Tag Archives: James Nicholas

SUPER NATURALS #7: LICENSED TO THRiLL

After the festive cover for #5 and the fantastic montage that made up last issue’s, this Super Naturals cover by Sandy James is initially a little disappointing. But that’s only because of the comparison to the more elaborate ones that went before. It may be a lot simpler but it does focus on possibly the best of the evil Super Naturals so perhaps it’s a sign of some really fiery content. We’ll see. Inside, The Doll remains in its position as our first strip and the opening page includes this fantastic image by way of a recap.

As well as looking great, there’s another good reason behind this image of the doll looming large over the house; the little wooden murderer doesn’t actually appear in the strip this issue. Regular readers might’ve felt a little short-changed if his evil face wasn’t included somewhere, but quite possibly it was more to clue in new readers to we were dealing with. This issue’s chapter focusses entirely on Simon Wickham as he searches the house on his own, so this recap panel reminds us of the larger story and the implications of the doll’s continued survival.

Also, it’s just such a brilliant, atmospheric picture.

While the dummy doesn’t appear, this chapter has what is arguably one of the most memorable moments in Super Naturals’ whole run. Those caterpillars above make a gross reentry into the story just a few panels later as Simon thinks to himself that his chicken tastes a bit “odd”. Queue the following image which made me gag a little at the thought, I’ll admit. I do hope Francesc Masi knows how some fans reacted the artwork he produced.

Once recovered from this shock the rest of the story has Simon make his way into the cellar of the house after hearing a noise from underneath the floor. Convinced the doll is trying to scare him into inaction, he braves the dark and makes his way down. The floor is a sea of caterpillars and, after Simon becomes trapped in a crumbling staircase, they begin to crawl all over him before a cackling shape starts to rise up out of them for this issue’s cliffhanger.

Apart from the gross-out moment above, the main purpose of this chapter appears is to build upon some of the already established mysteries, such as the fate of previous foster child Alan, who is described as having met some terrible but undefined end because of the doll. Most likely in relation to this is the fact the Marshall’s cellar door is boarded up with several planks of wood. Simon has been told no one has been down there for years. Is this where Alan met his doom? Is this where the doll was trapped? Or originally found? A shocking but ultimately intriguing chapter that heightens anticipation for what could come next.

The additional features have moved up from the second half of the comic. There’s another one-page Ghostling Tale in which a scientist perfects some form of death stare to kill any living thing by looking at it. He kills his cat and several plants before looking in the mirror to congratulate himself, with predicable results. Serves him right for the cat. On Spooks‘ letters page a reader asks for Anneka Rice to be placed into the Tomb of Doom because of her continuous smile. But it appears Spooks (or should that be editor Barrie Tomlinson) is a bit of a fan. There’s also an advert to hype up the new Eagle and Battle weekly when Battle folded after a successful run of 664 issues since its creation in 1975!

A high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger

The Scary Cat Challenge has a lot to live up to this issue after the last stunning strip we were treated to last time thanks to Massimo Belardinelli‘s art. Food For Thought is based upon an idea sent in by reader Daniel Bridge of Hull. The artist is unknown at this time, although they’re definitely the same one who drew the strip featured in the very first issue. It involves a school visit to a life-size prehistoric model village and one of the kids sneaks off to rest behind some rocks away from his class on a hot summer’s day. We see this exact location in prehistoric times as rather clichéd cave people summon their god to bring them food.

Some kind of portal in time opens and they see Kenny Warren, our school kid. Initially thinking he’s a god, they soon turn on him as a trickster when he can’t produce any food for the starving group. They give chase and the main bulk of the strip is his attempt to flee, involving a high-speed escape down a mountain on top of a log and coming face-to-face with a giant mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger.

Yes, he really did just say he was always good at tobogganing! In the end it’s the usual scenario where Kenny wakes up just before he’s killed by the cave people, figuring out it’s all a dream before he spots something spooky which suggests it really happened. In this case, he still has snow on his shoes. It’s all rather tame after the spectacle in #6 but for the target audience it had a high stakes chase and big, scary prehistoric beasts so I’ll assume it went down a treat at the time.

The Legend of the Super Naturals is now in the middle of the comic and continues to build on the lore. Lionheart and Thunder Bolt materialise in England and Burnheart naturally tries to incinerate them. However, even though they’re in a weakened state from their transference (see last issue) no harm comes to them because they’re in their secondary state. Each character has their original human ghost form and their solid, real world animal form. In between is this “secondary state”, their humanoid shape but baring the features of their animal totem. It’s while in this form that they can unleash their hidden magical powers.

This is the most interesting of the various layers the comic has been adding to what the toys established, and it means the cool holograms weren’t just for looks anymore. No longer are the battles just simple fist fights and magic spells, each of their forms carries advantages and disadvantages for all of them and I just hope this can be built upon further before the final edition. The battles in this issue are certainly a step up from all that came before! It’d be such a shame to see all of this potential go unrealised, much like fellow holographic toy franchise comic, Visionaries.

We’ve also had a change in artist which I failed to mention last time. The first chapter’s creepy art was expertly crafted by John Gillatt before Dave D’Antiquis brought a more action-packed approach to the strip. Now, regular contributor to Barrie’s comics Sandy James takes the helm. Known for his full-colour covers and posters, at first I didn’t recognise the art as his, simply because it’s unusual for me to see his work in black and white (he also drew a fantastic full-colour strip for Ring Raiders). The solid line work, this version of Skull and the panel showing the Tomb of Doom (of which he drew a poster for #1) are classic Sandy.

Speaking of his posters, this page below takes up the middle pages and takes a break from the usual individual character portraits to bring us the evil Super Naturals’ vehicle, the Bat Bopper. Tonka were renowned for their toy trucks and the ones in the Super Naturals range looked they would’ve been great fun to have as a kid.

After seeing it munch its way through a wall at the end of last issue’s The Curse it’s confirmed here that it’s a sentient being in its own right. The ghostly face on the front was a superb three-dimensional hologram on the toy and I remember the adverts featured it rearing up on its back wheels as described here. As always Sandy has produced a very colourful, fun poster and it’s probably my favourite so far thanks to it being much more detailed than previous ones.

Moving on to our more light-hearted strip, Ghostlings. Drawn by Anthony Williams, Spooks takes up arms (geddit?) against the future human tribe’s enemies. In fact, he even gets a little bit carried away with all of the bravado in this funny moment as the last of the Crevice-Crawlers makes its escape.

The human Troggers still claim all of this was foretold and want to elevate Spooks to be their leader, to protect as they reclaim the surface. But Spooks knows he can’t abandon his comrades and so uses the fact he’s about as typical a ghost as you can get and disappears, materialising outside. However, he then has to sneak past the guards because he’s used up all his energy and can’t disappear again. This must mean he can’t even slide through walls (or in this case the rocks) like a ghost normally would until he recovers.

Initially I thought the cliffhanger didn’t make any sense (you can see it below). My first reaction was one of confusion, I’ll admit. He’s a ghost, surely the rock would just pass through him. But rereading his dilemma above I’m going to assume the fact he can’t disintegrate himself or pass through the rocks is the basis for the cliffhanger, as he could actually get crushed now. Of course the perpetuator of this falling boulder, Weird Wolf wouldn’t have known all this, so it still begs the question why would he think this would hurt a ghost.

I’m well aware I’m probably overthinking this children’s comic. But that’s the thing with reading these childhood favourites without the rose-tinted glasses. We may remember the wonder and enjoyment these comics brought and reliving those feelings is great fun, but we also can’t help but view them through jaded adult eyes. I think I’m right though about Spooks’ energy being low and that’s the reason behind the ending. I have faith the answer will be forthcoming in 14 days.

The final strip continues Skull, Burnheart and Scary Cat‘s Christmas Day quest to find the Tomb of Britannicus in 19th Century London and unleash his dire curse upon the world. As I predicted last time the human soldiers the good Super Naturals Lionheart, Eagle Eye and Spooks find themselves up against can cause them no harm in their primary form but their Ghost Finder vehicle is vulnerable. They can’t lose their transportation or they’ll never catch or defeat Skull in his. They also can’t transform into their animal forms because they could be gunned down, but most importantly to Lionheart they can’t scare the men away, not when the soldiers have guns and in their panic could hurt each other.

In the end, as the terrified men realise their bullets are simply passing through the so-called “fiends”, their commander takes charge with a sword, only for a very apologetic Eagle Eye to grab him by the throat, instantly putting the man to sleep. He tries to explain to the troops that they’re here to help and he salutes them as he leaves, but he knows how fear and reason make bad bedfellows and so he casts a “Blessing of Forgetfulness” over them and they fall asleep too. It shows how they have to be more thoughtful in their dealings with us humans, not just simply blasting through in the name of the greater good. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

So the tomb has been found and as Burnheart goes to stand guard outside (knowing Eagle Eye will sense where they are) he leaves his flame gun behind so his leader can unleash the curse. We’ve seen reference to their weapons running low and having to recharge their magical energies in previous issues. It makes for a funny moment when the magical power of Burnheart’s gun runs out, leaving the all-conquering Skull and his frightful Ghostling quite literally left in the dark as to what to do.

The Doll’s skin-crawling moments aside this issue might be short on the frights but it’s been a really entertaining read nonetheless. With more being established about the licenced characters the writers (most likely Barrie Tomlinson and James Nicholas at least) are really getting to grips with them and it shows. I could easily have said the non-licenced strips were the highlights in most of the previous issues but here the Super Naturals themselves have reclaimed their namesake comic in three highly entertaining tales that have left me eager for more.

It’s just as well #8 is already sitting here on my shelf waiting to be devoured for the next review on Sunday 6th February 2022. A curse upon you if you’re not here on that day.

WiLDCAT #6: ROARING GOOD FUN

On the final day of 1988 there was just enough time to squeeze in one final issue of Barrie Tomlinson‘s Wildcat before the new year. Kicking off with Ian Kennedy‘s interpretation of José Ortiz‘s Kitten Magee strip, the cover includes the tagline ‘The Ultimate Adventure’. I remember associating this with the comic as a kid, so it’s strange to see it appear for the first time only now. Perhaps it’ll pop up again. For now though, let’s see if the inside matches the hype.

The Arglons have dispatched two of their own Terrosaurons to kill Turbo Jones atop his own dino in the opening strip. Controlled by computerised radio waves, these are detected by Robo before they even get close. Very quickly he’s jamming the signal and any hope of control over the creatures is lost. The Ark doesn’t take too kindly to their great plan being thwarted and soon the general in charge is on the chopping block. It appears these skeletal figures have zero tolerance for failures.

Having already attacked Turbo’s Terrosauron and getting a taste for blood, when the commands are interrupted the others attack the nearest target, which is each other. Limbs are torn off, gaping wounds in full view and we young readers loved it. It felt so gory to us.

Now easily able to pick off the enemy Turbo finishes the fight and returns to the main base of operations where he finds out about an underground defence system, a huge electronic fence which is activated and surrounds the city. That’s it as far as plot goes but this episode was all about the fight, the big battle between the three giant Terrosaurons. While I can’t remember reading it at the time, I’m sure I loved it as it would’ve been right up my street!

As an adult I do miss the plot developments, the intrigue around The Ark and Turbo’s growth as a character. But sometimes it’s just fun to have a completely ludicrous, over-sized battle! In the final panel Turbo says the enemy is trapped inside the city behind the fence, so they can pick them off more easily. Has he forgotten they got in via a tunnel? We’ll find out next time I’m sure. It’s throwaway stuff but fun, and I’m only a little disappointed because the comic has set such high standards for itself.

It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god?

More interesting for this old man is another much older man in the Joe Alien story, as the human who seems to be the leader of the killer plant life tells his story. He was the sole astronaut on the first manned rocket heading for Mars. While this is now predicted to take place in 2024, at the time of Wildcat’s publication we never thought it’d happen quite so soon, so his tale takes place in 2079. Travelling through an asteroid belt one of the huge rocks begins to open up, drawing his craft inside like a scene from You Only Live Twice.

He makes reference to it looking like “jaws” and with that word choice I can’t help but make the comparison to the big fish from my favourite movie of all time. The asteroid itself, as drawn by Ron Smith, bares a striking resemblance to Steven Spielberg’s classic movie monster, right down to the oversized jowls (needed on the mechanical shark in Jaws for its mouth to open and close without folding or breaking the rubber skin). I’m really rather thrilled to see this as a fan of the movie and this comic, I love seeing inspiration from one turning up in the other.

Upon arriving on the continent where our adventure is taking place a great war was being fought between the trees and the other vegetation. There’s always a great war behind these stories isn’t there? As you can see in this gloriously illustrated page below he negotiated a peace between the two sides. But how, when the participants in the war couldn’t speak? This question is asked by one of Joe’s men later in the issue. An explanation is given about how the plants can absorb sound as vibrations in the ground through their roots, and how they had spent hundred of years studying our radio waves to learn our language.

As the years passed the man aged very slowly compared to back on Earth, so generations of plant life passed before his eyes and eventually they began seeing him as a kind of god. His word is now law and when one of Joe’s team makes a joke about the plants the old man punches him with the force of ten, sending him flying into the water where he’s attacked by vicious teeth-baring vegetation. It’s clear power has gone to this man’s head. Does he truly believe he is a god? It feels like a story from the Stargate SG-1 TV series, albeit several years before it.

The standout here is Ron’s art. His style perfectly compliments the story and setting, his characters really embody what they’re saying, Joe is the best he’s ever looked and the flashbacks are extraordinary and fascinating. Incredible artwork. Simply gorgeous. While Loner may still be my favourite, Joe’s strip is running a very close second which I didn’t expect when I started this read through. Saying that, all the strips are so good this changes on a regular basis.

Kitten Magee takes a break from relentless fighting to advance her story a little. She saved herself from the bomb last time by grabbing her teammate and leaping into one of the holes bored by the tribal robots. So the fat alien Hobos decides it’s time to try a different tactic. Pretending to save her life from a threat of his own creation (a destabilising beam making Kitten lose balance just before this page below), he befriends the women and tells them he’ll lead them through the dangerous jungle to his village.

There’s one disappointing aspect of the story here, and that’s how easily the other four members of the team trust Hobos. Only Kitten herself is unsure, thinking he’s too friendly, too nice and appeared at too convenient a time for this all to be coincidence. The other members of the team have all been so capable and interesting in the previous issues that it’s a shame to see them played for fools so easily.

We do get a little bit of action as a torg-lion attacks the group, the one we saw on the cover. Hobos’ plan seems to be to lead them through the most dangers part of the continent, using a scent of raw meat to attract the biggest, most vicious predators out into the open. Of course Kitten wins this battle, pricking the animal with the pointed edge of her poison-filled ring. Just when I thought I’d seen all of her cool jewellery-based weaponry too.

There are still many questions needing answered here, not least of which is why Hobos was determined to kill the women in the first place. Is it a male thing? Are women a threat? Even alien women? I know we’ll get our answers eventually, so don’t for one moment think this is any kind of complaint because it isn’t. The story does feel like it’s heading towards at least some of the answers over the next few issues, which is exciting. Kitten remains an interesting character and the one most shrouded in mystery in the whole comic.

That cover by Ian Kennedy is a fantastic piece of art, as are all of his covers across the range of Barrie’s comics I’m reviewing (Ring Raiders and Super Naturals being the others). He gets a bit of further recognition on the letters page this issue and yes, that monster is one of his designs from the premiere issue.

Loner is up next and if you thought the scale of what he was up against was massive in that final image last issue, then you haven’t seen anything yet, to use a cliché. I can remember this snake-like monster but I had no idea of just how big it was. In fact, it’s so big that in the first panel of this chapter we only get to see a few teeth next to our hero and his now rather pathetic looking new gun.

My overall opinion of this instalment of my favourite Wildcat strip is, just when I thought David Pugh‘s art couldn’t possibly get any more spectacular he blows me away again, and a lot more successfully than Loner’s attempt to do so with the beast above. But just look at that first panel, those teeth and that tusk look so solid, so terrifying that I’m sure I was in awe of it back in 1988. This was playing to everything kids would want from a new sci-fi adventure. However, as always I review these comics as I read them now, without the rose-tinted glasses, as a man in his mid-40s.

And I bloody loved it!

We even get to see the thing asleep at one stage, it’s head full of thick veins, it’s eyes popping open suddenly as the tiny Loner nears. It’s all incredibly atmospheric. I can’t show you it all obviously, that’s what the amazing graphic novel collecting this entire story is for, but I can show you some of the other highlights of this issue’s chapter. Complete with ridiculously large brain hooked up to the equally ridiculous helmet, Loner discovers the ground of the beast’s layer is covered with thousands upon thousands of tiny little skulls.

I actually felt sorry for the little furballs with him, seeing generations of their kind dead all around them. It’s at this point the burgeoning relationship between Loner and these little critters, as unlikely as it seemed a few issues ago, solidifies. Anger fills his very being at seeing the skulls. Whether he likes it or not his cool, hard, cold persona is warming to these little beings and he begins to track down the monster again, which has moved deeper into the caves. Bent on revenge, we’re left with no doubt that the odds against him aren’t relevant anymore.

This friendship and how it developed slowly over the course of the comic’s life is something I still remember all these years later, although I can’t remember any of the details so it’s a delight to be reading it again in real time. Instead of bingeing, I’m getting the developing friendship in fortnightly stages as intended and it doesn’t feel rushed or forced in any way, and that’s pretty incredible when you think about the scenario here and who these characters are! It’s so far-fetched and yet feels so natural, a testament to the writers behind it, namely Barrie and his son James Nicholas.

Just when the odds against Loner’s survival (never mind his success) seem stacked enough against him, the beast releases its minions and these aren’t the small, yellow, goggle-wearing kind. These minions of death wouldn’t look out of place in an adult comic today but here they were in the pages of our Wildcat, terrifying the youth. Of course Loner is the cool hero when he wants to be and heskillfully dispatches them with his telepathic weaponry before the beast itself moves in for the kill, and the cliffhanger.

The little pieces of character development and banter between him and the furballs are nice touches and advance things a little in the overall story, but this is really all about the hunt and finally coming up against this monstrosity. But it doesn’t feel like the plot has been left to the side for the action, it’s all nicely balanced. David’s artwork is so incredible I’m completely absorbed in it every issue, and while it’s an exaggeration to say my breath is taken away each time, I have to say that to get across just how much I’m enjoying this.

The Wildcat Complete is called Moon of Terror and concerns pilot Kurby being sent to one of the moons orbiting the planet after a previous crew went missing upon landing. Unable to spare more crew members they have to send Kurby alone. Barrie and his writing team really are stacking up the death count.

Artist Jesús Redondo returns (he supplied the art for #2‘s Wildcat Complete) and his shuttle craft bares a striking resemblance to a certain television show’s fighter craft. I mentioned before about the similarities between the Wildcat story and that of Battlestar Galactica even though that was more coincidence than anything else. Jesús’ shuttle could easily have been influenced by that show’s Vipers. Or it could simply be another coincidence and they were based upon real world jet aircraft. Either way, I like the design.

The cloud cover is so dense all of his computer equipment can’t track the ground and when he comes out of the blackness he’s already too close. After impact his shuttle explodes and so he goes to find the missing crew, hoping the Wildcat will send another rescue ship. At least it’s looking hopeful; they may have just crashed and lost contact for the same reason he has. But as he explores he’s attacked by some form of mutant creature that tries to kill him.


“Don’t want me eating your fruit, eh? One thing I can’t stand is a selfish mutant.”

Kurby

He’s able to break free and shoots it just before being set upon by another. At this stage I’d worked out what was going on. I’m not sure if I would have when I was just eleven-years-old, not having been exposed to many sci-fi stories at that point in my life. A third mutant appears just as Kurby is about to get stuck into some of the local fruit for sustenance. Thinking it’s just another attack and the creature is swatting away the fruit to get to him and kill him, he kills it first. Exhausted, he sits down and eats.

You can see the mutant creatures are humanoid in nature and have a distinct face so I’m sure you can also see where this is going. Unknowingly, Kurby has just picked off the three Wildcat crew members he was sent to save, who had been transformed by eating the same fruit. I do like Jesús’ action man panels of Kurby firing directly towards the reader as he’s attacked. Kurby comes across as quite arrogant in the story but that’s the point I think. We humans are out amongst the stars but still we think we know everything about the world around us, that we are lords of all that we survey.

As you can see the story ends with him slowly turning into one of the mutants himself, the horrible truth about what he’s done becoming apparent. The last mutant swiping the fruit away was doing so as a warning, not an attack. As he transforms he knows the Wildcat will send another team, that he’ll try to warn them, that they’ll kill him and the cycle will repeat. Human arrogance will see the small population dwindle by how many more before it stops?

For now, the death toll six issues in stands at 18 if we include Kurby himself. Maybe this is why the comic stopped at #12, there was no one else to write about!

The Next Issue page is printed sideways and taken over by this picture of Turbo and a Terrosaurus. Is this his dinosaur? I wonder. But given the excitement of the Loner strip I’m surprised this isn’t the story to feature here. Finally on the back cover is this issue’s pin up and it appears these two are continuing their double act for now anyway.

So that’s us officially at the halfway point of the comic’s regular run already. The next issue, the first of the new year will be here on Friday 14th January 2022. This has been a blast and at six issues in it’s already far better than its already impressive start. The next six are going to be phenomenal. I hope.

RiNG RAiDERS #6: FiNAL BOARDiNG CALL

This is something of a bittersweet review. On the one hand it’s the best issue of Ring Raiders the team produced, but it’s also the last. I can remember back in 1989 I’d always go and check out the shelves first before asking for my reserved copy, and my heart sank when I scanned through this exciting looking latest issue and saw the announcement. At this point it really did seem all the comics I was interested in weren’t lasting long at all. I was devastated with the news for this particular one.

What a cover to kick off my favourite issue, Ian Kennedy really showing he understands the subject matter, his love of aviation clearly apparent. Skull Leader Wraither was one of my two favourite characters and to see my favourite toy planes on the cover was a thrill. It still takes me right back now. Inside, two new serials and a new regular feature begin. It’s obvious this was never planned to be the last issue. However, it may be the final fortnightly but it wouldn’t be the finale. More on that below.

But let’s not be down, there’s more of the finest 80s licensed action strips to enjoy and there’s been a bit of a shift about inside to keep things fresh. Where previously Battle Zone ’99 introduced us to each issue, it’s replacement story is moved so that Tom Tully‘s Freedom Flight, rattling along to its big finish can take point, opening the comic with some blistering action that’s been building since #1. Sandy James‘ colour work makes quite the impact as the first thing we see inside, it’s just a shame something went wrong with the printing process with several pages of this issue.

Skull Squadron‘s plan finally gets revealed as Calvador is the perfect place for them set up a power base to take South America. The rebels are fully aware a heavy price will be asked of them for this help but they continue regardless. It’s clear this is only one part of a much bigger plan and interestingly leader Scorch is monitoring from thirty-two years into the future. Obviously (much like Doctor Who) in the world of Ring Raiders time is fluid, always in flux. I appreciated major plot details only coming later rather than being laid out in the first episode too. Despite being based on toys, the comic told its stories in a mature fashion, treating us as readers with attention spans who’d stick with them. I appreciate it all the more now.

The first of two new stories is Castle of Doom , written and drawn by the same team as the previous Bomber Blues, James Nicholas and Don Wasejewski respectively. It takes Trackdown‘s previous position as the second strip. Trackdown always felt like the main story, even though I’d no idea just how long it would last. It felt like it had deliberately slower pacing to begin with, like it was building tension and settling in for a long run. So when Castle of Doom took its place it instantly felt like an important story. I wasn’t wrong.

Set in 1789 it sets up a fascinating plot involving my two favourite characters. Wraither (from the cover) in his P51 Mustang ‘Galloping Ghoul’ appears in the skies over a hauntingly atmospheric castle proclaiming to be a sky demon. The owner of the castle is already a disciple of this winged deity, but the local mayor sees him as a threat. After Wraither fires upon him, pushing him over the edge of the castle turrets he turns on his hypnotising mind control ray over the assembled masses, instructing them that on this exact night two hundred years hence their descendants must rise up and assassinate every single person in the castle.

Returning to the skies he and his Vulture Wing prepare to exit through time again. Wraither and his dark, faceless persona is the perfect Skull Squadron leader for this mysterious tale and I was just as excited to see the Raider sent to investigate would be none other than Wing Commander Yasuo Yakamura in his cool X-29 ‘Samurai Flyer’ jet. These were my first two toy planes and perhaps as a result of them being bundled together in one of the Starter Packs they seemed destined to be mortal enemies in the comic.

Certain scenes remained tucked away in my memory refusing to leave because they had such an impact on me, they were that amazing to this Ring Raiders fan.

Skull Squadron targeting this particular castle in this particular time zone for just a few moments has the Ring Raiders completely confused. Yasuo is on standby and in his X-29 can get there quicker than anyone. I can still remember the palpable excitement of this first instalment as a kid thanks to the characters involved, but also because James sets up a genuinely interesting mystery here.

As Yasuo stalks the skies above Vulture Wing we see his inner thoughts trying to work out what’s going on. Even when he engages the enemy he remains a man of few words, thinking his retorts to Wraither instead of shouting them out over the radio like the other pilots. The cliffhanger has the mayor hanging on to a tree sticking out from the cliff face and Yasuo having to leave himself wide open to attack in order to save him. With my favourite planes locked in combat and an intriguing set up in play it was an agonising wait to see what would happen next. (If we even got to find out!)

The character flashback story this time centres around Wing Commander ‘Never’ Evers, in the appropriately titled Never Say Evers Again, written by Scott Goodall with John Gillatt back on drawing duties. This is the first we’ve really seen the character other than crowd scenes and I never owned his toys, both of which are real shames because he’s a fun character with an interesting past. Enrolled as an officer cadet in NATO‘s flying school he was cocky and lazy in equal measure. Caught skiving off sick from a routine training mission, his instructor puts him under open arrest.

Now, Evers loves his rock and rock and especially playing it so loud he annoys everyone around him. His imprisonment takes place at the far end of the base in unoccupied accommodation which just happens to be beside the records department for NATO. In the end we find out the arrest was deliberate, his instructor is working for Skull Squadron, and when Evers’ hifi speakers blow a fuse and silence engulfs the area he hears a noise and discovers the theft of computer records in process. His instructor was using Evers’ relocation and his loud music to cover his tracks you see.

Having a double-cross like this is similar to last time but Evers is such an enjoyable character I didn’t care, especially when it led to this final sequence. My only complaint is that there isn’t more of this particular aerial battle. The brief bit of action we’re given is fab and a great climax to a character study strip, but how I wish it was longer. Another aircraft that wasn’t part of the Ring Raiders toy line too, which was always a nice addition to the comic and heightened my interest in finding out more about them as a kid.

He’s on the cover, he’s the star of a brand new strip and now Wraither is also in charge of the letters page. None of the contributions mention him and he isn’t happy about it as you’ll see. This is one of the things I loved about our comics this side of the pond, how the characters would interact with us in often cheeky, sarcastic ways. I never sent anything in myself. It had become a bit of a habit by this stage but Ring Raiders simply didn’t last long enough for me to get around to it. This would be the last we’d see of the readers too, as the special the following year wouldn’t contain any more of these pages.

Part six of writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper‘s Trackdown is our penultimate strip. Wing Commander Thundercloud is right on the tail of Skull Leader Blackjack, but can’t do anything except follow for fear of setting off the Doomsday Device if he opens fire. All the Skull pilot has to do is wait it out until he’s home free, but suddenly he dives and stands his Harrier jet on its nose! It’s a shocking move but in the end it shows how tactical and sadistic Blackjack can be.

Established in both the toy line and the comic, Blackjack can remotely control his Harrier. In this day and age of drone warfare and those silly driverless cars it’s easy to forget things like this and K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider were science fiction, and exciting sci-fi at that. So he ejects after aiming at a biplane far below, expertly manoeuvring himself so he lands on its tail. I love how this is depicted in the art, especially the angle from above the ejection.

The maniac tosses out the pilot of the biplane and takes his young son hostage, although he does tell him his dad had a parachute and will be safe, as will the boy if he just shuts up. He doesn’t intend to kill (although it’s meant to look like he could), just to use the kid as means of dropping his pursuing Ring Raider. Scorch himself radios through to the Air Carrier Justice, telling them Thundercloud has a choice; either follow the Doomsday Device to stop it reaching Skull Squadron, or rescue the boy.


“The future of the world against one boy’s fate? No contest!”

Joe Thundercloud

It’s a brilliant twist that I’d completely forgotten about, even though I reread these about five or so years ago. I remember the thrill of this particular chapter as a kid and it’s another key reason why this was my favourite issue; all the stories are firing on all cylinders, the comic had really come into its own, it was confident in its characters and the universe within which it was playing.

In the end Thundercloud radios in that he’s going after the device, that one boy’s life can’t compare to the whole world. The Ring Raiders listening in are horrified but Ring Commander Vector is defiant, he says he knows Thundercloud isn’t going to abandon the boy. So what’s he doing? Vector asks the professor what would happen if they beamed the device up but can’t get an answer. It seems everything is in Thundercloud’s hands. It’s an impossible situation he’s in as the Harrier and the biplane set off in different directions.

The cliffhanger gives us no possible clues as to the outcome. Can you imagine my reaction to this knowing there wouldn’t be another issue in a fortnight? Only with hindsight am I able to say reading the Special (with another five chapters of Trackdown to read all at once) was incredibly exciting, and that if the comic had continued #7 would’ve contained the single most exciting piece of strip action I’d ever come across up to that point. That’s not just hyperbole, as you’ll see next time.

I’ll leave my final thoughts on the whole story until then but suffice to say Angus and John created something truly special for me with this. It’s a story that has stayed with me all these years, certain scenes tucked away in my memory refusing to leave because they had such an impact on me, they were that amazing to this Ring Raiders fan. The eleven chapters made this the comic’s first true epic at 44 pages in total.

This issue felt like the beginning of the next stage of the comic’s life.

This issue saw the first time new serials joined the fray, sitting alongside continuing stories. Others would end in what would’ve been #7. I was looking forward to seeing explosive finales and new beginnings, since each story could be so completely different than what came before. Each issue would’ve brought that sense of anticipation, never knowing when one would end or a new one begin. With this issue it felt like the beginning of the next stage of the comic’s life.

As I mentioned above the ‘Next Issue’ boxes were still present at the end of each strip but blanked out, although adding to the frustration was the ability in some cases to just about make out what they said. On the letters page Wraither talked about the next issue in a fortnight’s time and the comic was still asking for contributions. All of this just made the Special Announcement (in the space usually reserved for the Next Issue box) all the more shocking.

At the time I refused to believe it was due to bad sales with the way the first sentence was worded. It just didn’t make sense to me. The comic was too good for this to happen to it! The toys were on sale for Christmas, they were ace, how could it stop before all those new owners jumped on board? All of these thoughts went round and round in my twelve-year-old head.

Speaking with Barrie recently he told me the issue was already at the printers when news came down that the plug was being pulled. Needing to get an announcement into the issue but with no time to typeset anything he instead wrote the panel on his typewriter. It feels a bit like some wartime correspondence and very fitting for the comic. It’s just a shame about the news it carried.

The comic was too good for this to happen to it!

As Barrie says in his book Comic Book Hero, the industry was struggling as a whole at this time, many titles were failing no matter how good they were. Television and videogames were stiff competition and publishers seemed to be releasing licenced comics based on every new toy or cartoon product in a bid to try to reverse the trend. For a market already facing decline it was now also spreading itself too thin. Inevitably not many new comics survived.

I cut out the Ring Raiders Club coupon that had been in the comic since #3, thinking if the comic was ending at least I could join this. I never heard back. I asked Barrie if he knew anything about it but as far as he’s concerned this was run by Matchbox so unfortunately I’ve no information about it at this time. But let’s enjoy the rest of this fantastic final issue, shall we?

As I’ve mentioned several times during this series it was amazing to see these tiny toy planes brought to life, as it were. Now writer James Nicholas was going to be treating us to aerial photography and details of the real world aircraft every fortnight. At least, that was the plan but we ended up with just two parts in this and the Ring Raiders Special. But at least I did get to see a favourite character’s aircraft in this fact-file.

So our final strip is also a new story and while he may not appear in this part it’s clear from the icy cliffhanger and the name of the story, Operation Chill, who our big bad was going to be and I have no complaints whatsoever given how ruthless he’s been in previous stories. Living in Belfast now as an adult the not-so-subtle references which were lost on me as a kid are plain to see. On an unspecified modern day date a cruise liner of the Black Star line is travelling from Liverpool to New York when all radio contact is lost before the ship crashes through the docks.

Making clear references to the Titanic, writer Barrie Tomlinson and artist Carlos Pino return in what would turn out to be a fantastic story. It would be the mission that would introduce the Skull Squadron’s mobile HQ to the Ring Raiders, originally in a future fortnightly issue just in time for children like me to ask Santa Claus for it, potentially even the Christmas edition itself.

Yes, the base has featured in previous stories but remember this was a time travelling comic and it can tell its stories in any order it wished. We could see a character in action and then later down the line read about their recruitment, piecing together the timelines ourselves. The complex nature of the overall arcs could’ve made for excellent reading further down the line.

With all of the schoolboys and crew missing Bravery Wing and their commander Max Miles get their first comic mission and come under heavy fire when checking out the location of where the ship last checked in. But below there’s only ice and open waters. Where is the attack coming from? The big reveal was another part of the Special worth waiting for if memory serves.

Much in the same way as #6 of OiNK, this issue of Ring Raiders felt like all of the pieces had fallen into perfect alignment, making the cancellation all the more heartbreaking. Would it have had better sales earlier in its run and been given a longer chance if released just after Christmas? Probably not, because as much as I didn’t want to admit it at the time the toys just weren’t the success they deserved to be. But that didn’t put me off. The following year I continued collecting planes and accessories, stopping just short of the second series’ release. Perhaps they’d been successful just enough for the next series or maybe they’d already been produced. Either way, all merchandise including the comic and cartoon had been canned.

Image taken from eBay

Not long after Ring Raiders disappeared a new partwork was published called Airplane and I bought the first dozen or so issues. If I couldn’t buy the comic anymore maybe I’d find out all about the aircraft to go with my toys. The first issues were all military craft which had coincidentally featured in the Ring Raiders range but it wasn’t long until it was focussing solely on commercial airlines and I became bored and cancelled it. Hey, I was 12 years old!

I’ve already mentioned the Ring Raiders Special and this came out in February 1990 so watch out for it on the blog a few months from now. Barrie wasn’t sure if it would see publication when he wrote the announcement, given how quickly it had to be written up. But he and his team did produce it in the end and all of the stories from this issue got the remainder of their full runs printed in one big issue.

That won’t be all you’ll read on the blog next year about this fantastic comic or the toys that inspired it. For now, make sure you check out the two remaining comics still being read in real time that make up the Barrie Tomlinson trilogy this winter. Wildcat and Super Naturals continue and are both excellent titles.

So long Ring Raiders, you will be greatly missed but all these decades later you remain a very favourite comic. I hope that shows how much of an impact your six issues made to this reader anyway.