the past) would last a year it's quite something.  I do try to put my heart and soul into each and every one and I do hope that comes across.  Fitting them around a full-time job also means they can take a few days each, so reaching this milestone and with the feedback I've received is a big deal for me, so thanks to you all for reading.


Now back to the post proper and another very sadly short-lived comic, this time from Marvel UK and co-edited by John Freeman (alongside Harry Papadopoulos) who runs the Down the Tubes website and who asked me to review a certain 2000AD documentary recently which you can read here.  John has been great in helping me identify some of the artists in previous comics in this series and I also featured his hilarious work in the post for The Real Ghostbusters (which Harry also wrote for) with a text story he contributed to that fondly remembered title.  He's been very gracious and answered a few questions I had about this comic and his insights are scattered throughout this post.  Thanks again John.

So, the comic.  Maybe forgotten amongst many but once again fondly remembered by myself is Havoc, a weekly anthology comic featuring five action-packed strips which were strong on character and intriguing storytelling.  I was only thirteen when I happened across this brand new comic on my weekly excursion to the newsagents to see if anything popped out at me.  It was like finding the holy grail coming across a #1 and Havoc jumped out at me due to three key things, the first two being that eye-catching logo and the powerful cover:

The other was RoboCop but we'll get to him further down the post.

The cover above isn't completely indicative of what I saw when the comic caught my eye though as a free gift of a small 16-page introductory booklet was attached.  The front of this blacked out part of the main cover while maintaining the figure of the main protagonist, which was a clever and very striking way of presenting it.  I was pulled in to picking it up but flicking the first half of the booklet aside the full cover then leapt off the page and I had to have a look through the rest of this bold new comic.

What surprises me now is how the title and its monthly sister publication Meltdown were seen by its publishers.  As John explains, "When Paul Neary became Editorial Director at Marvel UK it was with the specific remit to expand the company's originated content, especially Stateside.  Paul spent some time developing the 'Marvel Genesis' project that kicked off with the first Death's Head II limited series by Dan Abnett and Liam Sharp.  Meanwhile, he also had to look at projects for the UK market to compliment existing titles and Marvel UK had a huge number, from nursery to teen, but had lost some when the company's Managing Director Robert Sutherland finally made a complete break from Marvel UK taking titles with him to Regan Publishing, which for some bizarre reason had been permitted to piggy back on Marvel UK's infrastructure for some time."

Meltdown promo on the
back of the free booklet

So with the British arm expanding its range to sell more titles in America there was a need for new ones to go with them over here too.  The main title in this assault would be Overkill, a new anthology comic with all brand new material from British creators but it'd take a while to organise so in the meantime something was needed to fill the gap.  With a mix of both licensed and original strips, all previously published in the US but never here, the two sister titles were released.  It's quite sad to hear one of my favourite comics, which I had so much hope for when it began, was seen as a stop-gap but that was the way of things at the time with Marvel UK trying to broaden its horizons and playing the long game.

John continues, "[Paul] had to be seen to be creating some new titles and that's where Havoc and Meltdown came in.  They were stop-gaps while he got the new books together, to show US bosses like Jim Galton and new Marvel UK MD Vincent Conran he was doing something."

Harsh to a fan who was left wanting when the comic abruptly ended, but fair when you take the big picture into account.  The comparison to the House of Tharg wasn't lost on me as what I saw was reminiscent of the aforementioned 2000AD but it seemed like so much more, with strips that seemed to my young mind as much bolder and more interesting to me at first glance.  The inclusion of a big licence like Mr Murphy in his robotic suit (and Conan the Barbarian too of course) also made it stand out and so I bought the first issue to try it out.  The booklet gave a great little introduction to the idea behind the comic and to each of the featured strips:

36 full-colour pages at only 55p was a bargain, especially seeing as how The Transformers had been the same price a whole two years previously and only two-thirds the size.  Add in the booklet and it seemed there was a good meaty read to get my teeth into if I enjoyed it all.  You see the thing was I really bought it for RoboCop and the main character on the cover seemed like fun, but the rest of it I had no expectations for.  I didn't think they looked boring or anything, I'd just never heard of any of them before and I'd never seen the Conan films either.  But the draw of Robo' and this new Deathlok character was enough to make me part with my pocket money to give it a shot.

A new comic was always exciting!


Well it appears Deathlok wasn't as 'new' as I'd thought at the time and had actually first appeared as far back as 1974 when his creators Rich Buckler and Doug Moench brought him to the pages of Astonishing Tales.  In 1990 the long-forgotten character was resurrected by the creative team of Dwayne McDuffie, Gregory Wright and Jackson Guice, this time for his own American comic series and it's these stories Havoc was bringing across the water to us in the UK.

The first issue had a 8-page strip entitled Test Run which saw the Deathlok cyborg kill its human brain, which had belonged to one Colonel Kelly, when it computed he was holding it back from completing its mission.  Then from #2 we were treated to the ongoing serial (and an interesting interview with the creative team) and we met Michael Collins, a pacifist professor working for a corrupt oil company which was developing the Deathlok programme for their own interests overseas.  When Collins learns of the project he's sedated and his brain injected into the machine, which is only meant to need this human organ as a means of processing the huge amounts of data it comes into contact with out in the field.  Needless to say things aren't that simple for the company.

Below are three pages from the Test Run strip showcasing how the computer and brain were meant to interact with one another before things took a rather large turn for the worse.  It's written and drawn by the creative team mentioned above, with letters by Starkings:

The oil company treats this as a minor setback in the end and goes on the hunt for a suitable donor.  In #2 of Havoc we met Collins and while this part of the strip was much lighter on the violence quota I found it fascinating at my young age to read a comic which spent just as much time developing the characters as it did the storyline and action.  Here we meet our hero for the first time in a regular family setting for example.  To a thirteen-year-old used to comics which, while they had great characters, never dealt with them in such a fashion it felt very mature and grown-up for me.  Of course I'm used to it now, but this was all new to me at the time.  Havoc was certainly an education in how comics could tell their stories in such a varied way:

Collins would end up becoming conscious while on his first mission and was able to battle to take control of the computer.  Of course, the machine still wanted to carry on with its missions in the way it felt was the most efficient and it was up to its new brain to teach it about alternatives, about being human and how not killing could be of more use.  There were some brilliantly funny exchanges between the two in the final few issues of the comic and reading the interview in #2 now as an adult there's something very 'Michael and K.I.T.T.' about the intentions of the creative team, so I really must track down the full run of the American title as that aspect was great fun for me and I'd love to see how it developed.

I'd come to the comic mainly for the other cyborg strip but I'd decided to read the comic from front-to-back instead of diving into the movie-based story and Deathlok had me hooked before I even clapped eyes on...


I remember when the first movie came out on VHS my sister and her boyfriend rented it out and convinced my mum I'd love it, while warning her of the violence and bad language.  She said she'd watch it with us (in fact the whole family sat down to watch it together) and I had to agree that if she said so, it would have to be turned off.  Her shock at the above elements soon subsided though and while she was just doing the right thing with me being a lot younger than the certificate, she ended up really loving the story!

I adored it.  I knew there was also a cartoon but I never bothered with it as I didn't understand how an adult movie would make a good cartoon for kids, but I was eager to read the monthly American comics.  However they didn't get released here in their own title which was disappointing, so you can imagine how thrilled I was that I'd get to read them every single week in Havoc now!  (Murph also popped up later as a back-up strip in Marvel UK's Punisher comic.)

The character definitely got the star treatment and this started with the mini-booklet giving him a bit more space and detail on the actual franchise itself:

Of course we can look back now and see how the killer franchise did flounder and eventually disappear after a few years but at the time he was the next big thing and as far as readers were concerned he was here to stay.  I really enjoyed the live-action TV series which came about in the mid-90s and remember my mum and I sitting down together to watch it every week when we first had satellite TV installed.  Something the series brought back which the movie sequels lacked was the comedy and social commentary and I really enjoyed this aspect of the comic, especially the newscasts:

Released in 1990 in the States the RoboCop comic ran for an impressive 23 months in the end, with the stories seemingly set between the second and third movies and they certainly played up to the futuristic setting.  In fact they may have gone too far in that regard, with hover bikes and the like featuring even in this first part of the premiere story, which jarred with the movie's 'near future' setting and how it kept things grounded in reality, despite the over-the-top nature of the story.

But character was always at the centre of RoboCop and the comic took this from the first movie and expanded on it superbly, showing an Alex Murphy in eternal conflict with his situation, and preserving his family's safety while never being able to tell them who he really is.  The TV series (and the superb reboot movie a year or two ago) carried this strong sense of characterisation forward and I'll readily admit I shed a tear as a teen at that final episode of the TV show when his dad worked it all out.  I'm straying here, but I've always been a fan of the franchise even though it can drastically leap from one extreme to the other in quality.  But the examples I've mentioned were enough to keep me a fan all these years and it was a superb trip down memory lane to read this strip again after so long.

What I didn't know at the time was the fact some of the very best of British talent were actually behind this imported strip.  Kombat Zone was written by none other than Alan Grant, with Lee Sullivan on art duties (backed up by DeMulder and White) and Starkings on letters and takes on corruption in a wild futuristic contact sport but as ever it was Murphy's own arcs which intrigued me the most.  Below are a few pages from #2's section of the story to illustrate as such:

The American strips would eventually be handed over to Simon Furman to write but unfortunately I've never been able to read his contributions.  But for more of Simon and Lee's work and to see why I was a fan of both of their's as a kid you need look no further than my Transformers post.


This one was a surprise when I read the comic the first time around.  I knew of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies but they didn't look like something I'd have enjoyed even if I had been of the right age.  As such I thought the Conan strip would be one I'd either ignore or I'd read it simply to complete each issue, but I definitely wasn't anticipating anything great.  The artwork included in his section of the booklet was impressive though:

Then I got to the strip proper and it was part one of The Frost Giant's Daughter, written by Roy Thomas from the short story by Robert E. Howard (creator of the character) and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. It was a classic tale in every respect, not only based on an original piece of Conan literature but it was also a story first published in the US by Marvel way back in 1970.  At the time I'd no idea it was an older strip compared to the others, in fact I've only just found out in researching Havoc for this!  Conan was a hugely successful comic book series for Marvel which was far different to anything else they were creating, such as endless superhero titles, and it certainly stood out.

As I said I was initially unimpressed with his inclusion but in keeping with my read-through from start-to-finish (RoboCop was actually the final strip and so the last one I read despite being the main reason I had jumped in at all) I came across this magical, mythical strip and I was transported into a mythos I wish I'd been able to read much more of.

Below is the complete inaugural part of the first (and still only) Conan tale I've ever clapped eyes on to show you what entranced me.  The setting, the speech patterns, the mystery and the adult nature of the storytelling was unlike anything I'd ever read or anything I'd expected from this comic.  It may only be one small section of the overall story but it spoke volumes to me and through his actions I was already beginning to learn a lot about this character who had been completely alien to me previously.

From a necessary evil in order to complete the whole comic to being one of the main reasons I came back for issue two, here's a very young Conan the Barbarian:

As I said it was very different to the usual Marvel fair, but then again that kind of summed up Havoc. Not a single leotard in sight, no goodie-goodies, no two-dimensional baddies and no predictable storytelling.  As John explains, "Paul definitely wanted Havoc to have a 2000AD feel despite being US reprint and aimed for that in the look and choice of strips such as Deathlok, Star Slammers and Conan.  The strips were all Paul's choices but I felt it was a good mix and as a 'dry run' for Overkill it helped us get used to Paul's working methods and the demands a weekly anthology would have."

Now if only Netflix had those Schwarzenegger movies.

While Meltdown included more in the way of features, over in my own weekly anthology Eye Level was the one-page update on everything in the worlds of comics, television and movies the editors felt the readers would be interested in.  #2 also included a separate page for the interview with the Deathlok creators, a giant fold-out poster for the character and the Eye Level focussed solely on the eagerly anticipated at the time Kevin Costner Robin Hood.  But just for some fun, and context for when the comic was released, I've included the premiere issue's entertainment news page below so you can see what we were all talking about in the summer of ol' 1991:

After enjoying Terminator: Genesis only a short month or two ago this page really does pile on the years, doesn't it?  But anyway back to the main attractions, the comic strips, and one which certainly intrigued me from the word go, even if it didn't fully live up to those first four pages.


Just like Conan above I was unaware these weren't a new addition to the Marvel line in 1991 and instead the story had been originally published back in 1983 in the US as #6 in the Marvel Graphic Novel series.  The characters wouldn't get their own ongoing comic title until 1995 via another publisher (albeit one purchased by Marvel the previous year), but here in the UK we were to be shown their antics on a weekly basis:

Basically these guys were the galaxy's greatest mercenaries and they knew it.  Commanding extortionate fees they travelled to wherever the wallet was biggest and had no loyalties other than to themselves.

Unlike with other Marvel UK comics such as Transformers, Havoc altered the amount of pages given over to each strip every week as it saw fit.  Transformers had eleven pages for each main strip per issue and so the American ones would get chopped in half at the exact midpoint, whether it was a cliffhanger or not.  With this comic though it was a much more organic process and each strip was stopped at a suitable point to entice the reader back and also to make each small chunk feel like a complete chapter.

But this also meant some would have to be curtailed to fit in, yet it all seemed to work.  So whereas RoboCop and Conan in particular had meaty debuts in the first issue, the Star Slammers only had the four pages all to themselves, but I doubt it was a matter of that being all there was leftover for them and the editors did a great job of balancing the need to finish at an appropriate point for all five comics with the limited space.  It may have been a whopping 36-page weekly comic for us readers, but to fit in five ongoing strips originally designed to come in much larger segments, while giving a satisfying stopping point for each one every time was a feat in itself.  So kudos to the team.

These first four pages were certainly a nice tease for these characters:

Unfortunately the tease ended up being the best part for me personally.  The story developed with political intrigue and double-cross after double-cross and I'm sure for many readers it proved compulsive reading, but for teenage me it lacked development in the main characters, so I didn't really care about what was happening.  I've only got the first two issues nowadays for writing this up and the first two parts aren't exactly changing my mind, but it could be different if I were to read the whole story now of course.

I could see how it may have been fun for some to read how they outwitted their opponents at every turn, often before whoever was setting them up had even tried to do so; it's certainly something which sounds like it could've been a riot to read and the storyline has much potential.  But the main protagonists left me cold, I didn't care for them and it became a strip I'd read desperately wanting to get to know them more, but as the twisty-turny plot developed further and became more complex the characters remained two-dimensional.

Such a shame as the story could've been very involving.  Certainly the rest of Havoc was so rich, so full of character and depth, even in such short bursts and another great example of this is the final strip.  Again this was the first time I'd ever heard of the character (even though my friends already had) and it was a long time before Nicholas Cage donned the leather.


The introductory booklet gave us new readers insight into what was to come and it's just as well it did, as it'd be the end of #2's strip before we'd see the Ghost Rider himself burst onto our pages and even then only on the last full-page spread.  We wouldn't see him in action until the third issue but knowing what this character looked like was enough to excite me into looking forward to the next week.

To set the scene, #1's part tells of how Dan (Daniel Ketch) and his sister Barb are set upon by a gang in a graveyard in the dead of night, after Dan has promised his older sister he'd take her to see Houdini's gravesite on Halloween Eve.  After the gang run off Dan and Barb hear a gunshot and a scream and follow the gang, thinking they're the perpetrators.  However they see the hooligans cowering in the undergrowth looking over a scene involving a masked man called Deathwatch facing down three of the Kingpin's goons.  A gun battle ensues and when Deathwatch breaks the neck of one of the men Barb screams out, giving their presence away and she's shot by crossbow.

This is how part one ends.  There's no indication of how Dan becomes the Ghost Rider, though we do know he does and it's all very serious and violent; it was like catnip for a teenage boy!  I was intrigued straight away and loved the tone and slow build-up, knowing what character was being put into place one step at a time.  You can imagine my excitement at being handed this next issue the following week by my newsagent (I'd already placed a regular order):

Each issue would feature a different character on the cover with the strip name below the Havoc title.  I dove straight into the Ghost Rider strip first and wasn't to be left disappointed!

Below are the final pages of part two of Life's Blood written by Howard Mackie, with art by Javier Saltares, Mark Texeira and Gregory Wright and lettering by Michael Heisler.  With his identity compromised, the Deathwatch sets his men out to kill Dan, who is carrying his injured sister into the nearby scrapyard where he comes across something... strange:

At last!  Turning the page to be met by that final image was breathtaking and again I was left gagging for the next part of Ghost Rider, not only eager to see how he'd dispatch of the men responsible for shooting his sister, but also to find out more about the character and the story behind him.  Researching this week I discovered the reason the movies tell such a different story is because they're based on the original supernatural Ghost Rider (though there was a Western one before that) and Dan's strip was a 1990s sequel.  The motorbike above had been possessed by a Spirit of Vengeance (sound familiar?) and the series would continue to explore links to the previous character, but to me he was the original as I'd never heard of the comic before this.

Unfortunately I wasn't to see how those links or the character would develop.


It was so exciting to see the origins of both Ghost Rider and Deathlok and I was certainly locked in as a reader now and knew I'd found a brand new comic I'd stick with for a long time.  I was already a huge fan and as the weeks rolled on I became more and more engrossed in the worlds of these characters, but then #10 didn't appear on Saturday morning as per usual.  I thought it was running late, but as the days of the week came and went it still didn't arrive.  Actually, it was never to arrive.

Back to John; "I'm not sure what the sales on Havoc and Meltdown were now, but they weren't by any means great.  As I said though, both were in some ways stop-gap titles while Paul planned his real salvo of both US format comics and a UK format anthology (Overkill).  That said, they weren't doomed to fail but their success wasn't necessarily seen as vital.  I just think Paul [only] saw Overkill, which was trailed in the last issue of Meltdown (albeit still unnamed), along with the Genesis project.  It was a shame Havoc was simply cancelled without warning, but internally at Marvel UK it served a purpose as 'proof of concept' if not content.  It certainly wasn't the first MUK title to be hatched and dispatched without warning down the years.  Both titles helped lay the groundwork editorially for the real project, so although they were short-lived they helped the company's approach to what Paul saw as the real prize."

Again, it's quite disheartening to hear how one of my very favourite comics of my youth, which I felt had such potential (I was also keen to see what other strips would be included in the future) and to which I was already devoted, was seen by Marvel UK and such a shame it only lasted two short months.  But for those nine weeks it was a pleasure to read and a hugely enjoyable experience.

Now if only the next comic my young self would begin collecting could last a bit longer than some of the ones I'd chosen before!


I'd nothing to worry about when just a couple of months later another brand new comic appeared and this time it was back to Fleetway once again.  Thankfully this time it was a huge success and I was happily able to collect it for nearly two years before I moved on.  But what kids' comic could contain such technical detail as below and keep us gripped from one fortnight to the next?:

Find out in a fortnight!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015



As soon as 1990 began one of the biggest crazes of my youth hit CBBC.  A brand new cartoon featuring four reptilian mutants who happened to be trained in the way of the ninja and who would increase the number of pizza parlours across the land.  Along with their rat master and their all-American lingo the four "heroes-in-a-half-shell" won the hearts of children everywhere and became the number one show, number one toy range, number one... well, everything!

Not bad for four teenagers:

The TV show originally aired in the States in 1987 with a five-part story acting as a pilot for a possible series.  Proving massively popular it was picked up for the 1988/89 season but they didn't arrive on these shores until January 1990.  These days this is unheard of, when selfish pirates and illegal streamers could damage a property and its possible future if there's any form of delay, but in the 80s we didn't have to worry about that and so we could all enjoy the launch together.  Enjoy it we did!

Based on the original black-and-white TMNT comic created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird which had proved only moderately successful up to this point, the cartoon series lightened the darker tone up considerably and changed a lot of the background elements in doing so.  Splinter's backstory had been that of a pet rat belonging to disgraced ninja teacher Hamato Yoshi, but in the cartoon he was Hamato Yoshi before the mutagen transformed him and some baby turtles someone had flushed down the sewers.  In the cartoon they immediately mutated into teenagers while in the comic Splinter had raised them by hand.  Krang, the alien brain we all remember from the cartoon also wasn't in the comic though a similar alien race was, the Turtles were now referenced by their full artists'  names rather than shortened nicknames and another example was the Foot Soldiers; robots in the cartoon, teenage delinquents in the comic.  Both scenarios may sound familiar because interestingly the first live-action movie in 1990, which was very much produced thanks to the success of the cartoon, changed these elements back.  I remember thinking the movie had changed things, or was incorrect at times, but I now know this wasn't the case.

However a couple more changes were to happen before the cartoon reached British shores, contributing to the wait being even longer.

While I haven't watched or read anything to do with the franchise since those early days, the recent live-action movie has proved popular (and I really must get around to watching it!), a sequel is in the works and for years now there's been various cartoon and comic incarnations all baring the name "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".  But that's not how we knew them.  To us they were originally the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

The word "Ninja" was deemed too violent for British and many European audiences when it came to cartoon heroes and so the title was altered along with the wording of the theme music and Michelangelo's nunchakus were edited out of every episode of the cartoon, even though they'd still appear in the toy line and in the comic for the most part.  Even the movie released that same year with the original title had quite a lot trimmed from it for the cinema and video releases.  So much so that many moons later around the year 2005 when I bought it on DVD, even though so much time had passed I noticed a raft of extra bits added back in again!

Not that any of this mattered at the time of course (though the ending of the movie had felt rushed and a bit confusing and we didn't know why), we loved every second of what we were allowed to watch and within four short weeks of the beginning of the series a brand new comic had already appeared on the shelves from Oink! publishers Fleetway.  Entitled Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures it was a 32-page fortnightly comic on very odd-shaped paper.  As tall as our piggy publication but a good deal thinner horizontally, this strangely tall, thin comic made for a unique look and feel, like it was even taller than its actual size, which made it feel like something unique and special:

The only non-comic strip page from #1

Just like Marvel UK's The Transformers the Turtles comic would alternate between bringing us the American strips and originated British material.  Unlike The Transformers however the British strips paled in comparison, for me anyway, and I couldn't wait until the next story from the USA.

In America alongside the original dark TMNT a comic entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures appeared, which was directly tied into the TV series.  Starting off with a three-issue mini-series which told the story of those pilot episodes across five chapters these were our first experiences of the Turtles in comic format.  Fleetway's first issues had no features and simply contained thirty pages of strip action, meaning we got the same chapters of varying length to this adaptation in each of our first three issues too.  Reading it now it rattles along and is light on characterisation and overly simplifies the fight scenes but I can remember loving this first issue in particular and reading it over and over.

Below are four pages where Splinter explains the origin tale to April O'Neil, their new reporter friend and I recall being particularly impressed with the mutation image on the second page here.  Adapted from the teleplays by David Weiss and Patti Howeth, the comic strip version was written by Michael Dooney who also pencilled the artwork.  Inks are by Dave Garcia, letters by Steve Lavigne and it's all coloured by Barry Grossman.  Here is a small section from part one of Heroes in a Half-Shell!:

The American comic strips were excellent at switching between the ninja action and the comedy at a moment's notice.  Below are four pages from later in the same issue which show you exactly what I mean.  April has got herself caught while investigating (something she had a habit of doing) and the turtles, in hilariously bad disguises, are searching for her in The Big Apple.  A deserted Big Apple I might add.  This was something which was glaringly obvious in the cartoons, the City That Never Sleeps was always handily empty whenever our heroes had to go above ground.

But anyway, back to the matter at hand.  As I mentioned above the Foot Soldiers had been changed to robots as part of lightening up the comic for TV and here's the comic book adaptation of their first encounter with the fantastic foursome, with some nice little quips thrown in for good measure and their first sighting of the mysterious Shredder, also played for laughs:

I loved everything about this comic from the very start, right down to the unique page shape and size it all screamed out as something special.  It was rare for a British comic to have cover-to-cover strips when usually they'd only take up a certain amount of space while the rest of the pages were filled with features and extra bits and bobs.  I placed a regular order and after those first three issues the comic moved on to publishing the regular monthly American strips every fortnight.  I was hooked, I even drew a picture of Michelangelo for it while babysitting one night and sent it in, but then with #15 something changed which should've been for the better.

British strips.  These first came to us in four special Poster Mag issues which instead of being the regular 32-pages in length folded out into a giant poster with a new story on the rear.  Obviously the American strips simply wouldn't fit so native creators to these islands brought us four one-off stories, which I remember as not that great, being too light and fluffy and feeling like filler material to prop up the poster.  I didn't really mind though, they were special issues and with #19 we were back to the original format and more from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures strips from across the pond.

The American comic had diverged from the cartoon early on and gone down its own storytelling route with exclusive story arcs, its own recurring guest characters and a darker feel to it than the cartoon which saw it sideline Krang, Rocksteady and Bebop completely to concentrate on developing a darker and more honour-bound Shredder.  It never went back to the imagery of the original comic and kept itself strictly within the TV series' Turtles universe but it was definitely a grittier take while keeping the humour and flavour of what it was based on.  They were great stories and really felt like they were adding further depth to what we watched every week on the Beeb.

But from #21 the British strips returned and would alternate with their American cousins for page space.  Apart from the odd occasion when the imported strips ran for two issues in a row we'd mainly get a full American strip one issue, then two smaller one-off British ones the next.  But unlike The Transformers comic where the British strips added to the ongoing stories and eventually branched out into their own epics, these homegrown Turtles strips were a pale imitation of what we got to read from the USA and it was the need to go through these stories every-other-issue which led me to cancel my order less than a year into the run.

Now this might sound sacrilegious to readers of a blog which has spent these past few years celebrating the very best of British comics talent, and which recently has gone wild for the excellent UK creators who worked on the previous titles in the Beyond Oink! series.  So stopping my Turtles collection for this reason may sound just plain weird.  But I'll show you what I mean below.

However, let me skip forward a bit first.  It'd been about a year-and-a-half since I'd bought a single issue but I was still watching the cartoon and had really enjoyed the movies, so one day I wanted a comic to read and with my pocket money in hand I walked up and down the newsagents' shelves looking for something and decided I'd give the comic another go, even though it was an issue with two of the British strips.  This was that issue and while I had to buy the premiere edition above from eBay for this post, this issue below is my original copy:

For whatever reason I ended up not actually reading it all until a few weeks later, I forget why.  I'd read one of the strips and then a whole month passed before I picked it up again, to read in school during some free time we were being given that day and I can distinctly remember sitting and reading it and getting the shock of my life.  Why?  Patience...

First, let's have a look at the first of the two strips.  Called Robowar!, written by James Nicholas and drawn by Alonso, it's a 14-page complete story featuring Splinter and Krang's plan to use robots to infiltrate banks and steal the city's wealth.  However the robots are all distinctly humanoid with no special powers for the specific job they were created for and may as well have been the Foot Soldiers, and the Turtles win far too easily by simply reprogramming them in a matter of moments while the bag guys seemingly wait patiently.  The strip then ends with the supposedly fearsome Krang and Shredder sweeping the streets of New York while the Turtles make a corny gag.

The main thing about these strips was that they were very clearly aimed at a younger reader.  While the American ones were based on the cartoon and weren't as dark as the original comic, they were still written for the teenage fans who were surely the main audience given these were teenage turtles.  However whereas they were also suitable for smaller readers, the British ones felt very much like they were being written solely for a much younger group.

Plus British writers trying to write American teen lingo was painful!  A case in point is the (over)use of the word "geek" on this first page:

This jarring of the two different styles of strip didn't sit well with me or some of my friends who also collected it; one of them even cancelled his regular order and just picked up the ones featuring the ongoing American stories and arcs.  I'm not one to just sit here criticising, I'm very aware of who they were aimed at and I'm sure plenty of the younger readers really enjoyed them, they were of great quality for comics aimed at the younger market after all, so I won't take that away from them.  But to our age group they were just too simplistic and throwaway for us.

So anyway, back to sitting in that classroom and after being disappointed with the first strip I casually flipped the page, glanced down and gasped at what was on the bottom of the first of two letters/pictures pages:

I'd had no idea this was in it, so while the rest of the comic didn't change my mind about collecting it, obviously I was thrilled I'd decided to give it one more go!  That's why this issue has been in my possession ever since while the rest were given away, and to think it'd also sat in my bedroom for nearly a month while I unknowingly ignored it.  It was a hell of a coincidence picking up this one issue, especially given the length of time since I'd drawn the thing!

I was chuffed and eventually, after the comic got passed around a lot, I settled in to read the second strip, buoyed by the inclusion of my drawing.

I soon realised though the British strips hadn't really progressed any since the year before.  The second story was called Computer Chaos and was written by Andrew W. Donkin and Graham S. Brand, with the artwork by Morale.  The first few pages sets up a somewhat interesting premise of Shredder taking over the Wall Street computer systems, with his face plastered across every screen and locking out the traders.  Surely younger kids would have limited interest in that and we were going to get a slightly older-feeling adventure at last?  Nope, a page or two later and the old cliche of strapping a metal band around the heroes' heads and wiring them into a computer 'transported' them into a digital world to fight robotic-looking "machine coders" and "computer bytes", but not after jumping on a digital number and surfing it across the cyberspace.

Seriously.  I remember sitting there thinking this was ridiculous and what on earth did it have to do with the ancient fighting and honour elements of the Turtles; remember in the first story they'd won by reprogramming some robots far too easily as well.  Not exactly ninja-y!  Reading it now as an adult those same feelings came flooding back and reading only these two issues for this post they really are worlds apart in terms of what their target audience seemed to be:

Did you also notice the British strips have Mikey fighting bare-handed (or not at all) so as not to include those pesky nunchakus?  Even though they were there in every fight scene of the American strips.  That one element kind of highlights the problem with the comic.  The American strips were still continuing in the issues either side of this and I'm left wondering what on earth Fleetway were playing at.  Did they even read the stories they were importing so they could work out their own original contributions accordingly?  Did they know what to do with this unique martial arts-based and very American property?

It made for a comic of two distinct halves but it was definitely a success for those who didn't mind the mix and for those younger readers too of course.  As it turns out only two issues later the last British strips would appear, then the comic turned monthly from #73 onwards so that it could print the American strips without the need of new material at a time when the British comics industry was facing a bit of a crisis.  It also changed its front cover design to reflect this by using a top-corner boxout on the cover US comics like so much.  In addition all the covers from that point on were reused from those comics (including many by original Turtles co-creator Peter Laird) instead of the original British ones used up to that point.  Not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as how often the American strips would have a bright, cheery and quite childish cover in complete contrast with the darker contents within.

The comic lasted right through to #84 in January 1994 which isn't bad at all!  However it just ended.  No big finale, it just stopped with the story from #51 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures title, which continued in the States for another twenty-one months right up to October 1995!

It's certainly a little oddity in the history of British comics.  It's shape and size made it great fun to read the main ongoing storyline from the US and certainly those issues were simply superb, among my very favourite comics from my youth.  But by that stage I was now in grammar school and the homegrown strips just didn't feel like they were properly thought out in advance to accompany the imports, ultimately putting me off collecting the comic for its whole run.

Such a shame, as Fleetway could easily have had their own Transformers on their hands here, but I'm sure they were still very happy with the sales and the length of time the comic was published for.


Definitely a bit of a change of direction from the comics I'd collected before.  A mix of original and licenced characters made this anthology title a hit with me from the start.  I had never read anything like this!  It was certainly not what I expected from the usually squeaky-clean Marvel and that intrigued me as soon as I saw the first issue.  Surely this one would last?  Alas, no.  So I'm back in a fortnight to shed light on another forgotten title.  See you then.