Volume 4 of Network‘s Joe 90 Blu-Ray collections of the Gerry Anderson series features the final six episodes, beautifully remastered in HD, and a brand-new comic featuring art from acclaimed comics artist Paul McCaffrey.
The special Blu-Ray also features a brand-new paperback book on the making of Joe 90 by acclaimed archive television historian Andrew Pixley.
Regular readers of downthetubes will of course recall this isn’t the first time Network has produced a special Anderson-inspired comic. The first, edited by Martin Cater, featured as part of their wonderful Supermarionation collection featured a continuation of TV21 – and a comic featuring new cover art from the late Mike Noble and Lee Sullivan was also part of their now sold out Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Volume 4 release.
The story in the comic offers a cracking adventure with Joe and the team, as an unlikely spy tries to steal the secrets of the BIG RAT… but why, and for who?
“Following on from the TV21 and Captain Scarlet projects, this one again takes the form of a ‘parallel universe’ version of Joe 90 comic imagining it taking a new direction rather than going through the merger with TV21,” says editor Martin Cater. “I always felt Joe 90 got short shrift in the comics department, with black and white strips in his own publication, and only the two Annuals presenting anything remotely worthwhile, so I hoped we could aim for something better.
“I wanted a story that focused on character, as well as including an action sequence with Mac’s car, and a scene in which Joe faces danger without his glasses. I was aiming for the tone of the TV episodes, and I hope we got reasonably close. Paul McCaffrey’s illustration work is, as ever, exemplary.”
You can order the new Blu-Ray here, direct from Network – and if the sales of past specials are anything to go by, you’d better get in quick!
LOOKING BACK AT JOE 90 AND JOE 90 COMIC
Joe 90 made his first appearance on Blu-Ray from Network last year, fifty years on from his first appearance.
While the trade press had been alerted to the new series as early as August 1967, most readers of TV21 only became of the new series when a large, half-page advertisement in Issue 191, cover dated 14th September 2068, promoted three of that year’s crop of annuals. Thunderbirds and Project Sword were familiar enough, but what was Joe 90?
For some, that question would soon be answered, with Gerry Anderson’s new series first broadcast in the ITV Midlands and Tyne Tees regions from 29th September 1969 (this was a time when ITV had different schedules in different parts of the country). But the show wasn’t aired across most of the country until January 1969, which explains why the new Joe 90 comic didn’t launch until then, too.
(Border held out until September 1970, but Grampian viewers were left to wait a full ten years, with the most special agent finally reaching the highlands in October of 1978. This was as nothing compared to the situation in the Yorkshire area, where the series went unseen until the early 80s; by which time even Joe himself had grown up…)
As Martin Cater notes in article on Joe 90‘s debut on the Network web site, which we have been given permission to draw on for this article, the different times of broadcast across the UK, despite heavy promotion in some areas, such as London by LWT, who pitched Gerry Anderson’s Most Special Agent against Doctor Who on Saturdays at 5.15pm, was in marked contrast to the support and press coverage given to Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.
Even TV21 gave the new show little coverage until it went “national”, teasing readers with a countdown to the launch of the new Joe 90 comic through January 1969.
Century 21, makers of the the Anderson series were gung ho about the new show through 1968, but although the Joe 90 brand appeared on products as diverse as bubble gum and breakfast cereal, there would ultimately be less on offer in the way of toys and collectables. Where Captain Scarlet had provided a wide range of exciting vehicles and characters ripe for exploitation by toy manufacturers, there was considerably less hardware in Joe 90, with only Mac’s ‘Jet Air Car’ and Sam Loover’s drab grey saloon being offered as die-cast and plastic models.
Pedigree (known for their traditional dolls and bears) produced a small Joe 90 doll, but its whimsical, almost kewpie-esque appearance had only limited appeal to fans; and Letraset also offered two sets of Action Transfers based on the show, featuring illustrations by N. Faure and the brilliant Brian Lewis, with text by E.C. Tubb (familiar to Space:1999 fans as the author of several of the 1999 novelisations).
Besides the short-lived Joe 90 comic, the must-have item of Joe 90 merchandise was a facsimile of his briefcase, seen in the end titles but barely glimpsed in the actual episodes. This came complete with plastic replicas of Joe’s radio, glasses and pistol, alongside a few small notebooks. Joe’s case, this time in cardboard, also formed the imaginative packaging for a dressing-up outfit, comprising the red tunic and trousers seen in Most Special Agent, together with a soft cap.
Joe 90: Top Secret No.1 launched on 15th January 1969, a companion paper to TV21, following the same format with 20 tabloid sized pages, printed in high quality photogravure, six in full colour. “The cover design of the early issues was quite distinctive,” notes comics archivist Lew Stringer, “leading with a documentary style opening to the Joe 90 comic strip over the page.
“… It has to be said that unfortunately Joe 90 was one of the weakest strips in his own comic” he notes. “I suspect the editors knew this too, which may be why the comic’s full colour pages were devoted to two strong and dynamic supporting strips based on American TV shows.”
Of the four television strips it introduced, Joe 90 offered one-off adventures, most drawn, and later written by Dan Dare and Captain Scarlet artist Keith Watson. Shaquille le Vesconte notes in his guide to the comic, archived here on Wayback, that it was probably the most appealing to front the comic, as the World Intelligence Network, just like Secret Agent 21 and Spectrum in TV21, provided a ready-made editorial sounding board. Like TV21 before it, and to a less successful degree, another short-lived Century 21 comic, Solo, the readership of the comic could be made ‘agents’ and issued – as free gifts in subsequent issues – a WIN badge and decoding book. The BIG RAT computer was also utilised as a generic features focus to cover any subject of interest.
While fronting the comic for over half of the first initial 34 issues, Joe 90 was rapidly overcome by two other strips which caught the public imagination and were given far better treatment: Land of the Giants, drawn by Gerry Haylock and the then new television phenomena Star Trek , which would eventually make its British television debut in the summer of 1969, the same week as the first Apollo moon landing.
With art by Harry Lindfield, perhaps best known for his “Doctor Who” strip work for the later comic, Countdown, it really made an impact on the comic’s readers and the strip had several years ahead of it, drawn by artists such as Mike Noble, Jim Baikie, Harold Johns, Carlos Pino, Ron Turner and John Stokes, before finishing in 1973. All of the strips have since been collected by IDW.
Also featured was a strip based on the ITC series The Champions, in black and white, initially drawn by Jon Davis, followed by Michael Strand, who would become the main artist on Joe 90 after the merger with TV21. “While both competent artists, their ability to capture the likenesses of the cast fell short of the standards being set by Haylock and Lindfield, and was even being outdrawn by Joe 90,” notes Shaquille le Vesconte.
Sadly, despite such great strips, Joe 90: Top Secret did not enjoy the enduring success of TV Century 21/ TV21 and was merged with TV21 as TV21 & Joe 90 after Issue 34, which started again from Issue One). By June 1970, Joe 90 vanished from the title’s masthead and by Issue 40 all of the Gerry Anderson-related strips had vanished too, and TV21 itself merged with Valiant comic after Issue 105.
Fleetway Editions revived Joe 90 as a fortnightly comic in the 1990s when the show was re-aired, but it lasted for just seven issues, merged with the Thunderbirds comic and the character appeared in just a handful of issues.
Despite its short life, Joe 90: Top Secret did bring some great strips to the British new stand, Star Trek being the most memorable for me, and definitely the one that most comic fans of the time are likely to remember.
Joe 90 the TV show may not have been the most popular of the Gerry Anderson shows, but again, it had a lasting impact on some of those who grew up watching it, including entrepeneur and comics fan Jonathan Kendrick, whose creation Team MOBILE for ROK Comics (recently republished by Antarctic Press) updates some of the series themes, particularly imbuing secret agents with new talents through awesome technowizardry!
• You can order the new Blu-Ray here, direct from Network – be quick!
• Network: Joe 90 at 50 by Martin Cater – utilised here with permission
• Technodelic: Joe 90: TV21 & Joe 90, 1969-70 (Wayback Link)
JOE 90 VOLUME 4 BLU-RAY FROM NETWORK
Volume 4 of Joe 90 featuring the final six episodes, beautifully remastered in HD, plus…
• A brand-new comic featuring art from acclaimed comics artist Paul McCaffrey
• A brand-new paperback book on the making of Joe 90 by acclaimed archive television historian Andrew Pixley
• A rigid box and lid to accommodate all four volumes and new materials
• A bonus disc featuring a wealth of new and archive material:
Featuring brand new and previously unseen archive interviews this documentary charts the inception, production and reception of Gerry Anderson’s penultimate Supermarionation series.
THE SCIENCE OF JOE 90
Is the Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record and Transfer a realistic possibility? Could Joe 90 ever happen in the real world? It’s probably more likely than you think…
Sam Loover briefs the world governments on W.I.N’s operational status and the latest progress on their most special agent’s missions. Narrated by Keith Alexander.
LONE-HANDED 90: WIDESCREEN VERSION
With its superbly cinematic model landscapes, this fan-favourite episode has been remastered in a 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio exclusively for this release. However many times you’ve seen this episode before you’ve never experienced it like this!
SPECIAL GLASSES TAG / SPECIAL GLASSES RECORDING SESSION
A tag sequence appended to the opening titles by some ITV regions during the series’ original transmission, intended as a warning to young viewers.
TEXTLESS TITLES AND AD BREAK
Clean titles and the end-of-part sequences used for the series’ original transmissions on ITV.
SUGAR SMACKS COMMERCIALS
Three contemporary Joe 90-related adverts from 1968/9.
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF JOE 90 + TRAILER
A rarity from 1981 – when episodes of archive television shows were only ever available in video compilations! This was the first commercially available Joe 90 home video.
Several hundred images in High Definition – including rare behind-the-scenes shots and images from the Doug Luke archive.
• You can order the new Blu-Ray here, direct from Network – be quick!
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