Probationer was Stuart Wales’ first writing contribution for Action, stepping outside of his role as Money Man for a while. Unluckily for him, his creation was short-lived, getting the axe after only four issues. In that time it produced some very intense moments of violence, entirely in keeping with Action’s style, but just a bit too much for the new direction scheduled for Action’s return.
Bringing the Second World War back to Action, Green’s Grudge War was a simple tale of jealousy with a spot of heroism and fighting thrown in. The format of each episode was pretty straight forward. Following a brief story recap in the big square box next to the title, a rather glib ‘One day the commandos were on a mission when…’ appeared. In fact, it was hard to find an episode that didn’t start like this.
Written by the future creator of Judge Dredd, John Wagner, Blackjack told the story of Jack Barron, a black heavyweight boxer from the East End of London. The story came in two parts, as at the midpoint, Wagner decided to leave, having told his boxing tale. He wrapped up the story with a solid and upbeat conclusion. Unfortunately, it was decided to continue the strip, which seems a serious error of judgement.
Hell’s Highway relied heavily on the popularity of C W McCall’s single Convoy, and the craze for CB radio and big American trucks at that time. The premise itself is pretty laughable if it is analysed in any depth. A secret government organisation relied on a couple of ex-army truckers to carry out covert, truck-based ops for them on a regular basis. Strangely, they weren’t the only truck-based covert ops team on government service, there were a whole gang of them working out of a covert business front called Acme Transcontinental Trucking.
Play Till You Drop! was a football story with a slight twist, not fully in the style of Action, but not exactly straight from the pages of Scorcher. Alec Shaw was a first Division footballer being blackmailed by a crooked journalist called Grice, who had photographs showing Shaw’s late father Tom accepting a bribe to lose an important match. Not believing what he saw, Shaw sold his integrity to keep his father’s name clean, and to keep up blackmail payments despite challenging circumstances.
Kids Rule O.K. was set in the bleak future England of 1986, where all adults had been wiped out by a plague, caused by the stresses of modern living. For its time, Kids kicked off with an ecologically aware opening, describing the effects of global warming, pollution and massive deforestation on the planet. This supposedly lead to an alteration in the human metabolism, causing the body to dry out and disintegrate rapidly following a massive heart attack. As the adults dropped dead, the kids rose up against the few unlucky survivors. Tired of social order and restrictive structures, anarchy ruled the streets.
Straight out of the IPC Boys Department mould, The Coffin Sub was the run-of-the-mill story of H.M.S. Conquest, a British submarine fighting in the Mediterranean. It was deathly dull and almost universally hated by both the readers and the publishers alike. Written by Ron Carpenter and drawn by Angelo Todaro of the Giolitti Agency, The Coffin Sub proved to be the least popular Action story ever.
The Running Man was written by Steve MacManus and excellently drawn by French artist Horacio Lalia, with the exception of a single episode on the 15th of May, which was handled by Mike White. It told the story of a British athlete set up by the mafia to take the rap for crimes which he did not commit. Unfortunately it never proved to be popular, except with committed readers, much to the annoyance of Pat Mills who thought the story deserved much better. Readers were put off by the fact that Carter was running away from his problems rather than facing them, although this overlooked the point that all the while he was heading towards a final and fatal confrontation.
Sport’s Not For Losers! told the story of Dan and Len Walker and the world of amateur athletics. Dan was an athlete, Len his good-for-nothing brother. When Dan was injured during a race, the family baton was passed to a disinterested Len, who really couldn’t be bothered to pick it up and run with it. He’d rather have smoked a lot and hung around with his girlfriend. Dan took it upon himself to turn Len’s life around, and make him into a winner, whether he liked it or not.
Look Out For Lefty! replaced Play Till You Drop! as Action’s exclamation-marked football strip. Lefty followed the adventures of schoolboy Kenny ‘Lefty’ Lampton as he carved out his footballing career thanks to his powerful and accurate left foot. Unlike its predecessor, Lefty was much more of an Action strip. The lead character was down at heel, living in a junkshop with his gormless, Albert Steptoe-esque grandfather.
Death Game 1999 tells the story of the future sport of Spinball, basically a rip-off of the Rollerball concept with a bit of pinball added in. In essence, two teams of seven men take it in turns to attack the pins on motorbikes, or defend them on ice skates, armed with an object resembling a hockey stick crossed with a gun. Add to that the fact that the game is played by prison inmates as an alternative to execution, and that the fans don’t care about the game at all, just the body count, and you have a sound premise for what proved to be one of Action’s most popular stories.
Hellman of Hammer Force told the story of Kurt Hellman, a German Panzer commander who was not a member of the Nazi Party and offered no affiliation to Hitler or his minions. Hellman wanted to fight a clean war for Germany, and so avoided the excesses of his Nazi SS and Gestapo comrades. He fought fairly and avoided taking life wherever possible, preferring to take prisoners instead. Hellman was the first story in a comic to see the war from a German point of view.
Dredger was the story of a rough, tough and ruthless secret agent. The leading character came from a dubious background, having been discharged from the marines in 1964 before heading to Africa to work as firstly a mercenary and then later as the personal bodyguard to a military dictator. Dredger was amoral rather than immoral, said very little but was mercilessly violent. He was partnered by Simon Breed, an upper class old Etonian, educated at King’s College Cambridge and late of the Grenadier Guards. Breed worked to protocol and did everything in a strictly proper manner. He was often astounded by Dredger’s more animal instincts, and his partner’s ability to line his own pockets by way of compensation for his low Government salary.
Hook Jaw was primarily a rip-off of the movie Jaws, but as this was Action, it needed a twist. Pat Mills decided that the shark should be the nominal hero of the strip, and that greedy and immoral humans were the villains. In the mix would be a human character the reader could empathise with, that of Rick Mason, who appears in the first two Hook Jaw stories, although his appearance in the second, like his head, is cut short. Most of the other humans in the strip are the dregs of humanity, and are deservedly disposed of by Hook Jaw in grisly fashion.