Tag Archives: Carlos Pino

RiNG RAiDERS #4: A COMiC WiTH TEETH

With a gorgeous hand-painted Ian Kennedy cover and a larger logo there’s an air of confidence about this issue, the fourth in Ring Raiders‘ short life. It really felt like it was settling in for the long run. But just look at that piece of art! The covers don’t actually relate to a particular story point inside, but this was never an issue for us readers. We just wanted glorious, attention grabbing art like this every issue and that’s exactly what we got, with every one by Ian from now on.

While the pin up inside would tell a short story explaining the cover image, the covers for the likes of Mask, Super Naturals and even Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures (all edited by Ring Raiders’ Barrie Tomlinson) would instead highlight some of the characters (or planes) featured inside rather than a particular plot. Known for his love of painting aircraft, Ian is the perfect cover artist for Ring Raiders and never fails to bring the little toys to spectacular life.

Inside, all of our stories continue apace beginning with part three of Barrie’s Battle Zone ’99, drawn by Carlos Pino. The comic has a great mix of scripts with some focussing more on the action, some on the plot and some on individual characters, with the best incorporating all three elements. The comic likes to kick off with pure action. Skull Leader Chiller has been able to get inside the gravity-powered sub after subduing the last of the crew and made his way to the weapons controls, firing off the anti-aircraft missiles. When the Ring Raiders fire their flares the missile is blinded and locks on to the first thing it detects, Skull Commander Scorch!

There’s some funny tit-for-tit between the two Skulls, their leader expertly evading the missile and setting it on a course for the sub, where it passes metres above Chiller’s head! Summoning his Bandit Wing through time the stage is set for a final confrontation, but is it going to be between the two sides of the conflict, or the two Skulls? There were no lengthy plans for the comic’s overall story yet but throughout the run it does seem Chiller would like to assume control, and with some of his schemes he could be manoeuvring himself to make a play for Scorch’s position. An interesting dynamic, played for laughs in this story.

Eagerly I move on to part four of Trackdown from writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper and the tension is building. Upon first reading we may have thought this was building to a climax but in reality it’s far from its conclusion. With Blackjack‘s Havoc Wing lying in wait to ambush the Ranger helicopter occupied by Riley, Runtz and the professor, Riley’s commanding officer Joe Thundercloud and his men swoop in to save the day. In the chaos Riley overpowers Runtz, knocking him unconscious and using his radio.


Housed in Sky Tiger’s forward underbelly, Tigerclaw is a retractable pod of 25 miniature missiles that can each be remote controlled by the plane’s on board computers.”

Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox

With no radio on board the original plan had been to pass one from one aircraft to the other so that the Air Career Justice could triangulate their position and beam them and the Doomsday Device safely to the landing bays. There’s also mention of using the telepathic circuits inside the rings, which is the first they’re officially mentioned. They’ve been hinted at, that somehow they can communicate with each other using them and how the rings can send warning signals through time, but this is the first we’ve discovered the pilots can speak to each other in a kind of telepathic fashion via the high-tech jewellery.

But, with communications back thanks to Runtz’s radio the Raiders no longer need to make such a dangerous play, much to the chagrin of their Wing Commander.

I really am enjoying the original character of Riley and the brilliant writing (only four issues in) has me believing these men really do have a solid friendship and history together, despite very obviously coming from completely different backgrounds. With the Ring Raiders assembled from various points throughout history and from all across the globe they were an extremely diverse bunch. It was one of the things I liked about the set up as a kid and, I have to say, as an adult now.

The humour between them is very natural and I think it’s wonderful how the wing’s leader, such a noble warrior on the surface, just wanted to show off. Some comics could be painfully obvious in being licenced fare, their one purpose being to sell toys, the stories feeling little more than toys moving about in long, elaborate adverts. But it’s a testament to Barrie as the driving force and his assembled creative team that Ring Raiders feels like it’s an action adventure comic first, a licenced title second.

When I see my second favourite comic ever paying homage to a favourite film of mine, it just brings a huge smile to my face.

We have a change of artist for the complete character tale this issue. ‘Salty’ Salton: Super Stunt Pilot from 50 Years Ago gets brought to life by another member of Barrie’s regular team, Geoff Campion (TV Comic, Battle Picture Weekly, Action Force). Geoff brings a lovely classic comic feel to the strip (beyond the fact the comic is already 32 years old), which is just perfect for a tale about Salty as a young gung-ho stunt pilot in his prop plane, a mysterious cursed lake and hidden underground lairs.

After being freaked out by a set of clockwork toy teeth in the dining hall of the Air Carrier Justice, Salty relates a story of the death of one of his stunt partners. Due to perform low-level aerobatics over the idyllic Murchison Lake in Wyoming, a local tells Salty of missing people, dead bodies on the shore and giant teeth marks on the sides of sunken boats. Not believing any of it, Salty watches in disbelief as one of his best friends flies behind an island in the lake and, instead of pulling up to do his stunt, his plane explodes while he’s out of sight.

One of the other stunt flyers had been in the air and lands safely but is terrified of going back out over the water again. Salty takes to the air to investigate and over the wreckage he gets the shock of his life as a giant shark, bigger than anything he could imagine, leaps out of the water and damages his plane, only his unique skills saving him from certain death. His inner thoughts echo those of his terrified friend. “It’s teeth… all teeth… and jaws!” That final word is important.

Crashing on the island and noticing a manmade cave entrance, Salty soon discovers a secret Skull Squadron base under the lake and a control centre for a huge robotic shark, used to terrify locals into staying away. This is all revealed through this wonderful panel arrangement above, the lair taking up the middle of the page while the story plays out around it. What a wonderful design and a fun way to tell the story as Salty programmes the shark to home in on the base and crash through the observation window, flooding everything. Below is part of the final page of the story and this is where that important word above comes in.

Firstly, I should explain my favourite film of all time is Jaws and I have a soft spot for its second sequel, Jaws 3D. I even upgraded my TV and BR player about five years back so I could finally see it the way it was intended. Hands down the best 3D I’ve seen in film. Anyway, at the end the giant shark in the film spots our heroes through an underwater observation window and swims straight through it, the gushing water scattering bodies everywhere.

The end of this strip feels very familiar, right down to the little details like the shark coming head on at the glass in the background. If intended (and I can’t see how it wasn’t) I personally think it’s a great homage. I can’t remember making this connection as a kid but now when I see my second favourite comic ever paying homage to a favourite film of mine, it just brings a huge smile to my face. It’s fun, silly (in a good way) and completely far-fetched. I think fans of the movie would appreciate it. Writer Scott Goodall is either one of those fans or is having a great time poking fun at the film.

After a page of letters we have a brief look at the next issue. No story details, just the fact Skull Leader Mako‘s Mig-29 ‘Sea Hunter’ is on the cover and he’s the pin up. Of course, we know Mako is one of the stars of the ongoing Freedom Flight strip so his being on the cover makes sense, as I mentioned above. I have to say I’m looking forward to seeing his shark motif aircraft (this image below) painted in full colour by Ian Jackson.

The fourth part of James NicholasBomber Blues once again takes place almost entirely in the air, as Skull Leader Hubbub narrowly avoids death at the hands of the youngest Raider, ‘Cub’ Jones during World War II. Using his jamming system at the last second he sets the missile on a return course back to its sender, the decor of Jones’ plane suddenly looking less fearsome and more terrified!

I joke, of course. The strip is packed full of action and plenty of twists and turns, the reader never quite sure who’s going to come out on top. If there’s one thing the comic had taught us already it was the good guys can get shot down just as often as the bad guys. Even last issue’s cliffhanger for this story was the missile homing in on Hubbub, for all those young Skull Squadron fans. So the outcomes of individual battles was never certain.

From here it turns into a battle of wits between the two air aces. The missile is bounced back and forth until it’s finally destroyed by Jones blasting it out of the sky with his 20mm cannons. It’s at this moment the personal nature of this mission takes a hold of him. Plucked out of the war to join the Ring Raiders it’s like he has unfinished business in this time period, so he’s taking the chance to save those the likes of whom he left behind first time around. It adds an air of determination to the character so when he unleashes his ultimate weapon you know he’s here to end this once and for all.

Well that missile pod is rather unique! I’ve looked up the licence information Barrie and James kindly sent me (which I’ll cover in-depth at a later date) and while the toys were obviously too dinky for detachable weapons and hidden compartments, in the information provided by Those Characters From Cleveland was the following:

“But of all the modifications done to his F-5, the most hazardous to Skull Squadron planes has been its Tigerclaw mini missile system. Housed in Sky Tiger’s forward underbelly, Tigerclaw is a retractable pod of 25 miniature missiles that can each be remote controlled by the plane’s on board computers and used against air, land and sea targets.”

The little mini-comics we received with our plane packs must’ve contained these details, to light our imaginations while playing. This particular weapons system certainly sparked James’ imagination and results in Hubbub ejecting as his craft explodes, although he does make quite the impact (figuratively and literally) as he lands, thanks to artist Don Wazejewski‘s expressive faces. Details like this and James’ obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter, both in airplanes and the actual licence, shines through in a real treat for die-hard fans of the toys.

It’s commercial break time and another advert created by the comic’s creative team with a Sandy James drawing of Ring Commander Victor Vector and some Wings photos. Recently Barrie told me he couldn’t remember if these photos were taken in-house or supplied, but he did say if it had been up to him they would’ve been more professional. I never thought anything of it at the time, but now I can see they could definitely have been better. I think they’re just black and white photocopies of the colour images on the packets, resulting in a rather muted end result.

Next to this is the pin up I mentioned earlier. It’s also drawn by Sandy and then it’s on to the fourth chapter of Freedom Flight where he’s able to add his particular style of colouring to the tale of a government on the verge of being toppled by a rebellious uprising, written by Tom Tully. Last time we saw Wing Commander Yuri Kirkov use his ring to energise his failing F-4 Phantom ‘Comet’ just enough so he could touch down on solid ground, much to the annoyance of Mako.

Kirkov has unknowingly landed in rebel territory and quickly finds himself surrounded. As explained before, when a ring is used this way it also floods the pilot with energy in order for them to be able to control the aircraft, but all of this drains the pilot, so Kirkov isn’t in any condition to make a run for it and finds himself captured. His wingmen are soon on the attack though, strafing the advancing troops and again it’s nice to see a strip namecheck the pilots who were left unnamed in the toy line.

From speaking with Barrie it seems Matchbox and Those Characters From Cleveland told him he was pretty much free to expand on what the toys had set out. Apparently they were very happy with what was being produced in the comic and when you have strips like this, who can blame them? I just adore Sandy’s colouring, with the bright, bold livery of Freedom Wing replicated throughout the rest of the art. I think this is really rather neat, his colour scheme for the whole strip centred around those of the toys.

Thus ends another issue of a simply fantastic comic series. When you take a look at the comic as a whole it’s great to see so much strip content here for the licence. Marvel UK comics would have maybe one or two strips, maybe a non-related one as well and in some cases a small text story, the rest of the pages filled out with extra features. Some were great, some were fillers. Fleetway’s own Super Naturals was more like an anthology comic, with two of its five strips not related to the licence. However, for Ring Raiders we got five superb strips, each taking us on completely different adventures with this huge ensemble cast.

The next issue was the only one from my original collection I lost over the years and I had to track it down online. It’s a corker and was worth the inflated eBay price. We’ll actually see some of our current stories come to their conclusions too. So check back on Thursday 11th November 2021 for #5.

RiNG RAiDERS #3: COMiX & CHiLL

Skull Commander Chiller pops up on the cover to the latest Ring Raiders introducing the free Skull Squadron poster, which I’ll show you later in the review. He’s easily the star inside too; a main character of two strips and he’s the pin up too. Chiller was a fan favourite, so much so that his Wing was hard to come by and in the end I wasn’t able to add him to my collection.

With a sleek plane equipped with a freeze ray and an equally slick haircut equipped with a cool white stripe he was the epitome of 80s villainy, probably more so than their leader Scorch at this early stage. Although to be fair the comic is slowing moving its way through the large ensemble cast and, instead of rushing, it’s taking its time with certain individuals. In the final issue we’ll start to see the second batch of stories begin and the focus moving slightly, so over time all of the characters would’ve received fair development.

In part two of Barrie Tomlinson‘s Battle Zone ’99 the remaining gravity-powered submarine is still under attack, as part of Skull’s aim to destabilise the governments of the world, a part of their overall goal of assuming control through a mix of all-out warfare and covert operations. Here, dozens are already dead but while trying to fire upon the sub Skull Leader Scorch accidentally damages Chiller’s F-104 ‘Ice Machine’ when Ring Commander Vector expertly dodges an attack, forcing his comrade to eject and abandon his awesome craft.

Adding insult to injury, Chiller is almost killed when his leader fires upon the sub again, not knowing he’s been pulled onboard and is assuming control. The episode is left with us unsure if Chiller is going to complete his mission or take revenge on Scorch! There’s a certain air of Starscream about the character. What I love the most is Carlos Pino‘s energetic, colourful art. In particular that panel of the F-104 being shot down. For my younger eyes his work was an action-packed start to each issue.

Apart from Thundercloud‘s Rescue Wing launching there are none of the toy range’s planes in the third part of Angus Allan‘s Trackdown. Instead the action takes part either on the ground or aboard (and hanging off of) a forestry service helicopter. A rather bold move for a tie-in based on those toys but it just goes to show the team wouldn’t confine their characters and stories to the cockpit.

The scale of these stories compared to what we might’ve expected was incredible to our young minds

It was exciting to see our Matchbox planes in action but look at that opening panel by John Cooper; the scale of these stories compared to what we might’ve expected (given the toy line) was incredible to our young minds. There’s a real feeling of confidence here, of being unrestricted and free to tell what the writer wanted to. Trackdown is the best example of how the writers weren’t being expected to shoehorn the planes into the stories. Character, action and story came first, and the planes became an organic part of the stories.

Our two original characters are still the stars, with Ring Raider Freddie Riley and the professor commandeering a helicopter to get above the mountains and radio for help. Runtz, however, clings to the side and the chapter ends with him bursting in and holding the professor by the throat! There’s a great little bit of humour there too from the Skull when he contacts Scorch. It’s an exciting read and, even though at this point we had no idea how long Trackdown would last, something in the way it was being told made it stand out as the main strip.

Trackdown might be the most fondly remembered tale in the whole run but this is the best strip in this issue. The complete character story is all about the leader of Bandit Wing, Chiller and it’s his turn to reminisce about an important part of his past to his wingmen. But first can I just point out he’s killed a Ring Raider! Max Miles has only appeared briefly and his Bravery Wing haven’t made the pages yet, but he’s definitely a man down, one of his pilots frozen into place in his cockpit, no parachute visible and the plane shattered on the mountainside. It’s dealt with in a throwaway manner but again backs up how the comic depicted the Skull Squadron, as I mentioned last time.


“You’re gonna stay down here and freeze like the scum you are!”

Skill Commander Chiller

The story continues with its bleak theme and the bodies really do pile up! I know you’ll think I’m cracking a joke when I say it’s a chilling tale but there’s no other way to describe what is the best of these complete tales in the whole series. Writer Scott Goodall depicts Chiller as an average guy with a job as a freelance mail service pilot flying between the mountains and the sea. Bitter and angry it’s clear he has an issue with the wider world and, as well as beginning his obsession with the killing potential of cold and ice, this story appears to push him over the edge and become the kind of person Skull Squadron would appeal to.

Remember that “twisted by war’s cruelties” line from last issue’s brief look at the history of the Squadron? That rings true here. We’re not told (yet) what made him into the character we see here but perhaps if the comic had continued we’d have had a look further into his past. The person hiring him ends up forcing him at gunpoint to land on the Devil’s Throne mountain where his diamond smuggling partner crashed his plane, within which he still sits.

John Gillat‘s art certainly sent a shiver down my spine when I first read this back in 1989. It was the most adult tale the comic would produce in its short life and cemented Chiller as the best villain and the most defined. It looks like the Devil’s Throne is going to encase him and the criminal who hired him until he sees a mountain climber, dead and perfectly preserved in the ice. Chipping away with his knife for a long time he lets the smuggler (whose leg broke in their fall into a newly opened crevasse) endlessly tell him what he needs to do to lift him out.


“Time’s running out, Kirkov! You can’t fly on Ring-Power forever or you’ll burn out your nervous system!”

Skull Commander Mako

Letting the man think he’s listening, he gets a sudden awakening as he watches Chiller climb out, leaving him to freeze to death. The takeaway from all this is how hardened it’s made a man who previously had a chip on his shoulder, but who wouldn’t necessarily have considered leaving someone to die. This was his tipping point and it’s expertly brought to the page as a tense little thriller. It makes me wonder if the people who actually created the Ring Raiders franchise ever saw where the UK team took their characters.

Leaving with the diamonds, when he was approached to join Skull Squadron he helped fund their efforts and I’m sure they welcomed him, given how his appearances seem to be amassing the biggest death toll in the whole comic. In addition, though it isn’t confirmed, the way he berates the American makes me think he’s actually British. Given his dress sense I think this could possibly be the case and I hear a British accent every time I read his stories. A brilliant character.

With this third issue some input from the readers has made its way on to the letters page and it’s been decided the Skull Squadron will get first crack at choosing who gets to appear. The opposing sides would take it in turns each fortnight, with the prizes also changing between those featuring the good guy or the baddies. The toy package images have also been replaced by a Sandy James depiction of the guest editor and who better to kick things off than the big bad himself, Scorch.

Just across from this is the first proper Next Issue promo and it looks like the plane stars will be back in full force in Trackdown. Just to answer the question posed here, yes my copy was on order at the paper shop, in fact it had been ever since I bought issue one, before I even took it home.

Just below this is a coupon for The Ring Raiders Club. This was just a preliminary coupon to show interest, a bit like when we sign up for updates on new websites or Kickstarters today. When the final issue of the comic arrived I was desperate for more Ring Raiders action and sent off my own coupon but I never heard anything back. With a different address to the comic this wasn’t a Fleetway Publications club and in fact I’m unsure who was actually planning it, but unfortunately it looks like it never took off (ba-doom-tish).

Moving on to writer James Nicholas‘ and artist Don Wazejewski‘s Bomber Blues and after a last minute pull out of a crash dive, ‘Cub’ Jones crashes through the air traffic control tower and has to pancake his F-5 ‘Sky Tiger’, destroying its undercarriage and rendering it unusable. The World War II airfield has been destroyed, the leader of Hero Wing is down and Hubbub‘s Rebel Wing are returning with replacement planes to attack at full strength and enact his revenge on the American pilots. He and his men could easily wipe them all out.

Don’s artwork is gorgeous here and oozes atmosphere, whether that’s on the eerie, flattened airfield or just a couple of panels later with the Air Carrier Justice cruising the night skies. Vector stops any rescue attempt, telling the other Raiders this is a personal mission for the new pilot Jones and it’s something he has to figure out for himself. Well, figure it out he does with a rather surprising moment you can see above.

It’s a fun solution to the problem although my adult mind can’t help but think how that possibly worked? The bomber wouldn’t have been able to hover over the F-5 while they attached it, soo are they meant to have scooped it up on a flypast? Oh, who cares?! Given the set up for the whole comic I’m not going to get hung up on this! Plus, as a kid I loved this, it was genuinely surprising, I laughed and I do believe I reenacted it when the larger bomber toys were launched the next year. It’s fun! That’s the point and it certainly ticks all the boxes in that regard.

The Skull Squadron weren’t just the stars of the letters page, they also had a full page advert to themselves. With illustrations by Sandy James and some rather lacklustre toy photographs, it was still enough to elicit excitement for the upcoming Christmas season in this young reader. With my birthday four days before Christmas Day it was a bumper Matchbox festive season so these adverts were all hype to me, tying these tiny planes into the stories in the comic in brilliant fashion.

I do wonder if the comic and toys had carried on for longer (as they both deserved to) would we have seen this relationship develop further and where would it have led? Would we have seen Sandy’s artwork on the toy packaging? Would Barrie and his team have taken responsibility for the little comics we got with our planes? Just wondering aloud as a fan who really saw their potential and continues to do so to this day.

Chiller continues his comic takeover with this issue’s pin-up, also drawn by Sandy. In fact, the last several pages pretty much belong to Sandy as this leads on to the final strip, part three of Freedom Flight and his glorious, full-colour artwork bringing Tom Tully‘s script to life. It was a particularly exciting one for readers because this was the first time we saw a ring being used to connect pilot and plane.

As well as communicators or time-meddling warning signals the rings could be used to “receive improved flying skills in times of crisis”, to quote last month’s issue. By being inserted into a special part of the cockpit they flood the plane and its pilot with raw energy. At the end of last issue’s episode Commander Kirkov was plummeting towards the fort in his F-4 Phantom ‘Comet’, his death (and the destructive changing of history) seemingly imminent. Here’s how it’s picked up.

With the energy of the ring the plane gets a burst of power but in order to control it so does Kirkov. While the ring is inserted it’s obviously affecting his body too. (Each ring was programmed specifically for each pilot and their own aircraft.) While it could have other uses in other dire situations (perhaps for bursts of speed when ambushed for example) the fact it could be incredibly damaging to the human behind it means they’re only brought into play in absolute emergencies, as a last resort and can’t be used for long for fear of the pilot passing out.

Mako makes reference to this while he tries to gun down Kirkov, but the two men are such incredible pilots they can’t get a lock on each other. But this doesn’t matter to Mako, he knows all he has to do is keep Kirkov in the air long enough for him either to disengage the ring and lose control of the failing aircraft, or pass out and crash anyway.

In desperation Kirkov banks into the smoke-filled sky above the battle and loses his pursuer. But he’s still in a predicament and upon spotting a landing strip behind friendly lines he lands so quickly he does’t spot it’s about to be overrun by the rebels. It’s an exhilarating ride and all these years later a real thrill to see the ring power finally used in this way. There are so many fantastical elements to introduce in the world of the Ring Raiders it makes sense to do them a little at a time and this has been well worth the wait.

On a side note, in the cartoon the ring power was used to kind of ‘supercharge’ the planes and a previously unseen silver armour would slide out from hidden panels and cover the entire aircraft, even the cockpit. How did they see out? In this too I much prefer the comic’s version. Why would you want to cover these wonderfully designed decals?

There’s the free poster, up on the wall of my current home office. I’ve various free posters and the like plastered all over these walls, making it the perfect spot to write this blog and the Skull Squadron poster takes pride of place. Now if only I could track down the Ring Raiders one to go with it! It’s been lost over the years but one day I will reunite them.

So that’s it. The third issue of Ring Raiders comes to an end and it’s been a rollicking good read. I can’t wait for the rest of the series simply because I know it just keeps on getting better. You’ll see what I mean in a fortnight when #4 lands on the OiNK Blog on Thursday 28th October 2021.

RiNG RAiDERS #2: IN THE BATTLE ZONE

I’ve a distinct memory of reading this issue of Ring Raiders on the school bus and hearing one of the older kids behind us proudly proclaiming, “I’m Joe Thundercloud!” at the top of his voice. Ian Kennedy contributes that sole figure with the free poster taking centre stage. (You’ll see #3’s poster next time.) They were proper gift posters, separate from the comic and I had mine up instantly. My collection of planes was growing, I knew certain large boxes in my parents’ bedroom were bases for Christmas and this was my first reserved issue the comic. These things had me hooked.

Inside things kick off with a new multipart tale written by editor Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Carlos Pino, Battle Zone ’99. The Skull Squadron pilot causing havoc here is Skull Commander Chiller and with this story he immediately became my favourite baddie. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. What kid wouldn’t love a jet with a sci-fi freeze ray? Chiller would love experimenting with various killing methods involving cold and ice and it would appear he fired up the imagination for the writers too, as he would star in more stories than anyone else.

Launching an attack on a futuristic gravity-powered submarine by freezing it, making it brittle, then destroying it with a well-placed missile, he kills the entire crew. This toy comic wasn’t afraid to show its baddies actually being bad and killing innocents to meet their foul goals. In the year 2057 aboard the Air Carrier Justice the Ring Raiders get a warning that a moment in history is being changed by the Skulls and they set off to rescue the second submarine.

There was going to be a Northern European Republic and Scotland was very much a part of it. It feels somewhat prescient.

Interestingly, it appears they can’t just set their time travelling planes to appear at any moment they want for fear of altering history further. Instead, once the alert is received via their rings that particular moment in time continues to play out as our heroes scramble. Fans of Doctor Who will know all about how she can’t mess with moments in time once they’re in motion and it’s interesting to see this was also part of the rules here.

In this version of our world there was going to be a Northern European Republic and Scotland was very much a part of it in 1999. The Victor Vector strip later in this issue is set just one year prior and there’s an appearance by the British RAF. So I can only assume Scotland had become independent and joined the European Republic, with England (and maybe the rest of the UK) outside of this union. It feels somewhat prescient, doesn’t it?


“Some people believe that Sea Hunter is capable of operating underwater… and I’m one of them!”

Ring Commander Victor Vector

Moving on to the second strip and it’s the phenomenal Trackdown written by Angus Allan and drawn by John Cooper. Professor Deke Martin‘s Doomsday Device is thankfully mobile and the unnamed toy pilot Freddie Riley is taking it and the professor deep into the woods to buy time while his wing, led by Thundercloud, tries to dispatch Havoc Wing. By the end of the story two planes have been destroyed and another original comic character is out to track down the device. It was always a thrill when the comic created these characters for our other toys!

What stands out the most is the amount of ground action that occurs and the level of characterisation being slipped in, in just four pages. The military characters interact realistically, grounding the fantastical set up and giving the aerial action a real feeling of danger. Especially when we’ve seen so many shot down already! We also see Wing Commander Thundercloud break off and order his men to return to base and all we’re told is that his instincts have come into play. So for now his apparent abandonment of Freddie is a mystery. Colour me intrigued by this layered storytelling.

Back then, leader characters in our toy ranges and cartoons were somewhat clichéd, a caricature of what either side stood for. Compare the 80s cartoon Optimus Prime to the nuanced, troubled version from the movies and you’ll see the difference. Ring Raiders is off to a good start in this regard. The complete story here is all about a moment from Ring Commander Victor Vector‘s past and showcases his strategising and leadership qualities in a unique way; he’s on holiday from the British Royal Air Force (in the comic he’s British it would seem) before his Raiders days when Skull Squadron attack the French side of the recently completed Channel Tunnel in the year 1998.

In the real world the tunnel was completed in 1994 so it wasn’t a bad prediction and I remember the regular British tabloid attacks on its construction being headline news around the time of this comic. With no plane at hand Vector befriends a local deckchair salesman who leads him to one. Sort of. I laughed at this I’ll admit, and I mean today as I read this as an adult. The comic wasn’t short of well written humour.

This is great fun and involves Mako‘s Mig-29 ‘Flying Shark’ which (as I touched upon previously) was one of my top toys in the range because of its shark motif and the apparent ‘rumour’ it could be flown underwater. As you can see here it’s no rumour as he begins to drill down to flood the tunnel. Vector also believes it’s true after apparently shooting Mako down with a handheld rocket launcher, however it’s a fact the readers would be in on but the Raiders could never verify.

It’s written by Scott Goodall and expertly drawn by John Gillatt. It has a Flight of the Pheonix feel to it, with added sci-fi elements thrown in, that ghostly underwater sequence, great action, a topical subject for the time and a little bit of comic relief. I also love the ending when we find out the entire flying aircraft carrier makes a trip far into the future just to drop Vector off for his hols! It’s a shame we don’t get the chance for more development for him (or indeed, more development for them all) due to the short lifespan of the comic and the ensemble nature of the cast, but I have enjoyed this softening of his character.

Obviously there’s still no content for the letters page because of deadlines in getting this issue to print, so instead stars of two of the issue’s strips introduce one page apiece outlining the history of both sides in the conflict and requesting input from readers in all its various forms for editor Barrie and editorial assistant Terry Magee to sort through.

It appears the Ring Raiders were plucked right out of raging battles (which fits in perfectly with ‘Cub’ Jones’ affection for the bomber crews in the next story) and there’s a little hint for readers of some of the additional abilities of their rings, something toy collectors were already aware of but it’s nice to see a certain one mentioned given how this issue ends. The little throwaway line of how Skull Squadron recruits had been “twisted by war’s cruelties” hints at possible future character plots too.

Cub is back in the war he was plucked from in Bomber Blues which makes a surprise return as an ongoing story after last issue’s apparent one-off. Following what was now clearly a prelude, Skull Leader Hubbub‘s Rebel Wing return to take their revenge on the crew who rescued Hero Wing, unaware they were grounded after their fantastical tales to their superiors. Nor is he aware they’re also in possession of a signal ring to summon Cub and his team.

I’m so happy to see this story continue. The premise is just too good to leave at one issue. Writer James Nicholas‘ fondness for the subject matter and Don Wazejewski‘s art style are just perfect and there’s a true vintage war comic vibe going on here, even with the mixture of aircraft and electronic weaponry.

In the toy packs there could be a mix of prop planes and jets and I often thought how on earth did they fly in formation together? Well they don’t, instead each is used for a particular purpose. For example the prop craft often being brought in for low-flying raids on slow moving targets or navigating close over difficult terrain. This is what happens when someone who knows their stuff writes for us. I mean, just look at this glorious action panel!

The comic certainly wasn’t shy in destroying the planes we were playing with as kids either. Throughout this issue about half a dozen altogether are outright destroyed, giving an air of jeopardy to the stories. Instead of vast battles where no one actually gets shot down or injured as we’d have seen in our cartoons, here anything seemed to go!

Before the final strip we’ve an advert for the toys and a pin-up of Vector. The advert is very basic and appears to have been put together by the comic itself rather than Matchbox, but they’d get more creative in future issues, even incorporating new artwork by Sandy James. Speaking of Sandy that’s his work on the pin-up before the full-colour second chapter of his story, Freedom Fight.

As part two commences the fort’s soldiers are frozen in fear at the futuristic aircraft but the rebels, though just as confused, see their chance and charge the fort. What’s compelling here is finding out another rule to the overall story, and that’s how the Ring Raiders must never fire upon or harm anyone caught up in Skull Squadron’s plots, even if those people are firing upon our heroes.

This leaves Commander Kirkov in a predicament. How can he push back the rebels without opening fire on them? He can’t take sides, he’s just trying to preserve history as it was originally written. Writer Tom Tully uses the unique features of the plane mentioned on the toy packet to great affect here and has Kirkov blast the ground with his laser cannon, setting it on fire and stopping the advance. It reminds me of some classic set pieces from Airwolf, which is perfectly fine by me! Sandy’s bold colouring is spot on here.

Once again the comic ends on a riveting few pages, finishing with a cliffhanger of Kirkov’s ‘Comet’ F-4 Phantom on fire and plummeting towards the very fort he’s trying to save. The final caption simply reads, ‘In A Fortnight’s Time: Flying on ring-power!’ Look back at that letters page preview and you should know why I was so excited to get my hands on the next issue back in October 1989. In fact, I can’t wait for it now!

I think I can say with confidence Ring Raiders had a very firm foundation to its universe, characters and stories at this very early stage. Building on the basics from the premiere issue Barrie and his team were wasting no time in exploring different characters, scenarios and the various kinds of aerial action they could depict. It honestly feels like its writers and artists were having a whale of a time with the subject matter. I know I am.

Don’t be late for #3’s departure, right here on OiNK Blog on Thursday 14th October 2021.