If you were reading British kids comics in the 1960s and 70s, you’ve probably been waiting for this moment for years. Because, for the first time in decades, charaters from British anthology comics like Lion and Valiant have made their comeback. Ironically, it’s Americans who ultimately made it happen; taking Time Warner’s buyout of copyright holder IPC Media to bring the characters to the attention of DC Comics, another Time Warner subsiduary. That and the enthusiasm and plotting of comics superstar Alan Moore.
Some younger readers my be familiar with some of these characters – both the Spider and the Steel Claw have been reprinted by Titan Books. But now, with Albion, we get a fictional account of what really happened to all those characters, why they disappeared and where they’ve been in the mean time.
Plotted by Alan Moore, this is suitably post-modern. A young man called Daniel finds old issues of the comics going cheap in a scrappy antique shop and realises that the stories weren’t fiction at all, but based on the exploits of real people. For security reasons, however, the British government has been systematically locking them away in a secret prison hidden in the depths of the Scottish Highlands. Trouble is brewing though – could Daniel’s discovery be the key to a breakout?
Although Alan Moore plotted the basic outline of the story, the script is written by his daughter, Leah, and her husband John Reppion. They do a good job of bringing order to Alan’s chaotic concepts, though oldies are likely to get far more of a thrill from the nostalgia trip than new readers, who are given something of a whistle-stop tour around the characters without too much time for introductions. Handily, this edition has some pages from the original comics reprinted in the back and new readers would be advised to check these out first, as they offer an insight into some of the key characters and the kinds of skills and abilities they had.
Our biggest problem with the book is the censored swearing. It throws up the complex question of who the book is aimed at? Either it’s a family read so why not cut the swearing completely, or it’s for grown ups and you leave it in. Using symbols to disguise swear words seems somewhat archaic and, when used as widely throughout the dialogue as it is here, deeply annoying.
Oakley’s art pulls the book back up though. His modernisation of the characters is a wonderful mix of homage and creativity, and he has a wonderful eye for the gotesque.
Old school fans are not going to want to miss this and we doubt that any element of it is likely to disappoint – the building of the actual physical comics into the narrative is a little unusual but the sheer thrill of seeing these characters back in print should be enough to satisfy most fans. New readers may find this falling short as a comprehensive introduction but it’s an obvious springboard to further adventures and there are some interesting directions that we suspect these modernised classics could be taken in. Let’s hope someone’s going to keep it going.