Invasion from Space
Writer: Hugh McClelland
Artist: Steve Dowling/John Allard
Published: 27/10/52 – 14/2/53 L256 – M39
Number of Episodes: 94
Hugh McClelland’s single Garth story, Invasion from Space, began in October 1952, and has long been a puzzle to serious devotees of the strip, because of its very distinctive artwork. Whilst clearly drawn by Dowling and Allard, it is somehow different – it has a sort of neat, meticulous look about it, a pleasing sharpness of line. It also has some amazing attractive shading. The usual Dowling/Allard style was much looser and less detailed.
I asked John Allard how this change in the artwork (which was limited to this single story) had come about, and he revealed to me the surprising answer to this intriguing mystery!
McClelland was then the Mirror Strips Editor, and wrote and drew the Mirror’s Jimpy strip, and some of his earlier strips had been short-lived. When Don Freeman fell ill and was unable to write Garth, McClelland had the wheeze of not only writing a story, but drawing it as well!
“Steve (Dowling) was naturally pretty upset by this,” Allard told me. “He thought McClelland was trying to put him out of a job!”
Dowling’s strong objections prevailed, and McClelland’s version was never used. Instead, Steve asked John Allard to completely redraw the strip from McClelland’s original in pencil, which he then inked and revised. Dowling was careful not to look at McClelland’s version himself.
The result was a fascinating hybrid of all three styles – McClelland, Allard, and Dowling!
The absent Freeman was also the scriptwriter for Belinda, and the Mirror brought in a new writer, Peter O’Donnell, on the recommendation of Ted Holmes (who was then scripting Just Jake), to write Belinda. He did such a good job of this that when Freeman returned, and resumed Belinda, the Mirror management asked him to hand over the writing of Garth to Peter O’Donnell.
Many years later, O’Donnell wrote about how he had been appointed to Garth, and suggested that it was because the strip at that time “was somewhat in the doldrums.”
That may well have been O’Donnell’s own perception at the time, but the statement was factually incorrect, and an unfair slur on Freeman (and McClelland, for that matter). In point of fact, prior to his illness, Freeman’s Garth had been on top form. After the “Superman slant” to gain American serialisation failed, Freeman had deliberately ended the experiment and penned two absolutely cracking stories, in Space-Time Rivals, and Flight into the Future.
The real reason behind the change of scripter was recorded by Freeman himself years later, when the Daily Mirror ran a tribute article and interview with him following his retirement after 50 years sterling service. In the article Freeman revealed:
“When Bart (Guy Bartholomew) went and Cecil King took over he thought that I had too much to do.” The Mirror interviewer added:
“This was when Belinda was still going strong and Don was also writing the scripts for Garth. He gave up Garth but kept on writing about Belinda.”
The article paid this tribute:
“Don Freeman’s work for the Daily Mirror spanned 50 years and survived seven changes of editor. During that time he produced hundreds of plots and stories for characters that are known all over the world.”
Despite having been reprinted in the Australian Atlas Garth comic, McClelland’s story has been completely overlooked by successive commentators. This is unfair, because the story is actually a very good one.
The story opens with Garth and Karen relaxing by the pool at the desert Observatory, some days after their return from the future. Garth is confiding to Karen that Lumiere has been acting oddly lately – strangely uncommunicative. At which point, Dawn runs up excitedly to tell Garth that Lumiere wants to see Garth immediately. This strip is sadly the last appearance of both Dawn and Karen, who had been sharing Garth’s adventures for some nine years.
On joining Lumiere in his office, Garth is told that he has made an alarming astronomical discovery. He shows Garth a photograph of what appears to be the explosion of a dark star – a nova. The spectrograph indicates that the light of the explosion is very recent. At that moment there is a terrific concussion that shakes the walls and floor of the office, causing the roof to collapse. Garth holds up the roof beams whilst Lumiere scrambles to safety.
Outside, they see that the Observatory is on fire. Colonel Bluff, the station Commander, tells them that the damage is worldwide and that all communications are down – some mysterious force is interfering with radio. Lumiere is convinced that the Earth has been struck because of the exploded star – possibly by a large asteroid. He is anxious to return to London and the government authorities. Garth counsels that they get to the airfield and commandeer a plane.
They are fortunate in that the airfield is used as a refuelling stop for large international airliners and they are able to return swiftly to London in a Comet. On arrival they find that London has been devastated: Nelson toppled from his column, the National Gallery gutted by fire. Lumiere makes for the Admiralty, which is still intact.
The Admiral is relieved to see them – he has been trying to contact Lumiere on behalf of the government, to recruit his scientific knowledge to aid recovery from the worldwide disaster, in which millions have died. All radio communications, including radar, are being blocked by interference emanating from a fallen asteroid. The only means of communication is by telegraph, where lines are still standing. Lumiere is tasked with finding the asteroid and the cause of the interference, following which a following expeditionary force can be despatched to destroy it.
Lumiere’s quest begins when he and Garth join the Admiral on a tour of Europe in a Comet, where they see vivid images of a collapsed Eiffel Tower, and a flooded runway at Gibraltar, which gives Lumiere an important clue. He interviews a local fisherman and learns that whilst there had been tremendous earthquakes and mountain avalanches, the sea level had risen by three feet. Lumiere deduces that the asteroid must have struck a part of the earth where the surface was thin – this absorbed the shock by giving way, but the asteroid then rolled into the sea, causing the water level to rise by one metre.
They return to the Admiralty in London, where they receive reports via cables from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The South African oceanographic dept. have reported an increase of 10 degrees temperature in the Antarctic current. Lumiere realises that the asteroid must have crashed in the Antarctic.
The Australians have sent a photo-reconnaissance flying boat to survey the Antarctic but 400 miles from the ice barrier the plane’s engines cut out as their ignition fails, and they have to land in the sea. But a Canberra, with its jet engines, is able to maintain flying and its pilots discover the vast asteroid floating in the sea. Flying lower to photograph it, they discover two groups of figures upon it who are fighting each other with strange weapons and missiles. One of the opposed groups opens fire on the aircraft, which manages to escape and report back to its base in Australia. This news is cabled to the Admiralty in London, enabling Lumiere to deduce that of the two alien factions fighting each other, only one of them is hostile to Earth. His plan is that they should seek out the friendly faction, and join in their struggle as an ally. The logic of his plan is confirmed when a Shackleton aircraft crashes on the asteroid and it crew are savagely massacred by the hostile alien faction.
An international expeditionary fighting force is quickly assembled by several nations in the region. A cruiser, the H.M.S. Somerset, is despatched from the Falklands to make a surface survey of the asteroid. Three flying boat fighter craft are modified to accommodate the Admiral, Lumiere and Garth, and they set off on a series of long hops across the world. Garth’s co-pilot is a young Sub-Lieutenant known as ‘Snooge’. When he recklessly goes swimming on a stopover in Mombassa, he is threatened by a shark, and Garth has to rescue him by slaying the shark with a knife.
(This episode was probably inserted by McClelland to enliven the long eventless journey to the Antarctic, and is the only “padding” in the story – although it maybe does serve as a ‘bonding’ rationale for “Snooge” bravely fighting alongside Garth later on).
At length, they are on the final stage of their journey, their planes based on an aircraft carrier, the Good Hope. Garth and Snooge take off to search for the Somerset, and as their plane nears the asteroid they discover that the cruiser has been wrecked on an ice flow. As they fly closer they see that there is no sign of the crew on the ship, and we get the first glimpse of the aliens – large humanoid figures with crab-like heads and articulated limbs.
The aliens open fire on Garth’s plane with hand-held large ray weapons connected by a tube to a power canister fixed on their backs. As they are turning way, Garth sees a signal lamp in some dark hills flashing a heliograph message: “Cruiser attacked – had to be abandoned – fighting with allies. Need interpreter – Hawkins.”
They report back to the Good Hope. It is decided to fly Lumiere to the signallers in a helicopter, with Garth and Snooge in an escort plane. Both craft are fired on from below as they approach the hills, but are able to make crash landings. As they scramble out and meet up, they see a group of three aliens advancing upon them. Garth and Snooge try to recover weapons from their plane, but are forced to duck behind it when the aliens open fire. They crouch in the wreckage and when one of the investigating aliens comes upon them, Garth springs up and attacks it.
The alien is immensely strong, and as Garth holds him down, Snooge succeeds in wrenching his ray gun free. With it, he is able to blast the remaining two aliens. As Garth struggles with the alien Snooge succeeds in ripping the power-canister from its back, gaining full possession of the deadly weapon. Garth is unable to hold the alien down any longer, and it then bounds away in a series of incredible leaps.
The alien’s two-unit weapon (a gun with connected canister) is extremely heavy, so it is attached to a sledge salvaged from the helicopter. As the others pull the sledge over the ice, Snooge sits on the sledge as a ‘tail-gunner’ and blasts at the ever-increasing number of aliens who are surrounding them. Garth’s party mounts an escarpment to make a last stand. The aliens have not fired on them – they are evidently planning to take them alive, presumably for interrogation. But they have forgotten the alien’s strength and jumping power, and they leap up the escarpment. But when all seems lost, another force comes up from behind them, and opens fire on their attackers. They are smaller humanoid aliens, wielding their own strange weapons. They succeed in keeping the hostile aliens at bay until Garth’s party reach the asteroid, pulling the sledge with the captured weapon behind them.
A tunnel opening in the asteroid is uncovered, and Captain Hawkins and his crew from the ‘Somerset’ call out to them. Once they are safely inside, the heavy metal door is closed. Inside the tunnel, Garth’s party are introduced to their allies, the ‘Aristarchians’ who had earlier rescued the crew of the Somerset. They meet Rhenu, the Chief or King of the Aristarchians, who has picked up some rudimentary English. Whilst the Aristarchian scientist examine the captured gum of the crab-men, Crawford narrates everything he has learned from Rhenu.
The crab-men are interplanetary marauders – buccaneers of space, roaming the universe, pillaging and destroying. They invaded the planet of Aristarcha, whose inhabitants were threatened with annihilation. They decide to evacuate to their moon, leaving explosive charges to blow up their home planet and the invaders. This was the cosmic explosion seen by observatories on the Earth. But the crab-men had followed them to the moon and escaped the explosion.
The moon had been hurled into space by the explosion… a plot which was an astonishing and quite uncanny anticipation of the premise behind the famous Gerry and Sylvia Anderson Space: 1999 television series, nearly a quarter of a century later!
The war with the aliens had continued in the tunnels, with which the moon was riddled. The crab-men have captured the aircraft hangars of the Aristarchians. Garth determines to lead a force of six marines, with Scrooge and Attu – an alien who will act as a guide to the hangars. Once they are recaptured, a man can be sent back to inform the main party.
Garth and his eight companions climb outside and make their way across the asteroid. As they near the hangars they find an armed sentry guarding it, so they lob a grenade to take him out before Garth leads a charge. They are attacked by a second guard. Garth grapples with him and they fall over the edge of a precipice into the patch of sea between the ice field and the asteroid. Garth is the first to swim back to the surface, and scale the side of the asteroid. Reporting back to Lumiere, and hastily changing into warm clothing, he tells him that the crab-man had shown no distress whilst in the very cold sea. Lumiere realises that they will be able to flourish in the polar regions, and use them as a base to threaten the Earth. They must do everything they can to prevent the crab-men using the aircraft.
Garth takes a bunch of Aristarchians with him to assemble and fly the aircraft. As Garth and his party climb the side of the asteroid to the hangars, Snooze tells him he has arrived just in time – a mob of crab-men are assembling to attack them. Garth tells them to lock the hangar doors, and then leads the crab-men away on a chase. He is eventually captured and taken prisoner. He is led to another part of the asteroid and brought before the crab-men’s leader. A special helmet is placed on Garth’s head – an electronic gizmo for thought-transference.
The leader then questions Garth, making clear that the aliens intend to enslave mankind as soon as they have recaptured the spaceships of the Aristarchians. Their own spaceships are in hangars on that part of the asteroid which is submerged in the sea. Engineers are working on a method of retrieving them, but this will take some time. Garth is imprisoned in a coffin-like ‘magnetic cell’.
Meanwhile, Snooge has returned to report to Professor Lumiere. Rhenu has a televiewing device and has located Garth in his cell in the crab-men’s HQ. All the tunnels leading to it are guarded. But Rhenu knows of a heavily damaged disused tunnel. He and Snooge set off through the tunnel to rescue Garth.
On reaching the cavern containing the cell, Snooge lowers Rhenu down on a rope from the roof of the cavern. He has a device to release the cell’s magnetic lock. On being freed, Garth impulsively picks up and re-dons the tele-thinker helmet. The crab-men are thereby alerted to his escape, and they are recaptured. Their leader is elated is exultant that his arch-enemy Rhenu has been delivered into his hands. But Garth and the aliens are unaware that Snooge is watching from the tunnel doorway in the cavern roof. Snooge calls to Garth and throws down a rope, and then explodes a smoke grenade, blanketing the chamber in darkness. Garth discards his helmet and climbs up the rope carrying Rhenu. They slam shut the heavy metal tunnel door just as the crab-men open fire from below.
They quickly hurry back through the narrow tunnel, whilst their larger pursuers are hampered by having to widen it. Snooge asserts that a demolition squad can blow up and block the tunnel after they are reunited with Lumiere. When they arrive back, they learn that the crab-men are digging new tunnels to reach their part of the asteroid. The surviving Aristarchians abandon the hangars and trek across the ice barrier to join the cruiser ‘Good Hope’.
Lumiere has a plan. Rhenu will fly him to London in one of the ‘flying saucer’ aircraft of the Aristarchians – capable of making the journey in less than one hour – and returning with “the greatest weapon” humanity possesses to destroy the asteroid. Scrooge elects to go with them to learn how to pilot the craft. Garth and the marines stay behind to play Horatio and guard the hangars with their captured weapon. It is vital to prevent the alien invaders leaving the asteroid.
They are successful, and the flying saucer returns. Lumiere has brought with them ‘Lord Farthing’ to prime ‘the weapon’. ‘Farthing’ is a sly reference to Sir William Penny, one of Britain’s leading atomic scientists, who had helped develop the atomic bomb. Farthing sets the bomb to explode in ten minutes time, and everyone evacuates back into the flying saucer. Garth alone stays behind with the gun to hold off the attacking crab-men as the saucer soars up into the sky.
A rope is thrown down to Garth and he makes a daring leap to it and is carried aloft. Once Garth is safely aboard the saucer increases speed and streaks up into the stratosphere. They have barely reached a safe distance when the explosion occurs, and the illustration shows a tremendous iconic mushroom cloud.
Rhenu reflects that although all the crab-man on Earth have been destroyed, others of the malignant race still swarm elsewhere in the universe.
Looking back from space they see that the ice shelf has melted and formerly extinct volcanoes on the south polar continent are erupting. Lumiere invites the Aristarchians to stay on the Earth to lend their advanced scientific help to assist in the vast task of reconstruction. Back in London he works with Rhenu on methods of repulsing any further attacks from space – including the construction of artificial satellites to warn of the approach of alien intruders.
Garth takes his goodbye of Snooge at an airfield and warns him that they must remember to keep the existence of the Aristarchians a secret.
So ends McClelland’s sole foray into Garth – an unjustly forgotten and creditable “fill-in” whilst the Mirror found a long-term replacement scripter. The final panel of M.39 shows the face of the villainess in the next story, showing that Peter O’Donnell had already been quickly appointed, and the legend reads, “But evil is already lying in wait for Garth…”
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror