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TV21 – Reprints in the 21st Century (part 3) – Egmont’s Comic Collection

Hot on the heels of the collapse of the Gerry Anderson Comics Collection partwork came Egmont with Thunderbirds – The Comic Collection, a hardback volume of strips released in 2013 as part of their Classic Comics range. Sixteen Thunderbirds stories from the pages of TV21 representing an almost complete chronological run from late 1967 to early 1970 (albeit with six stories absent) and four Lady Penelope adventures made up the book, including;

Thunderbirds; The Earthquake Maker, Visitor from Space, The Antarctic Menace, Brains is Dead, The Space Cannon, The Olympic Plot, Devil’s Crag, The Eiffel Tower Demolition, The Nuclear Threat, The Hawaiian Lobster Menace, The Time Machine, The Zoo Ship, City of Doom, Chain Reaction, The Big Bang and The Mini Moon.
Lady Penelope; Mr Steelman, The Isle of Arran Riddle, The Vanishing Ray and The Enemy Spy.

Also featured throughout the book were several of the cutaway cross-sections produced by Graham Bleathman for the 1990s Thunderbirds comic, plus his paintings showing the launch sequences for the Thunderbirds vehicles. This was a nice inclusion, and the introduction also did a good job of placing TV21 and the Thunderbirds strip in particular in its proper historical context within the wider world of British comics.

It’s commendable that Egmont steered clear of the earliest (and thus most-often reprinted) Thunderbirds strips for this first book (perhaps due to their recent inclusion in the partwork), preferring instead to concentrate on tales that hadn’t received as much exposure over the years. Stories like The Zoo Ship or City of Doom show that the Thunderbirds strip could still turn out impressive adventures in the latter years of its run, at least while Frank Bellamy was the main illustrator, and those later stories deserved just as much attention as the earlier strips.

Running to nearly 300 pages this was a terrific start to Egmont’s range of reprints (and for those who couldn’t afford to put down the full £25 for it the strips in this book was also re-released as a series of five softback books) but this was only the beginning as 2014 saw the release of two Gerry Anderson titles from Egmont.

The first, simply titled Gerry Anderson The Comic Collection, brought together a variety of stories from the pages of TV21 including;

Fireball XL5; The Vengeance of Saharis, Electrode 909 and The Giant Ant Invasion.
Stingray; The Flying Fish Mystery, The Medallion Mystery and The Monster Weed.
Lady Penelope; Behind Enemy Lines and Steelman Strikes Back.
Thunderbirds; Revolt on Jupiter, Jungle Adventure, Danger in Deep and Seeking Disaster.
Zero-X; Return to the Red Planet and Prisoners of the Star.
Captain Scarlet; We Will Destroy Earth Communications, Secret Mission and Blue Mysteronised!.
Joe 90: Collision Disaster and Mac Missing.

Alongside these were The Angels with the first five chapters of their origin story, and all twenty-three instalments of the first Marina, Girl of the Sea adventure. Also included were several features on the history of TV21, the various television series it was based on and the key artists who were involved.

This was possibly the best of the Egmont titles so far due to the variety of the series featured and the inclusion of certain strips that had until now slipped the net of previous reprint volumes. Electrode 909 is a real highlight of the TV21 years and may possibly be the best Fireball XL5 story of all time, while the inclusion of Prisoners of the Star gave the Zero-X section a chance to show the series at its most compelling. It’s also worth noting that the four Thunderbirds strips featured here were part of the six absent from the first volume, perhaps showing that Egmont had long term plans for this series right from the start and were intentionally holding a few back just in case.

The second Egmont title of 2014, Inside the Worlds of Gerry Anderson, was a little different, collecting all the beautiful Graham Bleathman vehicle cutaways that had appeared in the pages of the Fleetway comics of the early 1990s. It was such an obvious thing to publish that it’s surprising it had taken this long for it to happen, and the sheer variety of material he covered in the Fleetway publications is still extremely impressive; ranging from the usual assortment of hero craft to more obscure one-off guest vehicles from the television series such as the Crablogger, the Spectrum Hovercraft or the World Army’s U87 transporter and even to craft and locations that only ever appeared in the pages of TV21 such as the Sea Leopard, the President ocean liner and the Atlantic Tunnel. Most of the cutaways in this volume came from Graham’s original artwork, giving them a vibrancy that might otherwise be absent if scanned from lesser sources.

Unfortunately, some of the cutaways were confined to a single (portrait) page rather than the full two-page spread; extra pages would have certainly pushed the price up, but in this case it would have been worth it. Every single picture in this book is a work of art.

Egmont released a second collection of Thunderbirds strips in 2015, but unfortunately this was something of a step down from previous titles. It’s understandable the company would want to do something Thunderbirds-related during the show’s fiftieth anniversary year, but with so little material left to reprint it was back to the earliest TV21 strips once again with;

Thunderbirds; Blazing Danger, Mission to Africa, Talons of the Eagle, The Atlantic Tunnel, Solar Danger, The Big Freeze, Operation Depthprobe, The Trapped Spy, Operation Earthquake, Tracy Island Exposed, The Revolution and The Space Mirror.

all of which (with the single exception of The Space Mirror) had only recently been reprinted in the Eaglemoss partwork, although of course that hadn’t received a nationwide release. It’s always nice to see this classic material back on the shelves, hopefully for a new audience to discover, but for long-time fans of the comics there was nothing here we hadn’t seen many many times before. It might have been nice to shake things up a bit for the anniversary year by including stories from across the five decades of Thunderbirds comics; for instance, some of the original strips created for the 1990s comics. The only genuine flaw with this release however was chapter five of The Big Freeze – because it wasn’t there! Chapter three was reprinted in its place by mistake, and Egmont remained silent on the issue of replacements or reprints. It was only one chapter of a story that’s been reprinted several times over the years, but it was a definite flaw.

Another more general criticism levelled at these Egmont books (with the exception of the cross-sections one) was that the artwork within was of extremely variable quality. Despite what the covers say very little (if any) original artwork seemed to have been used here, and instead came from scans of original comics. Specks of dirt and other imperfections in the image were present throughout, with The Angels strip in particular looking very grotty, and colours sometimes seemed to drift a little. Stories with black-and-white artwork remained monochrome except for the two Joe 90 stories which had obviously been lifted from the 1995 Joe 90 comic, where they were colourised – passably so at the time but someone could probably do a much better job of it today.

Most disappointing of all was seeing the stunning artwork of Captain Scarlet falling from the Eiffel Tower in Blue Mysteronised! with a lot of crease lines running across the centre of the image. If this was all that was available then fair enough but the picture quality of some of these strips was worlds away from what we saw in the Reynolds and Hearn volumes.

Some other positives and negatives of this series…

Positives; at nearly 300 pages per book the quantity of strips contained within each volume made these collections excellent value for money, especially if you were able to grab Thunderbirds volume 1 for the bargaintastic price of £3 from The Works! The cross-sections volume was also a wonderful and unexpected surprise.

Negatives; slightly poorer quality paper than other reprints (though understandable given the number of pages), the variable quality of the artwork, and the missing chapter of The Big Freeze.

Unfortunately Egmont’s involvement with Gerry Anderson comics ended after the second volume of Thunderbirds reprints, and any future plans they may have had never came to fruition – however, all four titles (plus the five paperbacks containing the strips from the first Thunderbirds collection) remain surprisingly easy to acquire for reasonable prices. For a year or so around the show’s fiftieth anniversary about 95% of the Thunderbirds TV21 strips were back in print and sitting in UK bookstores – a pretty impressive achievement!  – and the cutaways book was essential for any Gerry Anderson fan, making Egmont’s output well worth tracking down if you don’t already have it.

From 2009 to 2015 three different publishers re-released a bumper crop of vintage Anderson comic strips – but what does the future hold for further reprints of this classic material from the golden age of British comics? Stay on this channel – because the story definitely isn’t over yet!

Written by
Chris Dale

Writer, editor & voice actor on Big Finish's Doctor Who, Terrahawks, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet audio ranges. Host of the Randomiser on the Gerry Anderson Podcast.

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