(2014) Sam Denham, Egmont Classic Comics, £25, hrdbk, 288pp, ISBN 978-1-405-27266-7
A year shy of half a century since the comic TV21's launched, Egmont, with permission of ITC and Gerry Anderson Productions, has provided a new hardback graphic anthology of some of the comic's strips based on the Gerry Anderson television series Fireball XL5 (opening credits here), Stingray (opening credits here), Thunderbirds (opening credits here), Captain Scarlet (opening credits here), and Joe 90 (opening credits here). Also in the mix are the spin-off strips Lady Penelope and Zero-X (both from Thunderbirds), and Angels (their prequel origins from Captain Scarlet).
The anthology's overall look is somewhat reminiscent of the 1960s hardback comic annuals both spin-offs from the series and of TV21 itself. The inside covers, front and back, sport a rather garish tessellated mosaic of strip logos that could almost make for a fan child's kiddies wall paper (yuk). There is a basic, but highly informative, introduction by Sam Denham who also provides four other short articles spaced across the anthology. Indeed, the strips reproduced come from Sam's own collection and so much is owed him for enabling this anthology to be created.
Plus points include that the strips' pages sporting a colour bleed band that details the strips' titles, part numbers, artists and dates of publication. A little confusing – if you did not know it – is that some of the earlier strips have the date with a hundred years added (e.g. '2065' instead of '1965'). This is because the first couple of years of TV21 they used 21st century dates instead of 20th century ones. Alas, the dating system is not uniform across the anthology and for the most part the actual 20th century dates are used.
The strips are reproduced on gloss art paper and, though not high-gloss, this is satisfactory. The reproductions are good, but not excellent as the images are taken from copies of the comic from Sam's own collection and not the original artwork. Nonetheless the quality of artwork is fine, and indeed better than is to be found in the original annuals from that time.
Comparisons will undoubtedly be made by Anderson collectors between this anthology and the 2009 – 2011 vols 1 & 2 and vols 3, 4 & 5 Chris Bentley anthologies. Here, it has to be said that the Bentley anthologies have higher production values, but to be fair both the earlier Bentley anthologies and this Denham anthology have their respective strengths and weaknesses. As said, I do like Denham's edge of page, coloured bleed band with strip information. I did have concerns with the lack of a gutter in strips that ran across the page in a couple of the stories collected by Bentley (we lost some of the artwork folded into the anthologies' bindings). However I prefer the quality of reproduction in the Bentley anthology which for the most part far better captured the originals: conversely Egmont have done a more straightforward copying from Denham's TV21 collection. And then for some of the Captain Scarlet strips that originally began on the front cover of TV21, the Denham's collection has trimmed off the TV21 top logo banner.
What is welcome, is that most of the strips in this new Denham anthology did not appear in the Bentley volumes and so if you want these strips you have to buy all the anthologies. However there were just a few duplications. One duplication, though, is particularly welcome as the previous Bentley anthology omitted the Fireball XL5 story 'The Vengeance of Saharis' which sets up the villains in 'The Giant Ant invasion' duplicated in both sets of anthologies. Reading the Bentley anthology alone, you think that the villains are 'two criminals' and that their 'revenge' is purely against the authorities. However, read 'The Vengeance of Saharis' and you realise that the villains are actually the sole survivors of a world accidentally nuked by a lost fleet of nuclear weapons launched early in Earth's 1960s space programme. The survivors' desire for vengeance is at least understandable, and not at all wanton, even though their planet getting nuked was an accident. This makes Steve Zodiac's summary killing of the villains – to our 21st century eyes – reprehensible. So the Bentley 'The Giant Ant invasion' story appears in a different light in the Denham anthology where it is preceded by 'The Vengeance of Saharis'. While we are discussing this, this does illustrate one of the interesting aspects of re-reading these strips half a century on as they do reveal some of the western imperialistic mood and views common in the 1960s that are markedly different from those today in the early 21st century. And presciently, a Fireball XL5 story even sees what is effectively a terrorist high-jacking of a space liner to turn it into a flying bomb but remember, this was originally printed a third of a century before 9/11!
To sum up, Anderson collectors will need both the Bentley anthologies together with this new Denham one. Though I would have preferred if they at least were all the same size, so as to sit more uniformly on the bookshelf, I guess you can't have everything. Recommended for those into mid-20th century televisual sci-fi.
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