WiLDCAT HOLiDAY SPECiAL: ANOTHER BiTE

It hasn’t really been that long since the final issue of Wildcat, two months in fact, but it’s great to hold another edition in my hands, especially one I’ve never actually read before. I wasn’t aware of it as a child because I hadn’t followed the characters into Eagle when the comics merged. There’s a rather lengthier wait after this but I’ll get to that at the end of the review. So what we have here is the standard Fleetway Holiday Special format of 48 large, glossy pages full of strips with a prose story and extra features thrown in for good measure.

After a contents page and a recap of the set up from the preview issue Turbo Jones reclaims his position as the lead strip (now drawn by Keith Page) and like all of the stories here it’s a standalone tale and not linked to the ongoing serials that all ended with cliffhangers in the last issue. Of course, by now those stories could have concluded or moved on to goodness knows what in the pages of Eagle. (That’s something I’ll look into in future posts.) Some of these read a little strangely because of this.

For example, as far as I was concerned Turbo was still languishing on his quest through the Valley of Death, but here we’ve skipped forward to the next chapter in his adventure on the new planet. We find him and his robotic friend Robo accidentally stumbling across two aliens out for blood (or whatever runs through their veins… if they have veins). This isn’t a quick summing up of things either, in the end they realise the two creatures have no interest in our heroes, they have literally stumbled upon this fight. But of course if they don’t defend themselves they’ll go the same way as the loser.

Turbo is knocked unconscious by a falling branch and Robo saves the day by knocking coconut-like fruits off the trees onto the heads of the aliens. No, really. It ends with Turbo disbelieving this tale of heroism and Robo talking directly to the reader, asking them to write in and tell Turbo what happened. It’s a fun diversion of an opener but feels very slight in comparison to the fortnightly. However, I do love that alien design. Moving on now to something somewhat darker stalking the corridors of the Wildcat itself in The Wildcat Complete, brought to life by Jesús Redondo.

That’s right, we have an actual vampire onboard. There’s also plenty of well-judged humour here too so it’s unfortunate we don’t know who wrote the script. Here on the first page the casual thoughts of our victim raise a laugh as he catches himself on about the “misty evening” before meeting his end, and later on as another victim is running late in getting home he thinks to himself how he’ll “get it in the neck” from his wife! These are the only people we see die (taking the Wildcat Death Toll up to 40) but mention is made to them being only the latest in a series of disappearances.

During the day our vampire goes by the name Dr. Joseph Lugosi, obviously a play on the name of renowned actor Bela Legosi who is probably best remembered for playing the title character in the 1931 film Dracula. It’s not just his name the story pays homage to either, just take a look at the doctor in this close-up frame.

There’s a rather dark moment where we see him dispose of a body by taking it to the food recycling plant, which is basically a bunch of retro-futuristic robots munching down on anything thrown into their pit! We get a little internal monologue of how Lugosi applied to be on Wildcat because there’d be no sunlight in space to stop him feeding, and we see him queued up to get on board, everyone else in casual gear, him in his dark cloak, standing out a mile. Given his appearance and dress sense, when he thinks his plan is foolproof and no one would ever suspect him it seems ridiculous, but it’s actually all explained in the end.

When an attack is disturbed mid-feast he has to leave the body behind and as Wildcat Commander Griffin reviews the tapes he sees Lugosi disappear into thin air. He ends up tricking Lugosi into believing he’s replacing an ill doctor on an expedition to one of the planet’s moons, but before anyone else boards the shuttle craft it’s launched out of the Wildcat on autopilot. The last page of the strip is below and very neatly wraps up the story.

I really like how Griffin had to research what a vampire is (so far into the future are we, their legends appear to have been lost) and that he simply reacts logically to the problem. There’s no disbelief, just a problem to solve and the history tapes give him the answer. While I can only show you a little bit here he’s a cool-as-a-cucumber character and one I wished we’d gotten to know properly in the comic. Check out that final caption too, vampires are now extinct! Another great anthology story, one that’s made me realise just how much I’m missing them every two weeks.

Loner gets a good bit of space in the special but unfortunately there’s not a comic strip in sight. There’s a two-page spread of pictures taken from the early issues and his initial scraps with, and ultimately friendship with, The Fuzzballs. There are also two pin ups, both drawn by David Pugh. One is brand new and the other is a reprint of the cover to #7 which was so good it deserved another outing as a mini-poster without the title and issue details. To this day it’s probably my favourite piece of art from Wildcat. In fact it’s one of my favourite pieces of comic art ever.

On top of all this we do get a Loner story, however it’s told in prose with reprinted images by David taken from the regular comic. At five pages and full of text it’s a meatier read than I expected and actually a whole lot better than the strip we’d been reading for the last handful of issues. Falling into a chasm he’s apparently rescued by an alien slug creature who carries him to a large cave full of slugs where he also sees another, two-headed alien. They have to fight to the death for the entertainment of the slugs!

It’s a struggle. The two-headed creature is relentless but soon Loner is able to escape by causing chaos in the audience (he throws one of the slugs into the crowd as a distraction). Back outside the alien is on Loner’s tail and in what looks like the end of the fight Loner’s gun Babe ends up pressed against the creature’s throat. But Loner backs off, trying to communicate he doesn’t want to kill them, he has no beef with him.


Both heads broke into hideous grins, then it turned and walked away.

Loner prose story

Communicating is difficult however and relies on body language more than anything, which is interesting but I’m also disappointed he no longer has the headband from previous stories. It’s only given a passing explanation that he’d returned to Wildcat and had it removed before coming back down. This completely contradicts the story where he received it! Such a shame, but perhaps a necessary evil because the images they had to use didn’t include it, rather than it being a story choice.

Anyway, the two-headed creature continues to follow Loner at a distance. When our mercenary gets back to his shuttle it appears to attack, throwing Loner to the side and leaping into the craft. Are they going to steal it? Nope, there was a deadly snake-like predator inside. The alien had saved Loner’s life. But before Loner can try to communicate a thank you, he’s attacked by the alien! He wins the battle by unhappily having to end its life, or be killed himself.

In the end, the creature had been a warrior and it was always going to be a fight to the death, but Loner had saved him from the underground slug beings and he’d had to repay that debt first. This would’ve made for a great multipart strip in the regular comic, it’s full of character and paints a wonderful, exciting picture. Such a shame it’s only illustrated by images from different stories.

There’s one more special to come and I’m very excited by it.

Alongside the double-page spread about Loner’s furry friends there’s a four-page feature about some of the robots that reside aboard the Wildcat and which have featured in previously stories, most notably the Wildcat Complete series. Features like these act as a nice way for new readers to catch up and to get an idea of what Wildcat is all about, but unlike some of the Super Naturals features which felt like filler, these are nicely put together and are still enjoyable for regulars.

Alongside more reprinted pin ups there’s another new one which hadn’t made its way into the fortnightly and it’s of one of my favourite characters from the Kitten Magee story, Bonnie. As regular readers of the comic (or even these reviews) will attest, Kitten’s team were just starting to get fleshed out some more, even going on their own adventure without their leader in the final issue. I look forward to reading the ongoing tales in Eagle and Wildcat at a later date, mainly for them.

Their story is up next in fact, as always (and just like the pin ups) drawn by José Ortiz. Stalked by a three-headed giant cat-like predator it ends up capturing Kitten’s robotic pet, Crud. Tracking the beast down they find a ginormous cyclops, but as they try to save Crud the cat-like creature attacks and is shot and killed. The previously monstrous cyclops burst into tears and the team realise they’ve made a horrible mistake, they’ve killed the giant’s pet. Not only that, but upon discovering a giant spacecraft overgrown with weeds they piece together a fascinating backstory.

It’s important for me to note here that at the beginning of the strip the team had captured a docile kind-of-giraffe animal for study by Doc. You’ll see below how that comes back right at the end. This story contains hints at the world building Wildcat could have achieved if it had carried on for years to come. We’d had some in the twelve regular issues but of course everything was still in its early stages of development. We can only imagine the epic, overarching stories editor Barrie Tomlinson and his team could’ve concocted over time.

Four pages within this special are made up of a Tiger comic reprint called Jet-Ace Logan, a pilot who works for the futuristic interplanetary C.I.D. approximately 100 years in the future. Two stories are included here, two pages apiece and the one I wanted to show is called Haywire House. A modern home exhibition is about to be robbed and Logan stops the burglars in their tracks in a suitably ingenious way. I particularly like the art by Brian Lewis (Eagle, TV Action, Countdown), with so much of it crammed onto the page and jam-packed with details, all without losing any of its clarity.

In his book Comic Book Hero, Barrie explains how he was the editor of Tiger from 1969, after these strips appeared originally. He turned the comic into one with exclusively sports-related strips but he always had a fondness for Logan. Back to the special and perhaps the couple of reprinted pin ups and the Logan pages were marked for something else but after the cancellation of the comic plans changed. A very real possibility.

Before a very special ending to the issue there’s one more strip. Wildcat fans will know that must mean it’s time for Joe Alien, although not in his usual full-colour format which is a shame (in fact apart from the pin ups and a readers’ drawing spread the whole issue is black and white) but Ron Smith’s artwork still shines. The strip itself finally gives us some background information on the interesting character and how he ended up as the last of his race.

Tracking a massive meteoroid heading towards their planet, his people soon discovered it was being pushed from the other side by a fleet of Kargroz ships! Joe’s race had long before abandoned space travel, keeping only one small shuttle and so he was sent up to negotiate, but the Kargroz kill for fun and for honour and couldn’t be bargained with. Almost blasting Joe out of existence they hurled the meteoroid into his planet, destroying it and all who lived there.

Fuelled by revenge Joe hijacked one of the enemy ships and crashed it into the side of one of the others, all of which were in a straight line formation, side-by-side with each other. Where Joe had crashed, his ship now faced down the long line of enemy ships. Firing one huge laser blast it tore through them all, killing everyone and leaving him the only survivor of the battle and of his race. This next page of Ron’s reminded me he drew for Marvel UK‘s Transformers, it just has that feel about it. Looking into that however, I was surprised to see he only ever drew one strip (#82)! Such was the impact he must’ve made on me I thought he’d been a semi-regular artist on it!

Joe’s men console him and try to tell him they agree with his seeking revenge, but the strip ends with our hero rejecting this. “Revenge? How can any revenge balance the millions who were killed? I am only pleased that my external brain pack allows me to switch off such memories… forever!” That is about as heartbreaking an ending as you can get as he switches off all memory of his loved ones.

One final feature rounds off this edition of Wildcat and it’s a special Back to the Drawing Board spread of Ian Kennedy’s original design sketches for the Wildcat itself and some of its characters. At the time of writing this Ian has only recently passed, so seeing these drawings, as well as his superb cover (which is on the back as well) is tinged with sadness. I’ve always loved his Wildcat design, his originality not only with its shape but also its bright colours and I think we can all agree he did a superb job of realising Barrie’s wish for a truly diverse cast of exciting heroes, which was rare.

Thus ends our look at the Wildcat Holiday Special from 1989. As I’ve said before I do own the graphic novel collections for two of the characters so I’ll be covering them at a future date, and I’m going to be tracking down the others through the individual issues of Eagle and Wildcat. But in the meantime we haven’t quite finished with Wildcat in its own form just yet.

There’s one more special to come and I’m very excited by it. Once again it’s an issue I’ve never read before. It’s even bigger than the Holiday Special and comes with a simply gorgeous high gloss, high quality cover. The Wildcat Winter Special was released several months later so look out for its review on Thursday 17th November 2022. Now that’s going to take some will power on my behalf, it’s sitting on that shelf right over there looking at me! I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait.

To finish with for now here’s the promo for the Holiday Special as it appeared in the pages of Eagle and Wildcat. We’ll be back with Turbo, Loner, Kitten and Joe before your know it!

OiNK! #28: WHEN PiGS FLY

There are a lot of exciting and funny things on this cover, beginning with the main event of Superham as drawn by Ron Tiner. Look closer at the accompanying details for more laughs, such as the “Trouser Press” approval spoof of the Comics Code Authority, and OiNK‘s own version of DC Comics‘ logo from the time tucked away in the top corner. We’ll get to the Ham of Steel in a little bit, but there’s an announcement on the cover for the latest free gifts!

The last gifts given away by OiNK were the three parts of the gigantic poster calendar from the end of the previous year (check out #17 for the full product) and again we have three issues in a row with something extra tucked away inside. Unlike the cut-out postcards in #7 these are actual cards which can be easily removed and sent by readers. Each pair would be drawn by a different artist, beginning with Jeremy Banx.

I can remember taking a couple of these on holiday with me back in 1987 and definitely the Burp one. I can’t remember using them though, whether through forgetfulness or changing my mind and not wanting to send them away. Are postcards even a thing anymore when people can just check in on social media or send photos instantaneously back home? I’m not sure, but in the 80s these were a great idea and each one is a brilliant little gift in its own right. The next two issues will contain postcards by Lew Stringer and Ian Jackson, so make sure you check them out.

Back in the Valentine’s issue the Peanuts gang, namely Charlie Brown, Snoopy etc got renamed the Peabrains in a one-off (I assumed) strip complete with some spoof merchandise advertising. As I said at the time I was never a fan of the cartoon or newspaper strips but I still enjoyed OiNK’s version which was created by Patrick Gallagher. Surprisingly, the strip returns but this time Snooby is drawn by David Leach who was best known for Psycho Gran. Here, the little dog is daydreaming, something he was known for in the cartoon and which we’d see brought to life by his imagination. Sitting on top of his kennel he imagines being a heroic fighter pilot. But this is a strip by David Leach so expect the unexpected.

Well I did say that’s who David was known for, didn’t I? I’d forgotten all about this ending, although as soon as Snooby metaphorically took to the air it all came back to me. I’d like to think as a child I didn’t spot Psycho in the final panel until I’d read the full strip because the reveal of the jet itself is so brilliantly drawn and her grin at the end just hilarious.

Alongside the captions the images tell a different, highly exaggerated version of the same events

In 1987 Superman IV: The Quest For Peace had just been released in cinemas and, while not the most successful of the franchise, its marketing was surely everywhere, making him a big, timely target for OiNK. Mark Rodgers took on writing duties for Superham and cover artist Ron Tiner returns for the three-page strip itself. It all kicks off on familiar territory, the narrative captions keeping surprisingly true to the tale of the lone refugee from an alien world movie goers were all too familiar with.

However, alongside those captions the images tell a different, highly exaggerated version of the same events and this is where the laughs come from. The story continues with highlights of Superham’s fight against evil, including a brilliant panel depicting him flying faster than the speed of light. So fast in fact he breaks through time itself and comes upon a spectacular sight. I won’t ruin the surprise because it’s on that third page we get the big punchline.

This is classic Mark, with a very funny twist in the tale and the ever-perpetuating series of events brought on by the “stupid rhinoceros” of a superhero. I’ll admit the recent movies did little to endear me to the inspiration behind this spoof, but with a much more entertaining version of the character taking pride of place on BBC One’s Saturday teatime schedule again this feels like another timely read for this funny take on the original superhero. Great stuff.

I say well done to the OiNK team for printing this page and standing up to the bullies!

The next page is as unique as you’ll find in any of our childhood comics. Back in #7 a strip called Janice and John and the Parachute Jump appeared which has (incorrectly) gone down in history as making a bigger furore than it did; it’s even been written that it was the reason behind OiNK’s cancellation 61 issues later, which is just ridiculous. Yes, an official complaint was made with The Press Council who looked into the story in question. The complaint was dismissed in the end but OiNK wasn’t about to just let this moment pass, as you can see with the following page.

I can’t remember reading this as a child so I haven’t a clue what I made of it, but nowadays it reminds me of working in BBC Complaints and the amount of people who’d want an entire series cancelled because they personally didn’t want their licence fee paying for it (never mind the millions who watched it and were also paying their licence fee), or the myriad of Daily Mail comments Dave Gorman would use to great effect in his Modern Life is Goodish TV show. Even today in the UK and America we have books and comics being banned all in the name of “freedom” without a hint of irony.

So I say well done to the OiNK team for printing this page and standing up to the bullies! It’s refreshing and damned funny in its own right, especially how it can’t help but stir things up a little more with that final gag at the bottom referencing a non-existent next chapter. Janice and John would return in a story about a thermonuclear reactor though, as promised at the end of #7’s story. That wouldn’t be seen until #41, possibly held back until the outcome of the complaint was known and the whole thing was in the past.

I don’t think any other comic would’ve been this brave and I commend the editors for deciding to do this. Recently, Helen Jones very kindly sent me a wonderful package containing the original complaints and responses including those from The Press Council and IPC’s John Sanders. They’re a fascinating read and will be on the blog soon. A famous moment from OiNK’s history but one which very few seem to accurately write about. I hope I can help set the record straight.

Moving on for now and another superstar of the comics world joins the sty as Mike Higgs draws Infamous Failures of Aviation, written by Lew Stringer.

It’s a cracker script by Lew (or ‘Biggles’) and Mike’s work really stands out, his style easily identifiable to anyone familiar with his strips elsewhere. Mike was best known for creating The Cloak in 1967 for Pow!, as well as bringing his unique artwork to Space School and Thundercap for Whizzer and Chips and Buster respectively. He (and The Cloak in particular) was a big influence on Lew when he was creating his Combat Colin character for Action Force comic.

Lew worked as Mike’s assistant in the early 80s for a range of children’s books and they became good friends. When OiNK came along Lew suggested bringing Mike back to comics for the first time in years to co-editor Mark Rodgers. This was his first appearance in the comic and he’d be back another eight times. Even though he’s better known for appearing in more traditional titles, there was never anything traditional about his work. As such, I think he’s a perfect addition to Uncle Pigg’s team and I look forward to seeing what else he brings to future issues.

Writer Graham Exton (whose name I haven’t seen mentioned in the fortnightly in several months) and artist Davey Jones produced another funny little OiNK mini-strip but this one is a little special because Davey has previously shared an original rough sketch by Mark Rodgers as well as his own thoughts on his finished product. I saved this away for future reference and it’s nearly time to share this little insight into the creation of OiNK. I say nearly because it deserves its own post so watch out for that in the days after this review.

Mike Higgs’ son also makes an appearance this issue, sort of, in a scrawled shout out on an office desk in Lew’s Pete and his Pimple as the young Mr Throb dreams of being the high-flying Captain Pimply superhero. Smelly alien Burp isn’t being anywhere near as daring at the beginning of his strip though. More classic highlights to long-running OiNK favourites.

Our heroic Wonder Pig is back again with another name change, another ill-fated attempt at heroism and it all kicks off when his owner falls down another pit. Lashie the Wonder Pig is written by Tony Husband and drawn by Chas Sinclair and it’s this repetition of events which makes it so very funny indeed. In fact, this issue’s strip will be all the funnier if you’ve read the one I included in the highlights to #18. So go read that first and then come back here to read this next strip. Go on then!

This is a great way of parodying the TV series and movies of a certain Border Collie and their own repetitive nature. But just like Lassie‘s fans didn’t mind, our own Lashy (well, that’s the spelling for now anyway) also had fans who craved the same things happening again and again. The more strips that appeared the funnier these got. They wouldn’t appear too regularly, if they had maybe we would’ve grown tired of the formula but as such their semi-regular surprise appearances were always a hit.

Our flying special comes to an end with news the next issue is a ‘Mirthful Musical Issue’. Regular readers may be thinking this is a repeat of the subject from #16 but that issue was all about the world of pop music, our next one takes in the whole of the musical world and nothing is off limits. Think of the difference between #6‘s ‘Animal Crackers Issue’ and #27‘s ‘Big, Soft Pets Issue’. There’s even going to be a very special appearance from a famous post-punk band in a photo story, so it’s definitely not to be missed.

So save your bookmarks, follow on socials or sub to the blog so you’ll get notified on Monday 30th May 2022 of the latest OiNK review!

ZZAP! 64: PiG PLAY PREViEW

Back in 1991 I received one of the greatest Christmas gifts of all, a Commodore 64 home computer. I adored that machine and I adored the magazine I collected alongside it, namely Commodore Format. Through that computer I met a chap named Colin who would go on to be one of my closest friends. He was a long-time reader of Format’s rival, Zzap! 64 and we’d take plenty of well-meaning jabs at each other’s favourite magazine over the next few years. (Actually, this continues to this day.) For the blog I now find myself buying my first copy of Zzap.

In the summer of 1987 the OiNK computer game would be released on the three main 8-bit computer systems of the day, the Commodore 64, the Spectrum range and Amstrad CPCs. I must’ve seen the adverts for it in the comic but having no interest in computer games at that stage it slipped my mind by the time I was loading up cassettes and disks at the beginning of the next decade. Over these next few months on the blog I’ll be covering this unique piece of piggy merchandise, showing you previews, interviews, a review and more. It’ll even include a special issue of OiNK!

The first mention of the game came in issue 26 of Zzap! 64, released on this day 35 years ago. Inside the June 1987 issue the preview followed an interview with none other than Douglas Adams, which was a bit of a scoop! But I digress. The article contained a look at the origins of the comic itself and, unlike modern day press mentions of OiNK, it’s an accurate depiction of those events (in other words there’s no mention of Viz). There are also some interesting nuggets of information for seasoned pig pals and a cameo by Marc Riley in his Snatcher Sam guise.

There’s a mention of the original idea for the comic being that of a fanzine, so unsure were Patrick Gallagher, Tony Husband and Mark Rodgers of whether a publisher would pick it up, which is new information to me. However, when the dummy issue was produced (a lot of which made its way into the preview issue) it went down a storm with IPC Magazines and our favourite publication was born. Also here is the first mention of the forthcoming OiNK record and a quick mention of the original flexidisc being played on a local radio station (we already knew John Peel played it on his BBC show).

Here’s the article in full, the opening paragraphs of which do beg the question how many times can you mention Whizzer and Chips!

As OiNK fans who played the game will attest, the finished product had little-to-nothing to do with the individual characters it was meant to represent. There were some comic panels in it written by Tony Husband to try to bring a bit of the comic’s humour to the game, but that was really about it. As such the general consensus seems to be that the game sucked because of its lack of OiNK content, but is this actually an unfair conclusion? You’ll find out in a couple of months when Zzap! 64 reviews it!

Already on the blog you can checkout a Retro Gamer article featuring an interview with the game’s coder Jon Williams. There’s more to come, including a special issue of OiNK inside Crash magazine, which also had a special article and an extra page from none other than Frank Sidebottom, so look out for that on Saturday 25th June 2022. Then just a few weeks later I’ll show you the Zzap! 64 review of the game to see how it was received at the time, on Saturday 9th July. Later in the year I’ll tell you how I was finally able to play the game decades later when it was released under a completely different name! Plus there’ll be a full guide to beating the game. These both relate to Commodore Format and in keeping with the real time nature of the blog I’ll be covering those issues on Thursday 13th October and Thursday 10th November.