Review by John Freeman
Hibernia Comics first Fleetway Files-branded collection, The Angry Planet, written by Alan Hebden with art by Massimo Belardinelli, is on sale now – and well worth a look if you’re in the mood for a spot of SF pulp-inspired comic adventure.
Something a lost classic, “The Angry Planet” is collected from the pages of the short-lived weekly adventure comic Tornado and has never been reprinted until now. The story kicks off Hibernia Comics new Fleetway Files series in style, with an adventure that could so easily be torn from the pages of 1930s or 40s SF novellas or magazines – but a tale given a thoroughly modern style by writer Alan Hebden, brought to wonderful and at times startling life by artist Massimo Belardinelli.
Carefully restored, the often garish colour added to the strip’s original spreads in Tornado thankfully removed with considerable skill by Richard Pearce, Alan Hebden never takes his foot off the pedal on this romp involving rebellious Martian colonists, corrupt corporations and a lost ancient civilisation with a master plan to create a new Mars, rest back in motion thanks to careless off panel accident.
Tornado (originally titled Heroes until a last-minute name change dictated by IPC management) was launched as a companion to 2000AD and was designed to be a mixed-content adventure comic.“The Angry Planet” featured in all 22 issues, but unlike “Wolfie Smith” and “Blackhawk”, it concluded in the pages of Tornado.
A sequel, titled “Mars Force”, which was to be set 50 years after the end of the first story never happened, although Belardinelli did draw several pages which featured a new set of characters, designed by Brian Bolland.
I hadn’t appreciated until now how influential this story had been on me. Back in the 1990s, after Marvel UK imploded, Craig Houston, Stuart Jennett and myself discussed the idea of creating a shared “War Worlds” comics universe, set in a future where the solar system was under the thumb of powerful corporations. One story I came up with then was “Death Duty”, which I now realise has echoes of Tornado‘s “The Angry Planet” tale, which must really have stuck in my mind, initially drawn by Alan Burrows but completed by myself, Dave Hailwood, Brett Burbridge and Ken Reynolds, still available to buy here.
So this review is very much a tip of the hat to Hebden and Belardinelli for creating such a memorable strip. While Martian rebel Matthew Markham himself isn’t as memorable as the story, and you can’t help but wonder who let Belardinelli’s very much Battlestar Galactica-inspired soldiers slip through approval, I still revelled in its scope, tightly told and unwrapping Mars’ secret history and revolution like an onion, each layer delivering more imagination-sparking developments as it builds to, thankfully, a “happy ending”, of sorts.
And who but Massimo Belardinelli could bring not only lithe Martian humans and scary alien sentries to a hidden world to life, but also thrill us with scientifically unbelievable but in this story, entirely credible alien engines capable of moving planets?
I’m aware Belardinelli’s art is a bit “Marmite” with many longtime 2000AD fans, but in “The Angry Planet” he not only delivers strong storytelling but his speciality, crazy alien design, too, although we don’t ever get the same level of aliens themselves as in “Ace Trucking Company”, for example.
Yes, the science of “The Angry Planet” is now often as out of date as the oxygen atmosphere on Dan Dare’s Venus. Modern science, for example, indicates the total mass of the Asteroid Belt is less than the moon, far too small to weigh in as a the “lost planet” mentioned. But if, like me, you grew up reading equally bonkers SF stories with outdated science, stories penned by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and E.E. “Doc” Smith, or films such as Forbidden Planet, then you’ll give “The Angry Planet” a try, simply for its exuberant sense of adventure. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Oh, and I was delighted to discover while working on this review that the late, great Massimo Belardinelli wasn’t immune to a spot of homage himself, particularly when it came to drawing female characters. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt have spotted that Markham’s wife, Marsha, bears an uncanny resemblance to Ziggy Rodan, who featured in episodes of 2000AD’s “Dan Dare”. Indeed, there are plenty of strips drawn by Belardinelli over his long and distinguished career with a similar look.
Well, it turns out this isn’t coincidence. Belardinelli fan Alan Marshall draws our attention to the often racy Italian comic strip Valentina, created in 1965 by Italian artist Guido Crepax, which ended in 1996. The similarity of look is unmistakable!
(In turn, as an aside, Valentina was based on Luisa Mandelli (25th December, 1937 – 1st November 2020), Guiod’s wife, although the the somatic features of the comic were inspired by Louise Brooks, an American actress in the Roaring Twenties. Along with her children, she was guardian of the “Archivio Crepax”, preserving the heritage of images of the Milanese cartoonist).
“The Angry Planet” is a delicious piece of SF pulp, with some smashing visuals, a story that has given Hibernia Comics Fleetway Files a great start. If there is one lack, I’d say it was that there’s no background feature on the origins of the strip or the comic it first appeared in.
However, based on my understanding of the project, bringing classic comic fans overlooked gems from vintage titles that would otherwise not see the light of day due to a limited potential market, such features might not have been possible for every strip, so better to leave those investigations to Hibernia’s other carefully researched and much sought after titles put together by its publisher David McDonald, such as Fantastic Adventures.
Wait – you haven’t bought that yet, either? Well now’s your chance!
• Priced £10.49, The Angry Planet is available now from the Hibernia Comics web store now – as is Fantastic Adventures – but be quick, there only limited copies left!
The Angry Planet / Tornado © Rebellion Publishing