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Century 21 Volume 4

01/10/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Century 21 Volume 4: Above And Beyond in the USA - or Buy Century 21 Volume 4: Above And Beyond in the UK

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Century 21 Volume 4: Above And Beyond. pub: Reynolds & Hearn. 151 page illustrated softcover. Price: about GBP 9.50 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-904674-15-3.

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For those of you eager to collect ‘TV21’ and ‘Countdown’ comic material from the Gerry Anderson shows, you should realise by now that volume four is out there.

The opening article by Chris Bentley has a look at Ron Embleton’s work on the end credits of the ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’ TV series and even features two of them sans the words as well as the content of this book.

When I read them back in the 60s and 70s, it was a given that some of them existed in the same time-line as each other even if they never met. There was references to Gordon Tracy serving in the WASPs for instance but that didn’t necessarily mean at the same time as Stingray was operational. If anything, the story where Steve Zodiac had the help of Troy Tempest and Lady Penelope made an acceptance that they all in it together although you would have to wonder if the World Space Patrol had so much out there, why would there be a need for International Rescue’s Thunderbird Three to rescue anyone trapped in space. With the advent of ‘Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons’, things got even trickier, especially in the story ‘Unity’ which had a plan to crash Cloudbase into Unity City. Although it was thwarted by Captain Scarlet, much of the chase came under the auspices of a Stingray-class WASPs vessel and even some of XL fleet. For those of you who need reminding, this is less than a year after the Zero-X discovered the Mysterons on Mars. If the World Space Patrol was working at even greater distances then there’s a hell of a discrepancy in manned space flight. Even in my tender years, I had problems getting my head around that.

The Fireball XL-5 story, ‘Timeslip’ has the rocket using experimental motors going back a century and the realisation that they should not leave any of their technology back here. This really is a tour de force of Mike Nobel’s art with tanks galore. For those thinking the story uses the same MO as a certain 1960s ‘Star Trek’ episode, ‘Tomorrow Is Yesterday’, I don’t think we actually had it over here when this was painted.

Saying that, writer Alan Fennell’s ideas on the Thunderbirds story ‘Destination Sun’ clearly ignores any science at all with sun meteorites and such hitting the planets. This is also the first time we see Thunderbird Two land at space city but nary a Fireball in sight. When Thunderbird Three crashes on Venus, it’s up to the other Thunderbirds to get there and rescue it. I know TB2 got stuck in Earth orbit in an earlier story but even with boosters and such it was stretching the imagination to see them all off-planet.

After that, we’re back into conventional territory with the Stingray story ‘The Flying Fish’ where a scientist associate of the mighty Titan (it’s a contract thing to praise the underwater leader) has been using Marineville facilities to develop a new weapon. One wonders why he didn’t pay attention to the newly built Sea Leopard and how to defeat it. Ron Embelton’s art is magnificent here and the Sea Leopard, based on a catamaran design, looks truly formidable.

The Zero-X’ story ‘The Ghosts Of Saturn’ has them delivering a robot and its creator to investigate Saturn and things slowly unravel. You would think Zero-X command would do a bit more in the way of personality checks on their guest passengers. Artist MikeNoble always impressed me when I was young and this still hasn’t changed today with an impressive colour palate.

The Thunderbirds story ‘The Quake Maker’ has a man-made calamity in the Middle East and a sharp reminder that the International Rescue craft aren’t immune to damage. Frank Bellamy’s art depends on a more limited and perhaps washy colour palate than either Embleton or Noble’s but it doesn’t distract from the art, especially with the disasters he displays. It’s no wonder that ‘TV21’ was regarded so highly then and now.

The second Captain Scarlet story ‘Satellite 4’ was a mixture of colour and black and white pages owing to how it was spread out in the comic a year after the first one in this volume. The Mysterons, through their agent, have taken over a Spectrum satellite and beaming ultrasonics on the Earth and rendering Cloudbase nearly non-operational. An interesting state of affairs in having Colonel White returning to Cloudbase and over-turning a decision Captain Scarlet made that was correct is something we never see him apologise for. Without getting too much into spoiler ground here, Captain Black only turns up at the end, intending to leave Scarlet in an eternal grave. Shame he didn’t consider the weight of the coffin. Great stuff.

The Fireball XL-5 story, ‘The Sword Of Damacles’, is another of the Mike Noble painted classics scripted by Angus Allan where the Black Ships organisation is doing an effective piracy in space against defenceless freighters but run from XL-5 when it investigates. They flee rather than face XL-5, realising that they need a serious space tech update and set a plan in motion. First, they kidnap and threaten a holidaying Venus and offer to exchange her for XL-5. Second, they abduct scientists. The World President and Commander Zero won’t deal over Venus but they have to rescue the scientists and figure Steve Zodiac will have a better chance from the inside. The organisation is so arrogant that they have Zodiac’s strings (sorry about that) that he’s allowed to wander their base and improvises plans. Very heady stuff for us juniors back in the 60s but brilliantly played out. The Fireball XL-5 stories were always top notch and this one shouldn’t be missed.

Sadly, the UFO story ‘The Movies’ from ‘Countdown’ is less so. I suspect it was included to make up the page count but having an alien escaping his exploding spacecraft and thinking a rocket on a studio lot is the real thing is a throwaway plot.

Having said that, there are plenty of stories here that you need to have in your collection and if you loved ‘TV21’ comic and can’t afford the originals this is a great source.

GF Willmetts

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