Having picked some of our favourite winter-themed episodes from the Anderson television shows, it only seems logical to cast an eye over the various comics based on those shows and pick out five strip stories that also feature snowy and icey settings. From alien worlds to behind enemy lines, there were no shortage of stories with a seasonal flavour – so here are five of our favourites!
Fireball XL5 – Icemen of Space
This creepy and atmospheric story finds the Fireball XL5 crew investigating the mysterious disappearances of several surveyors on the frozen planet Uraniture, only to encounter a race of zombie snowmen and their leader Klawking. Can Steve Zodiac and co avoid sharing the same fate as the surveyors – or will they too join the ranks of the living dead?
An expected and rare foray into zombie horror for TV Century 21, one that turns the familiar and reassuring winter figure of a snowman into a genuinely disturbing adversary for our heroes. While the story can be a little simplistic at points, and some questions elude explanation altogether (if the snowman army represents astronauts who have fallen under the power of Klawking, then why did nobody on Earth notice so many men had gone missing and yet still continue to send more?) it succeeds in creating a doom-laden atmosphere that leads to a suitably downbeat conclusion. By taking the simple idea of a snowman and twisting it in a new and terrifying direction (brought to life by some typically dynamic Mike Noble artwork) this is an unexpectedly chilling tale that lingers long in the memory. If it’s not one you remember, give it a look in the Fireball XL5 60th Anniversary Comic Anthology!
Stingray – The Weather Mystery
A plot to flood the world by melting the ice caps brings Stingray to the Arctic, where – shock! – Troy appears to side with those responsible! Can our hero have turned traitor, or is it all a ruse to mislead the masterminds behind a plan for global destruction and world domination?
Unusually for a Stingray story the creatures faced by Troy and Phones do not hail from under the sea, but are instead robots of extra-terrestrial origin – the one-armed Vidos. Having landed their spaceship in the Arctic it now serves as the base of operations for their plan to cripple humanity by affecting the Earth’s weather, and Troy and Phones’ discovery and investigation of this base provides some atmospheric imagery and memorable moments. The Vidos themselves are also intriguing villains, and Ron Embleton’s artwork helps reinforce the notion of these creatures as sleek dispassionate robots rather than the more traditional Stingray fishmen. Some might argue that the creatures and their base are disposed of rather too efficiently by the story’s end, but the Vidos were certainly among the more memorable antagonists faced by the Stingray crew in the pages of TV Century 21, and it’s a shame that this story represents their only appearance.
Thunderbirds – Antarctic Menace
The Eastern European state of Bereznik make the first of two appearances on this list, as they embark on an attack against a highway linking Antarctica to Australia – along with the help of a mad scientist and his army of robotic penguins and polar bears!
While a mad scientist was nothing new in the pages of TV21, Professor Volzac is notable for the way he adapts his genius to make use of the story’s Antarctic setting, from using an iceberg as a remote controlled vehicle capable of capturing Thunderbirds 1 and 4 to his armies of robotic penguins which are both amusing and a genuinely dangerous threat – particularly when they attack en masse. While at its core it is a very simple mad scientist story, Antarctic Menace is lots of fun and provides plenty of memorable moments and images (as well as another welcome chance for Gordon Tracy to take centre stage) that also make excellent use of the story’s setting without its more outlandish elements undermining the serious nature of the story. And really, who isn’t interested in reading a Thunderbirds comic drawn by Frank Bellamy in which a berserk robot penguin with a chest-mounted machine gun cries ‘wheeee-ainnng’ before exploding?
Captain Scarlet – Secret Mission
Bereznik are back again in force for a taut political thriller that sees the state pitted again the Spectrum organisation – all courtesy of the Mysterons, naturally!
Taking advantage of the extensive world building that had been one of the major strengths of the TV21 comic pre-Scarlet, Secret Mission sees our hero alone behind enemy lines on a mission to thwart a Mysteron attempt to assassinate the Bereznik president. Tensions are already high on both sides after Scarlet assisted a scientist in defecting from Bereznik to the West, and now the Mysterons plan to use the smouldering border conflict – and Scarlet himself – to achieve their latest objective.
While the winter setting has little impact on the story it does help to heighten the sense of isolation and desperation as Scarlet takes on the formidable might of Bereznik – only to be faced with the prospect of all out war after the Mysterons actually succeed in their efforts to kill the president. Mike Noble’s spectacular artwork also once again elevates the story above even the usual high standards for Captain Scarlet stories in TV21, helping to bring a greater degree of realism to this fast-paced tale.
Space Precinct – Christmas Spirit
Stories focusing on Christmas were rare enough in the Anderson television shows, and even rarer in spinoff media. However, issue 4 of the short-lived Space Precinct comic (released in December 1995) featured a heavy festive flavour, with a beautiful cover featuring the officers of Precinct 88 enjoying the season, and this complete strip story in which Captain Podly and Slomo team up to deal with an armed and dangerous robotic Father Christmas run amok at Bracy’s department store.
Gary Chaloner’s vibrant and colourful art lends this story a delightfully seasonal feel, and includes such interesting touches as the same green snow seen in the episode Hate Street and one or two background aliens lifted from other famous screen franchises. The unusual pairing of Podly and Slomo leads to some unique and entertaining interactions between the pair, while the robotic Santa manages to go from a threat to a likeable and sympathetic character by the story’s end. It probably wouldn’t have worked on television, but Christmas Spirit tells a light-hearted Christmas story that still features credible stakes while making excellent use of two Space Precinct characters who had little on-screen interaction.
There’s certainly many more strip stories in the Anderson comics universe offering a winter-themed setting – but which are some of your favourites? Let us know in the comments below!