Continued from part 1…
An uncredited Mario Capaldi took over for the last complete b/w strip The Machine Maker, which starts with Rule and the Contessa taking a break at her villa in the Italian Alps. A strange hand-made mini-‘helicopter’ with a message for help involves them with an eccentric who believes he is the famous Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, whose mountain castle is under siege by bandits. A rather oddball tale in another unusual location, it stands up as a satisfying if somewhat whimsical read.
‘Oddball’ could definitely be applied to the next story, as The Protectors returns to colour for its final serial Houdini Whodunnit!. Master Magician Magus the Magnificent hires Rule, with Suki in tow, to protect him from his rival ‘Mystic Chang’, who wants the secret of Houdini’s escape from the ‘Chinese Water Torture Chamber’ act. Chang strikes by kidnapping Suki during a demonstration of a vanishing act, and subjects her to the water torture chamber to force Magus into revealing the secret. With various tricks played by the Mystic, it certainly is an entertaining close to the weekly adventures. Capaldi, now credited, used bold hues to the fullest, and gives the serial some nicely menacing compositions.
The Protectors had an extra outing in the TV Action Holiday Special available from May. Despite its mixed fortunes in the weekly editions, it cannot be said that the series was not given a fair crack of the whip here, with two photos on the cover, and more b/w stills as part of the montage background to editor Dennis Hooper’s seasonal salutation. Two of the three full colour spreads were given over to a photo feature on the three stars, plus Yasuko Nagazumi (incorrectly spelt ‘Nagamumi’) as Suki, and a ‘Play the Protectors’ game with more b/w stills. If you had the time, patience, and a pair of scissors with which to vandalise your copy (spoiler alert if you still haven’t done it!), the three stars were the subject of the ‘Picture Probe’ puzzle, and had a few clues in the TV Crossword. The Hunter was a concise and action-packed b/w strip featuring the three main characters, plus Chino, with lively art by Cannon artist Martin Asbury. This kicks off with a two-page prologue as they rescue Professor Holstein’s wife from behind the Iron Curtain. The rest of the story set two months on concerns another defector, Holstein’s assistant Rudowski. But Rule and the Contessa are wary of the newcomer, which turns out to be justified.
With TV Action coming to a close at the end of August, the window was missed for it to advertise its 1974 annual, as well as one dedicated solely to The Protectors, even though both went on sale that same week. This slim 60-page hardback offered all new material, including four strips – three of which were in full colour – and three text stories, as well as full page colour photos and profiles of the three main stars.
The first strip, Win At Any Price! deals with a corrupt racing car magnate Baron Wilhelm von Starken who is out to ruin his ex-top driver turned competitor Jim Anderson. It is a fair tale though the script seems slightly stilted in places, as Harry and the Contessa find out von Starken is responsible for the fire that destroyed one car. They bug the Baron and find out he plans a similar fate for Anderson’s workshop, so with some cunning he is brought to the building just as he thinks it will be blown up, forcing a confession. Unlike the weekly strips, none of these are credited but the style is recognisably that of ex-TV21 artist Michael Strand, who had also drawn Stingray, Lady Penelope and Joe 90 for Countdown.
The House on the Hill is the first of two strips by occasional contributor to Countdown/TV Action, artist Malcolm Stokes. Property developer Hawkes is having problems with his crew, scared by local tales of ghosts on the Cornish coastland he has bought. Harry and the Contessa investigate, and find that old smuggler’s tunnels and caves are being used again by the original owner of the land. It is a taut tale with a lot of twists. The Forest Rebels is the only strip to be set abroad, as Harry protects his friend General Cadin, President of the African state of Zaraga, from revolutionary leader Major Kendat. Harry suspects that scrap metal merchant-turned-land clearer Kelly is not what he seems. True to Harry’s instincts, Kelly is really selling the rebels obsolete army surplus tanks and weapons he was supposed to dispose of.
Opinions are divided on the artist of the last strip, Missing Container, with it attributed to Dan Dare and Thunderbirds artist Don Harley, although some looks like the work of Michael Strand again. As both were represented by agency B.L. Kearley, one wonders if the artists shared duties on it. Cargo containers belonging to Crane Haulage are being stolen on the open road, and Harry is called in to investigate. Paul Buchet teams up with driver Spud Murphy but both pass out and their container disappears. Harry finds a disused railway siding is being used to steal the containers before the lorries are returned to where they stopped, after the drivers had been drugged at the popular roadside café they all use for a break.
The Protectors and TV Action would end an unbroken perennial run of Anderson-based annuals, after fourteen years and over thirty titles based on series and related comics. With no other competition in the older children’s age range, the readership – like some of the artists – moved to the Junior TVTimes Magazine Look-In, now in its third year. Within its pages, they would enjoy new television science-fiction strips such as The Tomorrow People and The Six Million Dollar Man. And, in another couple of years, one based on a new Anderson series…
Thanks again to Shaqui Le Vesconte for penning this feature on the history of The Protectors in TV Action, which unfortunately we didn’t have room to include in the second volume of the UFO Comic Anthology – which is now available from our online store!