Never before reprinted, Bear Alley Books have just announced they are to reprint the complete adventures of Johnny Future, a stunning British superhero strip which first appeared in 1960s comic Fantastic. The stories, featuring art by Luis Bermejo, will be published in two volumes this October.
Published in 1967 and 1968, Johnny Future's origin springs from Bull Belson's hunt in deep African jungle for a creature known to natives as the Link -- the missing step between ape and man in human evolution. Captured, the creature is brought to England, where he breaks loose. Striking out across country, the Link hides for the night at a top secret research station, little knowing that an experiment to produce a new form of nuclear energy is underway... and out of control!
Professor Richard Allen's assistant has his own ideas about this energy source. An agent of a foreign power, he knocks out the professor and leaves, fast, before the rising radiation levels cause the nuclear-testing machine to reach critical mass.
Bathed in radiation, the Link begins to evolve at unbelievable speed until, lying unconscious before the machine, is a man of superhuman intelligence and animal strength... a man who will become known to the world as Johnny Future.
Johnny Future is described as one of the most memorable strips of the 1960s. Debuting in the very first issue of Fantastic, rubbing shoulders with reprints of US superhero comics, The Missing Link became Johnny Future after 15 issues and ran for a total of 51 episodes, the only originated strip in the 40-page comic. The Bear Alley Books collection reprints all 51 episodes and a scarce one-off 14-page story from the pages of Fantastic Annual.
"The Missing Link/Johnny Future is a fondly remembered strip by many readers who grew up with comics in the Sixties," says cartoonist Lew Stringer in a blog post about the project, "including Alan Moore, who was inspired enough to name one of his characters Jonni Future when he created the anthology Tomorrow Stories for Wildstorm Comics."
"In many ways, the story that began as The Missing Link was just that: a now-forgotten bridge between old-style British comics and the American superhero formula (and it has to be said that there are some of us who still prefer the former)," says ace British comics writer Steve Moore in his foreword to the collections and was one of the team who put together Fantastic every week. "It was written by Alf Wallace, then the managing editor of the Odhams group, and drawn by Spanish artist Luis Bermejo (who I never met, the artwork always being delivered by his London agent).
"The most obvious thing that strikes one about the story is the beauty of Bermejo’s black-and-white artwork," he continues. "In many ways, this was the stand-out artwork in the magazine, as the Marvel superhero strips, despite being drawn by the likes of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, were always intended for overlaid colour reproduction and suffered considerably from being printed in black line alone.
"The story itself is very much a child of its time and circumstances," Steve feels. "Wallace’s influences are obvious... a little King Kong, a little Hulk, a fair amount of general Marvel Comics "superhero angst". The villains, however, and the way Johnny Future deals with them, are much more in the British style: not so much page after page of costumed punch-ups, but a more science-fiction approach where the conflicts are between heroes and villains of considerable or frankly impossible intelligence that I, for one, find far more satisfying."
Both volumes will feature covers by Garry Leach and Una Fricker, the team behind the cover for Titan Books' The Spider: King of Crooks volume. Individually their credits range from Marvelman and 2000AD to the Magic the Gathering RPG game and countless comics and book covers.
"Johnny Future is a classic," Steve Holland enthuses. "A mere 51 episodes appeared in [Fantastic] but the storylines spanned everything you could ever want: supervillains and Sex, Killer Robots and Renusians... and heroes punching leopards!
"I still need to work out the final price of the books and we won't be taking pre-orders for at least a month," Steve adds. "So you've still got plenty of time to buy the first two Bear Alley books before you need to start saving your pennies!"
• Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol are on sale now from Bear Alley Books: bearalleybooks.blogspot.com
Johnny Future: The Missing Link
Featuring art by Luis Bermejo from scripts by Alf Wallace; cover by Garry Leach/Una Fricker, foreword by Steve Moore. ISBN 978-1-907081-53-8: to be published in October 2009
Johnny Future vs. The Secret Society of Science
Featuring art by Luis Bermejo from scripts by Alf Wallace; cover by Garry Leach/Una Fricker, introduction by Steve Holland. ISBN 978-1-907081-54-5: to be published in October 2009
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