Tag Archives: Barrie Tomlinson

SUPER NATURALS HOLiDAY SPECiAL: HiSTORiC HORROR

Welcome back to Ghostworld for the very last time. Just a month after the final issue comes Fleetway‘s Super Naturals Holiday Special for 1988, as ever edited by Barrie Tomlinson. Kicking off with a Sandy James cover which would’ve been fun for any kids who received the oversized Tonka trucks for Christmas, here we have 48 glossy pages which, much like the Adventure Book, focus more on the action aspects of the comic rather than the horror.

There are two exceptions, including a reprint from Scream! which checks the horror box for the young readers of Super Naturals unaware of the previous short-lived comic, but other than that it’s all licenced strips and extras. That means there’s no ventriloquist’s Doll or readers’ suggestions for Scary Cat, both of which were highlights of the regular comic so that’s a shame, especially knowing this would be the last publication in the series. But let’s not get too down, the idea of a Holiday Special was to have lots of fun one-off stories to read while off school. Let’s see how the Super Naturals fare with theirs, shall we?

It starts high in the air in SkyJack! The evil Super Naturals flub an attempt to transport themselves into our world, with only Snake Bite able to make it and imaginatively the strip has him crashing through a tiny airplane window, terrifying all the passengers on a transatlantic flight to America. Hypnotising the pilots, he shares his strength with them to save the plane, but only because he wants to use it to crash into Washington which would cause much more destruction in our world.

Snake Bite was always the most interesting of the evil characters and the set up for this story is great. We even have Hooter and Lionheart using the Ghost Finder to nudge the plane up just enough so that it’s trajectory is right for the pilots to take over before Lionheart slashes a hole in the fuselage and throws Snake Bite out, who loses his telepathic control as a result. I like how it’s not an easy, miraculous rescue plan, as Hooter bluntly states. It’s just a shame the artwork doesn’t match the exciting potential of the script.

It’s even more of a shock when you find you who the artist was. It’s Geoff Campion‘s work (Eagle, Lion, Valiant) which I’d personally adored in Ring Raiders, another of Barrie’s titles. However, here things feel somewhat rushed, even unfinished in places, such as when the Ghost Finder crew makes their entrance the buildings in the background look like rough layouts. As the story goes on more details are lost and backgrounds become even more sparse, almost like it was hastily finished for a deadline. It’s not the usual exemplary work we’ve come to expect from Geoff and I’m intrigued as to why, but unfortunately that’s a question lost to the mists of time. It’s still a fun story to open with, a really enjoyable complete tale perfect for a Holiday Special.

To make a special even more so, there are always a few extras. Inside we have new pin ups of the toys, some of the marvellous posters from the fortnightly have been shrunk down to A4 size, a one-page Ghostling Tale features a thief making his getaway only to board the Titanic and there’s a pretty poor quiz. Much like the one in the Adventure Book it’s just a series of strip panels and the questions are all a variation of “Who is in this picture?”. We do get some lovely reader art in Ghostworld Gallery including a superb rendering of Skull by David Round who was clearly a fan of Alan Langford‘s depiction of the character.

There’s also a page called Incident at Rock Canyon which looks suspiciously an unused cover. Drawn by Sandy James it clearly hadn’t reached the colouring stage yet when the comic was cancelled. To accompany it is a short story by way of explanation, reminding me of the inner front page to the Ring Raiders special printed after that favourite comic of mine also abruptly ceased. It’s a nice addition and always interesting to see work that was still in progress for future issues.

Next up is a Scary Cat Challenge story. The anthology story isn’t based on a reader’s idea like some of the very best in the regular series, instead it’s a reprint from Scream! #9. Part of the Library of Death series in the comic, Ghost Town was written by Fred Baker (Roy of the Rovers, Lion, New Eagle) and illustrated by Mike Dorey (Action, Warlord, 2000AD). An old Western town in America witnesses the arrival of its first automobile, which promptly has a brake failure and ploughs straight into a dynamite storage (of course it does), blowing it and the whole town up in a huge chain reaction of explosions. That’s just the beginning.

In the then-present day of the 80s two young lads pull up to a gas station in the desert and ask for directions, but there’s more to the little old man who helps them than they realise. They soon find themselves in an old fashioned town instead of back on the highway and are greeted by the sheriff. The only problem is he’s a waking, talking skeleton! Telling the boys they’re going to stand in a fair trial for murder, soon a whole town full of dead bodies with other ideas are chasing them down.

Cornered in the sheriff’s office with his guns, the young men have no choice but to try to shoot their way out and get back to their car, but they’re no match for one of the local gunslingers. Seeing the two innocent guys gunned down was quite the shock when I turned the page! I know it was created for a different comic but to see it in the pages of Super Naturals it makes quite the impact. I never owned this edition as a kid but if I had (and not knowing this was a reprint) I know I would’ve loved this story because of this horrific final page.

The next strip is the definite highlight of the whole comic, even though it only comes in at four pages. I believe the artist for The Making of Evil could be Keith Page though this is unconfirmed. The middle couple of pages are your typical tale of Skull and Burnheart causing terror and destruction as they set fire to a small Austrian town at the end of the nineteenth century. They’re defeated by Lionheart and Thunderbolt but our main focus is the young boy the evil Super Naturals crash in on at the beginning of the their story.

The strip doesn’t explicitly tell us his name but instead treats the young readers with the intelligence to either know straight away who this is, or to piece it together by the end. I was still in primary school when this was released so I wouldn’t have been taught anything about World War II at this point, but some slightly older readers may have, and even if they hadn’t a rereading in a year or two would’ve brought a fresh, terrifying perspective.

The boy’s reaction to Skull inspires the evil leader to bestow upon him unlimited power to score against those he hates, but even Skull can only hope the boy will spread some form of fear after they’re recaptured; he has no idea of what he’s actually created. For now we see the boy carry on with their work, helping spread the fire and blocking the streets from help. In the final issue’s review I said how it would’ve been great to see the Super Naturals interact with more myths from our past like they did with the Lady of the Lake, but to see a real-world evil inspired by Skull is something I didn’t expect! It’s a brave move by the comic and an inspired story that once again shows the potential of the franchise.

I also adore that awesome Tomb of Doom looming over the characters as they disappear back into Ghostworld, and I wish it had been depicted as such throughout the whole series. Then, after that somewhat creepy tale comes a bit of comic relief in the shape of Ghostlings, this time focussing on Hooter and Scary Cat and as ever it’s drawn by Anthony Williams. The slight plot sees the witch trying to wreck a bit of havoc by having lions escape a zoo close to a town.

Hooter tries to stop her by using his magical sleeping potion but he’s quite a clumsy wizard is our Hooter and he drops it in a mid-air kerfuffle between the pair. But luck is on his side and instead of Scary Cat being put to sleep the animals end up having a doze instead. But when Scary Cat transforms back to her witch form, their hard landing sees her join them in the land of nod. Our hero is then easily able to carry her back to the Tomb. Silly stuff, but then again the best Ghostlings strips always were, that was the whole point of them.

Racetrack Riot is the special’s prose story and follows F1 driver Alan Dixon as he test drives a new super powered engine, which of course Skull wants for his Bat Bopper truck. Alan and his team are kidnapped and forced to remove the engine from their car, however outside Lionheart, Thunderbolt and Hooter (who is making up for being underused in the regular comic by the looks of it) are watching closely. It’s our clumsy wizard who comes up with the plan and after transforming into his owl form he swoops in from the skylight on which they’re perched and seemingly attacks the F1 team.

There’s method in his madness of course. It looks like a regular owl, possibly nesting somewhere nearby, has flown in. So the evil characters simply ignore him while at the same time in this form he doesn’t inadvertently scare the humans into freezing in fright for once! Instead, they dive into the maintenance pit under the car for cover. This allows the main Super Naturals to launch an attack and duke it out without fear of harming anyone. It’s inconsequential stuff but entertainingly written by Barrie Tomlinson. Unfortunately though, we’re not sure who the artist was.

The final story in the comic and for any of these characters is Tooth and Claw and I believe it could be drawn by Keith Page. I’ve checked with some sources and parts of this (in particular the Super Naturals themselves) seem to be in his style but the jury is out for how the wild animals are drawn. So it could be Keith. Anyway, the story is set in an unnamed country suffering from a drought, its inhabitants hungry and the animals dying. Through a sacred temple emerge Skull, Snakebite and the underused Rags (as someone interested in Ancient Egypt I wish they’d used him more, he’s a Pharaoh who can turn into a cursed mummy) in the Bat Bopper and Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Mr. Lucky in the Ghost Finder.

As they give chase the good guys are surprised to see the villages have been left untouched by their evil counterparts, until they come face to face with a wild stampede. Hypnotised by Snake Eyes, the animals have either been forced into a frenzy to chase down and eat the human flesh of the nearby villagers, or into a made rage to stomp all over their homes and kill them underfoot in the case of the elephants. But the plan hasn’t reckoned on one simple thing, namely Lionheart’s third and final form.

It’s surprising to think the character hasn’t been placed into this kind of environment before now. It’s the kind of story which could’ve been developed into a serial to delve deeper into his mind, especially if he befriended other lions. After all, he was given this lion form by Specter for a reason, could he have found a kindred spirit in them? But then again, the comic was still in its infancy when it was cancelled, so who knows what could’ve happened. I have to say though, it’s fun to see him take to this form with relish, acting like an actual wild lion and fighting off the hypnotised, innocent animals (without killing them). Only a few characters got the chance for any kind of development by the end and unfortunately Lionheart wasn’t one of them. This is like a teaser for what could’ve been.

Before we sign off from the last ever edition of this comic there’s just time for a quick plug for some of Fleetway‘s range which may have appealed to he target audience. Battle had merged with the new Eagle after a phenomenal run, Roy of the Rovers was still going strong and another of their licenced comics, Mask had proved a lot more popular, lasting 80 issues and it was certainly a hit with some of my friends. These could be described as the Barrie Tomlinson range, as he edited all of these titles too.

A reprint of a Skull poster with the top and bottom chopped off to fit the inside back cover followed by the title logo on the rear round things off and that’s it. In an edition which contained a lot more fun and action-orientated strips, the horror stories of the Scream reprint and the Hitler tale really stand out. So does the action-packed Lionheart ending, if only to show what could’ve been and as a great example of the licence.

Never again would the young readers see these fun characters and the horror comics that came along with them for the ride. While there seems to be very little left to tell as memories seem vague when it comes to Super Naturals, keep an eye on the blog for some possible extra content in the future nonetheless. It’s sad to see the comic end and it will remain a treasured part of my collection, taking pride of place on the Barrie Tomlinson Trilogy Shelf. I hope I’ve been able to do my bit in helping keep the memory of this classic alive.

(Please note the Super Naturals Adventure Book review is yet to come, more information here.)

WiLDCAT #12: JOURNEY’S END

This Vanyo cover with lead character Turbo Jones is an exciting mystery, begging the question of how he ended up in this predicament after the conclusion last issue. The ever-changing colours of the Wildcat logo bring us this variant, almost matching the creature below it. It’s a great start and I’m sure it thrilled me at the time, not knowing of the sad news within. There’s no clue here, and there isn’t until the end of our first strip, so let’s start there and see how things pan out, shall we?

Brought in front of the Burroids‘ leader, The Brain, Turbo faces a trial for supposedly defecting to the other side, The Arglons. Of course, he was actually captured and forced to work for them, but he escaped and made it back to help his friends. However The Brain, for all of its apparent knowledge (it is a big floating brain in a glass sphere after all) isn’t too hot when it comes to assessing the situation, or indeed holding a fair trial. Simply deciding not to believe Turbo, he’s sentenced to walk the Valley of Death.

The first of these obstacles is the creature from the cover, who Turbo eventually dispatches by decapitating two of its heads and strangling the third. It’s a great, action-packed sequence and begs the question, if this is the first obstacle what are the rest like? He ends up trapped in the deadly vines of a fruit tree as he tries to take some food but thankfully Robo finally catches us with his master. Oh sorry, I mean friend! There’s a nice moment between the two when Robo apologises for having emotions and worrying about Turbo, and Turbo telling him he’ll never complain about his robot friend having emotions.

This was a complete shock, especially at only 12 issues in.

Their friendship has always been an interesting one and at times surprisingly sweet among all the action and excitement. As they make their way deeper into the valley Turbo plunges into a trap, crashing through branches laid out on the ground over a hole, so clearly there’s someone else here. It’s a great action episode while still maintaining the characterisation we’ve come to love. The Turbo Jones story has never forgotten that and has always achieved the perfect balance, testament to its writer (and the comic’s creator and editor) Barrie Tomlinson. However, in the corner of the final panel are the words, “This story continues in the first issue of Eagle & Wildcat – on Sale April 1st.”

As a child I was devastated; not again! I obtained my free Wildcat Preview issue with the final edition of OiNK which had crushed me because I’d never had a comic cancelled on me before. As I’ve mentioned previously it had felt like OiNK was passing the baton to Wildcat and so this was a complete shock, especially at only 12 issues in. As usual the news was promoted in as positive a light as possible and on the next page was this advert for the first of the combined issues.

As much as these ‘Great News For All Readers’ kind of messages tried, it was always sad for those collecting the cancelled comic. There would be an attempt to make it sound like both titles were merging into one awesome comic, but in reality it was always clear one was getting cancelled and a little bit of it was going to appear in the other. So, just as with OiNK when three of its characters joined Buster, I didn’t continue with Wildcat in the pages of Eagle, but I’ve some news on that front which I’ll get to below.

For now though, let’s continue with the final colour episode for Joe Alien (in Eagle he would be in black and white). Facing down the oncoming storm of murderous vegetation and seeing the roots encircle his men, our peace-loving alien has no choice but to do the one thing he hates the most, he resorts to violence and picks up a laser to free his team. They retreat into a cave that has walls covered with eggs belonging to the Dargonlites, the giant slugs from previous issues. Happily for me (because I think they’re a brilliant creation) there’s one left guarding the eggs and they take to the trees with fervour in defence of the unborn young.

This one slug takes care of the advancing hordes and just as Joe and his men leave we see one of the hatchlings burst out of its egg with the promise of survival after their devastating loses last time. But this is Wildcat, we can’t be having too much of a happy ending, so as they continue their search for the missing shuttle the mossy floor itself comes alive like an evil turf, rolling up to engulf them. It’s certainly an imaginative cliffhanger, I’ll give you that!

The story would continue in Eagle but we’d have to wait, the little box at the end promising the story will continue in a future issue. As you saw in the promo only Turbo and Kitten would be in the comic to begin with, what with limited space available for the merge. This was another reason I didn’t carry over my comic order. Yes, there’s only so much room for the Wildcat strips and nothing could be done about that, but for young me I only wanted to read about these characters and didn’t like the fact I’d only get a small portion of the contents every week.

Joe does go out on a high though. His plight on the planet has been huge fun. Originally drawn with the fervent imagination of Massimo Belardinelli it wasn’t long before the incredible Ron Smith took over and I’ve loved every single panel he’s produced. Even when the plot slipped a little (just for an issue or two) his art still made this one of the best strips every single time. Joe remains very much an enigma and it’s such a crying shame we won’t get to see him develop and find out about his mysterious past.

The Kitten Magee strip is really full of twists, turns and surprises this issue, making the cancellation all the more frustrating. With Kitten knocked out we see Aurora take command of the team and soon they’ve lured one of the large Hoboans on his floating platform to within reach, commandeering his vehicle. In the process he falls off and through a glass window, killing him. This makes our team an even higher priority target, to be terminated on sight. We return to them for the cliffhanger but first we catch up with their leader and her pet.

Crud calling Hobos “mate” raised a chuckle. At first I thought these fishy creatures might turn on their owners like the ones out in the public pools, and that might still happen of course, but for now we’re left not knowing what’s happened to the little metal fella. We catch up on the rest of the team for the final two pages, hiding in a food storage unit full of rotting, stinking meat. We get an interesting nugget of info on the Hoboans here as Doc postulates that given the shape their bodies are in, this may be the only way they can consume food, when it’s already broken down by rot and decay. I really enjoy little details like this, it makes the fantastical feel more grounded.

This is the first time the story has focussed on the team without Kitten and it works so well. They’ve each had a little bit of time in the spotlight in individual scenarios before, enough so that when they’re interacting with one other they feel like well developed individuals and not just cannon fodder. The story ends with the discovery of a hidden doorway and an ancient city, destroyed by the Hoboans a long time ago. The stench, the dust of remains, a whole civilisation wiped out of existence, this is such a surprising twist and these final pages ooze atmosphere!

Damn it, why did more people not buy into this super comic? It should’ve carried on for many more years! The letters page reassures readers a few times that the stories and characters are going to continue, still trying to sell it as a 50/50 Eagle/Wildcat merger. Unlike Super Naturals the address is still here as readers’ contributions would continue and there’s even a guest appearance from Max, Eagle‘s fictional editor.

Loner is our final serial and just like Joe it would be a while before he’d appear again. This is extra annoying because, even though the plot recently hasn’t been all that hot, the cliffhanger asks so many questions! Anyway, you’ll remember from #11’s review how our mercenary friend was plummeting back to the forest fire below. He has a messy save as he lands on and smashes the nest’s eggs. His plan to fly away on the bird’s foot didn’t work out and I’ll admit his next thought as the fire races up the tree towards him made me laugh.

If you’ve been following along with these reviews you’ll know this second tale in Loner’s epic quest has felt a bit too loose, a bit too made-up-as-it-goes-along for my liking. I was prepared for more outlandishness this issue and awaited whatever random event would befall our hero. I could never have predicted what transpires here!

It begins with the wind picking up and spreading the fire even quicker across the forest floor. Of course to Loner in his miniaturised state it feels like a hurricane is trying to pluck him up off his feet and in fact that’s exactly what happens. Clutching desperately on to a leaf to stay put, it’s blown away with him still clinging on as the wind whips up the fire below. This is all good stuff so far, for once it’s something you could see happening in this far-fetched scenario, but what if I told you that very same wind somehow blows him so far up he leaves the atmosphere of the planet? Yes, really.

Frozen in the upper atmosphere, Loner’s unconscious body floats out into space and apparently passes relatively close by the Wildcat itself (the second character to do so in as many issues) before he starts making his descent. The comic has always been a far out there, wild and fantastical ride and I’ve loved it for that as well as for its originality. But this is a step too far for the far-fetched. I can’t remember my reaction to this when I was in the age range of the target audience but this (much) older version of me didn’t like this one bit.

I’m not going to go into detail about logistics or the science, this is a fun children’s comic after all and I’m not about to start taking it all too seriously. But even from a story perspective it just doesn’t make sense and is yet another seemingly random event plucked out of thin air (in this case very thin air) just to be bigger and more exciting than the previous one. Maybe I loved it back in 1989 but I review these classic comics as I find them now with no rose-tinted glasses and I just want another well constructed plot for one of my favourite comics characters, like we had for the first half dozen issues. But back to that cliffhanger I mentioned, when I suddenly found my interest piqued again.

David Pugh‘s artwork shines as always but that penultimate panel with Loner’s understated shock is simply superb. Our unflappable hero, always ready with his quick wit, actually looks almost speechless here. It’s not overplayed, his facial expressions not exaggerated for effect, David’s style is so good he doesn’t need to do that. The subtlety and realism in his drawings of Loner while the character is surrounded by fantastical sci-fi elements of psychic alien lizards, cute furballs and giant monsters perfectly captured this particular hero and why I loved him so much.

I imagine my face was somewhat similar to Loner’s when I originally read this, the final cliffhanger of the comic’s run. Has he travelled in time? Is that giant the real Loner? Is this shrunken Loner actually a copy? This is the kind of cliffhanger ending I’ve been craving for the last half a dozen issues or so and it just so happens to be in the final issue. It’s not the end of his story for me, as I’ll get to in a little bit, but before we move on to the final strip there are a couple of advertisement pages I thought might interest you.

It’s Holiday Specials time and alongside Mask (which had already folded and by this stage had finished its merge with Eagle), Roy of the Rovers and Battle was something called the Spinechillers. The top corner of the cover has a tiny little Scream logo but in reality there were no characters or strips within that had featured in the short-lived weekly. It was even presented by a new character called Ghoul (instead of the usual Ghastly McNasty) who had presented a strip the year before in Eagle. There was also news of a free gift in Buster but for me at the time the big news was below that.

Finally, just as Uncle Pigg had promised in the last issue of OiNK here was a new edition of my favourite comic! That final OiNK had introduced me to Wildcat and now here was the final Wildcat telling me of the return of OiNK. Everything had come full circle. Although claiming it hadn’t had the chop is a bit of a stretch. Still, it was exciting and a mood booster after the cancellation of the comic in my hands. Speaking of which, time to read the final strip, this issue’s Wildcat Complete and this time it’s drawn by Carlos Pino (TV Century 21, Starlord, Ring Raiders).

I really have my doubts about Turbo’s selection process. We’ve seen horrible xenophobes, serial killers, robot slave drivers and now bullying bosses in these anthology stories. With only several hundred people on board from our whole race, who was left behind to make room for these idiots? Zak‘s bosses are all of this type, shouting and screaming at him just because he gets sick easily, and they certainly don’t care that he currently has a cold. To punish him they force him outside to clean the hull of Wildcat and it’s there the above happens.

We can tell where this is headed, War of the Worlds-style.

Yuggoth, Master of Chaos looks very much like a man in a rubber suit, 80s Doctor Who-style alien which suits the retro futuristic nature of this read through perfectly. He inhabits poor Zak’s body and straight away we can tell where this is headed, War of the Worlds-style. Of course, Zak isn’t believed by anybody and only he can see Yuggoth’s reflection in the mirror, so he gets scolded some more by his bosses before one of them sets him up with a psychiatrist-droid which is clearly programmed to get the results his boss wants. (Again, how did Turbo pick these people?!) It’s only a matter of time though before our visitor has seen enough to make his move.

In the control centre of Wildcat’s computerised systems the two head operators are female, which is refreshing for an 80s comic. However, they also regularly belittled Zak like his bosses and so I felt no sympathy when they’re the first to die at the hands of this alien foe (bringing the Wildcat Death Toll to 38 in its final issue). Seemingly unstoppable, Yuggoth’s victory seems certain when suddenly he begins clutching at his throat and keels over, dead. Later, a scientist concludes the creature caught a virus its body had no defence against. It was Zak’s cold.

In the end Zak becomes a hero but in today’s post-Covid (almost) world that final panel is just plain scary! It adds to the overall thriller feel to the story, with these humans just opening themselves up to pain and misery thinking it’s their salvation, but clearly that wasn’t the intention of the ending at the time. It just goes to show how strips can not only age well over the decades, they can even improve.

That’s your lot. With this story Wildcat comes to an end. At the time I had no interest in buying Eagle (sorry, Eagle and Wildcat!) as I said above so this was where these stories finished for me and only over these past couple of years, over three decades later, have we finally got Rebellion‘s new graphic novel collections of Turbo Jones and Loner so that I can find out what happened. Even though I purchased the books over a year ago now, I’ve been waiting for the whole read through to finish before I devour them. Unfortunately though, it’s looking increasingly unlikely the other characters will be getting similar treatment.

I’m currently collecting the remaining Kitten Magee, Joe Alien and Wildcat Complete stories in the Eagle comics released over the twelve months after Wildcat finished, but that’s going to take a while, so first I’ll be completing my original 80s collection with the Wildcat Holiday and Winter Specials, so look out for them in May and November of this year. Then after that I’ll go back to read the adventures I didn’t as a kid to see how it all ended (not a real time trek through them all though, I’ll be summing up the Wildcat content).

So I’m not done with Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat just yet, just taking a breather. The Wildcat Holiday Special review will be here from Friday 27th May 2022

WiLDCAT #11: NET YOURSELF SOME ACTiON

Kitten Magee makes the cover of the penultimate issue of editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s superb creation, Wildcat. Kitten’s regular artist José Ortiz brings the style he used for #9‘s pin up to the front page, complete with very strategically placed controls on that front hover machine! I hadn’t realised some of Hobos’ people were naked floating about in the story until I saw this. Not something I expected to see on a cover of Wildcat, but that’s this comic to a T, it’s always surprising me! This issue is no different.

Kitten starts us off inside on page two and it’s a very exciting strip this issue. There’s a lot of action happening and it varies so much throughout its five pages it stays fresh. All-in-all it’s a great action sequence with Kitten finally going up against Hobos and his followers. It’s felt like the story has been building towards this for a long time now and I haven’t been left disappointed in the slightest.

There’s one particular aspect of this chapter which really took me by surprise, I’m sure you can guess what it was from the panels above! So when Kitten and her team were dumped into the city’s ponds, ready to be electrocuted to death by the floating fat men and their cattle prod-like devices, the fish they’d been torturing for sport rise up in support and start killing them. Not only that, but it appears they can talk, or at the very least scream” Kill!” as they do so.

This happens thanks to Kitten firing back with her wrist lasers, something overlooked when they were disarmed last time. This causes one of the men to fall off his hover pad and another to fly in low to attack Kitten, forgetting to stay at a certain height above the water. Kitten grabs his hovering platform and climbs aboard to fight back at long last, and soon a huge battle is raging over the skies of the Hoboan city. I love the fact there are dozens of these men, over-sure of themselves after countless years of lording it over everyone else, their privilege and lifestyle obvious on their bodies, and they’re all being taken out by one woman.

It feels like a very modern strip, and most likely one which certain dark, dank corners of the internet would criticise these days because one heroic woman is fighting off dozens of evil men. I think it’s great we were getting this kind of storytelling as kids, we were exactly the right age to take on the subtext without realising. OiNK definitely helped form my sense of humour as a child, it’s not unbelievable that comics such as Wildcat helped shape other parts of my character too.

In the end, Kitten goes up against Hobos himself but as leader he’s been afforded the luxury of a force shield. Now surrounded, with no escape, he instructs his men to fire their Sleep Rays, leading her to collapse on her hover pad for the cliffhanger. While I understand he can now use Kitten as a hostage to capture the rest of the team, it seems out of character for him to spare her. We’ve seen electric rods, death rays and even a Shatter Gun this issue (freezes and shatters upon impact), but he decides to send Kitten to sleep when he finally has her in his grasp? Our final Wildcat chapter should be interesting.

The trees have sent troops down on a suicide mission to poison the gigantic slugs

Joe Alien is up next and after the shocking conclusion last time (pun very much intended), time flashes forward a couple of hours and he and his team slowly start to come around. Forcing Joe to the ground, one of his men cleans his brain pack and reattaches it. Joe tries to explain to the slug creatures (the Dargonlites, as they psychically introduced themselves as last time) but they stop him and tell him they already know why it happened, they’re “not unintelligent beings”, correcting an assumption made just because of their looks and slow nature, again a good lesson for the kids reading (and for adults). Suddenly some tree roots begin to break in above their heads and the slugs attack. It seems like a stupid decision by the vegetation, until we get to our middle pages.

As I have (very happily) become accustomed to as of late, the second half of Joe’s strip in the middle pages (separate to the first three pages) is a beautiful double-page spread in which artist Ron Smith takes full advantage of the layout. The trees have sent troops down on a suicide mission to poison the gigantic slugs (there’s my pull quote right there!) and one by one they die off, leaving Joe and his team vulnerable to attack, which is certainly what happens in that last panel. It looks like all-out war is approaching fast. It’s another winning entry in the series and, mainly thanks to Ron’s art, another hugely exciting strip for this issue.

I felt genuinely sad to see the “slurp creatures” die. Even though they’ve only been in the strip for a couple of issues I loved their design and the playfulness with which they first appeared. We were just about to find out more about them when they were attacked too. Their leader was beginning to open a dialogue with Joe and find out why the humans were landing on the planet. I don’t think they’ll be back, but that’s the nature of Wildcat, you can’t get too attached to things. You just don’t know where these stories will go next. With one more chapter to go, and knowing there’d be a wait before Joe would appear in the pages of Eagle (which Wildcat merged into), I hope we’re in for a great climax next time, or at least a temporary one.

So on to Loner who easily escapes last issue’s cliffhanger by simply jumping out of the huge mouth he found himself in. Much more interesting is the strange creature he was riding on the back of in the previous ‘Next Issue’ promo. He’d even given it a name and so I thought we were about to head off an a big adventure with the mercenary atop Dobbin. But one page later a fire inexplicably breaks out in the forest (of course it does) and naturally a stampede of all the animals takes place, Loner and Dobbin likely to get trampled on, so his new friend pushes him off and buries his way underground to safely, never to be seen again.

I’ll admit, when the fire broke out I kind of rolled my eyes because it was just the latest in a long run of seemingly random dangerous events that by this stage were getting comical and rather ridiculous. Yes, I realise Loner has been shrunk to the size of an ant on an alien planet by a large blob, but I can live with that, it’s an alien planet after all. I was excited by the prospect originally, but by now it’s quite clear there’s no real aim for the character or plot since this happened. Quite possibly very exciting for twelve-year-old me but now it’s just not gripping me any more.

Things end with Loner climbing a tree and grabbing hold of a bird’s foot as it takes off, trying to fly away to safety. But it shakes Loner off and he’s plummeting back down again as the story ends for another fortnight.

Before I move on though, let’s just take a moment to once again admire the saving grace of this strip, the always gorgeous artwork of David Pugh‘s. Loner himself is still a great character too, his inner thoughts and outbursts are often funny and he hasn’t lost any of his edge from his first story. If the comic had continued perhaps this would’ve been a fun intermediate period for the kids between two proper stories, but as it stands this makes up half of Turbo’s run in Wildcat and just can’t reach the heights of those first issues.

But what gorgeous art this is!

It plays like a cross between Babylon 5 and a Marvin the Martian Looney Tunes cartoon

On the letters page Kitten’s pet robot Crud is asked by reader Hilary Thompson what planet he was made on. The response is brilliant and here it is in its entirety: “Deep in the 5th planetary system of the Outer Glorky galaxy, there’s a little planetoid called Nomond-X. On the island south of the main land mass in the Northern hemisphere of that planetoid, there’s a river. At the exact centre of that river, near a mighty waterfall, is a little workman’s hut. It was nowhere near there.” It begins by having the reader think there are some great background details to even the smallest of characters, then the “workman’s hut” had me laughing at the silliness of it, but then that final line floored me! Classic 80s UK comic letter answering.

In Turbo Jones‘ strip we get our first space battle in the Wildcat comic and it’s exciting for the kids while also including some great visual humour. The robotic crew sent to destroy the Wildcat turn to take on Turbo and Robo and somehow from within the infrastructure of their tiny shuttle out pops a gigantic claw and a net! It’s ridiculous of course and I love it. You can’t say it’s unoriginal, that’s for sure. Artist Vanyo brings this scene to life and when the Wildcat joins in it plays like a cross between Babylon 5 and a Marvin the Martian Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s hugely enjoyable.

The Wildcat may only have a brief cameo but it’s nice to see those weapons on the huge human lifeboat finally get some use. The crew on board are completely unaware of who is in the shuttles and initially don’t know what they should do. Only when Turbo destroys the claw, sending the shuttle it was attached to into an uncontrollable spiral towards Wildcat do they intervene to save themselves from a collision. The radiation around the planet is still interfering with radio communications, even in orbit, so Turbo has no choice but to return to the planet.

I could feel Turbo’s frustration here. He was so close to reestablishing contact with the Wildcat after so long away. He could’ve updated them on their findings so far, explained why comms were down and perhaps those on board could’ve found a way around it, he could even have taken more troops back down. Between having none of the correct fuel and, probably more importantly, the fear of being shot down by his own people he has no choice but to return to the planet. They decide to return to their allies the Burroids, but upon touching down we get a rerun of the events in #1. Captured by the same aliens who now believe he’d defected, they tell him he’ll be standing trial for his life.

Layer upon layer keeps being added to this story. From landing and being captured, then befriending those aliens, helping them fight an enemy, being captured by said enemy, having to take to space to save humanity, then back to being captured by the original friendly race of aliens and standing trial for being a traitor. Turbo doesn’t have the best luck in the world, but he’s definitely come a long way since that first issue when he was an abrupt individual and deliberately one-dimensional. He was in charge of the future of an entire species after all, so he was deadly serious and prone to assuming the worst as a defence mechanism, thinking the first aliens he met were a threat. But he’s softened, he’s learned and he’s grown on me too. He’s a great character and I found myself empathising with his plight this issue.

‘Great News For All Readers’

The Wildcat Complete this issue doesn’t have a story name and we kick things off in the Wildcat Robot Research and Technology Centre where some of the older robot helpers are told they’re being replaced by more up-to-date models and nano-tech. The robots summoned before the professor breaking the bad news are all lovingly designed retro-styles by Jesús Redondo with each baring a passing resemblance to certain sci-fi characters such as Darth Vader (called Mek), C3PO or even a Cyclon from Battlestar Galactica, but each altered so as not to be obvious. It’s a nice nod and perhaps also shows how Wildcat was pushing itself as a really futuristic story compared to these older franchises. It did raise a chuckle.

The small group of robots decide on an uprising and systematically go about taking their revenge out on those humans who have been treating them badly, or who use robots for their own entertainment or financial gain. A man who beats his robot gets beaten to death, a foreman known for slave-driving his robots is forced to try carrying the heavy loads he forces upon them himself and is squished flat, and two men who run illegal for-profit Robo-fights are pushed into the ring and made to fight to the death. It’s a grim tale at times and perfect for the Wildcat Complete.

It’s a clear analogy for the class system and it’s unfortunate (but refreshingly realistic in a children’s sci-fi comic) that this far into the future we still face the same problems we do today; it’s not some Star Trek-like utopia. I think this reads even better today as a result. There’s still room for humour amongst the gruesome moments, such as the ever-so-politely-programmed robots apologising to each other as they’re forced to fight, but even then the humour just highlights what’s wrong here. As such, it’s a strip that can produce conflicting responses from the reader and I think that’s the whole point. The robots have been treated so badly we root for them, but their actions are played like a horror story.

After murdering four people they head back to the professor and destroy his equipment for making the new robots, before they themselves are destroyed by security. Just before its shattered body stops for good, the Vader-esque robot uses its last little bit of power to say they succeeded, the Wildcat doesn’t have the equipment to replace the other robots still on the ship. The human leaders find themselves in a predicament that isn’t immediately solvable but they do unveil a statue of Mek in the robots’ rest area, to smooth over human-robot relations.

While it has some comical robots, funny nods to the era’s sci-fi and an overall feeling of fun, just like the best Wildcat Completes there’s a dark streak running through the strip. It’s probably more in-your-face here than normal, but perhaps that’s down to the fact I’m a lot older and it’s symbolism is clear to me now. Let’s also not forget that Wildcat Death Toll either. With four more people now added to it our total is 36 at the end of our penultimate issue. As for the fact that this is indeed the penultimate edition, there’s the usual ‘Great News For All Readers’ message on the Next Issue page.

I certainly didn’t find the news special when #12 landed on my lap back then! To round off the issue is an advertisement for the NatWest bank with a central message which is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was in 1989. Finally, the pin up returns to the back cover and it’s Turbo’s deputies Wok and Glune of the Burroids who sign off the comic for two weeks.

The final regular issue of Wildcat will be reviewed in a fortnight and you can read it from Friday 25th March 2022.