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Friday, December 05, 2008

Rick Random - Space Detective

In 1953, Edward Holmes created a crime-solving space detective for the pages of the Super Detective Library, one of the earliest pocket library series that introduced the format made famous by War Picture Library and Commando.

Rick Random worked for the Interplanetary Bureau of Investigations and answered to the Interplanetary Council who had established their leadership over Earth following the devastating wars of the 1990s. But even in the 2040s, when these stories were supposedly set, space travel was fraught with dangers: space pirates ransacked starliners, murderers prowled the corridors of spaceships… all the old crimes, from kidnapping to serial killing, were new again, given the twist of a futuristic interstellar setting.

The writers and artists found themselves on fertile ground when it came to creating new situations and, in those stories that dealt with space-police procedurals, the stories played fair as murder-mysteries. There was the occasional bit of faux science necessary for dramatic purposes, so finding new planets drifting into the solar system was not unusual and the younger members of the audience rarely minded as they usually had man-eating plants and dinosaur-like creatures on them.

The look and tone of the series was established quickly by Holmes, who penned the first story, and artist Bill Lacey. Further early episodes were written by Holmes, Conrad Frost and staff writers Adrian Vincent and Dick Wise.

It was, however, the introduction of artist Ron Turner that really brought the series to life. Turner was endlessly creative, whether it was spaceships, aliens or gadgets. With his first story, "Kidnappers From Space", Turner stamped his signature style on the series: rather than dirtying up the page with detail, his version of the future was all smooth curves of reflective metal—a cyberpunk artist forty years before the term was invented. He built up shapes by contrasting harshly lit objects with deep shadows, a technique known as chiaroscuro.

The Turner-drawn episodes of Rick Random’s adventures are amongst the most collected comic strips in the UK. His stories were full of inventive touches, from the design of futuristic buildings, architecture and machinery to the space ships and alien creatures that Random encountered. All were drawn with a fine eye for detail which raise them far above the vast majority of science fiction yarns that were appearing around the same time.

Not that the Rick Random strips are collected solely for their artwork. The stories, too, were well worth reading. In 1956, a Canadian scientific journalist and broadcaster, Bob Kesten, began working for the series, sharing writing duties from 1958 on with American science fiction novelist Harry Harrison who had then recently arrived in the UK.

Rick Random starred in 27 adventures in Super Detective Library between 1954 and 1959. With the launch of War Picture Library in 1958, the pocket library had a new focus on the Second World War and Rick was phased out in favour of John Steel, a wartime special agent.

But fans of the series had long memories and the stories were briefly revived in the Buster Adventure Library in 1967. When editors were looking for science fiction material to pad out summer specials and annuals in the late 1970s, Rick Random was to be found in 2000AD Summer Special, the Dan Dare Annual and Space Picture Library Holiday Special (in some stories in the guise of ‘Dair Avalon’ or ‘Rod Rogan’). 2000AD relaunched the character in a new 6-week mystery series in 1979, the new story written by Steve Moore and drawn, once again, by Ron Turner bar the final episode which was a disappointingly slapdash finale drawn by Carlos Ezquerra under the pen-name L. J. Silver.

October saw the release of Rick Random, Space Detective, a collection of classic Rick Random adventures drawn by Ron Turner from Prion, gathering together ten of the best of Rick’s adventures, many reprinted in full for the first time since their original appearance. The original comics are scarce (and expensive when you do find them) so for many who have heard whispers about the strips from other fans, this will be their first chance to read the stories themselves. If you are coming to Rick Random anew, prepare yourself for a trip that’s out of this world.

Order your copy via Amazon.co.uk.

ISBN: 978-1853756733

Contents
Kidnappers from Mars (BAL 31, Oct 1967) aka Kidnappers from Space (SDL 44, Dec 1954)
Emperor of the Moon (BAL 35, Dec 1967) aka The Case of the Man Who Owned the Moon (SDL 49, Mar 1955)
Rick Random and the Planet of Terror (SDL 123, Mar 1958)
Rick Random and the Space Pirates (SDL 127, May 1958)
Rick Random's Perilous Mission (SDL 129, Jun 1958)
Rick Random and the Mystery of the Frozen World (SDL 133, Aug 1958)
Rick Random and the Mystery of the Robot World (SDL 137, Oct 1958)
Killer in Space (BAL 29, Sep 1967) aka Crime Rides the Spaceways (SDL 37, Sep 1954)
Rick Random and the Threat from Space (SDL 153, Jun 1959)
Rick Random and the Kidnapped Planet (SDL, 163, Dec 1959)

Art is by Ron Turner throughout except for the debut story, "Killer in Space", drawn by Bill Lacey. Scripts for the stories were written by a number of authors: "Killer in Space" was written by Edward Holmes, who probably also wrote "Kidnappers from Mars"; the author of "Emperor of the Moon" is unknown; Bob Kesten wrote the stories in SDL 123, 133, 153 and 163;and Harry Harrison wrote the stories for 127, 129 and 137.

Publicity

full bleed, front & back cover

Reviews

"This is wonderful work, showcasing Turner's imaginative view of the future with his smooth distinctive linework. Turner's work is easy on the eye, clearly illustrated, and his artistic skills show him to be a master of black and white work. (He would later prove to be just as skilled in colour work too of course, as his Daleks strip would prove ten years later.) The stories are more sophisticated than the fare that was appearing in Fleetway's weekly comics of the same period. At 64 pages per story, and thankfully no modern "decompressed" pacing, there's a lot of meat on the bones."—Lew Stringer.

"This book is a treat. From the colourful cover, through the attractive endpapers, to the stunning artwork inside ... If you like well-written sf and gorgeous artwork, then go for this book. You won't be disappointed."—John Lawrence (Amazon.co.uk)

"A must have for the science fiction collector!"—Ventura Angelo (Amazon.co.uk)

"Ron is the real reason to buy this enormous, 656-paged volume... it is The Bible of beautiful retro-tastic space art."—Chris Weston.

9 comments:

Derek said...

I'm looking forward to this one a lot, there was a Rick Random reprint in the first annual I got as a kid, I think it was the Dan Dare Annual 1979. I remember the gorgeous art on Rick Random, then later there was a reprint strip in Best of 2000ad monthly.

I want to spend my money on this! said...

I said it before and I'll say it again: This book, as well as High Noon, and all the rest, must be solicited through the Previews catalog ASAP! It's the easiest way for an international audience of comic collectors to get our hands on them!

Tell your Prion publishers about it! Please!

Anonymous said...

any screenies from the collection would be helpfull for buying it if you dont know it

Anonymous said...

Arrived yesterday from Amazon, excellent book. Now, how about books featuring Air Ace or the Fleetway Super Libraries (The Spider & Iron Claw.

With High Noon and the various Don Lawrence books ont he way I'm going to need a lot more overtime!

Peter D

Steve said...

Glad to hear someone has an actual copy and has enjoyed it. The best kind of review anyone can get. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Note: NOT all Turner - in lieu Terror from Space we get Killer in Space. The artist is obviously not Ron Turner. Bit of a let down because the cover list at the back mentions Terror from Space.

Ken Davidson said...

Yes, agree with anonymous. Killer in Space is clearly not illustrated by Ron. Bit of a shame in an otherwise splendiferous volume.(Funny, it's set in 2167ad, which makes our Rick a very spritely 150-odd year old!)

IPC's Dan Dare annual of 1979 reprinted Rick Random and the Time Travellers - that'd've been a good one to see reprinted larger.

Here's another - the story Planet of Terror has two characters, Qando and Pendor, whose faces and upper bodies have been drawn by another artist. Is this an intriguing original edit to cover some faux pas by Ron Turner, some kind of 'PC' cover up?

Great stuff though, I'm thoroughly enjoying it!

Thanks, Ken.

Ken Davidson said...

Mr Holland, it appears you have spam sir!

Steve said...

Ken,

Yes, I get the occasional spammer. It's infrequent but a pain in the backside as they can leave a dozen or more messages dotted all over the place. Most of the time I've removed them before anyone can follow the links embedded in the messages and I'll continue to not filter comments in any way unless things get a lot worse.