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Fireball XL5: TV Comic, 1962-63

Whereas Supercar was the first 'true' Supermarionation production (the term seen on the end titles of the last thirteen episodes, even though the process was in use for Four Feather Falls), Fireball XL5 was the first Gerry Anderson series to be set in the 21st century, and in many ways laid the foundations for the comic TV Century 21, and Century 21 Productions itself.

Early Fireballs

The series also broke new ground in merchandising, and was unusual in that the strip made its TV Comic debut before the first episode had aired. Even more outstanding the TV Comic annual for 1962, which had been available since September, featured a four page colour strip that betrayed the long lead time for print by featuring a somewhat altered interpretation of some concepts.


TV Comic Annual stripUntil the advent of desktop publishing in the late 1980s, annuals would often have to be finalised in the early months of the year in which they appeared, in order to be ready for the shops by autumn (late summer in some instances). As late as the mid 1980s, annual publishers like World Distributors would need all copy (scripts and features) finalised by February in order to have the text typeset, commission artwork and have all origination ready for shipping to the continent, where print was better quality and cheaper.

As Fireball XL5 did not start filming until the April of 1962, artist Neville Main was probably working from the earliest material for the series. All the elements are there, but in cruder form - including a variation of the series logo. The Fireball XL5 itself looks more like its earlier Century 21 ship (as it was known in pre-production), with the fins of Fireball Junior oddly angled as if added later. In charge of Space H.Q. is Captain Zero, bearded and wearing a green uniform with peaked cap, briefing Colonel Steve Zodiac who sports a lilac variation of the World Space Patrol uniform. Venus has a blue outfit without a WSP symbol, while Professor Mathew Matic is without the characteristic glasses, a slightly grotesque caricature clad in a mechanic's jumpsuit.

TV Comic Annual strip

So within a matter of weeks, this almost pre-production pilot story was followed by a regular strip that was more up to date with what eventually aired. Here we see another change, this time in the way the strip was announced. Whereas Four Feather Falls and Supercar had already been on the air, the as-yet unseen Fireball XL5 took second place in a half page advert proclaiming the next issue would contain the free gift of a model of Supercar itself.

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Fireball XL5 strip guide - part 1

Story One
Writer: Alan Fennell. Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 565, dated 13 October 1962
It is the 21st Century. On an island in the Pacific Ocean, the giant skyscraper headquarters of the World Space Organisation revolves continuously, obtaining a constant view of the Universe.
In the control room of Space City, Commander Zero and Lieutenant 90 were busy checking on the new far flung radio satellites in the heavens.
Fireball XL5
Contact has been lost with satellite Advance 7 in Sector 25 and Fireball XL5 is alerted to investigate. But on arriving, Steve Zodiac finds all the glass on the satellite has been eaten away...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 566, dated 20 October 1962
Steve believes a creature could be responsible, and takes Fireball Xl5 on to investigate Advance 8. A large, strange caterpillar-like creature is devouring the glass, and when XL5 arrives it attaches itself to the ship. Breaking through the glass of the control cabin, it proves resiliant to ray gun fire, and then starts to generate heat...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 567, dated 27 October 1962
Steve suggests hiding in the hold, where there is no glass to attract the creature. Trapped, Steve contacts Space City and gets Commander Zero to bring the ship back to Earth by remote control, while the creature devours all the glass on board. Surviving on emergency food supplies in the hold, the crew are rescued and the creature secured when XL5 lands back on Earth. But that night, the creature escapes from its pen...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 568, dated 03 November 1962
Fireball XL5
Steve is heading repairs to XL5 but curious about the creature, he checks on it only to find it gone and raises the alarm. The creature has made for the glass-clad Space City skyscraper, but the alarm signals drive it back into space.Realising the creature must be stopped, it is pursued in XL5 to satellite Advance 9. But having devoured all the glass there, it grows even larger and wraps itself around the ship...

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 569, dated 10 November 1962
As the creature begins to generate heat again, Mat believes a high frequency signal could drive it off again. Launching Fireball Junior, Steve increases the signal's pitch until suddenly - the creature shatters as if made from glass itself! The danger passed, Fireball Junior rejoins XL5 and the crew return to Earth.

Fireball XL5Notes:
This first strip started two weeks before the first UK transmission in the London area, and several months before the Midlands.
The strip masthead runs vertically down the left side of the first page, and features a slightly different typeface for the 'Fireball' part.
The masthead of the first instalment incorporates a much larger picture of Fireball XL5, taking up over a quarter of the page. Consequent parts feature a smaller picture (left).
The artwork is very closely based on visual reference from the series, and most of the first instalment sets the scene and establishes each main characters.
The script also maintains a high level of continuity, mentioning neutroni radio, oxygen and food pills, and navigation co-ordinates accurate to the style of the series.


Story Two
Fireball XL5Writer: Alan Fennell.
Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 570, dated 17 November 1962
On patrol, Fireball Xl5 picks up an intermittent neutroni call from planet Attila claiming "They've taken over - request help - urgent... " Whilst Attila is unknown to any of the crew, the SOS cannot be ignored. Taking Fireball Junior to the surface, Steve, Mat and Venus see a ruined city with an intact domed structure. The city is being ravaged by primitive ape creatures, who spot them and start to advance. But then a hand grips Steve's shoulder from behind...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 571, dated 24 November 1962
The simply clad hairless newcomers state they are friends, who want them to follow before the 'mongrels' kill them all. With Fireball Junior surrounded, the crew have no option to follow the aliens through undergrowth and over mountains. With the mongrels in pursuit, they are led to a drawbridge over a deep gorge. But as they cross it, Venus falls, hanging perilously for dear life...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 572, dated 01 December 1962
Steve pulls Venus to safety just in time for the drawbridge to be raised before the mongrels arrive. In their cave, the Attilans explain how their early space exploration programme led to advancing the intelligence of ape-like animals to carry out tests in space. But the machine for doing this was too powerful, leading to the mongrels rebelling and overthrowing them. Meanwhile the scientists of mongrel leader Jeddah have developed a gas bomb, and they start an attack...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 573, dated 08 December 1962
The gas overcomes the guards while the mongrels fire a line across the gorge to bridge it. To give the Attilans time to escape, Steve and Mat volunteer to hold the attack off, with Venus choosing to stay with them. As the mongrels over-run them, they uses the charges from their guns to explode the entrance and block it. Helpless, Venus can only watch as Steve and Mat are clubbed to the ground and left for dead, as she is taken prisoner by the mongrels to be punished...

Fireball XL5

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 574, dated 15 December 1962
Steve and Mat are only unconscious, and on recovering return to Fireball Junior to get new guns. At night, they overpower the mongrel guards and set off on jetmobiles to rescue Venus. But Jeddah has already passed sentence of execution on her, and she is chained to the inside of a cell while water floods in...

Part 6: TV Comic Issue 575, dated 22 December 1962
Finding no sign of an entrance into the domed building of the mongrels, Steve uses the jetmobile's ray gun to blast a way in. Two mongrels sent to prevent them from rescuing Venus are knocked out by their jetmobile rays - but the grating that leads to her cell is stuck fast. And time is running out...

Fireball XL5

Part 7: TV Comic Issue 576, dated 29 December 1962
Steve uses his jetmobile to pull the grating free, while Mat operates the lever that frees Venus' chains. The rescue complete, Steve must find a way to destroy the machine that gives the mongrels their intelligence. But Jeddah has ordered it to be protected at all costs...

Part 8: TV Comic Issue 577, dated 05 January 1963
Jeddah leads more mongrels to defend the machine as Steve, Mat and Venus on their jetmobiles blast their way into the chamber where it is housed. As a battle breaks out, Steve blasts the machine and the mongrels revert back to an ape-like state. The Attilans are free to return to their city and rebuild it.

Notes:
A much better story, more in line with those seen in the television series.
In part 4, the mongrel leader is referred to as Jeddak.
Also an interesting comment on the use of animals in scientific experiments, and in space travel.


Story Three
Writer: Alan Fennell (?). Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 578, dated 12 January 1963
Fireball XL5
Steve picks up Venus from her beach house and takes her to Space City, where they find a battered hovercar in Steve's space in the parking lot. The guilty party is Sub Lieutenant Jackson, who is learning the ropes with Zero and Ninety before being stationed at another base. Fireball XL5 lifts off on patrol but unknown to them, Caff and Elex of the planet Dodem are hatching a plan to destroy them...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 579, dated 19 January 1963
Caff and Elex launch a ball of strange light at Earth, emitting a compelling energy which brings Lt. Jackson under their control, Holding Lt. Ninety at gunpoint, Jackson orders XL5 to change course to avoid a belt of meteorites - but unknown to the crew they are now flying towards certain doom...

Fireball XL5Part 3: TV Comic Issue 580, dated 26 January 1963
On Dodem, Caff and Elex test their 'Ultra Disposal Machine', which reduces objects to atoms. Meanwhile, XL5 has flown into the belt of meteorites which they were supposedly avoiding, and Steve loses control of the ship...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 581, dated 02 February 1963
Just in time, Steve throws XL5 out of the belt. At Space City, Jackson sees the escape, and lifts off in Fighter EF-Z-7. Caff and Elex test the Ultra Disposal Machine at robot freighter EFR102, and are now ready for Earth. Meanwhile, Jackson is closing in on XL5 and plans to destroy it with planetomic missiles...

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 582, dated 09 February 1963
Alerted by the lack of any signal from the fighter, Venus is able to jam the missiles homing device so it explodes clear of XL5. Jackson tries again with two missiles, with the same result. Steve fires back and cripples the fighter, warning Caff and Elex to the fact they may soon have visitors...

Part 6: TV Comic Issue 583, dated 16 February 1963
Steve and Venus jet out to the fighter, where jackson is waiting with a gun, but Steve fires first, knocking him out with a coma ray. Venus reverses the hypnosis, and a recovered Jackson tells them the source is planet Dodem. But Caff and Elex are waiting with the Ultra Disposal Machine...

Fireball XL5

Part 7: TV Comic Issue 584, dated 23 February 1963
The atomiser ray hits the fighter which XL5 has in tow instead, alerting Steve to the danger. As Caff and Elex adjust their elevation Mat tells Steve to jettison fuel which collect in space and act as a shield. The ray hits the bright fuel mass and is reflected back, destroying Caff, Elex and the weapon.

Notes:
Fireball XL5This strip introduces Zoonie to the team, although he does little apart from appear in the background.
The first five parts of this strip feature photo inserts of the XL5 crew in the masthead - Steve Zodiac, Venus, Matthew Matic (twice) and finally Robert.
The picture of Fireball XL5 in the masthead also changes for this story to show a view from underneath.
Steve's hovercar, Venus' beach house, and Zoonie make their debuts in this story, and are again realised very closely on the TV appearances.
While the majority of the story establishes one of the aliens as Caff, the final two parts see him change name to Calif
Likewise, the Ultra Disposal Machine becomes referred to as the Atomiser Ray in the final parts.


Story Four
Writer: Alan Fennell. Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 585, dated 02 March 1963
Red Alert, Emergency. Fireball XL5 crew to report for immediate take off.
Space City control, top priority lift off procedure. Fire launch trolley rockets.
Space City to Fireball XL5. Take up course 696 Zero Purple and investigate Unidentified Object.
The unidentified object appears to be an alien probe ship, covered in information collecting cells. Steve and Mat investigate and, finding no entrance, use cosmacetylene torches to cut their way in. Inside, they find banks of recording material absorbing data and sending back to its mother planet. But as they consider using the data to find where the ship came from, a door shuts, the engines fire, and the ship moves off with them trapped inside...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 586, dated 09 March 1963
Fireball XL5
While Steve and Mat try to find a way out of the alien ship, Venus fires XL5's boosters to keep pace. Using a duct, Steve and Mat find an opening into space and escape. Returning to Earth, Mat finds the probe ship came from beyond known space. A decision is made by the United Planets Organisation for Fireball XL5 to investigate and, after a three week journey, the ship makes planetfall in a park on the unknown world. But the alarm has been given, and armed forces are closing in...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 587, dated 16 March 1963
Convincing the alien president and his military leader that they are peaceful, Steve, Mat and Venus exit on jetmobiles - and find that even though they look like Earth people, the aliens are only half their size! The President invites them for refreshments, and explains 'Eden County' is the only remaining civilisation on their planet. Their scientists discovered their sun is growing, and as temperatures rose, civilisation broke down. He has restored order in this region, and a quest began to find a new world to live on. Planet Remus is ideal, but only a chosen few can leave in the few ships they have. Mat believes they can use freighters to evacuate the whole population, and XL5 returns to Earth to make plans - but they have a stowaway...

Fireball XL5Part 4: TV Comic Issue 588, dated 23 March 1963
It is Adam, the President's young son. On hearing the news, the President states that, as time is running out, he must return to Earth with the crew. Back at the United Planets Organisation satellite, Steve makes his case and it is decided that the United Planets Treasury will foot the bill to build the freighters. The planet Utan wants to know what it will get in return, to which Steve reponds the planet is rich in uranium. The project goes ahead but not without incident. Explosions and damage to vital components hamper the launch, so Commander Zero asks Steve to investigate. The cause is Captain Lec from Utan, who is delaying matters so his leader Pyron can launch his own plunder of planet Gasturn's uranium...

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 589, dated 30 March 1963
Lec is in charge of construction, and Steve takes Adam to see the motor room. Lec activates the power cones which Adam, only being half as high, avoids and warns Steve. Lec confesses to the sabotage and a fleet of patrol ships led by Fireball XL5 is launched towards Utan. But Pyron has his own fleet in space, outnumbering the ships four to one. As they close on each other, the Utan fleet arms its missiles...

Part 6: TV Comic Issue 590, dated 06 April 1963
A brief but savage battle ensues, with the larger Utan fleet outgunned. Only Pyron's freighter escapes, and with him still loose, Zero orders XL5 to the protection of the freighter fleet heading for Gasturn. The Gasturns begin work immediately when the fleet arrives but it may already be too late. The heat of the sun is causing the planet to burn already...

Part 7: TV Comic Issue 591, dated 13 April 1963
Fireball XL5
The prefabricated spaceships are built within two weeks, and launch immediately. In space, they will be towed by the freighters to land under their own power on Remus. After one last rocket topples, and is lifted clear of the planet by XL5, the fleet of ships and freighters get ready for Remus. But Pyron returns with another fleet - onlty to be shot out of space by Steve, and emprisoned. Safe, the Gasturns journey to their new home on remus.

Notes:
The masthead changes to become just a strip along the top of the first page.
The United Planets Organisation features quite heavily in this story, whereas it is only namechecked in the television series in 'Prisoner On The Lost Planet'. It is represented by a vast unmanned space station, which has a communication's link to all its member planets.
The planet Gasturn isn't named until part 4.
While Neville Main struggles a little with some of the series imagery, he brings some quite beautiful starscapes to the strip - something lost in the more action-orientated TV Century 21.
Issue 590 features long-running TV Comic character Lenny The Lion (drawn by Supercar artist Bill Mevin) watching Fireball XL5 on television, which inspires him to build his own spaceship - Steamball LX2.


Story Five
Writer: Alan Fennell (?). Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 592, dated 20 April 1963
Returning from a routine patrol, XL5 narrowly avoids collision with a giant meteorite. Back at Space City, Mat plots the meteorite's course and finds it is going to hit the Moon, close to the Observation Post but far enough away not to be a danger. In the Panoramic Telescope Room, Steve, Mat and Venus watch as the meteorite hits, but it penetrates the Moon's crust, causing an eruption...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 593, dated 27 April 1963
The volcanic eruption threatens the Moon Observatory, and XL5 is launched to rescue the personnel. As the lava closes in, the men are evacuated to XL5, including Professor Dobson who is in the middle of an important experiment, and the ship lifts off just in time. But back at Space City, Zero shows Steve the volcano is having an effect on the tides, causing hurricanes, and must be stopped...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 594, dated 04 May 1963
Fireball XL5
Mat proposes dropping timebombs at points around the volcanic crater, causing the walls to cave in and seal it. XL5 is launched on the mission but turbulance starts to drag the ship into the crater. Steve struggles to bring the ship up and away, just as the bombs explode.

Notes:
A short story that promises much but which suddenly seems to be curtailed.


Story Six
Writer: Alan Fennell (?). Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 595, dated 11 May 1963
Steve, Mat and Zoonie are relaxing at Venus' beach house. Venus tries to teach Zoonie the lyrics to a record: "Countdown, Blast Off, Let Us Go! We're gonna thrust around the universe, and rock around the stars." But unknown to her, the crazy Lazoon wanders into Fireball Xl5 and sings them to Robert. Believing this to be a command, Robert lifts off! Steve calls in after seeing the launch, and Venus tries to get Zoonie to steer course 599 Zero green. But the Lazoon stutters, and Robert steers course 555 instead - which will take it straight into Space Station 7...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 596, dated 18 May 1963
XL5 narrowly misses the station, so Zero sends Steve in Fireball XL3 to stop it. Zoonie and Robert are at loggerheads, with the Lazoon frustratedly telling the robot to "Ahh, go jump off the ship!" with predictable results. Further annoyed, Zoonie plays with the rocket controls, and launches two interceptor missiles at the approaching XL3...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 597, dated 25 May 1963
Steve launches XL3 Junior in time to avoid being destroyed with the main ship. Jetting over to XL5 with a box of Martian Delight, Steve gets Zoonie to open the injector tubes and allow him in. Leaving XL3 Junior for salvage vessels, the crew take XL5 back to Earth, where Mat has to cure the traumatised Robert of his Lazoon-induced hiccups!
Fireball XL5
Notes:
Another short story, similar in ways to the episode 'Drama At Space City' with Zoonie causing Robert to launch Fireball XL5.
Despite having learnt the lyrics which cause Robert to launch, where Zoonie's phrase "Ahh, go jump off the ship!" comes from is something of a mystery.


Fireball XL5Story Seven
Writer: Alan Fennell.
Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 598, dated 01 June 1963
XL5 finds Space Station K2 has been devestated. In the wreckage, Steve finds the station commander, who tells him the station was hit by a monster space machine that is heading for Earth, destroying everything in its path. XL5 fires its boosters, and sees the huge craft ahead...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 599, dated 08 June 1963
The craft doesn't respond to any radio calls, and opens fire as XL5 approaches. With no option, Steve fires interceptor rockets. But the machine doesn't even scratch the machine, which is still heading for Earth with nothing to stop it...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 600, dated 15 June 1963
Mat suggests firing again, but this time at a construction on top of the machine. But before he can fire, artificial lightning forms an electric shield that knocks XL5 off course. When they return, Steve decides the only course of action is to fly into the massive opening at the front of the machine...

Fireball XL5Part 4: TV Comic Issue 601, dated 22 June 1963
Inside, Steve fires magnetic clamps to hold XL5 in the opening as he and Mat explore. The entire huge ship seems uninhabited and fully automated. After seeing they are being monitored by TV cameras, an unseen force suddenly propels them out of a port and into space...

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 602, dated 29 June 1963
Using their thruster packs Steve and Mat get back to the alien ship and XL5. Collecting bombs, they decide to destroy the ship from within but find a gigantic brain which appears to be in control. With 10 minutes to go, they return to XL5 but then find the magnetic clamps won't release...

Part 6: TV Comic Issue 603, dated 06 July 1963
Steve jets outside to cut the cables of the clamps, and orders Mat to fire the motors as soon as XL5 is free. Clinging to one of the cables, Steve is able to climb back aboard as the ship flies free from the explosion in the nick of time. Back on Earth, Mat does some research and concludes the machine was a survivor of a war back in 2001, still progrmmed for its original mission.

Fireball XL5

Notes:
An interesting story, which pre-empts the Star Trek episode 'The Doomsday Machine', with the discovery of a wrecked ship and survivor, and a device pre-programmed for destruction.
Grimly dramatic, with a great sense of mystery, if there is any kind of letdown in the story, it is the somewhat rushed coda where Mat reveals the origin of the machine. This would also seem to contradict events in the series, with Earth apparently at war with Jupiter in the year 2001.
With issue 600, the masthead changes to use typefaces accurate to those in the television series.


Story Eight
Writer: Alan Fennell. Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 604, dated 13 July 1963
Fireball XL5 is on an urgent mission to the planet Clitus, flying Commander Zero to join his family on vacation at Eden Isle. As XL5 leaves the commander, he can't help wondering if Lieutenant Ninety will manage alone. But Zoonie is making quite sure he doesn't...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 605, dated 20 July 1963
After Zoonie tries to set fire to his papers, Ninety gives the Lazoon a model brick construction toy to keep him occupied. Unfortunately, Zoonie finds throwing the bricks around to be more fun and smashes the glass of the Rocket Defence System alarm! Ninety calls Steve in Fireball XL5 urgently, as the launched missiles are heading on course 558 Zero Pink - straight for planet Clitus...

Fireball XL5

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 606, dated 27 July 1963
Ninety orders XL5 to intercept the missiles, with Steve requiring the co-ordinates. Unfortunately Zoonie muddles up all the calculations, and Ninety gives the wrong figure. Flying on the course given, Steve cannot detect the missiles, but unknown to him they are closing on XL5 from behind...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 607, dated 03 August 1963
At the last moment, Mat spots the missiles on the astrascope but even taking evasive action, one hits the starboard wing motor and knocks it out. Without the extra engine power, XL5 won't be able to keep pace with the missiles to stop them...

Part 5: TV Comic Issue 608, dated 10 August 1963
Caught in the flight of missiles, Steve can't fire the interceptor rockets at close range. Mat suggests using a pair of old -fashioned rifles, so tehtered to the outside, he and Steve shoot holes in the missiles' fuel tanks. As the missiles run out of fuel, they sop, leaving XL5 free to pull clear and destroy them. Zero returns from holiday a few days later, none the wiser.

Notes:
Commander Zero refers to Mrs Zero, though we never see her, or his family.
The physics for the missiles is wrong, as in space they would continue on their path after running out of fuel.
The old rifles are also something of a convenient deux ex machina, neither mentioned before their appearance, nor any explanation given why they are in XL5.


Story Nine
Writer: Alan Fennell (?). Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 609, dated 17 August 1963
Four of the XL fleet ships, XL1 to XL4, have been lost at monthly intervals recently, seemingly after refueling at Space Station SPS13. With this in mind, XL5 is the next due to be lost, but has no choice but to visit SPS13 to investigate...

Part 2: TV Comic Issue 610, dated 24 August 1963
At SPS13, Steve, Mat and Venus take Fireball Junior to the docking port to meet the crew - Captain Dix, Fuel Controller Lane and Wireless Operator Shute. Tests reveal the fuel itself has been tampered with, so it must be determined with of the three is a traitor...

Fireball XL5

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 611, dated 31 August 1963
Mat finds chemicals have been added to the fuel which woud destroy a rocket motor. But when Steve goes to the Fuel Controller's office, he is knocked out - it seems the traitor is onto him. When he recovers, Steve questions the staff and finds, despite claims to the contrary, Captain Dix did advanced Space Chemistry. Dix makes a break for it, and steals a jetcruiser...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 612, dated 07 September 1963
Steve is warned the cruiser could explode at any moment as it was given the tampered fuel before the discovery. Dix refuses to believe the calls but is forced to eject when the cruiser goes out of control. Steve explains Dix wanted revenge for failing to pass his Fireball pilot exams.

Notes:
What could have been the start of a good mystery comes over as somewhat badly plotted.
You would think that if Dix wanted to remain undiscovered he wouldn't have destroyed the other Fireballs in such an ordered and predictable way, nor would he have made it obvious - by wearing an 'Advanced Space Chemistry' ring - that he was capable of the sabotage.
The chart in part 1 lists where some of the craft operate - Xl1 is patrolling Sector 7, XL2 - the planet Mars, and XL3 does Sector 21. Fireball XL5, for this story, apparently patrols the Moon.
Fireball XL3 is listed as having been destroyed on May 5th (two months prior to this adventure starting) but the main body had already been destroyed in issue 597 - three months ago. Another Fireball XL3 would reappear the following year.


Story Ten
Writer: Alan Fennell. Artist: Neville Main. 2 pages, b/w.

Part 1: TV Comic Issue 613, dated 14 September 1963
Returning to Earth, XL5 is diverted by Commander Zero to a special meeting at Professor Merlin's Institute. Merlin claims he has discovered a space monster which will land on Earth in a few hours, and shows Steve and the others an image of a dragon-like creature on the Scopic Vision screen...

Fireball XL5Part 2: TV Comic Issue 614, dated 21 September 1963
Steve lifts off in XL5 but once in space, Merlin calls to say he is the victim of a massive hoax and practical joke. He created the 'monster', and it can be destroyed at the press of a button. But the device fails and the monster, out of his control, lands next to the Merlin Institute...

Part 3: TV Comic Issue 615, dated 28 September 1963
Merlin calls XL5 for help but Steve thinks this is probably another hoax. The other magician tell Merlin to do something, so he climbs aboard the 'monster' and cuts a wire that should stop it. But it is the wrong one, and the 'monster' takes off with Merlin aboard...

Part 4: TV Comic Issue 616, dated 05 October 1963
Steve is surprised when the 'monster' appears in space again, and is told by the Institute what has happened. At the speed it is travelling, Steve thinks the 'monster' will break up and before long this is exactly what happens. Mat asks if they should pick Merlin up from drifting in space but Steve has a mischievous plan. Back at the Merlin Institute, he shows the members on the Scopic Vision screen the new 'strange creature that will land on Earth in the next few hours'!

Notes:
Strange to believe magicians will still be around in the technological world of the late 21st century.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

While more often than not it was Neville Main's art which made the strip appear far more juvenile than the script writing, it cannot be said that he did not try. Almost every visual reference from the series is lovingly recreated on the printed page, from Fireball XL5 and Space City itself, to less important elements such as Steve Zodiac's hover car and Venus' beach house. But whereas Main's cartoonish style matched Four Feather Falls very well, with new characters not seeming out of place, the aliens and other hardware fell well short of any reality in their appearance. The semi-comical aliens seem to have been revamped from Main's earlier Red Ray - Space Raynger, and similarly comical aliens would reappear in Doctor Who, which he would take over when it replaced Fireball XL5 in 1964.

Fireball XL5

Main could hardly be called an adventure artist, with little dramatic impact in any of his layouts, though in all fairness almost all TV Comic strips followed a formulaic grid at the time. While we sometimes were treated to some nice large depictions of XL5 against a shining backdrop of planets and galaxies, these jarred bizarrely with some stories, which try to pack in a lot of frames. This hints that more than one writer may have been working on the strip.

So again while continuity is very well placed, the ingenuity of some ideas is mis-matched by somewhat juvenile scripting. At one of the scale we have badly plotted or curtailed stories such as that involving fuel sabotage at SPS-13, or the volcano on the Moon, and more fanciful tales like Professor Merlin and his space monster, even though this has a witty twist reminiscent of Pedro and Fernando's mishaps in Four Feather Falls. And at the other end, the story concerning planet Attila is quite true to the feel of the series' more dramatic episodes, and even the TV21 strips, with one instalment ending dramatically with Steve and Mat sprawled over rocks and left for dead. So too are the later stories concerning the exodus from the planet Gasturn, and the massive alien spaceship heading for Earth destroying everything in its path.

Fireball XL5

The scripts are attributed to Alan Fennell but it is difficult to believe he would write the scripts in such a haphazard fashion, when the witty Four Feather Falls and action-orientated Supercar remained consistently well done. Some stories show very close ties to actual episodes that perhaps only someone with Fennell's insider knowledge could have. But given that Neville Main apparently did write as well as draw, being credited on text stories for Muffin the Mule and Jimmy in the TV Comic annuals, the disparity of style suggests he may also have been writing some of the scripts from stories and ideas by Alan Fennell. This is also suggested by the similarity of story and characterisation to Main's other work in Red Ray and Doctor Who, and would appear to be a way of working on other TV Comic strips, as Bill Mevin recalls his work on Supercar being a collaborative effort with Alan Fennell at times.

Ironically, for all the advances made for the series in terms of production, the first year of the Fireball XL5 strip would be the weakest of the three Anderson series to appear in TV Comic
. But not for a great deal of want for trying...

- - - - - - - - - - - -

TV Comic Summer Special ©1963

Story One
Writer: Unknown. Artist: Neville Main. Two pages, duotone.
When an old 1960s space rocket Research 5 returns to Earth from an elliptical orbit, crooks Slim and Jelly try and use it in a scheme to extort money from tourists who want to see it. But then their own rocket runs out of fuel, and the tables are turned by Steve Zodiac and Fireball XL5.

Notes:
None.

Story Two
Writer: Unknown. Artist: Neville Main. Two pages, duotone.
When Richard Rogers is fired from the Interplanetary Fuels company, he steals a military spaceship SP3 and plans to destroy the Interplanetary Fuel stations in revenge...

Notes:
The Holiday Special also includes a Fireball XL5 Space Race game, with artwork drawn by G.S. Marler.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

On to Part Two of this series.

- - - - - - - - - - - -


The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would like to thank:
Keith Ansell
Robin Day
and Mike Harwood
- for their help with this feature.

Version 1.2 - 01.05.05


Any comments or notes about any of the strips, please contact technodelic@blueyonder.co.uk.

All text © The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History, and its respective writers, and may not be reproduced without permission.
All images © their respective copyright holders



Twizzle
Torchy the Battery Boy
Four Feather Falls
Supercar
Fireball XL5 - Countdown, 1971
Fireball XL5 - TV Comic, 1963
Fireball XL5 - TV Comic, 1964
Fireball XL5 - TV 21, 1965
Fireball XL5 - TV 21, 1965
Fireball XL5 - TV 21, 1965
Fireball XL5 - Countdown, 1971
Stingray
Thunderbirds
Lady Penelope
Zero X
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
Joe 90
The Secret Service
UFO
The Protectors
Space 1999
Terrahawks
Space Precinct
Space Precinct
Non Television
Supplemental
Links
Yahoo Group
Guestbook
Credits
Index
Index
Space Patrol - The Website