Saturday, January 13, 2007

The spin-offs roll on: Tornado

After I finished reading all 22 issues of Starlord (a month well-spent, by the way), I had a go at Tornado. I don't know why, but it seems to be harder to get hold of these, and I only managed to get hold of number 2 and number 11. Based on them, I was ready to launch into an all-out lambasting of the comic as being unutterably feeble. But since then I've found issues 1, which was really rather good, and 10, which was pretty weak.

I have not been moved to seek out a complete collection with any alacrity, but I suspect it wouldn't be such a chore to read the lot one day.

Tharg himself gives an introduction to the comic, explaining that 2000 AD readers aren't only interested in Sci-Fi. Hence Tornado is an action comic that has stories in all settings - present day, future and past. Another introduction over on Wikipedia informed me that Tharg was telling a bit of a fib. Tornado wasn't intended to branch out of 2000 AD, rather, it was a home for a bunch of stories left over from other comics that had folded. Hence, it features war stories and historical tales alongside sci-fi, detectives, and Stig of the Dump. This doesn't imply that the strips within will be much good, but they're not universally rubbish either. Redeeming features abound, and I'm a big fan of those (admittedly in films more than comics, but that's for a separate blog entirely, methinks).

Poking fun again, here's a look at the cover to Issue 1. Yes, it is hard to show Wolfie Smith using his mind power without looking like he's trying to evacuate his entire colon, but they could maybe have found a better pic for the cover, yes?

Oh well, I'm sure the free gift was enticing in its own way. Not helped, however, by resident photo-hero Big E giving safety advice to go with the Turbo Flyer. I don't recall Tharg going to such great lengths with his Space Spinner...
Perhaps not a direct rival, but 2000 AD at this time had just gone past Prog 100, and was celebrating in style: Judge Dredd fighting back against mad Cal, Robo-Hunter in the middle of the sublime Verdus storyline, Ro-Busters and Strontium Dog building on the solid Starlord foundation. Even Dan Dare was acquitting himself, what with the the return of Treens and the Mekon.

But, as I said, Tornado gets off to a flying start. Victor Drago is already a well-formed character who launches straight into an adventure without the need for much introduction. (Apparently he's a comics incarnation of pulp detective Sexton Blake. That's kind of interesting). Shame he ends up in illustrated text stories by issue 7. Cardinal sin, that. I've barely forgiven Devlin Waugh for the same offense.

Next, Wolfie Smith reveals his childhood to us and sets up what really could have been an enduring character. Come on, it could have been. The boy is an outsider with a whole range of mind powers (not as strong as the twins from Mind Wars, though) that keep getting him into trouble. He's got a cool haircut. He's a little bit evil - perhaps if he'd been more evil the series would have lasted longer? I can just imagine Warren Ellis taking him on now, and making him totally amoral. Anyway, he was a good choice to move into 2000 AD when the time came (I assume he was popular, too). The opening episode sees him getting run out of school and home by unsympathetic parents and manipulative teachers. But by the next week he's caught up in some rich man's affairs and I didn't really care. I guess it's kind of like the Incredible Hulk TV show. You can have some fun episodes, but there's not enough of an overall hook to make you care.

Sorry, Wolfie, I've got a feeling that many a squaxx feels the same way as Benson. But, despite two over-long and mostly bland adventures in 2000 AD, The Adventures of Wolfie Smith is part of the legacy, and not to be ignored. Especially with some Redondo art to keep it spooky.

And with that, The Angry Planet.

The mighty Hebden/Belardinelli combination that would later give us Meltdown Man. This series (again based on 3 episodes only) is the exact opposite of Wolfie Smith, what with a great hook to make you care about the whole thing (put-upon Martian farmers vs Mars, Incorporated), but some pretty silly episodes along the way. Belardinelli draws a mean environment, but some of the ideas are just too stupid for words. Dogroids. Honestly, what was Hebden thinking? Still, I'd love to read this all in one go. Not holding my breath for a reprint, though.

'The Tale of Benkei' is a retelling of an old japanese legend by Steve Moore. Which, despite being written in 1979, feels exactly like a 'Tale of Telguuth'. Benkei turns out to be a master swordsman, but a nasty sort with it. He soon gets his comeuppance, and then finds himself bound to a more noble man who gets him involved in political machinations. It's quite good. Shame it only lasts 3 episodes.

As if to prove that Tornado is a properly eclectic anomaly, Captain Klep expodes into full-colour life on the back page. Being a single-pager, it feels like a Beano strip. Kev O'Neill plays this up with his use of labels in a Leo Baxendale style. The 'story' if there is one, is a bizarre satire of US superheroes. In the early O'Neill strips this is rather vicious, like a proto Marshall Law. Check out his thinly disguised Marvel and DC icons, shown in rags with paunches. Nasty.

These come from epsiode 2, which is the only good episode of Klep I've read. And the jokes in it are pretty obvious, so it's only the fun of seeing a brit-slob version of Captain Amercia, the Flash, Thor and others that makes it worth owning.
Despite these treats, Captain Klep is the unfunniest strip ever to grace 2000 AD (to which it graduated once 2000 AD and Tornado merged), and probably most other IPC mags, too. O'Neill was well rid of it by that time (no doubt working on the similar and vastly superior Dash Decent), and instead we were left with jokes about Superman that hadn't been used up in the first two episodes already. I'm not sure how Klep made it into 2000 AD, but I suppose the fact that it only took up a single page helped. No harm in experimenting, I suppose. I give it a special 'Wolfie Smith' the Pain award, 'cos it's so bad, it made him try to drown himself...

Later issues of Tornado introduced three other characters:
Johnny Lawless, a leather-jacket wearing gruff playboy/biker/thief/spy/knockoff. I don't rate the one episode I've had the misfortune to read.
Storm - the Stig of the Dump clone, who was at least drawn well by an early Cam (credited as S. Kennedy) Kennedy. He's a wild boy brought into the modern world to be a star athlete and to eat proper food for a change...

And of course, Blackhawk, the Nubian warrior turned Roman Slave turned Gladiator turned soldier turned Centurion turned 2000 AD character and therefore thrust directly into space to be a gladiator (with aliens) again. Blackhawk is pretty cool, and he got to be drawn by Azpiri early on, which is always a good thing. Check out this smoky apparition that startles our hero.

I'd like to read more early Blackhawk (I suspect the Tornado efforts are superior to the 2000 AD as-yet-unfinished sequel), but I can wait.

Tornado fans (are there any?) will have noticed I've left off one long-running strip. That's because it's my favourite, and it all starts in a Siberian prisoner of war camp:


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