Ouch! Now that’s a bit of a double-take! I just realised that the real 2065 is now closer than the fictional version that tantalised me as a nipper. Mind you, I will be very happy if I can overtake that future.
Which is a bit of a digression, because while I watched and enjoyed Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL5 back in the day it was mothballed in the Greater London area in favour of Stingray and later Thunderbirds. Most of my memories of Steve Zodiac and his crew come not from the goggle box but from comics. Didn’t the Astrans grace our tv screens? They should have!
Some of Anderson’s shows, Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball made their comic debut in TV Comic. But publisher Polystyle lost those licenses when City Publications collaborated with Anderson’s company to create TV Century 21, a large paged weekly dedicated to photogravure printed adventures of our favourite puppets. Lush? It was!
With newspaper-styled covers, the early mix included Supercar, strangely cartoony compared with its brethren, Burke’s Law, Stingray, XL5, something called Lady Penelope, and a back page strip dedicated to the Daleks (free from Time Lord interference).
An assortment of artists would draw and paint Fireball XL5 for TV Century 21, Eric Eden, Gerry and Ron Embleton, Frank Hampson, but as a rule the clear and dynamic elegance of the strip was created by Mike Noble. He took over the strip from issue eight and produced most of the XL5 spreads published.
In issue 33, weekending September 4, 2065, readers started a six-part adventure in arctic conditions. It was written by Editor Alan Fennell who also scripted episodes of Anderson’s tv shows, We find Colonel Steve Zodiac, Doctor Venus and Professor Matthew Matic preparing for a supply run to planetary surveyors on Uraniture - “a beautiful place ... A mass of coloured ice fields and trees.” Which is like saying this will be the best Christmas ever.
So of course, explorer Estermil and his chum Bentley meet a new friend. He might be a snowman but he isn’t Frosty.
Looks like it’s contagious.
So Steve and co find the survey base abandoned and are then surrounded by a group of abominable snowmen. Please note, TV Steve used “oxygen pills” when going out the airlock but Comic Steve uses a fishbowl helmet at the very least.
The snowmen advance in a menacing fashion and Steve opens fire. It seems the creatures have taken possession of astronauts from previous expeditions. The crew flee but Venus crashes her hoverbike when hit by a collapsing space suit.
Steve rescues Venus in the nick of time and they retreat to Fireball, but any illusion of safety is short-lived.
The snowmen have reinforcements who surround the spaceship, taking hands in a ring as the merge, coalesce into a wall and form a creeping mass of ice that freezes XL5 and prevents take off. Steve orders his co-pilot Robert the Robot to fire boosters but nothing works. If they don’t find a way out soon, they will be submerged beneath the snow.
Steve risks firing a volley of missiles at the icy walls. Manning the controls in Fireball Junior, Robert keeps up the onslaught. The snow retreats, reforming as the horde of snowmen who then retreat. Fireball is free to leave but they still need to find out if the surveyors are alive.
Easy answer, send the robot out to check. Except Robot finds himself knocked from his bike by a giant snowball.
There is nothing for it. Steve will have to go out himself and gambles that extra space suit layers, cork insulation and a hulkbuster cover will give him protection against the snowmen. He heads out in the bulky get up in the hope of finding the missing men.
It seems he has been successful but as Estermil and Bentley step out of a spotlight we see they are still part of the Snowman collective and snow flows across Zodiac’s heavy duty space suit. Will it be enough to protect him?
Just about. Although covered in snow, Steve retains his free will when confronted by the snowman collective’s ruler, Klawking. After a brief struggle, Steve destroys Klawking’s layer and escapes as the cavern collapses around them.
Although he tries to save Estermil and Bentley they are already dead. When Klawking dies, the other snowmen cease to be. Steve, Matt and Venus reflect on events as they fly back to Earth in XL5.