Biggles and the Menace from Space
August 15, 2016
Unsounded, Chapter 1
Biggles and the Menace of Padding!
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Patreon-sponsored review time again, this time for a franchise that I think most of my audience is unfamiliar with. But then again, you people knew about the show, U.F.O., so I have no idea what the hell people like anymore.
(Cut to the cover of a comic called "Biggles of the Camel Squadron")
Linkara (v/o): "Biggles" is a series of stories about the titular Biggles, AKA James Bigglesworth, a fictional pilot who first appeared in 1932. Said first appearance was in "The White Focker".
Linkara: Which, believe it or not, is a real term for a German World War I fighter, yet still seems to be the kind of thing I imagine Biggles is yelling when he fights them.
(Cut to a montage of covers of "Biggles" stories)
Linkara (v/o): Biggles mostly appeared in short stories and novels over the course of fifty years, but much like Sherlock Holmes or Tintin, he's a character who's appeared in a kajillion different things under various authors, especially after the original creator's death. In fact, said creator, W.E. Johns, was in the middle of writing another Biggles story when he died. The character actually fits rather well into comics, since he operates on a bit of a slide timescale, having gone through at least thirty or forty years' worth of wars, yet not aging very much.
Linkara: Then again, considering today's outing from him is science fiction, maybe we just missed the story (makes "finger quotes") "Biggles and the Temporal Anomaly".
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, aside from a movie, a TV show, various novels and short stories, even a video game tie-in to the movie, he also had a few comic books to his name. And since I have no experience with this character, other than as a Wikipedia page, I can dive into this with fresh eyes. Perhaps this is one of the dumbest adventures this Spitfire pilot ever encountered, or perhaps it is a glorious example of a guy who is seriously called Biggles, who fights aliens that is, well, wonderful and awesome. Either way, this comic is like 46 pages long and is slightly larger than a normal comic, so we should probably cut this short and get to it.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Biggles and the Menace from Space" and see this example of the History Channel in comic form: sometimes history, sometimes aliens.
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has "Do You Want To Be a Hero" by Jon Anderson playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): The cover's pretty good, featuring Biggles and two other... astronauts, I think, staring up at said menace from space, which is apparently this ring-shaped object.
Linkara: Turns out the menace from space was just Galactus playing ring toss.
Linkara (v/o): And judging by the shape of this menace, maybe this should have been called "Biggles and the Meeting with Master Chief".
(The comic opens to the first two pages)
Linkara (v/o): After a page that shows off the cast of characters, we open... IN SPAAAAAAACE!
Narrator: The Euro-Shuttle, jointly developed by the Western European countries, orbits the Earth...
Linkara: (as one of the astronauts) How the hell can we not find a parking space?
Linkara (v/o): At the controls during its test flight is squadron leader James Bigglesworth...
Biggles: This beats anything I've ever flown!
Linkara: World War I era fighters, space shuttles... Eh, it's not different. It's all just levers and knobs.
Narrator: ...flight engineer Babe Sunday...
Linkara (v/o): Seriously? All right, just roll with it.
Narrator: ...flight engineer Babe Sunday and navigator Ginger Hebblethwaite...
Linkara: So everybody in this universe has a rejected Star Wars name.
Biggles: All systems functioning! Stand by to go downstairs!
Linkara: (as Biggles) Get that keg of beer out of the basement! It's time to auger this baby in!
Linkara (v/o): Well, I'm not too far off from that. Basically, they're bringing the shuttle back down to Earth, and they detail the procedure on one page. Doesn't look too bad either; making it look nicely exciting while describing the process.
Narrator: Minutes later, he descends towards the massive runway of the Esrange Space Station base...
Linkara: Considering you're landing on the ground, I think you might have missed the point of a (makes a "finger quote") "space station".
Linkara (v/o): The shuttle lands and releases a brake chute, but something goes wrong.
Biggles: We're not slowing down fast enough – something's wrong with the brakes!!
Linkara: Oh, no! It's a follow-up to another Biggles story: "Biggles and the Mafia Connections"!
Linkara (v/o): Despite the brake fluid catching on fire, the shuttle does manage to get to a stop and an emergency vehicle douses the flames. After Biggles files his report, he's recalled to London by Department M. After a few panels to remind us that jets exist and that he should probably be undergoing more debriefing and examination after going into frigging space, he lands back in London.
Biggles: Bring my car round while I grab a cup of coffee and change!
Linkara: (as the attendant Biggles is addressing) Uh, sir, I'm just a runway technician, but... okay.
Narrator: Within half an hour, Biggles is racing towards the outskirts of London in his Turbo Cooper 5.
Linkara (v/o): AKA his clown car. I mean, look at how small that thing is, compared to his body. There's government spending for ya; they gave Biggles an entire executive jet all to himself, but had to shove him into a tiny car for his drive back to headquarters. Anyway, he talks to his boss, Air Marshall Raymond, and his upturned mustache.
Raymond: Good! You've made it, Bigglesworth! Everything hunky-dory with the shuttle?
Biggles: Absolutely–except for the wheel brakes– some bother there– but nothing serious!
Linkara: (as Biggles) Sure, the brake fluid caught on fire, but no biggie. It's not like there have been major, horrible tragedies related to problems with space shuttles. (nods and smiles, then slaps himself on the head in frustration)
Linkara (v/o): One of their operatives stumbled across something that they found suspicious.
Biggles: Struth! What the devil's all this?? A firm called Space Electronics offering to launch satellites...?
Linkara: (as Biggles) I mean, it's such a simplistic name for a company! Just ("finger quotes") "Space Electronics"? Not even like "Space Tech" or something?
Raymond: It appears that they're offering weather satellites–to anyone willing to pay their price–but they're pitching 'em mainly to the developing nations! They need food–not weather satellites!
Linkara: Yeah, and having accurate weather tracking for a developing nation to help against flooding or storms or the like is (waves dismissively) stupid. Almost as stupid as utilizing weather satellites for assisting in agriculture. You know, that food thing you say they need?
Linkara (v/o): But no. Apparently, weather satellites will be used for... uh, weapons.
Raymond: There's a market for anything that can be used by the military–and it's armaments, not food, those nations spend their money on!
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000)
Mike Nelson: (singing and dancing while dressed as Uncle Sam) I'm the government! I'm the government! I'm the reason nothing works!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, the department is worried the weather satellites are a front for selling space-based weaponry, and they want Bigglesworth to travel to Africa, where the company is based out of, to look into it. He'll be joined in this operation by Major Hunter, a man who instantly brightens up a room with his smile. Just look at him; you can see how much joy is in this man's heart.
Raymond: Hunter's papers will describe him as a district wildlife inspector!
Linkara: (as Hunter, imitating his frown) I have such passion for animals.
Linkara (v/o): They take a plane out to... well, they keep saying "Buranga", as if it was a nation, so I guess it's made up for this story, although there is a part of Uganda called the Buranga Hot Springs that's also home to a geothermal power station.
Linkara: "Biggles and the Hot Springs Vacation".
Linkara (v/o): But yeah, they've gotten a plane that has Burangan registration marks. And considering this is a secret mission. It's a good thing their plane is so inconspicuous. They arrive in the country three days later and begin their search for a rocket base, pretending to have engine troubles and landing there despite the guards' objections.
Hunter: We have come here to study the the [sic] effects...
Linkara (v/o): Nice repetition there, Hunter.
Hunter: Of the noise from this establishment on the wildlife in the area...
Linkara: (as Hunter) Gazelles do not like rockets. (leans in close to camera) And neither do I.
Linkara (v/o): What's more worrying is that this guy is apparently a Nazi, given that armband! Or he's actually a member of the X-Men. Hmm, X-Nazis... Erm, anyway, they take off again without incident, noting that there were only small rockets at the base. Still, they want to get in closer, so they land in a nearby clearing, and the two watch the rocket being launched, relaying that information back to headquarters. And this sequence highlights a real problem with this comic that I already hinted at: padding. I don't know if this was originally a comic strip that they turned into a book, but it seems likely, given the formatting. Each page has around ten to twelve panels and are all lined up as if it was collecting. As a result, a lot of panels are just... well, pointless. Most times, when an ongoing, non-gag-a-day strip has a very basic format: first panel is a recap of where we left off; the second advances the story; the third is a cliffhanger of varying intensity to get people to read the next day. Here, though, they just cram a lot of unnecessary panels in, like earlier, with the detailing of the procedure for landing the shovel. We've also seen superfluous panels of things taking off, landing, flying maneuvers, etc., that add nothing to the narrative.
Linkara: It's the comic book equivalent of overusing slow motion in a movie. This thing would be half its length without all the pointless panels.
Linkara (v/o): A space station is launched, and both America and Russia think the other did it. However, the idea of a potential international incident is also quelled when the space station arrives in orbit and transmits a message to the world.
Voice on space station: This is Space Station Aries! We have nuclear missiles aimed at every capital in the world. If anyone attempts to attack us, we will launch them!
Linkara: I gotta say, guys, I'm not sure if this remake of Moonraker is better or worse than the original.
Linkara (v/o): Air Marshall Raymond is informed of the threat.
Raymond: That's damn queer!
Linkara: Yyyyeah... I'm not gonna touch that second word, but I'm more raising my eyebrow at the cursing in a book that I'm pretty sure was intended for children.
Linkara (v/o): A courier arrives with a message for the UK, offering the space station to them for three million pounds.
Linkara: Considering the International Space Station cost an estimated $75 billion to assemble and maintain from 1994 to 2013, not counting $11 billion in nine years before that, I think that's a pretty damn good deal. I say go for it!
Linkara (v/o): They're also given three days to accept or they'll make the same deal to the Russians. However, the Air Marshall is soon on his way to Brussels for an emergency meeting with NATO, where he's informed that the Russians were already made the same offer. The Air Marshall suspects that somebody is trying to restart the Cold War.
Linkara: Wait, this was printed in 1981. Did Biggles end the Cold War early in this universe?
Linkara (v/o): They contact Biggles and Hunter, wondering if the rocket launch they observed was the space station being sent up, but clearly it had neither the size nor the equipment to be responsible.
Narrator: Meanwhile, ominously silent, the space station continues to orbit, while spy satellites watch from a distance...
Linkara (v/o): Aaaand cut away.
Linkara: Thanks for reminding us the space station existed. (holds up hand) I had completely forgotten about the giant metal Cheerio aiming nukes at the world.
Linkara (v/o): The Air Marshall returns from the meeting and their plan is to go ahead with the purchase, but they'll send Biggles up to the station on a shuttle in the hopes of getting a closer look, arming the shuttle with warheads, too.
Linkara: I could point out that there is actually an international treaty banning weapons in outer space in the real world... buuut I'm guessing that's kind of a moot point when someone already did it and is threatening us.
Narrator: The launch pad has been covered with camouflage nets, while technicians and fitters work feverishly under them.
Linkara (v/o): Uh, I think you might have missed the point of camouflage when I can SEE RIGHT THROUGH IT. Anyway, we get an entire page of filler as they ready the shuttle for takeoff.
Capt. Algernon Lacey: Roger! Lift-off is now twenty four minus seven! We are all systems go!
Biggles: O.K. Captain– I'm firing the motors!
(Cut to a clip of an episode of Red Dwarf)
Arnold Rimmer: Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!
(Back to the comic again)
Biggles: Big Brother calling Little Brother!
Linkara: (as Biggles) I'm watching you. Over.
Linkara (v/o): I miss the days when you could just casually fly into space whenever you needed to. Back on Earth, the Air Marshall is told of their departure. In addition, the space station still hasn't answered them after they acknowledged interest in buying it.
Raymond: Well–ring me at home if you do hear– I'm calling it a day now!
Linkara: (as Raymond) Yeah, I'm going home while we're in the middle of a crisis. It's only a nuclear holocaust. I can't miss Game of Thrones tonight!
Linkara (v/o): Gotta say, guys, I'm not quite sold on the design for Discovery. Anyway, the shuttle arms its weaponry and approaches the doughnut of death. They realize something is odd, though, since the station isn't acknowledging their presence. Biggles flies out on his Scooty-Puff, Jr., to investigate, while Raymond is summoned back to the department upon receiving the reply from the station.
Raymond: Blighters! They want to deal with just one of us, alone, in Corsica next week! (thinking) All that's in the letter are instructions about how the meeting is to take place...
Linkara: (as Raymond, pretending to hold up letter, which he "reads") "Wear that sexy outfit you know I like." (looks up) But I haven't been able to fit in garters for years!
Linkara (v/o): Back in orbit...
Biggles: That's damn queer!
Linkara: I don't think the creators of this comic know how queerbaiting works.
Linkara (v/o): Biggles tries to get on board when he realizes the station isn't rotating and soon realizes what the deal is. The station... isn't a station. It's an inflated plastic ring with a transmitter and tape recorder on it.
Linkara: Ohhh, so that's how they faked the moon landing.
Linkara (v/o): The shuttle returns to Earth and the Air Marshall calls for them to be summoned to London immediately.
Lacey: Surely he can bally well wait until we've had a night's shut eye?
Linkara: (incredulously) Hey, asshole, you've got information about the safety of the friggin' world! Maybe you can sleep on the plane!
Linkara (v/o): And it's not like they radioed the info to them; they specifically said to maintain radio silence until they'd landed and Raymond ordered them to not talk to anybody until they arrived. Anyway, they arrive and Biggles is debriefed. Their flight up didn't go unnoticed and the latest message from them says they have a nuclear missile on Earth. Biggles is inclined to not believe them since they already lied about the station, but Raymond says that a nuclear missile was stolen from a NATO base in West Germany a year previously, so it could have fallen into their hands. They want Biggles to go alone to the meeting as planned, though he objects, wanting to bring his team along. He tells the team secretly that they'll come... except for Babe.
Biggles: This is a tough assignment, Babe–I couldn't guarantee your safety!
Babe: Male chauvinists!
Linkara: "Biggles and the Menace of Misogyny".
Linkara (v/o): Dude, she's a friggin' astronaut! Bring her the hell along!
Ginger: I feel sorry for Babe–she's been in on this one from the start!
Biggles: I know! But there's a time and a place for skirts!
Linkara: Oh, cram it up your biggle.
Linkara (v/o): But of course, Babe has stowed away on the flight and is revealed once they land. Once outside the plane, she spots another plane labeled as "X-41", which she notes is an odd registration. The pilot is not amused.
Pilot: Run off and play, little girl!
Linkara: Dude, she's like thirty.
Linkara (v/o): Biggles is driven into town and arrives at the rendezvous in a restaurant, meeting with a guy who identifies himself as Aries. They want three million pounds or they'll launch the nuclear missile at a target that'll put suspicion on both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which will lead to World War III. Aries walks off after delivering the ultimatum and Biggles tries to follow him, but is stopped by an associate of his. Fortunately, Hunter apparently was here, too, sent there by Raymond as some backup and deals with the guy so they can continue the chase.
Linkara: And the Air Marshall didn't tell Biggles about that backup because... uh... Oh, hey, look at the time! Raymond has to go home for the night.
Linkara (v/o): The chase leads them back to the airplanes, where they continue, but the plane is far enough ahead they only have a vague idea where they were headed. Fortunately, Babe was able to sneak a peek under the registration number and saw that this was the same X symbol as the guards wore at the Buranga base.
Biggles: Babe, you're here against my orders, and I cannot be responsible for your safety!
Linkara: "Biggles and the Enormous Stick Up His Ass".
Biggles: Buranga's twelve hours' flying time– we'll take turns at the joystick!
Ginger: That's the African coast now–the Algeria/Tunisia border!
Narrator: The plane drones on towards Buranga...
Linkara and Spoony: (singing) Padding, padding, padding! Padding, padding, padding!
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Realizing they're being pursued, Aries contacts the base and has them send some older planes to intercept our heroes.
Ginger: They're Focke-Wulfes!
Linkara: This comic was designed to make me say certain curse words, wasn't it?
Linkara (v/o): Their plane is shot down, crashing into the woods. A patrol of course goes to intercept them, but our heroes have survived and are hiding, Hunter even grabbing one of the guards and stealing his gun.
Hunter: I feel naked without a weapon– so I borrowed this from a friendly native!
Linkara: (as Hunter) Strangely, I still feel naked, though.
Linkara (v/o): After a page of padding, they arrive in [sic] the plateau where the base is located. Hunter goes off on his own, Babe is left behind because girls have cooties, the other two guys I haven't bothered to name go to investigate some buildings, and Biggles heads for a bunker. However, he does take the time to change into a blue shirt. Unfortunately, he's captured when he switches back into a pink shirt. He's lead to an underground bunker where we see the man leading this operation, who turns out to be... Hitler?!?*
- NOTE: His name is actually revealed to be Adolf Rittler, as explained later.
Linkara: Well! I guess it was X-Nazis after all. Also, dude, that's a terrible way to try to hide your logos on the armband.
Adolf Rittler: Well well! Squadron leader James Bigglesworth–I have heard so much about you! To what do owe the pleasure of your visit?
Linkara: (as Biggles) I'm not afraid of you! Dan Garrett told me about how you were actually Satan and that you've got a glass jaw!
Biggles: I've come to stop you deploying your missile! It's even more important now I know who you model yourself on!
Linkara: Okay, so it's not really Hitler, it's a Hitler cosplayer. Somehow, that's even weirder than Hitler still being alive in 1981.
Linkara (v/o): Faux Hitler explains that the missiles will launch in three hours. While they're too far to hit Moscow or the U.S.A., there's a disarmament conference in Dakar, Senegal, a West African country, that's hosting major heads of state from several nations. If he nukes it, he thinks war will break out.
Linkara: Of course, since, as you say, heads of state from both sides are there, it's really hard to say the other side did it, so... yeah, I think there are a few flaws with this plan.
Linkara (v/o): In addition, they have neo-Nazi cells in every country in the world ready for the signal to start their revolution.
Linkara: Man, I hope you don't have them in Senegal, too, 'cause they're gonna be kinda pissed.
Biggles: Why are you telling me all this–and who are you anyhow?
Rittler: My name is Adolf Rittler...
(Cut to a clip of the MST3K gang watching 12 To the Moon)
Mike: Nope, I don't buy it for one minute.
(Back to the comic again)
Rittler: ...and it doesn't matter what I tell you–you will not be leaving here alive! Right, take him away! Let's concentrate on the countdown!
Linkara: You know, I was joking earlier with the Moonraker reference, but this really is just a James Bond movie, isn't it? (shrugs) Eh, still better than "SCI-Spy".
Linkara (v/o): Biggles is shoved into a storeroom, along with one of the others who was also captured. There aren't any sharp objects to try to loosen their bonds, but the other guy locates some sunglasses nearby. They take them, shatter the lenses, and use the glass from them to cut the ropes. After the other guy is brought in, they manage to escape and make their way to the control center. Back in the department, they get word about the earlier plane chase and decide that it might be a good idea to take out the orbital inner tube on the off chance it upsets the enemy. Aaand it turns out to have been the right call, since the thing was serving as an orbital guide for the missile.
Linkara: Probably not a good idea to put your crucial targeting system on top of a fragile thing that everybody was paying attention to.
Linkara (v/o): Rittler says they can just guide the missile manually, and the bad news keeps on coming. Our heroes find the missile, but there are too many guards around it to sabotage it. What's worse, they're quickly captured again, leaving it up to Hunter and Babe to come to their rescue. The others are brought to Rittler so they can witness the missile launch... and for some bizarre reason, they're allowed to go right up to Fake Hitler. I mean, just look at this. They're all crowded behind him! One of them could grab Rittler and snap his neck. Meanwhile, Hunter and Babe are far more successful, sneaking inside and getting some guns, making their way into the control chamber. The others do indeed grab Rittler, using him as a human shield while the missile launches. Fortunately, Babe is able to get to the missile and remotely detonate it.
Narrator: Hundreds of miles high, there is a violent explosion... and the missile disintegrates in a ball of fire!
Linkara: And soon, other people will be disintegrating, thanks to the fallout.
Linkara (v/o): With our heroes reunited, the plan failed, and Rittler threatened, the Nazis surrender. And so, our comic ends with troops from the Burangan government arriving to take charge, thanking Biggles for his help. In turn, Biggles thanks Babe for her help.
Biggles: I'll eat my words about a place for skirts!
Babe: Don't thank me–thank Major Hunter!!
Linkara: (as Biggles) Oh, well, in that case, get your damn woman parts out of here, woman! (normal as he closes comic and holds it up) This comic is... okay, for the most part, but I have a few complaints.
Linkara (v/o): First of all, the title for this one is kind of a complete lie: the menace is not from space. That's just a red herring. Secondly, Biggles' sexism doesn't seem to have any purpose except for more padding, since it's not like it plays any important part of the story. Hell, you can't even argue it was character development for Biggles, since Babe just says the victory belongs to Major Hunter. And of course, as I said, this thing is loaded to the gills with padding. Just a lot of unnecessary panels and sequences that could easily be excised. It's also really a James Bond plot with a bit more insanity thrown in with Faux Hitler. What was even the point of that? Although, while the lack of an actual menace from space is annoying, I like the idea that the villains used a big misdirection to keep everyone from realizing what the real plan was. It's still a pretty fun adventure overall, but this could have been shortened and spruced up quite a bit.
Linkara: Next time... (stops and tries to think) Hmm, I don't know, guys. The Patreon-sponsored reviews have been full of okay or good stuff. "Voyager" was bad, but I feel it could have been worse. And I feel like with the summer ending soon, along with summer blockbusters, we need something really, really bad next time.
(Cut suddenly to a clip of Batman & Robin)
Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger): Tonight's forecast: a freeze is coming.
Linkara: (grinning) Oh, yeah, they adapted that into a comic, didn't they? (laughs)
(End credits roll)
Somehow I went this entire episode without using an Austin Powers "Mr. Bigglesworth" reference.
Yeah, I wrote the intro before reading the comic and just assumed there would be aliens.
I mean, wouldn't you?
(Stinger: The final panel showing Biggles and Babe is shown)
Linkara (v/o): That's seriously how the comic ends, by the way: that panel. No, "The End" or anything, just (as Biggles) "Sorry for being sexist." (as Babe) "Nah, give all the credit to that one guy who's not even in this panel."