Thursday, 27 April 2017

Comicbook Heroes: ADVENTURE: THE WORLD OF TOMORROW



ADVENTURE:
THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

Notoriously secretive DC Thomson produced ‘Beano’ and 
‘Dandy’, but they also created ‘Hotspur’ and ‘Adventure’
They specialised in Sports stories, School stories and 
War stories, but also, occasionally, there was SF too...



 ‘SUPERSPEED EXCITEMENT WITH 
THE MEN OF THE PLANET PATROL…!’ 

The dramatic cover illustration of ‘Adventure’ dated 5th October 1940, shows the ‘Wardens Of The Worlds In Space’, two grim space-suited figures on a lunar world, with a spaceship marked ‘Space Patrol 41’ standing in the background. The blurb announces the all-text story to be found within as ‘The Amazing Story Of Life As It Will Be In The Year 2040’. Oddly, we are now closer to that speculative future date than we are to the time of the story’s publication. And yes, we’ve witnessed figures moving on a lunar landscape not unlike the one the uncredited DC Thomson artist visualised. Their future happened. If not always exactly in the way they envisaged. Operating from Dundee, the notoriously secretive anti-union DC Thomson most famously invented ‘Dandy’ (no.1, 4 December 1937) and then ‘Beano’ (no.1, 30 July 1938), but before that they’d created ‘The Big Five’ story-papers that kept boys enthralled for nigh on three decades.


Fan and archivist Terry Jeeves recalls ‘how ‘Adventure’ hit the newsagents every Monday, ‘Wizard’ arrived on Tuesday, ‘Rover’ on Thursday, ‘Hotspur’ on Friday, and ‘Skipper’ on Saturday’. Apparently some other company had staked out Wednesday for the pale blue ‘Boy’s Cinema’ retelling film plots complete with stills and star pin-ups, while some Lord’s Day Preservationists probably put the frighteners on publishers to deny them Sunday. But prior to TV – never mind games-consoles, those two-penny story-weekly’s appeared chock-full of solid-text exploits, each issue made up of intimidating prose-blocks extending to full novel-length. Largely they specialised in Sports stories, School stories and War stories, but occasionally there were forms of SF too.


Of course, readers would not necessarily be expected to be as familiar with the conventions of SF as they are now. So it could be argued that fantasy story-elements were more usually introduced as plot-gimmicks into conventional settings rather than as pure SF. After all, for most of the period concerned, Britain did not have its own dedicated SF magazine. The pioneering juvenile ‘Scoops’ lasted for twenty issues in 1934, then ‘Tales Of Wonder’ survived for just sixteen, from 1937 to 1942. As a result, for DC Thomson’s ‘Big Five’, unfamiliar extraterrestrial themes were introduced obliquely, cushioned by means of genre cross-over’s.


In ‘S.O.S From Planet X’ (‘Hotspur’, 1954), two young disgruntled Scotland Yard police sergeants, John Horton and Scottie Grant, answer a newspaper ad for ‘experienced, keen police officers with modern ideas… to combat a crime-wave on Planet X’. Suspecting some kind of hoax they nevertheless rendezvous with Mr Monuk, an enigmatic ‘foreign gentleman’ in Room 456 of the Trebizon Hotel. He offers them £200 a month – several times what they were now getting, for their services. To their amazement his spaceship ‘Planet-rover’ then takes them to Maxos, capital city of a previously crime-free planet, which is inexplicably enduring a reign of criminal terror. They solve the murder of Senator Carasos, then, ‘this is where our job really begins’ says Horton, neatly combining crime-detection with SF.


A similar kind of fictional conjuring lay behind a curious hybrid extravagance called ‘Bull Raiders From The Red Orb’ (‘Adventure’, 1945), which was billed as ‘A Wild West Story A Million Miles From The Wild West!’ Readers might not be too familiar with SF, but they certainly knew all about Cowboys. Hence four men from the Circle-7 Ranch in Texas pursue pesky cattle-rustlers who just happen to come from ‘one of the lesser-known planets’ known as the Red Orb, which lies ‘nearly a million miles away’. A million miles probably sounds like a long way to an impressionable 1940’s schoolkid, although in solar system terms it’s practically our backyard! The odd adventurers use a crashed alien ship re-equipped by scientist Professor Hamilton, and – to represent the reader’s juvenile point-of-view, they unwittingly carry fourteen-year-old stowaway Davie Baird with them.

 
While a somewhat intriguing new twist on the war story also made its appearance in ‘Adventure’ – in fourteen hefty text episodes from 24 March 1945. ‘They’ll Try It Again’ tells of a resurgent Nazi Army invading America in the then-far-future of 1965, the heading illustration showing a column of World War II-style Wehrmacht winding their way from a burning city, while slim war-machines anticipating those from George Pal’s ‘War Of The Worlds’ movie hover above them. In what would now be considered an ‘alternative history’ tale there are obvious comparisons to be made with Philip K Dick’s ‘Man In A High Castle’, or the Robert Harris novel ‘Fatherland’ (1992), and maybe the John Milius 1984 film ‘Red Dawn’ which also conjectures an invasion of the USA, albeit by Russians. Or maybe such analogies are to rate the story too highly? After all, it’s essentially a war-story, with a twist. And even at that time the theme of invasion was hardly new.


It could be traced back at least to George Tomkyns Chesney’s agitational 1871 novel ‘The Battle Of Dorking’, intended as a fictionalised warning to a complacent populace about the dangers of Prussian militarist ambitions. In ‘Britain Down – But Never Out’ (‘Skipper’, 1937), Britain is invaded by an eastern race called the Mangoths, following a devastating plague that has weakened national defences. With ‘Britain In Chains’ Bill Hutton leads the fight-back against Dictator Genghis… much as Bill Savage would do against occupying Volgans in ‘2000AD’ many years later. Because conservative, and conservation-minded publishers, seldom waste a strong story-idea. ‘Hitler Lives’ was a strip that ran in ‘The Crunch’ (until 14 July 1979) in which Nazi fanatics raise the Fuehrer from suspended animation to wage war anew, and ‘regain world domination’.


The marked preference for gadget stories, when combined with a school setting, forms a ‘perfect storm’ of familiar-plus-novelty elements. The ‘At School In 1975’ series in ‘Hotspur’ (1936) was set in Bankfield College where teachers have been replaced by desk-screens that notify pupils ‘Do One-Hundred Lines’. Or the cover-story ‘The World Of Tomorrow’ (for ‘Adventure’, 1944) which predicts ‘moving pavements will abolish walking’, ‘the breakfast of the future! two highly-concentrated pellets’, and ‘this is what the servants of the future will look like’ showing a rather clunky robot. But the schoolroom is there too, where ‘Teachers will give lessons at school through two-way television sets, controlling hundreds of pupils at one time’.


‘Hotspur’s ‘Lost School On The Whirling Planet’, running through the first half of 1941, transports schoolboy Neil Bain and his pals to the ‘whirling planet’. Once there they seek the assistance of Qu to aid their friends the Frankites’ in a ‘great revolt’ against Molok and the Masters. But it is the alien-slanted school structure that is central to the serial. The long-running ‘Iron Teacher’ best typifies the equation, beginning with ‘The Iron Teacher Speaks’ debuting in ‘Hotspur’ in 1941 with the vaguely western setting of Comstock, Nevada. It was successful enough for him to return battling Nazis, then a 1950 cover shows him fighting a sabre-toothed tiger. It was reconfigured into strip-form in 1972, but was subject to evolutionary upgrades in the process, until the robot teacher is radio-controlled by Special Agent Jake Todd, and his adventures take him as far as a hidden South American valley where prehistoric beasts prowl.


There were to be numerous other robotic variants throughout the evolution of DC Thomson’s spread of titles, from Doctor Doom’s invincible ‘Smasher’ set on world domination, or ‘Starhawk’s Droid companion in 1979, through to the straight comedy of ‘Tin Lizzie’ and ‘Clanky The Cast-Iron Pup’. Of course, to call them all Sci-Fi is to stretch definitions a little too far, even as a validating excuse for introducing novelty. After all, elsewhere, no such excuse is needed. A chimpanzee for a sheriff? why not (‘The Hairy Sheriff’ in ‘Skipper’, 1940). A walrus for a Teacher? of course (‘Our Teacher’s A Walrus’ in ‘Dandy’, 1939).


But where novel-technology was concerned, one of the most popular recurring characters was ‘The Black Sapper’, a caped black-clad criminal genius who, with his mechanic Marot, invents an amazing mechanical mole equipped with diamond-hard drills which he uses to commit his crimes. No bank-vault is safe against his Earthworm. He debuts spectacularly in ‘Rover’ in 1929 by robbing the Bank of England. He reappeard – in picture form, pursued again by the dogged Commander Ben Breeze of Scotland Yard in ‘Beezer’ in 1959 when he steals the Crown Jewels, only to return to the revamped ‘Hotspur’ in 1971. Later, he saw the error of his ways, reformed and used his formidable talents on the side of law, and even to battle alien invaders from the planet Khansu. ‘The Bubble’ was another weird tale that first appeared as a text-story in 1951 in ‘Adventure’, only to re-appear as a picture-strip drawn by Leo Rawling in ‘Victor’ in 1968.


What set DC Thomson’s adventure yarns apart from their rivals were ‘the writers’ and editorial staff’s refreshingly improbable and often outrageous storylines, which truly stood the test of time by being revived, sometimes repeatedly, in strip form for decades after’, according to Paul Gravett (in ‘Great British Comics’, Arum 2006). Gravett singles out the black-clad Wilson, in ‘Wizard’ (1943) as a prime example of this longevity. Billed simply as ‘The Greatest Boy’s Story Ever Written!’ – Wilson is a barefoot champion runner in knitted long-johns who prefers living rough on the Yorkshire Moors to a celebrity lifestyle. He ran the three-minute mile long before the four-minute barrier had been broken!


Wilson’s only possible rival would be Alf Tupper, the ‘Tough Of The Track’ in ‘Rover’ (1949). A ‘hard-as-nails’ working-class athlete from industrial Greystone, he prefers his fish ‘n’ chips to posh nosh. And just like its legendary star, the stories also ran and ran, with Tupper’s tales retold in ‘Victor’ into the 1990’s. Then there was HK Rodd, the ‘Wonder Man’, another ‘Rover’ super-sportsman raised by scientists Professor William Graves and Dr Erasmus Codrington to be physically and mentally perfect. From yet another angle ‘Morgyn The Mighty’, the thrill-a-minute ‘Strongest Man In The World’, is a kind of Tarzan on steroids. Shipwrecked onto Black Island when the schooner ‘Hebrides’ founders, his superior strength saw him triumph over adversity in many adventures. While ‘Strang The Terrible’, over in ‘Adventure’ (from 1936), was a kind of Conan-esque rival with a big club who began by being carried down an underground river into the gruesome South American Valley Of The Giants where prehistoric beasts and hairy man-apes roam, and where he searches for lost cities of fabulous golden treasures. By 1951 he transferred to a cover picture-strip in which a ‘Black Sapper’-style boring machine takes him into the subterranean realm of the Tramons. All such characters enjoyed reincarnations as picture-strips. But so did Battle of Britain air-ace ‘I Flew With Braddock’!


But ‘Rover’ also ran future-war tales. ‘The Frightened Year Of The Fireflies’ was a 1958 text-serial set in 1986 when an invisible electrical ‘ceiling’ protects Britain from world-dominating Klovanian ‘firefly’ rockets. A counter-attack ‘sparkler’ launched from Gibraltar defeats the bad guys with a single shock-and-awe Hiroshima rocket-strike, after which the bad guys sue for peace, ‘once more Britain had stood alone, and once more Britain had won’. So who were these mysterious Cold War foreign invaders from the East who persist in threatening our freedoms? Which aggressive power-block is being alluded to? Maybe, as in BBC Light Programme’s ‘Round The Horne’, the Klovanians, Mangoths and Volgans all represented ‘an unnamed foreign power we’re not allowed to mention, Russia’?


However, in ‘The Ninety-Nine Deadly Days’ from 1950 the attack comes from space, as Y-rays from the star Nimbis start melting the ice-caps. Working from a Hope Valley base in the Arctic, scientists have ninety-nine days to save the world from inundation by flooding. They construct pylons with reflector-dishes, but still find time to break for a Yorkshire-vs-Lancashire cricket match (resulting in a draw). Finally they ‘bend’ the hostile rays back into space. Nimbis is destroyed. But Earth could also be the unwitting aggressor. In ‘Experiment X’ Professor Peter Orr carries out research into ‘celestial navigation’ from a massive reinforced Atom City installation in remote Westmorland. He shoots an unmanned rocket into the moon primed to explode on impact so that its success is visible to Earth observers. Then he plans a more ambitious shot, to Saturn, for which a bigger more brilliant explosion will be necessary. Naturally, this prospect doesn’t particularly appeal to native Saturnians, and soon the experiment is troubled by an invisible saboteur.


During its 1937 peak, the third of the ‘Big Five’ – ‘Wizard’ was selling 800,000 copies a week, at just two shiny pennies each. It ran a number of more ambitious sci-fantasy tales. ‘Crimson Comet’ from 1946 opens with Clive Warren hiking in Wales when he stumbles upon secretive military installation ‘Zone X’ near Snowdon. There he meets Sir Gavin Hamilton, the ‘leading British astronomer of the day’ who gives him a crash-course in the structure of the solar system, including ‘recently-discovered Pluto’.


Hamilton then reveals that Earth is threatened by the approach of a planet-sized Crimson Comet, and that Zone X is an emergency project designed to ‘move the Earth’ to avoid the imminent collision. The situation is further complicated when, at the same time, an experimental spheroid crashes nearby, and a Venusian emerges. Argol is an arrogant, but not unfriendly Venusian nobleman who explains that ‘almost every educated Venusian knows English in order to listen to your radio’. Although they probably neglect to pay the BBC licence fee, he and his companion Beltair have become ‘electrically-charged by their voyage through space’. The obvious parallel to the tale is ‘When Worlds Collide’, but although the high-profile George Pal movie didn’t emerge until 1951, the novel on which it was based, by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer was first published in 1933, and its ideas had already influenced Pop-culture to the extent that Flash Gordon’s first adventure began with the world threatened by imminent cosmic collision.


Planetary extinction also threatens the world in ‘Last Rocket To Venus’ (‘Hotspur’, 1939), announced on the cover as ‘The Most Astounding Story Ever Told!’ and set in the ‘terrible fear-ridden days’ of the year 9939, as a new Ice Age encroaches and ‘everyone knew the end of the world was near’. There’s a strange mish-mash of visionary far-future imaginings, the Earth’s rotation has slowed so that days are 48-hours long, the moon is orbiting ever-closer, and a fortified enclave in Wales stands against the ‘maddened hordes’ of surrounding anarchy. ‘There was no normal landscape. There were no trees or buildings, no telegraph poles, no roads or railways to be seen. Here and there the top of a building pushed a few feet out of the snow-drifts’.


Yet in this bleakly nightmarish deep-future the characters have reassuringly solid Anglo-Saxon names, Toby Greaves and ‘brilliant young engineer’ Gavin Ainsworth, who even take their snow-cat for a trip into nearby Merthyr! From their enclave they have constructed a kind of mighty space-gun reminiscent of the one seen in the HG Wells/ Alexander Korda film ‘Things To Come’ (1936), a giant steel tube sunk into the Snowdon mountainside which fires rocket-probes to ‘Mercury, to Mars, and to Jupiter’, and eventually decides to establish a base-colony of British pioneers on Venus. The cover illustration shows the great projectile surrounded by a gantry of scaffolding, as the evacuation to resettle the new world is threatened by the arrival of the barbaric Black Burrell, Conqueror Of The Midlands, and then by the richest man in the world Herman Baskerville who demands passage to Venus – just as a fiery rain begins falling as the Moon disintegrates.


Venus was also the refuge of choice in ‘I Saw The End Of The World’ (‘Wizard’, 1951) when the accidental explosion of a cargo of hydrogen bombs in San Francisco harbour ignites a tremendous fire that could not be extinguished and threatens to incinerate the world. Spaceship ‘Thunderbolt’ reaches our jungle-world neighbour where its crew encounter giant ants and snakes, as Captain Townsend plants the Union Jack on an island in the Venusian ocean and solemnly declares ‘I hereby name this island New Britain’. Narrator Peter Howard is there as a planetary Noah’s Ark transfers examples of Earth-fauna to its new home. He ‘saw a red ball blazing in space like a huge exploding star. The Earth was finished, but on Venus a new life was about to begin, and the skies were bright with the promise of the future’.


Exploited hack staff-writers were churning out thousands-of-words of such prose without ever seeing the satisfaction of their names in the by-line. It’s easy to conjecture their ideas being commissioned, switched around, lifted from whatever sources came to their attention, and pressed into service for the next epic. There’s an ‘Ark Of Space’ cover to the US pulp-title ‘Startling Stories’, dated November 1939, showing animals going two-by-two up a curved ramp – lions, elephants, giraffes, into the hold of a giant rocketship, as armed troops hold a mob at bay. A glimpse of this cover alone could have prompted the inspiration for either tale. Or maybe the idea was just in the air at the time?


Space was not the only place for thrills. Subterranean journeys had been a setting for fictional adventure at least since Jules Verne, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. In ‘The Fires Beneath The Desert’ (‘Wizard’, 1943) two geology students, Jess Warden and Doc Stratton use asbestos ‘Stratton Heat-Resisting Suits’ to enter the Bernadino Caves in the Colorado Desert earthquake-zone, penetrating down into realms of volcanic fire, and the ‘Demon Of The Flame’. Then, in ‘Neptune’s Chimney’ (‘Hotspur’, 1952) the mutinous crew of the Anglo-American research vessel ‘Sea Roamer’ casts our heroes ashore on a remote unnamed Pacific volcanic island. Once there, young Ken Palmer finds webbed footprints on the sandy beach. Then Jim Cook, Dan Gilbert and Captain Blake warily return to the ship which is still moored in the bay, to find it abandoned and the mutineers vanished. They take the research helicopter from the deck, and while ascending over the island’s peak they notice a strange green glow emanating from the crater interior, and investigate. Deep inside the mountain the shaft opens out into ‘a cavern so enormous that they could not see the limit of it’. It contains a city built of red rock, or coral. This, they discover, is a city of fishmen whose skins shine like scales. Although not SF, it is a classic fantasy adventure.


And there are intriguing one-off stories within the DC Thomson fictional multiverse, such as ‘The Boy Who Slept 100 Years’ (‘Skipper’, 1934), a juvenile take on HG Wells’ dystopian 1910 novel ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ – or maybe just Rip Van Winkle? Young Bob Gable goes to sleep in a cave in 1934, and wakes up in May 2034. Much as the first ‘Buck Rogers In The Year 2429AD’ had done, in his January 1929 US newspaper strip. Leaking gas had put them both into a suspended animation state. ‘I must be going dotty’ he says as he wakes with his clothes reduced to ageing tatters. Emerging from the cave, he discovers rubber roads that lead towards the gleaming lights of Bradford, and bullet-shaped cars that flash past ‘at something over sixty miles per hour’ (was that considered fast in 1934?). Soon, he meets young Frank Holmes in his zippered grey one-suit. After they exchange a few Biffs to the nose prompted by their mutual suspicions – something that was obviously regarded as a kind of bonding ritual, Bob accepts that he’s become ‘a vagrant from another century’. Yet there’s less futuristic thrills as there are chases and encounters with criminal bad guys in the ensuing instalments...


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Comicbook Hero: NICK SWIFT OF THE PLANET PATROL



NICK SWIFT OF 
THE PLANET PATROL 

 ‘SPACE, DETECTIVE, TRAVEL, FOOTBALL
 AND WAR-TIME THRILLS – 
‘ADVENTURE’ HAS THEM ALL’ 
(‘Adventure’ no.1466, 21 February 1953)


Three decades on from the launch of ‘Adventure’, the sudden explosive emergence of ‘Eagle’ shook up the cosy DC Thomson monopoly. ‘A is for ‘Adventure’ and ‘Adventure’ stands for the best reading you can get’ announces the promotional ad panel. The advert drew attention to three text-tales running in the current issue. The first one features Detective Dixon Hawke. Then there’s the Jungle adventures of ‘Tajar The Giant-Killer’. And thirdly the ‘Champ From The Covered Waggon’, a Cowboy Boxer tale. But there’s also ‘Two Terrific Picture Stories’. ‘The Fighting Falcon’ War-drama. And the ‘superspeed excitement’ of ‘Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’. Hulton’s new kid on the block also ran a mix of text short-stories and serials, including SF by Arthur C Clarke. Clarke’s involvement materialised most obviously in the inclusion of his short story “The Fires Within” in ‘Eagle no.17’ – 4 Aug 1950, an adaptation of an earlier story in which the discovery of a vast subterranean civilisation beneath the Earth has accidentally disastrous consequences. It appears as by ‘Charles Willis’ with some judicious Chad Varah’s sub-editing.

But soon Clarke was also there under his own name, contributing an article ‘Is Space Travel Possible? It Certainly Is!’ for the 1953 ‘Dan Dare’s Space Book’, illustrated by the influential Chesley Bonestell. Clarke also continued anonymously as a guiding force behind ‘Professor Brittain Explains...’ an illustrated facts-and-information column with educational texts on radar, telescopes, X-Rays, and Deep-Sea Diving. There were also text ‘Biggles’ tales by celebrated writer Captain WE Johns. Neverthless, it was the debut of ‘Eagle’ that switched the emphasis of boy’s adventure comics decisively away from dense pages of prose towards vivid picture-serials. With the glossy high-quality artwork of Dan Dare as the poster-boy of the new revolution.


DC Thomson was slow to react. Yet as early as March 1952 they devised ‘Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’, and promoted it in colour picture-strip form to the cover of ‘Adventure’. Set in the year 3023, the exploits are set within a federation of the five solar system planets inhabited by ‘thinking beings’, united by ‘Durando, the universal language’. The federation consists of Earthmen working in harmony with Neptunians, Venusians, Plutonians, and Martians who, due to ‘the terrible climate’ of their world, are ‘forced to live underground’. ‘It was hundreds of years since the governments of the various planets had combined together to smash the piracy which was then rife. At first their agreement had been only to put down those adventurers who, in swift spaceships, were preying on the great cargo-carrying space-transports which carried on trade between the planets. Gradually the agreement had been extended, until an interplanetary police-force was established – the Inter-stellar Police’.

So far, so promising. But actually, the strip appears in that curious hybrid form with rows of square-box speech-bubble-free illustrations with numbered text-boxes below running a full narrative commentary. In the evolution – some might say ‘devolution’ from solid-text to picture-strip format, it was most definitely a brief half-way house transitional stage. And, unlike the innovative colour-detonations splashed across ‘Eagle’ covers, the art-style for ‘Nick Swift’ is restrained and naively conventional. Even clunky. Their stubby red snub-nosed PP41 rocketship with its curved fins, ‘its rocket engines belching long tongues of flame through the astral void’, is clearly modelled on those in Dick Calkins ‘Buck Rogers’ strips. But they use an imaginative array of futuristic weaponry, such as solex-rays, Z-guns, neurite tube-guns, ray-rifles that touch off a lethal stream of electrons, and Nick’s ‘pellet-sized atomic grenades’ which cause ‘little or no explosion, but the charge of released neutrons blasted the (target) into instant senselessness’.


And the four-man personnel exhibit all the diversity of the crew of the ‘Enterprise’. In their matching red tunics emblazoned with yellow lightning-flashes-in-a-clenched-fist logo, as well as dashing hero Nick himself – a ‘keen-eyed husky young man with a shock of unruly hair’, there’s burly second-in-command Sergeant Bill Logan, plus a green-skinned Venusian called Triton, and Inky Johnson the tall jovial ‘negro radio-operator’. Despite his wince-inducing nickname it was innovatory to have a black character in a major role. And it was Inky’s spanner that saves the ship from disaster as early as the second instalment, and his solo venture on Jupiter’s moon Fragg that finally outwits the Venusian pirates.

But first, the opening panel sets the scene. ‘At 100 miles per second the rocket-ship Planet Patrol 41 hurtled through space on one of its routine flights. With ten million miles of space-ways to patrol, the Inter-Stellar Police had no easy task. It took the toughest and smartest of men to hold down the job and the crew of PP41, led by Lieutenant Nick Swift, was reckoned to be the finest bunch of cops in the whole of the universe’. They answer an SOS from the small planet Draco where an Earth weather-station has come under attack from giant apemen. Where Draco is supposedly located is never quite clear, but shortly afterwards the hulking Sygno and ‘his savage mates looked up to see PP41 swishing in to make a landing’. After the Space Cops’ ray-guns swiftly quell the attack, they chain Sygno and prepare to take him to Mars where ‘a spell in jail will teach him not to make attacks on weather-stations’. After all, how dare a native species have the temerity to oppose human imperial expansion across the galaxy? But as Nick skilfully navigates the ship around Meteorite Z9 where ‘chunks of molten matter were continually being flung into space’, Sygno exerts his superhuman strength to break free. In the ensuing tussle ‘with no-one at the controls, the space-ship swings off course towards the exploding meteorite…’ and the plot momentum gathers.

Soon, the Spaceways cops are speeding to confront green-hued Venusian slave-trader Vaska and his evil scientist ally Terro, who are kidnapping Altairians to work his asteroid plutonium mines. ‘I’ll get that rat yet!’ grits Nick as he faces ‘The Menace Of The Phantom Globe’ and ‘The Torture Of The Petrifying Death’ in his battle with the ‘Lawless Bandits Of The Cosmos’. The exploit continues on Mersa, capital city of the nine moons of Jupiter where Nick assists King Soltan to triumph over his evil rival Narka – who is in league with Vaska’s pirates, in a quest to find the nine missing jewels of the State Crown. As Vaska operates from his giant orbiting spacecraft-carrier, there’s a final double-panel space-battle over the city of Ulid on the moon Fragg. It closes an episodic tale – made up of at least three distinct stories within its arc, and if it’s occasionally rather silly – especially the over-extended ‘living statue’ sequence, it’s relieved by humour such as Nick riding a flying bicycle through the skies of Mersa. But Nick will return, after a well-deserved break, the following year.

 Again there’s a segmented story-structure. First, fed up with their period of leave, the four members of the Planet Patrol join elderly bearded research physicist Professor Cavendish as bodyguards on his expedition to Veerdon, the Peril Planet. Major Mann’s briefing warns them that it ‘lies in the zero belt, so beware of aerial ice-bergs’. This turns out to mean avoiding – or blasting their way through a ring of ice-asteroids, then gliding in for a safe pancake landing on the hazardous, but terraumin-rich world. ‘Hey, come and take a squint at this!’ says Nick as they look out in awe over the ‘grotesque rock shapes and weird tropical growths’. Then the ship is encircled by a hideous alien serpent. Nick uses the 200,000-volt asteroid-repeller to give its writhing coils ‘a hot reception’. With oddly coincidental timing, a terraumin tower they’ve spotted begins spitting ‘a deadly hail of rockets’ to bombard London. 

‘Let’s get cracking – pronto!’ urges Nick, and they drive an amphibious mobo-sledge, braving attacks by a giant shaggy apeman, a monster crocodile, and a tregosaurous to reach the ‘roman candle’, use rotor-packs to descend into its nerve-centre and arrest the dwarf-aliens responsible. Pausing only for a football game on prison asteroid Astrid, and tackling a flock of giant eagles menacing astro-messengers, they’re off to investigate the disappearance of planet Terro. Tracking the deadly green ray to Frankel ‘the planet of the dead’. ‘Thick banks of mist ahead of the speeding machine parted to show the cruel outline of Frankel’s needle-pointed peaks’. They locate and short-circuit the beam-gun just as Vaska ‘arch-criminal of the universe’ – for it is he, targets Earth. A ‘blinding flash of light ripped apart the dark void’ and its curtains for Vaska and his planet… or is it?


The adventure was followed by a long text serial, demoting our heroes from cover-star status into dense interior spreads, but carrying them through to the end of 1953. It opens dramatically on the orbital Astroglobe One HQ of the Inter-Stellar Police, where Earth receives an ultimatum from ‘Galaxion, Lord Of The Cosmos’. To prove his mighty powers, and as a warning demonstration, the ‘power-mad super-crook’ turns his super-science on Asteroid 37, a ‘miniature planet’ boasting vegetation and two lakes. In the Cosmora, a new ship fitted with an atomic-converter drive, and carrying Nick’s stowaway fourteen-year-old schoolboy brother Ed, the Space Cops investigate, to find the worldlet’s Martian colonists petrified into ‘marble statues’. Piecing clues together, Nick ties in Galaxion’s ultimatum with a spate of missing scientists, including Professor Zed and British Dr Renson, and is given ten weeks to thwart the cosmic megalomaniac’s tyrannical ambitions. Soon, they’re pursuing a mystery ship towards Nebula 14 located in ‘some unknown star-system far beyond Earth’s own familiar planets’. They find a secret domed base on barren Asteroid X with a huge saucer-shaped disc for projecting the paralysing ray.


When his saucer crashes Nick gets an unexpected ally in Mutus, a silver spider from Aranda, ‘beyond the galaxies you know’. By hiding himself aboard Galaxion’s ship Nick captures the brown six-fingered hump-backed Plutonian, but the ship is holed by a ‘fragment of star-dust’. In the confusion it is explained that, although Nick ‘had dived into space, he did not fall. A man could not fall in space’. Spread out across fourteen-weeks the full word-count of the single linear adventure must surely total almost a novel’s-worth of thrills before Nick rescues the captured scientists. But details of which writer should be given credit, and the name of the artist who contributes the spot-illustrations are probably, unfairly, lost forever as, in the nick of time, the Space Cops escape before Minor, the tiny moon of X is drawn down out of its orbit by Galaxion’s gravity-ray. In the final catastrophic collision that brings his evil ambitions to an end, Asteroid X, Minor, and Galaxion himself are shattered into space-fragments. The crew of PP41 head back to Earth for some well-deserved juicy steaks.


For the fourth and final adventure the ace cosmic investigator and his crew are reinstated to the front-and-back cover-spread in picture form. A return announced as ‘Your Picture-Story Space Hero Is Back Today, In The Thrilling Story Of His Battle To Save The Universe From Disaster!’ In a new more streamlined ‘dart-like’ atomic-powered ship the foursome jet home after a six-month mission in outer space to find mid-summer London blanketed in ice. Earth has been forced off its axis so that ‘London’s now where the North Pole was!’ They back-trace the disturbing planetary influence to a giant space-station, a bulbous hulk of gleaming red metal which is using a latticed spider’s-web dish to ‘trap cosmic rays from the sun’ and beam them at Earth.


Before they can disable the mysterious Ray Station they’re attacked by Flying Saucers which emits lethal ice-weapons. They hunt down the troublesome yellow-skinned Volcans responsible to planet Hespia. The attached text-box tells how, with ‘powdery snow fountaining upwards, the skis of the space cruiser touched down amid the crags’. Once down Nick calls ‘Okay blokes, get into your space togs and we’ll see about finding the wise guys with the freeze-up beam’. As they explore, Nick saves a Hespian native from attack by a prowling Brontyl, the armour-plated cat-like sabre-toothed scourge of the planet’s polar regions. This heroic rescue makes allies of the initially hostile sparsely-clad ‘planet-dwellers’. Led by Gec, the grizzled old Hespian leader, they’re led to a vast cavern for a council of war, forming an alliance, and using fifty-ton dinosaurian Hurodons to fight back against the invading Volcans. More thrills follow as the aliens retaliate by deploying Saucers armed with coiling metal tentacles to snatch the pals, and whisk them away to their ‘modernistic’ city to confront the Five Giant Ruling Brains. The Overlords’ bodies so atrophied they must be carried on litters by their bearers. Escaping the Volcans execution vault, and fleeing the city in a stolen rocket-car, Nick crashes into a crevasse only to be carried off by a giant vampire bat, but survives to lead his Hespian allies as ‘the battle for the city was on!’


The Space Cops explode the powerhouse where technicians feed atomic fuel to the burners, then ‘borrow’ a rocket interceptor to destroy the ray-station, hence saving Earth too. But, ‘from amidst the debris of the shattered blockhouse, the sphere of armoured metal staggered aloft, flames flashing from the two rocket units which provided both upthrust and forward movement. Flashes of a more deadly kind came lancing from the numerous gun-turrets studded into the flying tank, scything into the advancing ranks of the Hespian battlers. The last of the Volcan invaders, their city destroyed and over-run by the rebels, had sprung this surprise weapon on the Hespians in their very moment of triumph’. The last Brain escapes, but is defeated by Nick in single combat on the outer skin of the space station over Earth, and drifts off into the void. ‘Right! Next mission – a month’s leave’ grins Nick. But although the single more-integrated story-line allied to improved art makes Nick Swift’s swansong probably his finest moment, he was never to return to active duty on the pages of ‘Adventure’.


Of course DC Thomson’s speciality had always been Sports stories, School stories and War stories. That wouldn’t change. Now declaring itself ‘The Boys Paper With Punch, Thrills In Print And Pictures’, there would continue to be occasional forms of SF too, and they’d certainly evolved since the dramatic 1940 cover illustration of ‘Adventure no.988’, showing the grim space-suited ‘Wardens Of The Worlds In Space’ on their lunar world. Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol, even in his already-anachronistic hybrid form, was their first determined leap into genuine picture-strip SF. In truth though, his ‘Amazing Stories Of Life In The Year 2040’ lacked the authenticity – if that’s the appropriate term, which made rival-strips Dan Dare, Jet-Ace Logan, Captain Condor or Rick Random seem convincing. And DC Thomson would not evolve a wholly satisfying Space Hero until some years later, with Starhawk.

 We of the twenty-first century might have witnessed figures moving on a lunar landscape not unlike the one the uncredited DC Thomson artist visualised. But a funny thing happened to us on the way to that future. Their future happened. If not always exactly in the way they envisaged.


Comicbook SF: DC THOMSON SPACE HEROES



DC THOMSON SPACE HEROES 


‘ADVENTURE’ (no.1, 17 September 1921 – 1878 issues to 14 January 1961, when it merges with ‘Rover’) First of DC Thomson’s ‘Big 5’ story-papers. Includes Sci-fantasy text-serial tales:

The Shipwrecked Circus’ (no.372, 15 December 1928), Samson’s Circus, recreated in ‘Beano’ in 1943, and with Pat Nicolle art for the 1958 ‘Beano Annual’


Strang The Terrible’ (no.775, 5 September 1936, then no.963, 1940), cover-picture for no.1310 (25 February 1950) announces ‘Strang Is Back Today’, and a cover picture-strip story ‘Strang In The Underworld’ runs through 1951, relaunched in ‘Beano’ in (no.240, 9 September 1944 – 1945) with art by Dudley Watkins (page reproduced in ‘Great British Comics’ Aurum, 2006)


Wardens Of The Worlds In Space’ (no.988, 5 October 1940)

The City That Forgot’ (no.1088, 28 August 1943 – 12-parts, to no.1099) ‘What would happen if everybody in your town suddenly forgot everything they had ever learned?’ The city of Russell Boulder, is isolated by a landslide, when Dr Michael Wane and his dull-witted Lurch-like slave Sibbar, unleashes his ultra-shortwave radiation. Airman Billy Powell force-lands his plane in the city square, into scenes of madness as the citizens devolve into mindless animal behaviour, robbed of all their memories. The story returns ‘In Pictures’ from no.1452 (10 May 1952)


The World Of Tomorrow’ (no.1100, 12 February 1944)

They’ll Try It Again’ (no.1129, 24 March 1945 – 14-parts)


Bull Raiders From The Red Orb’ (no.1130, 7 April 1945 – 17 parts to no.1143, 6 October 1945) ‘A Wild West Story A Million Miles From The Wild West!’ Professor Hamilton with four men from the Circle-7 Ranch in Texas pursue cattle-rustlers from the Red Orb, ‘one of the lesser-known planets, nearly a million miles away’ – unwittingly carrying fourteen-year-old stowaway Davie Baird with them. They use a crashed alien ship which the professor re-equips.

The Lost Legion’ (1948), front-cover picture-strip (no voice-balloons), a Roman city in Africa located – as in H Rider Haggard, by a human-head-shaped mountain, where Jimmy’s father is held prisoner. Zulu Untala fights the Monster of the Lake and Gool’s Ape-Men


Lost Warriors Of The Arctic’ (1949), front-cover strip, Chip discovers a Viking town inside a volcano crater

Outcast Of The Incas’ (from no.1251, 11 December 1948), front-cover picture-strip

The Bubble’ (from no.1405, 1 December 1951 – to no.1415, in 1952)


Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’ (First Series – Picture Story, no. 1419, 29 March 1952 – 15-parts to no.1434, 12 July 1952) Captain Ulmo’s brain-visualiser shows pirates kidnapping slaves from Altair, led by Vaska, operating from Ettin, his luxurious hide-out. Scientist Terro uses remote-hypnotism to control Triton, Nick tricks him, but the pals are captured and put to work in the Trog’s plutonium-mines. When Nick risks his life to save a slave from a punishment sacrifice to a ‘fiercesome monster’, he is sentenced to become a ‘living statue’, but the father of the slave he rescued assists him. With Vaska supposedly imprisoned they head for Jupiter where they rescue Timos marooned in space. Inky pretends to be ‘black guardsman’ Gooka to infiltrate Venusian pirates, and bashes Vaska over the head with a spanner.

Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’ (Second series – Picture Story, no. 1466, 21 February 1953 – 11-parts, to no.1476, 2 May 1953) On Veerdon’s weird ‘broken terrain of jagged smoking craters’ they sleep in ‘glass cigar’ sleeping bags and use a tregosaurous – ‘Come on Fido’ urges Nick, to smash their way into the spitting metal Tower. They then call off at planet Kardon en route to Frankel where – disguised in hoods and using a captured turb-car, they penetrate the mystery city from which Vaska is projecting his ‘destroyer beam’


Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’ (Third series – Text Story, no. 1488, 21 July 1953 – 14-parts, to no.1501, 24 October 24th 1953) Charb the Martian prospector, is the sole survivor of the petrifying-ray attack on Asteroid 37, the light he saw in the sky directs Nick towards Nebula 14. Galaxion demands sole monopoly of interplanetary trade and the disbanding of the Interstellar Police. Disguised as a Venusian by the ‘green lotion he always carried with him’ Nick enters the domed city to sabotage the space-tyrant’s power-room. Next, the ‘sinister master-brain’ turns his ray on planetoid refueling station Communa operated by Scots Director Ramsay. Characters are introduced, just to be killed off, Mutus is killed when Nick attempts to warn Communa. Then Lieutenant Gruk – leader of a force of Martian cops dispatched to aid Nick, is destroyed by the mutinous crew of a giant Venusian battle cruiser (towing an ‘artificial sun’) which is in league with Galaxion. Then Captain Rollin who leads the relief force is killed as the Space Cops breach Galaxion’s dome.

Nick Swift Of The Planet Patrol’ (Fourth series – Picture Story, no. 1568, 5 February 1955 – 22-parts, to no.1589, 2 July 1955) Landing in Hespia, Logan checks out the atmosphere-analyser, and, although ‘there’s a pretty high argon content’ it’s breatheable.



‘ROVER’ (no.1, 4 March 1922 – 1961) includes

Invisible Dick’ (no.1), serial about ancient bronze Egyptian invisibility relic, later revived for no.1 of ‘Dandy’

Morgyn The Mighty’ (no.304, 11 February 1928, re-launched for a 14-part strip-tale in ‘Beano’ no.1, 30 July 1938, with art by George ‘Dod’ Anderson. There was also a 214-page one-off ‘Morgyn The Mighty’ storybook in September 1951, drawn by Dudley D Watkins. (page reproduced in ‘Great British Comics’ Aurum, 2006). A further strip series for ‘Victor’ from January 1965, with Ted Kearon art


The Black Sapper’ (no.384, 24 August 1929), revived in ‘Beezer’ in 1959, and later still in ‘Hotspur’ 1971-1973


Jimmy & His Grockle’ (1932), a giant egg from Jimmy Johnson’s Uncle Bill in South American hatches into the dragon-like ‘queerest beast to walk on land’, revived in picture-form for ‘Dandy no.1’

The Purple Planet Needs Air’ (no.1078, 4th March 1944 to no.1102, 3rd February 1945) 14-part text-serial in which 6 ft tall aliens with metal bodies and their brains in a glass bowl set up giant suction machines which begin stealing the Earth’s atmosphere. The alien leader is ‘The Brain’, who is 9 ft tall and has a golden body. An expedition from Earth puts paid to their threat


The Big Tree’ (no.1125 to 1134, 1945 to 1946), ten parts. An expedition to a 3,000ft tall tree in Kenya is attacked by savage primitive Tree-Men, giant bats and monster caterpillars. Re-run as a picture-strip in ‘Wizard’ as late as 1974, last part 1 June

The Wonder Man’ (no.1132, 30 March 1946, and returns for four series, adapted as a strip it continued in ‘Victor’ from 1961-1962, then ‘Bullet’ from no.2, 21 February 1976 with Art by Tony Harding)

Tough Of The Track’ (1949), welder’s apprentice at Greystone, Alf Tupper begins his running career


Experiment X’ (3 September 1949 no.1262 – 12-parts, to no.1273)

The Ninety-Nine Deadly Days’ (25 February 1950 no.1276 – 12-parts, to no.1287)

The Menace In Pit 19’ (from 8 July 1950 no.1306 – 8 parts, to no.1313) trapped miners in Cragsbank Colliery encounter giant moles


The Purple Planet’ (from 9 February 1952 no.1389, to no.1406, 7 June 1952) text-story sequel to ‘Rover’ story from 1944

I Flew With Braddock’ (2 August 1952 no.1414), aerial narrative of Matt Braddock, ‘Britain’s Greatest Pilot Of The Second World War’ Bomber Command as supposedly told by Braddock’s navigator ‘George Bourne’. In reality, although uncredited, it was most likely written by Gilbert Lawford Dalton. Revived in picture-strip form in 1961 for launch issue of ‘Victor’


Raiders From The Red Planet’ (from 13 September 1952 no.1420, 14-parts to no.1433)

Return From Mars’ (from 3 January 1953 no.1444, 13-parts to no.1456) ‘Zero hour approaches! The armada of spaceships is ready to leave Mars for the invasion of the Earth!’ Mitch Fane returns from the Mars colony founded by British emigrants in 1954 to deal with invading Sarrians

The Days Of The Dinosaurs’ (from 18 December 1954 no.1538, 12-parts to no.1549) Scientists discover a hidden realm beneath a Scottish Loch

The Deadly Days Of The Capsids’ (22 October 1955 no.1582, 12-parts to no.1593) Aliens land in Britain


Escape From The Moon’ (from 4 February 1956 no.1597, 10-parts to no.1606)

The Miracle Man From Mars’ (from 10 November 1956 no.1637, 6-parts to no.1642)

The Barrow-Boy From Mars’ (from 28 September 1957 no.1683, 7-parts to no.1689) Mrs Tyzssh tries to sell Martian food to Earth-people

The Frightened Year Of The Fireflies’ (15 February 1958 no.1703, 15-parts to no.1717, 24 May 1958) with Britain invaded by an Eastern power

‘ROVER & ADVENTURE’ 

 ‘The Thing From Outer Space’ (17 March 1962) through to May



 ‘WIZARD’ (no.1, 23 September 1922 – 1963 Final issue no.1970, 16 November 1963) when it was merged with ‘Rover’, re-launched 14 February 1970 as a Picture-Paper, until 10 June 1978 (no.435) when it was merged with ‘Victor’) 

The Wolf Of Kabul’ (January 1930), in the North-West Frontier of British-ruled India, Bill Sampson battles alongside cricket-bat wielding faithful servant Chung. Revived into 1961 ‘Hotspur’ picture-strip

The Smasher’ (no.439, 2 May 1931), Doctor Doom’s robot would be revived for ‘Dandy’ in 1938, then ‘Victor’ and ‘Bullet’


The Fires Beneath The Desert’ (no.1037, 13 November 1943 – 12-parts, to no.1048)

The Truth About Wilson’ (no.1069, 24 July 1943) William Wilson from the Yorkshire Moors runs the four-minute-mile barefoot, in 3.48-minutes! Legendary character revived in ‘Hornet’ in 1964

Crimson Comet’ (no.1108, 3 August 1946 – 13-parts, to no.1120)



There Was Once A Game Called Football’ (1948) – set in the year 2148!

I Saw The End Of The World’ (no.1325, 7 July 1951 – 8-parts, to no.1332, 25 August)

The Monster In Hyde Park’ (no.1381, 2 August 1952 – to no.1388) A giant plant

Boyhood Of Desperate Dan’ (no.1492, 18 September 1954) text-tales of ‘Dandy’ tough-guy!


Bash Street School’ (4 June 1955) text-tales of ‘Beano’ kids!

Hands Off The Purple Planet’ (no.1713, 13 December 1958) Complete Text Story

The Ace Of Space’ (10 October 1959, no.1756 – no.1768) Matt Braddock was the ace Bomber Command RAF pilot of the ‘I Flew With Braddock’ World War II text-tales in ‘Rover’ since 1952. He cameos in this text-serial set in the future-year late Spring of 1961, but the central character is his young test-pilot nephew Norman who launches from the White Sands ‘ultra-modern rocket base’ of El Tusa, New Mexico as part of the US-Brit space programme – a joint UK/USA mission headlined in his local newspaper as ‘Walsall Man May Fly Round Moon’. The familiar Braddock connection is presumably there to ease readers into this cautious SF tale.



‘SKIPPER’ (no.1, 6 September 1930 – 1941) publication ‘temporarily’ suspended due to war-time paper shortages, but never revived

The Boy Who Slept 100 Years’ (no.182, 24 February 1934 – 25-parts, to no.206)

Britain Down – But Never Out’ (no.340, 6 March 1937 – 13-parts, to no.352)

The Hairy Sheriff’ (1940) 



‘HOTSPUR’ (no.1, 2 September 1933 – 17 October 1959 when it’s re-launched as a Picture-Paper, to be finally merged into ‘Victor’ in 24 January 1981) featured ‘Red Circle’ school stories. Includes Sci-fantasy text-serial tales:

At School In 1975’ (no.164, 17 October 1936 to no.175, 2 January 1937) Mr Spud – former Fourth Form Master, but since automation and television-teaching, he has become Caretaker of Bankfield School

Last Rocket To Venus’ (from no.313, 26 August 1939)

Lost School On The Whirling Planet’ (from no.389, 8 February 1941, to June 1941)


The Iron Teacher Speaks’ (no.412, 19 July 1941), returns no.716 (29 July 1950) with ‘The Iron Teacher vs A Sabre-Toothed Tiger’, then revived in 1959 as a picture-strip in revamped ‘Hotspur’ (no.691, 13 January 1973)

The Amazing Adventures Of Three Boys On The Moon’ (from no.433, 14 March 1942), dramatic cover-art of winged spaceship approaching the Moon

Space Detective’ (no.725, 30 September – no.732, 18 November 1950)


Captain Zoom: The Ace Of Space’ (no.770, 11 August 1951, for 28-parts) This ‘Great New Jet-Propelled Flying Story’ was actually a reconfiguration of ‘Captain Zoom: Birdman Of The RAF’, a WW2-story from ‘The Skipper’ (from no.512, 22 June 1940). Now a simplistic cover picture-strip with captions but no voice-balloons, it stars Zoom who has rotors on his helmet, with other character-names such as Zek & Zipp, plus robotic adversaries

Johnny Jett: The Super-Boy’ (no.782, 3 November 1951) ‘A Great New Story Told In Pictures’. Shipwrecked as a child on Signal Island, Johnny is brought up by scientist Samuel Holmes. He would adventure again from the first issue of ‘The New Hotspur’ (24 October 1959).

Neptune’s Chimney’ (no.827, 13 September 1952 – 6-parts, to 832)


Slaves Of The Machine’ (no.864, 23 May – no.873, 1 August 1953)

S.O.S From Planet X’ (no.923, 17 July 1954 – 12-parts, to no.934), the cover for no.933 – 25 September, shows ‘The Snake’, an Earthling turned interstellar gangster’ who ‘Leaves A trail Of Terror In The Great Space Story’. Also a banner announcing ‘Leatherface Is Back In A Great Picture-Story!’

The Men Who Lived Twice’ (no.1060, 2 March 1957) followed by sequel ‘The Man Who Lived Three Times’ from no.1067, 20 April


‘DANDY’ (founded by Albert Barnes, formerly of ‘Hotspur’, no.1 4 December 1937, with free ‘Express Whistler’, and ‘Korky The Cat’ cover-story by James Crichton, a position he holds until 10 November 1984. ‘Freddy The Fearless Fly’ by Allan Morley is also in the first 667-issues). No.1 also includes ‘Keyhole Kate’, ‘Desperate Dan’, ‘Barney Boko’, ‘Sammy And His Sister’, ‘Hungry Horace’, ‘Magic Mike And His Magic Shop,’, ‘Smarty Grandpa’, an ‘Our Gang’ strip based on the MGM Hal Roach film-characters, picture-strip Western ‘The Daring Deeds Of Buck Wilson’, plus text-tales ‘The Tricks Of Tommy’, ‘Red Hoof: The Great Story Of A Boy And A Young Stag’, ‘The Magic Sword: The Story Of A Boy Sent To Fight A Tyrant King’, ‘Wee Tusky: The Thrilling Jungle Like Of A Baby Elephant’, ‘When The West Was Wild’ (‘Jumping Frog’ ad for gift in no.2), and back-page ‘Bamboo Town’


Lost On The Mountain Of Fear’ (no.1, to 1939), plane-wrecked on an Andean plateau Major Bryant and children Peter and Patricia are saved by manservant Handy Clark who defies giant spiders to reach a Lost City. He returns versus Nigerian giants in ‘Handy Clark On The Treasure Trail’, by Fred Sturrock

Invisible Dick’ (no.1, to 1939), revived from 1922 ‘Rover’ serial about ancient bronze Egyptian invisibility relic. By George Ramsbottom


Jimmy And His Grockle’ (no.1, to 1939), revived in picture-form from 1932 ‘Rover’ text-story. A giant egg from Jimmy Johnson’s Uncle Bill in South American hatches into the dragon-like ‘queerest beast to walk on land’, by James Clark. Revived yet again for ‘Sparky’ 1966 to 1976

The Smasher’ (no.39, 27 August 1938), Dr Doom’s robot revived from ‘Wizard’ (1931), then by ‘Victor’ in 1962


The Boy With The Iron Hands’ (no.90, 19 August 1939, to 1940), the saga of super-strong David who, with the Sword of Truth, overthrows the tyrant King Roderick the Red of the city of Albion in the mythic Caledon, art by Fred Sturrock

Our Teacher’s A Walrus’ (1939)

Little White Chief Of The Cherokees’ (1939 to 1941), fantasy-Western in which presumed-dead Harry Martin is adopted by Native Americans, only to face the Grim Dwarf and the otter-skinned Lord Of The Big-Sea Water, art by George Ramsbottom


Jak The Dragon-Killer’ (1941), semi-mythic saga of mighty eight-foot-tall Tracian Jak who must slay a trail of monsters to rescue his three sons kidnapped by the King of Turkan, by James Fisher

Peter Pye’ (1942), Dudley Watkins’ charming tale of a poor woodcutter’s son who becomes Chief Chef for King Francis II, assisted by the magical utensils of the jolly dwarfs of the forest, story reprinted in ‘Beano & Dandy: A Library Of Laughs’ (DC Thomson, 2000)

King Of The Jungle’ (1943), animal-tracker Bill King with the vaguely fantastic element of a golden-tusked element, and a quest for the Missing Link, by James Clark


Black Bob’ (no.280, 25 November 1944) in the wake of the successful ‘Lassie’ cinema-movies, ‘The Wisest Sheepdog In Scotland’ begins as text tales (one from 18 August 1945 reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Favourites From The 40’s’, DC Thomson, 2003), new story no.519 (3 November 1951), text until 9 October 1955, resumes as picture-strip ‘WELCOME BACK! To Your Famous Old Pal, The Cleverest Collie In Britain’ (page reproduced in ‘Great British Comics’ Aurum, 2006). Drawn by Jack Prout in both versions. Bob visits Canada in 1964, hunts for missing Jimmy Glenn in Holland, rescues the kidnapped twin sons of a millionaire called Tucker, befriends circus poodle Lulu, and takes a 14-page Australian trip in 1976 (reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Around The World In 60 Years’ (DC Thomson, 1998). Selkirk shepherd Andrew Glenn with his wonder-dog Border Collie also feature in DC Thomson’s ‘Weekly News’ (5 October 1946 – 3 March 1967), and continues in ‘Dandy’ until 24 July 1982. Full feature with reprint stories in ‘Beano and Dandy: Crazy About Creatures’ (DC Thomson anthology) Also in ‘Classics From The Comics no.7’

The Amazing Mr X’ (1944), Len Manners, ‘a big loosely-built private inquiry agent’, assumes the secret identity of the first all-British caped superhero in ‘a queer costume, black skin-tight trousers and white jersey, with a flowing black cloak and black mask’. No real super-powers although ‘hidden powers seemed to surge through his body’ giving him ‘amazing strength’. When an escaping rail-crook unhooks the carriages of a speeding train Mr X ‘grabbed the connecting link’ and ‘exerting all his strength… pulled the two carriages together and closed the catch’. Wow! Art by Jack Glass (story in ‘Classics From The Comics no.17’)


Danny Longlegs’ (no.286, 3 February 1945, to 1950), Danny Kettle,‘he’s ten-feet tall and up to the ears in trouble!’ in medieval Sleepy Valley, by Dudley Watkins. He returns to ‘Dandy’ in 1962 with crafty circus-scout Clem Davis from Boulder City trying to sign him up (one tale reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Side By Side’, DC Thomson, 1999)

Wuzzy Wiz – Magic Is His Biz’ (no.369, 21 May 1949 to 1955) Bill Holroyd illustrates the comic tales of this bungling medieval magician. Reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: History Of Fun’ (DC Thomson, 2001)

Sir Solomon Snoozer’ (no.408, 17 September 1949 to 1950), the Red Knight with horse Ribshanks and page Robin O’Dare entombed in a medieval cave, revived for comical japes in the modern world, Paddy Brennan’s first art-work of DC Thomson. ‘Gadzooks!’ (panels reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Crazy About Creatures’)

Lion Boy’ (13 August 1949 to 22 April 1950), jungle-boy Raboo is captured and sold to Martin’s Mammoth Circus in the USA, he escapes with his lion and heads for his African home, art by Jack Glass


‘BEANO’ (founded by George Moonie, formerly of ‘Hotspur’ and ‘Wizard’, no.1, 30 July 1938, with Reg Carter’s comic ostrich ‘Big Eggo’ as cover-story for the first 326-issues. In June 1988 a copy of ‘Beano no.1’ was auctioned in Edinburgh for £825)

Morgyn The Mighty’ (no.1, 1938), strip-adaptation of ‘Rover’s ‘Strongest Man In The World’, with art by Kearon. Later revived in ‘Victor’ in 1963

Tom Thumb’ (no.1, as text tales, then 1941 to 1958) ‘the brave little one’ six-inch hero rides Peterkin the Cat through medieval England, with curly-haired black friend Tinkel and text-boxes in rhyme, one from November 1946 reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Favourites From The 40’s’, DC Thomson, 2003. Art by Dudley D Watkins. Later in ‘Bimbo’ (1961 to 1969) and ‘Little Star’ (1973 to 1975)


Here Comes Ping The Elastic Man’ (no.1, to 1940) comical rhyming romps from Hugh McNeill

Wild Boy Of The Woods’ (no.1, to 1942, then 1947-1949), feral boy lives in a secret cave entered through a hollow tree, with old hermit called Grandfather, in the woods near Barchester, art by Toby Baines

Tin-Can Tommy: The Clockwork Boy’ (1938) in May 1942 the tin boy comically foils a Nazi agent, story reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Favourites From The 40’s’ (DC Thomson, 2003)


The Shipwrecked Circus’ (no.200, text-tales 27 February 1943 to 1947, picture-strips 1951 to 1958), revived from early ‘Adventure’, when the ‘Margo’ sinks, the Circus performers are stranded on the South Sea Crusoe Island – leopardskin-clad strongman Samson, Trixie the Bareback Rider, Danny the young acrobat, Gloopy the dwarf clown and Horace the cigar-chomping educated ape. Strips reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Focus On The Fifties’ (DC Thomson, 2004) and ‘Beano and Dandy: Around The World In 60 Years’ (DC Thomson, 1998). Artist Paddy Brennan later created ‘Showboat Circus’ for ‘Beezer’ with leopardskin-clad strongman Big Jim Sullivan’s circus sailing the Mississippi in the 1840s on the ‘Southern Belle’



Jimmy And His Magic Patch’ (no.222, 1 January 1944, first series to no.239, then to 1949, Art: Dudley Watkins. Art by Paddy Brennan 1950 to 1951, and 1959, with many reprints including in ‘Classics From The Comics’), he frees Roman and Carthaginian galley-slaves (1944), joins ‘Strang The Terrible’ (3 June 1944, the episode reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Side By Side’, DC Thomson, 1999), visits Delhi for the Indian Mutiny (1946), William Tell (1946), Nero’s amphitheatre (1946), Japan ‘where ju-jitsu was first taught’ (1946), the Great Fire of London (1948), Ali Baba (24 January/ 7 February 1948), with baby cousin Ernie in Lilliput (1948, reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Favourites From The 40’s’, DC Thomson, 2003), a jousting tournament with Sir Gerard vs The Black Knight (1949), Sir Lancelot (13 August 1955), King Canute (17 August 1957), with Horatius defending Rome from Lars Porsenna’s Etruscans (1959), uses the lawn-roller to help cave-boys escape a Tyrannosaurus (1959), he becomes a 19th Century chimney Sweep (1960), the Charge of the Light Brigade with Florence Nightingale, and Felix the family cat helps him when Phoenician traders are attacked by Moorish pirates


Strang The Terrible’ (no.240, 9 September 1944, to 1945) Dudley Watkins picture-strip version of original ‘Adventure’ text-tales. Strang guests in a ‘Jimmy & His Magic Patch’ tale dated 3 June 1944 (reprinted in ‘Beano and Dandy: Side By Side’, DC Thomson, 1999). Feature and strip – Strang tangles with King Agar and Kark the High Priest in the Lost City, in ‘Beano: 70 Years Of Fun’ (DC Thomson, August 2008)


The Horse That Jack Built’ (1949), with a highly unlikely medieval premise young Jack London has a robot ‘clockwork’ horse with telescopic legs which he rides to outwit Baron Grimface (reprinted in ‘Beano And Dandy: Favourites From The 40’s’, DC Thomson, 2003), and an ejector saddle when he faces pirates on the Golden Hawk in November 1956 (reprinted in ‘Beano And Dandy: Focus On The Fifties’, DC Thomson, 2004)


Jack Flash’ (no.355, 19 February 1949 to 1958), ‘Out in the inky blackness of space, against a background of whirling planets, a strange machine hurtled at lightning speed towards the Earth…’, the son of the planet Mercury’s top scientist takes Dad’s snub-nosed rocket-ship, ‘of a kind that even scientists on Earth had only dreamed about’. It crashes into the English Channel off the south coast. Like the mythological Mercury he has winged heels which allow him to fly and commit minor naughty-step mischief. Art by Dudley Watkins, and then (from 1955) by Paddy Brennan. Lived again in ‘Mandy’ – as Jackie Flash (1973), and ‘Nutty’ (1980), strip reprinted in ‘Beano And Dandy: Around The World In 60 Years’ (DC Thomson, 1998). That the Rolling Stones had a hit record with “Jumping Jack Flash” is perhaps purely coincidental

‘MAGIC’ (22 July 1939 to 25 January 1941. With cover-star ‘Koko The Pup’, its 80-issues were ended by the war-time paper shortages that also forced ‘Beano’ and ‘Dandy’ to alternate on fortnightly schedules)

The Seven-Foot Cowboy’ (no.1, 1939), good-natured Sheriff of Boulder Gap, art by James Walker

Gulliver’ (no.61, 1940), Dudley Watkins takes comic liberties adapting Dean Swift’s classic tale

Beric The Cave-Boy’ (1940), ten-thousand years ago ‘long before civilisation had come to Britain’, Beric’s family compete with dinosaurs for a cave to live in, art by James Walker

With grateful thanks to Vic Whittle’s wonderful website