Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Comic Digital Archive - Robot Archie

The old British weeklies have always had their totems, their mascots, their ever-presents - 2000AD has Tharg, The Beano had Dennis the Menace, Valiant had Captain Hurricane, Eagle had Dan Dare and so on. For Lion, it was Robot Archie. Created by George Cowan and artist Ted Kearnon as the Jungle Robot the character lasted the first six months of Lion before disappearing for five years but from 1957 to the end of the title in 1974 he was always there.

Invented by Professor C R Ritchie and given to his son Ted and his best friend Ken Dale for various expeditions into jungles to loot old temples for treasure and fend off understandably irate natives who weren't altogether keen on the pals looting said treasures. For about a decade the strip provided such four-square adventures but by the sixties Archie (his name always emblazoned on his chest in big letters in case the pals mistook him for some poor Peruvian tribesman who crossed their path) was freed of remote control and given a voice box, becoming more-or-less sentient.

The personality he was granted was that of a boisterous oaf, always ready to tell everyone how great he was, always ready to cannon through a wall instead of using a door, always ready to dupe some local tribe into thinking he was a god and always ready to just thump anyone and anything that got in his way. The result was brilliance.

As the decade went on Professor Ritchie decided to grant the trio access to his time machine, built to look like a chess rook, so they could spread mayhem throughout history and they didn't let him down as Romans and woolly mammoths alike found out what it was like to have seven foot of British robot shoulder-charge them when there was probably a peaceful solution available. He also matched up against the Sludge, formerly the villainous star of its' own Lion strip, and began bitching about the Steel Commando, a cross between Archie and Captain Hurricane which briefly became a big hit in the pages of Lion. His smugness only grew when the former disappeared from the comic.

After Lion hit the rails in 1974 the character continued ambling on for several years; as was common for the British market at the time the lucrative Christmas market kept the Lion Annual running for a further eight years with Archie still making appearances, albeit towards the end in a mix of text stories and reprints while some wonderful fanboy managed to swing a crossover with the Spider for the 1980 Lion Holiday Special.

Meanwhile in Belgium the artist Bert Bus was redrawing the original strips, updating the pals to the seventies (both having barely changed fashions since 1952 in the British material), adding colour and putting the results out in comic Sjors and then having the results collected in albums (basically TPBs, but think Tintin/Asterix format). These were translated back into English and used in Fleetway's epochal reprint title Vulcan in the seventies.

The end of the Lion Annual after 1983 meant Archie was finally out of print, though he would make a superb comeback in Grant Morrison's seminal Zenith where an acid house makeover didn't detract from his propensity for property damage. A less satisfying resurrection came later in Albion but in truth the old colonial robot was never one of the hippest members of Fleetway's pantheon, always being seen as the whitebread option.

Full scans of the serials are very difficult to find; this archive consists in the main of the self-contained annual stories and the Bert Bus arcs reprinted in Vulcan. There are at the end of the archive some twenty odd instalments from Lion, all odd bits from various sagas. If anyone has any more I'd love to hear from them.

CONTENTS:
Complete Stories from Annuals & Specials:
The Z-Ray; The Metal Monster; The Power Crystal; The Invaders; Volcano Bay;
The Shark Monster of Arunda Bay; The Vanishing Planes; The Suprons; The Steel Giant;
The Inca Gold; The Weird World of X; The River Demon; Negwin the All-Powerful;
The Alien Robots; The Living Dead; Robot Reg; The Pirates of El Berrek; Operation Archie;
The Island of Treachery; Robot Archie vs The Spider; The Mad Millionaire
Complete Stories from Vulcan:
The Krulls; The Power Crystal; The Sludge; The Ice Age; The Glob
Odd episodes from Lion:
Return of the Mole Men (3); Crime-Buster (3); Menace of the Golden Men (1);
The Coral Sea Mystery (7); Trouble-Shooter (1); Time Machine (1);
The Overlord (10); The Smasher (1)

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