Review by John Freeman
By Scott Goodall MBE (Writer) and Jesus Blasco (Art), and others
Published by Hibernia Comics
The Book: Wrongly entombed in the ancient pyramids of Egypt for millenia, former Captain of the Pharaohs guard awakens as Mark Dangerfield in 1960’s Britain. Transformed by the secrets of the ancients Dangerfield uses his powers to bring justice to the nefarious Skin Men, The Black Avenger, The Badger and others in this fast paced and high octane never-before-reprinted story from Jag comic.
The Review: The Indestructible Man is the second “Fleetway Files” collection from dedicated independent publisher Hibernia Comics, following on the heels of the currently sold out The Angry Planet. It’s another well-produced collection of vintage strips, delivering material for the most part published in the short-lived tabloid weekly, JAG, and includes all the adventures to date of “The Indestructible Man”, a title I suspect that may have been plucked out of the air to capitalise on the success of Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet on TV at the time, although the projects are completely different in competent. (I can’t think of any other reason for the series name, as it doesn’t really fit with the character’s eternal youth and sorcerer’s powers).
As ever with such collections, a modern reader needs to bear in mind that most of the stories as written were presented as weekly episodes, a style of storytelling that always seems a little odd presented in collection, given recaps are included. There was, back then, also a very strong sense of telling as well as seeing to comic strip writing for a younger audience. For the more savvy comic reader that this kind of spoonfeeding may be hard to stomach, but it could also be argued that a lack of some of that “editorialising” is what has lost the medium many readers down the decades. (It needn’t, I’d add, have to be clunky as some captions are in this strip).
These caveats aside, The Indestructible Man still shines, delivering a set of adventures stories that increasingly have the kind of edge that would sit happily within an episode of the The Avengers TV series, especially as the run progresses. Which should come as no surprise, given how popular The Avengers was when this story was first published, and British comic publishers were once always quick to capitalise on obvious entertainment trends.
While hero Mark Summers doesn’t wear a costume, you could argue the eternal warrior is one of many British superheroes of the period, publishers seeking to emulate the success of Batman on TV with characters such as Eagle’s Smokeman (recently featured here on the Eagle Times blog) and some long-running characters, such as the Steel Claw, even given a temporary superhero look. The style of the strip is, however, far more quirky, enjoyable action adventure, Scott Goodall‘s scripts are made all the more appealing by the fact that its entire run, apart from the annual stories, was drawn by Spanish comic artist Jesús Blasco, a master of episodic comic storytelling.
Best known in the UK, perhaps, for his work on “Buffalo Bill” and “Billy the Kid” in Comet and Sun, “The Steel Claw” for Valiant and his beautiful fairy tale illustrations for the children’s magazine, Playhour, Blasco also worked on a short-lived “Danger Man” strip for Lion, running for just 13 weeks, from the issues cover dated 11th June to 3rd September 1966. The strip appeared directly after Lion merged with another weekly adventure comic, Champion, to become Lion & Champion.
There’s a sense of that strip in early episodes of “The Indestructible Man”, where in some panels Mark Summers even has the unmistakeable look of Patrick McGoohan, although the accomplished, hard-working artist, no doubt aided by his uncredited brothers, Alejandro and Adriano, soon largely gives the magic-wielding hero his own distinct identity.
The stories themselves start small, with Mark Summers’ origin story as a disgraced captain of the guard in ancient Egypt quickly told, leading into an adventures pitting him against hapless crooks and a gang leader. The stories are fast-paced, the kind of condensed storytelling that burns through ideas and scenarios that many comics today would linger over for months, often to their detriment.
Once the character and his powers and Achilles heel are established – that he needs fire to restore his immortality, and that weakness can strike at the most inopportune moments – we move quickly to more bonkers tales. Summers takes on big-brained super thieves and a mysterious villain based in the Everglades with power over snakes, and a marvellously crazy villain, the Badger, in his final weekly story, whose fate is quite gruesome for a children’s come, the more so because it is not final.
It’s great to see these overlooked gems getting attention from HIbernia Comics, under license from property owners, Rebellion. The initial print runs of these titles are low, and quickly sell out, so if you’re intrigued, then I’d strongly advise you buy a copy soon, because reprint is not guaranteed.
Having already enjoyed this and Angry Planet, I’m looking forward to more “Fleetway Files”, with Hibernia already teasing collections of “Captain Condor” (from Lion), “Sergeant Strong” (from Valiant), “Slave of the Screamer” (also from Valiant), and “Timequake” (from Starlord). These are stories deserving attention which are also unlikely to have an audience suited to a wide commercial release, and offer fascinating snapshots of British boys comics past.
• The Indestructible Man | 84 pages | Perfect bound, Softback Colour Cover, B&W interiors.£10.49 plus shipping Only available here – www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia