Wednesday, 21 October 2015

#10: THUNDERBIRDS THE COMIC

<< GO TO PART NINE: HAVOC

In my early teens I was aware of old (as I would've referred to them back then) children's programmes from the 60s made with puppets which were meant to be full of action and adventure and I had vague memories of Stingray as a much younger child.  However in 1991 BBC Two decided to give over their 6pm Friday night slot to a complete rerun of Thunderbirds and so one Friday evening my mum, dad and myself sat down to watch something other than news programmes.  A little while later and I was buying videos of the movies, building model kits and plastering my wall with the most fantastic posters from a brand new comic:


It was one of the very, very few programmes allowed to be on instead of the news at that time, and only one of two which didn't result in complaints from my dad because my parents liked watching it too.  (The other programme was Saved by the Bell: The College Years, just in case you're wondering.)  What grabbed me the most was the imagination on display and the suspense!  Yes, this was all done with puppets and the most fantastic models you ever did see, but the stories had such great pacing and the guest characters were so well written and acted we cared about what happened to them; it just grabbed you.  I can remember breathing in sharply towards the end of the first episode when Virgil's attempt at rescuing the crashing Fireflash jet seemed like it was about to fail and I knew at that moment the show was going to be a firm favourite.  (So also was Randall & Hopkirk: Deceased which was on straight after.)

As I said the imagination used to create these was second-to-none and I loved how the vehicles, Thunderbirds craft and otherwise, all felt like they were real, with real weight behind them in a real world.  The fact this near-thirty-year-old puppet show had me so enthralled was testament to its quality.  Obviously I sat firmly in its main target audience, but my parents kept coming back every week too, out of choice and not because there was nothing else to watch.  It appealed to all ages and was a runaway success all over again.  It's incredible to think a series of repeats of a much older programme could generate such excitement to the degree Thunderbirds did, with the craze in the 90s being phenomenally huge and generating such a vast amount of merchandise for the kids all over again.

BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO MY COMICS READING

For myself, 1991 had begun with three regular comics in the 'B45 Boyce' box at the newsagents'.  Then I stopped collecting Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures early in the year for the reasons outlined in the post from four weeks ago, I stopped my order for The Real Ghostbusters in July '91 so I could collect Havoc, and The Transformers had by that stage turned from weekly back to fortnightly and would continue as such until January 1992 and its final issue.  With Havoc having been cancelled I was now only reading the Robots in Disguise until Thursday 17th October when I picked up my first edition of Commodore Format (#14) in anticipation of getting my brand spanking new Commodore 64 computer that Christmas.  This was my first introduction to magazines and I was hooked on this exciting format.  More on that at the end of the post and in the next Beyond Oink!.

But then two days later I went to collect the Saturday newspapers for my parents and spotted the first edition of the new Thunderbirds comic and it took some convincing to be allowed to get it.  After all my parents had just spent a whopping £2.25 on Commodore Format which they knew I was really enjoying and I was still getting The Transformers.  But they relented and I went back and bought it.  Havoc aside there'd been nothing else new to intrigue me in a while but this comic just seemed so damn exciting!

But before we get into that, last time I teased as to what this latest Beyond Oink! title would be and it seemed to stump most, but not all.  Before we carry on then here's that very technical jargon in context.  A context it seems most of you would never have guessed; they were the technical specifications of none other than Thunderbird One:


As the comic continued I stuck these up along the very top edge of my bedroom walls until they went all the way around the entire space.  It made for rather difficult reading when people saw them, but they looked absolutely spectacular.  We'll get to more of them below, but let's take a look at the comic as a whole first.

COMICS ARE GO

Believe it or not this was the first time Thunderbirds had had their very own ongoing title.  When the series originally aired they were the main stars of TV21 comic for a while, later getting their own one-off specials in the early 80s, but they'd never been the stars of their own regular title.  With them due to return Fleetway stepped up and commissioned a brand new fortnightly Thunderbirds The Comic and it was to end up becoming a large part of the franchise's history.  Hugely successful it ran for an impressive 89 fortnightly editions right up to March 1995.  Not bad at all considering the series only had 32 episodes in total and so had finished its BBC run about halfway through the comic's first year.

A highly impressive team was brought together to assemble the comic with none other than a writer of the series on board as the editor!  Alan Fennell had written ten of those stories I'd loved so much on the TV and on top of that had edited TV21 when the Thunderbirds had first become a cultural phenomenon.  Of course at the time I was none the wiser for any of this but what I did know was how high a quality this comic was and it just felt 'different' to any other licensed ones out there.

Silly jokes page aside (called Parker's Punchlines) it was packed with excellent material front-to-back.  Printed on higher grade, thicker paper than its contemporaries it was made up of twenty-four full-colour pages with usually three strips, an editorial page, letters page and the cutaways.  This latter feature was also accompanied by a strip page of some sort tying in with the image and a character profile or story.  To begin with the strips were all reprints of those from TV21 and this was absolutely fine by me.  I may not have known of where they originated but it was clear they were classic strips from the first time around for International Rescue.

Drawn unbelievably well by Frank Bellamy they always came in two-page chapters and depending on the issue we'd get anything from one chapter to a handful per story each time, each chapter still beginning with its original title and recap.  Below is one such example from The Earthquake Maker complete with some truly dynamic illustrations of the Thunderbird craft.  To begin with it was a bit jarring how Tracy family were drawn with facial dimensions similar to the puppets while anyone else was more realistically, but I soon got used to it and was swept up in all the action:


The strips were always referred to as "Picture Stories" which gave the whole thing a lovely retro feel in keeping with the whole premise being one from a few decades previous.  The stories may have been reprints to begin with but the covers certainly were not and some amazing talent was drafted in to paint some exceptional images to draw potential readers in, or to get those of us who were already regulars all excited by what was inside.  Below is the second issue's cover by Steve Kyte which draws upon what happened to Thunderbird 1 and Thunderbird 2 in the strip above to produce this masterpiece:


The new artwork was almost always signed which was strange for licenced comics from Fleetway and the artists would normally write the year next to their signature.  This is something some comics artists may do anyway but I wonder if it was to make sure people knew their original pieces weren't reprints taken from classic comics years before.

A few issues in and the cover proudly proclaimed a new story was starting inside.  It may have been new to the comic but it was actually an adaptation of the second episode of the TV show, written by Alan himself, Pit of Peril.  It was drawn by Steve Kyte and he's got a lovely mix of bold outlined work and some beautifully painted panels, which seem to go hand-in-hand with each other, while he also maintains the panel design and page layouts of the Bellamy strips from the 60s.  Below are two pages from the strip but note these aren't actually beside each other story-wise, there's another page which should be between them but I just wanted to show a couple of examples of Steve's amazing talent at bringing the programme to the page with such dynamism:



Stunning stuff.  The newly commissioned strips kept all the human characters much more aligned to the puppetry and I didn't mind when it was done to such an incredible standard.  But this story also highlighted something which made the comic a very different beast to the show; pacing.

As I mentioned above the TV programme somehow injected a real adult sense of pacing to its stories, with a great building of tension, a high level of character development (at least in the characters in actual peril) and at times it literally had me on the edge of my seat.  How it managed this with puppets is a mystery but they did it!  At least for us young fans anyway.  But while it took real skill to achieve this with puppets, trying to do so with a comic strip was something else.  As such the TV21 tales and the adaptations relied instead on the action elements of the stories rather than the drama and suspense.

Yes, they had cliffhangers at the end of each chapter but the two pages had rattled on at such a pace it was an action cliffhanger rather than a suspenseful one.  I'm not complaining, as I loved this comic but even at that age I recognised how the stories had to be told a different way in this much shorter format.  For the most part the comic succeeded and kept me glued awaiting the next issue for an adrenalin-fuelled jump back into the world of Thunderbirds, but the TV adaptations were unfortunately the weak link.  Stunning artwork of course, but the forty-five minute episodes were cut down so much I remember thinking I'd have preferred more of the classic picture stories.  The Pit of Peril story for instance was only eight pages long!

But that was just one small part of this excellent ongoing comic and before showing you more examples of the extraordinary strip work what about those cutaways?

A CUTAWAY SUCCESS

Below is the small strip which accompanied the poster for Thunderbird 4.  Most of these strips showed the launch sequence of each craft and this was no different, bringing us the details of how TB2 launched the smaller submersible and the rarely-seen emergency one.  On the back of the poster itself was a full-page profile of Gordon Tracy which made each cutaway a special 4-page pullout section of its own, which was also handy so as none of the strip pages would be missing when we stuck these up on our walls:


Graham Bleathman was the man responsible for these and also for the lovingly crafted cutaways themselves.  You've seen the TB1 poster already but it was always a toss up between TB2 and Thunderbird 4 when it came to choosing a favourite on the TV.  I've decided on the little yellow submarine for this post to show you just how much detail was crammed in even for the smallest of craft:


For any of the younger readers out there now it's important to note these are all hand-painted, there's no computer work involved here whatsoever in the pictures themselves.  Graham painted these posters for each and every issue I collected and I was in awe at how one man could not only do so many of them but that each one was so intricate and technical.  I mean just look at that above!  Who knew Thunderbird 4 could be so complicated?  Even as a youngster I was never really one for taking apart my comics with only the rare exception to the rule ending up on my bedroom wall.  However it was this one which made me realise these were just too good to be kept inside the comics so I started the series of cutaways around my room, even though I wasn't quite sure what would come after the five main craft.

The next issue brought us fans the pullout for the space station Thunderbird 5 but obviously there wasn't going to be any launch sequence here so Graham painted the construction of the central hub to all things IR instead, as well as a look at the docking bay for Thunderbird 3.  That second panel in particular I found fascinating as another example of how these fantastical stories and pieces of technology felt grounded in a real world:


The series continued with looks at Tracey Island, Lady Penelope's car FAB1, her mansion and the pod craft (see below for one example used) then the comic moved on to some of the technology which popped up in only one story on the TV.  Such things as the Fireflash jet, buildings used by IR in other countries, the Sidewinder vehicle from Pit of Peril etc.  My absolute favourite came in #10 which I unfortunately didn't get my hands on when putting together my research for this post.

Do you remember the episode in which they moved the Empire State Building a little bit down the road?  I can remember watching that and being amazed at the thing the government was meant to be using to move the iconic building, thinking "hey that could work!" and being gripped by it when things started to go wrong.  When I opened #10 and saw the cutaway of this incredible machine I spent a long, long time perusing over every last detail of the stunning artwork and I didn't even mind the fact the cutaway was in a different orientation to the rest (it was in a portrait orientation instead of landscape) as it just meant it stood out even more, high up on my wall.  Though I think in the end, since there were no others which were drawn that way, I moved it to its own individual position on the wall where it could take pride of place.

There's a website which was put together by Katie Bleathman containing a selection of these but unfortunately it hasn't been updated or maintained since 2006 and the scans are very small, but you can still get a taste of the Empire State cutaway and others in the series here:

http://grahambleathman.co.uk/crosssectionslisting.htm

Even The Mole received a stunning piece of cutaway art

Back to the stories now.

THUNDERBIRD 007

If there was anything else which was as big a craze in the 60s as the Thunderbirds it was anything and everything to do with spies and espionage, headed up by the start of the phenomenal Bond movie series.  Quite early on in Thunderbirds The Comic a classic picture story was reprinted which brought together the two popular genres with a bang and it remained as my very favourite throughout the time I collected it.

The Trapped Spy was based in a fictional country with a fictional government from the future time Thunderbirds was set and it set up an intriguing dilemma:


I loved this idea of politics becoming involved in the world of Thunderbirds and it felt like such a grownup story to me.  It was a shocking ending to the first chapter and the next two pages in the same issue showed how the story was going to develop.  The U.S.S., which we were meant to think of as "the good guys" in the grand scheme of the world were going to force International Rescue into helping their man by foul means.

Parachuting in by cover of night their agents plant gas time bombs inside the building we saw above, then they wait until the daughter of the Bereznik leader is inside and they attack.  The shield is forced up and another explosion takes out the controls, jamming it in place.  They then release their gas bombs, forcing the country's government to call for International Rescue before all inside are killed.  Finally, the U.S.S. radio on an open frequency and announce that if a rescue attempt is made by IR they must also rescue their agent or else any craft entering the area will be shot down.

It was clear to me the U.S.S. agency was meant to be the future version of our own governments so it was shocking the comic, especially the classic strips, would have them hold our heroes to ransom like this.  It made for a thrilling tale and one which I eagerly anticipated the next few chapters of.

A few issues later we also saw just how much those governments could regret messing with IR!  Something the Thunderbird crafts contained but which we rarely saw was actual weaponry.  Obviously these were only ever used in self defence or to blow up something that was standing in the way of them rescuing someone, but in this later chapter of The Trapped Spy we see them out in force!  Some could argue whether they'd use them this way but for me it felt like they had no choice but to fight in order to be able to do their job and save lives:


I was actually saddened when the story ended.  It'd only appeared in three issues, with two chapters in #4, only one in #5 but a whopping five full parts in the excellent #6!  It could be frustrating some issues when your favourite at that time was given less space than others, but when you could also see a huge ten pages (basically half the comic after the pullout was removed) given over to it two weeks later it kept you on your toes!  Each issue's strips were always of varying length, which kept things fresh and stopped the format from going stale, with each story given the best cliffhanger possible and just the right amount of forward momentum to keep us coming back for more.

I did love this comic but no other story was quite like The Trapped Spy in the way it grabbed me.  It was the closest the strips came to that sense of suspense, not through the rescue itself but through the background story and the developing tension between enemies with IR caught smack in the middle.  Excellent stuff!

THE STORY OF THUNDERBIRDS THE COMIC

Later in the run from #33 the comic also began brand new exclusive stories drawn by the likes of Keith Page, John Cooper and Mike White, there were collections of strips in special editions, summer and winter specials and the poster magazine fad continued here as well.  After Thunderbirds finished its run on BBC Two Stingray returned to our screens but it wasn't for me and neither was Captain ScarlettJoe 90 or indeed any of the other Supermarionation series the Beeb brought back after the success of the flagship series.

Thunderbirds was unique for all those reasons I've mentioned throughout this post and while the other series were still top quality children's shows they lacked what made this series so unique for me.  They were more action based and so felt very much like any other adventure series aimed at kids, albeit amongst the very best, with none of the drama and tension and great sense of slow-build storytelling I'd become accustomed to.  Some of these series also received the Fleetway comic treatment but none were as successful and from #67 the comic was renamed The New Thunderbirds The Comic featuring Captain Scarlett and Stingray.  A bit of a mouthful and the name reverted to the original from #82 when other strips joined and left again, but basically the others had folded into the main one in much the same way as the publisher's humour comics all seemed to fold into Buster.

The comic's covers would sometimes feature
brilliant model shots from the show...
... but the majority were still the stunning
hand-painted masterpieces like this one

A particularly intriguing addition was entitled The Complete Thunderbirds Story, which grounded the history and formation of International Rescue by mixing it with factual articles on space exploration and the like.  It told of how Jeff's dream became a reality one little section at a time and we'd be treated to his early concept drawings of the Thunderbird machines, blueprints and prototypes.  It built right up to the start of the first episode when the fictional world was introduced to the team for the first time.

One thing I'd completely forgotten about was the inclusion of a Lady Penelope strip which began quite early in #9.  Strangely she'd appeared in TV21 from the first issue, before Thunderbirds had even made it to the air yet.  When the Tracy family came on board she moved onto her own weekly comic and Thunderbirds The Comic reran some of these too, the first part of which is right here.  While it does contain The Hood I'm not sure what readers of TV21 would've made of it before they were introduced to her on the TV:


Before I round off I just wanted to make you aware that Egmont's Classic Comics range has released digital collections of the TV21 Thunderbirds strips on iTunes as well as some superb hardback books.  Unfortunately their website no longer seems to be getting updated but if you click on the logo below it'll take you to the Waterstones homepage where you'll see a fantastic selection to choose from!  This includes the Thunderbirds Comics Collection volumes one and two and you should recognise the cover art, because while the covers boast they contain the 1960s strips they also have Graham's stunning cutaways from the 90s:


In fact if you're particularly interested in the cutaways you may like to try out this great book cheekily made up like a Haynes motorcar manual.  Be prepared to lose hours of your life just looking at some incredible artwork.  The cutaways have been updated somewhat by Graham but they're no less spectacular and if anything include even more detail now!:



Finally, for a look at Thunderbirds comics over the decades and right up to the present day look no further than this post on Lew Stringer's Blimey! comics blog:


THUNDERBIRDS FANS WERE GO!

To finish I wanted to share a couple of images which stuck with me all these years and the first is of a fan-made model.  The young readers were quite ingenious, always sending in ideas of new craft, stories and the like but this particular reader and his father took it one step further.  Quite a large step further.  Following nothing more but Graham Bleathman's cutaway picture they crafted this simply superb model of Thunderbird 1!:


The other thing which stuck with me was this:


Now, now, before you all laugh (which I admit I did when I first saw it back in the day) have any of you been to see Starlight Express, the musical where each person is actually playing the part of a railway locomotive?  They skate about the stage with models of the trains they're representing on the top of their heads and you know what, it works and you get sucked into the story.  But that above is still a strange picture.  I wonder what the actual show was like?

So there you go folks, my whirlwind of a tour through Thunderbirds The Comic and I hope you thought it was FAB.  Sorry, had to get it in there somewhere.  I stayed with the comic until around its 30th issue or so, always looking forward to new stories, seeing what would be the next cutaway and piecing together the background stories of these marvellous characters.  In the end it was nothing the comic did that made me stop my regular order.  After the cancellation of The Transformers this was the only comic I was still collecting as I moved on into the world of Commodore 64 and magazines rather than comics and that was the main factor.  I'd simply moved on from comics.

Or so I thought.  But that's a tale for another time, a tale for another fortnight in fact.  So come back on Wednesday 4th November to see what title, several months after my final issue of Thunderbirds, stood out enough for me to venture back into collecting a regular comic once more, in the final edition of Beyond Oink! covering the comics of my youth.

NEXT TIME


Thursday, 15 October 2015

#68: THE FINAL (PORK) CHOP

On the evening of Saturday 15th October 1988 I walked down to the newsagents while the outside world began to darken for the night.  It was almost tea-time and before the shop shut I needed to get my latest issue of Oink! to enjoy that night.  Before heading to the counter to pick up my reserved copy I did the usual thing of browsing the large comics shelves to see what was about and I spotted "Oink!" in small letters on something else.  Lifting it up I saw it was the latest issue of Buster with the headline "Oink! stars join... Buster".  Oh no, it couldn't mean...?

I didn't bother trying to find Oink! itself on the shelf and instead I retrieved my copy and once paid for I noticed the awful news above the logo:


While in the Beyond Oink! series I've covered some post-Oink! comics I went on to buy which were abruptly cancelled, this was the first time it had happened to me.  I knew how long comics such as The Beano and The Dandy had been going for, as well as 2000AD, Eagle, Roy of the Rovers etc, even newer titles such as The Transformers had been on sale for a few years at this point, so I just assumed once a comic started and became successful that was it, it'd be around forever.  The other comics I'd started collecting by this stage (Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, The Real Ghostbusters and Big Comic Fortnightly) were certainly being enjoyed en masse and so too had Oink! been, so this was a complete shock.

I also bought the first merged Buster comic with my pocket money (my reserved comics were bought for me, hence why I was limited to how many I could have at once!) and when I got home I quickly flipped through Oink! #68.  Surely they were just guest-starring in the other comic, right?  Surely it was just an advertising thing for Oink!, right?  Surely "The Last One" on the cover meant something else, like the last monthly issue just, yeah?

Nope.  Right there at the top of page four were the horrible, horrible details:


While it was written and drawn by Michael Peek in such a way as to be as light-hearted as possible, my heart sank.  I can vividly remember being completely down about this, saddened beyond belief and it took until the next weekend for me to actually get around to reading the comic, I was that bad, as I just didn't want it to end.  I'd loved this comic and its characters since the very first issue I'd picked up almost two years previous and, while I'd eventually read back over them all a few months later and realise just how much had changed since the fortnightly heydays, at the time I just couldn't believe this was it!

I knew the annual would be delivered via Santa at Christmas, but in the newsagents' it felt a lot thinner than the previous year's.  I also knew there'd be a holiday special the next year, but that was a lifetime away for a ten-year-old.  To not get my regular piggy fix just wasn't right.  I considered the fact three of the strips would now be in the weekly Buster, which was still cheaper than Oink! had ever been and thought about reserving it so as to get my fix, but I ended up not doing so and you'll find out why soon (see the end of this post for more details).

The thing is, when I eventually did read this final issue I discovered it was arguably the best of the monthly titles by a country mile!  So for now let's try not to be too down about the fact this is the final regular Oink! comic post on the blog... ever... ever, ever, ever...!  Ahem, sorry don't know what came over me there {sniff}.  Let's concentrate on the contents of this fun issue instead, shall we?

First up is the free gift.  Well I don't need to go into too much detail here as it's already received its own post all to itself, which you can read by clicking here.

The Oink! issue started in fine form with the usual second page of four mini-strips and they were a particularly excellent little collection this time around.  They certainly cheered up the little version of me when I eventually opened that front cover again.  Quick, concise gags all hitting the target, the perfect example of how the comic may have changed and evolved over time, becoming a completely different beast to the Oink! we'd previously loved, but it was still soaring high quality-wise in comparison to any other humour comic out there for us.

Check these excellent little strips out from Marc Riley (Doctor Mooney He's Completely Looney), Davy Francis (Doctor Madstarkraving), Kev F (Rotten Rhymes) and Ed McHenry (Wally of the West) and have a little chuckle to get you going:


With Uncle Pigg already off we didn't get any final letters section from him, in fact only a few pages actually acknowledged the comic was coming to an end.  However, it does seem fitting one of these was the creation of Tony Husband, who along with Patrick and Mark Rodgers had created the comic in the first place.  Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins had been with Oink! from the preview issue and had appeared in some form in every single issue.  Starting off as a typical Oink! humour strip with some great instances of sheer horror at his appearance, even from his own parents, the strip moved on to serialising his life and the struggles he faced in a world where so much is based on looks.

There were still the comedy moments but the strip had become something to inspire us kids and, instead of laughing at Horace's misfortunes, soon we were giggling when he came up trumps because of his features.  Then the strip morphed again into the ongoing tales where he'd prove the point to us that looks are simply skin deep, there's more to people than just what they appear on the surface and we definitely shouldn't judge people we meet based on that initial reaction - no matter how comical it may have been in the world of Horace.

Through trials and tribulations ranging from his football career, to radioactive monsters and travelling the world with his equally-ugly girlfriend Mandy, he fought to be accepted and in the end always was.  For a comic which had caused controversy before, and for a strip which had started out as having a bit of fun with a character uglier than anything even his parents could cope with, the Horace (Ugly Face) Watkins strips ended up being almost a drama serial which taught us some great life lessons without ever feeling like it was doing so.

This was Oink!  It never patronised, it never spoke down to us and it also expected us to be intelligent enough for its humour and for what it could teach us through that humour.  There are plenty of examples of how this wonderful comic did this, but it did it in such a different way the critics never caught on.  Neither did we as we read it, but it all sank in and reading all of these fantastic sixty-eight issues back it's clear to see this now after growing up with it.

For the final issue there's no big multi-page tale for Horace but instead a simple one-page strip with he and Mandy coming to terms with the end of their story.  It's sweet really and feels like a fitting end to one of the comic's top highlights:

That last sentence isn't the fault of my scanner by
the way, that's the way it was printed in the comic.

As I've said before there were three characters who'd make the transition to Buster and Uncle Pigg told us above who was making the transfer.  Surprisingly there's no Weedy Willy in this issue but we do have an outing each for both Pete Throb and Tom Thug.

In a way this is the end of Tom's story despite him appearing for many years in the pages of the sister publication.  Like Horace he's been in the pages of Oink! from the start and appeared in every issue, special and annual, even the computer game.  He was easily one of the top fan favourites and from being a school kid who took ten issues to tie his shoelaces to leaving school and heading out into the big bad world he's now ended up with the one thing he feared the most:


Tom was indeed inside that Buster comic I'd also bought but his strip was altered to take him back to school, a change brought about by the younger readership.  So, wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy would be the final part of Tom's ongoing tale before we travelled back in time to see him in the classroom again.  Of course we'd see him in the Oink! specials and annual but they're one-offs and not part of what seemed like an ongoing story in the monthlies, and never made reference to whether he was in school or working.  But even before Lew Stringer took Tom out of school his strips developed over time, more recurring characters appeared like Wayne Brayne, his girlfriend and sister of Pete Throb, Zitty Zeta and even Tom's sweet mother.  He gave up being a bully for a couple of issues, he tried to form the toughest gang the world had ever seen in another short arc and he crossed over with Pete a few times throughout the run.

While many humour comics characters remain rather one-dimensional by their very nature, Lew was always able to somehow inject great characterisation into his.  Just look at Tom for example; the inept bully who'd always come a cropper, showing us what brain-dead idiots bullies really are.  In lesser hands Tom would've been a one-trick pony, possibly still amusing but in no way laugh-out-loud issue-after-issue and while it could be argued we didn't really know anything more about him than we did at the start, that's not the point.  Lew's characters always felt like they were more rounded and developed, such is his talent for drawing us into them and the scenario built up around them.

We did see the likes of Horace above develop and the strips change dramatically as time went on and The Sekret Diary ov Hadrian Vile also changed a little over time when the baby came along and he started to slowly become older.  In humour comics we're not looking for in-depth background stories or fully-fledged in-depth bios, so it takes a great skill to have the readers of such comics make a real connection with who they see on the page, never mind a bully!  So kudos to Lew, and in fact the whole team.  It just proves how much care and attention went into crafting Oink!

Further to this Tom's journey through the monthlies had certainly been unique and he'd been the character with the most changes made to his strip for the slightly older reader in mind.  Not only had he left school but he'd signed on for the brew and above got a (short-lived) job.  When did you ever hear of any of that happening to a humour comics character?  As Lew proclaimed on his strips, it was "another Oink! first!".  Normally characters remain frozen in time but as Oink! proved this didn't need to be the rule and we pig pals lapped this up.  It wasn't something humour comics editors had really considered before and it took the brilliant team behind this comic to have the faith in the young readers that we'd go along for the ride.

We sure did.

But it's not all big finale strips from long-established characters.  Like I said it's actually the other way around and acknowledging the end of the regular comic is kept to an absolute minimum, possibly because most of the other strips were already finished and ready to be published, even Tom's doesn't mention it.  However if it had been more frequent it may have brought the readers down and instead there's much to smile about before we reach those final pages.  There's not even a reprint in sight, most likely thanks to there now being a surplus of strips with no #69.

I've included no less than three mini-strips from Ed McHenry this time around and there was even more from him in the issue.  Ed could turn his hand to anything from double-page puzzle spreads and full-colour-full-page-yet-only-three-panel (phew) 'toons, to one-off gags and ongoing series such as Igor and the Doctor and Wally of the West.  It was also fun to see some of his older work (and Tony's) pop up in a few issues of Big Comic Fortnightly when I covered it.  It's clear he's simply a master of the art form.

Featuring his very distinctive style then is this quick little random outing:


Typical Oink!, this was just placed randomly amongst a couple of adverts for stamp collecting and practical jokes catalogues, yet I can remember it from all those years ago.  It's instant little classics like this which I think I missed the most when I tried out Buster but that's a tale for another time.

Now there was no way I couldn't include one final Madvertisement from those gangsters at GBH and they pulled out all the stops here with a full-on cruise ship holiday for us to remortgage our entire family's homes for.  Not too sure who wrote the script but it's been lovingly crafted by Simon Thorpe in all its cutaway glory.  A suitably fantastic middle-page spread to see the comic off with, it's full of so many great little details I beg you to take five minutes to peruse this before you continue:


Just goes to show, even with all their get-rich-quick schemes (for themselves, not the readers obviously) it was Uncle Pigg who sailed away in the end to a luxury island from the sales of one comic title.

I wonder if he's still on that island somewhere... maybe that's his kids who like to swim and play with the humans in those viral videos we've all seen.

But anyway, back to the subject at hand and one of the people brought on quite late in the comic's lifetime, as mentioned before, was the unique Kev F Sutherland.  While I missed the work of some of those who'd helped turn the comic into the one it was, such as Ian Jackson and Jeremy Banx, Oink!'s ability to always entice exciting new talent has to be admired.  Kev's work is synonymous with the comic in my eyes and one of my favourites of his was the Meanwhile... series.

Not linked in the slightest other than with the title, they could be of any length, feature any subject, have many jokes or as in the one below build up to one great gag:


Did you spot the cameo from one of The Three Scientists from the strip in #66?  He seemed to make appearances in the background of all of Kev's strips in these final issues.

Kev has quite a few pieces here, as if he'd created many for possible future issues and when the axe fell maybe the editors decided to use as many as possible.  There's nursery rhyme spoofs, television advert spoofs and a superb three-page strip entitled The Plop Factory - The Studios of Britain's top record producers Sock, Bacon and Waterworks.  It's an incredibly relevant strip even today in this world of endless TV talent shows and well worth the price of admission on its own if you can find this issue on eBay.

That could be a problem though, as this seems to be a particularly tough one to track down and will normally only show up when someone is selling a large collection of Oinks! all in one go.  Unfortunately by this time sales had dropped quite dramatically, the changes made by Fleetway to a winning formula having the opposite of the desired effect, so much fewer copies were published.  By this time the three editors were working away on their next project too, one which was originally to be a spin-off of the successful piggy publication but which ended up as a completely separate entity.  If Oink! had been left to carry on as the popular fortnightly, something original publishers IPC were more than happy with, who knows what could've become of the proposed Oink! franchise, but sadly we'll never know.

As it stands though, even as attentions were redirected and a lot of what made me a fan in the first place had either disappeared or been changed beyond recognition, it was still a fitting swan song to a comic which dared to be different.  Some of our faves had survived the changes brought about by the interference of the newer publishers and while some didn't necessarily mention the finality of their strip, they still read like they were bringing us something special to see them off with, such as with Tom above.  While Mr Thug getting a new job and ending up in hospital on his first day felt like closure to his recent strips, Lew gave his other creation Pete and his Pimple a suitably epic finale, even if it was in dream form:


It was also a nice gesture to see the names of those people whose ideas couldn't be used and did you spot the little in-joke with the reference to the position of Oink! on the comic shelves?

Pete's strip would continue in Buster for a relatively short period of time and one key defining feature would be dropped altogether, but more of that is to come so stay tuned.  Or just scroll down past the next strip in fact.

The final strip I'm featuring should surely be a large, epic tale of some sort, yes?  Some big grand gesture to see off the last regular comic post of the blog.  Well, no actually.  Some of the biggest laughs I've had in reading back through these a whopping twenty-seven years later have come from the mini-strips, the little pieces of perfect humour slotted randomly throughout each edition.  One character who seemed to generate a lot of these outbursts was Ed McHenry's Wally of the West who I've already included at the top of this piece.  But as a final example of the quick wit and lunacy of not only Ed, but of Oink! as a whole, this seemed like the perfect choice:


There we go then.  So...

...IS THAT ALL FOLKS?

Two-and-a-half years ago I'd bought a huge set of pristine condition Oink! comics and Lew Stringer innocently suggested I read through them on the date of their original release.  From that came the idea of sharing this experience with a blog and hoping I'd actually see it through.

Now, not only have I indeed seen it through but I've found out so much more about my favourite comic of all time than I ever thought I would.  I've made some great friends through this, both fellow readers and, amazingly, amongst the creators!  I've been amazed at its popularity and seen many rediscover Oink! for the first time since their childhood just as I did, with many sharing it with their own children who have lapped it up.  I've had wonderful feedback from some amazing comics professionals and it's spurred me on and reignited my passion for writing again for the first time in many, many years; something I'll be continuing with, all thanks to Oink!

I'll be writing up a proper look back at the blog and the journey I've taken through it at the end of the year, but before then there's still two monthly additions with 'new' strips coming your way first of all.

The regular comic has come to an end and it is indeed a sad day.  However in five weeks I'll be taking a look back at those first four issues of Buster and the continuing adventures of Pete and his Pimple, Weedy Willy and Tom Thug.  Buster would only advertise the merge on its cover for a measly four issues and it was never officially called 'Buster and Oink!' unlike previously cancelled comics, so join me on the third Thursday of November (19th) to have a look at what happened next.

Then in December look out for two posts covering the second and final annual, The Oink! Book 1989 as we celebrate Christmas with Uncle Pigg et all in a book which may have been a lot thinner than the previous year's but which still contained some real gems.  Thankfully this sees the return of some classic characters and cartoonists, including that Burp strip I've been mentioning since the preview issue!

The Beyond Oink! series is also continuing with a further two comics from my youth and there's also going to be a special one-off post on a subject dear to the hearts of many in the industry today.  Also watch out for another look at the Oink! computer game (the first was in the Crash post last year) but this time from the perspective of Commodore 64 users and Zzap!64 magazine.  This particular post will also be launching another pet project of mine, kind of like a pilot for another blog... I'd say that's 'clever marketing' if it was anything more than a happy coincidence.

So still plenty to come in 2015 right here in a big send off for Oink! and I hope you'll stay around for it.  To see the regular issues off though is this, the final page of the last issue.  With the rear of the comic taken up by an advert for Fleetway's annuals, here's Michael Peek with a quite ironic "No1 in a new series" and the comic's last words:



Wednesday, 7 October 2015

BEYOND OINK! #9: HAVOC

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.

<< GO TO PART EIGHT: TEENAGE MUTANT HERO TURTLES ADVENTURES

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!

DEATHLOK


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...

ROBOCOP

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.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN

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.

STAR SLAMMERS

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.

GHOST RIDER


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.

EARLY ENDINGS (AGAIN)

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!

NEXT TIME

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!