Pocket-Money Comics: Countdown

Countdown
Publisher: Polystyle Publications
First issue: 20 February 1971
Last issue: 25 August 1973
Issues: 132
Absorbed into: TV Comic

countdown 001 cover

In the beginning Countdown was, arguably, a science fiction comic, and as such it predated the seminal 2000AD by six whole years (and six days), but it’s not often recognised as such because almost all of its comic-strip content was adapted from existing TV shows.

It was a spiritual successor to TV Century 21 (which ran for 242 issues from 23 January 1965 to 6 September 1969, and was retitled TV21 along the way) in that it covered much of the same ground, and in fact TV Century 21 was the original source of some of Countdown‘s strips.

One of the conceits of TV Century 21 was that it was a newspaper from the future, each issue being cover-dated one hundred years from the actual date. Similarly, Countdown tried to do something to make it stand out from the crowd… in this case, the pages were numbered in reverse. Counting down, you see, from twenty-four to one. Kinda clever, albeit briefly, but it had the psychological disadvantage that when the reader reached zero, nothing happened. Or, worse, in some early issues it felt like the whole comic was counting down to the appearance of whichever advert was gracing the back cover.

Later, just as TV Century 21 dropped their “newspaper from the future” gimmick, Countdown stopped counting down its pages with issue 58, the last issue before it became TV Action. And, boy, did that particular event drag itself out… this is how it happened.

countdown title 001For the first eighteen issues, the comic is simply Countdown. (From issue #7, the indicia — the tiny text about copyright and such that’s usually to be found on a comic’s inside somewhere — refers to it henceforth as Countdown and Rocket, which was the original registered title.)

countdown title 019From #19 to #45, it gains a subtitle: Countdown – The Space Age Comic!

 

countdown title 046From #46 to #56, it’s now Countdown for TV Action!

 

countdown title 057For issues #57 and #58, the title is TV Action in Countdown, with “Countdown” still being the dominant part of the title.

countdown title 059From #59 to #100, it’s TV Action + Countdown. The name-change is official! But just to be sure that the readers don’t get too confused, the old name hangs around for the better part of a year. From now on, the indicia refers to the title as TV Action/Countdown and Rocket.

countdown title 101From #101 onwards, the title is simply TV Action. So in all, it took sixty-four issues to make the transition. That’s almost a year and a quarter — or just about the same amount of time it takes for a black rhinoceros to gestate, which is, I’m sure, exactly what you’ve all been thinking.

TV Action presented itself as a new comic and in some on-line databases it’s presented as such, but it really wasn’t: it wasn’t even a reinvention of Countdown. I mean, the issue numbers and the stories within continued as though no one had told them anything had changed.

In the Countdown era, strips included Doctor Who, The Persuaders!, Dastardly and Muttley, and a whole heap of Gerry Anderson adaptations: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Fireball XL5, Joe 90, Lady Penelope, The Secret Service, Stingray, Thunderbirds, UFO and Zero-X (the latter being based around a spaceship that appeared in both the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet TV shows, and the only official evidence that the two series were part of the same fictional universe).

Original material appeared in the form of the occasional “Countdown Complete” one-off science fiction tale, and the title strip, Countdown, which for some reason features spaceship designs from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It even credits them as such, so this wasn’t just a case of the artist sneakily lifting the movie’s designs and hoping no one would notice.

So, all science fiction apart from The Persuaders! and Dastardly and Muttley (and that one features a dog who speaks and can pilot a biplane so, y’know, it’s arguably fantasy at least).

The TV Action era saw some American TV adaptations nudging out the Gerry Anderson puppet shows. Popular TV series such as Alias Smith and Jones (cowboys), Cannon (detective), Hawaii Five-O (cops) and Mission: Impossible (secret agents) were presumably more attractive to the readers than wooden nodding heads and visible strings.

Why all the TV adaptations, I pretend that I hear you ask? Well, young folks, this was in the days before there was on-line streaming, we had only three or four TV channels — which all stopped broadcasting around midnight — and there was no such thing as any kind of home video recording. Comic-strip or novel tie-ins were pretty much the only way to get more of your favourite show. And if you missed an episode of your show, chances were it was gone for good — you might never get to see that episode. (There’s still an episode of the original Battlestar Galactica that I missed the first time around and have never managed to see. I know I could pretty easily watch it now, but… meh.)

Countdown gave us more than just comic strips, though. Right from the start, it was generously peppered with features, puzzles, news, etc., with a particular emphasis on science. Sadly, these were almost completely dropped after issue #100, replaced with pin-ups of pop-stars like Elton John, Blackfoot Sue and, of course, The Carpenters.

The issue at which we’re going to look today is Countdown for TV Action! #56, dated 11 March 1972. It’s the last issue before “TV Action” is promoted to the front of the title, but that’s not mentioned within.

countdown 056 cover 800

Physically, it’s slightly larger than A4 size at about 23x30cm (that’s 9″ by 12″ for that tiny portion of the world still doggedly clinging on to imperial measurements — hang in there, guys: I’m sure that in the end everyone else on the planet will realise that we were all wrong to adopt the massively easier and much more logical metric system and we’ll come back to using furlongs and pecks and roods and hundredweights). This issue of Countdown cost five pence, which was quite expensive compared to most of its peers: the issue of IPC’s Valiant and TV21 published on the same date has a cover price of 3½ pence for thirty-six pages. For that extra 1½ pence Countdown gives us only twenty-four pages but with better printing on nicer paper, and of those pages eight are in full colour (and one has blue spot-colouring).

Unusually for comics of the era, Countdown had a nice habit of crediting its artists. Not always, and never the writers or letterers, but still, that’s considerably progressive and a lot less paranoid than Polystyle’s rival publishers who would ruthlessly hunt down and white-out any attempt by the creators to sneak a signature into the artwork. Countdown also frequently gave credit to its feature writers.

Here’s what awaits in issue #56…

Countdown 056 contents

 

Countdown-persuaders-title

The Persuaders!: A Touch of the Sun
Artist: Harry Lindfield
3 pages, colour

The Persuaders! TV show starred Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as a mismatched pair of millionaires from different backgrounds who are arrested for brawling and consequently sentenced to occasionally team up to fight injustices, because this is the sort of thing that could and did happen back in the early 1970s. The show only ran for one season, which is a shame because it had a great premise and a very charming and watchable cast. Countdown-persuaders-picAnd also because Roger Moore’s character’s name was Lord Brett Rupert George Robert Andrew Sinclair. Ten points to the show’s creator Robert S. Baker for getting away with that one!

In this issue, The Persuaders! opens on the front cover — page 24 — and then continues five pages earlier (by which I mean later) on page 19, the split happening because of the way the coloured pages have to go (it’s all to do with printing and collating and folding and such: I do actually understand how it works but it’s hard to explain in the tiny amount of space I have left in this sentence, so I won’t try). Tony Curtis’s character Danny Wilde is hired by Britain’s top financier for a job that’s never clearly explained, but it involves a share of £15,000,000 (which back in 1972 was still considered to be a lot of money) and has Danny couriering a briefcase that at the airport is sneakily switched out by some baddies — but just in time His Mighty Lordship The Very Right Honourable Lord Brett Rupert Bear George Orwell Robert Andrew Pandrew Sinclair Spectrum Esquire, Limited, turns up and saves the day. Hooray! Lovely artwork, but not a lot of story for three pages, but we do get some character-defining moments with Danny being selfish and a bit of a womaniser, and Lord Brett (etc.) wearing a purple suit with a yellow shirt and a yellow tie in a display of the kind of brazen manly courage you just don’t get these days outside of people cosplaying as The Joker.

Cars, Lorries and UFOs
By Charles Bowen
Feature, about 7/8 of a page

Along with all the science articles, Countdown was packed with stories about unidentified flying objects. It seems hard to believe now, in the enlightened twenty-first century with all our technology and rampant cynicism and the internet and such, but back in the 1970s UFOs were big news. We (collectively, if not individually) were convinced that alien beings were willing to travel countless billions of dozens of imperial miles across space in order to zip past an aircraft or fly over a remote farm but never stick around long enough to say hello or leave any tangible evidence. So, folks, next time you’re on the internet laughing at the idiots (well, they’re certainly not geniuses) who are convinced against all evidence that the Earth is actually flat, spare a thought for your forebears who were able to come up with logic like this: “Was it flying?” “Yes.” “Do you know what it was?” “No.” “Right. It’s an unidentified flying object. Conclusion: aliens. The lack of evidence is proof that the government is covering up the evidence, which is proof that the evidence exists.”

Countdown-dastardly-titleDastardly and Muttley
Artist uncredited
1 page, blue spot-colouring

Originating in the cartoon Wacky Races, Dick Dastardly and first-name-unknown Muttley are respectively a moustached man and a medal-hungry dog who as part of Vulture Squadron were charged with stopping a messenger pigeon from reaching its destination. It’s never explicitly said, but it’s widely assumed by me that Vulture Squadron were representative of the German airforce in WWI. Certainly, they flew in biplanes and everyone wore scarves and leather flying helmets, including the pigeon. However, in their pigeon-stopping efforts they frequently also used high-tech equipment of the nature of rockets, giant magnets and those boxing-glove-on-an-extendable-arm things so beloved of cartoons, and I don’t think those were around in the first world war.

In this episode, Muttley is vacuum-cleaning the squadron’s base when he accidentally vacuums up Dick’s plans for pigeon-catching inventions. Luckily, the vacuum cleaner itself gives Dick a new idea for a plane-attached pigeon-vacuuming device (this was of course before Apple released the iPigeonVacuum). Without a suitable pigeon to test it on, Dick forces Muttley to dress up as a pigeon, which is something he normally only does at weekends in the privacy of his own home, and there’s nothing wrong with that — it’s not like anyone is being hurt, is it? Dick’s biplane-mounted pigeon detector detects Muttley but the pigeon-vacuuming device accidentally vacuums up the sausages Muttley’s been preparing, and Dick confusedly assumes that somehow Muttley has been turned into sausages. This naturally causes him to lose control of the plane and it crashes. Luckily, all is well — both survive the crash — but Dick is angry with Muttley for some reason and attacks him with the string of sausages. The End. All well and good, but a tad unbelievable: even an amateur WWI expert knows that you don’t leave the sausages strung together while you’re frying them. Tch.

Countdown-thunderbirds-titleThunderbirds: The Crexus Creature
Art by Don Harley
2 pages, black and white

Thunderbirds was a show that I didn’t really know when I was a kid, even though it was the most famous of Gerry Anderson’s marionette-populated creations. We didn’t always have a TV set, so that partly explains why the show passed me by, but not completely: I was very familiar with Joe 90, another Anderson show. I dunno, maybe I just kept missing Thunderbirds any time it was on.

The show is centred around the organisation known as International Rescue: whenever there’s a disaster, IR will be there to help! Former astronaut Jeff Tracy is the boss, and his five grown-up sons are the pilots of the various eponymous Thunderbird vehicles which launch from Jeff Tracy’s island, Tracy Island. It’s a stroke of luck that all five of Jeff’s sons not only wanted to work for IR, but they were all suitably qualified for their jobs. Or perhaps it’s textbook nepotism. (No mention is ever made of Keith, the sixth son, who ran away from Tracy Island to follow his wild-eyed, youthful dreams of working in an office.) I don’t recall who actually funds International Rescue, but at a guess it’s not the taxpayer. If it was, half their missions would be hampered because some government official would insist on the correct forms being properly completed, check, stamped and filed before allowing them to go off and save lives.

The best thing about the show was the model work and special effects, though that’s true of every Gerry Anderson production, in my opinion. The vehicle designs in particular  were fantastic, far ahead of any other shows at the time.

Countdown-thunderbirds-picAs we join the adventure in this issue, Scott and Alan Tracy have rescued the crew of a manned space probe. All but one are unconscious, covered in caustic burns that looks like tentacle sucker marks. The only conscious crew member is delirious, raving about a monster. Pretty soon, dust samples collected from the probe turn into a tentacled monster which attacks a guard. I’d like to have seen more than just two pages of this one, but as mentioned before Countdown was a slender comic so space was tight. (In real life, of course, space is infinite.)

Art-wise, this is pretty nice, as is to be expected from Don Harley. However, he’s chosen to draw the characters a little too much like their marionette versions from the TV show, specifically their slightly oversized heads. Sadly, though, he chose not to draw in the strings or represent those very unsettling bits of the TV show where they’d cut to real hands holding things. Shame!

Faster… Cleaner… Quieter
By Peter Brosnan
Feature, 1 page

An article about magnetically-propelled and suspended monorail trains. Along with hovercraft and jetpacks, back in the 1970s such trains were an almost tangible glimpse of what the future might be like. Sadly, forty-six years later we’re still waiting. It’s still a very tantalising idea: the article suggests that one of those trains could cut potentially the journey from Glasgow to London down to ninety minutes (a third of the duration of the current shortest journey time). It’s all politics, see, that’s why no one has built one of these things for real. Politics and the massive, massive potential for disaster. Still, by the time they do extract their digits and get one built, International Rescue will be around to save the day.

Countdown-stingray-titleStingray: The Monster Weed
Art by Ron Embleton
2 pages, black and white

Another Gerry Anderson production, this one set under water. I have much stronger memories of Stingray than I have of many of the Anderson “Supermarionation” shows, mostly because this one was shown on Irish TV in the early evenings when I was in my late teenage years. I was too old to really enjoy the show, but not too old to appreciate the design work and imagination. And that great theme song, too, which I recall goes something like this: “Stingraaaay… Stingray! Stingraaay… Stingray! Stingraaaay… Stingray! Stingraaay… Stingray!” and so on (lyrics not by Bob Dylan).

The premise of Stingray is that the submarine is the flagship of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (the acronym is WASP, because wasps sting, and so do stingrays — see the connection there?). They’re basically underwater cops, policing the reefs and suchlike. The hero is Troy Tempest, which is an awesome name. It’s about as heroic a name you can give some a character without calling him Hero McChampion (by the way: I’m reserving that one for future use!). But there’s not only felonious fish and suspect squid to worry about down there, for the seabed is practically crammed with underwater civilisations. Most notable of these is the city of Titanica, ruled by the evil King Titan. He routinely menaces the other cities and the surface world with his own submersibles. Also, there’s Marina, an amphibious former slave who becomes a love-interest of sorts for Troy and whom a lot of people seem to remember as being a mermaid, even though she wasn’t. Unless she was one of those rare freak mermaids who happen to have legs.

The comic is uncredited in Countdown, but according to The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection (a lovely big hardcover that collects lots of Anderson strips from the 1960s) it was drawn by Ron Embleton, which I could have told you anyway because I recognise his awesome work, and other sources tell me that it was reprinted from TV Century 21 where it ran from issues #62 to #71, probably written by Dennis Hooper. And it was originally in colour, too… compare the original to the reprint:

countdown-stingray-pic

In this issue, we open right in the middle of a story with the only explanation being the caption that reads, “While Stingray attacks the monster weed, Titan plans to use the seed cannister found by his Terror Fish.” This is where we get the title of this serial: “The Monster Weed” which is clearly about monstrous weeds, and not something that a monster needed to do when it was caught short.

TV Century 21 strips tended to be short on recap text: new readers would just have to pick it up as they went along… Stingray is attacked by a pair of “vitrate” missiles, which it manages to avoid at the last second, sending the missiles into a giant mass of weeds that are threatening to engulf the Marineville coast. The weeds’ enormous tendrils (some of which resemble tentacles: what is it about Supermarionation shows and tentacles?) start to collapse, trapping Stingray and its crew. King Titan gloats gloatingly that victory is in his grasp, and then the episode comes to an end.

Exciting stuff, and gorgeously rendered. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t appear in the original colour. Also, in the opening panel King Titan refers to the Stingray submarine by the third-person feminine pronoun, an affectation of the English language that, thankfully, now seems to have just about died out. (That said, quite recently a friend of mine referred to his car as “she” — I wasn’t sure whether the use was genuine or ironic, so I let it slide. But I didn’t forget. Oh no. That one got filed away.)

Apollo 16 Mission Report
By Our Space Correspondent
Feature, 1 page

Hmm… Just wild stab in the back, but I’m guessing that “Our Science Correspondent” is code for “the editor paid himself to write this.” It is, as the title implies, a report on the then-upcoming Apollo 16 mission, which was the second-last manned mission to the moon. And that was in 1972. It’s been almost forty-six years since Apollo 17 (December ’72) and we’ve not been back since. As my friend Gary once put it, “If we can put a man on the moon, how come we can’t put a man on the moon?” Seriously, NASA folks, we’re long overdue for another go. Although… thinking about it now, we’ve visited the moon six times and they’ve never once visited us.

Countdown-drwho-titleDr. Who: The Planet of the Daleks
Art by Gerry Haylock
1 page, full colour

The Doctor gets the double-page spread in the middle of the comic — woohoo! Lovely stuff it is, too, except that the script breaks what I’ve always thought was a fairly solid rule: the Doctor’s name is not “Doctor Who” – that’s just the title of the show. He never refers to himself as “Doctor Who” (except in the don’t-really-count Peter Cushing movies), and neither do the other characters. He’s always just “The Doctor.”

That tells me that there was no one from the BBC overseeing these scripts. Or at least, no one who had a strong involvement with the TV show. It further suggests that the writer (credited on-line as Dennis Hooper) wasn’t necessarily a huge fan. It’s not a big thing, maybe, but hearing characters refer to him as “Doctor Who” grates on me about the same amount as hearing the science officer of the USS Enterprise referred to as “Doctor Spock.”

Right. With that awkwardness out of the way, let’s have a few words about the relevance of this strip to me, yer loyal but humble Unky Rusty. See, these strips feature the Jon Pertwee version of the Doctor, and they were my very first encounter with that Gallifreyan time-lord. Later, I did see a few episodes of the TV show, most memorably “Planet of the Spiders,” the serial at the end of which Tom Baker takes over. From that point on, I was a loyal viewer, so Tom Baker was in many ways my Doctor, but then so was Jon Pertwee. Though I’ve lapsed now and then, Doctor Who has been a large influence on me ever since comic strips like this. And, yes, I very much am looking forward to Jodi Whittaker as the new Doctor! The change is — like the show itself — about time.

countdown-drwho-picIn this story the Daleks have set up a trap: if the Doctor uses his Tardis he’ll end up captured and brought to the Dalek’s planet, where he will turned into a Dalek! Oh no! As we join the adventure, a thief is attempting to break into the Tardis, which is currently in a cellar, but he’s foiled by the arrival of the Doctor. A brief scuffle ensues, and the thief (who was apparently disguised as a professor in the previous episode) sets off a smoke bomb which quickly sets light to everything in the cellar. The Doctor drags the thief inside the Tardis for safety, but because of the flames the only way out is to use it to travel somewhere… and this triggers the Daleks’ trap! Cue the end titles: Ooo-eee-ooooo, diddly-dum-diddly-dum, etc.

Two pages just isn’t enough to really get one’s teeth into an adventure! The Daleks only show up in the very last panel. I love the Daleks. Sure, they’re a bit rubbish if you actually sit down and think about them for any length of time, but when we were kids they were completely inhuman and scary and unlike anything else on TV.

Double Quiz
½ page
A science-based multiple-choice quiz with ten questions, and a crossword.

Countdown-terrorinthetank-titleUFO: Terror in the Tank
Art by Brian Lewis
6 pages, black and white

UFO was another Gerry Anderson show, but the tragic string shortage of the early 1970s meant that for this one the puppets had to be replaced by live actors.

UFO is rather well-remembered today even though it only ran for one season. I’ve never seen a single episode so I don’t really know that much about it, aside from that it starred Ed Bishop who was well-known for playing an American guy in countless British TV shows, and that once again the Andersons knocked it out of the park when it came to vehicle designs. (I say “Andersons” as a plural because even though Gerry Anderson’s name is stamped all over his shows, his then-wife Sylvia is now recognised as being a major, if not the predominant, creative force in almost everything on which they collaborated.)

The basic idea of UFO is that in the then-future year of 1980 aliens from a dying world have begun visiting Earth and harvesting human organs, and the top-secret organisation S.H.A.D.O. (which stands for Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) has been created to defend the planet. Their actual headquarters is disguised as a film studio, but they’ve got other secret bases all over the place, including underwater and on the moon, plus access to lots of nifty hardware, such as the classic Interceptor spaceship which has a single absolutely massive missile at the front and looks, to be honest, like a bit of a liability: you wouldn’t want to start fiddling with the radio while you’re driving one of these babies through slow traffic.

In this story, the organisation’s UFO detectors detect a UFO approaching London on a very rainy night, but they lose track of it because of the storm. A little boy sees it and tells his father, who doesn’t believe him — so we know that the UFO is visible. This means that the people at S.H.A.D.O. have failed at their job because not one of them had the brains to look out the window.

The UFO lands in a park, and its alien occupant goes out to explore. Because of reasons unexplained, he seeks shelter from the rain (even though he’s still wearing his spacesuit) but instead of returning to his craft which would be the most obvious choice, he ends up in a tiger’s enclosure: he’s landed in London Zoo. The roaring of the tiger alerts a security guard who confronts the alien and is quickly killed, but not before the guard smashes the visor of the alien’s helmet. The alien thinks to himself “…must find… place to survive… liquid…” Next day, the security guard’s body is discovered, as is the INFO (I’ve decided that it’s no longer a UFO because it’s we know what it is and it’s on the ground: it’s now an Identified Non-Flying Object.)

countdown-ufo-picS.H.A.D.O. hears about it, and dispatch their teams, with Major Foster in charge. At the zoo, Foster finds the smashed alien helmet and concludes (somehow) that the alien would be in need of liquid to survive, therefore he must be in the aquarium. I dunno, maybe water-breathing is one of the aspect of the aliens in the show? Foster’s right, though, and the injured and unconscious alien is brought under guard to a hospital while the INFO itself is left untouched just in case it’s been rigged to explode if someone unauthorised should approach it. Again, that’s a bit of an assumption by Major Foster. At the hospital, the alien — who’s been given a new water-tight helmet — recovers and knocks out the sole doctor watching over him. The S.H.A.D.O. people aren’t idiots: they have all the hospital’s exits covered, but they don’t reckon on the alien being smart enough to put on a hat and coat as a disguise and then escape in a laundry van, because they are idiots after all.

At the zoo, the alien (somehow) lets all the big cats loose to cause a diversion so that he can get back to his INFO, but this backfires when he’s attacked by a cheetah just as he reaches the craft. Detecting that the cheetah is unauthorised, the INFO promptly explodes, killing the alien in the process and proving Major Foster’s “probably programmed to destruct” theory to be correct. I owe him an apology… even though I still can’t see how he made that conclusion.

Not a great story. Not even a good one. The plot has many holes you’d be wasting your time sheltering under it if you were caught out in the sort of storm that’s so heavy it can cause UFO detectors to fail. On the positive side, the artwork elevates it. Not much, though. I’ve always loved Brian Lewis’s style, and while this is good, it’s far from his best work.

Countdown-countdown-titleCountdown
Art by John Burns
2 pages, full colour

As I mentioned way up there near the beginning of this article, the Countdown strip contains spacecraft designs from the MGM film 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s a line of text tucked into the inner margins telling us exactly that. But… why? And also, no, it doesn’t. Not in this episode. In early issues, yes, some of the designs were very clearly taken from the movie: most notably the Discovery ship and the space-station. But in this episode here in issue #56 there’s one spaceship that fans of 2001 will certainly recognise as not actually being in the movie. Maybe it was a discarded prototype design?

Because of the way the coloured pages are printed and collated (as also mentioned earlier) this episode of Countdown interrupts the UFO story (which runs on pages 10 to 8, then 4 to 2).

Countdown-countdown-picAs for the story: I’ve read the pages in this issue — both of them, and in the correct order — but there’s not enough to really figure out what’s going on. The aforementioned spaceship is an experimental craft, and a guy called Berretti is trying to take it over or maybe destroy it. Back on Earth, there are people also attempting to destroy the craft, or maybe take it over. But they miss, or fail, or something, and then Berretti is captured but in exchange for not being sent back to Earth he promises to supply the crew with useful information, which is that he knows where “Sam Bellingham” is being held. Apparently, this name is familiar to one of the crew who responds with, “My father?” And that’s all we get.

The art by John Burns is intensely colourful and kind of rough, but I’m not complaining: Burns is an absolute master story-teller and one of my all-time favourites. Here, the deliberately exaggerated expressions and poses lend the story exactly the sort of frenetic energy that the UFO strip is lacking. So while the story might not make any sense in this tiny burst, it does look gorgeous.

Think Tank
Letters page
1 page

A huge chunk of the page is taken up by a photo of the moon, and it’s accompanied by a short article on the around-the-moon trips taken by the Apollo missions: the photo shows us an angle of the moon that we can’t see from Earth. (Because, as you well know, the same side of the moon always faces us. The far side is where they keep the copyright notice, the standard disclaimers, and the barcode.)

The page also gives us the answers to the quiz from page 11, and two letters. The first is from G. D. Jones of Hasbury, Worcs., asking how fast a knot is. This isn’t actually a joke question, like “How long is a piece of string?” G. D. Jones is asking about the sea-faring unit of speed. Answer: one knot is a nautical mile per hour, a nautical mile being 6,080 feet, or about 115.078% of a standard mile. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the imperial measurement system is mind-bogglingly stupid. Why is a nautical mile longer than a land mile? That makes no sense! Sure, it probably came about because someone made a mistake somewhere along the way, but the correct approach would be to correct the mistake, not just stick with it through sheer bloody-mindedness. “Hey, you told me it was eighty miles from here to Penzance! It’s not: it’s just over ninety-two miles!” “Um… Yeah. It’s… eighty nautical miles. They’re longer, a bit. Didn’t you know that? I thought everyone knew that. What kind of sailor are you, not knowing about nautical miles?”

The second letter comes from Stephen Holmes of Stakeford, Northumberland, who wants to know why we can’t have perpetual motion. The reply is lengthy and suggests alternative energy supplies such as radium that emit a lot of energy, but it doesn’t really provide the correct answer, which I’ve always felt is, “Get a grip. You can’t take more out of a bucket than has been put into it.”

countdown 056 backMan Power
Feature, 1 page

The back page (which as you’ve guessed by now is page 1) of this issue of Countdown is presented here, on the right, featuring number 10 in an ongoing series about human scientific achievements. This one is about the plasma gun, which sounds like an absolutely awesome weapon — perhaps one that might help turn the tide in the upcoming Imperial versus Metric war — but in fact was really just designed for industrial use. You can’t zap aliens with it, unless they get really close.


 

And there we have it, folks, issue #56 of Countdown from 1972. You do get quite a lot in only twenty-four pages, but is it worth five whole pence when many rival comics give you half as much again for less money? Maybe, if you were a big fan of the Gerry Anderson shows. Personally, I’d rather sacrifice the nicer paper and colour printing to have more pages and longer stories.

In the end, Countdown (or TV Action as it was by then) was absorbed into TV Comic, which had been running from November 1951 (and amazingly didn’t expire until June 1984), but was aimed at younger readers.

On the whole, Countdown was a rather good comic, though it was a tad confused, never quite sure what it wanted to be. The high production quality and the artwork certainly helped make it stand out, but the stories themselves just weren’t strong enough, possibly because they were restricted by the established rules of the TV shows on which they were based… You can’t really forge your own path when you’re riding on the coat-tails of your progenitors.

 

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2 thoughts on “Pocket-Money Comics: Countdown

  1. The artist on Dastardly and Muttley was Peter Ford, who had drawn the second Secret Service strip in Countdown, and would also draw it for the Countdown annual.

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