Review by John Freeman
The Book: The Fireball XL5 60th Anniversary Comic Anthology, featuring all of the 1960s TV21 comic-strip adventures of Fireball XL5 and Colonel Steve Zodiac from Anderson Entertainment. The oversized, 336-page hardcover book features the artistry of the period’s finest UK talents, including Mike Noble, Ron Embleton, Frank Hampson, Eric Eden, Don Lawrence and Brian Lewis; and a previously unpublished illustration by Mike Noble graces the book’s cover. Other highlights include strips from Countdown and the TV21 specials, as well as a brand-new 17-page adventure strip by renowned artist and Fireball XL5 mega-fan Lee Sullivan (Doctor Who, Transformers, 2000AD), which features Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet interacting with Fireball and its crew.
The Review: Hot on the heels of the excellent Volumes One and Two of their UFO comic anthologies, Anderson Entertainment is about to release the Fireball XL5 60th Anniversary Comic Anthology, which also features a very special new strip, written and drawn by Lee Sullivan.
The first episode of Fireball XL5 was broadcast on 28th October 1962. One of the earliest series created by Gerry Anderson and his team, I have only the vaguest of memories of the show itself, Stingray being my real entry point into the “Andersonverse”, along with reading TV Century 21 on a semi-regular basis, largely courtesy of generous grandparents. And it’s TV Century 21 that colours my memories of Fireball, the series brought to glorious life by the unforgettable work, largely of Mike Noble – although, of course, other artists, including Don (“Trigan Empire” Lawrence also worked on the strip.
The beautifully-presented new Fireball XL5 60th Anniversary Comic Anthology takes me right back to my childhood, representing every “Fireball XL5” comic strip in one place, plucked from the pages of the legendary weekly comic, TV Century 21 (latterly, TV21) and Countdown in one place.
Purists might bemoan the omission of the “Fireball XL5” strips from TV Comic, published in 1963 and 1964, drawn by Neville Main, and the annual strips, too, but quite honestly, I don’t think most fans will miss them. In terms of the art, and most of the stories themselves, the strips in TV Century 21 are of a much higher calibre, noting of course that they were written for children, even though some themes (robots on the rampage, giant creatures and duplicate Fireballs) do get repeated.
While it’s great to see the work of so many tremendous artists represented, it’s Mike Noble‘s contribution to the series that, for me, makes it so memorable, his spectacular art lending a dynamic energy to the stories that is without equal, just as he did on TV21’s other space series, “Zero X“.
Over time, the approach to the strip evolves, the writers thankfully dispensing with the utterly ridiculous elements over time, such as the ludicrous “oxygen pills” that, presumably, saved Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s team time putting their puppets in spacesuits. Mike Noble always makes his aliens truly alien in look, including the “jelly bean” Astrans who are one of the best creations in the strip.
Not every story is a winner, but the art, even on a strip that sees Fireball XL5 land on a planet of giants, clearly trying to attract the attention of fans of the Irwin Allen series, Land of the Giants, is top notch, and, for the most part, reproduction quality is absolutely excellent.
The anthology features a specially commissioned piece of Mike’s “XL5” art on the front cover of the new collection, adapted by Lee for the collection, who also writes and draws new pages interwoven between the most famous of “Fireball XL5” strip storylines, centring on the assassination of the Astran leader. In the days before email, before faxes, this was a strip that must have required a lot of logistical planning by the comic’s editor; that it has been reprinted so often, but never, in my opinion, this well, is testament to its quality.
Lee’s new pages are great fun, giving us all-out action and a Captain Scarlet cameo, too, all lending to the potential sales success of collection. I’m hoping this also means more new Andersonverse strip might be in the pipeline.
The Fireball XL5 60th Anniversary Comic Anthology is an absolute delight, and the team behind it have done a cracking job on its production. If you’re a fan of Fireball XL5, or Mike Noble, you simply do no not want to miss out on a getting copy. Highly recommended.
Features 288 pages of never-before-collected strips, every “UFO” strip from 1970s comic, Countdown, cleaned up and restored from original comics; plus exclusive in-depth articles and interviews
The second of two volumes offering the complete collection of UFO comic strips from Countdown and TV Action. Features 320 pages of colour and black and white strips from TV Action as well as articles and interviews by Anderson comics expert Shaqui Le Vesconte, giving the reader context and fascinating insights into TV Action’s history, artists and UFO‘s life in comics – and more
Special thanks to Jamie Anderson for the Anthology sample pages used in this item
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.