On this day, 24 July 1976: Valiant and Vulcan
On this day, 24 July 1976 … Under the editorship of future Judge Dredd lead writer John Wagner, Valiant in 1976 wasn’t a bad comic, but it was in the final days of a prestigious fourteen-year run. Valiant was the last of a number of comics from IPC’s 1960s heyday (others including Lion, Smash! and the girls’ titles Princess and June) to disappear from the newsstands as a new wave of publications (such as Battle, Action, Sandie and Tammy) appeared in the 1970s. Wagner and Pat Mills are considered to be two of the most influential editorial influences behind the transformation of the IPC juvenile range, bringing an edgier and more contemporary sensibility characterised by more complex, often flawed, protagonists and more tightly-plotted, darker storylines commonly reflecting either British working class reality or the funk and punk of American film and TV culture.
Action is the most infamous of these new wave comics. The ‘sevenpenny nightmare’ made a lot of noise and splashed a lot of blood between its launch in February 1976 and its ban in October of the same year, and it’s easy to forget that Valiant was still running at this time. But it’s also interesting to read an issue such as this week’s and to notice how it too was trying to capture a bit of the Action vibe. It is a comic with a split personality, mixing the final hurrahs of long-running fantastical strips such as Captain Hurricane, Adam Eterno, Frank McDiarmid’s Challenge Charlie and Reg Parlett’s Billy Bunter, with a new roster of harder-boiled thrills that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Action or Battle at this time, but whose storylines seem incongruous under the ‘Valiant’ banner. There is less valour in the tales of Soldier Sharp – the ‘Rat of the Rifles’ Arnie Sharp was a con man and coward masquerading as a hero in the WWII British army – Death Wish – another WWII story about Sergeant Joe Bannon, a soldier ‘who no longer cared if he lived or died’ – Wee Red, a football story about a flame-haired troublemaker – or Paco – about the trials of a half-dog, half-wolf forced on to the underground fighting dog circuit.
Few of those titles made the cut when Valiant was merged into Battle later in the year, but one of the more recent stories to survive was John Wagner’s One-eyed Jack, which would also become familiar to readers of mid-1980s Eagle in which it enjoyed a popular reprint run. Although later scripted by Scott Goodall and Chris Lowder (while John Cooper remained the main artist), Wagner’s influence on this action-packed story – about the eye-patched, Dirty Harry-style New York DI Jack McBane, which combines violence, smart dialogue and tense plotting – seems clear. In my opinion it’s far better than Action’s British-based equivalent, Dredger.