Tag Archives: John Cooper

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.

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.