You might be familiar with the sepulchral tones of the disembodied Martians who will be waging war against Earth in 2067. But do you recall the days when the main nemesis of the Mysterons was a lone reporter working at a comic with a taste for Mary Poppins, Super Goof and The Man from UNCLE? No?
In February 1967, City Magazines launched a new gravure comics weekly. It was backed by some heavyweight competitions and other promotion. They were enjoying success with other comic periodicals, mainly the Gerry Anderson themed TV Century 21, but also Lady Penelope, Candy and new addition TV Tornado.
The new weekly was called Solo, possibly because it featured The Man From UNCLE? I don’t know? The UNCLE strip here was never as luxurious as the version Ron Embleton painted for the Lady Penelope weekly. In fact the main event was The Scarecrow, a comic adaptation of the Disney movie Dr Syn starring Patrick McGoohan. It was edited variously by TV Century 21's Alan Fennell and Chris Spencer and John Ebblewhite (not necessarily in that order).
The logo was a bright and breezy red, white and blue and the likes of Donald Duck, Super Goof, Junior Woodchucks, Scamp, Scrooge McDuck, and Pluto, nudged up against Mary Poppins, The Fighting Prince of Donegal, Sgt Bilko, Run Buddy Run, Scarecrow, UNCLE and The Adventures of Seaspray. There was also Fatman and Sparrow, a dynamic duo with more than a passing resemblance to a certain couple of caped crusaders.
Now at 7d, Solo was priced up in the heavy end of comics. Despite the high quality printing and Disney characters (no mice though), it is possible that the existing mix and expensive competitions were not attracting an audience.
In June 1967, Solo underwent a rather drastic transformation. The colour faded inside. It became infected or apparently not, because readers were told this was an Anti-Mysteron Edition! Did we know what a Mysteron was? Not yet! The cover now had a newspaper style cover, almost like TV Century 21 that hysterically proclaimed assassination, conspiracy and destruction at the hands of an invisible menace. The logo had an eerie halo behind the text. Wonder what that could mean?
The comic picked up some new features. Project S.W.O.R.D united a line of space-themed toys under a story of an Earth that had exhausted resources and planned to colonise other worlds. A continuity busting tale concerned attempts to establish a foothold on Mars. The toyline included Zero-X which had featured in Thunderbirds Are Go, the big screen debut of International Rescue. I don’t think it ever appeared in the Project S.W.O.R.D strip but it was due to reappear on our telly screens.
Another strip, Tomorrow West told of a time traveler who goes back to the Wild West and there was also Spectrum News, a text feature which stoked the paranoia about an alien menace. In the centrespread we gained The Mark of The Mysterons. Reporter John Marsh finds himself investigating and thawting plots instigated by an alien force. You would think he should be indestructible to deal with such a threat, but no. He was a mere mortal.
The strip was drawn in black and white by Dan Dare stalwart Don Harley.
John Marsh continued his adventures up to issue 30, then he was ditched in favour of a strip simply called The Mysterons. But it seems their gift for retro-metabolisim wasn’t good enough and issue 31 was the last.
After less than a year, Solo was matched and dispatched. It was merged with TV Tornado and readers were treated to an Anti-Mysteron badge for the occasion. And we still hadn’t seen the blasted tv show. Don Harley continued to draw The Mysterons, giving physical form to the Martian menace as they traveled the stars. In some ways, the new strip was similar to The Daleks comic that had been a memorable feature on the back page of TV Century 21.
Talking of journalist heroes, TV Century 21 briefly had a strip called Front Page which followed an editorial team chasing down sightings of a strange unidentified flying object. Their investigations touch on a clandestine launch of a Zero-X spaceship (carrying Captain Black on his fateful mission). The final installment reveals the flying object to be Cloudbase, the home of secret organisation Spectrum. You know, the secret agency where the officers all wear brightly coloured jerkins.
It was on September 26, 1967 that we finally discovered what all the fuss was about. Bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom!