On this day, 17 October 1970: Thunder
On this day, 17 October 1970 … Thunder was one of a clutch of new comic titles published around the turn of the decade as IPC Magazines built a new range of publications to build on their successes of the 1960s. (IPC Magazines was a relatively new division of the International Publishing Corporation, bringing together the Odhams group – which had published the likes of Wham!, Smash!, Fantastic, Pow! and Terrific – and Fleetway Publications – which had published long-running titles such as Lion, Tiger, Valiant, Buster and June.) The new line-up included Sally (June 1969), Whizzer and Chips (October 1969), Scorcher (January 1970), Cor!! (June 1970) and Thunder, and a number of other new titles would be launched over the next five years before IPC really found its seventies groove. Thunder was one the less successful new comics. Like Jet the following year it ran for only 22 issues (curiously, the same number as both Starlord and Tornado), before being merged into a more established title – in Thunder’s case, Lion.
It comprises a line-up of stories based on quite fantastical ideas, most of which lack substance, credibility, backstory or depth of character, again rather like Jet, although Thunder seems to take itself much more seriously than Jet. Stories include: The Terrible Trail to Tolmec (young boy follows a mysterious map to track down his long-lost father), Cliff Hanger (buff adventurer and his hirsute Gurkha pal get into, and out of, weekly scrapes), Fury’s Family (a lad who can talk to animals leads a mass escape from the circus), Dusty Binns (cheeky, chirpy, son of a scrap dealer turns football star), The Jet-skaters (boys from a Saturday morning village cinema club are given a set of flying roller-skates) and Gauntlet of Fate (ne’er-do-well convict discovers a magical ancient glove that gives him super-strength). There were a couple of humour strips: The Spooks of St Luke’s drawn by Cyril Price, and the pugilistic Sam, a renamed reprint of a Leo Baxendale strip called Biff in Wham! comic.
Tolmec (as The Jigsaw Journey), Fury, Jet-skaters, the Spooks and Sam would all survive the merger into Lion in March 1971, as would four other stories which I think stand head and shoulders above the rest. Black Max offers Thunder’s most excellent artwork, Eric Bradbury’s superbly gothic rendition of the tale of a nasty WWI German pilot with a pet giant bat. Phil the Fluter is, on the face of it, a rather lame story about a boy who finds a flute which can freeze the world around him. This strip works for me because it looks very nice; it occupied the full-colour centre pages, and the technique of showing Phil in colour against the frozen world in black and white is both effective and rather spooky. Interestingly, while Mario Capaldi then Tom Kerr would draw the rest of this strip’s run, the first episode was drawn by Mike Western – and it looks strikingly similar to the first episode of Billy’s Boots that he drew for Scorcher earlier in the year.
Steel Commando makes his clunking debut in this issue. The tin trooper would become a lead character in Lion for a few years before teaming up with Captain Hurricane in Valiant. And – a day after we read his final episode in yesterday’s post on 1976’s Valiant – here is the very first instalment of the adventures of Adam Eterno. Adam was a 16th-century alchemist’s apprentice who stole his master’s elixir of eternal youth, and was cursed to travel back and forth through time, only ever to be killed by a fatal blow from a weapon made of gold. Adam Eterno was a memorable character – possibly thanks in large part to the artwork of Solano Lopez, who took over the strip a few months in, but one that offered great dramatic potential. He is one of the few of these 1970s characters that I would love to see reimagined and rebooted for a modern-day readership. Now that Rebellion hold the rights … who knows?