When Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons made its television debut at the end of September 1967 it was accompanied by a unparalleled wave of merchandising and supplementary tie-ins (well, if you ignore Thunderbirds and a few other things that came before. If you thought Star Wars broke new ground in integrated marketing, think again, there are a few precedents in the Anderson-verse). You could, wear the clothes, play with the toys and eat the bubble gum. Okay, eat the chocolate or the ice lolly, don’t swallow the bubble gum.
As I’ve mentioned, we were prepared for the arrival of Spectrum’s indestructible man with an assortment of comic strips. Scarlet’s high flying honour guard, The Angels, had been cutting their aeronautic chops in the pages of Lady Penelope, John Marsh had been hunting The Mark of The Mysterons in Solo, the deadly Martians had manifested in The Mysterons to wreck evil in TV Tornado. and Pete Tracker got in the way in TV Century 21's Front Page.
Not that I would have acknowledged this at the time, but when Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons arrived the show was a little bit turgid, a little bit dull, heavily portentious and overly serious. It quickly became formulaic, Scarlet would sacrifice himself at the end but would be resurrected for next week’s episode.
To be honest, the show I really wanted to see was teased in the end credits of Captain Scarlet. Ten paintings showed young Mr Metcalfe in deadly peril, all packed with a kinetic motion that was always going to be beyond the powers of Supermarionation. Indestructible or not, being run over by a tank is going to hurt. Luckily, the comic version had more freedom to follow this vision.
Those ten paintings were the crafted by Ron Embleton, already a prolific veteran of the British and European comic scene. He had drawn strips for Marvel Man creator Mick Anglo, as well as Strongbow the Mighty for Mickey Mouse Weekly, Biggles and Wulf the Briton for TV Express, Wrath of the Gods for Boy’s World, Johnny Frog in Eagle, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in Lady Penelope. He also illustrated for World of Wonder, Look and Learn, Princess, Playhour, Once Upon A Time, Tell Me Why and would go on to Wicked Wanda and Sweet Chastity for Penthouse. His work on the Stingray strip in TV Century 21 prompted Gerry Anderson to commission the paintings for the Captain Scarlet tv show.
After some foreshadowing with features listing cast and vehicles, Captain Scarlet made his comic debut in TV Century 21 number 141 (Captain Black and Colonel White had appeared an issue earlier in the Front Page strip). This was a week ahead of the show getting its first broadcast in the Midlands.
Luckily Ron Embleton was on hand to paint this new feature with the same verve as those end credit portraits. On a slight downside, Frank Bellamy’s ever dynamic Thunderbirds got bumped off the centrespread.
The new strip kicked off with a blast and a sunken masthead that spotlighted the good versus evil conflict of Scarlet and his nemesis Captain Black - like they were Mad magazine’s Spy vs Spy. Black got to deliver the threat of destruction for the World Government Headquarters in Unity City. Ooops! They have blown up an Angel Interceptor. Continued next week!
Harmony survives but her plane has been Mysteronised and is flying on with nefarious purpose. So Scarlet rams it with his own plane.
He recovers, of course, in a rare Cloudbase sickbay scene which serves as a device to allow him to be up and running when his colleagues are disabled by a sonic blast. It’s up to him to save Cloudbase from Captain Black and a little thing like scorching his arms on an elevator pole won’t hold him back. Over the next few weeks, Scarlet would be burned at the stake, dropped from heights, frozen, mangled, pegged out to be eaten by crabs, blown up, trampled by stampeding elephants, drowned, exposed to the vacuum of space and bashed about in ways the television show could never manage. Cloudbase would come perilously close to destruction as well. All this action came in glorious color, courtesy of Mr Embleton. This first adventure also made use of TV Century 21's shared universe. If a glimpse of the MEV on tv wasn’t enough, Captain Black kidnaps Scarlet and smuggles him through Marineville and into space where Fireball XL2 destroys the rocket they are travelling in. A rare panel shows the XL2 crew using oxygen pills - although the Terry Nation created get-out was a regular television feature of Fireball XL5, the TV Century 21 strip usually opted to stick Steve Zodiac in a spacesuit.
Dare I say it, this is also where the wheels started coming off TV Century 21. Weird things were ahead. Scarlet had one further run of adventures in the centrespread before the comic underwent a bit of a revamp. With issue 155, the title became merely TV21. It ditched the newspaper-style covers making Captain Scarlet the cover feature. (Fireball XL5 became a text feature during this run.)
Reflecting the Spectrum motif, issues were colour coded. We had “red” editions, then blue, and black, orange and green editions. Did we ever get yellow? Initially Embleton continued to draw the strip as it became a four page feature. It was colour on the cover, grey wash on pages two and three and then colour again on page four. (Some people claim that pages two and three were produced in colour but published in black and white. I’ve never seen any proof that this was the case although Fleetway reprints in the Nineties did colour those page for their fad mag. Quite appalling if you ever see it.) Mike Noble took over the strip for the next eight weeks which began a rotation of artists for the feature. Keith Watson would do a couple of issues, then Frank Bellamy would do a cover with Don Harley interiors (shades of Dan Dare), More Noble then Bellamy and Jim Watson, more Keith, then John Cooper. I’m sure there is some Carlos Pino in there somewhere?
With issue 192, TV21 merged with its sister title TV Tornado. Little changed on the cover but inside the mag now included The Saint, Tarzan and Project SWORD. The waves has swallowed Stingray without trace. The interior pages for Captain Scarlet became black and white only. Then three pages became two. Curiously Zero-X remained a colour strip.
In issue 196, the strip managed to engineer the defeat of The Mysterons, freeing Captain Black from their influence. For a single issue, Spectrum is disbanded, Scarlet and Blue become the crew of Fireball XL19, Colonel White becomes ambassador to the Astrans and heads to the home of the sausage people.
On an aside, rooting round TV21 196, this reader’s letter about the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia caught my attention. I wonder what this young scouser might have gone on to write? If I have my maths right, in this long cosmos, he is probably a failed astronaut devising ways for Martians to massacre mankind.
Back with that indestructible fellow.
It’s all a ruse, the Mysterons launch an all-out attack on Earth. We get a cameo from Steve Zodiac, Robert the Robot (he has to bring Colonel White on his way home), Commander Zero and Commander Shore. Scarlet confronts the Mysterons on Mars and forces their retreat. For the moment anyway.
More change was afoot. The newspaper style covers were reintroduced, but they lacked the original urgency and seemed to suffer from scaling problems. The mast head was revamped in a way that reflected the original and football features made a strange entry to the publication.
Issues 234 to 238 drawn by Jim Watson sees an end to The Mysteron menace. Or at least a stalemate that forces them to abandon Mars and head into deep space. Cosmic ray projectors block their power and Captain Black dies in this encounter. Is Scarlet still indestructible. I don’t think they ever answer that question?
The next issue saw a new adventure for Captain Scarlet, drawn by John Cooper. This three-part tale pitted him against Arcturan rebels who have stolen a space ship from Sirius. Their defeat avoids an interplanetary war. Would there be other foes or would the Mysterons return? We would never find out. The strip that appeared in TV21 and TV Tornado 242 was the final one for Captain Scarlet.
Another merger was in force and the next issue became TV21 & Joe 90 No 1 (new series). There was a new Captain in town and his name was Kirk!