Written by: Tom Tully
Art by: Eric Bradbury & Mike Western
Price: £14.99 (UK)
This Graphic Novel reprints the following The Leopard from Lime Street stories:
- Buster (March 1976 – June 1977)
Following in the footsteps of One-Eyed Jack’s release in June (see our review here), The Leopard of Lime Street is the second title from The Treasury of British Comics range, which collects lost classics from Fleetway and IPC Youth archives. Appearing in Buster comic for almost a decade from March 1976 until May 1985, the superhero series focused on young Billy Farmer who was scratched by a radioactive leopard and gained leopard-like strength, speed, reflexes and climbing abilities, becoming the misunderstood hero, Leopardman. Branded a dangerous menace by the local newspaper he works for, Billy is constantly trying to prove his true heroism whilst tackling the criminal element of Selbridge.
Immediately, the first thing that struck me when I began reading this series was the strong similarities it shares with The Amazing Spider-Man. Clearly inspired by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s work on those early issues of the title, Tom Tully makes use of the same status-quo: a teen hero living with his aunt and uncle who gains super-powers from a radioactive animal. However, Tully stops the series from becoming a derivative carbon-copy by introducing some distinctly British tropes into the mix – rather than the caring Uncle Ben, Billy lives at home with a cruel and abusive lazy Uncle Charlie. It is a sharp contrast and it adds a Dickensian feel to the story that Spider-Man lacks.
Reading the series over forty years after publication injects the stories with an added level of nostalgia that wasn’t present during the original run. The stories capture the tone of late-seventies Britain nicely, and Tully manages to pack plenty of action into each three-page installment, with some dastardly cliff-hangers that no doubt drove children mad at the time. I’m also struck by brutal nature of the strip as criminals fire pistols at the young teenage hero, or his uncle slaps him across the face leaving bruises. This isn’t a sanitised view of the view, by any means, and it’s this stark realism – despite the inclusion of radioactive leopards – that really helps The Leopard of Lime Street stand apart from its American cousins. With its 1970s setting and the way Billy Farmer is empowered to deal with bullies and his abusive uncle, there is a sense of mischief and wonder that wouldn’t be out of place in a Roald Dahl novel.
Eric Bradbury and Mike Western do a brilliant job on the series’ artwork with a more mature style that contrasted against the more exaggerated cartoon style found elsewhere in Buster. The black and white artwork just enhances the realism at the heart of Tully’s script, although Bradbury and Western are able to showcase the main character’s extraordinary agility and speed with startling ease, just like to how Steve Ditko captured the unnatural arachnid-enhanced athleticism of Spider-Man onto the page. The fight sequences are nothing short of fantastic, fuelling the fast-paced episodes with some dynamic panel work and gripping climaxes.
It is mind-boggling how much content is squeezed into this inaugural volume as Billy Farmer lurches from one adventure to the next seamlessly, as the consequences of one mishap normally result in the beginning of another. It’s a wonderful tapestry that gives the series an organic feel, whilst making it impossible to put down. There’s none of the filler that is often found in American superhero comics as each chapter is distilled down to its most vital ingredients, yet never feels too short or abbreviated. As a result, each moment strikes with efficient success and the series crackles with an energy that I haven’t seen in modern comics. As I read this graphic novel, I felt myself regressing back to my childhood and that pure, innocent joy of reading comics as child without over-analysing subtext or meaning. That’s not to say that that this is a simple, paper-thin narrative either; Tully ensures that his plot is robust and continually advancing with every chapter.
I love the mix of stories featured in this volume as Leopardman deals with the minutia of embarrassing the school-bullies to dealing with armed robbers and cat burglars. This mix of the exciting and mundane suits the series’ British roots perfectly, further highlighting the difference between US and UK comics. With its outlandish origin story and deconstruction of the Superhero genre, it is so quintessentially British – much like similar ‘heroes’, Bananaman and Billy the Fish.
Spider-Man was my gateway drug into comics, and The Leopard of Lime Street stirs up all those feelings of being a child and getting introduced to Marvel’s web-crawler for the first time. Over time Spider-Man has grown up, got married (then later undid his marriage through satanic forces!) and become CEO of his own company and through those events, he has lost his every-man charm. Marvel have tried to recreate the Spider-Man formula numerous times with titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and Miles Morales, but reading The Leopard of Lime Street has recaptured all those old feelings. He is better at being Spider-Man than Spider-Man himself!
If you’ve ever asked the question, “What if Roald Dahl wrote comics?” then The Leopard of Lime Street is the comic for you. Even if you haven’t asked that ridiculously specific question, this pure dose of nostalgia is definitely worth the cover price and will leave you with a smile on your face and a strong desire to head to your local zoo and look for any irradiated animals you can find. Reading this book was the highlight of my year, and as such, it deserves nothing less than a perfect score.
Score – ★★★★★
The Leopard from Lime Street is available in print from Amazon and 2000AD’s Webshop from 12th July 2017. A special edition (limited to 200 copies) is exclusively available from 2000AD’s Webshop and includes a numbered bookplate and art print.