Tornado Annual 1981: Black Hawk, Wolfie Smith and Johnny Lawless in spine-tingling full-length picture-stories!

The cover is painted by an uncredited artist and features Blackhawk surrounded by werewolves.

A journey into adventure you’ll never forget! – the contents page has an artist’s impression of a covered moon buggy with a non-space-suited passenger possibly with a robot next to him. Before we get in to the first story, I’ll just mention that this was my introduction to Tornado. It was a summer’s day when my dad and me went for a walk. I remember where we were living at the time so the year must have been between 1986 and 1988 when I bought this annual (well, let’s face it, my dad was probably the one who forked over the cash).

If I’m not mistaken then Black Hawk is illustrated by fully painted John Burns artwork (I may be mistaken though, and like the Starlord annual there are no credits in this). If I’m right then his next artwork for Tharg will be in eleven years time. You can tell from the cover that this is going to be a werewolf story, as Blackhawk and Flavius (one of his men) happen upon a settlement where the villagers have turned on one of their fellows. Blackhawk storms in to save the victim but finds he has a wolf’s head marked upon his forehead, just as he starts turning in to a wolf. The wolf kills Flavius, Blackhawk kills the wolf and the villagers come out to exposit that a druid went mad, was cast out by the other druids and now comes down to the village every few weeks to curse another villager. Blackhawk heads off to seek out the druid (at night) and is quickly surrounded by werewolves. From this point on the answer to every question is “the hawk saves Blackhawk”. How can Blackhawk fight back the werewolves? How does Blackhawk survive When the druid uses his magic staff to freeze Blackhawk? I’ve no objection to the hawk intervening once per episode to help out Blackhawk (it’s the name of the strip, after all) but twice in the last two pages of a story are a bit much, making it look like Blackhawk is superfluous to the story.

Let the text features begin! Terror Above the Snow! is the true story of the result of a stupid jet fighter pilot who almost killed a bunch of people in a cable car in the Alps in 1961. The unintended consequence of this one-page feature is that I discovered the rondel of the French air force is (from the centre of the concentric circles) blue, white and red – as opposed to the British RAF’s red, white and blue. I had to check because this is in black and white and the grey, white and grey of one looks much like the grey, white and grey of the other.

Heroes of the Campbelltown! A refugee from an IPC war comic, this is the true tale of a destroyer which managed to bluff it’s way most of the distance towards a Nazi-held French dock while disguised as a German torpedo boat. It got close enough that it deposited some commandos and sappers to blow some things up before being picked up by some accompanying craft. Then the next day a delayed-action fuse blew up the rest of the destroyer, taking the dock out of the war. Interesting, though not sure what it’s doing here.

Smile with Sam! has nine spot cartoons with no particular theme.

Victor Drago in Fun at the Fair. The Rajah of Rhanpore is visiting London, wearing a two million pound ruby in his turban but refusing any kind of police escort, relying instead on his sacred bodyguard (bare-chested and armed with swords). Afraid that any theft will cause a national scandal but unable to provide an escort, Inspector Evans head off to Victor Drago’s shooting gallery at his Baker Street home. I’ve been to an flat just off of Baker Street which would probably cost between one and two million pounds in today’s money, and let me tell you – there’s no space for a shooting gallery there! That’s the least of the questions that this story raises. The maharajah decides to go to a funfair (I have no idea what the difference is between a rajah and a maharajah, or whether the interchangeable use of the two words in this story is an error or not). Drago follows in disguise and so is present when Waldo the Wonder-Man (apparently an old adversary who can’t feel pain, which is how Drago determines it’s him) disguised as a sword-swallower manages to start a disturbance. After a brief punch-up between Drago and Waldo, the villain escapes and does a quick-change into another disguise. Waldo deep breath blacks up with greaspaint into one of the maharajah’s guards where he steals the ruby and takes refuge in the ghost train. This is quite an extensive ghost train as it has a branch line, one of which leads to a wall of spikes. Does this Waldo actually own the fair to manage to install these features? Drago then gets set upon by Waldo’s henchmen while Spencer heads outside and uses quick-thinking to determine which of those outside is Waldo – hint – none of the suspects are blacked-up, so Waldo has performed another quick-change disguise. Spencer chucks a bunch of roasting hot chestnuts at the suspects, hurting the innocent people but detecting which is Waldo as he didn’t flinch (not being able to feel pain and all). This raises another question – the guy has perfected the quick-change disguise so that he can change from one diguises into that of another race, twice in ten minutes, but also reveals himself because he hasn’t learnt to fake feeling pain – also twice, in the same ten minutes. As an aside, my copy of the annual has had a few pages scribbled over badly with blue ball-point – thankfully not too many, and they mostly kept within the lines. I wouldn’t replace this copy though, as it reminds me of that summer day when I (or my dad) bought it.

The story of how rockets developed Blast-Off! Technically this might look like a comic page, but really it’s nine paragraphs of text article which happen to have pictures above each paragraph. This is a lightning-fast round-up of key moments in rocket development from Chinese fire arrows through European experiments to the Nazi-inspired German to USA space programme.

It’s a Dog’s Life is a photo feature with pictures of dogs on football pitches (big football stadiums during games – not just down the local park), accompanied by some truly awful puns – who would call a team WUFFerhampton Wanders when it’s already called WOLVErhampton?

The Deceivers: The Real McCoy is the first of a number of one-pagers which look like they’ve been sitting on a shelf since the demise of the weekly – I could see these running in a series rather than peppered throughout the annual. Kid McCoy was a boxer in the USA who hit on a scheme to tour Australia, but disguised as an old has-been, placing lots of money on himself and cleaning up when he knocks out his opponent. Not exactly ethical, but I’ve not particular objection to what he did there. He took a nasty turn when he tricked his ‘old friend’ the world champion of the time in to helping him out. He told his so-called friend that he was ill and needed money to pay the doctor’s bill leading to the friend going easy on him allowing McCoy to steal the title when he dropped the act. This is not how the phrase The Real McCoy came about, as it’s an adaptation of the term The Real McKay, which existed at least twenty years before McCoy’s birth. Also, McCoy’s real name was Norman Selby, he did turns as an early Hollywood actor, was married ten times (!) and served time for killing a wealthy heiress and robbery at San Quentin. His tour of Australia involved throwing tacks on the ground under one opponent so that they were distracted by standing on the tacks when he hit them. Nice guy.

Gorilla Island Part 1. Uh-oh – I don’t like the look of that ‘part 1’ sub-heading. Before reading this I can see an ape in a cage. I like the original Planet of the Apes films (haven’t seen all the new ones yet) so how bad can this be? Apparently there was a whole genre of intelligent ape comics on both sides of the Atlantic in previous eras, so there’s scope for a wide range of quality levels… On the island of Congola, Professor Lomax, a British scientist is experimenting on apes to raise their intelligence with Serum-X so that they can crew a space ship. The island is noted for it’s giant gorillas, so our first panel has a chimp in a cage (?), the professor and Don Carter, a hunter (our protagonist). The chimp is called Captain and sneakily steals a key and that night feeds the serum to some gorillas whose intelligence is raised so that they can speak and take orders to help steal all the weapons from the humans while they speak. Note that this all happens in about half a night – they go from normal gorillas to heightened intelligence, learning how to speak English over a few hours. So, ape uprising, loads of running around in the jungle, Carter believed killed in a burning building by Captain, many humans killed, a fort captured, Carter commandeers a tank and the tank is blown up as it crossed a rickety looking bridge. “Is this the end for Don and the Prof?” What do you think? We’ll find out in 28 pages time.

Tornado’s Top Five is a list of people in sport. The list is Sebastian Coe, Graham Dilley, John McEnroe, Kevin Reeves and Maurice Hope, and is revealed in full in the intro before using up one page for each person. The profile of McEnroe is pretty fact-based, so I’m going to guess it’s before he became famous for having temper tantrums on pitch.

Enough reprint and text features and on to the pink pages featuring familiar characters by unfamiliar creative teams (we assume, as nothing has been credited in this annual and there’s not even been a trace of a signature). The Mind of Wolfie Smith opens with a flash-forward. I’ve gone on at length about how I don’t like flash-forwards, but at least some of them have particulary good or dynamic art – this one is just Wolfie in front of a smoky figure and is utterly uninspiring. Three panels later a Lady Maldark is about to be hit by a car before being knocked out of the way by Wolfie. Though as the top half of the page was taken up with that flash-forward there’s no space to devote to what should be the true focus of the page. The car is driven by somebody who is obviously trying to kill her, but *mumble* everyone just goes inside the manor (Wolfie seems to traverse the country by going from one manor to another). Inside they’re in luck as Dr Smedley is there, investigating psychic phenomenon – um, so is he a medical doctor or a scientist? Apparently it doesn’t matter. If you look past the silliness then this story is readable as Wolfie gets told to ignore a light shining from a window (why would a light in a window be suspicious?) and is locked in to his bedroom. Not wanting to get involved with whatever’s going on at this manor he is woken in the night by a mysterious voice which leads him down to the main hall (turning keys on the other side of locks is child’s play for Wolfie at this point, which is reasonable as we’ve seen him do it before). The main hall has changed since he was there earlier in the evening, the electric lights replaced by gas lamps and there’s an opening in the stonework. Through the opening he encounters the smokey demonic shape from the flash-forward. Realising that the hall couldn’t have changed so much Wolfie figures that the demon-thing is an illusion as well and dispells it (but as dramatic tension requires that he pass out for a while, the effort of dismissing the illusion causes him to pass out so that he can wake up to the sight of a pile of treasure and a few of the people from the Great Hall. The exposition at the end is that Lady Maldark saw her father’s stash of stolen goods thirty years earlier but blocked it from her mind, leading to the illusion of the Great Hall as it had been, plus that smokey demon which was, erm, a nightmare? This story wasn’t drawn by Vañó but when it comes to pictures of Wolfie (particularly his face) there’s a very heavy influence there (not that I’d accuse an anonymous artist from forty years ago of copying when doing work-for-hire).

The Deceivers: Pretend Prince. During the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie, English red-coats (this is in the pink wash pages so everybody with a coloured coat is wearing a red) are on his trail when they come across a lone figure who they try to capture alive as they think it’s the prince. When he kills some of the red-coats the order goes out to shoot him and his body is taken back to the Duke of Cumberland. It does, of course, turn out to be somebody else, a doppelgänger by the name of Roderick Mackenzie. True story.

Superstar! is two pages of filler about film actors, which reads like an old person complaining about how modern film stars don’t do anything to earn the title and that films in the old days were much better and have you seen Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power? I spot a signature at the bottom of the painting of John Wayne – Keay. This is probably stock art recycled from another comic or “boy’s paper” in the lingo of the (previous) day.

It’s Magic! A text-and-diagram feature revealing the secrets of some well-known magic tricks.

Champion of the Square Ring. More sport, this time a run-down of heavyweight boxing champions.

Stirling’s Raiders tells of the S.A.S. apparently called the Special Air Service to make Rommel believe that there were British paratroops in the Middle East. Though this feature is illustrated by an S.A.S. trooper in parachutist equipment, so erm, doesn’t that mean there were British paratroops in the Middle East?

The Lawless Touch. At last, an artist I recognise again – John Cooper draws this one! The writing doesn’t match the art though, as we’re told that Lawless returned to see a light on in his flat and in the next narrative box we’re told that the place he’s breaking in to is special because “I live there!” which we know, because he’s only just told us it was his flat. Turns out his nephew Winston has come to stay. Obviously inspired by the signing at Forbidden Planet, Lawless’ latest case is to retrieve some bootlegged tapes from a record company in Tin Pan Alley (the nickname of Denmark Street in London). Lawless makes multiple blunders, Winston helps out, Winston gets punished for by forcibly having his hair cut (at least he didn’t get killed, as Dredd did to Lopez for that moustache).

The Deceivers: The 2nd Monty is the tale of Lieutentant Clifton-James, a former actor who was drafted in to act as a double for General Montgomery. After studying his part, he was flown to Gibraltar where he was sure to be seen by Nazi agents and assumed to be going on a tour of British forces overseas, even as the real Montgomery was preparing for D-Day. The Nazis knew D-Day was coming, but that it wouldn’t occur while Montgomery was out of the country.

Gorilla Island Part 2. Carter managed to escape the exploding tank (we aren’t shown this) and rescues the Prof who was still in the tank. For the second time, Captain believes Carter to be dead, but as often happens in this kind of story, the advantage he has is utterly wasted and lasts only momentarily. Suffice to say that Carter and the Prof end this episode in a besieged town on an island that now calls Captain its king, the humans have pledged allegiance to their new master and reinforcements are arriving (for the gorillas).

Those Magnificent Men in their Fighting Machines. As you’d expect if you’re familiar with the song (and film), this feature is on the Royal Flying Corps and their German counterparts from the first world war.

Victor Drago: The Brotherhood of Terror (uncredited, but spot illustrations are obviously by Mike Dorey). Drago can’t even go on a rail journey without the train getting hijacked. He sees the distractingly-named Slim Pickles on the train (is that supposed to be a reference to cowboy actor Slim Pickens? If so, why?) and sends Spencer to follow him. Spencer gets coshed by a black hooded figure (which is Slim) for his troubles before the train is stopped and a mail bag stolen. I can’t help but feel there would be simpler ways to steal one mail bag from a train. As Drago saw Pickles’ on the train, they have a lead and follow him to a meeting of the organisation of the title. The Brotherhood turns out to be a criminal endeavour that takes mercenary cases for money – the next is to assassinate a Duke. After the usual to and fro, the Brotherhood believes Drago and Spencer dead in an explosion and as they attack a stately home, Clivedale Hall, the Duke is very relaxed in the face of his impending death. It is absolutely no surprise whatsoever that the Duke is Drago in disguise.

So, the original concept of Tornado was as a comic themed on the idea of Heroes (which was to be its title, as seen in the background of one of the editorial photos in the weekly). It got repurposed and renamed after the latest jet fighter of the time. All of which is a long-winded way of saying, I don’t know what Death to the Tsar! is doing in this annual. It’s a brief summary of the events that led up to the Russian Revolution – largely the cruelty and paranoia of Tsar Nicholas II, though the first world war didn’t help.

Man Meets Plant – this is like Smile with Sam! but without Sam and with lots of carnivorous plant themed spot cartoons.

Golden Elk: The Old Chieftain. This is a weird one – I can only presume it’s a reprint of an episode of a Davy Crockett story but it could be a Tornado True Tale for all I know. Golden Elk is an old chieftain who wants to sue for peace with the white man. The natives are only referred to as ‘indians’ so I have no idea to which nation they’re supposed to belong, if any. He arranges to meet with Crockett ‘when the moon is dead’ but when Crockett arrives he finds that Golden Elk has already died and his son, the more warlike Big Horn is now chief. He’s also a nasty piece of work, setting his braves to chase Crockett. Crockett manages to turn it around and fight one-on-one with Big Horn, defeat (kill) him and convince the braves that because Big Horn was weak then being warlike is also a bad idea.

Tornado’s Gallery of Flight sees a return of the better quality white page and colour printing. This gallery doesn’t have any pictures of balloons or airships and is basically a bunch of pictures of airplanes with a few lines about each. There’s also one or two helicopters at the end.

The Way to the Stars has two colour pictures of planets with a few paragraphhs in white text. Rather than being on the black background of space where it would be easily readable, the white text is on the lightest, yellow and whitest parts of the pictures.

Stranded! has what is probably a Chris Foss painting on the last of the good quality pages facing against a text story on the lower quality paper. The text of this story is something about not relying too much on high technology and keeping a lower tech backup in case of emergency, or something. Plus a bad pun at the end.

Gorilla Island Part 3. The last of the humans surrender, though Carter is marked for death in gladiatorial combat. With a mix of dirty tactics from both Carter and the Prof, plus the fact that Carter has a spear and shield while the gorilla is unarmed, he manages to win, but is then taken off to the prison. En route he manages to crash the jeep he’s being carried in and escape to the airfield. I think this is the day after the night that Captain led the ape revolution, and in that time he has also learnt how to fly a plane. One dogfight later and Captain’s plane has run out of fuel and crashes, fatally. All the gorillas are shuffled into prison cells, presumably for the rest of their lives. Carter comments on how “nice” it is that the streets are free of the sentient gorillas now, while speaking to the person who developed the technology that made them sentient in the first place. Problematic…

Tornado Teasers is the puzzle page. I read through them but didn’t attempt most of them as it seems like an eternity since I started reading this annual and I just want to get back to the weekly prog now, please. I read the answer to one (Cross-Fire) and still can’t figure out how it’s supposed to work – something about what order seven gunmen shoot each other in, but I can’t figure out why any are meant to shoot before any others. There’s a few psuedo-sudoku, one about figuring out which page numbers go where on a piece of paper before being folded and assembled in to a booklet (if I wasn’t in such a rush I think I’d have been able to work this one out – and not even by using a sheet of paper, as suggested in the text). Other puzzles included putting hexagons into the most efficient space (I got that one right), one like those ’15 slide’ puzzles, but with only five tiles. Another was a Word Tracer (following links to different nodes to try to work out a word – I didn’t try). There’s one about moving wine glasses so that red and white wines are next to each other – I semi-guessed correctly how many moves it could be done in.

Victor Drago in Terror of the Tong. How bad can this get? That last story from the weekly which took place in Chinatown wasn’t… as bad as it could have been… One panel later and they’ve already mentioned ‘ancestors’. I’m not even going to report on what the next page says. Let’s just say this has multiple uses of racist language, I’ll try to put that down to ‘acceptable in the 1970s and 1980s’ and try to write about other aspects of the story. Drago and Spencer are returning from Essex to London (and you just know from the title that this means they’re going to encounter difficulties in Limehouse – which they are). A Chinese Tong criminal gang tries to assassinate Drago. As Limehouse is the territory of The Scorpion, once Drago finds out that they specialise in assassination and murder, but only within China, he assumes they have been hired by the Scorpion. Drafting in Brutus (the bloodhound) he traces the person who attacked him to a building in Docklands Chinatown and gains access. Eavesdropping he finds they are actually muscling in on the Scorpion’s territory, hoping to play Drago and the Scorpion off against each other. A few fights later and Drago has saved the Scorpion’s life (because as bad as he is, the new Tong gang would be much worse) and the Scorpion has shown Drago some mercy. This story is almost alright, though the racism drags down almost every page and it’s difficult to care about a protagonist who holds such views.

Faster than instant mash… it’s – Captain Klep. Just when we thought we wouldn’t get any more, he pops up in the annual. These two pages has Klep knock two bikers off their motorcycles, and destroy the bikes, because they passed him when he was on his tricycle. He also destroyed the newstand of his boss in the process.

It’s Tough at the Top! This is one of the only pages I can remember of this annual from last time I read it (which would have been in either the 1980s or 1990s). It’s another text feature, this time about steeplejacks, specifically one cleaning the statue of Nelson on top of the column in Trafalgar Square.

Storm – with art by Cam Kennedy. Storm wants to go on holiday, back to the highlands. Kane has no money, and also wants Storm to continue training. When Skarr scares their landlady (they’re not supposed to have pets anyway) they get evicted, leaving them nowhere to stay so they head off on that holiday. On their way they encounter Sir Willerby – who’s chasing a stag in a jeep (Willerby is in the jeep, not the stag) – Storm, but mostly Skarr, prevent Willerby from killing the stag. Willerby sees Storm enter a local fell race and sets his men to capture Storm and bundle him in to the jeep while the other racers run past. Storm has watched Kane operate an old jeep before and takes off the handbrake. Escaping just before the jeep goes over a cliff, he then rejoins the race and overtakes all the other runners to win. Confronting Willerby at the finish line, Willerby denies that he has ever met Storm, but lets slip that Skarr had attacked him before, disgracing Willerby. This should be the real last ever episode of Storm, which was one of the better stories to appear in Tornado.

That’s all, readers. I hope you enjoyed my annual. Keep the peace, Big E! This is a photo page of Dave Gibbons in the Big E suit though my copy has an addition from ‘Aunty Linda, Uncle Alan, John Tina’ wishing Simon a happy Christmas 1981. I got this from that car boot sale some time between 1986 and 1988 on a summer’s day.

Grailpage: as with the weekly, the format of packing as many panels on each page doesn’t allow for set pieces or involved artwork, so my pick is one of the few pages that has space on it – the opening double-page spread of Black Hawk, featuring a full-body portrait before the story proper starts.

Grailquote: Julia Maldark: “I hope you have pleasant dreams, Wolfie.” Wolfie Smith: “Ta, sweetheart, but I don’t think I’m going to get ’em!”

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