Hibernia Comics has announced its next Fleetway Files collections, collecting two more lesser-known strips published by IPC/Fleetway in decades gone by.
Volume 4 will be the knowingly bonkers Sergeant Strong, first published in Valiant, hopefully available later this year, and Volume 5 will the wonderful Timequake from Starlord in Spring 2023, hopefully in time for the 45th anniversary of that influential, if short-lived, title’s debut.
These new collections follow the successful debut of the series with Angry Planet (from Tornado), Indestructible Man (from JAG), both now sold out although a reprint is being considered; and the recently-released and simply stunning Captain Condor, from Lion, featuring stories by Frank S. Pepper, drawn by the brilliant Brian Lewis.
“Sergeant Strong” made his debut in a new-look for Valiant, cover dated 29th March 1975, alongside two other new strips for the adventure weekly, “The Test Match Terrors” and “The Potters of Poole Street”. The new line up came as Valiant, by then often featuring a fair amount of reprint strips, dropped mention of Lion from its masthead, the two title merging back in May 1974.
Sadly for the long-running Valiant, things were changing on the British news stand; alongside rivals Warlord, from DC Thomson, and Fleetway’s own Battle Picture Weekly, launched in March 1975, and Marvel UK’s superhero titles, its format and line up looked dated, and out of step with the interests of its potential audience. Despite the best efforts of its editorial team, particularly John Wagner, the weekly would breathe its last as a standalone title in October 1976, merged with Battle.
“Sergeant Strong”, drawn by Eric Bradbury, was bit of a daft story, a civilian astronaut transformed into a super strong man as a result of a cosmic encounter during Britain’s first space mission; inexplicably launched from the marshy fens of East Anglia, surely not the safest of rocket base locations.
His origin is, perhaps, a nod to the Fantastic Four, the transformed Simon Strong is recruited as a secret agent, although I suspect it’s more likely the character owes much to the runaway success of The Six Million Dollar Man, former astronaut Steve Austin, whose adventures proved a smash hit on British TV in the 1970s.
His run was fairly brief in comparison with “The Potters of Poole Street”, ending in Valiant cover dated 6th December 1975, bowing out to make way for the football strip, “They Couldn’t Break Brady“, also drawn by Bradbury.
The strong man’s stories had little logic to them, but as a snapshot of the crazier heroes of British comics characters of the time, Bradbury’s art always appealing. It’s a good choice for Hibernia’s Fleetway Files series… and you have to wonder what his final promise, to fight for law order “wherever and whenever that may be” might have led to, had he returned…
Timequake made its debut in Starlord Issue One in March 1978, created by Chris Lowder (as Jack Adrian), the first episode drawn by Ian Kennedy; a series running until Issue 13, episodes also drawn by John Cooper, Magallanes, working with Salinas, then Salinas alone.
The strip also featured in the Starlord annuals for 1980 and 1981, and the 1978 Starlord Summer Special, and was revived, briefly, in 2000AD, drawn by Jesús Redondo.
The story centres on members of Time Control, recruited from different points in history, to prevent criminals, and aliens, from interfering with time. These included former steamer captain, the no-nosense, have a go hero James Blocker, the shape-shifting Haniken Princess Suzi Cho, and boss, Harl Vinda.
Appearing alongside the brilliant “Mind Wars” and “Strontium Dog”, despite its strong concept, owing much, I’d suggest, to Bryan Talbot’s “Luther Arkwright” and the SF novels of Poul Anderson, such as Corridors of Time, and Keith Laumer, “Timequake” was not really their equal, for those of us reading the comic at the time. But as a collection, it’s sure to intrigue, and give many pause to consider what Starlord might have been, if it had been given opportunity, and not a victim to “Hatch, Match and Dispatch” policy of IPC, lasting just 22 issues.
Starlord turns 44!
The announcement of a Timequake collection couldn’t be more, er, timely, as comic archivist and artist Lew Stringer reminded me that Starlord No. 1 made its appearance just this week, a staggering 44 years ago, on Saturday 6th May 1978. The SF comic also introduced the UK to the soon to “Strontium Dog” and “Ro-Busters”, plus “Planet of the Damned” collected by Rebellion along with “Death Planet” back in 2016, as well as “Timequake”.
The Fleetway Files Volumes 1 and 2 are currently sold out, but Hibernia Comics are considering a reprint of these later in the year. Volume 3, Captain Condor, is still available.
• The Fleetway Files – Captain Condor is available only from comicsy.co.uk/hibernia | 120 pages | Perfect bound, black and white with a colour cover. £12.49, plus P&P | For the UK and Europe, please allow three weeks for delivery, and for the rest of the world, at least four weeks