ViSiONARiES #3: CLAWiNG AT THE SKY

Starting with this third edition of Marvel UK‘s monthly Visionaries are stories I’d never read before collecting these for the blog. The origin story I felt I knew almost verbatim, but now the comic was diverging away from the cartoon and forging its own path. Having missed the regular comic as a kid, I’ve looked forward to finally getting to read these stories.

With these being original creations and something fans of the cartoon may have been eager to read, it’s confounding to see once again the editorial page not mentioning the story at all. Even though it’s called Vision On it’s basically an advertisement for other titles again, this time the new Action Force Monthly and Dragon’s Claws (called by its original name here which was changed just before its release), both of which were of the smaller American format and designed to try to sell UK material back into the US market.

Next to the editorial the first page of Balance of Power is a bold image. On it, Merklynn‘s stone face stares down at the assembled Knights and reiterates the words from the end of last month’s story. Jim Salicrup, who adapted Frank Dille‘s teleplay origin story has created the plot this time around but full scripting duties fall to Gerry Conway (The Punisher, Spider-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons, Diagnosis Murder) who would take over as the comic’s writer.

The art team are the same as the previous issues, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Romeo Tanghai, letters by Janice Chiang and colours by Julianna Ferriter. Unfortunately, it’s in this final category that the issue is let down. There are quite a few colouring errors, which is something you don’t want when you’re still introducing characters and the colour of their armour is key to seeing who is doing what and to whom in battle. It’s a shame because at times it can really ooze atmosphere, such as with that splash page above.

Something else this issue has in plentiful supply is action. As soon as Merklynn finishes his prophetic speech the Knights turn on each other, wishing to finish off the battles started inside Iron Mountain. Galadria gets the best line and then some of the characters start hearing a voice inside their head, telling them of incantations to summon the power of their magical staffs. Reading these again brings back memories of learning these off by heart from the toy packaging.

This is where some fundamental changes between the comic’s universe and that of the cartoon become apparent. Here, the staffs just sort of produce the desired effects, like making Lexor invulnerable, Witterquick superhuman fast and Cindarr‘s unleashes a mini-earthquake. But in the cartoon the holographic image on the staff materialised in the real world, for example a cyclone around Witterquick’s body or a giant monster wielding a club for Cindarr. Even the cover of this issue shows Cryotek’s archer, but none of these would appear in the strip. They’re missed and without them it’s not particularly clear what’s happening at times.


“And, like a wild stallion, rearing with savage fury, the mystically powered craft responds.”

Description of the Sky Claw

It also doesn’t help that when some of the characters transform into their magical animal totems these are mistakenly referred to as “magical powers”, when that’s actually what the staffs contain. Instead, the totems are an embodiment of their individual personalities, which they can change into, physically becoming said animal and harnessing its abilities. However, their magical powers are that of speed, strength, healing, decay, knowledge etc. Fans of the cartoon or toys would be able to follow along and it’s clear these are the intended audiences, but it must’ve been very confusing for anyone reading without prior knowledge.

The plot is rather basic this time around. Even though both sides have yet to even experiment with their new powers and totems, Darkstorm insists he and Leoric’s Knights are too evenly matched. How would he know this? Surely they should train with their new magical abilities before coming to that conclusion. He wants an advantage and, annoyed with some of his people complaining about their lack of staffs, he sends stealth master Reekon and the grovelling Mortdredd to find a new weapon to given them that edge.

It all feels rather convulted. Given the cover we know what they’re going to find, but the pacing is all wrong. If this had come later in the run, or even if we’d jumped forward a few months and they were having difficulties managing their powers and wanted something more conventional, it would have made more sense. The saving grace here is the world building in the background. Wanting to rebuild his world no matter the cost to anyone else, Darkstorm’s castle overlooks slums where the poor and hungry struggle to survive, through which Reekon and Mortredd trot along, uncaring of the devastation around them.

They make their way to a contact of Mortdredd’s at Harkon’s Blacksmith Shop. An engineer by trade Harkon found himself without work in the new Age of Magic and retrained as a blacksmith, where he won the contract to repair and replace armour for the Darkling Lords. Underneath tarps scattered about his workspace are high-tech vehicles which are now nothing more than useless relics of the past.

I recognised the one above as soon as its covering was pulled back. It’s the Sky Claw. It was one of the large vehicles from the toy range and one of three that I personally owned. Covered with large holograms and movable levers and wings concealing a variety of awesome weaponry, it was a favourite childhood toy. It’s the whole raison d’être for this story so my excitement levels have been turned up a bit now.

The machine responds to the energy of Reekon’s magical touch, but it’s Mortdredd’s proximity that really brings it to life. While the statement that the symbol from his chest plate transferred to the craft is completely wrong, it’s still a fun way of introducing the craft. I particularly like how magical powers erupt from Mortredd’s chest, while his hand almost disappears into the holographic panel, becoming nearly skeletal-like. Although, why does Harkon say he hasn’t heard the sounds of an engine in years when this follows on directly from the previous origin story?

Able to control it with but a thought, Mortdredd is eager to prove himself to his Lord and Master. Darkstorm wants to wait, plan, gather information before a strike (again, no mention of learning their new skills) and this leads to other Knights calling him a coward. Defending his leader’s honour, Mortdredd attacks the others but find it’s he who ends up pushed out. Seizing the moment, he takes the Sky Claw and launches a devastating attack on Leoric’s castle, hoping to show he’s worthy of his position within the Darkling Lords. None of the vehicle’s magical powers are used though, just the weaponry which is a shame because I was looking forward to seeing those holograms come to life again.

The descriptive panels here are excellent. In fact, throughout the comic they’re a unique mix of science fiction and what feels like medieval storytelling. The latter in particular sets it apart, the comic playing up to this aspect of the characters and setting particularly well, the attention to detail is great.

One of the more interesting magical powers makes an entrance here and that’s Arzon‘s power of knowledge, even though he’s incorrectly drawn as Ectar but we’ll skip that detail for now. He recites his incantation to find out what the Sky Claw is, because there has been no flying vehicle since the Age of Science and it takes them by complete surprise. However, he not only discovers the information he seeks, suddenly everything he’s ever known in his whole life temporarily returns to his mind.

Everyone having completely different powers […] could make for some epic battles.

This could’ve set up some brilliant stories for the future. I could see something like that opening up old wounds, thoughts he’s tried to suppress or even things that he doesn’t wish to know. Unfortunately I can’t see this being explored in the short run the comic ultimately had.

On the surface a power like this could seem to give an individual an unfair advantage in any fight, but with everyone having such completely different powers, all with some form of vulnerability built in if not used correctly, could make for some epic battles.

It all comes to a head when Arzon transforms into his eagle form and attacks the cowardly Mortredd from above. From there it all falls apart for the Darkling Lords, who had shown up to finish what the Sky Claw had started. Disobeying orders and nearly killing his leader sees Mortdredd locked up in the dungeon of Darkstorm’s castle at the end of the story, but not before he’s made reference to the Sky Claw feeling alive when it repairs itself during a moment away from the battle. It’s a passing comment for now, but if memory serves me right this could tie in to some revelations yet to come about all of the Visionaries’ magical powers.

The Balance of Power feels very much like an extension of the previous two issues and the cynical might say it’s nothing more than a couple of extended action scenes. There’s little in the way of characterisation but the main point here is to see more of this world and the characters inhabiting it, to see their magical powers and how they could turn the tide of battle. Hence the name of the story.

With Jim having set things up and established the potential for future stories, the authorship is handed over to Gerry for him to develop the comic as its full-time writer. So let’s wait and see what he brings to the table and if all that potential is realised. The next chapter will be reviewed on Wednesday 23rd June. Be here.

OiNK! #2: STiCKiNG iT TO THE ROYALS

it’s time for the second issue of the world’s funniest comic and the cover sets the ball rolling in typical OiNK fashion. Using the same design as the preview issue, an artist’s illustration framed above Patrick Gallagher‘s Uncle Pigg and Mary Lighthouse, this has proved to be very memorable over the years amongst fans.

Let’s try to forget about how old the image of those two boys makes us feel and instead concentrate on the funny rendering by Steve McGarry. This was all to promote another free gift, a set of blank sticky badges with letters, numbers and images which could be rubbed on to create anything the young readers wanted. They’re a bit like those old pretend tattoo rub-on transfers we had as kids, which never transferred in one piece and would look a right mess on our arms.

Of course there were other cheeky examples of what could be created inside the issue and a request for pig pals to send in their ideas, which we’ll see later. As we open the issue it’s again up to critic Mary Lighthouse and editor Uncle Pigg to introduce the issue, this time by following on directly from Mary’s quite startled discovery on the front page.

It’s not often you’ll see a Royal fart joke. Again, Ian Jackson‘s artwork is the star here and he really does epitomise everything OiNK was about. I’d call it a breath of fresh air but that might not be the case given the subject of Mark Rodgers‘ script. Mary’s face in the final panel brings out a childish grin on my own face every time I see it.

It’s time to meet another regular star of the comic. Weedy Willy was introduced in the preview issue as “So Pathetic It’s Embarrassing”. Cowardly, insanely weak and lacking any kind of social skills, Willy’s continued optimism led to us cheering him on through mishap after mishap. Most of these would also involve his unrequited love of local girl Mandy, who’d often fall foul of his misplaced affections.

While Willy’s weediness (expertly rendered by Mike Green) was the subject of the humour, he was never portrayed as a victim. Yes, we could laugh at his inability to lift the lightest of objects or his fears of the cutest, cuddliest babies, but whenever the strip put him up against a bully he’d always come out on top, even if it was inadvertently. His positivity was infectious and the moral was clear, albeit delivered in an original OiNK fashion.

[Harry the Head] paid tribute to the Dambusters, believe it or not.

The comic had an anarchic feel to it which I always loved, not only in its humour and artwork but also in how it was organised. Other humour comics would have certain strips on the same pages every issue, always taking up the same amount of space. OiNK mixed it up, placing its regulars on different pages and often giving them varying amounts of space from issue to issue. Co-editor Mark Rodgers said strip length was one of the rules they no longer wished to be confined by.

This variation carried over to the one-off strips, which could be anything from a quick three-panel gag to a detailed multipage story. From this issue, this two-thirds of a page strip is one such example and a definite highlight.

Burp and Mr Big Nose creator Jeremy Banx‘s Kangaroo Kid leaps (sorry, I couldn’t resist) off the bright yellow page, ending with the reader actually taken by surprise with the blatantly obvious fact he hadn’t exited the phone booth yet. A brilliant piece of misdirection and comic timing.

Compared to the newsprint comics of the day, OiNK’s shiny paper was a revelation. While action comics such as Transformers were mostly printed on full colour glossy paper, OiNK’s was much bigger and of a higher grade, meaning even these one-colour pages feel more vibrant when held. Its printing process also meant black and white strips didn’t have to be quite so simple anymore and shades of grey could be used to really bring them to life in a way we hadn’t seen before in humour comics.

But of course, OiNK also had more striking full colour pages than any other funny comic and none would use this to greater effect than J.T. Dogg, so while we’re on the subject here’s his latest Superstar Poster, Frankenswine!

I know I’ve included one of these before but how could I not show off this masterpiece? I hadn’t discovered OiNK at this stage but I remember having these up on my wall back in the late 80s, from a mix of issues given to me by my cousin and reprints from much later in the run. I have a couple up on the walls of my home office now, I’ll let you know which as we go along.

Other highlights of this issue include the pun-tastic pigs The Street-Hogs as they continue to fight Don Poloney, not-so-subtle in-jokes in Cowpat County, a wonderful full colour Burp and a Rocky-inspired Golden Trough Awards, complete with catchy musical monologue. Be warned, you may not get the original tune out of your head after you read this.

One of the main contributors to OiNK had never worked in comics before, but was the lead singer of the band that received a little promo above in Cowpat County. Marc Riley is better known today as a BBC Radio 6 Music presenter, previously of Mark and Lard fame on Radio 1. Just for the record, our Marc was ‘Lard’.


“With Marc all hunched over dressed like this, passers-by and car drivers were stunned and puzzled.”

Tony Husband

An old friend of Patrick’s (still good friends with both him and fellow co-editor Tony Husband to this day) Marc could be heard singing on the free flexidisc from issue one and would star as Snatcher Sam in many photo stories, often appearing alongside Frank Sidebottom. Later stories are set outside or on makeshift sets, but in these early days Marc would be pasted onto hastily drawn backgrounds.

The Bully Who Went Bald is one such story. It also features Tony’s son Paul (previously seen in the preview issue) as Sam’s intended target and Patrick as an innocent airplane pilot who just happens to be passing by. The rough sketches and cut-and-paste nature adds to the amateurish look, which in itself highlights the fact these were spoofs of photo stories found in the likes of Eagle and women’s weeklies.

This behind-the-scenes photo has been shared by Tony, who said that after the shoot Paul walked down the lane holding Marc’s hand. “With Marc all hunched over dressed like this, passers-by and car drivers were stunned and puzzled”, says Tony. Also, according to Paul himself the photographer was none other than Ian Tilton, who has worked with legends such as Iggy Pop, The Stone Roses and whose Kurt Cobain photographs were hailed by Q Magazine as among the best rock photographs ever taken.

We stick with Marc for the back page and our final highlight. Probably Marc’s most fondly remembered creation after Snatcher Sam was Harry the Head, the tale of an ordinary boy who just happened to be a disembodied head. In the preview issue Harry’s parents were also just heads but a later strip would change this to involve a genie, a greedy young boy and a lesson learnt.

Quite a severe lesson to learn! But Harry did just that and ended up kinder and less selfish, earning himself a good friend in Barney (who would diligently carry Harry around by the hair) and decided to live life to the full. Later he would go off on an adventure around the world over multiple issues, but his best strips were the self-contained ones where he’d use his predicament to his advantage, such as in this one which paid tribute to the Dambusters, believe it or not.

Who would’ve thought this crazy comic could be educational too. Well okay, I’m pushing it but this strip actually saw publication on the 43rd anniversary of the Dambusters raid, which occurred on the night of 16-17 May back in 1943.

With that we come to the end of our second review (third if you count the preview) of OiNK in this real-time 35th anniversary read through. The next issue is the first of the themed editions. These were another example of how OiNK stood out from the crowd and another reason it was a favourite among so many.

The first subject is space, so watch out for chicken aliens, pigs behind the moon and even a cameo from The Doctor. Issue three takes off on Monday 31st May and you can also check out the promo for it from tis issue.

COMiNG UP: OiNK! #2

Tomorrow sees the 35th anniversary of OiNK‘s sophomore release and again the previous issue (the review of which you can catch up on here) concentrated fully on the free gift for its promotional back page. This time it would be a selection of stickers to make your own badges. The front cover of the next issue would provide some of the funniest examples, but if you can’t remember them you’ll just have to wait for the review.

Some come back for #2 of OiNK for more highlights, more character introductions and definitely a lot more laughs from the pages of the greatest comic ever created. See you then.