Tag Archives: Geoff Campion

SUPER NATURALS HOLiDAY SPECiAL: HiSTORiC HORROR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 have 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 on the ground. 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 various 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 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 (or 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 finish 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 codes and names, and then there were historical scenes like above featuring Vietnam 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 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 NicholasBomber 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 signs offs!

He disappears, leaving the wreck of the airfield below 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 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 those 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 taking the subject matter seriously. 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 definitely 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 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.