Saturday, 30 September 2017



Sandy James' poster can be seen behind
Ian Jackson's Commander Thundercloud

I have very distinct memories of reading this issue of Ring Raiders on my way to school on the bus just a few weeks after starting secondary school, and one of the older kids we were friends with sitting behind us proudly proclaiming, "I'm Joe Thundercloud!" at the top of his voice.  The date on the cover indicates a Saturday release day, meaning these posts mirror the original comics even more than I was able to do with Oink! but my memory is telling me I bought this issue on the way to school that day.  But approaching 40 I'm all too aware that memories are fickle things and I could simply have brought the issue to school after buying it on the Saturday.  My mind has played tricks on me before!

But enough of all that, let's get stuck in and I'll start with that cover.  The comic's regular cover artist, Ian Jackson contributes a sole Commander Thundercloud figure this time and will repeat this with a Skull Squadron leader next time, with the free poster taking centre stage.  The poster itself was the size of a double-page spread and was a separate entity to the main comic and the glossy gift made it up onto my bedroom wall within minutes of getting it home.  Along with my growing collection of planes, I knew certain large boxes in my parents' bedroom were bases for Christmas, and with various logos and 'Ring Raiders' titles from the cardboard backing of the toys stuck onto the door to my room, it was clear these things had me hooked.

The bold yellow borders used to squeeze in more of the poster certainly made the issue stand out on the shelves and, even though my copy was in a box behind the counter, I still glanced through it on the shelf before buying mine.  It just stood out the moment I walked in so I had to take an impatient look.  The first thing I noticed was that a brand new multipart story was sitting there on page 2, replacing the one-off Shock Attack from #1:

Chiller was definitely a fan favourite and a hard
toy plane to track down as a result

Still written by editor Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Carlos Pino the character creating the havoc here was Skull Leader Chiller and his introduction cemented him as my favourite baddie straight away.  His plane looked cool (no pun intended) and which kid in the 1980s wouldn't love a jet with a freeze ray?  This was one example of the sci-fi weapons some, but not all, of the planes had added to them by the toy manufacturers and this character's fascination with killing through using various forms of cold and ice was something the comic's creators must've enjoyed too, because we'd see Chiller return in his own one-off background tale and in another multipart story later in the run.

Here, Barrie dispenses with the traditional Wings of the 'Raiders and 'Squadron just like in the previous issue's introduction and it appears Chiller is out on his own, but before the end of this three-page instalment we see he's being backed up by none other than Skull Squadron leader Scorch.  Together they launch a surprise attack on Ring Commander Vector and Wing Commander Miles who have travelled from 2057 to stop Chiller from attacking another sub.  The one you see him attacking above becomes brittle with the ice and a few missiles soon wipe it and its whole crew out in a huge explosion.  This toy-based comic wasn't afraid to show its baddies being bad and killing for their foul means.  Interestingly it's mentioned it was a "gravity powered" sub and not nuclear, though no more details emerge about how that'd work exactly!

There's also just a quick throwaway line by Miles when he asks his leader why the Skulls would attack these particular subs at all?  It's not answered yet and I can't remember if it is, but so far it definitely feels like there's some specific plot afoot that the leaders would all be taking part.  Or, of course, is it just a way of getting a lot of the actual named characters into a fight like the preview issue and Shock Attack?  I'm not reading ahead so we'll see.

Back to the one epic story Ring Raiders produced, the phenomenal Trackdown which would eventually run to 11 issues worth of strip!  Written by Angus Allan and drawn by Don Wazejewski, here's a sample of this issue's entry in the series:

More original characters interacting with the
established toy pilots

The Doomsday Device is in the hands of its creator, who has disappeared into the forest with Raider Freddie Riley, one of cover star Thundercloud's wingmen and an original creation for the comic.  As I mentioned last time the toy line only named the pilot of the lead craft in each Wing so it was always thrilling to eleven-year-old me to find out who the other pilots were meant to be.  The comic's team may have just been creating their own characters, but this is the official comic tie-in and everything needed approved (as Barrie mentioned in my recent interview with him, the owners of Ring Raiders were much more open and better to work with than some others), so they became those aircraft's official pilot names.

At the end of part two we also get to see Skull Leader Blackjack's wingman Runtz as he begins to track Riley and Professor Martin through the woods.  It's an exiting four pages full of aerial action but it doesn't forget about the characterisation.  Thundercloud breaks off the fight and returns to base suddenly and we're left wondering why, only being told his instincts are at play and there's some nice touches when leader Vector shows concern about Riley over the communicator with his pilots.  It all helps paint this picture of a very complete world.  Instead of disparate, two-dimensional characters going about their A to Z adventuring like a lot of toy-based comics, here it feels like these men all know each other, they interact realistically within this fantastical setting, and you come away with a real feeling that these two huge, military-based organisations are properly fleshed out creations.


The leaders of the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' can often be rather clichéd when it comes to children's toys; they have to sum up exactly what their teams are meant to stand for and so can come across as a caricature of that rather than an individual.  Aside from the little bits mentioned above in Trackdown, so far we haven't seen much of Ring Commander Vector or Skull Leader Scorch to prove this comic was going to do anything different.  But the development of other characters has been on point so far, which is a nice surprise taking into consideration we're only one full issue in!  Even the renowned Transformers took a few issues to show us how it would begin to broaden its appeal beyond the action.

So with all this in mind, I approached the following strip with some trepidation.  Last issue my favourite character, Yasuo Yakamura was the subject of the complete story delving into a moment from his past.  This time around we leap straight up the ranks to the very top and Ring Commander Victor Vector - Commander of Ring Raiders.  Like all of these tales it's written by Scott Goodall and expertly crafted onto the page by artist John Gillatt.  With a Flight of the Pheonix feel about it, with some sci-fi elements thrown in for good measure, a ghostly underwater sequence, great action and a little bit of comedic relief, it's a fun read.  Enjoy:

Yes, it's a pretty daft story and the actual logistics of a slow-moving plane with no wings taking on jets flying at supersonic speeds bent my own brain a little even as a kid, but damn it was a fun story!  Seeing Vector in this situation was great fun, as up until now he'd come across as a super serious leader, the likes of which I was used to seeing on TV cartoons.  For example look at the difference between the depth of Optimus Prime in the comics compared to the rather two-dimensional cartoon character, or compare that same cartoon character with the more fleshed out and flawed leader in the movies.  My view of Vector as a boring leader character changed here and I looked forward to seeing more of him and how he commanded the vast fleet in future issues.

We did see him pop up in other characters' stories and in more action scenes obviously, but we never got to that stage of seeing more of the inner workings of the Raiders unfortunately.  Although, a later story does start to explore their formation with a little ingenious time travelling.  More on that when we get to it.  Back to the present, in a matter of speaking and we're jumping back to World War II to further explore the Bomber Blues storyline which I'd originally thought was a complete story in #1.  Just look at this beautiful piece of art from Don Wazejewski that kicks off this chapter:

Two weeks ago I showed the first full part of this story and the gorgeous detailed aircraft battles expertly crafted by Don.  I was so excited as a child to see the story hadn't actually finished and here we see the base under attack from Rebel Wing and Skull Leader Hubbub, as he enacts his personal revenge on the heroic pilots who'd saved Hero Wing last time.  But unbeknownst to him Wing Commander Cub Jones, a veteran of the war before being plucked out of time to join the Raiders, had left them with a signal ring and it's not long before he's leaping back through time to help save his fellow fighters.

One thing that did stand out in the toy packs was the fact there could be a mix of prop planes and jets and I often thought how on earth did they fly in formation together!  Well part one of Trackdown and here in part two of this story it's clear they simply don't.  Each craft is used for a particular purpose, with the prop craft often being brought in for low-flying raids or for navigating close over difficult terrain.  It's clear writer James Nicholas is an aviation nut and it really pays off here!  One of Cub's prop planes is blown out of the sky by a Skull jet as he flew close over the base, trying to protect the men beneath him.  The comic certainly wasn't shy in destroying the planes we were playing with as kids.  It leant an air of jeopardy to the stories, because instead of vast battles where no one actually gets shot down or injured, here anything seemed to go!

The part again mainly takes place in the air in one long battle scene, and ends this time with a Raider and a Skull both shot down.  The Skull pilot commandeers the guns of a bomber plane and damages Cub's cockpit canopy, leaving him unconscious while his plane is in the air and Hubbub opens fire.  I honestly can't remember how he got out of this situation but I'll find out soon.  I hope it's nothing too convenient, as it does seem unescapable, though I don't remember being disappointed with the outcome...

The letters pages aren't filled with reader content yet, after all this issue will have been put together before any arrived in, so instead Cub and Chiller, two stars of this issue, introduce one page apiece with information on their planes, the names of main characters and the history of the Ring Raiders.  Interestingly this sticks to the toy story of the Skull pilots all being from the then-present day with planes being capable of time travel, but with the Raiders only their Air Carrier Justice flying base can, whereas in the stories all their individual airplanes can warp through time.  Maybe later we'd have got a story explaining how each plane was eventually retrofitted, but for now it's a key difference.  We've also got another Sandy James pin-up which never failed to feel dramatic in their two-colour formats, and a rather dull advert for the toys.

In none of the issues do we see advertising from Matchbox themselves, rather we'd get pages made up by the comic's team and thankfully they'd get more exciting as time went on.  Later Sandy would supply artwork that would sit alongside many various photos of plane packs and accessories, familiar to anyone who'd looked at the back of the toy packaging.  This first "advert" isn't exactly inspiring to anyone who hadn't picked the toys up yet, but it's the only weak link I can find in these 24 pages.


Finally, Freedom Flight part two rounds off the issue in as equally an exciting fashion as it did a fortnight ago.  The rebels were almost defeated in their attempt to overthrow Fort Massife in the now-named Calvador in South American in 1966, until the Skull Squadron appeared in the shape of Mako (who we saw above in the Vector story) and his Vicious Wing.  A few missiles later and the fort was on its last legs within minutes thanks to the jet planes from the future.  The tide of battle was about to change, as was history and we were still no closer to finding out why this particular point in time had been chosen.

As part two commences the fort's soldiers are frozen in fear, having never seen aircraft and firepower like these before and the rebels, just as confused, see their chance and charge the fort.  Commander Kirkov was a character who had defected from the Russians and fought for America in Vietnam so was already a rather interesting character for us in the late 80s.  So how could he defeat the rebels without opening fire on them?  After all, he can't take sides, he's just preserving history and, unlike some modern movie heroes he can't just open fire on them indiscriminately to stop the larger Skull Squadron plan:

Sandy James' artwork making for another
superb climax to an issue

Writer Tom Tully uses the unique features of the toy to great affect here while Sandy James' artwork keeps the whole thing feeling like a realistic war strip, with bold colouring and solid line work that makes for a riveting few pages.  Again.  Kirkov's wingmen end up coming to his aid but all they can do is keep Mako at bay, but the damage appears to have been done.  Calculating to the extreme, Mako has shot down Kirkov right above the fort and now he's plummeting towards it.  This could be a double-win situation for the Skulls, but the 'next issue' box promises something more, with its "In a fortnight's time: Flying on ring-power!".  This immediately brought back the memory of excitement and anticipation for part three that I had a whopping 28 years back.  Trust me, it was a big deal for this young fan to read that at the very end of this issue!

So, reading this second edition now as an adult I can say with confidence Ring Raiders had the firmest of foundations at this very early stage.  Already building on what had been laid in the premiere issue it was wasting no time in exploring different characters, scenarios and the various kinds of aerial warcraft it could depict.  It feels like its writers and artists are having a whale of a time with the subject matter.

I hope fans are enjoying these flights down memory lane and I hope others are finding it interesting too!  Feel free to let me know!

Issue three comes barrelling towards the blog on Saturday 14th October.

Saturday, 16 September 2017


I think I feel just as nervous with this first issue of Ring Raiders as I did when I wrote that initial post on this blog way back in 2013, when I worried about doing justice to Oink!.  Well, the same applies here.  This comic was and shall remain as one of my very favourite from my childhood, second only to the one in the title of this site, and it holds up perfectly today.  So where on earth do I begin?  Well, the first thing is to not repeat myself.

So to get caught up you can read a quick synopsis of the background story to the toys and characters, and thus the comic in the interview with editor Barrie Tomlinson, or for a full in-depth write-up you can check out the Beyond Oink! post from 2015.

Right.  Let's get on with the show!

A stunning introduction to the comic's world

I have very clear memories of seeing this first issue sitting on the comics shelves of my local newsagent.  I'd innocently asked for pocket money to go and buy some other comic, but it was quickly forgotten about when I saw the planes I was collecting at home tearing up the skies of this simply beautiful cover from Ian Kennedy (Commando, 2000AD, Eagle, Dan Dare).  I was used to seeing these little Matchbox toys flying about above my fingers and using my imagination, but here they were as fully fledged, full-sized fighting machines, locked in the kind of aerial combat that seemed so dramatic!  It's a dynamic cover and sums up the kind of action this comic would have in spades.  I'd never seen anything like it and I was already collecting The Transformers from Marvel UK, so that should tell you what kind of impact this had.

Speaking of those planes attached to my fingers, I couldn't believe this 35p comic was giving one away as a free gift!  Given how a 'Wing' of four planes could cost £4.99 in the toy shop this was just amazing.  Each issue had a different plane on its cover in the shop and I remember sitting crouched on the floor examining each one through the clear plastic they were attached to the cover with.  Eventually I chose the bright orange one because I'd never seen it before in the shops and thought it'd make a cool new addition to my ranks at home.  When researching for my 2015 post I was surprised to see this plane had actually been the star of the very first television advert:

I've had the theme from this stuck in my head for days! Days!!

At 24 pages the comic was a little thinner than other Fleetway action comics of the day, but the glossy pages were huge in my tiny hands and today the A4+ Oink!-size pages still look highly impressive and it certainly had bags more colour than its contemporaries.  Each issue contained five strips altogether: four serials made up of two full-colour 3-page stories and two black and white 4-page tales, with a complete 5-page story in full colour taking up the middle pages.  There were also some black and white or two-tone pin-ups of characters or planes, a letters page and some adverts for the toys produced by the team behind the comic itself.  It was a bargain.  

This first issue kicks off straight away with the 3-page Shock Attack, which acted as an introduction to the characters.  It was a quick fix of action, showing the Wing leaders in a battle with each other, rather than in their designated Wing teams like in all other missions they'd undertake.  When I read this a couple of years ago I was initially disappointed to see the rings weren't the big selling point, after all they were a big part of the toys but in hindsight I had definitely missed the point in my old age.

However, upon reading this now it's clear the main selling point was the fact these planes and pilots were from all eras of time, brought together to fight across the past, present and future.  That's the point of this set up and it's truly epic in scale.  It was a nice story idea to be able to sell us all manner of models to collect, but obviously with the rings being such an important part of the physical toys they still had to have some meaning in that story.  In pre-Bluetooth days they were mini-communicators (so cool to us at the time), they were a way of giving extra power to a plane by using its paired pilot's energy for a short burst and they contained other little Bond-like gadgets.

It's amazing what a couple of years can do and I distinctly remember as a young teen it was the time travel, the assortment of planes, the variety of characters and the scope of it all which excited us the most.  I was a bit harsh then in my 2015 post when I said there was no real introduction, being so focussed on the rings as I was.  Now, with a fresh perspective and in the proper context this story is the proper intro for readers unfamiliar with the toys, and the rings do feature in other stories anyway!

Although not fully explored, it also asked an interesting question of what would happen if a time-travelling pilot was shot down:

Artist Carlos Pino (TV21, Commando, 2000AD)
introduces readers to the comic strips inside

If the comic had continued this could've set up a brilliant way of "killing off" older characters.  But unlike Transformers for example, which could be rebuilt over time, human characters are gone forever once disposed of.  But having them shot down in another timezone could be a neat workaround, with the possibility of a return always kept open.  As you'll see over this series there's plenty of characterisation away from the planes, so a pilot trying to fend for themselves in that situation could've made for an interesting story too.

UPDATE: After this post was published Barrie found some further notes about the comic and was able to confirm he wrote this introductory story and some others yet to come... as well as more information on unpublished tales!  More on that after I've covered the final issue.

But anyway, in a previous post I stated how it was the second story of this issue which really got me pumped.  I already knew the setup to Ring Raiders and as much as I loved seeing the pilots above in artwork other than the one pose they had on their toy packaging, in part one of Trackdown we really got to see these guys come to life in a story which felt genuinely huge in scope.  The first panel alone had me sold.  These stories were going to be awesome and today this first page of what would become an 11-part, 44-page epic gives you everything you need to know:

Trackdown Part 1

I've previously showed all four pages of part one so I won't go into too much about it here again, but just to reiterate by the time this chapter ends the main character is actually an original one completely made up by the comic.  Each Wing in the toy line only had the name of the Commander, but here Freddy Riley of Commander Thundercloud's Rescue Wing comes to the fore after his plane crashes in spectacular fashion and he takes off running into the woods with the inventor of the accidentally-created Doomsday Machine.  One of Skull Leader Blackjack's wingmen also gets a namecheck at one stage.  I don't want to give you a blow-by-blow of each story, each fortnight I'll focus mainly on one and then highlights from the rest, but to read part one of Trackdown just click here to my 2015 post and scroll down.

Written by Angus Allan (TV-21, Look-In) and brought to life by the tremendous detail of artist John Cooper (Battle, Scream, Judge Dredd) the crashing of Riley's plane felt 'real'.  Being used to the small toys, John's work gives the plane real world weight and brings a sense of danger to the cliffhanger and it's just as thrilling to check it out today.  Across the page is the first of the complete tales and when seen side-by-side these two pages really aren't showing the good guys in a great light, as here too we've a Ring Raider pilot in a spot of landing trouble:

Yakamura: The Commander from 2235AD

When I discovered the toys in a local toy shop for the first time, long before I saw any adverts, there were a few Starter Packs alongside the complete Wings.  With £2 to spend I had just enough to grab one of these smaller packs and eagerly chose one with "goodie" Yasuo Yakamura's futuristic X-29 'Samurai Flyer' fighter and "baddie" Wraither's classic prop plane, the P51-Mustang 'Galloping Ghoul'.  I kept the cool X-29 for years and years and it may still be in a random box somewhere but everything else was passed on to a nephew years later.  But I did find this photo on eBay of the planes, even if they are rather battered:

Many fond memories come flooding back when looking at these

I was staying at my nanny's house, as I did every Saturday night, and I can remember clear-as-a-bell going to sleep with these planes proudly displayed on their rings beside me on the bedside cabinet, ready to be flown again first thing the next morning.  Thus started my obsession with all things Ring Raiders and Yasuo quickly became my favourite character, his Wing was the first one I bought, so you can imagine my joy when it wasn't the leader of the fleet who got the complete story treatment in #1, but Yasuo himself!  Perhaps he was a fan favourite, or perhaps it was just a happy coincidence.  Perhaps the fact he was from the future and so this opened it up for a proper sci-fi story of robots, aliens and bat-like aircraft made him the perfect choice.

Whatever the reason, he was indeed the perfect choice.  Many of the complete stories were written by Scott Goodall (The Phantom, Commando, Scream) and drawn by John Gillatt (Tiger, Eagle, Wildcat) and this team could switch from sci-fi, to war drama, to horror from issue-to-issue.  Even though we'd know which character was coming next, we had no idea what kind of story they'd be involved in.  All we knew was that it'd be set at some point in that character's past and would define a certain aspect of their personality.  For instance, Yasuo was known to embrace technology, his aircraft kitted out with the latest computers and software only he could control.  At the start of his story we see him on Sky Base Courage defending the new robotic aircraft controllers against their irate human supervisor, after they'd malfunctioned and nearly caused Yasuo to crash.  He then tells the tale of how he'd hated robots until he'd been forced to take an automated co-pilot with him on a mission back in his time.

Below, he'd just seen his best friend killed by an alien Draxion and his robotic partner was chastising him for seeking out revenge rather than an optimal target:

Sci-fi futures were seamlessly woven into the comic

Yasuo watches as the little robot builds a glider for him, only to stay behind and fend off the enemy alone, inevitably being blown apart.  This set him on his course to master robotics and computers and become the logical, faultless pilot that the Ring Raiders would eventually recruit and take back into the past (our "near future" of the late 90s).  The serials developed their characters too and none felt two-dimensional, but these complete stories were the perfect way to delve into how they'd become these fleshed out individuals in the first place, and they'd only get better as the comic continued.

No comic of the 80s would've been complete without a letters page and Barrie's titles never disappointed.  In his new book Comic Book Hero (write-up coming soon) he tells us how he loved having various ways for readers to interact.  This was certainly true of Wildcat and some of those ideas seemed to have spilled over into Ring Raiders as they're quite similar, albeit with a unique twist; one issue a member of the Raiders would take over the page, the next issue a member of the sinister Skull Squadron would be in charge.  Hey, we were equal opportunity fans!  I never got around to sending anything in before the comic was cancelled.  Barrie was editing Ring Raiders freelance from home under Creative Editorial Services and had also brought in Terry Magee (Commando, Battle, Cor!!) to assist with editorials, and together they thought up some ingenious ways for readers to do so.

A completely different letter answerer every issue

There were chances to write in and state why you should be a member of either group, or you could design a new plane for the Raiders or a super weapon for the Squadron, or draw a battle scene with your choice of victor or even write a short story.  A very short story mind you, with a 150 word limit... or 155 words for the Skull Squadron who boasted, "That's 5 more words than Ring Raiders allow!"  The first issue has a double-page spread of the characters taken from the toy packaging, which even before finishing the first issue now look rather basic compared to how the comic had developed them.

Barrie's own son James Nicholas (Eagle, Super Naturals, Scream) is an aviation nut and was the perfect author of the next story, Bomber Blues which I've included all four pages of here because I just had to show off the incredibly detailed art of Don Wazejewski (Battle, Mask).  In contrast to the two previous stories which saw the characters leave their planes on terra firma or on one of the bases, part one of Bomber Blues takes place almost entirely in the air.  While we loved seeing more of the characters and seeing them develop away from their craft, I thought this was the kind of story we'd get from cover-to-cover when I picked the comic up originally.

Of course, I was very glad this wasn't the case but this is action-packed stuff and for this premiere issue it serves as the perfect introduction (probably even more so than Shock Attack) to the whole concept.  High-flying action with modern day craft sharing airspace with a B-17 Fortress Bomber in the skies over World War II, what is there not to love?  We even see a ring used at the end for one of its common purposes:

What brought about the initial battle between punk Skull Leader Hubbub's Rebel Wing and Commander Cub Jones' Hero Wing is unknown but we didn't care.  What was interesting to me as a kid, and which I instantly picked up on this time around, was the date.  This takes place in 1943, the exact year Jones was living in originally when he was beamed aboard the Air Carrier Justice to join the Ring Raiders and given his F-5 fighter.  No reference is made to this yet (yet) but to those already in the know, or who had read the character profiles on the previous pages, it makes it that bit more special.

The only slight bit of disappointment is the way the leaders call their wingmen by identification numbers instead of actual names.  It might not have been something to notice normally, but after Trackdown it feels a bit off.

It seems to round up nicely at the end and I was pleasantly surprised when #2 brought with it more Bomber Blues!  This part therefore is just a little prelude to the main story to come, only hinted at in the small 'In 2 Weeks' box at the end there.  In the cartoon Cub was changed from the toy outline to a modern day rookie pilot, used as a way of introducing the viewers to the story, but I much preferred this original version of him.  Being plucked out of the war meant it never really ended for him and future instalments of Bomber Blues see him return to close off that chapter in his life.  Excellent stuff to come.

The final story in #1 is Freedom Flight which is written by another long-time collaborator of Barrie's, Tom Tully (Johnny Red, Bad Company, Dan Dare).  The art style will also be familiar to anyone raised on IPC or Fleetway licenced comics such as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures or Mask, it being from the highly skilled Sandy James (see also Tiger).  His colouring in particular always leapt off the page of those Mask covers I saw in my friends' comics collections and here you can see he kept to those exacting high standards for full strips too.  It just looks magnificent!:

Setting the scene for the issue's final strip

This story's main characters are Commander Yuri Kirkov and his Freedom Wing who go up against Skull Leader Mako's Vicious Wing.  The former was an instant favourite among fans, being a Soviet Air Force major who had defected to the Americans just before Vietnam.  In the late 80s, when the Cold War was still in very recent memory he made for an interesting and much loved character.  Mako was a personal favourite from the evil Skull Squadron, what with his "specially-adapted" MIG-29 being an aircraft I recognised from movies at the time, or maybe it was just because of the shark paint job that adorned it (and his helmet).  It was also stated in the toy line that there were rumours amongst his enemies it could go underwater, which the comic picks up on later.

A fictional South American government fort is under attack and the history books tell of how they easily saw off the band of ruthless rebels.  However, history is about to change with the help of Skull Squadron and, sent there on a whim by Ring Commander Vector, Kirkov soon discovers the tide of the battle is about to change when Mako launches a missile at the fort.  After a direct hit the situation is a desperate one and the cliffhanger is left with this exciting aerial artwork from Sandy.  These panels make up the bottom-right of page 24 (taking up about a third of the page) and it's a gorgeous display to end the issue on.  The action, the distant fire, the detailed face of Kirkov compared to the basic toy design, as well as the interesting angles all beg for more:

#1 signs off in style

Thankfully more is what we got, just two weeks later.  In Barrie's book he explains how 32-page Wildcat's fortnightly schedule was something interesting for an action comic and allowed for longer individual episodes every issue, compared to the typical 3-page strips in something like the weekly Eagle, which crammed in a lot more stories into its 32 pages.  With two weeks to wait, it was felt the readers needed more for each instalment and it certainly worked a treat.  Indeed, each of the five tales in Wildcat took up either 5 or 6 pages each, but here in Ring Raiders we've got 24 pages to fit in just as many stories, but we never felt short-changed with any of them.

Each story, whether it was 3, 4 or 5 pages had so much crammed in it didn't matter we had two weeks to wait!  Full of character, great dialogue, interesting stories with plenty of twists and highly detailed artwork we could pour over for hours, the comic was a perfect fortnightly package.  As mentioned above I was also collecting The Transformers at the time which was also 24 pages, albeit weekly.  It had two main 5-page stories and a non-Transformers back-up of equal size.  Ring Raiders felt like a much meatier read and after this first issue I was an instant fan.  Not that there was any doubt, since I'd already placed the regular order with my newsagent at the same time as I bought this issue!

I really hope you've enjoyed this look at a comic which, to quote its editor "deserved better".  I may not be able to do anything about its short run, but it certainly deserves to be remembered.  With great storytelling and stunning artwork from the best in the field at the time, I hope I can do my little bit to ensure it has a place in British comics history.

Issue two comes to the blog on Saturday 30th September.

Special thanks to Barrie for all the info on the writers involved and all the brilliant insights he's given me into this great comic.  I'll be sharing more as the series continues.

Thursday, 14 September 2017


Just a quick tangent here on something else I'm doing over on Instagram (that camera logo beside the Twitter bird in the left column there) besides my Transformers UK comics run-through.

A few years back I was going through a particularly bad time in a job I hated and I spotted someone doing something called 100 Days of Happiness on the social media app/site.  They'd taken a photo of something which had made them happy that day and did this each and every day for 100 in a row.  The idea was to keep them thinking of the positives in each day no matter how bad it had been.  That's why I started it back then and it really worked a treat.

I loved it and since then I haven't needed to do it thankfully, but I still want to, but now it's used solely to count down to my very favourite time of the year.

That's right, things are good and I'm happy but I still do this every year once I know what my first day off for Christmas holidays will be.  This year that date is the 22nd December, which means today is the day to start my own unique advent calendar!  My 100 Days of Happiness has started and the countdown to Christmas 2017 has begun, which in itself is a reason to be cheerful surely, so my Day One is actually the fact I'm doing this again!

If you fancy following me as I make my way through it, if you want to see if it's something you'd like to do yourself, have a gander at my Instagram every day (you don't need an account to) or follow me on your own timeline.  Either way, expect to see lots of Smudge the cat, my crazy friends, loads of food, obviously this blog(!) and lots more randomness.  When it's all finished it's great fun to look back and smile about what made you the happiest each day, so I whole-heartedly recommend it.

The photos on this post are from last year and give an idea of what I'm wittering on about.

The blog shall resume it's normal service on Saturday with #1 of Ring Raiders!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


In the summer of 1989 I came across small Matchbox toy planes, attached to rings which I could fly about on my hands in aerial dogfights.  The background story concerned the formation of the Skull Squadron, a band of extremely talented fighter pilots who could travel through time in their bid for world domination, and their enemies the heroic Ring Raiders, formed of the best and bravest pilots from the past, present and future.  This meant the planes could be based on classic World War II fighter planes, late 80s jets and even some brand new, still-in-development prototype American Air Force machines, all fighting it out side-by-side.  Each set contained four planes but only the leader craft had the image and name of its pilot next to it; the Wing Commander.

I was an instant fan.  Soon the adverts appeared on TV and to my young mind they rocked!  There were huge bases, larger bomber planes, battery-operated SFX boxes which attached to our wrists complete with a plane's joystick to activate the sounds, audio cassettes, medals, display stands, cartoon videos... and in September 1989 I was thrilled beyond belief when I nipped into the newsagent on the way home from school, only my third week of grammar school, and spotted a brand new comic dedicated to Ring Raiders, complete with an actual honest-to-gosh free toy plane on the cover!  I was sold.  More than that, once I read the second story I was hooked!  (Why the second story?  You'll find out when I write up #1.)

A couple of years ago (almost to the day) I wrote a detailed summary of this comic series from Fleetway, but now it's going to get the full Oink! Blog treatment, the first non-Oink! comic to do so.  This means each and every issue will get a full blog post all to itself, complete with scanned highlights.  But this means I actually have to start with Eagle!

Better late than never, only took
me 28 years to get it

When writing that original post I discovered for the first time there'd actually been a preview comic given away in some Fleetway comics I simply wasn't buying at the time, such as the one above.  What was rather disappointing was finding out it was only four small pages in length, but then I was eventually able to track one down on eBay and discovered it was all beautifully painted by Ian Kennedy!  It's absolutely gorgeous.  Ian would go on to produce the majority of the covers for the comic and, an aviation fan himself, his love of aerial combat shines from every frame.  It may be light on plot, but the point of it is to establish the high-octane action, superb artwork and, of course, that a comic based on the latest craze (or so we thought) had arrived!  It's certainly confident in itself!

UPDATE: Editor Barrie Tomlinson has since informed me it was he who wrote the short story above in order to introduce readers to some superlative aerial combat.

If only it had gone on to be the best-selling comic on the shelves.  As you'll see when we go through the run of issues it's truly top quality stuff.  There's some real depth to the characters, which is no small feat given the outlandish setup and the toys, some hints of bigger stories in the background which could've been elaborated on, more action than any other comic and a great sense of humour.  It also never talked down to us and reading it now as an adult it's just as enjoyable as it ever was.

As I said above I never got my hands on the preview until recently, but from this Saturday 16th September I'll be rewinding the clock and taking you through all the actual issues, from scratch.  Yes, when I did this with Oink! I hadn't read those comics in many years, whereas with Ring Raiders I did in 2015.  But the same mindset applies, so I'll be discussing the experience of rediscovering this comic from a couple of years ago, I'll be going in-depth with each issue and giving frank and honest opinions from reading it now, as well as reminiscing about when I first read it in 1989, naturally.

208 pages in total, the first 24 of which will be winging (sorry!) their way to you on Saturday.  "The Command Is In Your Hand", so make sure you come back.

In the meantime, editor Barrie Tomlinson kindly answered this fan's questions on the topic of Ring Raiders and you can read this post from a few days ago, published to mark the arrival of his brand new book about his time at IPC and Fleetway!

Monday, 11 September 2017


Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know that back in 2005, after loving Michael Bay's first movie, I thought I could make some money and sell on the last 100 or so issues of Marvel UK's The Transformers which I still had from my childhood.  But upon checking them for damage I got sucked in and read a few issues, only to end up collecting the rest of the whole collection (as many as I could anyway).  I then spent a very happy six months or so about ten years ago reading through the entire story.

Over seven years of disguised robots certainly makes for
an impressive shelf

As I mentioned on Saturday the Ring Raiders comic has its 28th anniversary this coming weekend and I'll be covering every issue of that just as I did with all 68 issues of Oink!, writing each up on their original release dates.  It's not alone in celebrating in September though, with The Transformers' own 33rd birthday being on the 20th.  Feeling old yet?  However, I'm not going to be giving it the full Oink! Blog treatment just yet because there are still issues missing in my collection, namely a good lot from the first year, a handful of the Collected Comics seasonal specials and the final annual.  I've been able to read the full story thanks to the specials I do have, which reprinted the strips from the first year and a friend let me read his final annual.  Extortionate prices for those missing early editions on eBay at the moment prohibit completing the set anytime soon though.

But here comes Instagram instead, or rather my Instagram account: @PhilEdBoyce.  I've every single regular edition from just before the start of the second year onwards and you can also see the annuals in the photo above, which sit alongside other books and specials too.  So rather than write up each issue in-depth with scanned highlights like I did with Oink! and am about to do with Ring Raiders, I'm going to be showing off my own personal Transformers collection by sharing photos of each issue on their original release dates.  Well, Instagram is for photo sharing after all.

The first year was fortnightly but after that it remained as a weekly for an astonishing five years and four months, before returning to a fortnightly format for its final year.  So even though this is a photo-sharing project it's still a huge undertaking for me, dedicating myself to it for all that time.  Remember, when I started this blog I really thought it wouldn't last more than a few months because of my chronic attention span, but thankfully I think Oink! has improved that somewhat.  So what can you expect from this?

Each weekly issue will have a photo of the cover obviously, but thanks to Instagram's new ability to swipe through a handful of photos with each post, I'll also include a few personally chosen highlights from the pages within.  This could include a page or two of Transformers strip, or of the back up story, maybe a close-up on some particularly interesting frame of art, special features, editorials, fact-files; anything that really catches my attention from that particular issue really.  So yes, expect to see some brilliant 80s advertisements too, naturally.

Each post will go live every Thursday for the foreseeable future and beyond!  But to kick off the series there'll be a special selection of daily posts:

To catch up on the first year and show fans the comics from those twelve months I do have I'll be posting up highlights from each one over ten days, then the first of my weekly posts will pop up the very next day on Thursday 21st September until 4th January 2024!  Wow, that's scary thinking how long I could be doing this for.  But hey, why not?  Should be fun.


It couldn't be easier, even if you don't have Instagram.  If you do, search for me (@PhilEdBoyce) and click follow and that's it, I should pop up on your timeline with each issue in turn.  You don't have to be signed up to Instagram though, just go to and you'll be able to see everything I post anyway as my account is public.


As well as the weekly posts on Instagram I'll be doing a monthly round-up of the photos right here on the blog all the way through the project, complete with all the captions and maybe even a selection of the comments left on Instagram too.  So please chat away to me over there, I'm hoping it'll pick up a few regular followers and some discussions as time goes on.

So there you go, it's launched and all.  Join me weekly on Instagram or monthly here, either way I hope you do or Optimus might have words:

My original Beyond Oink! Transformers post is still up and talks about how I came to be a fan of the comics originally, their creators, epic stories, equally epic artwork and is also an in-depth overview of the most successful Marvel UK comic ever.

Come back tomorrow for a special look at the preview comic of Ring Raiders and a look forward to the new fortnightly posts for that comic too.  Also coming soon there's much more Oink! goodness as well.  It's promising to be a busy autumn and winter here and I couldn't be happier about that.