Tag Archives: Barrie Tomlinson

SUPER NATURALS: PREViEW iSSUE

Given away free with a handful of other Fleetway comics a week before the launch of the new Super Naturals fortnightly was this full-sized 16-page preview edition. Inside it contained a five-page introductory strip, a shorter humorous back-up and a few full-page photographs of the Tonka toys in all of their holographic glory, as well as a competition and full details of the contents of #1. But it wasn’t the only thing falling out of comics that week.

Also included was this glossy comic-sized card with that great logo on one side and a fact-file about the characters on the other with images drawn by Sandy James. The toys were just launching in the UK around this time so the preview comic was also like a preview/advert for the toys. Well, it’s a licenced comic after all and that’s kind of the whole point. This card highlighted the good and evil characters we’d be following each issue and introduced their illustrated look for the comic.

At the time I wasn’t aware of either gift, only stumbling across both a few years ago on eBay. I came across the premiere issue on Hallowe’en itself, which I’ll whitter on about in the next review. But having this card bundled in with the preview, and the fact a Super Naturals Blockbuster Advert like the kind OiNK had was also produced (which you’ll see soon), gives the impression there was a big push for this comic. The toy adverts seemed to be on TV constantly and the comic launch was next with a few issues before Christmas to help build the hype.

Ian Kennedy‘s gorgeous painted cover kicked things off in a suitably creepy fashion with skulls, ghosts and powerful animal images. He was even able to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of three-dimensional holograms, particularly in evil leader Skull‘s shield. Surely intriguing to those who received it, inside the background story is equally atmospheric. Drawn by John Gillatt (ScorcherEagleRing Raiders) he does an incredible job invoking the themes of mystery, darkness and the supernatural in this opening spread.

Throughout history humans from various points in time have discovered the Tomb of Doom, an ancient doorway to another realm called Ghostworld, overseen by the unknown entity Specter. These people would be attracted to its power for good or evil purposes, becoming trapped inside. Killed by Specter and transformed into the Super Naturals, they would be imbued with special powers best reflecting their individual personalities.

Specter did not care whether these people wanted the power to protect or to rule, only that their heart was dedicated to their desires. Who or what was Specter? Why were they doing this? To what end? Was it all a game to them? We didn’t know. Enter two brothers who end up leaders of the opposing forces in our main story The Legend of the Super Naturals, part one of the main ongoing strip. While their backgrounds are a mystery, Lionheart and Skull are descended from royalty of some description and it’s interesting to find out after all these years they were so closely related when they were human.


“It’s a judgement on us all!”

Eyewitness to the arrival

The story rockets along. Yes, it has to in order to set up the comic’s premise, but it’s full of possible story points which could’ve been explored further down the line; the origin of Ghostworld, were there other Super Naturals in there, the living history of every character, the list goes on. Unfortunately none of this would be explored because the comic’s life was cut short, but it’s intriguing to think of the potential storylines because these characters and this setting are crying out for development and for depth of storytelling on an epic scale.

All of those swirling doors and windows within the Tomb are entryways to the real world, the only place they can use their powers to do battle because it is forbidden inside Ghostworld. The end result is truly terrifying if the faces of the church goers in the above panel are anything to go by.

Their first breach flings them into their far future but to the reader it was the present day, Hallowe’en 1987, the date the first issue of the comic would be released. At this point in the story they’re unaware of where they could end up, the places and timezones seemingly random. As the comic gets underway we’ll see Skull and his cronies plot and plan like all good evildoers, choosing where and when to crash through to spread as much fear as possible; their ultimate goal was to turn reality into a dark underworld with them ruling all. The usual stuff.

I love the fact they’ve smashed through a church window here, showing straight away there’s no safe place in our world. For me, it also shows the comic wasn’t afraid of exploring certain horror themes, because I can imagine some parents wouldn’t have been too happy about a child’s comic showing evil demons battling in such a religious setting. It’s great stuff and reads like a classic 80s horror movie, the atmosphere perfectly captured by John.

The comic was edited by Barrie Tomlinson (see also Ring Raiders and Wildcat on the blog) but unfortunately it seems very little is remembered about the creation of this particular comic. John had worked with Barrie before on titles such as Tiger and drew Billy’s Boots for a long time, as well as working on both of the comics mentioned above. This was released earlier than either of them and John really does seem to relish drawing the darker material here after all the sports strips he was known for at the time. Skull looks appropriately manic as he breaks through and the nighttime scene of their arrival wouldn’t look out of place in something like Scream. This won’t be the last time I mention that comic.

This preview also acted as advertising for the toy line and I don’t just mean because it had a licenced comic strip. There are also pin-ups of the various figures and vehicles produced by Tonka, who were always known for their high quality toy trucks so naturally the Super Naturals wouldn’t drive about in any old cars, they had to be large Tonka trucks!

The images were supplied for the comic by the toy manufacturer and are expertly lit to show off the intricate and highly detailed holograms. I only owned one of the toys but from seeing these images and others online they were in a class of their own and superior to Hasbro‘s Visionaries. (I went into more detail about the toys in the introductory post to Super Naturals.) I can just imagine how I would’ve poured over these images in anticipation of Christmas if I had owned this at the time, but unfortunately the preview comic wasn’t given away with OiNK for some reason.

To lighten the mood after the main strip is Ghostlings, a shorter story based on the smaller ghosts; long-time inhabitants of Ghostworld who acted as helpers to the main characters. Again, each has a background of their own, in fact we’re told exactly who they were before they were killed, albeit without their original names. Among them, a former stage magician, a court jester, a witch and even a teen wannabe rock star. They’re certainly a diverse group. Their stories would bring a bit of humour to the main fortnightly comic.

Little did we know the lasting effect that story would have on us!

Below is the line-up for that first issue. I do think it’s strange the preview printed the story already planned for issue one rather than its own introduction, but beyond that is another Super Naturals strip which really did look epic and really showsedoff the kind of stories the set up would be capable of telling. The Ghostlings would return, there was the promise of complete horror stories (which do live up to the hype) and innocently listed there is The Doll. Little did we know the lasting effect that story would have on us!

It’s interesting to see even before the first issue the two non-franchise stories taking second and third place in the line-up. You’ll see these in the review of #1, but already it’s clear this is going to be more than your standard licenced comic. In some ways it felt like a reimagining of the horror classic, Scream! I’m incredibly excited to get reading these. As per usual I’ll be doing so fortnightly in real time and it all begins on Hallowe’en itself, one week from now.

To finish off this whirlwind introduction to these very different characters the back page has a special competition to win a Tomb of Doom and action figures to place inside it. The slogan from the TV adverts adorns the top left of the page and should be read in a suitably creepy voice. The competition had been put together by Tonka themselves as an advertisement just for the comic and would become a regular back page addition with various prizes along the way.

There really is no other comic more suitable for review at this time of the year, so join me (if you dare) on Sunday 31st October 2021 for the first issue of a forgotten classic.

WiLDCAT #1: NEW ARRiVALS

So it begins! I can remember the excitement of buying this after the hype of the preview issue’s end of the world storyline. This may have been the same size of paper as OiNK but there was something about Wildcat that just made it feel bigger in my hands. It was such a complete package (the stories, the art, the characters, the scenario) the excitement kind of overwhelmed me, to be at the start of such an epic comic! Of course, with hindsight I know it only lasts 12 issues, but I didn’t at the time. I’m sure as hell going to enjoy the ride again.

Ian Kennedy draws the attention grabbing front cover. Ian was a mainstay of many of creator and editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s comics and you’ll see plenty of his work this winter in blog reviews for Ring Raiders and Super Naturals, my other favourite creations of Barrie’s. As for that brilliant logo, Barrie recalls it was created by him and group art editor Doug Church and its design would be carried throughout every strip. So a mere week after my first ever comic (OiNK, keep up!) was cancelled I was collecting the first issue of its replacement. Hey, we moved on quick at that age.

Editor Barrie said it was hugely important to have both a female lead and a black lead

We kick off with a brief, one-page recap of the preview and then we’re straight into the action. Wildcat is broken down into four five-page strips following the leaders’ expeditions and a six-page complete tale set aboard the spacecraft itself. Our first strip is Turbo Jones, the man who predicted the destruction of Earth (although it did explode instead of being hit by meteors, and a few years early) and as with all the main strips this issue we begin with his landing on the surface of our potential new home.

Barrie takes lead as writer (it’s his baby after all) and Ian stays around to bring the inaugural strip to life and Turbo down to solid ground. With a bump. The first thing I notice is how, after he mellowed when surrounded by his fellow crew towards the end of the preview, he’s reverted to being more hard edged again, particularly towards his poor android sidekick, Robo. In the preview he would snap at Robo when he called him “master”, but only because he believed friends shouldn’t do that, but here their strange relationship reminds me of that between early Judge Dredd and his home help, Walter the Robot.

If memory serves me correct (which is quite the ask these days) Turbo loosens up as the strip goes along, particularly thanks to Robo’s friendship. I have a recollection of warming to him and rooting for him with each cliffhanger. But when you think about it, it’s natural for him to be tense, he’s leading the first landing on an alien world with the survival of his species at stake after all and it isn’t exactly going well.

Upon arrival his team is instantly captured by a race of beings who call this region of the planet home and who are naturally suspicious of these strange alien creatures called humans. Turbo doesn’t take kindly to this and his inner thoughts are full of plans for fighting his way out. But there are a couple of little hints that there’s more than meets the eye here, a key theme in Wildcat throughout all of its stories. Our initial reaction as kids is meant to be of shock, to think the same as Turbo, that these wonderfully designed aliens are frightening monsters.

However, the comic would teach the characters (and thus us readers) the important lesson of not judging a book by its cover. For example, as they fly over what looks like a dinosaur one of the aliens laments how others treat these “magnificent beasts”. These lessons would play out over several issues, varying from one strip to the next. This was long-form storytelling and, while there was plenty of action and building to cliffhangers, nothing ever felt rushed. Twists and turns kept us guessing and we soon understood things weren’t always as they seemed. More on this below.

The next strip leaps off the page. Joe Alien, written by new comics writer David Robinson (Eagle, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Army of Darkness/Xena) and drawn by Massimo Belardinelli (Ace Trucking Co., Sláine and a simply stunning Super Naturals strip) is the only colour strip and suits his style just perfectly. It’s also the right choice for the colour strip, being full of wonderfully grotesque plant life and that intriguing main character himself. Joe is the last of his race, who were all fitted with external brain packs at birth to absorb as much knowledge as possible throughout life to share with other species. Oh, and they had telescopic limbs.

In this first chapter Joe and his team get acquainted (Joe showing them what happens if his brain becomes disconnected) and notice the landing craft’s scanners indicate the area is rich in vegetation but no other lifeforms at all, so it’s safe to explore. Have they never seen a horror movie in the distant future? It’s not long before a trooper goes missing after encountering a hallucination plant, giving him a vision of his favourite night club, making him want to walk inside without realising the imaginary doors are actually its big, slobbering mouth.

The “burp” just makes this scene. This is a sort of mini-cliffhanger as the strip is split between a three-page chunk and another two pages in the centre of the comic. This was my first exposure to Massimo’s work as a kid and I loved it. The plants feel really textured and the humans themselves have unique chunky proportions to them, bringing a real cartoony feel to proceedings and giving us a false sense of security before the horrors begin.

Our next character is our female lead and by far the most intriguing going into this issue, Kitten Magee. Between mysteriously avoiding discussion about her father’s death whose money she inherited and telling her robotic pet Crud to make sure her “life dust” supply is packed, the preview certainly piqued my interest in this character more than any other. Refusing to have any men on her team, she and her colleagues land on the planet in a remote jungle swamp area ready for action.

Kitten’s team are the only ones named and given unique character traits rather than being unnamed troopers. We’re introduced to Casandra Cardeti and Doc Barnes in this first chapter, and to see the beginnings of a proper working team and their interactions as fleshed out characters set this strip apart from the others. It may be all-action from beginning to end, but it also manages to cram in enough drama and character to make for compelling reading.

Encountering a slug-type creature and a giant water-based monster that work together to catch prey, Kitten uses her cunning, physicality and some unique jewellery to cut, slice and burn her way out of trouble just in time. Written by James Tomlinson writing as ‘James Nicholas’ (EagleRing RaidersScream), the fantastic, almost scratchy artwork of the late, great José Ortiz (The House of Daemon, The Thirteenth Floor, Rogue Trooper) adds a great deal of atmosphere to the jungle and an immediacy to the action. It’s thrilling to look at.

As a child I was wondering if we humans were always going to assume anything different was to be feared but then Doc Barnes laments the creatures’ demise. This was another hint for me that this comic was really teaching us something. It was original and it was laying down the basics here before developing really rather quickly.

In the end Kitten and her team walk off, unaware of the fat male presence floating menacingly above them, hidden in the trees. I can remember the look of this guy and his race but nothing else, so I’m eager to get stuck into further chapters of this strip and see where it goes.


“I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character.”

David Pugh

After Kitten there’s a double-page spread of apparent reader contributions but how is that possible for a first issue? According to Barrie he has memories of visiting neighbouring families of his, knowing where children of the right age bracket were living and asking them to contribute to it after showing them a dummy issue. I know of only one other comic which did something similar and that was #1 of The Transformers which took a dummy issue to a local school to gather feedback on the comic for letters.

Back to the strip action and the moment I’ve been waiting for has arrived. A former mercenary who always worked on his own, with only his specially modified classic six-shooter ‘Babe‘ for company, a rare black hero in British children’s comics of the time takes centre stage at last. Meet my favourite Wildcat character, Loner.

Still arriving down in a multi-person pod, highlighting the sense of isolation with the very first panel, Loner finds himself in a desolate part of the planet and he isn’t happy about it. Seeking some action he finds a previous radiation storm causes him to lose contact with Wildcat so he takes to exploring the rocky desert landscape.

Below, a wide image really brings home the feeling of him being all alone. At least for now anyway. A falling rock is no accident and he spots some indistinct alien figures in the shadows. It surprised me to read this for this review and spot sort-of-humanoid beings were responsible because I can only remember the little fur balls and the giant, crazy lizard monster to come. More on him in a later review and believe me, if you think the art here is great it’s incredible in coming issues!

Loner was created and written by Barrie specifically with artist David Pugh in mind. To quote David from 2019’s Loner graphic novel, “I was delighted to be offered Loner as my character. I had perfected a black and white style which I felt had enough texture to not need colour. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a handsome, cool and tough black guy. I was listening to a lot of West African music so my Loner became a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Senegalese singer Baba Maal.” I can see it! Indeed, Barrie told me it was hugely important for him to have both a female lead and a black lead because they were woefully underrepresented in UK children’s comics.

Falling through the ground and discovering a whole hidden world lit by luminescent rocks he finds little furry creatures he thinks could be a source of food. But when one suddenly attacks him, electrifying him, he shoots it dead. Next thing a deafening chorus of chirps erupt from dozens of the creatures surrounding him. One shock may have been a slight annoyance, but this many could kill him. Remembering how these creatures would become his friends later, it’s so interesting to go back to their first encounter.

David says working on Loner was the happiest year in his comics career and you’ll see as we go along how this comes across on the page. For now he’s the main attraction (alongside the free gift) for the second issue in a fortnight’s time. Interesting to see the planet get named here first instead of in one of the strips. Loner was not only my favourite Wildcat character, he was one of my very favourite comics creations from all the titles I collected at the time. I’m looking forward to seeing if he matches up to the memories.

The final strip is The Wildcat Complete: Final Mission. Each issue would end with a slightly longer story set aboard the Wildcat itself. Just right, since the comic is named after it. This anthology series would often be of the horror genre with a Twilight Zone feel to the stories. For this first instalment the artist is Enrique Alcatena (Batman, Conan, Aliens) and his art brings a suitable spookiness to the Wildcat pilot Lancelot Knight‘s (subtle heroic name) discovery of a strange object outside.

It’s nice to see the inner workings of the Wildcat and get a chance to meet some of the crew. I’m also very happy to see a perfectly 80s sci-fi bridge to kick things off in. What he spots looks remarkably like one of NASA’s Explorer craft, which the young readers would’ve known about at the time. While they were current designs to us, they’re an ancient space craft here.

We find out the one now cruising past the Wildcat famously went missing in 1999, still 11 years in the future to readers but soon enough to make this fantastical tale feel closer to home. With a diverse crew from all over the world this Explorer was sent into space to explode our planet’s last nuclear weapon. We were so optimistic in the late 80s, weren’t we? It has now suddenly reappeared right next to the last remaining human beings in the universe. Naturally Lancelot has to go and explore.

I’ve distinct memories of seeing these ghostly figures and their rotten corpses and the impact it had on me. I knew right there and then this comic was going to continuously surprise me. The Wildcat Complete tales in particular, being an anthology, could be absolutely anything! What a rush that was.

After his own shuttle accidentally disconnects from the Explorer, Lancelot is trapped on board with the souls of the brave crew, who can’t rest until their mission is complete. His shuttle drifts away, as does any hope of ever returning to the Wildcat but Lancelot surprisingly makes peace with his predicament, seeing it as an honour to be able to help these personal heroes of his. It ends with the now deceased crew, content at last, with their new eternal companion.

Each issue would have a colour pin-up of one of the main characters or alien creatures and they kick off with Kitten Magee and Crud on the back cover, bringing to an end a very original premiere issue. A fortnight sounds like a long time to wait for the next instalments of all these great stories but I know it’ll be worth the wait.

I remember thinking the comic somehow kept outdoing itself each issue. Let’s hope it lives up to those expectations now. Remember, remember, Wildcat returns to the blog on Friday 5th November.

SUPER NATURALS: iN REAL TiME

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


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

Super Naturals TV advert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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