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Century 21 Volume 3: Escape From Aquatraz

1/01/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Century 21 Volume 3: Escape From Aquatraz in the USA - or Buy Century 21 Volume 3: Escape From Aquatraz in the UK

author pic

pub: Reynolds & Hearn. 151 page illustrated softcover. 8.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-904674-08-5.

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This third volume of TV21 reprint material nearly escaped my radar but I'm glad it hasn't and if you had or want to re-read 1960s comicstrips then the cream of the crop is here and you won't want to, neither.

Of the twelve stories here, there is the incredible Mike Noble painted 'Abominable Snowmen' story. Written by Alan Fennell, it tells of Fireball X-L5 delivering supplies to a survey team on a snow-laden planetoid only to find they've become snowmen zombies under a dangerous being. The attempts to escape and then to take the initiative under dangerous odds is first rate Science Fiction dealing with their problems in a logical manner. I also suspect it is the first time we had zombies in a British comic. It was spell-binding when young and still a little scary chilly today. Your kids will never build a snowman again after reading this one and you'll dread the fatal word, 'Freeze!'

The title story, 'Escape From Aquatraz', is a two-fold story, again written by Fennell but with the marvellous art of Ron Embleton. Marshall Ketov and his staff are in a bathescaphe (their spelling) heading towards Marineville under the assured protection of Commander Shore, only to be captured by Titan. An examination of the bathescaphe discovers its power source is uranium and as Titan plans to re-engine his terror fish with it, he sends Ketov and his men to Aquatraz to be executed. Stingray and its crew are in pursuit and it shouldn't come as a surprise that they rescue them but Ketov has Shore up on incompetency charges and Troy Tempest is left in charge of Marineville as Titan has taken over a uranium plant. Next to 'The Astran War', this is one of the longest stories that ran in 'TV21' but as was two stories under one banner this is hardly surprising. The Aquatraz plot only covering a third of the story. With Shore being court-martialed, it was also a rather adult theme for a kids comic but then again, as I've commented about earlier volumes, we weren't treated as kids reading these comics but young adults and the material written accordingly.

Saying that, I doubt if 'Atomic Runaway', a 'Thunderbirds' story scripted by Scott Goodall and illustrated by Frank Bellamy, would be done today. At least, not in the way depicted. Even kids know you shouldn't detonate atomic bombs, especially at sea, even if it to reduce the reduce the world's nuclear bomb stockpiles but back then, a bomb was a bomb, only these had a bigger flash and radiation. Here, though, one of the ships gets damaged by a coral reef and it's left to International Rescue to save an island from a detonation. Unlike the other two stories mentioned above, the 'Thunderbirds' stories tend to be centred more on showing the vehicles more than character interaction which was an odd contrast to the TV series and indeed to other TV21 stories.

'Icebreaker, a second 'Stingray' story by Fennell and Embleton, combines water and ice when Tempest and Phones are sent to the Arctic where they discover alien robots melting the ice cap to flood the world. Quite why sentient robots who rely on electricity need to make the Earth a more watery world than it is now isn't really explained. The interesting point is seeing Tempest apparently turning traitor to discover more and Phones reaction making an interesting dynamic. These robots are truly creepy with oyster heads and red eyes poking out.

The second 'Thunderbirds' story, 'The Manafu Trench', is a Thunderbird 4 story with Gordon Tracy being attacked by the Bereznik enemy during the rescue of an American submarine. If anything, these adventures make International Rescue more a team effort and even returning to the island for more equipment which wouldn't have been done in the TV series.

The second 'Captain Scarlet' story, 'The Banner Vine', is an odd one in the Mysterons aren't even involved. Scarlet and Blue are sent to investigate why spaceships are crashing as they return to Earth and find a different menace. The clue is in the title.

Then again, the same could be said of the two 'Zero-X' stories which has gone far beyond its original premise which was to go to Mars and now seems to go outside the Solar System with impunity. The adventures are pure Science Fiction but centred with sorting out a single alien problem.

The second 'Fireball X-L5' story, 'Mystery Of The Magnetoid' was illustrated by the great Frank Hampson, him of 'Dan Dare' fame. On their way home after their snow adventure, they have engine damage that forces them to land on an asteroid. While Steve Zodiac and Matt Matic are doing repairs, Venus finds a weapon-holding astronaut who is clearly dead and skeletal. Confirming that the asteroid is highly magnetic and they are trapped as well, they look for what is causing it. As eerie story and I'd hate to give away the discovery but it would make a great film today.

The final story is one from 'Countdown', 'TV21's 1970s successor, based on 'UFO', called 'The Colour Is Green' written by Dennis Hooper and illustrated by Brian Lewis. Although I'm not sure this is the best story to start with, it is a great move because this is the first time 'Countdown' material has been reprinted in an album format. There's a lot of great material in there and I hope the publishers consider reprinting the 'Countdown' comicstrip as a complete graphic novel if they have access to John Burns' material.

If I have to be critical of anything with these books is when the centre of double page stories is squashed in the centrefold. Whether the hardback version has a similar problem I don't know. It isn't a problem that is easily solvable short of not printing them. Maybe it would be worth paying for a foldout three page, shove a photo on one side, would get away with it.

As you should be able to tell, I'm enthusiastic towards these books. If your kids are fans of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV shows then their jaws will drop with the art and story quality here compared to the version in the newsagents. If you want to re-live stories you saw in your youth and knew how hard it is to buy up the original 'TV21' comics then these albums are really a must. They sell quickly, so don't leave it too long before getting your copy.

GF Willmetts

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