In Review: “Fleetway Firsts” and “Rick Random”, the latest Fleetway Picture Library Classics

Norman Boyd checks out the the latest pair of Fleetway Picture Library Classics released by The Book Palace, published under licence from Rebellion – Fleetway Firsts, a war comic collection, and Rick Random, stories of one of Britain’s leading space heroes in comics.

Both are available now direct from the Book Palace direct.


Fleetway Picture Library Classics - Fleetway Firsts Cover

Appropriately titled, Fleetway Firsts is an interesting 272-page compilation of the first issues of each of the following: War Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, and War At Sea Picture Library. All four stories are illustrated by four different artists whose potted biographies are included.

The best known I think, is likely to be Solano Lopez, who also illustrated “Galaxus”, “Kelly’s Eye”, and “Janus Stark”.

Before I dive in, a quick credit to Stuart Williams who is the production person and who, I guess, creates the cameos as headers between stories, using a single image.

"Fight Back to Dunkirk" from War Picture Library #1

Fight Back to Dunkirk
War Picture Library #1 published September 1958
Art by Nevio Zeccara, cover art by Giorgio De Gaspari

A great story of individual British stragglers, who get caught behind enemy lines on their way to the French coast. As the story progresses, they join up as a group and waste no time in harassing the German soldiers in whatever way they can. As they retreat they blow up bridges, tanks, planes, and even boats. A fun yarn, well drawn.

arget Top Secret Air Ace Picture Library #1

Target Top Secret
Air Ace Picture Library #1 published January 1960
Art by Solano Lopez, cover art by Alessandro Biffignandi
Written by V.A.L. Holding

This was my favourite of the four stories, written by Holding, a regular scripter and editor for Fleetway, who in 1961 became Managing Editor of Juvenile Publications at Fleetway and, later, co-founder, with Leonard Matthews, of Martspress.

“Target Top Secret” tells the story of pilot officer Hanson who, after graduating from flying school, is given his first assignment, although it isn’t the bomber command he wished for, instead placed in charge of a flying boat over the Atlantic patrols. Unfortunately, he is known to be unlucky. After having a hard but successful time, his new posting is in Bomber Command, but his joy is short-lived when he needs to win over his new crew, who have heard of his bad fortune – but a top secret mission shows Hanson’s mettle.

Interestingly, Lopez artwork shows very carefully drawn faces and portraits as if he had a model sheet to work from, but lovely artwork throughout.

The Rats of Tobruk Battle Picture Library #1

The Rats of Tobruk
Battle Picture Library #1 published January 1961
Art by Renzo Calegari, cover art by Giorgio De Gaspari
Written by A Carney Allen

The third story tells of the Garrison of British and Colonial troops fighting in the desert around Tobruk in 1941 against the Afrika Korps. We meet the Aussie soldiers, a rough but tough bunch, who see hand-to-hand combat – with each other – as a good way to settle scores and get rid of frustrations. However, when Lieutenant-Colonel James Melville Curzon is assigned as head of the Australian infantry unit, his British Army rigidity does not go down well. And when he orders the Aussies to shoot their own men…

A clever story which shows not everything is as clear cut amongst the fighting men, leadership and their tactics.

Devil's Cargo War At Sea #1

Devil’s Cargo
War At Sea #1 published February 1962
Art by Harry Farrugia, cover art by Nino Caroselli
Written by DM Garbutt

This naval story begins in Venezuela with a battered merchant tanker and three new hands taken on board. Each man has a different reason to be there and one does not want to travel all the way back to the UK because of his past. Adventures follow as they travel to New York from which they then head into the Atlantic and become a target, along with other ships, for the Nazis.

Despite many setbacks and successes they are fogbound with hardly any steering or compass or ability to see the stars and find themselves heading on a easterly bearing into… a hornet’s nest. Are they near Ireland, Scotland or Norway? A story that begins quietly and builds to a great ending.


Fleetway Picture Library Classics - Rick Random Cover

You’ll remember BookPalace have reprinted Ron Turner’s artwork in the Jet-Ace Logan volume in this series. This time we get another four adventures with gorgeous science-fiction machinery… and lovely females too, both favourites of Turner’s no doubt. John Lawrence, Turner fan second only to Phil Harbottle, does a short biography of the artist.

The first story is written by Conrad Frost who scripted many newspaper strips including “George and Lynne” for the Sun newspaper.

The Planet of Lost Men
First published: Super Detective Library #79 published June 1956 with cover art by Arnold Beauvais
Written by Conrad Frost

Miners are vanishing and Rick Random eventually solves the ‘how’, but to get the ‘why’, he needs to become a victim. He is whisked off planet and taken to Garganta, named after the prehistoric animals the few inhabitants have tamed and controlled.

Rick’s suspicions are soon confirmed and now he understands the ‘why’ he needs to create a plan, but how as a prisoner of the mining team. How can he convince the native human lifeforms he is who he says he is? Will he be able to stop the evil scheming gold-digger? Twists and turns on an alien planet lead to this exciting adventure.

The Riddle of the Vanishing People
First published: Super Detective Library #101 published March 1957 with cover art by Arnold Beauvais
Written by Bob Keston

The remaining three stories in this collection are written by Bob Keston, who wrote 12 stories in the Super Detective Library series, as well single issues of Cowboy Picture Library and Thriller Picture Library. The story begins with a woman crashing her car in Trafalgar Square because she claims that a man was in front of her and suddenly vanished. More incidents take place, even one captured on film!

Rick Random starts to see patterns and on a mission heads to Dr. M’Bwango’s laboratory where we see the “most efficient electronic computer analyser in the Galaxy”.

“It’s almost human,” exclaims Rick, “It’s name is Charlie”.

Super Detective Library #101  - Rick Random Sample Page
Super Detective Library #101  - Rick Random Sample Page

Whilst awaiting the result, Rick hears that the Prime Minister, “the most important person in the Galaxy” (things are different in the year 2040!) has disappeared on a visit to the Museum of Modern Art Hall of Statues. Nora Eldra, a reporter who has promised to keep the story a secret as long as she can accompany Rick in his investigations and can have exclusive rights, now heads with Rick down to the Museum of Modern Art. We meet the director of the Hall of Statues, one of the ant people of the Mira system. Rick and Nora begin to to solve the mystery of the vanishing people, only to encounter another conundrum…

Sabotage From Space
First published: Super Detective Library #111 published September 1957 with cover art by James McConnell
Written by Bob Keston

In the summer of 2042, it falls to Rick to find out what was causing thousands of people all over the world to become victims of “The Madness” – nothing to do with Suggs, obviously! People appear to have gone mad: one man even striking an h-bomb with a hammer and another jumping from a helipad and another electrocuting himself.

When Dr Fisher (who in the previous story, looked different from this one) disappears in a flying car and crashes they have a chance to investigate what’s going on because the doctor is still alive.

The story is a series of fascinating steps that Rick takes to unearth the cause, which leads him ultimately on a mission to save a planet of warring species.

Rick Random - S.O.S. From Space First published: Super Detective Library #115

S.O.S. From Space
First published: Super Detective Library #115 published in October 1957 with cover art by James McConnell
Written by Bob Keston

A small unidentified object is found floating in space which turns out to be from the planet Gyzma, where a race is almost obliterated. Myla, a pretty alien with horns, accompanies Rick on his mission to the conqueror’s planet, Ebloni and to disguise himself as a Qonti, gets his own set of horns!

How Rick saves a near doomed race and frees many planets from slavery is a fascinating bit of space hokum, and to tell you more would spoil some of the joys along the ride!

These four stories contain so much more than I have written above. The quiet predictions (created in the 1950s) for the future (2040s) are very interesting to see, as we are only 20 years away from that date. Although at no point in any of the four stories is smoking mentioned, there are so many pictures of people with cigarettes in their hands and pipes, this anomaly stuck out of mile to this non-smoker.

Rick Random - The Riddle of the Vanishing People from Super Detective Library #101

I’ve always been a bit ambiguous towards Ron Turner’s artwork, where I find sometimes his faces change in appearance from one frame to another, but I have to acknowledge that his space hardware is fantastic to look at and I suspect that’s why we all remember “The Daleks” from TV21 so well.

Rick Random art Rick Random art by Ron Turner from Super Detective Library

As the Book Palace blurb says, “these four stories also chart Ron Turner’s development into one of Britain’s greatest science fiction comic artists. His incredible designs and renderings of aliens, spacecraft and equipment can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with his American contemporaries, Wally Wood and Jack Kirby and, on occasion, even surpass them.” I have to agree!

Norman Boyd

Both Fleetway Firsts and Rick Random are available now direct from the Book Palace direct, along with other titles in their Fleetway Picture Library Classics series

Fleetway Firsts

Authors: VAL Holding, A Carney Allen, DM Garbutt
Artists: Nevio Zeccara, Solano Lopez, Renzo Calegari, Harry Farrugia
Publisher: Book Palace Books, June 2021
Number of pages: 272
Format: Flexi Cover; Black & White illustrations
Size: 6″ x 8″ (165mm x 215mm)
ISBN: 9781913548070

Rick Random

Authors: Bob Keston, Conrad Frost
Artist: Ron Turner
Publisher: Book Palace Books, June 2021
Number of pages: 272
Format: Flexi Cover; Black & White illustrations
Size: 6″ x 8″ (165mm x 215mm)
ISBN: 9781913548063

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