Clearing The Cupboards 9 - All That Was Old Is New Again

Sorry – I’ve been away for a while as I wrestle with how to use a net window system that is danger of toppling over any minute. I love my job sometimes...

Anyway – where was I? Oh yeah – collections I’d worked my way through, and last time we looked at the Doctor 13 series. Let’s take a look today at a series that was incredibly dear to my heart when it first came out, but seemed to bamboozle many people – Albion.

First, however, a history lesson. For those outside the UK, the way our comics industry used to run seems strange – but when I was growing up, there were a vast array of comics for boys and girls of all ages, covering everything from sports to romance, from war to horror – but they were weekly anthologies, not monthly continuing titles, and they appeared in black and white with the occasional splash of red or green, not the four colour explosion of the American model.

Despite that, the two big companies, DC Thomson and IPC/Fleetway, produced titles that sold in the hundreds of thousands, every week – figures that the current market would kill for. These were the heroes of my childhood, my weekly fix of stories of wonder and amazement. Characters like The Steel Claw, Captain Hurricane, Penny Dreadful, Janus Stark, Grimly Feendish, Cursitor Doom, and so on and so on. Then, during the 1980’s the market changed and by the end of that decade the only weekly periodical selling in anything like respectable numbers was 2000 AD.

Of course, it was all a work of fiction, a set of stories – but what if they really existed? Albion explores that possibility under the guidance of Leah (talented daughter of Alan) Moore and John Reppion, with art from Shane Oakley. The project came about after Warner Brothers purchased the company that owned the rights to the old IPC comic’s library, opening up the prospect of a new adventure with many of them.

In this world, many of the characters were quietly taken out by the British Government over the years, and sent to a place known only as The Castle. Nestled somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, it serves as a cross between The Village (from The Prisoner) and a high security jail. There they have lived for many years, their equipment confiscated, any powers neutralised – until the day a boy called Danny walks into Charlie Love’s antique shop and finds an old comic. He then sees a report on the television of the capture of a criminal wanted for most heinous crimes for twenty years – one who is the spitting image of Grimly Feendish.

Going to the station where he is been taken to court from, he calls out the character’s name – only for the criminal to turn to him and smile. Danny is then pulled away by a young girl called Penny – and from there the story escalates, as Penny shows Danny the truth of the characters. At the same time, Warden Eagleton, who when a boy faced down Feendish as Eagle Eye, welcomes an American inspector to the castle, and shows him round while tension builds amongst the inmates. So imagine Danny’s shock when Penny not only shows him Robot Archie, but reveals she is actually Penny Dollman, the daughter of Eric Dollman and owner of his “assistants”.

As the story progresses, more and more of the characters from the IPC titles are introduced – The Steel Claw and others as inmates at The Castle, Charlie Love as long lived jewel thief Charlie Peece, and The Castel as the home of a man who lies there, in a coma, not aging and almost waiting for something.

What made this title win for me wasn’t just the story, but the art. Oakley chose to tell the story in a style that was modern, and rough edged, but that wasn’t the kicker. The real beauty came with the parts of the stories that reflected events years ago, which he rendered in the same style as the original artists. For example, in issue 1 there is a story of Janus Stark, drawn in the style of the original Spanish artist Solano Lopez. Later on, when Penny tells the story of her childhood, the art is in the style of Leo Baxendale, creator of the character Penny Dreadful as well as The Bash Street Kids and other classics. When The Spider, who had been used by the Government to round up the characters before they turned on him, tells his story, the art is in the style of Ted Cowan, the artists at the time.

This wasn’t the first time these characters had been resurrected – the legendary Phase III of Zenith in 2000AD also had most of them – but it was done in a new and a fresh way. Events in the real world are worked in – the Brighton Bombing and why Margaret Thatcher survived has a much more thematic reason here. As the story progresses, the various groups come together at The Castle for a cataclysmic battle that brings about a new status quo – one which gives promise of many new stories.

At the time, many people felt confused by the series – not helped by the delays in the publication. In the collected edition, however, Albion is a good read, and recommended to all.

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Comment by The Baron on February 9, 2010 at 9:43am
My parents used to go to Canada alot when I was young, and they used to bring me back copies of Lion and Eagle and Valiant and so on, and hardly a Christmas went by in those years when I didn't get an annual - British "annuals" were hardbound, and much bigger than American ones. So many characters - Captain Hurricane, the Steel Commando, Janus Stark, the Football Family Robinson, Creech and Krait. Johnny Cougar, Kid Pharaoh - there was even a story about about a guy who had a soccer team that he kept in a magic stereopticon.
Comment by Figserello on February 10, 2010 at 3:06am
I'm probably a bit younger, so they were past their hey-day when I was reading the kids comics. I still read The Whizzers from Oz and Peter Parker's Pocket Grandpa!

I think they've turned Peter Parker's Pocket Grandpa into a kids TV series. But its not called that...

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