The Stars of Fleetway: A Very Biased Top Ten

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Following on from his look at the history of the British IPC/Fleetway comics yesterday, BF's Tony Ingram gives us his own personal "top ten" characters from their adventure comic weekly line-up...

The Steel Claw

Lab assistant Louis Crandell lost his right hand in an accident and had it replaced by a sophisticated steel claw full of handy gimmicks designed by his employer, Dr Barringer (why Barringer did this remains unclear). Shortly afterwards, the luckless Crandell was subjected to a severe electric shock, and discovered by chance that any such shock would now render him totally invisible! Well, except for his claw, which remained totally visible, floating in thin air? Crandell at first used this not very practical ‘power’ to commit crimes, but he wasn’t very good at it so he became a crime-fighter instead.  He had several short lived careers as a government agent, a detective, a bounty hunter and even a costumed superhero! Crandell first appeared in Valiant in 1962.

Titan have published a collection of Steel Claw strips in a volume entitled The Vanishing Man.

Robot Archie

Created by Professor Ritchie in the first issue of Lion in 1952, Archie was originally operated by remote control by the professor’s son Ted and his friend Ken, but later seemed to achieve a degree of self-awareness and independence, as well as a voice which revealed him to have a likeable but rather boastful personality.

He was re-imagined as the slightly unstable ‘Acid Archie’ (complete with smiley face on his chest) in Grant Morrison’s Zenith series in 2000AD, but they didn’t actually have the rights to use him so we won’t talk about that…

The Spider

The self-styled ‘King of Crooks’, first appeared in Lion in 1965. Nothing is known of the origins of the weird, pointy-eared figure who turned up in New York intending to take over its underworld, but whatever his motives for his bizarre behaviour, he certainly didn’t need the money. He was headquartered in a Scottish castle he’d had transported across the Atlantic, and had seemingly limitless resources! Tiring of crime the Spider, whose adventures were mostly scripted by Superman creator Jerry Siegel, eventually turned his hand to crime-busting instead.

Titan have published a collection of Spider strips in the King of Crooks collection.

Kelly’s Eye

Tim Kelly was seeking his fortune (literally, he was trying to claim an inheritance from a long lost uncle) when he found something far more valuable after saving the life of an elderly South American native. The old man led him to the Eye of Zoltec, a crystal which, when worn around Kelly’s neck, made him immortal and indestructible! Eventually teaming up with Doctor Diamond, creator of the Time Clock, Kelly moved from globetrotting to adventuring through history itself!

Titan's Albion Origins volume, that tied in with the WildStorm Albion series, reprints some original Kelly's Eye strips alongside Cursitor Doom, Janus Stark and Dolmann.

Dan Dare

One of Britain’s most famous comic stars, Dan Dare debuted in The Eagle #1 in 1950. A space faring military man somewhere between Flash Gordon and Biggles, Dare led an intrepid team of plucky Brits against the nefarious Mekon, the super intelligent ruler of Venus, and his Treen foot soldiers.

After The Eagle’s demise, Dare was resurrected in the sci-fi anthology 2000AD in 1977…though this Dan, who had been in suspended animation for a century, emerged having seemingly turned into Clint Eastwood! At first put in charge of a bunch of space faring ex-convicts on a mission to clean up the ‘Lost Worlds’, Dare later ended up as a superhero armed with Eternicus, the Cosmic Claw! Subsequent reinventions haven’t done him many more favours…

Titan have lovingly repackaged a number of Dan Dare storylines in a multi-series set of volumes. 



Arriving on Earth in the first issue of the revived Eagle in 1982, initially as a photo strip, Doomlord was actually Servitor Zyn, a servant of the Dread Council of Nox, sent to assess humanity’s worthiness to survive and be allowed to venture into space. Zyn wasn’t impressed with humankind and would have killed us all if he hadn’t been stopped by the self-sacrifice of one Howard Harvey, who killed himself while killing Zyn.

The Dread Lords promptly sent another Doomlord, Servitor Vek, to finish Zyn’s mission, but luckily he was more sympathetic to humans and their funny little ways and rebelled against his masters to become protector of Earth. Servitor Vek lodged with Mrs Souster (who saw him as commercial traveller Eric Plumrose)  and was a devoted fan of TV soap Coronation Street.

Battler Britton

The intrepid ace flyer Robert Hereward Britton first appeared in Sun in 1956 but piloted his kite through a number of IPC titles well into the 1970s, endlessly fighting World War II on a variety of fronts.

More recently, he was resurrected by Garth Ennis and Colin Wilson in a 2006 limited series published by WildStorm.

The DC/WildStorm Battler Britton reboot miniseries is available in trade paperback.

Judge Dredd

Since first appearing in 2000AD #2 in 1977, fascist super cop Joe Dredd has become not only one of Britain’s best known comics characters, but arguably one of the world’s.  He is the Law in Mega City One, a city of the future which covers most of the Eastern seaboard of what was once the United States, and his grim, humourless demeanour is a marked contrast to the craziness of his city. A badly misjudged movie starring Sylvester Stallone somewhat damaged his credibility in the 90s, but he now seems set for another shot at screen stardom.

Rebellion have published a countless number of Judge Dredd trades including the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files series of volumes.

Charley’s War

First appearing in Battle in 1979, Charley Bourne was not your typical comic book hero. A young private serving in World War One, Charley’s principal achievement was actually staying alive long enough to see the end of it, in what writer Pat Mills described as “not so much a war story, more an anti-war story”.

Meticulously researched by Mills and artist Joe Colquhoun, Charley’s War, which is now being reprinted as a series of hardcover collected editions, has been described more than once as arguably the most important British comics war story ever. It’s certainly the most hard hitting and unforgettable.

Titan have been reprinting Charley's War in hardback volumes, including extensive annotations by series author Pat Mills.


Strontium Dog

Mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha and his ‘norm’ partner, Wulf (a time displaced Viking warrior) first appeared in Starlord #1 in 1978 and were an instant hit with readers, transferring to the pages of 2000AD after Starlord bit the dust. Despite being a mutant, there was little of the X-Men and a lot more of Eastwood’s Man with No Name about Johnny, who plied his brutal trade on the intergalactic frontier worlds. For the most part, though he possessed a conscience which sometimes didn’t  seem to be an asset in his unwillingly chosen career.

Unusually for a popular character, Johnny was killed off in the early 90s when it was felt his story had run its course, but his creators have since admitted this was a mistake, and Johnny has continued to appear in recent years in flashback stories.  More recently still, it seems his untimely demise may now have been undone thanks to the intervention of some helpful necromancers…

Rebellion have a number of Strontium Dog trade paperbacks currently in print.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 18, 2011 at 7:46am

    Damn you for making Amazon rich!!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 18, 2011 at 9:10am

    Haha! We need a Robot Archie collection asap I think...

  • Tony Ingram

    Tony Ingram Aug 19, 2011 at 7:58am

    We do indeed. The Battling British Robot has been silent for too long! And whatever happened to Doomlord, anyway? Surely a candidate for movie stardom?

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