On this day, 16 October 1976: Valiant
On this day, 16 October 1976 ... It's an irony that while Action was facing the threat of cancellation for giving readers a little too much of what they wanted, in another office in the same building the last of IPC's traditional adventure comics was being cancelled for failing to satisfy the demands of the fast-changing market. Valiant had lasted fourteen years and 730 issues and had been home to some of the best-known names in 1960s boys' comics, including Sexton Blake, Billy Bunter, The Steel Claw, Captain Hurricane and Kelly's Eye. But it struggled in the face of a new wave of adventure comics that hit the British newsstands in the mid 1970s. Rival publishers DC Thomson launched war-themed Warlord in September 1974, then action comic Bullet in February 1976, while IPC itself had new kids on the block: Battle Picture Weekly in March 1975, Action in February 1976 and Roy of the Rovers in September 1976, not to mention secret plans to launch a new sci-fi comic in the spring of 1977.
Valiant had made a, er, valiant effort to reinvent itself in the grittier, more charater-led style that characterised most if these new titles. John Wagner was brought in as the comic’s editor and he did away with a number of the more fantastical, B-movie style adventure stories (such as Kid Pharaoh, Danny Doom and The Wild Wonders) and introduced a number of new strips that would have sat comfortably in either Battle Picture Weekly or Action. Death Wish, The Lout that Ruled the Rovers, Wee Red, and, ending in this issue, wild dog tale Paco and football bribe mystery Stryker were among Valiant’s class of ’76, as were three other stories that would make the cut when it was merged into Battle Picture Weekly the following week. Two war stories were easy fits: Soldier Sharp, about a cowardly corporal conning his way across the Western front, and The Black Crow, about a British secret agent showing French resistance groups how to stick it up the Germans. One-eyed Jack is probably the pick of the pack, written by Wagner himself and drawn stylishly by John Cooper. Like Judge Dredd, Jack McBane bears more than a passing character resemblance to Dirty Harry, and his hard-bitten adventures first as a cop on the streets of New York then as a private detective continued for several more months in Battle and many of them were reprinted in Eagle in the 1980s.
None of Valiant’s longer-running stories made it into the merger, so this issue really does mark the end of an era. Valiant had a long tradition of humour strips alongside its action adventures, and three of those – Billy Bunter, The Nutts and Challenge Charlie all offered their last laughs here. Captain Hurricane – a comedy-war hybrid (although comedy was stretching things a little in my opinion) – also ended. Most sad was the final episode of Adam Eterno, a story which had survived two previous mergers – from Thunder into Lion into Valiant – but for which there was no obvious place in Battle. It’s a shame because this was a story which offered much potential as Adam – long before Captain Jack Harkness had the idea (come to think of it, Doctor Who’s the Face of Boe looks much more like Eterno than Harkness) – was not only invulnerable but jumped around in space and time so every adventure offered something new. In another strange quirk of time, I’ll be looking at Adam Eterno’s first ever story on the blog tomorrow.