Sunday, 22 May 2016

Who's Who in Alan Moore's Albion

So I recently re-read Albion, I re-read it every so often because it both delights and depresses me but this isn’t a shitty review this is a spotter’s guide. There IS a full annotations for the series, it’s old and not that great but all the same I feel like I’m duplicating someone else’s work and also trying to be better than them if I did such a post as well, so this isn’t a full set of annotations, just a guide to all the major British comic book characters in it, officially or otherwise. 

First off, a quick primer – ‘Alan Moore’s Albion’ is as bit cheeky as he only wrote the rough plot and Leah Moore and John Reppon, his daughter and son-in-law, did the bulk of the writing. The book features a prison break to free various British comic book characters who turn out to be real after one of them, Grimely Feendish, is finally arrested. The characters that appear officially were all published by what was formerly the second largest comic book company in Britain – originally called Amalgamated Press, then IPC and who also published comics under the names Odham’s Press and Fleetway. The ownership of the characters published under those names, plus those formerly owned by Hulton Press and J.B. Allen (which IPC bought) is split between AOL-Time-Warner, Egmont Editions and Rebellion Studios: Warner owns everyone who debuted before January 1st 1970 with the exception of the Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future and Captain Condor characters and those owned by Egmont; Egmont owns everyone published after Jan 1st 1970 with exception of those owned by Rebellion Studios, plus it owns 26 characters from Buster and Roy of the Rovers (including both the titular characters) who were created before 1970; Rebellion owns everyone and everything published in 200AD and its spin-offs (Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper etc) except maybe Zenith, I have no idea what’s going on with Zenith anymore.

I have a bit of an obsession with British comic book characters, especially those from the 1960s through to the 1990s and especially Dan Dare and those published in Valiant, Smash!, Lion, The Beano, The Beezer, Wham!, Misty, Monster Fun and Buster… but you really don’t need me to gush for paragraphs here because I’ll be doing that as we go along, so onto the who’s who:

The Man in the Coma is… Cursitor Doom
Cursitor Doom ran in Smash!, debuting in the 15th of March 1969 issue (as part of a revamp of the book). He was a paranormal investigator assisted by Angus McCraggan (who’s dead in Albion’s continuity) and has remained popular, Bear Alley Books even published two volumes reprinting his strip.

Charlie Love is… Charlie Peace
From the Buster strip The Elusive Charlie Peace/The Astounding Adventures of Charlie Peace that ran in Buster from the 27th June 1964 issue to the 15th June 1974 issue (with a preview in the 20th June 1964 issue of Valiant) and was reprinted in The Big One. Technically Egmont owns that strip but as Charlie Peace is based on a real person the Moores can use him. The strip really did jump from a period piece to being set in the modern day; Albion explains this as Peace stealing a watch from Cursitor Doom, though I seem to remember the strip explained it a different way.

Danny is… Danny Doom
From the strip of same name, Danny Doom ran in Valiant from the 25th May 1974 issue to the 22nd of March 1975 issue, so does this mean he’s owned by Egmont? I don’t know, the comic is pretty explicit about him being Danny Doom so maybe the deal didn’t cover content of books that had begun before 1970 (with the exception of Buster and those in Roy of the Rovers strips)? Regardless Danny is a 13th Century alchemist who via suspended animation wound up in the 1970s, the connection to Cursitor Doom (which I really like, he WAS sent to the future by his master) is new to Albion, Danny is also reunited with the Hand of Orloff that he used in his original stories at the end of the this series.

The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark
This strip ran in Smash!, debuting in the 15th of March 1969 issue the same as Cursitor Doom, until the book ended with the 3 April 1971 issue. Smash! was one of the many examples of ‘merging’ in British comics, where content from one book would be folded into another so as to keep readers, in reality one book was cancelled and the other remained – legally – the same just with different strips inside and an old comic’s title on the cover for a little while. In this case Smash! ‘merged’ with Valiant and The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark ran in that book from the 10th of the April 1971 issue until the 22nd of March 1975 issue. He was an escapologist in Victorian London with rubbery bones who fought injustice while also being a famous stage performer.

Grymleigh Gartside Fiendstien is… Grimly Feendish
One of my all-time favourite characters, Grimly was a spin-off from Eagle Eye, Junior Spy in Wham! (he definitely DID appear in issues #1, 4, 6, 8-17, 32, 33, 83, 98, 100-103, 105-107, 121, 123, 125, 127, 132, 133, 139, 148-150, 152, 153, 159-160, 164, 168-171 and definitely DID NOT appear in issues #5, 18, 20-22, 25-26, 34, 84, 91-92, 111-112, 115, 117-118, 123, 136-137, 141, 144-146, 162-163, 165-167), but had his own strip Grimly Feendish, in Smash! (Usually the back page) from the 5th February 1966 issue to the 8th March 1969 issue, losing out to the revamp that brought in Janus Stark and Cursitor Doom. However he did get a second run in Shiver &Shake from issues 22 to 77 (except issues 63, 72 and 76, issues 22-33 reprint Smash! 58, 18, 14, 63, 14, 72, 65, 53, 28, 68, 35 and 69). He was a delightfully absurd supervillain who’s plans once included giant jelly babies, fantastic stuff.

Fred Akerly is… Faceache!       
Unofficially. Faceache appeared in all 22 issues of Jet (1st May 1971-25th Sep 1971) until it merged with Buster, whereupon he appeared in the 2nd October 1971 issue until the 1st October 1988, as such he’s owned by Egmont, and this is why he’s appeared as ‘Fred Aklery rather than Ricky Rubberneck and is never mentioned by his nickname ‘Faceache’ (meaning ugly). The stirp was about a boy (Ricky) who could ‘scrunge’ (morph) his face into horrible monstrosities which he used for pranks for right to wrongs, it was great. 

The big nosed assistant cook is… Doctor Rat
Unofficially. This character appears a lot but isn’t named because he’s owned by Egmont, he’s from Rat-Trap which ran in Cor!! from the 29th July, 1972 (No. 113) issue to the 15th June, 1974 (No. 211), the final issue. It was a clever little audience participation feature where readers sent in their ideas to trap the King of Crime. It had great art from Giorgio Giorgetti.

The old boy with the levitating powers is…  Sylvester Turville
From the strip Turville’s Touchstone/The Spellbinder, wherein Tom Turville found his ancestor Sylvester Turville in a house he inherited, the elder Turville, alias the Spellbinder, used the titular touch stone to perform magic and save the day. It ran in Lion from the 3rd of May 1969 issue to the 18th of May 1974 issue (the title changed with the 7th of February 1970 issue), Lion was then ‘merged’ with Valiant and The Spellbinder reappeared there, from the  25th of January 1975 issue to the 1st of March 1975 issue
 
The Orderlies are… The Blots!
Well they’re probably the Swots AND the Blots but the only nametag I can see has ‘Blott’ on it. The Swots and the Blots ran in every issue of Smash! and following its merger with Valiant ran from the 10th of April 1971 issue to the 18th of Mary 1974 issue, including a run by the legendary Leo Baxendale (creator of The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Grimly Feendish and Bad Penny amongst others). It was a school-based comedy about two warring factions – the swots (the boffins or suck-ups) and the Blots (the rougher scamps).

Tim Kelly is…Tim Kelly!
From the strip Kelly’s Eye, Tim Kelly found a gem called The Eye of Zoltec that made him impervious to harm, in one of the best stories he came up against a man who’d found the other eye of Zoltec which had turned him into a kind of zombie. Albion uses the Eye of Zoltek to explain how Margaret Thatcher survived the very real Brighton bombing (in truth I think she really was just on another floor). Kelly’s Eye debuted in the second volume of Knockout, running from the 21st July 1962 issue to the 16th February 1963 issue, until like just about everything else it merged with Valiant (Valiant was a top seller back then) and the strip continued from Valiant’s 23rd February 1963 issue to its 18th May 1974 issue. Oh it was also reprinted in Vulcan (1st March 1975 issue to 3rd April 1976 issue).   

Louis Crandell is…The Steel Claw
The Steel Claw, a great strip about a man who got himself a steel hand that could turn him invisible via a jolt of electricity (though the claw itself remained visible, I never got why he didn’t put it in the pocket of his trademark trenchcoat but whatever), the claw and the experience that attached it initially drove him insane and he was a criminal until the creative team decided to make him a hero instead and explained it away, he then joined the Shadow Squadron, a British secret service agency, hence why Nolan says he used to be ‘one of us’. The strip ran in Valiant from the 6th October 1962 issue until the 27th October 1973 issue, though he was reprinted in Vulcan and shared Stupendous Stories with The Spider, appearing in (roughly) alternating issues. It’s worth noting that the Steel Claw was huge abroad, appearing in print for a lot longer, notably in Sweden and South India. 

The Mad Little Fucker is…The Dwarf
Unofficially. From The Dwarf, our diminutive title character was a criminal mastermind not too unlike Doctor Rat from Rat Trap, though a lot more stylish. The strip ran in Jet, though I don’t know what issue it debuted in (it was there by issue 6) it lasted until the final issue (issue 22) but didn’t carry over to Buster after the merger.  

Penny Dolmann is… Bad Penny
So IPC lured away two big stars of the comic world from DC Thompon & Co – Ken Reid and Leo Baxendale – and pretty much gave them their own comic with Wham!, they were also instrumental in filling up Smash! and the later three Power Comics that joined them: Pow! Fantastic and Terrific, creating many of the humour strips that kept the Marvel Comic reprints apart. At Thomson & Co the two had created some of the most popular, and most enduring, characters in The Beano (the number 1 British comic book) including Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, The Bash Street Kids and Jonah but while I wouldn’t say Ken Rein especially tried to recreate or continue his big hits at IPC (the Queen of the High Seas aside), Baxendale definitely did, Bad Penny for instance was really just Minnie the Minx mark II, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a likable scamp or that her strip wasn’t funny, it was just kind of obvious to have another naughty little girl in red and black done by the creator of the most famous naughty little girl in red and black in the country. Bad Penny ran from the 5th February 1966 issue of Smash! (the first issue) until the 24th January 1970 issue. Her connection to the House of Dolmann is exclusive to Albion, but a pretty cool idea.

The Nasty Female Prisoners are… The Dolls of St. Dominic’s
As confirmed by the artist, I thought this as a bit disappointing, fitting perhaps but I just wish they’d used more unique characters, even if they were unofficial equivalents of characters from DC Thomson & Co (Beryl the Peril, Minnie the Minx etc), I like the Dolls of St. Dominic’s strip just fine – it’s an insane mix of The Bash Street Kids and St. Trinnian’s and is glorious – but I dunno, I just wish they’d done more with that side of things. Anyway The Dolls of St. Dominic’s, later The Tiddlers and the Dolls, ran in Pow!, debuting in the first issue (the 21 January 1967 issue), with the 53rd (13 January 1968 issue) the strip began to feature characters from Wham!’s strip The Tiddlers as that series had merged with Pow!. I don’t actually know when it ended, sometime between issue 69 and 75.

Martina is…Martha’s Monster Make-Up
Unofficially. I’ve already written a tribute about this strip, which ran in Monster Fun for the whole series, it’s one of my favourite comic strips of all time, up there with Grimley Feendish, the connection between her and Faceache – other than both being owned by Egmont and thus being represented in Albion by a Captain Ersatz apiece – is that that they were both created by Ken Reid and both being published at roughly the same time (Martha’s Monster Make-Up came a little after Faceache). 

Robot Archie is… ROBOT FUCKING ARCHIE!!
I just think Robot Archie is great, I think it might be in a slightly ironic way, but he’s just so charming and so awesome, even when the writers weren’t going for that. A long running strip if ever there was one – Robot Archie ran the first 25 issues of Lion (the 23rd February 1952 issue to the 9th August 1952 issue, though at the time the book numbered each issue), returned for 257 to 278 (19th January 1957 issue to the 15th June 1957 issue), took a break then came back for good with issue 299 (9th November 1957 issue), staying in the book until the final issue (18th May 1974 issue), Lion merged with Valiant and Archie took up residence there but sadly for only a short time – the 2nd November 1974 issue to the 7th December 1974 issue. A long running and popular strip, Archie started off as a ‘robot Indian Jones’, travelling the world and helping out sometimes quite racially stereotypical natives, before he kind of became the British equivalent of all those Super Robots from Japan, fighting whatever weird things the writer could come up, including a remote controlled rhinoceros and other IPC characters – Karl the Viking, The Spider and The Sludge. Archie was easily one of IPC’s most recognisable characters for a while, he is also RED, the company seemed to have trouble getting this across to the various people who painted covers, or simply coloured covers, for them and he’s been all sorts of colours including silver, yellow and green. Archie was popular in Europe, and in the Netherlands magazine Sjors new strips were produced by Bert Bus (who also redrew some old strips and produced a couple of albums – Annuals to us Brits), these were translated for the French market and some of them saw print in Vulcan (1st March 1975 issue to the 3rd April 1976 issue, the 31st of January 1976 issue upwards was new stories, previous Sjors material was redrawing of old Lion stories)       

Ian Eagleton is… Eagle Eye!
From the aforementioned Eagle Eye, Junior Spy – a fun spy parody by Leo Baxendale, Eagle Eye fought various oddballs, including his nemesis Grimley Feendish. It ran in every issue of Wham! from first to last but didn’t survive the merger with Pow!, meaning that its spin-off outlived it. Incidentally I really like the relationship and interaction between Eagleton and Feendish in Albion and wish Tim Kelly had had such a great scene in the story.

Zachary Nolan is…Zip Nolan
A highway patrolman (his change in profession is addressed in Albion via showing his employment record during a scan), Zip Nolan was part of a really clever little strip. Zip Nolan, Highway Patrolman ran from the 19th January 1963 issue to the 2nd of May 1962 issue of Lion, thereafter it became Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan until the end of series (9th May 1964 to 18th May 1972, though strips from the 3rd June 1972 issue until the last issue were reprints), Spot the Clue continued on into Valiant following the merger, from the 25th of May 1974 issue to the 21st February 1975 issue. The gimmick here was that you, the reader, had to spot the clue that caught the criminal, it was better in practice than it sounds.

The Security Guard at the entrance is… Jason Hyde
Jason Hyde was a man who was given X-Ray vision, which makes him a pretty good person to put on an entrance to somewhere, he appeared in a text feature in Valiant, yeah British comics had text features – small prose stories – for a LONG time, I don’t know if any child ever gave a shit about them after about 1950 but they kept on with them for ages, especially in the yearly annuals, there were some good ones too but if you put a wall of text next to a comic strip and sell it to a child who probably has just imbibed very sugary food stuffs I think I can jump to the conclusion of which is going to be preferred/read. Anyway The Astounding Jason Hyde ran from the 15th May 1965 issue of Valiant until the 11th of March 1968 issue.

Eric Dolmann is…Eric Dolmann
The hero of another classic adventure strip from IPC – The House of Dolmann, Eric Dolmann invented robots (‘puppets’) that may or may not have been sentient (the strip said he was throwing his voice, talking to himself to help solve problems essentially, which has led many a grown-up reader to dub him ‘a mad bastard’, they are probably right) and he used the puppets to do various good deeds, a heroic version of the Puppet Master franchise. Dolmann is dead in Albion, having died in prison (spoilers) and most of his puppets were confiscated, only Togo is still in Penny’s possession, all of her dolls (the pirate, the monkey, the gangster) are new, though she does meet up with Mole and Elasto at least by the end of the series. The House of Dolmann ran in Valiant from the 29th of October 1966 issue to the 26th of October 1974 issue, a good long run for a good fun strip, even if Togo might be a bit racist.

The Spider is… The Spider
The Spider is generally considered one of British Comics’ real gems, the King of Crooks who turned good because the villains offered more of a challenge retains a sizeable fanbase and even got a hardback reprint (which I of course own, I have the Steel Claw one too) and it would seem the Moores are part of this fanbase, they use him brilliant in this. Fun fact, although he didn’t co-create him (Reg Bunn and Ted Cowan did) Jerry Siegel wrote most of the Spider’s stories – yes, that Jerry Siegel, as in the man who co-created Superman and Starman Jerry Siegel. The Spider, later The Fantastic Spider, was generally awesome from the 26th June 1965 issue of Lion to the 9th December 1972 issue, though the title had been reprints since the 22nd of April 1972 issue, with the exception of his final issue, which was a new conclusion to the arc ‘The Spider v Spider Boy’.       

The Man in the Tank is….Fatty
The host for the Nervs (though I think the original strip implied that we were all filled with Nervs) and yeah he was really called that, and he wasn’t the only character either (Fatty from The Bash Street Kids, for instance) Tumblr would not like old British comics. The whole thing here is that the Nervs and the Numskulls were two very similar concepts from two competnig companies, I had thought for years this was accidental and the two appeared around the same time and the similarities were a coincidence - a British equivalent of Man-Thing and Swamp Thing, so sure was I of this I didn't bother to double check, but it turns out I'm wrong and the Numskulls pre-date the Nervs by four years - lord knows where I got the other idea from. Anyway both were tiny people who lived inside you, the Nervs dealt the whole body while the Numbskulls just worked in the head. The Nervs was IPC’s (well, Odham’s) little people inside you strip and ran from the first issue of Smash! (1st February 1966) until the 1st March 1969 issue, with 14th September 1968 issue Ken Reid took over the strip, introducing the ‘working class’ style Nervs used in Albion, his run was really fucking good.

The Brain is… Brian’s Brain
The story of a kid named Brian Kingsley and the artificial brain that helped him out from a really kind of creepy metal skull head he carried around in a box, his dad also built the Brain. Sadly it’s one of the strips I know the very least about when it comes to specifics, the first run of Brian’s Brain began in the first issue of Smash!  and it’s second run began in issue 144 but beyond that I got nothing, I like what I’ve read of the strip though.

Those two guys, the black haired one and the ginger one, are…. The Wild Wonders
These are named, along with Turville, later on but I think of them as ‘the two who are playing pool in issue 2’, they’re the Wild Wonders, two kids who grew up on Worrag Island in The Outer Hebrides and became top athletes, especially long-distance runners, it was fun twist on the standard (non-football) sports strip that boys comics used to run (the best still being Tough of the Track, a former text feature starring the awesome Alf Tupper) with nice art (by Mike Western). It ran from the 28th March 1964 issue of Valiant to the  13th December 1975 issue, yeah it ran for over a decade, sports strips were big (the football-themed Roy of the Rovers still gets a hardback annual each year!).

Captain Hurricane is… Captain Hurricane
Let’s just say that Captain Hurricane isn’t portrayed accurately, I think the Moores might be using him to make a few statements about certain types of Englishmen and certain types of characters, a ‘in the real world he’s obviously be like this’ interpretation if you will, now I can’t help but find ‘Hurricane as an insane racist anachronism pretty funny but I’m not sure, y’know, fans of the strip might and Captain Hurricane ran in every issue of Valiant, one of IPC’s most popular titles, that’s 14 years of strips, so I’m guessing it must have been fairly popular and it had a lot of time to instil itself into the nostalgia centres of a lot of kids. Hurricane used to go in kind of berserker rages and his batman Malone (who also stars in Albion as ‘Hurricane’s keeper) used to kind of control him/be his straight man/comedy relief, it was a semi-comical strip, not the best in Valiant nor in IPC’s history.     

Tri-Man is…Tri-Man
Tri-man only shows up in two panels in Albion, though he’s talked about a lot and his helmet and costume turn up, Tri-Man was a superhero who appeared in Smash! starting with the 20th September 1969 issue and lasted for 20 issues, he was a teenager who used a device (gotten from Professor Meek) to give him super sight, super speed, and super strength but needed recharging, he seems to be a bit of a punch-line in general but I like him fine enough, he has a great costume design.

The Two Floating Time Travellers are… The Legend Testers
Rollo Stones and Danny Charters, 40th century archaeologists from the Museum of Legend & Myth who travel in time to authenticate artefacts (the big cheaters), the strip The Legend Testers ran from 1966 to 1968 but because information on Smash! and the Power Comics is so scarce (and I don’t own the Power Pack Index because it’s seemingly impossible to find) I can’t tell you more than that.

James Hollis is… Rubberman
Another home grown British superhero, he was cursed by an Indian Fakir to be stretchy ala Plastic Man et all, The Rubberman debuted In issue 15 of Smash! (15th May 1966 issue) but see my paragraph on the Legend Testers for information on when it ended – that is: fucked if I know, it was still being published in issue 131 if some original art for sale online is anything to go by.

The drill vehicle is… The Worm
Unofficially. A strange choice as mostly everything besides cameos in this book are from IPC (regardless of whether AOL-Time-Warner actually owns them or not) but this is from a DC Thomson & Co strip The Black Sapper, where it was the vehicle of the titular Black Sapper, a supervillain who later became a superhero because someone decided it was so, kind of like The Steel Claw only without a retcon to explain it. Initially it was a text feature, debuting in The Rover in issue 384 (Aug. 24 1929) while his comic strip first appeared in issue 197 of The Beezer and ran until issue 267, then it switched over to Hotspur for two runs - the first in issues 602 (1st May 1971) to 623 (25th September 1971) and the second in issues 729 (6th October 1973) to 730 (22nd December 1973)

The Queen of the High Seas is… The Buoyant Queen
The Queen of the High Seas was the name of the strip (which ran from Smash issue 1 to issue 43) and I was so pleased by this reveal, who else to take them to Cursitor Doom’s castle than the Buoyant Queen? Even its dopey crew – Captain Enoch Drip and Bosun Bert Bloop get a nice scene or two (though do you think they’re intentionally supposed to come off as a couple in Albion? I wouldn’t object in the slightest but I wonder if it was meant to read like that or it’s just me and my big ol’ shipping goggles), it does kind of work against my statement that Ken Reid didn’t really try to remake/continue his big DC Thomson & Co hits at Odham’s though, given that one of his biggest strips was Jonah, about a daft sailor – though most of Jonah’s humour came more from being unlucky rather than from him being thick I guess.    

The giant robot gorilla is… Mytek the Mighty!
Ooooh yeah, built by a white colonist professor in the image of the god of the Akari tribe of Africa, who made his research mission there so troublesome by trying to kill him, to hopefully convince them to stop their warlike ways and not kill him and his team but robo-Mytek was then nicked by his assistant Gogra, a short fellow who appears before the ape in Albion shouting about his machine, what followed was a lot of people trying to stop a giant robot gorilla, or a giant robot gorilla trying to stop something – it was pretty damn glorious I can tell ya, once the colonialism thing was done with and we were just down to big robot monkey smashing shit with great art from Eric Bradbury. Mytek the Mighty ran in Valiant from the 26th September 1964 issue to the 31st of January 1970 issue. Like a lot of the big adventure strip characters – Archie, Steel Claw etc – Mytek was big in Europe and thereabouts, having his own self-titled comic. 

The man who takes Cursitor Doom is… Adam Eterno!
The assistant of an alchemist, cursed to live for all time after drinking his boss’ Elixir of Life before it was quite ready, Adam Eterno was another shit hot adventure strip from IPC, hell he even has his own exhaustive fan page [http://adameternoforever.tripod.com/id65.html], Eterno first appeared in Thunder, a very short lived sister title for Lion and Valiant, it only lasted 22 issues (remember British comics are published much more frequently than American ones, Thunder lasted less than a year) – but Adam Eterno was in all 22, Thunder then merged with Lion and Adam Eterno stuck around there from the 20th March 1971 issue until the 18th May 1974, the last issue of the series before Lion merged with Valiant whereupon Eterno survived for a second time appearing from the 25th May 1974 issue to the 16th October 1976 issue. Oh and as I mentioned him just the previous paragraph, Adam’s strips in Thunder were drawn by the same Eric Bradbury who drew Mytek the Mighty (his strips in later magazines came from the Solano Lopez Studio).

And (finally) that’s all of the major characters spotted, but of course that still leaves all the cameos... 

Many thanks to Comics UK forum posters blaing, Phoenix and Digifiend for the Black Sapper and Nervs information. 

2 comments:

  1. The Numskulls first appeared in 1962, four years before the Nervs. So the similarity is no coincidence. It's more like the connection between Minnie the Minx and Bad Penny. A strip was popular at DC Thomson so Odhams created something similar.

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  2. how strange, I was suer I read somewhere they debuted around the same time, oh well, thanks a bunch, I'll go and revise the section.

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