In Review: The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark (Volume Three)

Rebellion have now released three volumes of The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark, available exclusively from the Treasury of British Comics web shop, as both digital and print editions, the latest just last month – and what a rip-roaring collection it is.

For those who came in late, Janus Stark is an escapologist in Victorian London who appears to be a simple music hall act, but who privately uses his extraordinary abilities to battle crime and injustice. With an unusually flexible bone structure, Stark is able him to get out of an astonishing variety of tight situations at will.

Born in 1840 as the orphan Jonas Clarke, he was sent to an orphanage where he was mistreated, but escaped and lived in the streets. There, he befriended a beggar, Blind Largo, who taught him pickpocketing but also trained Clarke to use his unique gift. As an adult, Clarke became Janus Stark, escapologist and private detective…

I have to confess that as a youngster, “Janus Stark” was a story, transported from the pages of Smash to Valiant in 1971, that didn’t immediately grab my attention, despite its distinctive art. The character himself seemed, well, just plain weird – and I’m squeamish watching the incredibly talented acts of a similar nature on Britain’s Got Talent, even today. Plus back then, although I might flick through the weekly adventure comic in the newsagents, I’m afraid that Valiant, despite including the fantastic “Steel Claw”, simply wasn’t the title I’d buy with what little I could afford, especially when the then SF-skewed Countdown was just one of its rivals.

Luckily for me, you’d often find a friend who had a kept copies of a comic you didn’t normally read, and a rainy afternoon would enable a catch up, which is just how I came to better enjoy Janus Stark the first time around. Reading his Treasury of British Comics collections recaptures those memories – and you got a better sense of the wild romp Tom Tully (his name of course, then unknown to me) and, largely, artist Francisco Solano López were telling.

As with previous collections, the third certainly doesn’t disappoint. It’s no wonder, re-reading these tales, most marvellously captured by Solano López, that despite my own personal queasiness as Stark bends himself in impossible ways to escape his latest trap, sprung on him by all manner of weird and wonderful foes, that the character has gained lasting appeal.

As I’ve previously noted, he’s even one of the few British characters whose popularity in syndication, in France, prompted commission of new adventures, and even, albeit all too briefly, a modern take starring his descendants.

Lopez, of course, is also well known in the UK for his work on “Adam Eterno”, “Kelly’s Eye”, “Galaxus” and many other strips. This collection also feature strips drawn by Franc Fuentes Man, real name, Francisco Fuentes Manuel, who is perhaps better known in the UK for his work on DC Thomson’s Warlord; and Jaime Brocal Remohi, who’s perhaps best known for his work for Warren and Heavy Metal.

(Reg Bunn, better known for his work on “The Spider” for Lion, also drew some episodes in the previously-released collections).

The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark Volume Three - Sample Art
A quick trip to the Wild West for Janus Stark
The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark Volume Three - Sample Art
Stark finds himself up against a devious villain during a theatre performance

All the stories featured in this collection, as previously, are self contained, including strip set in the American West, one that sees him escaping watery doom in a new tunnel, another pitting him against a devious villain with hypnotic powers – and there’s even a spot of time travel, too, as Janus Stark travels to the future… 1969!

A spot of time travel for Janus Stark
A spot of time travel for Janus Stark

Plus, one adventure gives us more Janus Stark back story, when he’s apparently haunted by a ghost from his past, a story that features the return of his mentor, Blind Largo.

Tom Tully simply crams plenty of action and adventure, with some craziness, too, into every short episode, stories that might often be thinly stretched out over a 22-page issue of an American-format comic. The density of storytelling, the sheer variety of stories told – while ensuring Stark’s astonishing escapology remains a central theme – is quite astonishing.

How can you possibly not be intrigued when a story opens with a scene like this?
How can you possibly not be intrigued when a story opens with a scene like this?

With its instantly identifiable setting, quality art and just truly crazy adventures, these collections of Janus Stark truly bring back some pleasant memories, and deliver some cracking, weird stories to boot.

Simply put, it’s great to see that Janus Stark has escaped again, for all of us to enjoy.

Oh, and as an added bonus, we get a short tease for collections of “Kelly’s Eye”… what more do you need to be convinced to give this a try?

John Freeman

These collections of Janus Stark’s adventures are available only through the Treasury of British Comics web shop

The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark Volume One

This first Janus Stark collection begins with his very first adventure in the pages of Smash from 1969. Written by Tom Tully and drawn by Francisco Solano López, The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark ran in syndication until 1971 and was one of the few to survive Smash’s merger into Valiant in 1971.

Available in Digital and Print

The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark Volume Two

The adventures of Janus Stark continue, written by Tom Tully and drawn by Francisco Solano López, Jaime Brocal Remohí, Franc Fuentes Man, Reg Bunn

Available Digital and Print

The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark Volume Three

This collection features the Janus Stark strips published between October 1969 and February 1970, written by Tom Tully and drawn by Francisco Solano López, Jaime Brocal Remohí, Franc Fuentes Man

Available Digital and Print

Check out “British Comic Characters Profiled – Janus Stark” right here on downthetubes

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. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek 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.

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