Acknowledging that Thunderbirds is a 60s show, I feel that not nearly enough is said about a lot of the cool stuff that happened during its 90s relaunch. Thunderbirds’ reappearance on BBC 2 started a huge shockwave of new content and material ranging from toys, books, games, and most importantly to me “Thunderbirds the Comic.”
Thunderbirds the Comic is often relegated as a footnote towards the end of articles talking about its larger predecessor, “TV21”. However, to me it was a very decent and sometimes superior comic in its own right, along with its companions, the Stingray, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90 comics.
There are a lot of things I can talk about it; the wonderful comic art, the brand new stories and the enthralling cutaways but I am here to talk about just one aspect which made a particular impression on me as a kid, “The Story of Thunderbirds”. (spoilers ahead).
Illustrated by the hugely talented Andrew Skilleter, (check out a selection of his work here). The part comic, part interview style novel, occupied a double page spread over many issues and was TV21 creator, Alan Fennell’s attempt to bring fans the Thunderbirds prequel they had been asking for.
The Story follows a young Jeff Tracy and the important parts of his life that eventually lead to the formation of International Rescue. We see the run up to his historic space mission (now a commemorative mission to the moon as opposed to being the first man on the moon), a chance encounter in his training that brings him to the island for the first time, the rise of his company “Tracy Construction and Aerospace”, the birth of his 5 sons, all of whom we are treated to some very nice backstories for, and the tragedy that claims the life of his wife and father.
The comic really shines in these first issues. It offers us a nice view of the future, but very much influenced by the time the strip was written in. We also get to meet Jeff’s wife, Lucille. Up until this point it had always been pretty vague how she died, what she was called or how she was able to bare 5 sons of 3 different hair colours.
The story of her passing is told by Jeff over a two-page painting of an avalanche decimating the Tracy holiday home and to me is very well done. It nicely turns what is essentially a gap in the show into the driving force of Jeff’s character and in some ways changes the way you view him in the show.
Following Lucille’s death, Jeff goes into a breakdown and runs away. Crashing his plane and starting a string of chance encounters with Kyrano, Tin-Tin and The Hood. When a ferry capsizes nearby, Jeff organises a rescue. Now with a renewed purpose in life, he reunites with his sons and begins the long process of setting up IR.
Along the way we meet, Brains, Penelope and slowly see IR evolve into something more familiar.
I can accept the comic has its faults. Its pacing is a little jagged because it is presented in such small instalments, but as a 3-5 year old one of the great things every week was getting a new piece of the story that led up to the show I love. It seamlessly expanded Thunderbirds and made it feel like the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger story. It also somewhat made up for the lack of characterisation that was shown on screen.
Sadly, the Complete Thunderbirds story has never been reprinted and the only way to read it is to gather the majority of Thunderbirds the Comic. Maybe one day it might see the light of day again.
For those less fortunate you can read a better summery at the Gerry anderson Comic History.