UFO Comic Anthology Volume One (book review).

January 14, 2022 | By | Reply More

I’ve been waiting for a long time to see the ‘UFO’ cartoon strips from the 1971 ‘Countdown’ comic again. As is pointed out in the introduction, unlike Century 21’s other TV series, ‘UFO’ wasn’t shown simultaneously across the country. For me, Westward TV had it a year before HTV which was one of the last to show it. Reception was patchy when I watch it on the former and had a very indulgent Mother letting me watch the four episodes deemed too adult late at night on their bedroom TV where we had the best Westward TV reception. Oddly, in recent decades repeats, these are now shown with the rest.

Reading in this book, the artists and writers involved in the comicbook strip were hindered with a similar problem, with not having to hand the series to watch but a lack of enough source photographic material to get any accuracy to it. Looking at these strips now with a less accepting eye now makes sense of things that were missing but can understand their frustration. Reading the stories, it’s easy to spot Lieutenant Keith Ford (actor Keith Alexander) is missing but when they were not given any reference material for him understandable. Even the colour of the Moonbase girls’ wigs was omitted and the odd one was working on Earth.

When young, you just accept what you’re given and I didn’t really prejudge between the two mediums. These days, I tend to avoid things that might be regarded as canon but clearly isn’t because it just confuses issues. Reading the stories here, you wouldn’t think they were the same animal anyway.

The comicstrip got instantly better when artist Gerry Haylock took over with the second story and the scene in the third part where a UFO explodes has always remained in my memory with Alec Freeman shouting everyone to get clear being effective. Mind you, when Haylock left to work on the ‘Doctor Who’ strip, art quality dropped again.

Interestingly, Freeman and Carlin gets more work in these strips than they ever did in the TV series and Straker certainly more in the action than ordering from a distance. Then again, the aliens are also given voices. From a comicstrip point of view, the enemy who  was just enigmatically quiet and multiple motivations, even for youngsters reading, they must have felt they needed to put more ‘meat’ on them.

Some of the mistakes should test your UFO knowledge. In ‘The Hillbilly Affair’, Foster’s rank is major not colonel but considering that, at the time, they still thought Straker, although commander was still a colonel, probably made sense not to give him a higher rank. This is shortly covered in an article afterwards, briefly looking at the 1971 ‘UFO Annual’ although I wish they had included a photo of its cover because of its significance. However, considering there is to be a second volume, maybe that can be rectified there and cover all the gaps related to ‘Countdown’. Rather interestingly, in the succeeding story, ‘Straker Smells A Rat’, we see a Moon Interceptor docking with the Space Intruder Detector (SID), something that has been acknowledged in blueprints but never used in the TV series. I do ponder on this but more from the point of view the distance the Interceptor has to fly and fuel consumption and return to the Moon.

I do hope that future volumes look at other material from ‘Countdown’. Certainly Gerry Haylock’s version of Jon Pertwee’s ‘Doctor Who’ certainly deserves a proper book and yes, I do know they were reprinted in the ‘Doctor Who Magazine’. So, too, does the titular story strip ‘Countdown’ with its art by John M. Burns with a massive continuing story which had me at the edge of my seat when reading it. Although I doubt if a spaceship like the USS Discovery could travel to the nearest star and back, the use of hibernation with its petal tubes should remind you of a certain Nostromo and you do have to wonder if that was an influence here.

The interview with the late Dennis Hooper was interesting because he wrote all the scripts for the ‘Countdown’ comic, not crediting himself and confusion from others thinking the artists also scripted. Thinking back to that time period, I suspect Hooper didn’t have much choice. His observations of the artists will make you think he was spot on or you hadn’t realised before. He also understood his audience and, other than the ‘Countdown’ story, ensured tales didn’t go on beyond 6-8 issues. Mind you, the ‘Countdown’ story could be deemed to have sections as well.

I was surprised by the number of ‘UFO’ stories and it still hasn’t reached the one where Straker tries out a new Interceptor which does make me wonder how many stories will make up volume two.

Reading this book has been a real nostalgic kick and I’m sure those of us old enough to have read the original ‘Countdown’ comic in the early 1970s will want to read this book. Not only for the comic strips but also the articles about what happened behind the scenes.

With my adult eye, the quality of the stories was variable but could do some things that would have been difficult to achieve in the TV series and vice versa. Seeing the problems with material access does at least explain some of the obstacles they had to overcome and it’s a shame that so many of the artists are no longer with us to be interviewed about these problems.

Even so, while so much focus has been given to ‘TV21’ and its strips over the years, ‘Countdown’ has been sorely neglected. I hope Anderson Enterprises covers the other material from the comic. It might not all be good but it does deserve to be archived.

GF Willmetts

January 2022

(pub: Anderson Entertainment, 2021. 288 page graphic novel large hardback. Price: . ISBN: 978-1-91452-220-8)

check out website: https://shop.gerryanderson.com/

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Category: Books, Comics, Scifi


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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