Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
Long, long ago, in a bedroom far, far away, a ten year old boy was lucky enough to come across a set of ancient comics deposited upon him by his grandmother from her local church’s Christmas jumble sale. They were old and crinkly. The pages were yellowed. The smell – well, lets leave it at musty.
But they featured the adventures of a very peculiar and to the child, unfamiliar character – Rick Random, Space Detective (from the days when a man had a proper Man’s name…!). Here, in glorious back and white, the ‘First Detective of the Interplanetary Age’ battled all sorts of villainous evil-doers on all sorts of mysterious planets. The stories were very British, the characters very, very British, and sometimes more than a bit jarring. Like watching one of those old classic Ealing comedies of the 1950s. Except these stories contained lots of ‘Alrite, gov’nor, luv a duck, cor blimey, its a right t’do, innit’ set to the background of helio-cars, visio-phones, magneto-rockets and giant aliens (quite literally!).
For a few days they provided an escape from the mundane surroundings of an Irish childhood in the 1980s (an awful decade, as anyone can tell ya). Instead of a boring bedroom in the bleak suburban winter the child travelled into the distant reaches of space in a distant future of seemingly endless strange planets and peoples. No matter that the speech was a bit funny (phone written as ‘phone, apostrophe included, and lots of people saying stuff like, ‘Rick felt so gay that evening’). No matter that the technology was so laughable – even to a 10 year old. It was all glorious, escapist stuff and none the worse for it.
So imagine to his delight when the boy became a man (allegedly) and he stumbled upon in that cathedral of commercialism, Amazon, a reissue of the very best adventures of that fondly remembered stiff upper-lip chap in the space suit. Credit card out, details tapped in, and package eagerly received at the front door five days later.
And, oh dear…
What in childhood seemed fun and different, quaint even then, seems in adulthood just…
In our first adventure Rick Random becomes tangled up with a planet whose inhabitants choose to have nothing to do with the Earth based interplanetary community. That’s all. Not oppose the Earth, or wage war against the Earth, or fly hijacked rockets into skyscrapers on the Earth. Just mind their own business and stay out of everyone else’s way – Earth included. So what do the unhappy Earth chappies do? Why, the back-room boys come up with a wizard plan to drop lots an’ lots of nuclear rockets on the cities of the ne’er-do-well planet, to wipe the human-like inhabitants out, and thereby render the planet useful for the Federation. The way you do like.
And that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the adventures. We are greeted with slanty-eyed aliens (yes), negro slaves with ‘rolling white eyes’ (I kid you not), whales farmed for food (oh, dearie me…), and so on. You get the picture I’m sure. Sort of Pax Britannica in space – and all the worse for it.
Rick Random first appeared in the ‘Super Detective Library’ magazine in 1954 and unfortunately it tells. Time has not been kind to dear old Rick. Created to tap into the zeitgeist of 1950s ‘space age’ Britain, the stories now seem horribly dated. Even the later stories, which were written by the then young Sci-Fi author Harry Harrison, and penciled by acclaimed comic artist Ron Turner, seem too old fashioned and twee for words.
Some things age with grace. Those old , grainy black and white Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials of early Saturday mornings we can still watch, sorta kinda, and enjoy. Ealing comedies remain classics of cinema and are just as enjoyable today as they were 60 years ago. But then they operate on a higher plane than do old comics. Back in the mid-20th century children were still the prime readership and it tells in every page.
Despite its lovely reproduction of the old Rick Random comics, with a nice vinyl cover to keep it safe, and (joy of joys) an actual book token attached to the spine, there is little to recommend in this collection. Sometimes the past is the past for a reason. And one should know better to just leave well enough alone.
‘Rick Random: Space Detective: 10 of the Best Space Adventure Picture Library Comic Books Ever!’ is available from all good bookshops (and a PC) near you.