Category Archives: Ring Raiders

RiNG RAiDERS #1: TiME FOR TAKE OFF!

Back in 2013 when I launched the first, smaller version of the blog I was nervous about doing my favourite comic (OiNK) justice. The same applies to this one. Ring Raiders remains my other very favourite comic from childhood, fondly remembered and frequently reread. Some might look at it and only see a short-lived comic based on a short-lived toy line and dismiss it, but over the next few months I hope to show it deserves to be remembered.

It began for me with this gorgeous cover by Ian Kennedy (Dan Dare, Eagle, Commando). I have very clear memories of discovering it in the newsagents, in awe of how my toy planes had been depicted. I went into this in more detail in the introductory post to this series, where you can also see which plane I got free (it’s the orange one that takes a starring role in the TV advert). I can remember spending a while sitting on the shop floor with all the issues in front of me, deciding which one I’d buy based on the planes. Happy memories.

At 24 pages it was a little thinner than other Fleetway comics but it was all gloss instead of the usual matt paper and contained a lot more colour. I remember the pages felt huge in my hands too. Each issue contained five strips; two colour three-page serials, two black and white four-page serials and a complete five-page colour strip in the middle, then a letters page, pin-ups and adverts for the toys and future issues. It felt jam-packed. So let’s take a look at each of the stories in turn.

Shock Attack is a quick one-off introduction to the comic written by editor Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Carlos Pino (Johnny Red, War Picture Library, TV Century 21) and that first panel in the first story of the first issue is really rather good. The story is a quick fix of action which followed on from the preview comic and had the Wing Commanders battling each other again rather than with their designated teams.

Set in the then future of 1998 the Skull Squadron leaders are attacking a Euroforce base but the Ring Raiders swoop in to save the day and the Skulls retreat through time to the age of the dinosaurs. Followed by the Raiders and terrified of having to bail out in this time zone after two of them are hit, they flee.

If the comic had continued this could’ve set up a brilliant way of killing off (kind of) older characters while also keeping things open for a possible return. As you’ll see over these real time reviews plenty of characterisation is given to these pilots away from their planes, so having one trying to fend for themselves out of their time could’ve made for an interesting story later on.

It’s truly epic in scale. I distinctly remember its scope really exciting us.

Throughout all this, back in ’98 TV camera crews fill in their viewers (and the readers) on a brief history of the opposing sides. Skull Squadron were formed in the mid 90s and see themselves as a potential new world power, which they try to achieve by manipulating history to their advantage. The governments of the world formed the Ring Raiders and, upon learning of the enemy’s ability to time travel built the Air Carrier Justice, a massive flying base which also traveled in time and recruited the very best pilots from the past, present and future.

This was the main selling point of Ring Raiders, the whole point of this set up and it’s truly epic in scale. It was a nice story idea for the toys and acted as a way to inspire collection of every type of plane. For a comic, I distinctly remember its scope really exciting us.

The second strip is the first serial and would be the longest in the whole series at eleven episodes and 44 pages in length. Professor Martin has accidentally created a chain reaction capsule, a Doomsday Device which is being launched into the safety of space when Skull Squadron blow up Cape Canaveral in 1990. With the device now grounded permanently at the prof’s cabin Blackjack‘s Havoc Wing is dispatch to retrieve it. Aboard the Justice, Ring Commander Victor Vector (that’s him on the cover with Skull Leader Scorch) sends Joe Thundercloud‘s Rescue Wing in pursuit.

Apart from the tiny little fold out comics that came with the toys, up to this point all we really saw of the pilots behind the planes was the one pose each Wing’s leader had on their packaging. When I read part one of Trackdown for the first time it was such a thrill to see these guys come to life. More than that though, the comic starts to create its own characters for the unnamed pilots who flew the other three planes in each pack.

In fact by the time this chapter ends the main characters are both original comic creations by the name of Freddy Riley of the Raiders and Runtz, one of Blackjack’s wingmen. I certainly didn’t expect one of the hero planes to be shot down in the first issue. It’s a spectacular crash and a really exciting opening chapter, not just for this story but for the comic as a whole.

Trackdown is written by Angus Allan (TV-21, Look-In) and brought to life by John Cooper (Battle, Scream, Judge Dredd). As a child it felt like the battle and the crash of Riley’s plane had real world weight to them. This is in stark contrast to the cartoon. I’m reminded of how the G.I. Joe comics of the 80s would feature bullets and characters would often end up injured or worse, but in the cartoon every gun (no matter which model) fired lasers and no one was ever hit. The Ring Raiders cartoon was the same, so to see the toys being treated more seriously here made me an instant fan of this over the animated series.

Across the page from that cliffhanger is the first of the complete tales and when seen side by side the good guys seem to be having an off day, with this story beginning with another rough landing. Yasuo Yakamura was the first character to get a background story and I couldn’t have been happier because, as I’ve detailed previously, his X-29 came in the Starter Pack that began my collection and would remain my favourite, his Wing also being the first that I bought.

I was surprised the leaders weren’t the first to get this treatment but perhaps Yakamura was a fan favourite, or perhaps the fact his past would actually be set in our future, allowing them to have a full blown sci-fi strip for the premiere issue helped with their decision. Over the course of the comic’s life these complete tales would switch from sci-fi to war drama to horror and everything in between.

Yasuo was known for embracing computers, his aircraft kitted out with the latest tech only he could control. Written by Scott Goodall (The Phantom, Commando, Scream) and drawn by John Gillatt (Tiger, Eagle, Wildcat) the story focusses on why he defended the robotic landing system even though it nearly cost him his life. Initially distrustful of automated technology, during a war with an alien race called the Draxion in their Bat Wings he was forced to take a small robotic co-pilot after losing his partner.

Yasuo seeks revenge but the robot chastises him for putting that above the mission and Yasuo loses his temper, resulting in loss of concentration and they’re shot down. Left for dead by his human comrades he watches as the robot builds him a glider, only to stay behind and fend off the enemy alone, inevitably being blown apart. The story touches on how this set Yakamura on a path to studying robotics and computers and how he became the logical and cool headed pilot Vector would eventually recruit and bring back to our present day.

The serials would develop the characters further over time but these complete stories were the perfect way to delve into a particular aspect of their personality, helping to build layers across the various stories and issues.

No comic of the 80s would’ve been complete without a letters page answered by a fictional character who could be as cheeky or irreverent to the readers as they dared. Barrie’s titles never disappointed. In his book Comic Book Hero he explains how he loved creating various ways for readers to interact with his comics. He choose to have a different character in charge every issue, switching between the Raiders and the Skulls every fortnight.

Barrie was editing freelance from home under the name Creative Editorial Services and had brought in Terry Magee (Commando, Battle, Cor!!) to assist with editorials. Together they thought up some ingenious ways for readers to have their say. There were chances to apply to be a member of either group, or to design a new plane for the good guys or a super weapon for the bad, or they could draw a battle scene with their choice of victor or even write a short story. A very short story. There was a 150 word limit, or 155 words for the Skull Squadron who boasted, “That’s five more words than Ring Raiders allow!”

After a two-colour pin-up and the obligatory Next Issue/newsagent coupon page (boasting of the free posters to come in #2 and #3) we move on to the final two stories.

Barrie’s son James Nicholas (Eagle, Super Naturals, Scream) is an aviation enthusiast and this is clear in the strip he wrote, Bomber Blues. We’re not sure what began the fight between Wing Commander Cub Jones and Skull Leader Hubbub but it doesn’t matter. Appearing in the skies above the English Channel during World War II, this was just about as perfect an introduction to the whole concept as you could wish for.

In contrast to the other strips this one takes place entirely aboard the planes and sees a B-17 Flying Fortress Bomber become accidentally caught up in the battle between the futuristic craft. Really, what is there not to love about this?

We even see one of the Rebel Wing pilots have to parachute out, becoming lost in the past just as I theorised above. The action is intense and culminates in one of Cub’s wingmen colliding with the bomber. Damaged but now with a clear sense of sides, the bomber crew come to the rescue of the Ring Raiders. All of this great, original action is brought to detailed life by Don Wazejewski (Battle, Mask). Beautiful stuff.

Fans of the toys who had purchased Cub Jones’ Hero Wing or anyone who had closely read the introductory spread will have worked out this was set in the same year that Cub was originally beamed aboard the Justice. There’s no direct reference made but it’s no coincidence and Cub’s affection for the bomber crew is made abundantly clear in the final panels when he gives them a ring through which they can summon him should they need him.

The only slight disappointment is the way the leaders call their wingmen by their identification numbers instead of actual names, which feels a little off after Trackdown went to the trouble of creating new characters. But it’s only a minor quibble.


“Let’s give them a hand! All gunners open fire!”

World War II F-17 Bomber crew rescuing the Ring Raiders

Apart from characters holding their ringed hand aloft as they head to battle this is the first time we see a ring properly mentioned. One of the many uses it has is as a communicator that can cross the globe and periods of time. When the comic was released I knew from the toys some of the other things the rings could do in the story but I like the fact the comic introduces these slowly one at a time. The same goes with the various characters and Wings.

As a result, nothing feels forced, nothing feels like it’s exposition and in that regard the series has a surprisingly mature way of layering in all the information needed to introduce this new world. As you’ll see across these six issues (which would’ve all been regarded as early issues if it had lasted) the layers are added upon slowly, each new issue bringing new character, story and background developments. It’s a far cry from something like the first issue of Transformers five years prior which bombarded readers with everything they needed to know all at once, which felt very forced.

The final story is Freedom Flight, written by another long-time collaborator of Barrie’s, Tom Tully (Johnny Red, Bad Company, Dan Dare). Sandy James‘ art style will also be familiar to anyone raised on IPC or Fleetway licenced comics such as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures or Mask. His colouring in particular is just magnificently bold.

Here the main characters are Commander Yuri Kirkov and his Freedom Wing, who go up against Skull Leader Mako‘s Vicious Wing. The former was an instant favourite among fans given how the final years of the Cold War were still playing out and Kirkov was a Soviet Air Force major who had defected to America before Vietnam. Mako’s MIG-29 was a personal favourite toy with its shark motif and the fact the info on his toy packet stated there were “rumours” it could operate underwater.

History books tell of a South American government fort which easily defeated ruthless rebels in 1966, however the intervention of Skull Squadron is starting to change history, potentially destabilising the future of the country. Kirkov discovers the tide of battle is about to change forever when Mako’s missile hits the fort. The situation is dire. While it’s only three pages a lot happens, with these gloriously dynamic final panels providing not only a superb cliffhanger but the perfect end to the entire issue.

These panels take up about a third of the back cover and it’s a gorgeous display to end the issue on. The action, the distant fire, the detailed face of Kirkov compared to the basic toy design, as well as the interesting plane angles all beg for more.

Barrie explains in his book how he found the fortnightly schedule of Wildcat interesting and wanted longer stories in its 32 pages to hold readers’ attentions for the two weeks, compared to the three-page tales of Eagle. As a result each of its stories were five or six pages in length. Ring Raiders was also fortnightly but had 24 pages to fit in just as many stories. But there was so much packed into each one that we never felt short-changed by any of them.

I was also collecting the weekly Transformers which contained three stories of roughly five pages each. Ring Raiders felt like a much meatier read and after this first issue I was an instant fan. I knew I would be though and the regular order had been placed when I purchased this issue. I hope you’ll join me on a regular basis too and return on Thursday 30th September for #2 of a bloody brilliant comic.

RiNG RAiDERS: PREViEW iSSUE

That logo brings back so many happy memories. For a while back in the late 80s and early 90s I was obsessed with the Ring Raiders toys by Matchbox and I even cut out that name from the box of one of the bases and stuck it to the outside of my bedroom door. Some kids had their names on their door, but not me. Like I said, obsessed. You can find out more about the Ring Raiders toys (and merchandise) in my introductory post.

The real time read through of the short-lived but truly brilliant comic series begins today with the issue of Eagle dated 16th September 1989 (on sale 9th September). A banner along the top of the cover alerted readers to the free gift inside, one that would signal the release of the brand new licenced title from Fleetway.

Inside the matt paper of Eagle was a free Ring Raiders mini-comic, printed on higher quality stock that really made it stand out. The bright paper also makes the gorgeous Ian Kennedy artwork really pop too. While Ian would contribute to every single cover for the fortnightly this would be the only time he’d produce a strip and it’s certainly an eye-catching piece. I wasn’t aware of this preview’s existence until a few years ago, but if I’d been reading Eagle at the time and saw this upon opening the comic, I think I may have found it hard to breathe with the excitement.

Okay that’s an exaggeration, but probably not as much as you think.

Four pages isn’t a lot, let’s face it. But this was par for the course by this stage in the UK comics market. OiNK was the first for the 80s to establish using a preview comic for marketing a new release and they did so with a full-size, 32-page publication given away free in a handful of IPC titles (who would later sell all their comics to Fleetway). That was in 1986.

In 1987 another of Barrie’s creations, Super Naturals began with a 16-page preview issue with full-sized pages, then in 1988 his original Wildcat comic’s preview was also 16 pages but at a reduced size. In the same year Marvel UK launched its Visionaries monthly with a small four-page mini-comic, made up of an edited down version of the story to be published in the first two issues. So you can see how things had developed over the decade.

It was an exciting read every fortnight and really holds up today as a top quality read.

Space was at a premium here to grab the attention of the readers sufficiently enough to get them to buy a new comic, but Ian’s gorgeous hand-painted artwork is certainly bold enough. A basic plot written by Eagle and Ring Raiders’ editor Barrie Tomlinson is just to set up a big mid-air battle between the Raiders and their enemies, the Skull Squadron, in order to show off the kind of action we could expect.

Aboard their time-travelling Flying Fortress the Air Carrier Justice they’re alerted to a mayday from their leader Ring Commander Vector. The pilot receiving the alert via their ring is actually one of my two favourite characters and pilot of the futuristic Grumman X-29. I talked about this being my first purchase in the previous post. What follows is a double page spread of gorgeous aerial action featuring all kinds of various aircraft from across time, which as an aviation enthusiast must’ve been really enjoyable for Ian to draw.

In the toy line, and indeed in the comic proper, the pilots shown here would each command their own wing of four planes and pilots. But for the benefit of this preview and introducing the readers to the concept it’s best to show as much variety in aircraft type and aesthetic design as possible, so the Wing Commanders of many different wings are used instead. It works a treat and certainly comes across as confident in the concept’s ability to produce dynamic comic action.

The back page shows Ian’s cover for issue one, the first I saw as a child and mentions the brilliant free gift (an actual Matchbox Ring Raiders plane) and the fact the pages will be bigger, with half in full colour, much more than the comic this preview was given away with. If only it had become as big a seller as the hype states here! But that’s something we’ll deal with at the end of the real time read through.

As I’ve said before this remains my second favourite childhood comic, with only OiNK beating it to the top spot. It was an exciting read every fortnight and really holds up today as top quality stuff. There’s some real depth to the characters (which is no small feat given the outlandish setup and the toys), hints of a wish to tell big epic stories, loads of action, a sense of humour and exciting artwork.

So for the next few months I’ll be reviewing each issue on the date of its original release, going in-depth into stories, characters and art and giving my honest opinion on reading the comic now as an adult, as well as reminiscing about what it was like at the time, obviously.

212 pages in total, the next 24 of which will be winging (I really do have to stop the plane puns) their way to you on Thursday 16th September 2021. I hope you’ll join me then. The Command Is In Your Hands!

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.