Tag Archives: Carlos Pino

RiNG RAiDERS #5: ELECTRiFYiNG STAKES

Being the only issue I somehow lost between childhood and bloghood this cost me a pretty penny a few years back but it was worth it to have the complete collection again. The superb Ian Kennedy cover featuring my favourite Skull Squadron aircraft, Skull Leader Mako‘s Mig-29 ‘Sea Hunter’ certainly softened the blow to the bank balance. Regular readers may wonder why the question on the cover is being posed when we’ve already seen the answer in #2, but that was a secret for the readers. As far as the Ring Raiders were concerned it was still unconfirmed and made Mako one to fear.

I love the details in the cockpit (something the toys simply couldn’t include due to their size) and the size and power Ian brings to his renderings of these planes. I also love that crosshatch effect for the sky which adds the illusion of texture to the glossy cover. Inside, editor Barrie Tomlinson‘s Battle Zone ’99 comes to its conclusion after beginning back in #2. A more lighthearted affair than the other strips, it’s acted as a great way to introduce the relationship between the calculating Skull Leader Chiller and his own leader Skull Commander Scorch, which comes to a funny conclusion on the final page.

Carlos Pino‘s work has been colourful and fun throughout, perfectly suiting the fast action script and bringing the comedic moments in the air to life. But in this final part there’s something of an anomaly. Chiller’s wingman just doesn’t look right, does he? It’s a mystery, the answers lost in the mysts of time that were the late 80s, but it looks like he’s been altered after the fact. Perhaps the wrong character was drawn originally?

As for the story, which started off with the death of so many sailors on board a submarine, it ends more like an episode of the cartoon series. Chiller’s wingman lands to rescue him but his plane is a single seater so instead of joining the fight on the ground he’s unceremoniously strapped to the prop plane’s tail while Chiller commandeers it. It may have been light on plot but as an action-packed way to kick off every issue it’s been a short, to-the-point bit of fun. With the comic introduced, Barrie and Carlos will team up again next issue for its replacement in a serial which features more plot and the return of Chiller as the lead villain.

In the continuing Trackdown written by Angus Allan and illustrated by John Cooper it looks like Freddie Riley and the professor’s adventure is coming to an end as they approach Wing Commander Joe Thundercloud on a supposedly deserted airstrip, unaware Blackjack and his Harrier ‘Battle Bird’ lie in wait. The panels showing the Ranger helicopter and then Riley’s point of view feel like the camera (for want of a better word) has zoomed inside in one fluid movement. Just me? Well, that’s how it felt to me. John Cooper was certainly cinematic in his storytelling.

In this episode the story transitions back to the characters from the toy line as Riley and the professor are beamed aboard the Air Carrier Justice where they watch the unfolding drama alongside Ring Commander Vector. As much as I enjoyed the comic’s original creations Riley and Runtz I never felt disappointed with the way the story changed its focus here. It was just the natural way for it to go when Riley’s situation was resolved. It’s a fast-paced story but it’s full of character and each issue brings another layer to the plot. It feels masterfully planned out, so kudos to Angus for doing such an amazing job with his first story for a brand new franchise.

As a kid I loved the scenes on the ground just as much as the air combat that was at the heart of it all. While they could be shot down, which we’ve seen plenty of in fact, there’s a feeling of invulnerability in the air and a vulnerability when they’re on their feet. Here it adds suspense as Joe lies unconscious, helpless as Blackjack does his cool vertical takeoff with the doomsday device, after confirming the ambush worked perfectly because he can radio-control his bird. A nice little piece of information from the toys there.

(I have to admit I’ve always found the way Harrier jets take off and land just amazing to watch too.)

Skull Leader Hubbub is a Vietnam vet. Having fought for America he’s been left damaged by the ravages of war.

In pursuit, Joe can’t shoot down or even cripple the Battle Bird, not with the Doomsday Device on board. Unable to stop it being taken back to Scorch the strip ends with a feeling of complete helplessness. I can’t remember what happens next, so just as I had to originally I’ll be waiting two weeks to find out. One thing to note here, there are a couple of references to Thundercloud’s heritage which read rather differently today and which I’m ashamed to say I glossed over at the time. But given how they’re used by the Skull pilots it adds to their viciousness in the panels in which they’re used.

Scott Goodall‘s complete tale this issue focusses on the Skull star of the Bomber Blues serial, Hubbub the Skull Leader of Rebel Wing. We’ve seen him use his electronic weaponry in that story and here we learn of where his fascination with electricity’s power began. It all kicks off with this glorious splash page by Geoff Campion showing the kind of air battles only this comic could be capable of. The lightning, Vector’s stealth fighter powering into the scene, even another Harrier doing a daring manoeuvre with those vertical jets, it’s all there in one panel. Exciting stuff!

Originally the owner of a rigged slot machine parlour, Hubbub thought he was a tough guy, emperor of his own little domain. He’s also a Vietnam vet. Having fought for America he’s been left damaged by the ravages of war. This theme of the Skull Squadron was pointed out in an earlier issue. We were used to our heroes in everything from The A-Team and Knight Rider to Airwolf and Magnum P.I. being veterans of that war and we learned how it affected them. To see it played out in my toy licence comic was great, especially how it told of the horrors faced during that war turned the vets into the bad guys instead.

With all of these little details building up issue-by-issue, character-by-character, it’s all the more heartbreaking to know they didn’t get to flourish in a long-running comic where these aspects of their personalities could have been revisited in future serials. However, it wouldn’t be the last time the ghosts of Vietnam would be felt in Ring Raiders, although you’ll have to wait for the Ring Raiders Special in the early months of next year for that particular story.

Surprisingly, when he’s robbed at gunpoint in his office we see how much of a coward Hubbub actually was in the days before Skull Squadron, cowering while the thieves use harmless pop guns to escape. The police don’t care either because they know he’s a crook himself (and actually in the end this cop is the ringleader of the thieves). Through contacts in Chicago’s rough South Side he’s able to stake out the next target and hide on the roof of their van while they make their escape.

Falling off when the driver loses control on the wet runway of the airport from which they’re going to flee the country with their last score, Hubbub finds himself at their mercy, outnumbered and this time their guns are very real. It’s at this point his life is miraculously saved and thus begins the creation of the character we’d grow to love to hate; a sudden bolt of lightning strikes the metallic dish on top of the van the thieves had put there (to make it look like a repairman’s vehicle). The bolt blinds them long enough for Hubbub to make his move. We then finishes things off with a little more of his history and a gorgeous final few panels as he rounds off his tale.

After Ring Raiders was cancelled the new year brought a new partwork to my newsagents called simply Airplane and I collected the first handful of issues. My interest was in no small part thanks to how the comic would treat these fantastical airplanes in as real a way as possible, always referencing them by their proper code numbers and names, and then there were historical scenes like these and other real world conflicts. A new series of pin-ups next issue heightened my enthusiasm too. I’ll talk more about that next time, but for now just look at those final few panels, making the transition from Vietnam to the world of the Skull Squadron via the different aircraft Hubbub used. Beautiful imagery to end an engaging and fun little story with surprising depth.

After the letters page the Next Issue promo feels retro even for this 1989 comic. Featuring a biplane, a big banner to the left and a headline along the wings of the plane, it reminds me of what Barrie might have used to promote an issue of Battle for example and I love it! If the Ring Raiders toys had been more successful I honestly believe this comic could easily have been seen as a modern, high-tech version of those classic war comics. It certainly had the writing and artistic talent for it.

Moving on and another story comes to a rather sudden end in part five of James Tomlinson‘s Bomber Blues, drawn by Don Wazejewski. It also includes what I originally thought were contradicting actions from Raider ‘Cub’ Jones. He begins by blasting a crashing Skull plane out of existence to save Hubbub who had ejected from his own aircraft last time and was standing in the crash zone. I like this; the Raiders have a code and will always aim to capture rather than kill.

But then on the very next page he inadvertently places innocent lives in danger. One of Hubbub’s wingmen sees an opening but isn’t prepared for Cub dropping his flaps and undercarriage to drastically reduce his speed, letting the Skull pilot fly past before returning fire. It’s a neat move and the pilot ejects to safety but the plane crashes right into the airfield below, the very one Cub had been trying to protect this entire time.

The World War II pilots run for their lives and barely escape. I remember thinking this went against that code I mentioned, so why did he shoot the plane down there? The key moment here is the Skull pilot’s final radio communication. “Double engine flameout! All power lost… entering terminal dive!” In other words, he’s known he was going down and at the last moment forced the nose down early, aiming the flaming plane towards the hanger.

It’s certainly a dramatic twist, which makes the sudden ending all the more strange. Another wingman lands to pick up Hubbub who takes a leaf out of Chiller’s book from earlier in the issue and forces the pilot out, taking the airplane up alone to face off against Cub for the final fight (leaving the pilot in the middle of World War II I’d assume). There are some great acrobatics as his slow prop plane tries to angle itself into the path of the jet but ultimately he flies out of the time zone in retreat. We’re now down to the final few panels and Cub opens up a time jump too and simply signs off!

He disappears, leaving the wreck of the airfield behind him, telling the men he’s befriended that he’ll see them again when needed. He could at least have helped with the clean up. To be honest, Bomber Blues has been a blast from the start and Cub’s affinity for the people battling in the time zone he was originally plucked from was something I would’ve liked to see return in a later issue.

I do think this final chapter could’ve been split over two issues though, so that it could’ve included at least a page of some kind of epilogue. As it stands, it’s still a great action-packed story notable for taking place almost exclusively in the air, the ending is just a bit rushed.

This issue’s advert hasn’t got much in the way of original art this time that’s for sure, just a tiny F-9 ‘Sky Tiger’ taken from Bomber Blues. But what it does contain is a lot of memories. Looking back at this I’m thinking, “Oh I had that, and that, and that!” In fact, I had everything shown here! Well, except my Battle Blaster was a Ring Raiders model and not the Skull Squadron one.

I can remember opening the giant boxes for those three bases on Christmas Day, although unlike the photos here (or indeed the images on the box) my Sky Base Freedom was just the Sky Base Courage mould painted another colour with different guns. (I see in this photo some of its accessories are missing too.) Those are some very happy memories, only marred slightly with the knowledge the comic had already finished.


“Mako got Baker in that last scrap over the fort, Commander! Didn’t see him bail out!”

Tremlet, Freedom Wing

While Mako and Yuri Kirkov both made the cover it wasn’t in relation to their strip. Perhaps that’s a sign they were arch enemies, destined to face off time and again. For now, Tom Tully‘s Freedom Flight continues with part six and the fort is on its last legs with Mako leading the rebel planes in a spectacular assault as presented here by Sandy James. Mako and his men easily take out the government planes, leaving the ground forces at the mercy of the rebels.

Kirkov’s plane is nearly repaired, catastrophic damage from Mako’s previous attack being averted thanks to his use of the ring last time, and he’s frustrated as he helplessly watches the battle unfold. Interestingly, he uses his ring to power the monitors and surveillance cameras of the fort which had lost all electricity. Getting impatient he finds out that repairs have stopped because of a very simple reason: it’s 1966.

His incredible F-4 ‘Comet’ is from another time and the ground crew have never seen anything quite like it. They’ve been able to slap together repairs on the physical damage but when looking at the hydraulics they come across computer circuits and controls like something that might as well be from a sci-fi movie for them. I liked this small bit of technical information and it brings up a conundrum with the whole time travel thing. Little scenes like this show the writers are thinking the time travel aspect through properly. Yes, it’s all fun and far-fetched nonsense, but ground that nonsense with some moments like this and you can inject real jeopardy into the fantastical set up.

Kirkov takes a gamble, assuming that after the physical repairs all that’s needed is a little bit of power, something that normally would be out of the question but which the ring may be able to provide (as established with the fort’s equipment). There’s a rather corny caption to go with it, but apart from that it’s another enjoyable episode. It’s the only story so far to use the ring for its main purpose and we saw how it could have a detrimental effect on the pilot last issue. I’ll assume here it’s more like jumpstarting a car.

By this stage all of the members of Freedom Wing have been named and we find out Baker has been shot down, with no sign of a ‘chute. We’re left to presume one of the Ring Raiders has been successfully killed by Mako as they fly to a three-on-three battle next issue. High stakes indeed. In fact, Freedom Flight and Trackdown both have the highest stakes for our characters and a real feeling of peril, and it’s because of this that they’re my favourites. So far anyway.

From memory the next issue is the best of the run but of course it would also contain the very worst news imaginable. You can see how it manages to both thrill and sadden when the review lands on the blog on Thursday 25th November 2021.

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 strip 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 that issue rather than a particular plot point. 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 who, through one misunderstanding after another believe they’re firing upon each other? 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 Carrier 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 Bluetooth fashion (before it existed) 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, still do.

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 action figures 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 BluRay 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. It’s also set in a fictional Sea World where underwater caverns are manmade and stunts are performed above on the water (and of course in reality the shark was mechanical).

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 that 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 Tomlinson‘s Bomber 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 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 ignite 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 adds 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’s nervous system, 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 (backgrounds, strafing gunfire, clothing etc.).

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 had 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 well 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: CHiLL OUT & ENJOY

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 also the star of the pin up. Chiller was a fan favourite, so much so that his Wing was hard to come by. By the end of my obsession over a year later I still hadn’t been 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 slowly moving its way through the large ensemble cast, 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. This is a vital 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 craft to the waters below.

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 this 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 the story the writer wanted to. Trackdown is the best example of how they 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 above 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!”

Skull 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 anthology stories. 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 moment 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) 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.

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 very well 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 in 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 guys or the baddies. The toy package images have also been replaced by a Sandy James illustration of the guest editor and icing things off is 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 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 Tomlinson 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 pancakes 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, so 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 it, 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 all 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 characters from my new favourite comic.

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 someone 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-traversing 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. However, 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.) The fact it could be incredibly damaging to the human behind it means this use is 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 to either 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 doesn’t spot it’s about to be overrun by the rebels. It’s an exhilarating ride and even all these years later a real thrill to see the ring power finally used in this way, bringing back many happy memories. 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 was 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? 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 the blog. 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 getting better. You’ll see what I mean in a fortnight when #4 lands on the OiNK Blog on Thursday 28th October 2021.