TV Century 21 The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History
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Now it can be told... the secrets of the Mars spaceshot, and Man's first Solar System conquests by the Zero X, courtesy of World Security. Thomas Cock is our man at Glenn Field...

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Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowZero X: TV Century 21 - 1967

The feature film Thunderbirds Are Go was released in December 1966, and proved to be the turning point of fortunes for the newly named Century 21 Productions. It also proved to be the turning point for TV Century 21, now entering its third year, but in a more obvious way. Strips such as Fireball XL5 and Agent 21 had already established that planets in the solar system, and beyond, had been explored or even colonised, forming what was usually referred to as the World (or Earth) Space Empire. So while the Zero X strip turned out to be one of the better strips in TV Century 21, it became something of an anachronism, at odds with the now well-established future continuity.

Following on from a four part 'photographic picturisation' of the feature film, in effect now the pilot for the Zero X strip, the stories follow the adventures of the Mark III version of the craft. The established returning crew is commanded by pilot Captain Paul Travers, blond co-pilot Space Captain Greg Martin, and Space Navigator Brad Newman. The brevity of the film adaptation left the two 'guest' scientists Dr Tony Grant and Dr Ray Pierce out in the cold, but the latter returns as a permanent fixture, to provide handy scientific information in the same way Professor Matthew Matic did in Fireball XL5. The fifth position would occasionally be taken by 'guest' scientists, specific to that strip's mission.

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowBy turns, most of the major planets in the solar system were visited in the first year - Mars in the first story, then Jupiter, Saturn, the asteroids and, after a new artificial planet beyond Neptune, Mercury and Uranus are visited. And in each case Zero X is usually the first craft to have visited and explored there. Later 'revisionist' articles in the ©1969 Thunderbirds & Captain Scarlet annual, and the Letts TV21 Diary, would try and work round the conflict of continuities by stating that even though Mars had already been colonised, Zero X was landing on a previously unexplored region.

It is also established in the first story the flight time to Mars, as in the film, still takes weeks. But even though they were still being reported by the week-by-week editorial of TV Century 21, in a trend also started by the adaptation, the first Zero X story at least is implied to be taking place in the recent past rather than 'here and now' of 2067 (the on-screen date in the film itself actually states late July, presumably 2066). Other strips during the first year, bearing headings such as 'Based on World Government Files' (various issues) or 'By Special Authority from the World Government File Librarian' (issue 141). also imply this.

While Zero X had a fair share of cover publicity, features tended to be sparce as unlike Thunderbirds or Stingray, there were only three crew, and one ship, not a fleet. The Thunderbirds Are Go! special that had been released in December covered most elements of the film, but the launch sequence was recapped, and 'exclusive interviews' with the main crew featured, in the TV21 Thunderbirds Spring Extra. Edited versions of these appeared as brief biographies in issue 124 of TV Century 21, along with some technical information on Zero X itself.

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Zero X strip guide - part one

Dutch Reprint - issue 27

Story One (aka The Red Planet / Rock Snakes Of Mars)
Writer - Angus P. Allan. Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 105, dateline 21 January 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
At Glenn Field Spaceport, the headquarters of the Solar System Exploration Centre (SECC.), the mighty spacecraft Zero-X is about to be launched. Upon receiving clearance from the control tower, Captain Paul Travers orders the take off. On board the ship are two scientists, Pierce and Carlson, on their way to Mars. As the ship exits Earth’s atmosphere, the lifting bodies are released. Travers reassures his crew that this time nothing is going to go wrong. He shows their intended landing position, a distance from where they first encountered the rock snakes on the ill fated previous mission. Carlson is apprehensive and unsure exactly what they can expect, his anxiety not relieved when shown a photo of the creatures. It takes a full six weeks for Zero-X to reach the red planet, where Travers and his team head to the surface on board the MEV (Martian Excursion Vehicle). However, before it is able to land the MEV is caught in a massive dust tornado…

Part 2 - Issue 106, dateline 28 January 2067
Travers struggles to regain control, and heads for the centre of the tornado to wait it out. After what seems like an age, the tornado finally begins to abate. But the damage has been done; the instruments and radio are both out of commission, and Travers is unable to communicate with Brad Newman in the orbiting Zero-X. Brad is concerned something is wrong, and contacts Glenn Field back on Earth. The command team are reluctant to give the order but if no contact is made in a twelve hour period, Zero-X is to abandon the men in the MEV. Despite being in the area of rock snakes, Travers is forced to land to access the damage taken in the tornado. Upon landing, Travers kits up to clean antennae and probes, and Carlson volunteers to help. But the scientist, on his first trip to mars, has other plans and heads away on his own to get a closer look at the snakes...

Part 3 - Issue 107, dateline 04 February 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Travers rushes after Carlson but as the scientist draws close, a snake spits a ball of fire. Travers rushes in, and amid a wall of flames manages to pull Carlson away. Realizing they are still in danger the MEV is moved away from the away on its tracks. Meanwhile up in orbit, Brad is painfully aware that time is running out before he is forced to abandon them. He ponders disobeying orders and taking the main body down to the surface, and ultimately decides he has no choice but to follow his instructions. However, the MEV has reached a point where Travers believes they can use the radio antennae to make contact. But will it be in time… ?

Part 4 - Issue 108, dateline 11 February 2067
On board Zero X, Brad receives his order to abandon the MEV and begins to move out of the sector, knowing he is condemning his friends to certain death. On the surface, Travers has cleared the terminals allowing co-pilot Greg Martin to signal Zero-X. A delighted Brad hears the call and moves the ship back into orbit. By now all the instrumentation is functioning correcting on the MEV, so they take off to rendezvous with the main body. On board Travers lectures Carlson on the danger they were all put in by his actions. Carlson seems completely uncaring and pays little heed to his words. The MEV approaches Zero-X and prepares to dock, but an incorrect reading causes them to miss and scrape along Zero X. Then calamity strikes, as the MEV has used up all its fuel, and the main body does not have enough left to collect it and still be able to escape the Martian orbit...

Part 5 - Issue 109, dateline 18 February 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Realizing there is no hope for a conventional redocking, Travers fires the grapples onto Zero-X. They successfully connect, but maneuverability is greatly hindered and a plan is needed for them to successfully make it back to Earth. It becomes clear they will have to land on one of the moons of Mars, but which one is nearest? The only man able to work it out is Carlson, who initially is unwilling to help. Travers manages to get the information out of the man and the required course is laid in. A clumsy but safe landing sees Zero X and the MEV land on the small moon. The men manually reposition the MEV, and Zero X takes off. The rest of the journey back to Earth is uneventful and the crew gets a well earned break on the six week journey back. Yet the break is soon over, for as they draw close to Earth, an order to dock for refuelling and collect secret orders is received.

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowTomorrow's News Today:
Issue 106: Lost on Mars!
Issue 108: Mars Explorers Presumed Dead
Issue 109: Zero X Link-Up Misfires

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issues 13 to 14.
TV Action & Countdown
issues 83 to 87.
Action 21
issues 1 to 5.
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
issues 1 to 5.

Notes:
Oops - in part 1, frame 4, Brad Newman's speech bubble comes from Greg Martin instead.
In part 2, as he leaves the MEV, Carlson states he is actually the first person to set foot on Mars.
Given the Zero X had six weeks of fuel left to get back to earth, the cliffhanger to part four seems a little unlikely, although still theoretically possible as it would use far more fuel to take off from a planet than traveling in space.


Story Two (aka The Stowaway / Sentence Of Death / The Alien Menace)
Writer - Angus P. Allan. Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 110, dateline 25 February 2067
Zero-X approaches Earth when it receives orders to head to Orbital Station One-Five-Eight for refuelling and to pick up top secret orders. While Travers is led directly to Colonel Baker’s office to receive them, the remaining crew head to the lounge. In the Colonel’s office, Travers is handed the sealed orders and given a brief rundown by his commander. A new experimental engine system, the BN33, is to be fitted to Zero-X and then to be tested at full power. Over the next couple of days while the engines are being installed, the Zero-X team discuss the mission. Travers reveals that Carlson has been sent back to Earth and will not be joining them. Greg and Travers discuss the security benefits of performing the test in this location, but their confidence would appear to be misplaced. Unknown to them, a man has smuggled himself onboard and hides in the fuel-room. It isn’t long until Zero-X is launched on her mission, but as the colonel watches the ship leave, he receives word that a killer has escaped from the cells and cannot be found anywhere in the station…

Part 2 - Issue 111, dateline 04 March 2067
Travers and Greg cannot help but feel like guinea pigs, as nobody is entirely sure what will happen when the engines are fully engaged. Travers radios the orbital station looking for final clearance, but this is denied as the missing person crisis is their current priority. The man, Corgan, was on his way to Earth to serve a life sentence, and it soon becomes clear the only place he can be is stowed away on Zero-X. Brad Newman, with Doctor Pierce, begin to search the ship. After fruitless hours searching, the pair enter the fuel room, but Corgan seizes the initiative and attacks. Using a wrench he hits Pierce in the head and pushes past Brad into the main control room. There is a frantic battle, but ultimately Travers and Greg manage to restrain Corgan. But in the melee the controls have been hit and the new engine system has jammed while engaged at full power...

Part 3 - Issue 112, dateline 11 March 2067
Travers and Greg struggle to regain control of the engines and signal the orbital station for help. The stress of changing direction could rip Zero-X apart and there is over an hours' worth of fuel, leaving only one option: finding a way to shut the engines down. Corgan is maintaining his innocence claiming he never meant to cause this trouble and only wanted to get back to Earth to clear himself, but Travers has had enough and orders him to be taken away. The crew decide they will have to try and manually shut down the engines. Travers and Brad head to the fuel feed compartments and try to draw the fuel away from the main links. They soon realize they need a special valve and Brad heads to the store room, where Corgan has been held, to collect it. Caught up in the emergency, Brad is careless and forgets to lock the outer door leaving Corgan the chance to free himself. Meanwhile work on the fuel lines is proving fruitful and Zero-X begins to vent her fuel. But the pressure is building on the line and the junction won’t hold out much longer. Just when things appear at their most bleak, Greg and Travers notice the dark figure of Corgan entering the room…

Part 4 - Issue 113, dateline 18 March 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
As Greg and Travers struggle to prevent the junction from exploding, it is soon obvious that for any of them to survive, Corgan's help will be needed to maintain the junction. Reluctantly Travers agrees to help Corgan get back to Earth in exchange for his help in their current plight. Corgan assures Travers of his innocence, but Travers still does not believe him. The three men soon work together and the junction is secured, relieving the danger. Now traveling at a slower speed, Zero-X is able to turn and return to the Orbital Station. The controls are still jammed though and a course to Earth cannot be set. Corgan is very angry and accuses Travers of not keeping to his word. Travers reassures him, insisting he will keep his word, much to the anger of Colonel Baker back on the station. The colonel orders Travers to return Corgan to his custody, but he suddenly finds the controls responding and instead heads to Earth. Soon Zero-X is preparing to land at Glenn Field and the two landing bodies are launched, allowing her to begin final descent to Earth. Travers orders Corgan to the escape hatch and explains he will fire him out over the central U.S., leaving him to take his own chances. Travers fears this could well be his last act as a captain, leading to a court martial for his actions…

Part 5 - Issue 114, dateline 25 March 2067
As Zero-X enters the Earth’s atmosphere, Corgan thanks Travers for keeping his word. Greg tries to convince his captain to do something to save his career, but Travers is insistent that a man's word must be kept. Corgan is soon fired off in the escape unit to fend for himself, and Zero-X prepares to land at Glenn Field. On the ground, the control centre has learned the full situation from Colonel Baker onboard the orbital station. They prepare for the landing of Zero-X, which is to them totally unexpected. by moving emergency equipment into position and calling the spaceport police to the scene. Zero-X makes a smooth landing. However things look less than smooth for Travers, who is arrested the instant he leaves the ship. A charge of willfully disobeying orders while on a secret mission is read out, and the penalty is death by firing squad…

Part 6 - Issue 115, dateline 01 April 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
As Travers is arrested Greg leaps to his commander’s aid trying to explain Travers had no choice. But Travers asks him to stand down and await the full military hearing to detail what happened. While the remaining Zero-X crew stand concerned about their fate, Corgan has made a successful landing many miles away. He decides to lay low for a while, then head to Washington where he is desperate to track down twelve men with a strange star shaped scar on each of their necks…Days pass by and soon Travers is standing before a tribunal debating his situation. The actions from previous hours are replayed over the screen for all to watch, including the moment that Travers turned the Zero-X away from the space station. Travers explains he was forced to make his promise to Corgan for the safety of the whole ship, but the men questioning him do not seem overly impressed. Meanwhile Corgan is beginning to make a move, and flags down a hover car. Feigning he needed help, Corgan tempts the car driver outside his vehicle. Corgan seizes his chance and knocks the man unconscious and proceeds to steal the hover car and drives away. Three hours driving later he has arrived in Washington and views a large video screen with a news report of the Paul Travers trial. The verdict has been reached. Travers is to stand before the firing squad...

Part 7 - Issue 116, dateline 08 April 2067
Corgan is shocked to see what is happening and realizes it is thanks to him that Travers is in such trouble and vows to find a way to help him. Travers meanwhile is slowly losing all hope as he lies in his cell. As dawn breaks, Zero-X lies motionless at Glenn Field and Travers is brought out from his cell. The guards line up and Travers is positioned in front of a wall, preparing for them to fire. As the order to fire is given, Corgan suddenly appears, driving the hover car between the firing squad and Travers. After a brief exchange of blows, Travers and Corgan escape. In the control tower all systems are set to emergency red and orders are sent out to stop the fugitives. Only some skillful driving from Corgan sees the hover car evade all the firing attempts made on them, allowing the two men to manage to escape to comparative freedom. Forty minutes pass and Corgan believes they have lost their pursuers. Travers is still less than happy and fears a life on the run is all he can expect to partake of from now on. But Corgan has other ideas and still wants to prove his own innocence. There is something else he needs to do too. He claims the whole planet is in danger, and the entire human race is under threat…

Part 8 - Issue 117, dateline 15 April 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Corgan explains why he is so worried by detailing a trip he made to Jupiter with a survey team, when oneday scientist Philips mysteriously disappeared. When he was found, his body was in a bad way and they found a strange star shaped scar on his neck. They never managed to establish how he had the marking, but Philips' entire personality seemed to be altered after the incident, becoming almost inhuman. Corgan claims it is his belief that some form of alien life form had taken him over, and explains how Philips then tried to sabotage the ship. They fought to regain control but Philips was fatally wounded in the fracas - his dying words had been that the Earth is doomed, already infiltrated by twelve key people in the World Government. Travers finds it quite a difficult story to believe and realizes that it is Philips who Corgan had been accused of murdering. The two men decide to work together in an effort to clear both their names, and find the infiltrators. Deciding the best course of action is to find proof back on Jupiter, Travers concludes their best option is to steal Zero-X and fly to the giant planet. As night falls, the two men crawl towards the Glenn Field base, cutting their way through fences. But before they can reach their goal, from the shadows comes a figure brandishing a gun, ordering them to halt…

Part 9 - Issue 118, dateline 22 April 2067
Corgan lunges for the man and knocks him off balance, causing his shot to miss Travers. As Corgan prepares to deliver a crushing blow to his opponent, Travers recognizes him as Brad Newman – co-pilot of Zero X and tells Corgan to stop his attack. Travers explains the whole situation to Brad and asks for his help. Brad says that he, Greg and Doctor Pierce will help, but that he just hopes Travers knows exactly what he is doing. They decide to wait until Zero-X is due to lift off on a training flight with its new commander, Colonel Jennings, before making their move. Corgan and Travers are left to hide under the cover of night before taking their chance to smuggle on board Zero X. The next day as the sun rises, Zero X moves out and prepares to lift off. Suddenly Travers emerges from his hiding spot and overpowers Jennings at the controls. The helpless Colonel is thrown outside and Zero X proceeds to take off, with Travers in command. The ground team is powerless to stop them as they begin the journey to Jupiter...

Part 10 - Issue 119, dateline 29 April 2067
Zero-X is nearing Jupiter and the MEV heads to the surface. They land near a small area of buildings, and everything looks to be perfectly normal, Corgan insists that nearby lurks a menace that can control people’s minds. As the men exit the MEV they are being watching by a massive red bulbous organism which vows to prevent an escape for the men. Corgan points to the area that they first found Philips. The team split up to search the area, but as Greg climbs a rock face he suddenly hears a strange noise and turns to see the creature lunging towards him. He fires but the creature continues to advance and picks up Greg in its tentacle-like arms...

Part 11 - Issue 120, dateline 06 May 2067
Greg calls out for help as the creature lifts him from the ground. On the other side of the slope, Travers hears the call and rushes over with the other two men to help Greg. But they arrive too late, and are helpless as they watch the creature dragging Greg deep inside the mountain through a passage. The men follow, and inside they see the alien towering over the helpless Greg, ordering them to stand back if they want their friend to live. Travers demands to know who or what the creature is, but Corgan already knows. The creature intends to conquer the world using a form of brain control, and is gradually taking control of key personnel in world organizations. Travers claims that it will not succeed for Zero-X is still in orbit and has fixed orders. But the creature seems very confident and lowers its star shaper pincer towards Greg’s neck. Suddenly Pierce jumps up and fires a magnesium flare at the creature, wounding it fatally. The doctor had guessed, correctly, that the creature could not stand the light. As the creature lies dying, it manages to reach a control panel and tap in a command. Travers suddenly realizes it must have sent instructions to its Earth men…

Part 12 - Issue 121, dateline 13 May 2067
Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowTravers and the others head back to warn Earth, but Greg warns Travers that he is a wanted criminal and no-one will believe him. Eight weeks pass before Zero-X is back within the vicinity of Earth, and it immediately comes under attack from interceptors, which escort it down to the surface. At Glenn Field, Travers is immediately arrested, and held by a team of men. The Vice President himself reads Travers his rights, but the twelve members of the World Government bearing the star shaped scar are also present. Travers shouts to the Vice President that they are under alien control, which sends the controlled men into a rage, attacking both Travers and the Vice President. With no other choice the Vice President fires upon the men. The situation now clear Corgan is exonerated, as is Travers, placed back in command of Zero-X.

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowTomorrow's News Today:
Issue 110: Secret Orders Divert Zero X
Issue 114: Zero X Mystery - Captain Defies All Orders
Issue 118: Mars Ship Hi-Jacked - Glenn Field mutineers Grab Zero X
Issue 121: Zero X Earthbound

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issues 15 to 18.
TV Action & Countdown
issues 88 to 99.
Action 21
issues 5 to 10 (parts 1 to 6 only).
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
issues 6 to 14.
The New Thunderbirds issues 67 to 69.

Notes:

In part 9, Travers refers to Brad Newman as 'co-pilot' but traditionally he is navigator of Zero X.
This story was split into three parts for its reprint in the 1990s - the first four parts were called The Stowaway, the middle Sentence Of Death, and (continuing in The New Thunderbirds) the final three parts The Alien Menace.


Story Three (aka Mission To Saturn)
Writer - Angus P. Allan. Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 122, dateline 20 May 2067
At Glenn Field Spaceport, Zero-X is being prepared for an important mission to Saturn, in order for the team to make a scientific study of the meteoric rings. Travers introduces Greg and Brad to the other passengers joining them on the trip - Professor Brian Trent, and a mechanical walking machine. Brian explains that contrary to what Greg describes as a “tin-sided friend”, the mechanical creation is in fact a major scientific breakthrough. - a mobile computer capable of both collecting and analyzing data. It is not long until Zero-X has been launched and, after jettisoning the lifting bodies, is on its way to Saturn. The journey lasts several weeks, during which the professor spends most of his waking time making final adjustments to the walking computer. Finally they reach their destination, but as Zero-X approaches the atmosphere it is clear something is very wrong indeed. There is some form of magnetic force at work throwing the ship off course and playing havoc with the instruments. But as if this wasn’t enough, Trent’s machine, which he has dubbed the 'techmobile', suddenly springs to life. As if it had a mind of its own, it surges towards the controls attempting to take charge…

Part 2 - Issue 123, dateline 27 May 2067
Trent quickly deduces the techmobile is being controlled from a signal source down on the surface of Saturn. The professor finds the whole situation fascinating and wants to study what is happening, despite the fact they are on a collision course with the planet. Travers is keener to regain control of his ship before it is too late and, taking a metal bar, strikes the machine, seemingly immobilising it. Greg quickly fires the primary rockets and changes their course. Trent is very angry at Travers, claiming that there is clearly a supreme intelligence at work and they have missed their opportunity of a major discovery. In an effort to continue collecting data while the techmobile is out of commission, Travers decides to separate the MEV and head down to the surface, with Brad left onboard the main body. On the surface Greg sets up a probe to find the source of the radio transmissions, but does not have much joy as every signal is simply bounced back at him, implying something is jamming his efforts. Travers concludes it is best to abandon work for the day and catch some sleep. Later in the night, Trent works on his techmobile, and before long it is fully repaired and receiving the signals again. As the techmobile moves to the controls, Travers realizes what is happening and acts to stop it. But Trent is alert to his actions and pushes Travers away, as the MEV takes off under the techmobile's control….

Part 3 - Issue 124, dateline 03 June 2067
Travers and his crew find themselves locked in the sleeping quarters as the MEV is controlled by the techmobile. Travers uses the emergency laser beam to cut through the door, but before they can immobilize the techmobile, Trent draws his gun and levels it at them. Soon they are tied up and forced to watch in horror as the techmobile acts under its orders from Saturn. They watch through the view screen as the MEV proceeds towards the planet's northern pole, and soon find themselves over the massive ice cap. Travers tries to reason with Trent, but in vain for the professor is determined to see what is controlling his machine and is prepared to risk all their lives for it. The MEV makes a landing in front of a huge cliff face of computers and strange alien technology. As the techmobile heads to the airlock, Travers and his crew don their space suits and slowly move it. Upon exciting the MEV, Trent cannot contain his excitement and runs towards the cliff face. Travers spots several large needle devices turning to follow the professor, and tries to warn him. But he is too late, and the professor collapses as he is hit by rays...

Part 4 - Issue 125, dateline 10 June 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27Travers looks up and sees the form of Trent frozen solid. Before he is able to investigate further he finds himself under another attack from the alien weapon and is forced to take cover. Greg moves out to try and save his captain, and manages to save him from another freezing bolt. As they recover, they see the techmobile moving towards Trent. They watch in horror as it picks up his lifeless form and then moves through a hidden door out of their sight. Travers and Greg rush back to the MEV, and take off as the devices track towards it. Half an hour passes without event, and Travers turns his thoughts to the fate of Trent. Doctor Pierce hypothesizes the beam that hit Trent may have been a form of deep freeze and that he could still be alive. With this in mind, Travers decides they will head back at night fall to investigate. When the time comes, Greg and Travers emerge on foot risking their lives in the hope of discovery. They come armed with heat jets and with a sudden attack manage to completely knock out the needles that fired upon them earlier. As they inspect the damage, a door opens behind them and the two men head into the unknown…

Part 5 - Issue 126, dateline 17 June 2067
Aware that they are most likely entering a trap, Travers and Greg move forward. They enter the doorway and find themselves in a large empty room, seemingly made of solid ice, giving it an eerie quality. Suddenly the walls begin to close in, and huge lances of ice extend moving in to crush the men. They just manage to contort themselves into to avoid being crushed, but instead find themselves trapped and unable to move forward. Travers realizes that they still are carrying their heat jets, and are able to break the hold and escape. A strange hovering green ball appears, uttering a message to some unknown entity that intruders have been detected and are to be apprehended. Two huge arm-like structures appear from the ceiling, and move down to pick up the two helpless men. A strange vapor freezes them solid, and their bodies are encased in green tubes which whisk them away. Meanwhile in Zero X, Brad is getting worried and calls Pierce, who explains he was ordered to wait six hours before taking any action. By now Travers and Greg have been delivered to their destination. They emerge in a giant hallway, with Trent and the techmobile on the opposite side. Travers and Greg soon defrost and notice Trent, quickly ascertaining he is indeed still alive. Before they are able to take stock of the situation, one of the walls spins round revealing giant red humanoids apparently in suspended animation…

Part 6 - Issue 127, dateline 24 June 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Trent is soon up on his feet and joins Travers and Greg as they look at the huge red creatures. Suddenly a voice cries out 'intruders detected!' and Travers thinks it is the creatures speaking, but Trent claims that it is in fact a machine, and that the aliens have been dead for millions of years. It appears that their civilization only continues to exist in the form of a vast array of computers. As Trent and Travers look over the computer a section of the wall moves towards them and picks them all up. Trent appears not to be concerned and says that they are simply being examined. The computer voice speaks out its findings to be 'three class C beings of little value' and 'one computer of little value'. It goes on to order the 'three class C beings' to be destroyed, and that the machine is to capture the space craft in orbit - Zero-X! Travers realizes that the machines are not simply performing their original duties but have taken over completely. As he tries to find a way of escape to warn Brad and Pierce, the techmobile closes in on the MEV. Pierce is communication with Brad, still concerned about the lack of word from Travers. Before they can decide what to do though, the techmobile bursts in and knocks Pierce out cold. Under the machine's control, he MEV connects up with the main body. Brad runs to the MEV to see who was onboard and finds the techmobile, which attacks. Brad is helpless to stop it as it takes control, and the mighty ship plummets down to the surface...

Part 7 - Issue 128, dateline 01 July 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Brad and Pierce regain consciousness and struggle to make sense of what is happening. A quick look from a window confirms that they are heading for the planet's surface and if they do not do something soon, the entire craft will break up. They take weapons and move to the control room, and in a dramatic fight the techmobile is beaten. Brad destroys its control circuits, preventing it from causing any more trouble. But its work was done, and Zero-X is still heading for Saturn with its controls jammed on the course. Brad tries to pull the ship out with little joy and it begins to break up on re-entry. On the surface, the three captives can see all that is unfolding, and can only watch in terror as missiles are fired at Zero-X…

Part 8 - Issue 129, dateline 08 July 2067
Travers watches the helpless Zero-X spiraling out of control, and levers a screwdriver out of his pocket to attack his restraints with. He soon frees them all and moves to the main computer, but Trent moves to block his way trying to save it as an amazing piece of science. Travers forces him out of the way, and destroys the computer. There is a massive explosion and all the missile guidance systems are destroyed. Suddenly Zero-X is free and all the controls respond! Travers, Greg and Trent run to freedom, but the professor turns back desperate to study the machines, and before Travers can stop him he falls under a mass of falling debris and is crushed. Travers and Greg can only watch in horror as both Trent and an entire civilization are ended. Soon they find themselves on the surface, and are left to reflect on what has happened as the MEV comes down to the surface to take them back to Zero-X.

Tomorrow's News Today:
Issue 122: Travers Reinstated
Issue 123: "We're Heading For Saturn!" Zero X M.E.V. Controlled by Mystery Source
Issue 126: Crew Vanishes! Zero X Finds New Life On Saturn?

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issues 19 to 22.
The New Thunderbirds
issues 70 to 76 (omitting part 4).

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowNotes:
In part 5, it seems strange that Greg and Travers thaw so quickly when captured, as Pierce had been kept frozen for much longer.
It is never clear exactly how we know all the aliens are dead, Trent does seem to leap to the conclusion somewhat.
The concept of computers replacing a long-dead civilisation is also attributed to the Mysterons, in later issues of TV21 and the related annuals.
Oops! The cover of issue 123 states the MEV has landed on one of the moons of Venus.
With Captain Scarlet in production at this time, the cover of issue 126 featured a specially shot photo of the revamped Martian 'Exploration' Vehicle (as seen in 'The Mysterons' on the snowscape of the episode 'Avalanche' (left).
The so-called 'Curse of Zero X' spread to the reprints on this story...
The Dutch reprint of this story in Prins Valiant got hopelessly muddled for its final part. The compilation was edited in the order: Part 7 page 1, Part 8 page 2 (the actual end of the story!), Part 7 page 2 and Part 8 page 1.
Part 4 of this story was accidentally omitted from the reprint in The New Thunderbirds, which should have appeared in issue 73. The stories for Fireball XL5 and Lady Penelope that week also jumped forward an instalment, and these were not reprinted.
Some of Mike Noble's artwork for this story would be cannibalised for the 'Britonium' story the following year.


Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowStory Four (aka Horror Of Asteroid Belt Nine)
Writer - Angus P. Allan.
Artist - Mike Noble (issues 130, 135-137),
Eric Eden (issues 131-134). 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 130, dateline 15 July 2067
Travers watches as the final repair work on Zero-X is completed, and soon finds himself with fresh orders. He is to take Zero-X out to Sector Blue and investigate Asteroid Belt Nine. The colonel explains how the asteroids where used some fifty years ago as part of an experimental food research program. A scientist by the name of Bonine had planted some new seeds, dubbed the 'bonine bulb' and no one has been back to visit since. With the rest of the team on board, Zero-X is launched and heads for its destination. The exploration vehicle soon lands on a silent strange world. All around are huge crop formations under a protective cover. The men go out on foot and discover strange red fruit on all the plants which suddenly begin to spot seeds, which spout parachutes and slowly begin to fall towards the men. Greg puts his hand out to touch one, not realizing they could be dangerous…

Part 2 - Issue 131, dateline 22 July 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Travers rushes to stop Greg from catchling one of the parachuted seeds, but it lands onto Greg’s hand and suddenly grows some sort of webbing. Quickly Greg and Travers are coated in the mysterious web. Pierce pulls out a knife and prepares to cut them free, but Travers advises against this, as he could start another spore off and make the situation worse. Greg and Travers struggle to break free with little success, for the web appears to be strong as steel. Pierce heads back to the MEV to collect a low flame accessory for their laser packs in the attempt to burn their way free. Thankfully all his efforts appear to be have been worthwhile as he is able to free his two colleagues. Under the rain of more spores, the three rush back to the MEV. But just as they draw close, a huge crack under the vessel begins to appear. It seems their landing has weakened the launch apron, and soon the men find themselves on the other side of a huge chasm from the MEV. The cracking spreads to the space garden, and soon its protective casing shatters with seeds pods flying everywhere...

Part 3 - Issue 132, dateline 29 July 2067
Travers immediately tells his men to rush to the MEV. They begin to climb down into the fissure, but all the while the chasm is getting bigger. Travers decides to risk everything and jumps for the ship. He manages to cling on and climb onboard before more spores hit him. Collecting some rocket packs from the cargo, Travers quickly heads back and rescues his two stranded teammates. However before they close down all the hatches a number of the parachuted seeds drift on board too. Travers orders take off, but soon they discover webbing all over the equipment. It begins to cover the crew and Travers desperately tries to reconnect with Zero-X in a dangerous full speed operation. But he runs out of time as the webbing engulfs him, leaving the MEV flying out of control towards Zero-X...

Part 4 - Issue 133, dateline 05 August 2067
Greg struggles to reach the controls and manages to push the MEV to a new course to avoid a collision. Travers orders Brad to follow the MEV and wait until her fuel runs out. This takes several hours, but allows Brad the chance to rendezvous with the exploration vehicle in a safe manner. Greg quickly heads up to see what has happened and finds the MEV engulfed in the webbing. Quickly collecting his heat jet, he soon manages to free the three men trapped inside. Pierce sets to work to examine the remains to see what exactly it is. It does not take long until he makes a breakthrough, and calls Travers to tell him what he has found. But just as Travers enters the room, Pierce collapses - his hands white with strange red lines all over…

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowPart 5 - Issue 134, dateline 12 August 2067
The strange markings quickly cover Pierce’s entire body as Travers struggles to try and awake the man. Pierce manages to say something about the seeds containing a virus that destroys all living tissue before slipping back into unconsciousness. Travers sets a course to Earth desperate to save the doctors life. No sooner has the course been laid in though than all three remaining men begin to succumb to the same illness. Forty eight hours later Zero-X has reached the Earth and the lifting bodies are launched. With no response from Zero-X though, only one lifting body connects, and Zero-X proceeds to crash land...

Part 6 - Issue 135, dateline 19 August 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
At Glenn Field the operators look on in horror as Zero-X crashes into a beach resort in Miami. Smashing through buildings, the craft finally comes to a standstill. Glenn Field immediately launches a rescue team and starts to cordon off the area. Aware of where they have been, the colonel realizes that if the men on board are still alive, they could be carrying a virulent disease. The area is quickly made secure, and the crowds pushed back as a team of men begin to cut into the control room to reach Travers and his men. A doctor on the scene is astonished at the state of the men, and is baffled as to what could have caused it. A quick search of the ship reveals Pierce had made some notes about his work, and soon the doctor realizes that Boracide virus is what is at work. He explains to his commander that there is no cure, but a survivor of the crash overhears, and word of the virus escapes. It does not take long for the whole city to be in the grip of fear and riots ensue, heading towards the crash site with people desperate to destroy the 'plague-carriers' before they themselves are stricken...

Part 7 - Issue 136, dateline 26 August 2067
The mob soon reaches the disaster zone and rush in. The security forces try to hold them off using nerve stunning gas, but they keep coming. The condition of Travers and his crew is getting worse and the doctor decides to bring in an airborne ambulance and take them away. It does not take long for the ambulance to arrive, but it is quickly spotted by the rioters who realize that the 'plague carriers' are aboard. A bloody battle takes place but it escapes just in time. On board the doctor declares the only hope for the four men is to find the man who designed the space seeds – Professor Bonine. But the man retired years ago, and no one even knows if he is still alive…

Part 8 - Issue 137, dateline 02 September 2067
Glenn Field checks on the status of Professor Bonine and concludes that his last known address to be in Washington. The ambulance is diverted to track him down. However in the main Washington Government building it is clear that the city does not welcome these guests. Fearing widespread panic as in Miami, interceptors are ordered to shoot down the ambulance to prevent it from landing. The ambulances pilot does his best to evade the oncoming attack, and manages a landing near the last known residence of Professor Bonine. The men are rushed inside and are greeted by the aged scientist. He explains he has been following events and has prepared an antidote. Armed guards rush in to prevent their city being overcome with disease, but the professor explains the antidote is working, and soon the men recover consciousness and make a full recovery. In the following weeks Travers learns that all the space gardens are destroyed by a missile strike, and work to repair Zero-X to her former glory has commenced.

Merchandise

Tomorrow's News Today:
Issue 130: Zero X Is Go!
Issue 133: Plants Attack Zero X
Issue 135: Miami Beach Disaster - Zero X crashes on Millionaire's Playground

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issues 23 to 26.
The New Thunderbirds
issues 77 to 84.

Notes:

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowAsteroid Belt Nine is shown to located between Earth and Mars, outside the main belt which is between Mars and Jupiter, and seems to consist of six planetoids.
Oops! Only Lifting Body 1 connects with Zero X at the end of part 5 (right) drawn by Eric Eden, but it crashes with both Lifting Bodies in part 6, when Mike Noble resumes work on the strip. 'I can't throw any light on what happened...' Mike Noble explains, 'I might have been on holiday and Eric Eden did that episode or two. Usually whoever took over did a complete story.'
It could be implied that the reason for the second lift body failing to connect is so photos from the film, showing Zero X crash-landing, could be used to promote the story, but the continuity error with the artwork may have scuppered this.
Interesting that for the final three parts, the crew of Zero X are largely absent, striken with the plague, and the two 'heroes' are an unnamed colonel and doctor.
We never discover if Bonine actually did solve world food shortages, but it seems unlikely there would only have been one sort of crop on the asteroids.
Also, if Professor Bonine had an antidote, it does not seem unreasonable to expect for him to have said something a little earlier!
Part 2 of this story would see a new Zero X masthead used for the strip.
Is Zero X just an exploration vessel? The cover of TV Century 21 issue 130 claims, after repairs to damage in the previous story, ' ...it is ready to defend our planet from any attack.".
The cover of issue 135 indicates fifteen people died in the Zero X crash, with a further four hundred people missing.


Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowStory Five (aka Strange New Planet)
Writer - Angus P. Allan.
Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 138, dateline 09 September 2067
High up in the Andes Mountains of South America stands the World Astronomical Observatory. Inside, three men discuss the possible discovery of a new planet, somewhere between Neptune and Pluto. Despite photographic evidence of an unknown body with a diameter of 6,000 miles in the area, the only sure way to find out is to send in Zero-X and make a first hand investigation. Soon the ship is launched into space on the several week journey. Upon researching the target zone, Zero-X does indeed find what appears to be a green planet in the area, and the MEV is launched for a closer inspection. As the vehicle approaches the surface though, a large translucent sphere appears from a compartment within the planet surface. It quickly moves to intercept the MEV and engulfs it entirely...

Part 2 - Issue 139, dateline 16 September 2067
The engulfed MEV is dragged down to the planetoid surface, as Brad onboard the Zero-X watches, powerless to help. Just as it looks like the MEV is going to crash into the planet, the hatchway reopens. Inside the planetoid the bubble comes to a halt before releasing the MEV onto a strange monorail system. Clamps quickly move into place, taking them on a short tour. Through the view screens the crew sees dozens of spacecraft all in their own comportments. The vessels are all of unknown designs, and Pierce theorises that they may have come from many billions of light years away. But nowhere are any crews for the other ships to be seen, leading Travers to become concerned about their fate. Just as the men proceed on foot, they are suddenly engulfed in smaller bubbles, much like those that captured the MEV, and begin to be carried towards a hatch...

Part 3 - Issue 140, dateline 23 September 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Travers notices they are being taken straight to the exit chamber, and most likely death. He pulls out his laser unit and cuts himself free. Helping the others, Travers and his crew reach the MEV and move to the passageway out. Using the rocket launcher to blow the air lock, the MEV soon reconnects with Zero-X. Travers watches on as the explosion begins a chain reaction, and the entire planetoid implodes, leaving everyone safe but destroying the collected information from many other worlds.

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issue 27.
The New Thunderbirds
issues 85 to 87 as The New Planet.

Notes:
This mission takes place directly after the previous one, as reference is made to the crash in Miami
Did not one of the previous crews think to try and escape from their bubbles?
This short story received no promotion on the covers of TV Century 21.


Story Six
Writer - Angus P. Allan. Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 141, dateline 30 September 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
Brad Newman is resting in Florida during his leave when suddenly Travers appears on a video screen, relaying orders from Glenn Field that he is needed on board Zero-X for an exploration trip to sector 35. After a good night's sleep, Brad leaves by hover car an hour before dawn to rendezvous with the rest of the team. Little does he know that on board an aircraft carrier on a river somewhere, two men are aware of his actions and plan to intercept him. Soon Brad finds himself under attack, and his assailants drag him from his hover car and knock him unconscious. Another man begins measuring every detail of the navigator's face. A very careful and complicated make up job takes place, and soon the man is the spitting likeness of Brad. The man is even capable to impersonate the voice to complete the package. As dawn breaks, the imposter arrives at Zero-X and takes his place in the control room. Soon Zero-X is launched on her mission with Travers completely unaware of the danger…

Part 2 - Issue 142, dateline 07 October 2067
As Zero-X speeds away on her mission, Brad begins to regain consciousness. He finds himself tied up sitting in the rear seats of a car with two men guarding him. He tries asking why he is being held, but all the men say is they are going to kill him. One of them pulls a device from his pocket and begins to drive the car with it, towards a nearby swamp with Brad still on board. Brad desperately tries to unlock the car door with his feet and only just manages to escape before the car drives off the road and into the swamp. After managing to cut his bonds, Brad walks the rest of the way to Glenn Field and is horrified to discover Zero-X has been launched. He rushes into to see the Colonel and explains that there must be an imposter on board. All efforts to raise Zero-X on the radio are useless, and suddenly they receive word the ship has changed course and is headed to Mercury...

Part 3 - Issue 143, dateline 14 October 2067
On board Zero-X, the imposter holds a gun on Travers and, removing his make up, announces himself to be Frank Gorman. Meanwhile at Glenn Field, the worried men just watch in dismay as there is no other ship fast enough to catch Zero-X. But Brad has an idea to use the Delta Comet 7, an experimental new plane that has not completed testing yet. Despite advice to the contrary, Brad is soon on board the sleek jet and prepares to launch. The speed of the craft is immense and it doe snot take Brad long to catch up with Zero-X. Realizing that she must be stopped, Brad prepares to fire at the main motors with a missile. He takes aim and fires! But the missile is jammed in the tube and explodes while still connected to the Delta Comet 7...

Merchandise

Part 4 - Issue 144, dateline 21 October 2067
As the missile explodes against the planes hull, Brad manages to eject before the entire ship explodes. On board Zero-X, Travers and Gorman watch as the capsule passes nearby and they see Brad is on board. Gorman realises the alarm will have been raised and declares they will leave Brad outside to die. Travers pushes past Gorman and runs down to the airlock, quickly donning his space gear and he heads out. Working quickly, Travers soon has Brad back on board who is alive and well. Finding a very angry Gorman, the pair are forced to take their places and continue the trip to Mercury. Eventually they reach the planet and Gorman orders them down in the MEV. Giving them some coordinates, he orders Travers to land there. However upon reaching the target, the area is simply a sea of liquid lava…

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowPart 5 - Issue 145, dateline 28 October 2067
Gorman shoves the gun into Travers' temple and repeats the order to land. With no other choice, Travers lowers the MEV down to what seems a certain disaster. But just as the MEV is about to enter the lava, the liquid moves away revealing a huge fissure in the ground. Carefully Travers navigates the vehicle downwards, and a short while later they land in a large chasm. Greg asks how Gorman could know of the entrance when no other ship has landed in this area of Mercury. Gorman though claims that in fact a ship did, and explains about the V-9 Experimental Space Train. The V-9 had been a new freighter with a valuable cargo, when suddenly the main motors exploded and the hull ruptured. Travers claims he heard that the ship had been lost along with all hands, Gorman however claims the ship flew on to Mercury. Not being prepared to explain how he knows, Gorman orders the men to put on space suits and move outside. The men soon enter an airlock leading to a massive room filled with what appears to be the dismantled form of the V-9. Gorman by this point has become very excited and runs forward calling out to. Out of the shadows appears a grey shambled wreck of a human being, which moves menacingly towards him…

Part 6 - Issue 146, dateline 04 November 2067
As Gorman wrestles with the 'man', Travers seizes the chance for freedom and they try to take their assailant’s gun. But their efforts are in vain as Gorman fires at the unknown man and runs from sight. Travers stands over the man, who is barely alive and struggles to say something about 'others' and an 'ice-line'. Looking at the now dead body, Greg recognizes it to be the captain of the V-9 who was reported as lost, explaining his aged appearance as an effect of radiation on Mercury. The Zero X crew men quickly move out to try and find Gorman, but as they exit the airlock, they see him at the launching pad of a rocket which takes off headed for the surface. Quickly getting onboard the MEV, they follow Gorman for several hours until eventually he lands near a building complex. As the men try to catch up with him they see him enter the building. But as they approach carefully on foot, they are startled to see the form of Gorman fall into their path with a look of terror on his face…

Part 7 - Issue 147, dateline 11 November 2067
The men stand over the still form of Gorman, and are shocked to see he has aged by thirty years in a matter of seconds. Before they can take stock, three men in space suits appear from the building and run towards Gorman shouting they will kill him. Gorman begins to run away from the men, but is soon forced to a cliff ledge. The men close in on him but their combined weight is too much, and the ground collapses taking Gorman and two of the unknown men with it. Travers takes the survivor back to the MEV, and asks the man what has been happening. He explains he is Joe Baines, co-pilot of the V-9. The ship had been carrying a large supply of vantothal gas, which was a weapon developed to cause massive aging in person in seconds. The men had decided to hijack the shipment in a quest for power, but Gorman had double crossed them. Satisfied with the explanation, Travers destroys the buildings contained the dangerous gas, and the MEV heads back up to meet with the main body of Zero-X.

Merchandise

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowTomorrow's News Today:
Issue 142: Zero X Man Kidnapped?
Issue 145: 4 Hours To Live! Zero X on Mercury Collision Course

Reprinted:
Prins Valiant (Holland) issues 28 to 29.
Thunderbirds Are Go!
issues 01 to 07.

Notes:

This story had the main headline on the cover of TV Century 21 issues 145 - the first main non-Captain Scarlet cover since of the start of that strip.


Story Seven (aka Uranus - Planet On Fire)
Writer - Angus P. Allan.
Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Part 1 - Issue 148, dateline 18 November 2067
Zero-X is on its way to the seventh planet, Uranus. On board, Captain Paul Travers is outlining their mission to the rest of the crew - to investigate why a huge increase in surface temperature has been detected on the giant planet. Weeks pass, and when they finally arrive at the planet, the MEV detaches and goes down to the surface while navigator Brad Newman stays on board the main body in orbit. As Brad watches the surface he notices huge flames, and relays this information to Travers on the MEV. Travers reassures Brad that they will be careful and avoids them as the MEV lands. When the men exit the craft however, they are baffled to notice the flames have all vanished from sight. Exploring on foot they cannot find anything to explain the phenomena, and continue moving away from the landing site. Suddenly the flames begin to reappear in the footprints they have left behind, and start heading towards the men. They start to run for higher ground, but while Travers and Greg reach it in time, Doctor Pierce is n’o quite fast enough, and the flames engulf him...

Part 2 - Issue 149, dateline 25 November 2067
Travers reaches out and pulls Pierce, whose legs are on fire, to comparative safety. Greg rushes to collect dust from the ground to smother Pierce’s legs in an attempt to put out the fire. It appears to work and the flames die down, leaving Pierce unharmed. The three men look back at their footprints, and Greg suggests that their weight broke through the surface of the planet, exposing a lower layer just below. It seems that when exposes to air, this layer ignites! Greg goes on to theorize that this stuff was laid deliberately, which can only mean there is intelligent life on the planet. The men decide it would be safer to continue exploring by air, and carefully head back to the MEV, only taking high ground to get there. An hour later, the MEV blasts off with the crew on board and they begin their search. Greg spots a strange glow behind a nearby hill, but as Travers manoeuvres the craft to have a look, a giant fireball shoots up from the ground and hits the starboard engine. The hit is true and the exploration vehicle is forced down. Realising the ship makes a big target while on the ground, the three men decide to head out for cover. Heading towards the ridge where the glow was spotted, Flames on the horizon are heading in their direction, so they take cover in a nearby gully which, Pierce realises, is in fact a gigantic footprint…

Part 3 - Issue 150, dateline 02 December 2067
Dutch Reprint - issue 27
The men look around and realize it is indeed the shape of a giant footprint, but one with only three toes. Travers rebukes the idea that Uranus could be inhabited by giants as ludicrous, when suddenly a deep rumbling roar shakes the land. They try to run for cover, but turn to see a alien giant standing over them. Effortlessly the creature picks Travers up and, fired upon by the others, turns and runs away. Suddenly a huge bolt of energy is fired from a cliff face, and the giant is knocked down, releasing Travers. The other two men rush to help the dazed captain, when suddenly an opening in the cliff appears. From it appear strange aliens riding hovering machines, who beckon the men inside…

Part 4 - Issue 151, dateline 09 December 2067
Inside the cliff, Travers, Greg and Pierce are pointed in the direction of three transportation devices. They climb on board, and are soon being taken deep inside the alien complex. Inside a massive room, there is a huge lake of gas connected to the surface, which Pierce realizes acts as a gigantic cooker, causing the flames on the surface. One of the aliens explains the fires are the only protection against the giant Marbellas. He introduces himself as Petron, leader of the true Uranian peoples, and apologizes for shooting at the MEV earlier, claiming it to be out of self-defense. The doctor is impressed with the technological accomplishments of this race that seem able to instantly translate themselves into English, but Greg points out they are still unable to deal with the Marbellas. Petron explains they have been at war for centuries, and until recently when they were freed by an eruption, they were secured under the northern ice-cap. Suddenly another alien rushes in with word that the Marbellas are attacking. The gas system is employed, and on the surface the giants come under attack from balls of flame. But it is not enough to stop their progress, and they begin to attack with their mighty strength. Greg looks up in terror as a hand begins to push through the ceiling of the room they are in...

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowPart 5 - Issue 152, dateline 16 December 2067
The roof begins to collapse under the attack and everyone inside moves to the tunnels. The main passage is soon blocked, leaving only a narrow uphill route away from the Marbellas. Travers calls to Petron to leave his hover chair and continue on foot, but the leader explains that the Uranians lost the ability to walk unaided many years ago, leaving the three men to continue on their own. Travers realizes the only hope for the Uranians is for him and his team to get back to the MEV and launch an air assault on the giants. They begin to run to the surface as fast as they can, taking care to evade the falling debris. Soon they are on the surface and spot the main body of Zero X in the air. On board Brad is trying to locate the excursion vehicle, as he has not heard from Travers in a long period. He spots the craft and begins to head to it, but a Marbella also spots him. The giant instinctively reaches up with its massive frame and grabs the ship in its fist...

Part 6 - Issue 153, dateline 23 December 2067
Merchandise
Travers sees what is happening and realizes that the giant could crush Zero-X at any second. The men rush to the MEV and take off. From the air they radio Brad and tell him to stand by, for they will attack the giant with the onboard missiles. Travers fires and soon frees Zero-X from the grip of the giant, who falls down under the continued assault. Brad takes the main body back into orbit, as Travers takes the MEV to take care of the other giants. The vehicle begins its attack, and gradually the Marbellas realize they are defeated and retreat back to the hills. Petron emerges on the surface and thanks Travers, but asks for one more favour - to trap the giants in the ice cap. Travers obliges by herding the Marbellas using the MEV, leading the creatures into a Uranian trap and freezing the Marbellas beneath the surface once more. The war is over... for good.

Merchandise

Reprinted:
Century 21 issue 6.
Thunderbirds Are Go! issue 08 (part 1 only).

Notes:

It is implied this story takes place directly after the Saturn story, as no return to Earth is mentioned.
It seems unlikely that advanced space trackers could detect the temperature change from the flames, yet not have a clue that there were HUGE aliens there too.
Travers is never given any proof that the Marbellas are the 'evil' side in the war. He just takes Petron’s word for truth and happily destroys the Marbellas, which seems out of character.
This story received no promotion on the cover of TV Century 21.
Oops - the end of the this story refers to the next incorrectly as Brad Newman - Is He Past It?.


Story Eight (aka Paul Travers - Is He Past It?)
Writer - Angus P. Allan. Artist - Mike Noble. 2 pages, colour.

Magazine cover issue 5 by Gray MorrowPart 1 - Issue 154, dateline 30 December 2067
At Glenn Field, Zero-X is undergoing extensive efficiency tests under the supervision of chief co-coordinator Wilshaw. Under instructions, Travers takes Zero-X down to land but as they approach the runway, he finds himself unable to see properly and collapses over the controls. Greg is forced to take over and struggles to single handedly control the mighty space ship. Travers is immediately taken to the medical centre to see what is wrong. After an extension examination, Travers is given a clean bill of health but Wilshaw isn’t satisfied, and orders Travers to fly a survival test. All appears to be going well and Travers reaches the final test, navigating an array of spikes. But when Wilshaw gives Travers a course to follow, Travers realizes it is wrong and ignores the order. Wilshaw suddenly realizes Travers is right, and he had endangered both their lives with his poor judgement. Travers wonders why they have both had a problem in the MEV controls when he suddenly spots the fire extinguisher is leaking pyrexine gas, explaining everything that has happened.

Notes:

This one-off story is sometimes (incorrectly) catalogued as the concluding part of the Uranus story.

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

The main artist on the strip was Mike Noble, transferred over from a two year stint on Fireball XL5. Noble's slick technical style portrayed the Zero X, and its complex hardware, in all its glory. Eric Eden took over for a few parts of the Horror Of Asteroid Belt Nine story, taing a break from illustrating the editorial features in TV Century 21. The stories are accredited to script editor Angus Allan, and faithfully maintained the theme of planetary exploration that had launched Zero X in the Thunderbirds Are Go! film.

The Zero X strip also saw print in Holland where it appeared in Prins Valiant, a 36 page comic issued by the Vivo supermarket chain in the late 1960s. Appearing along Hal Foster's classic tale Prince Valiant, and Stingray from TV21, the first six stories were reprinted from issues 13 to 29. Allocated around eight pages an issue, the strips were often re-edited to fit the almost square format of the comic.

Dutch Reprint - issue 27

This led to the mangling of the Mission To Saturn story, with the installments put together in the wrong order! And as the print was only letterpress and not full colour, the original artwork was duplicated in high contrast black and white with flat colour overlaid (see above). Because Mike Noble and Eric Eden's artwork often used subtle airbrush work for space backgrounds and landscapes, the lack of any black line work often meant rather clumsy redrawing and refilling by those handling the production. This method would also be used on the latter issues of TV2000, TV Century 21's Dutch counterpart.

The final story, before the annual reshuffle, was a one-off strip in issue 154 with Paul Travers being put through a test to determine his fitness as a pilot. Stingray also ran a one-off strip this issue, and with Secret Agent 21 having a brief three parter from issues 152 to 154, it seemed as if TV Century 21 was treading water for a few issues before relaunching as TV21 for '2068'. Like Travers, it seemed as if the comic were being put through tests to see how it should continue. The outcome, as seen in hindsight, was the dropping of the successful and distinctive newspaper cover format that had made the title so unique.

With Fireball XL5 making its last strip appearance in issue 154 as well, before continuing as text stories, it could be seen that Zero X had been groomed as a possible replacement. Certainly, the speed of Zero X was now stated as 'Velot 7' - seven times the speed of light - which contradicted the flight times being taken for these stories, but made it faster than Fireball XL5's Velot 4. With the solar system pretty much remapped by the craft, it was time to put that new speed to the test, and go beyond to interstellar space...

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

On to Part Two of this series.

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


The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would like to thank:
Mike Dennison
and Mike Noble
- 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
Stingray
Thunderbirds
Lady Penelope
Zero X Pt.1
Zero X Pt.2
Zero X Pt.3
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
Joe 90
The Secret Service
UFO
The Protectors
Space 1999
Terrahawks
Space Precinct
New Captain Scarlet
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