Tornado Annual 1980: Break the Thrill Barrier with Wolfie Smith, Drago, and Superking Inside!

The cover has a painting of a jet fighter firing missiles. I’m going to guess it’s a tornado – I didn’t pay too much attention to that centrefold cutaway view towards the end of the weekly comic. As you can see from the title of this post, Wolfie Smith, Victora Drago and Superking are the Tornado characters who wait inside. There’s two things that can said about this – the first, where’s Blackhawk, Storm, Johnny Lawless and Captain Klep (I guess – still notable by omission though) and what is Superking and why did it make the cover?

Fire on the Runway! Before we get to the contents there’s a feature on a fire rescue vehicle putting out a fire on an airplane.

After the contents we get a feature, no comic yet, though the text is presented in panels with paintings. Tornado’s Wild West Scrapbook details the lives (and more often the deaths) of various figures, starting with The “No Gun” Marshal of Abilene Tom Smith, continuing with the Legend of Black Bart, The Happy-Go-Lucky Bandit Sam Bass and the Terror of Lincoln County Billy the Kid before finishing with Bat Masterson of Kansas.

The Mind of Wolfie Smith is the first genuine comic. This is a standard Wolfie one off though I don’t recognise the art style and the lettering is the typed variety. Wolfie does a bit of protecting the weak from an evil developer when not unexpectedly kissing people while they’re at work (not that kind of job). It’s not fantastic but I know it’s going to be one of the high points of this annual…

Three text features next, both of which are a bit out-of-place here – the first is about the assassination of President John F Kennedy…

…the second is about Escape from Stalag Luft III. Was this commissioned for this annual, or was it left over from some other publication?

The text features section concludes (for the time being) with the third entry Around the World Single-Handed! This one concerns a global boat journey taken thirteen years earlier by Francis Chichester (later Sir Francis).

Then things take a drastic nose-dive downwards with The Terror Behind the Bamboo Curtain. Written by Charles Herring, John Wagner, Pat Mills and possibly Tom Tully, it’s full of racist stereotypes and language that would have been commonplace in 1975, when it was originaly published in Battle. The Jinty blog has a run-down of the entire plot, though curiously only mentions the racist stereotypes once, and then seems to think it’s endearing! The story itself isn’t too bad, but the hackneyed portrayals of the Japanese would make me wary about reading this in public…

Speedway is a Winner! And it’s back to the text features – this one is about riding motorbikes around a track.

Over the page is another feature presented as a series of spot cartoons. Called So That’s Why They Say It! this one goes into the origins of some famous phrases. They’re interesting enough, though some don’t quite seem to be the British idioms we’d been familiar with, so I’m guessing their source must have been a US book or magazine feature (or maybe language has just evolved in the UK – such as ‘take the cake’ – ‘take the biscuit’ is the British version). It’d be more interesting if I could be confident on how accurate any of it was…

The Guvnor is full colour, painted by John Cooper. It looks like a pilot for a British One Eyed Jack style story, though I’ve no idea where it would have been published. Detective George Mills is a bit of a maverick, working at a London police station in CID. Through a case of a mistaken identity he gets off to a bad start with the new Detective Inspector. Unfortunately we’ve already seen his picture on the splash page so there’s no chance that the story will unfold with any surprise. Mills gets chewed out by DI McKay though the initial one-to-one is interrupted by an emergency call to a hostage situation. The two manage to rescue the hostages and arrest the bad guys, Mills apparently having proven himself and also gaining some respect for McKay.

Test Your Wits… About the Wild West! Clues are given to guess the identities of six figures from the Wild West. I managed to get three (Billy the Kid, Annie Oakley and General Custer).

“We want our Tornadoes at the earliest possible date…” confirms that the jet fighter on the cover is a Tornado, quoting the Head of Strike Command in the title.

Sentence Yourself to Laugh! is a two-page spread on prison and crime based spot cartoons.

Beginner’s Luck tells the tale of Tracy Matthewson, an American Air Force pilot in Korea who managed to survive a fall without a working parachute, then survived getting shot at and was rescued under gunfire. He continued to fly for a few weeks before going to the doctor with neck pain – it turned out he broke his neck in the fall.

A full-length text story now with Victor Drago in The Challenge! Normally this would be bad news, as I haven’t enjoyed the Drago stories we’ve had in the weekly comic (whether picture or text stories). THis one is different. Generally speaking there are two types of detective story – action and mystery. The latter have a crime to be solved and (to my mind) only work if the reader has a chance to deduce who the culprit is – something which hasn’t happened with the Rick Random and Victor Drago stories. The former has the detective getting in to scrapes and getting out of them – there’s not much different between them and action adventure stories. The Challenge is that kind of detective story, and works the better for it. It also has a premise which holds no surprises but which I found the better for it. Drago has issued a challenge to Spencer – if Spencer wins then the workaholic Drago is to take a long overdue holiday, leaving Spencer in charge of the detective agency. Drago leaves the Baker Street apartments a few minutes later and Spencer is to basically play a game of hide-and-seek, though Drago could be anywhere, not just in a playground! A false trail to Darlington later and Drago has gotten himself in to trouble, about to be slowly drowned in an old barge in the River Thames. We know Spencer will aquit himself, we just don’t know how. I also strongly suspected that Spencer would stumble on the truth through luck rather than skill, and that he would probably keep this a secret (I’m right on both counts there – smugness mode engaged). As I opened the annual I think I saw another Drago story later on, this one in comic form. I’m going to assume that The Challenge is the high point and if I’m wrong at least I’ll be pleasantly surprised…

King of the Wild Frontier shows a guy in a Davy Crockett hat – and having read all of the weekly Tornadoes, the summer special and the beginning of this annual, it does not surprise me at all who the subject of this article is. I learnt a few things – Davy represented Tennesee in Washington (in Congress? The article isn’t entirely clear on this point), became unpopular as a result of failing to cope with the political shenanigans there and died far less popular than earlier in his life. Though he died at The Alamo – which meant he had a posthumous wave of popularity which has continued to this day.

More text with Tornado’s Top Ten. It’s all about sport. I’ll read it but doubt I’ll find anything interesting in reading about sports people from the late 1970s. For the sake of completeness, the list is: Kevin Keegan; Sharon Colyer; Daly Thompson; Bjorn Borg; Peter Collins; Davie Gower; Tessa Sanderson; Steve Ovett; Ian Botham; Peter Barnes.

A comic next, Smith and Wesson. This is confusing on a few levels – it starts off in a newsroom, with news of a USA secret government agency which operates in a similar manner to the Gestapo, then cuts to two Starsky and Hutch-like figures (one called Smith, the other Wesson) depositing a package in a bank vault. A few hours later the bank is robbed by terrorists though it turns out that Smith and Wesson had put a tracer device in their package. There’s something at the end about using a motorbike to take down a helicopter. This looks like a one-off but the secret agency bit doesn’t appear to have any connection to the bank job. That’s the first confusing thing. The second is that it seems like a reprint, though is set in the present day (the date given in the strip is actually 1979). The third is the colouring. It’s mainly in black and white though has heavy greys which obliterate most of the detail wherever it’s used. My copy being second-hand I’d assumed the previous owner had got the felt-tips out when it had been in their possession, but I’ve checked and another copy of the story has the same heavy-handed shading.

It’s a Dog’s Laugh! Six spot cartoons – you can guess the theme.

Victor Drago and the Curse of Graveways Abbey. This is in comic form and looks old-fashioned. I’d assume it was a reprint of a Sexton Blake story but with the names changed, but if that’s the case then they got a good letterer in to do the cover-up (which I don’t believe is the case). Reading on I’m completely wrong, and it is a reprint – the first clue is that the entire story is in two-page cliffhangers, with the first panel on the following page being larger (to accomodate a missing title), with scrappy inkwork (suggesting somebody other than the original artist has filled the space in) and Spencer gets called Tinker a couple of times (Tinker was Sexton Blake’s sidekick). This last clue is the biggest, admittedly. The rest of the story is like Hound of the Baskervilles, but with Dracula imagery (there’s a guy who dressed as a bat and haunts a ruined Abbey that looks a lot like Whitby). p.s. did I say a good letterer? The cover-up job gets progressively worse throughout the strip.

More Crooked Chuckles! is a two-page spread of spot cartoons. I’d have thought they’d stick Sam’s photo-face in there to resurrect the Smile With Sam format. Instead if’s just a few themed cartoons without the framing device. Crooked refers to criminals here.

Sci-Fi is Really Back! is a round-up of the latest sci-fi films in 1979 inspired by the impending Star Trek motion picture and the Star Wars and Superman sequels.

London Can Take It – inspired by the Blitz, this is a round up of assaults on the city of London – from Boadicea, through the Puritans (waging a spiritual war on Londoners), the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, the first world war Zeppelin attacks and then back to the Blitz. This is in a one-page comic format, though all the text is in narration boxes.

Superking looks like a it’s probably a reprint strip about football. Terry King (nickname Superking) has a promising professional football career ahead of him, when he suffers a life-changing brain injury on the pitch. No punishment or just desserts for the person who injured him, instead Terry goes on to regain purpose in life by managing the local children’s football team. At least we found out who Superking is.

One Wolfie Smith strip. One Victor Drago text story, plus a repurposed Sexton Blake comic strip. Other than that, this could be any 1970s annual. In fact, I’m not sure of the timings, but it reads like elements of most of the other annuals. Loads of cartoon joke pages from the younger children’s end of the range, horror and mystery (I think Misty had launched by this point – though I’m not likely to come across any adverts for girl’s comics in the boy’s’ comic 2000ad), sports from Tiger (Tiger didn’t start off as a sports comic, so this may have been before the theme change), second world war articles along Battle lines, and on to the western stories (no idea which comic these would have been most at home in – though at least the weekly Tornado had scope for that).

Grailpage: It’s behaviour that would be frowned upon now, but the page of The Mind of Wolfie Smith where he takes a trip to a library (and without warning kisses the librarian while she’s at work and not in any way giving consent).

Grailquote: Oxford librarian: “This is the last of the books we have on the British Civil War and the history of Oxfordshire.” Wolfie Smith: “Thanks, luv. But I don’t need them now, I’ve just read all these books and got all the info I need.” Librarian: “Nobody could read that lot in two hours! Oooo!” Wolfie : “I can, darlin’! I ‘speed-read’ and I can remember it all word for word!”

3 thoughts on “Tornado Annual 1980: Break the Thrill Barrier with Wolfie Smith, Drago, and Superking Inside!

  1. According to Hibernia Comics ‘Beyond 2000AD’ Comic Archive, both The Guvnor and Smith & Wesson were developed as Tornado series but recycled for the annual when it become obviously the weekly wasn’t going to last. I imagine Superking could be as well.

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