The first issue of Action, dated 14th of February 1976, was actually on the shelves a week earlier, on Monday 9th. Sales in the region of 400,000 units meant Action arrived with a bang, despite the usual teething troubles with new titles and their initial collection of concepts and stories.
Certainly, Action fared better than Battle on this count. Despite its early success, Battle Picture Weekly launched with a self-confessed collection of howlers in its line-up. Admittedly, traditional war story “The Coffin Sub” was just making up the numbers, but Action identified where the problems were, and evolved swiftly, ditching the dead wood strips and replacing them with superior stories within a few weeks. Battle ran for three months before changes were initiated, and the second string of strips were little or no better than the originals they replaced. In fact, most were strips developed for the launch of Battle that were deemed either too weak or too problematic to publish. Without the arrival of “Major Eazy” in January 1976, Battle may well have floundered. As it was, Action usurped Battle and rose swiftly to the top of the IPC tree, where it remained until its premature demise a mere eight months later.
So much for the in-house competition, but how did Action fare against arch-rivals DC Thomson? The Dundee company approached their publications slightly differently to IPC, offering 36 pages for the same price as IPC’s 32. This was achieved by saving money on colour pages. Where IPC used a full colour, web offset approach, DCT used cheap Letterpress printing, with a single or sometimes double splash colour.
Bullet launched on the same day as Action, and although it ran for 147 issues before merging with Warlord, this owes more to its lack of any controversial or challenging content than it does to its relative sales or public status. Had Action not suffered a death by friendly fire, it may have lasted far longer than Bullet. Obviously, a three-year run would be impressive by modern standards, but in a golden era where boys’ comics were thriving, Bullet simply wasn’t shifting enough units to survive. Battle adapted itself as it went, and managed to survive until 1988, albeit in a form that was heavily propped up by commercial sponsorship after a 1983 deal with Mattel to feature the Action Force line of characters. When this deal was ended by the toy company in 1987, Battle soon folded.
Thomson’s Warlord outlasted Bullet by several years at either end of its life, eventually disappearing in late 1986 after a twelve year run of 627 issues.
So, a sure-fire winning stallion of great pedigree, with a bright future ahead of it, was released from the IPC stable, only to have its leg broken and be shot in the back of the head by its unhappy owner as it fell at the first hurdle, a few furlongs into the race. That’s quite enough racehorse analogies.