Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks
The Front Page, drawn by John M Burns for TV Century 21.

One of the conceits of TV Century 21, a top selling British comics weekly of the 1960s was its pose as a newspaper of the future. Each issue had a dramatic headline, salacious stop press flashes, and pseudo-news stories that teased the adventures of Troy Tempest, Steve Zodiac, Lady Penelope, the Tracy Brothers, the Zero-X crew, Agent 21, and even the Daleks. (I’m not sure if this extended to Burke’s Law, My Favouite Martian, The Munsters or Sgt Bilko).

Who is Captain Black anyway? And if his organisation is so secret, why the flashy uniform? What’s up with the ‘space station’?

The glossy big pages were even dated one hundred years ahead, 2067 was a glorious vintage to be sure. Although most of its content was geared towards features based on television properties, TV Century 21 added a few original features hitherto unseen. The big gun was Secret Agent 21, dawn by Rab Hamilton for the most part. This strip followed the exploits of Brent Cleaver, supposedly a toy salesman, in reality an expert super spy. Cleaver briefly gained superpowers and became Mr Magnet. The special agent was also de facto mascot for the weekly, occupying the editorial role on letter and feature pages. To begin with anyway. Another strip was The Investigator, drawn by Ron Harley and more fondly remembered, Catch or Kill which centered on playboy Curtis Gorton who liked hunting things. This strip was drawn by John M Burns who had been drawing Space Family Robinson for Lady Penelope and an assortment of classic adaptations for Diana. (Burns has drawn Jane, Modesty Blaise, Eartha, The Tomorrow People, Countdown, House of Hammer adaptations, The Six-Million Dollar Man and Space 1999. That list is by no means comprehensive.)

Throwing up in a cab is still a 21st century problem.

Burns stuck around for Catch or Kill’s replacement, The Front Page. This strip followed the staff of TV Century 21 as they probed the stories that made the headlines, such the theft of the Crown Jewels, mutant plants, death rays and the return of Al Capone. Generally it followed reporter Pete Tracker and shutterbug ‘Lens’ Sharpe, who unlike their Solo colleague John Marsh had no idea of the impending Mysteron menace - even if they did somehow write about Captain Black vanishing during his trip to Mars. During these days you might think the comic was trying to tell readers something. Like a new tv show was due. That’s an interesting vehicle that collects the Bordon Ray from Pete and Lens in the closing week of August 2067.

Don’t blink! That’s our first view of the MSV -Maximum Security Vehicle.

At the end of their adventure with the Bordon Ray, Pete and Lens are ordered to follow up on sightings of a spaceship/ space station seen over Nice.

Is that a Spectrum jet?

They can’t get a clear picture in France but it looks like an aircraft carrier. Hiring a plane only sees them being chased off by the World Air Force, which brings them to Glenn Field in America. Yes, the space port is named after astronaut John Glenn. This installment ends with some Harrison Ford style flying and a collision course with the Zero-X bringing Captain Black back to Earth. Great thinking guys!

Spectrum is green! Did they get fined for that crash?

They survive the crash and old Conrad slips away before anyone can question him about preemptive assaults on alien civilisations. This leads to an audience with Colonel White (who he?) who seems to reconsider the secretive nature of his organisation. The lads get their headline and Spectrum’s Cloudbase is revealed - to us readers anyway.

Look! The Angels from the Lady Penelope comic have landed on Cloudbase!

Isn’t that F.A.B? Spectrum is a new security organisation with fancy clothes and colour-coded, um, code names. I still think they are trying to tell us something?

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