The Thunderbirds TV series is held in very high regard by those who lived through it. Its state of the art models and special effects were spectacular for a TV series of its time, let alone one aimed primarily at children, and its coherent near-future world, protected by International Rescue, was the utopia that every child thought the future would be. The wobbly-headed, funny-lipped, stiff-limbed puppet actors, however, were an anomaly amidst the high production values. Sorry Thunderbirds fans but I never really bought into those puppets – I suspect it comes from being born a few years later and having Star Wars as a more influential point of sci-fi reference.
Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection is a reprint of the two-page comic strips originally published in weekly tie-in comic TV21 during the late 1960s. This is the first of its downfalls. Two-page comics don’t really have enough space to develop a sophisticated story, so these episodic tales just flit from one contrived cliff-hanger to another. The plots are paper-thin, more about taking the Thunderbird vehicles out for a spin than developing character or over-arching plot. It’s clearly designed to be top-up Thunderbirds fuel for eager fans in the days before DVD boxed sets and hard disk recorders, but it’s just not as sophisticated as the TV show.
The art, however, is stunning for its time. Fully painted, every detail springs out of the page. But like the TV program, the characters just look odd. The heads have been kept the same as the TV show, to maintain consistency, but their bodies are illustrated as real humans. This jars against the show. You see the characters here in action poses: running, tackling, diving and generally doing all the things a human action hero can. In the TV show they just wobbled around, moving awkwardly on their puppet strings.
Between the jarring characters and its melodramatic pace, this collection just doesn’t work. It’s arguable that the collection is worth doing and Thunderbirds nostalgics will want to add it to their collection. But it’s nothing more than a trip down memory lane, not an all-time classic that particularly deserves archiving. The TV series, yes. The spin-off comic franchise? I’d argue not.