Written by Tom Tully Art by Mike Western, Eric Bradbury
Publisher: Rebellion Graphic Novels (British Treasury of Comics)
The Book: Billy Farmer lives with his Aunt Joan and Uncle Charlie in the sleepy town of Selbridge. Visiting the local zoo to cover a story for his school paper, he’s scratched by a radioactive leopard, gaining leopard-like strength, speed, reflexes, and tree-climbing abilities.
When he’s not fighting crime, Billy sells photographs of himself in action to the local paper, using the money to support his frail aunt while contending with his violent, greedy and lazy uncle. With warmth, wit, and stunning artwork by Mike Western and Eric Bradbury, The Leopard from Lime Street is a gem of 1970s and 1980s British comics.
The Review: First published in the weekly comic Buster between March 1976 and May 1985, “iThe Leopard from Lime Street ” was a hugely popular story in the title, and even today it’s easy to see why. It’s no wonder Rebellion chose this as one of their first collections from their recently-acquired Fleetway Editions library, along with the excellent One-Eyed Jack from Valiant, and the gorgeous-looking “Marney the Fox“, also originally published in Buster, which will be released in September.
There’s no disguising “The Leopard from Lime Street” mercilessly plunders every Spider-Man trope you can think of – original publishers Fleetway keenly aware of the rising popularity of rival publisher Marvel UK’s weekly superhero news stand titles when was first published, and perhaps seeking to compete. That said, writer Tom Tully still delivers the wonderfully unique, inventive and entertaining story of teenage Billy Farmer, a schoolboy whose life is transformed when he’s scratched by a radioactive leopard.
Just like Spider-Man’s Peter Parker, Billy assumes a secret identity and the Leopard of Lime Street (or “Leopard of Lime St.” as the strip was called in the comic) takes on local bad guys, most tooled up as if on day release from contemporary TV drama The Sweeney, outrages authority figures and is hunted by the police, despite his good deeds.
Alter ego Billy Farmer fares no better when it comes to problems. He’s bullied at home by a vicious, lazy uncle, and at school by assorted trouble makers. Yet despite the temptation to use his newfound powers for revenge (and he’s sorely tempted, and occasionally succumbs, which must have delighted many readers and is part of the character’s enduring appeal), Billy sticks to the straight and narrow, earning a crust by selling photographs of the Leopard’s exploits to the local newspaper, in part to buy his aunt a new colour TV…
Yes, along with circus trips and school excursions to a local safari park, Tully really was tapping into every 1970s boy’s desires, on many levels. (Billy even has a fairly tame encounter with a beautiful actress in this first collection).
A snapshot of much more innocent times (the number of gun-toting villains perhaps a little over the top for a quiet English town in the 1970s aside), “The Leopard from Lime Street” is an absolute joy to read, a story I’ve come to fresh as by the mid 1970s I rarely picked up a copy of Buster, favouring instead 2000AD and the very Marvel UK titles this story hoped to compete with instead.
It’s easy to see why the story was so popular with so many Buster readers – it’s a fast-paced and often funny yarn, with action-packed art from two top British talents of the time, Mike Western and Eric Bradbury.
Reading “The Leopard from Lime Street” now is of course also rather like stepping back in time. There’s not a mobile phone in sight, the only entertainment on offer is the local cinema and a kick around in the park, unless you count a visit from the circus, complete with out of control elephant, stirred up by swastika-emblazoned hooligans.
Despite the sometimes dated storylines – I can’t really see many modern teenagers identifying with a hero saving up to buy a colour TV as a motive for crime fighting – I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection. While there’s no disputing Tom Tully mercilessly plundered every Spider-Man story he must have read, he delivers his take on superheroes at a much faster pace than Stan Lee and Steve Ditko ever did, chewing through plot ideas with frightening speed.
When, as Steve Holland mentions in his introduction, you consider Tully was writing no less than six different serials for various comics on a weekly basis, banging them out on a manual typewriter late into the night, you can’t help but admire this little-known but undoubted king of British comics, who it seems shunned growing fan attention for comic creators and just got on with telling marvellous stories.
“The Leopard from Lime Street” is a cracking adventure story and this is an enormously enjoyable collection of the character’s first adventures. Here’s hoping the sales match expectations and a second volume is even now in the works.
• Buy The Leopard from Lime Street from amazon.co.uk – using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you
• Eamonn Clarke interviewed Keith Richardson from Rebellion about this book and the other Treasury of British comics titles for the Mega City Book Club podcast. Listen to it here
Did you know? “The Leopard from Lime Street” was also published in French, in the comic Sunny Sun (more information here, in French), and Greek in the “Blek” comics series, mostly during the 1980s.
The origin of The Leopard from Lime Street was also reprinted in the independent comic, Starscape, along with the final published adventure from the Buster Annual 1987.
The Leopard from Lime Street and Bust © Rebellion Publishing