October 24, 2012 by raconteurmagazine
Explosions! Heroic Struggle! Gratuitous Violence! Biscuits!
Solar Wind is a loving tribute to the British boys’ comics of the 70’s and 80’s- comics like Action and Valiant. The Bumper Books collect together eight issues of the comic, plus the direct spin-offs Sunny for Girls (two issues) and Big War Comic (one issue).
Your host for this retro extravaganza is Cosmic Ray. A misanthropic, hateful, hard-drinking, flame-headed alien bastard. Think Gene Hunt, but without a “heart of gold” or similar redeeming features to spoil the bile party. This works well; Cosmic Ray gives some continuity to what would otherwise be a disjointed collection of strips.
The various issues collected in these two editions mostly work along thematic lines. The justification for this is an ongoing plot about various rival comics attempting to take over Solar Wind only to be conveniently defeated by Cosmic Ray just in time for the end of the issue.
This conceit works well, giving Solar Wind the opportunity to cover a wide variety of tropes from the period comics it pays homage to.
The Sport comic contains the haunted sporting story The Ghouls of Gregory Street and the self-explanatory Death Olympics 2012. The “Aggro Issue” on the other hand, caused by a merger with The Geezer, introduces us to hard nuts like Warfish and Mcthumper Undercover.
Both Big War Comic and Sunny for Girls started off in this way, being themes for the main comic. Both, however, eventually spun off into their own separate comics. Sunny is actually my favourite. It has all the ingredients of girls’ comics from the era. Bizarre supernatural plotlines, plucky teenage schoolgirls and, perhaps inevitably, a strip about getting a pony. Actually, now I come to think of it, I always secretly preferred my sister’s comics to mine anyway. I remember this awesome story in one of them about some psychotic garden gnomes who came to life and killed this girl. And another one about a girl (they were always about girls, funnily enough) who had her reflection come out of the mirror and then it ended up taking over her life while she was trapped in the mirror instead. Who did I get instead? Roy of the bloody Rovers, that’s who. This week, Roy manages to score a deciding goal in the last minute. Next week, Roy does the same as last week.
The reason that Solar Wind works so well is that it carefully treads that fine line between celebration and mockery. While the strips are too overblown to have been in a comic of the timescale covered, in some episodes that’s only just the case.
This is obviously a work of affectionate teasing, done by people with both love for and knowledge of the original source material.
The amount of detail that has gone into making the comics feel right is highly impressive. Not only do you have the strips, you also have suitably abrasive replies to reader’s letters, bad reader artwork, and even some authentic feeling advertisements (for things like “conker hardening spray” and the space dust inspired “space smack”).
Sadly, unlike the originals, these compilations do not come with a suitably tacky, free gift. While the pictures and descriptions go some way towards easing the pain, I am still distraught I did not get “The Cosmic Rod”, otherwise known as a glo-stick (Approximate value: ten pence).
All in all, The Bumper Book of Solar Wind (volumes 1 and 2) is just great fun.
There are two factors that may mean these books aren’t right for everyone. Occasionally a joke will just fall flat or a repeated strip will get overly repetitive. That isn’t too much of an issue; the relative brevity of the strips means that there’s always a new one just around the corner.
More of a serious issue for some may be that I do think you need at least a basic knowledge of the source material to fully appreciate Solar Wind. Without that, while some strips are still amusing, you simply don’t have the cultural references to find a lot of the jokes funny.
The Bumper Book of Solar Wind (both Volume 1 and Volume 2) is available as a print and demand Lulu product. Now at a very competitive price (£6.10 and £6.48 respectively, plus postage), there really is no reason to not give at least one of these compilations a try.