Category Archives: Comic Introductions

SUPER NATURALS: iN REAL TiME

Completing this winter’s trilogy of classic comics created and edited by Barrie Tomlinson is 1987/88’s licenced title, Super Naturals. As you can see by my little pile of the complete series it’s another short-lived comic, cut short far too early. At the time I only bought the first couple of issues and, after receiving one of the toys for Christmas, the very final issue. But that’s the great thing about this blog, I not only get to revisit favourites I collected as a kid, I also get to read those I wanted to, and all in real time for that authentic experience.


“Is it a Ghost? Is it a Man? Agghh! It’s a Hologram!”

Super Naturals TV advert

So for the uninitiated what were the Super Naturals? Released the same year as Hasbro‘s ill-fated Visionaries line, Tonka‘s toys also featured holograms, an expensive addition to toys that the companies both thought would result in sure-fire hits. Super Naturals went a lot further with the concept, covering a lot more of the toys, even replacing the faces of the action figures as you’ll see in this first advert shown in the UK in the autumn of that year.

The story behind it involved the Tomb of Doom, a mysterious doorway to another world. It would appear and disappear at various moments throughout history, enticing explorers, heroes and conquerors alike. But once inside they’d instantly be killed and turned into supernatural entities with the ability to transform into animals or creatures most suited to their character. Unable to fight in the other realm they’d break through into our reality to battle it out.

Tonka was renowned for high quality truck toys and the range would include two of these as well, complete with weapons and holograms. The action figures were solid and quite a lot larger than their holographic competitors and each came with a glow-in-the-dark weapon just to add to the creepiness when played with in the dark. Shining torches on them worked just as well in the daytime obviously, but kids would often be found in darkened rooms bringing the monsters, ghosts and goblins to life.

The adverts certainly caught my attention at the time; the creepy music and the horrific looking monsters that could change and disappear looked incredible. I’d never seen anything like them before and on a trip to a not-so-local toy store I convinced my parents to pass on my excitement to Santa Claus. This was all during the build up to Hallowe’en, a holiday I never really participated in as a kid but my imagination had been captured and, quite perfectly, on Saturday 31st October itself I spotted the first issue of a brand new comic.

However, due to the fickle attention span ten-year-old me had by the time Christmas came along something else had taken the top slot in the Santa Claus list, namely Visionaries! I received the one Ghostling toy my parents had already bought me, Scary Cat, but received a wealth of Hasbro’s Knights of the Magical Light and three vehicles! (This was because the Visionaries had launched a lot earlier in the year and were already flopping, so had been reduced in price in the toy shops.)

I do recall particularly liking the little Super Natural, especially removing its plastic cloak and arms and shining a torch on it in the dark, the witch/cat apparently sitting right in front of me, so good was the 3D effect. In early 1988 I chanced upon #9 of their comic in the hope of collecting it every fortnight along with more of the toys.

Unfortunately, inside it contained a message that it was to be the last issue. I was disappointed but not overly, since I hadn’t been collecting it or the toys yet so wasn’t emotionally attached. Later in the year when a certain piggy publication was cancelled that would be a whole other story! But due to the cancellation of the comic I never did collect any more of the toys, which looking back at them now (especially those trucks in the advert at the bottom of this post) I kind of regret.

There wasn’t a cartoon and UK fans were the only ones to get a comic tie-in. It was a unique title and one which holds up today in unexpected ways. There are ongoing strips featuring the epic story of the Super Naturals, a more comedic one based around the Ghostlings (the smaller helpers) and an anthology series based on ideas sent in by readers which would turn their imaginations into full strips full of gruesome art.

I remember it being genuinely disturbing and scary, so obviously loving it.

But best remembered is The Doll. A horror series created specifically for Super Naturals comic, it wasn’t tied into the toys and told the tale of a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy. I remember it being genuinely disturbing and scary, so obviously loving it. Thanks to the line-up of strips Super Naturals was very much like a licenced version of the earlier Scream! comic, which had also been edited by Barrie.

After its preview issue there was also a free Blockbuster Advert just like OiNK had and the comic itself lasted for nine fortnightly issues, one Holiday Special and a glossy Adventure Book released in early January to appeal to those who had received the toys for Christmas. The preview issue also came complete with a special card introducing the main characters and will be reviewed here on the OiNK Blog this day next week, Sunday 24th October 2021.

Be here! You won’t want to miss this in-depth look at a forgotten classic.

WiLDCAT: iN REAL TiME

OiNK launched itself into the world with a preview issue, something new for IPC Magazines in the 1980s. When its final issue rolled around (now published by Fleetway) it in turn contained a free preview for a brand new comic, coming full circle as Uncle Pigg sailed off into the sunset.

During OiNK’s two-and-a-half year run and 68 regular issues we were treated to a total of 12 free gifts, each one a special treat and this was probably the best of them all. It felt like my first comic was passing the baton to a new kid on the block, and that new kid was Wildcat.

After 11 years 2000AD had matured along with its audience, appealing more to parents who had grown up with it than the ten-year-olds and young teens it was originally aimed at. Quite violent by the standards of the day some of its contents was no longer deemed suitable for such young eyes. (This is something Rebellion have tried to counter with the 2000AD Regened series in recent times.) Fleetway saw a chance to launch a new sci-fi title aimed at 80s children within that original target audience bracket and so they approached Group Editor of Sport and Adventure, Barrie Tomlinson.

At the time Barrie was editing such comics as Eagle and Roy of the Rovers. The previous year he’d also launched Super Naturals which is coming to the blog very shortly and in 1989 fellow real time read through comic, Ring Raiders. But these are just a small part of his incredible career.

You can’t get much more shocking than Earth exploding, killing billions and leaving only several hundred survivors on a hastily crafted spaceship

Barrie came up with the idea of a storyline which would run through all of its the strips, a storyline launched with a dramatic, shocking event to pull readers into the concept. Well, you can’t get much more shocking than Earth exploding, killing billions and leaving only several hundred survivors on a hastily crafted spaceship in a desperate search for a new world. In some ways it may sound slightly familiar to fans of Battlestar Galactica, but it was in no way inspired by that series. Besides, at the time the original 70s version of that show hadn’t been successful and wasn’t known to those of us Wildcat was being aimed at.

Inside each issue we’d follow the adventures of four teams as they navigated our species’ potential new home, a planet found only after an extensive search. Each strip would be named after the team’s leader; we had research scientist and Wildcat creator Turbo Jones, the mysterious warrior Kitten Magee, former mercenary Loner and last survivor of his alien race Joe Alien. We’d also get glimpses inside the orbiting Wildcat in complete tales which would build up into a Twilight Zone-esque series of stories, often leaning towards a kind of claustrophobic horror.

The idea was we’d eventually realise this planet wasn’t the right place to settle, so the comic would move on to another and another, with an almost endless variety of different stories to tell. But it wasn’t only in the comic’s story that Wildcat was innovative, it was truly groundbreaking in its choice of characters. Barrie was adamant he wanted strong female and black leads, which we got in the magnificent Kitten Magee and Loner who were easily my favourite characters.

The team working on the comic included such renowned names as Ian Kennedy, Vanyo, James Nicholas, Massimo Belardinelli, José Ortiz, David Pugh, Enrique Alcatena, Joan Boix, Jesús Redondo and Ron Smith. Make no mistake, this was a quality comic and one I just had to have on regular order! I was allowed a maximum of four comics on my reservation list at the newsagent’s and in October 1988 these spaces were filled with OiNK, The Real Ghostbusters, Big Comic Fortnightly and Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, so when OiNK was cancelled logically I had a spare place on my list. Well, that’s how I was able to wrangle it with my parents anyway.

It’s heart-warming to see how highly regarded Wildcat is with comics fans young and old

I adored every issue and was crestfallen when #12 told us it was merging with Eagle comic. How could this happen again and so soon after OiNK’s demise? It may have been described as being for younger siblings in the pages of 2000AD but it never felt that way and never spoke down to us. Perhaps it’s marketing made it sound unappealing to older teens, which is a real shame because it reads so well today. But the whole point of Wildcat was to go after the younger readers who were becoming more interested in video games and TV and who didn’t have their own sci-fi comic.

It’s heartwarming to see how highly regarded it is with comics fans young and old these days thanks to its solid, layered storytelling and gorgeous art. Wildcat‘s legacy is solid and it’s about to join the OiNK Blog with its own real time read through on Friday 15th October 2021 when I’ll be taking a closer look at the preview, followed a week later with the first fortnightly issue.

RiNG RAiDERS: iN REAL TiME

Do you remember these Matchbox toys? Created in partnership with Those Characters From Cleveland (Care Bears, My Pet Monster, Popples) it felt like there wasn’t a single ad break without that catchy metal music in the latter half of 1989. Synonymous with miniature toy cars Matchbox released Ring Raiders, an assortment of high quality, colourful planes of various types and configurations and presented each on a small ring perfect for my eleven-year-old hands. This meant they could be flown in formation around every room in the house, complete with annoying (for my parents) sound effects from the Battle Blaster joystick.

In the summer of 1989 I was captivated by the idea. I started off with a special Ring Raiders Starter Pack, a cheaper set of two planes (normally they came in sets of four) so kids could try them out and hopefully get sucked into collecting them all. Mine contained one from each side of the battle, the Ring Raiders themselves and their enemies the Skull Squadron. I can remember playing with them all the time, even setting them up on their rings next to my bedside lamp so they’d be the first things I’d see in the mornings.

With each pack came a mini-comic and the pilots behind these two planes soon became my favourite characters, something which continued into the pages of the comic.

The background story concerned the formation of Skull Squadron ten years into the then future, a band of extremely talented fighter pilots who could travel through time in their bid for world domination. Their aim was to manipulate events through history to change the world order to suit themselves. Formed to stop these terrorists were the heroic Ring Raiders who created a massive time-travelling flying fortress which they’d use to recruit the best and bravest pilots from the past, present and future.

This was a neat set up to allow for the fact the toy aircraft could be based on classic World War II fighter planes, modern day jets or even some brand new prototypes, all fighting it out side-by-side. By Christmas 1989 the sets were being accompanied by large bases, those sound effect joysticks, audio adventures, medal and plane sets, a display stand and even a couple of videos of the cartoon episodes produced as a series of pilots (no pun intended) in the US.

I was a collector straight away and over the months my assortment of planes grew. Any visiting family members from the mainland knew what to bring with them, Santa stocked up for that Christmas and loved ones were secretly discussing which sets I had and which ones were already purchased as presents.

I can honestly say no other toy line excited me as much as Ring Raiders and every new plane acquired was an event.

In the end I had numerous wings (the name given to each set of four planes, each with one named pilot, the Wing Commander) alongside three of the four bases, many medals, bigger bomber planes, the display stand, a Battle Blaster and one of the audio cassette adventures and a couple of VHS videos, one of which came bundled with limited edition planes. The cartoon wasn’t great, except for one particular episode I remember having my mum and I gripped! I can honestly say no other toy line excited me as much as Ring Raiders and every new plane acquired was an event.

Like more and more toy lines, Ring Raiders was created as a kind of ready-made franchise, with merchandise appearing right alongside the first series of planes. There was a big push by the creators to market The Next Big Thing to as many companies as possible, including Fleetway. Editor of the Ring Raiders comic Barrie Tomlinson and writer James Nicholas sent me a wonderful licensee folder full of information on the characters, planes and possible merchandise, which I’ll show you at a later date.

The advertisement above is from an industry trade magazine from some time before the toys were launched, promoting the franchise to potential partners who’d like to jump on early. If they’d taken off (no pun intended) as they’d hoped I’d guess my own bedroom would have looked a little similar back then.

Plenty of people saw the early potential and produced everything from lunch boxes and books, to Revel model kits and even Hallowe’en costumes, all of which were released in time to cash in on the Christmas rush.

They may have initially launched in the US and that was where the bulk of these items were available, but it was over on this side of the pond that collectors were treated to their very own comic, and what a comic it was. In fact, OiNK aside it remains my favourite childhood comic to this day which is no small feat considering it only lasted for six regular issues and one special to wrap the stories up.

So back in September 1989 I’d just started grammar school and everything was new and different in life. I dandered into my local newsagent on the way home one day to pick up my reserved comics and to have a scan of the shelves like I always did. I was so excited when I spotted a brand new comic dedicated to the toy range I’d just started collecting a couple of months previous! Not only that, the cover was a spectacular Ian Kennedy creation and it came complete with an actual official toy plane! I placed a regular order before I even left the shop.

To see these teeny tiny planes painted up as full-scale fighting machines, battling across the skies like this was a thrill. They looked so awesome! I ran home and devoured the stories over and over again for the whole fortnight. It was brilliant! On top of this was the feeling of jumping in right at the start of what I thought would be the next big craze and at the very beginning of what would surely be an epic new comic. I’d joined the readership of Transformers years after my friends had but this felt like it was all mine!

Ring Raiders was presented as a kind of anthology comic with five completely different stories, but all tied in to the Ring Raiders theme. Even in that first issue I remember the characters felt developed and the stories huge in scope. I was also excited to see they were all going to be multipart tales, unlike the tiny stories I’d been initially disappointed with in The Real Ghostbusters.

The team assembled to work on Ring Raiders was second to none

As a kid it was so cool to see, even with the very first issue, these brilliant characters and such dramatic, dynamic action come out of these tiny toy planes, and as the comic continued it was always extra exciting when one of the stories featured a pilot whose plane you actually owned.

I also loved how the rings themselves were integrated into this new world. While the cartoon did something similar (so it must’ve been part of the franchise’s story) in the comic they were even more important. Initially just a way of playing with or displaying the toy planes, they were woven into the very fabric of the stories and characters, which you’ll find out about just as I did, as we make our way through the issues.

No credits were ever printed in the comic but in recent years I’ve been able to find out who worked on Ring Raiders and the team assembled was second to none. Then again, in charge was legendary IPC/Fleetway editor Barrie Tomlinson, whose comics always had the best talent. Roy of the Rovers, Eagle, Speed, Tiger and Scream are just some he was responsible for, so my new favourite comic was in great hands.

Barrie would write some of the stories himself, joined by a writing team including his son James Nicholas, Angus Allan, Scott Goodall and Tom Tully. On the artist front we had Ian Kennedy providing more gorgeous covers (aviation art being a favourite of his, Barrie said Ian was disappointed when Ring Raiders was cancelled) and inside we’d be treated to the work of Sandy James, Carlos Pino, John Cooper, John Gillatt, Don Wazejewski and Geoff Campion. Editing Ring Raiders freelance from home under his Creative Editorial Services Barrie also brought in Terry Magee to assist with editorials.

If it sounds like I’m excited to take off with this comic again (okay, that one was intended) then you’d be right. But it’s only one part of a very special winter on OiNK Blog! Over the next several months, alongside the (at the time of writing) ongoing real time read throughs of OiNK and Jurassic Park will be The Barrie Tomlinson Trilogy, as I am now officially calling it.

Ring Raiders, Wildcat and Super Naturals. Only in recent years have I found out three comics from my youth were all edited by the same person. They may be very different titles but take a closer look and you can see some similarities in how they were put together, read them and you’ll get the same high level of quality in their storylines and characters, look at the superb artwork in each and you’ll be equally wowed.

It all kicks off with the Ring Raiders Free Mini-Comic given away in Barrie’s own Eagle comic. Containing a full-colour strip drawn by Ian Kennedy, a closer look will be on the blog tomorrow (Thursday 9th September 2021), 32 years to the day the news of this brand new and exciting comic was broken. Issue one will then be reviewed just one week later before going fortnightly for its run. Discovering the first issue on the shelves I never knew of the preview at the time, only picking it up a few years ago to complete my collection.

Since those childhood days most of my comics were binned by my parents when I moved out of home in my early 20s. Even my OiNKs weren’t safe. Only first issues and a select few hand-picked editions or books survived those culls, but the one exception was Ring Raiders. Apart from accidentally losing one issue (#4) I chose to keep them all. The issues in these reviews are the originals I bought back in 1989.