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When editing began on my new book, Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? (which you can buy for yourself – just click on the image of the book on the right side of the screen!), my editor Kate had a tough time. I had submitted a whole lot more material than we had room for, so she had to make a whole lot of edits. When it came to cutting things, 90% of what was cut was my material as she naturally did not want to cut much from the comic book creators who were kind enough to contribute lists to the books. That said, some of the contributor lists did have cuts. Mostly stuff like instead of a top five list it became a top four list or instead of a top six it became a top four. That sort of thing. The list of Kieron Gillen (the great writer of books like Phonogram, Journey Into Mystery and Uncanny X-Men), though, probably was edited the most of all the contributor lists that made it into the book, especially the many hilarious asides that Kieron made in his original list. So I thought it would be a fun “Director’s Cut” type of thing to share with you Kieron’s original list, in all of its offbeat glory. So from here on out, it is Kieron’s writing. Enjoy! – BC

When asked for my comics secret origin, I normally say something like “I didn’t really read comics until I was in my twenties” because it’s easier that way, and also dodges a lot of awkward follow-ups. But it’s also a lie. I just didn’t read many comics when I was a teenager When I was a proper kid, with chirpy optimism and undescended gonads, I read whatever comics I could find. And even if I didn’t buy them as a teen, if they were left around, I’d totally have a good old flick. I’ll read anything, especially if it involves a dude’s head exploding in a suitably transgressive fashion. Or emotions. Always up for head-exploding and emotions, me.

Anyway – this is everything you need to know about five great British comic characters you probably won’t have heard of, unless you have, in which case well done you. I find you alluring. Yes, sexually. I’m going to try and choose ones which won’t have appeared in Zenith or Albion or in the corner of a panel in whatever League issue Moore’s putting out. Because talking about them is Jess Nevins’ job, and I’m no scab.

I really do find you very alluring, by the way.


The eponymous character from Oor Wullie and the uneponymous character from The Broons crashed into my life on my first holidays, as a pre-schooler, to my mum’s Scottish relations. And these comic portraits of Scottish family life in 1960s – because they were reprints – absorbed me. They were alien artefacts, in a setting stranger than Krypton or Asgard could dream of. Why does glue look like a chocolate bar? This haunts me to this day. More importantly, it was written in Scottish dialect, which made it my pre-pubescent Trainspotting. And educational (probably).

Across his one-page episodes Oor Wullie starts on a bucket, tries to have a little fun, fails to have a little fun, and end up sitting on a bucket. Between the two buckets, we find all human life, and splendid words like “braw”.

Artist Dudley Watkins is now most commonly cited as the primary influence on Frank Quietly, which is always a good one to confuse the yanks. I’m not convinced. I’ve never seen Quitely render a bucket so lovingly. Still: it’s not too late. I would pay shiny coins to read ALL STAR OOR WULLIE. Get on with it, Morrison. Quit pissing around with the Batchap! Bucket! Now! Boy On A Bucket!

I’m waiting.


If you mention Battle to an American, they’ll mostly say “What?”. If they fancy themselves as a multi-cultural titan, they’ll probably say “Oh – Charlie’s War”. If you’re someone like Douglas Wolk, you’ll probably say “Ah, Darkies’ Mob”, because you know most people will just say Charlies’ War, and you get special critic shiny stars by going for something else – and you can probably double them if you go for a naughty rude one. But if you’re me, you’ll go to go for Johnny Red, because it prominently features a Hurricane fighter, and I have nothing but crazy love for the Hurricane.

Story continues below

Johnny Red is basically a British fighter pilot gets sent in that loveable snub-nosed flying-brick of a Hurricane to fight on the Eastern Front. He meets the Hun! He shoots them with his gun! Plane-guns! Lovingly rendered visceral period warfare, which introduced me to the concept of women pilots flying those anti-tank planes which had a cannon running all the way down its centre. When Ennis gets out his Airfix models and spins them through the air making dakkadakkadakka noises, I assure you, he is imagining that he’s Johnny Red.


I’ve a theory about kids’ comics. It runs contrary to pretty much everyone in the American industry. Normally, when people bemoan the state of kids’ comics, it’s parents looking for child friendly stuff to give their little tiddlers. Why aren’t there more suitable comics? And I’ve sympathy for that. But that’s not comics for kids. That’s comics for parents to give to kids. The wonder of true kids comics is that it’s offensive enough to thrill a kid with evil transgression but simultaneously not offensive enough for a horrified parent to tear it away and set fire to the newsagents. It’s this approach which a disproportionate section of British comics have walked – especially the lineage I’m charting here. And when you walk this line… well, occasionally you over-step it. The infamous Action comic – what Mills did before 2000AD but after Battle – pretty much made a career of it. Well, for a few months before it was withdrawn from sale due to the aforementioned arsonist-parent-issue.

It came back, but it was toned down and not long for the world. But hey! For its brief time it was a shameless remix of Jaws, starring a killer shark with a hook embedded in his jaw. What was Hook Jaw about? It was about showing people being torn into pieces in the sort of loving detail that would make the average Avatar-comics devotee wince. And so imaginative! When rediscovering Hook Jaw recently I became transfixed by how they managed to off someone smart enough to use a shark-cage. One of the sharks gave birth, and the diver was torn into pieces by a shoal of tiny baby sharks, fresh from the womb, hungry for flesh.

There is nothing that is not good about Hook Jaw, except ethically.


This neatly follows on from the above argument. It’s another Mills joint, this time in 2000AD and working with the divine visionary power of Kevin O’Neil. When Rebellion released their first enormous collection of Nemesis, I hastily bought it and shoved it in the hands of a visibly confused Matt Fraction. It was my way of showing him the reason why British creators are different (i.e. mentally disturbed people who should be shunned) was that when we were eleven we were reading stuff like this instead of – oh, I don’t know – Archie.

(The biggest difference between UK comic readers and US comic readers is that we have literally no idea of Archie. It’s much like Twinkies – something we only know exists due to it being alluded to in other media. But I digress. Oh – read CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT. And I digress again. I’ll stop digressing. I’m not being paid by the word. I’m not being paid at all.)

Nemesis the Warlock is about an alien terrorist trying to kill as many humans as possible. But he’s the good guy, because humans really are right bastards, aren’t they?


Impactor also follows on from Hook Jaw, but only because he’s got a hook in his anatomy which he stabs into things. Impactor is a supporting character created by Simon Furman as part of the British-originated Transformer Comics. And – no, shut up. You have no idea how important the Brit TF comics were to a generation. Impactor debuted in TARGET 2006, which was where Furman’s Transformer’s saga – er – transformed. It had been good before – TARGET 2006 was immediately preceded by IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST, which married government-agency paranoia to enormous saurian robots – but this new storyline was something else entirely. The game was raised, the toys played with so hard they broke. In a periodic comic, the sudden sense of freedom in the rush from week to week was overwhelming. We revelled in it. The next issue panel that only displayed the head of the insectoid bad-guy Shrapnel being shot clear through by some manner of brutal harpoon MUCH LIKE THE ONE HOOK-JAW MAY HAVE USED seemed like a call to arms, a statement that anything goes. Seven days from first seeing it, you couldn’t have kept me away from the newsagents with riot police.

Impactor went on to sacrifice himself to save everyone at the end of the story. Then a few years later, he returned in an ahead-of-its-time zombie story as a zombie-robot, and was the one character to overcome his re-animation, before swiftly proceeding to sacrifice himself to save everyone again. What a bot! For the rest of the run, Springer keeps on worrying about not being good enough to replace Impactor as the leader of his squad of robo-commandos. And rightly so, Springer. Compared to Impactor, you’re shit.

In short: Impactor is basically who Brit-kids got sniffly over instead of Jean Grey. Jean Grey didn’t even have a harpoon for a hand.


Man, everything I read by Gillen makes me love him more, this included. And it looks like I need to get Nemesis the Warlock.

I had no idea who Oor Wullie was until Wee Hughie: Highland Laddie and Darick Robertson’s cover/homage to the series. Then I think CBR did an article about the ol’ OW, and had one of the funnier panels where Wullie ends up okay at the end of the story vice in more trouble.

With all the Ennis reading I’ve done, at least I could follow the Scot vernacular!

I expected Dredd but the only character I know is Nemesis, a work of genius indeed. The hatred between the two protagonists, the vengeance they wreck on each other and their respective family, that could only be acceptable in the highly fictionalized background of the series.

This feels like a blatant snub for Roger The Dodger

I’m a british fan and have no idea who any of these characters are. WHY? Because none of them are younger than 30 years old and haven’t been published in almost as long. Sad enditement of the british comics industry that’s been smothered to death by 2000AD

See, if Marvel were being entirely honest about Marvel NOW! and how they just let their great creators do great work, then instead of, like, Iron Man by Kieron Gillen or whatever, we’d be getting, you know, Iron Man With A Hook For A Hand.

“In short: Impactor is basically who Brit-kids got sniffly over instead of Jean Grey. Jean Grey didn’t even have a harpoon for a hand.”

True. He was a right bastard. And a noble zom-bot. But overall he was just incredibly badass.

Hookjaw is currently being reprinted by Strip Magazine, if anyone is interested in taking a read;


Ah, Hook-Jaw.

Well played, Gillen. Well played.

(But no mention of the Broons/Wullie crossovers?)

Re Richard’s comment: “…I’m a british fan and have no idea who any of these characters are. WHY? Because none of them are younger than 30 years old and haven’t been published in almost as long.”

Oor Wullie appears every week in The Sunday Post, every two years in book collections, and in a wide array of archival collections, usually teamed with The Broons; Titan Books have published two Johnny Red collections; Hook Jaw appears in every issue of Strip Magazine; there are multiple volumes of Nemesis; as for Impactor, well, you’d have to ask Trasnformer fans, but his appearances have probably been reprinted in the last few years.

So more than 30 years old I’ll give you, but not published in almost as long? Hardly.

My greatgrandmother in Glasgow used to mail me Oor Wullie books for birthday and Christmasses!

Not that any of you care, but it’s so awesome to see him mentioned here! :-)

What? No Judge Dredd? No Dan Dare?

I’m sadly unfamiliar with the others, but man, I used to pick up 2000AD just for Nemesis the Warlock. The other stuff was cool too, but Nemesis was awesome.

A splendid list and seeing Impactor there is a welcome surprise!. Everybody who read T:2006 was gutted when Impactor died. Then got to be gutted again when he came back.

And to join in with David in his response to Richard – Impactor is only in his late twenties as he debuted in 1986. Titan and IDW have reprinted his appearances a couple of times, most recently just this week in Transformers UK Classics Volume 3 and a new incarnation of him was in the recent Last Stand of the Wreckers mini-series.

I would have thrown Dredd and Death’s Head on the list. Love Death’s Head. But then I’m not actually Brittish. :)

Glad Impactor made it. He’s getting his first toy ever next year!

What no pictures? Google is my friend, but if you don”t have images already, it should be your friend too Kieron Gillen. Saves not only me the search time, but everyone else who has never heard of these characters as well…

Apologies to Kieron Gillen. He merely provided us with a great write up to his fave brit characters. Brian Cronin should have provided pics as the ed of this piece. At least he got a plug in on his book, though.

Pete Woodhouse

July 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

I second Johnny Red. In his first 2 years Johnny Red was drawn by Joe Colquhoun, a genius and underappreciated artist who then drew Charley’s War (NOT Charlie’s, Kieron!). PS: After saying that I now hope I’ve spelled Colquhoun correctly…
Charley’s War is up there with Dredd & Dare as possibly the 3 greatest UK strips/characters.

Action also spawned Dredger – basically Dirty Harry in the British Secret Service; Hellmann of Hammer Force – WW2 from the Germans’ side; and Look Out For Lefty, or some similar title involving football (soccer for Yanks) . It tackled hooliganism – showed a player chucking a bottle back at a thug in the crowd! Basically the anti-Roy of The Rovers. Ironically written by the guy who wrote Roy of The Rovers, Tom Tully, I believe!

I too am familiar with Nemesis the Warlock, that’s a fun comic (oh, and Archie one-pagers used to run in one magazine where I read the comics as a kid, so I am familiar with the main characters and setting but haven’t ever read any longer stories).

And skipping the Roy of the Rovers crowd (never cared for that one, but I do remember fondly Hot Shot Hamish, Johnny Cougar and so on…)

Impactor! Hopefully you’ve read the brilliant “Last Stand of the Wreckers.”


Also there’s a toy of him coming out next year. Needless to say the fans are feeling sufficiently wanked.

“Sad enditement of the british comics industry that’s been smothered to death by 2000AD”

Wow. Could this comment be any more wrong?

The British comics industry was dying a slow death for decades. 2000AD has absolutely nothing to do with the death of the industry over here (which in itself is an incredibly long and complicated story best left to various books and mags about the UK industry). Rather, it has always (and still is) held up as a beacon of pure quality, and an anomaly in that it survived the heat death of UK comics, and continues to prosper today.

To say that 2000AD (on it’s off days, still better than 99% of other comics) ‘smothered’ the UK industry is like saying that Homo Sapiens ‘smothered’ Neanderthals simply by having the utter bloody cheek to survive and prosper! Utterly, utterly bizarre comment to make.

And you call yourself a British fan, but you don’t know who Oor Wullie, Hookjaw, Johnny Red and Nemesis are? Blimey, you’re making me feel really old :(

“Sad enditement of the british comics industry that’s been smothered to death by 2000AD”

Its also fair to say that while its Keiron’s list and thus entirely his prerogative to pick whatever and whomever he likes its a deeply nostalgic list. Of equal quality to the stuff here and thus on other people’s list could be from the 80’s Tank Girl (maybe too well known given his remit), Johnny Nemo, the revived Marvel Man (see Tank Girl) among others. The 90’s would give us John Smith’s New Statesmen, the cast of Sticky Fingers (actually was that 80s?), Paul Grist’s Kane, the 00’s Paul Grist’s Jack Staff and that’s off the top of my head literally while typing (which is my excuse if any of those dates are wrong???).

That’s before you get to the last 30 years of 2000ad. The biggest problem 2000ad has is the fact it was so good between say issues 150 and 520 (700 you make ya own call) that people so easily forget how exceptional its been for the vast majority of the time since. At the moment, and for the last 3 or 4 years it has been better than its every been. In the last 10 years as good as anything 30 years ago.

Just for example a couple of weeks ago Nikolai Dante finished after a 15 year run that was quite simply staggeringly good. If that had been a comic by an American publisher, any American publisher, its finishing would have been lauded across the comicssphere. CBR would have had feature after feature celebrating the end of this magnificent story. Heck even Newsarama would have had a top 10 Dante moments or some such.

So while you should all check out the comics listed above we need to celebrate more recent British classics as they are better in so many cases (not than Charley’s War mind, thats the exception that proves the rule!). You should all salute Mr Gillen’s list then unceremoniously toss it aside and run out and buy ‘Nikolai Dante: Too cool to kill”


and at least read something only 15 years old!

No room for Modesty Blaise?

I’d second a nomination for Modesty Blaise. I like her initials, if nothing else. And I’ll add, no Garth? But it does say off the top of my head…

How odd. There were images with the pieces but they didn’t show up at first. Hopefully they’re visible now.

My comic book experiences growing up in the 90s consisted of – well, the Beano and the Dandy, obviously – but more importantly, buying piles and piles of Commando Comics from the little shops near the toilet block on a series of camping holidays. Unfortunately, very few of my friends had this formative experience, so shouting “GOTT IN HIMMEL! BRITISCHER SCHWEIN!” is mostly met with confused looks. And nobody else in the office goes “AAAAIIIIEEEE!” if they get a papercut.

I suspect that none of the five would make the top five if list was compiled by voting by a “typical” cross-section of British fans. From comics, I’d expect to see characters like Dennis the Menace, Beryl the Peril, Desperate Dan, the Perishers, Dan Dare, and Judge Dredd to all get more votes.

Then there are a lot of daily comic strips that feature characters that would probably get more votes from non comic readers… such as Dilbert, Fred Basset, etc.

Action Comics also had Spinball – a Rollerball knock-off played on giant Pinball Table. Lovely stuff for it’s sheer wackieness.

For me the big omission is Darkie’s Mob from Battle. Brutal with a cast that was not often long for this world.

I was very much a fan of DC Thompson and Marvel UK’s output in the 80’s. I started off with The Beano, The Dandy, Whizzer & Chips, and those humour comics before moving on to things like Battle, Action (which then merged into Battle Action Force with GI Joe reprints), Spiderman, Thundercats and Transformers.

Then one summer I got given a pile of about 50 issues of 2000 AD and was instantly hooked. A lot of the stories went over my head at that age but for the art alone it was amazing enough (ABC Warriors, Nemesis) and was so different from the standard Marvel/DC style art that was around at the time. It certainly gave me an appreciation for Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on New Mutants and then Bret Blevin which made that comic feel distinct from everything else and will always be one of my most memorable runs.

I love that 2000AD have built up this amazing trade collection of multiple volumes based that have such unique and varied voices and storytelling styles and are still adding to it all.


Any list of the Top 5 British Comic characters must contain….

“SHAKO – The only polar bear on the CIA Death-List!!!!”

Please amend the list as soon as possible or SHAKO will seek revenge!!!!!

“Shako had never tasted man before. Shako wasn’t sure he would enjoy eating Hank. He decided there was only one way to find out… CROACK!”

paul townshend

July 27, 2012 at 6:32 am

Ah Hookjaw – that brings back some very fond memories….but I do have issue with any list of top British comic characters that does not include Roy of the Rovers & Dan Dare….

Frank Quitely was inspired by Oor Wullie and Dudley Watkins? Boy, that’s just made my day. Wullie and his bucket are Scottish legends.

Must disagree, though, with Keiron’s ranking of Johnny Red over Charley Bourne – that’s defintiely a victory for style over substance.

Kieron’s list is fun, y’know *fun* so I really can’t understand those people who are bitching about what’s “not” on it, man, it even says it’s off the top of his head so why so serious abput it? While it’s funny to see Shako complaining about his non-appearance on the list (and you don’t want to piss off Shako, he’ll eat your face!) it’s rather less funny to see tight-assed comments about what’s “missing”. Fuck, and we wonder why nerds get such a bad wrap… As for the guy chastising Kieron’s list for being “nostalgic”, well it’s a *short* list and did I mention it is supposed to be *Fun*?! Sure, you’re right, Nikolai Dante was really good but it’s pretty silly to take Mr Gillen to yask for supposed “nostalgia” (a word too often employed nowadays anyhow). We could all mention some of our gavourites from whatever time period (who cates when it was published? Good is good) but we shouldn’t humourlessly insult Keiron for what are fun personal choices. I’m sorry if anyone feels slighted but these examples of bad manners and unconscious pompousity really tick me off. Sure, I’m a nobody and I have Asperger’s but I can tell when something’s meant to be ephemeral and fun so I don’t understand the snottiness, especially when Brian didn’t *have* to post this. E, rant ends.
@Andy, “Gott im himmel…”, Bwahahaha!

Man, I probably went a bit bughouse with that last comment, feel free to ignore it. I just felt that a few of the comments here were rather po-faced for what is a bit of fun. But then we *are* comic book fans so I suppose it should come as no surprise ;-).

I’d like to add Johnny Alpha to the list please. Of all the 2000AD characters he has always been my favorite, he doesn’t really seem to get mentioned all that often, but he is pretty flippin’ cool :)


Speaking of Transformers, did Lew Stringer do a little strip in the back of that? If not, does anyone remember what Marvel UK comic it was? Or am I imagining it? Seeing that Transformers cover made me have a major flashback to being about 4 years old reading my brothers comics :)

Either way, Tom Thug should be stuck on this list also :) Lew Stringer is an absolute legend and still going strong today – but Tom Thug was ace and in loads of comics my mum took much disgust to and ended up throwing in the bin :)

Yeah Lew Stringer did Robo-Capers which featured in Transformers, and when Action Force folded into it, he stopped Robo Capers and continued with Combat Colin )which had previously been in the now cancelled Action Force.

Rather nicely of them when Marvel UK disappeared they gave him the rights to Combat Colin back.

Michael Howey

July 28, 2012 at 3:15 am

Target 2006 was also the last time Transformers had decent colouring (no, not coloring).

Transformers UK and Target: 2006 were both major parts of my childhood taste for SF.

them and Time Wars.

Transformers + time-travel = win.

it’s telling that the characters on this list and those being mentioned by commentors are not cape-and-cowl types. that’s the big trans-Atlantic difference in comics, British comic heroes were rarely the superhero types. Instead we got SF heroes, War heroes and the odd Fantasy heroes and then the odd-ball stuff like the Dandy and Beano produced and then licensed tie-in stuff. about the biggest real UK superhero ain’t Miracle/Marvelman, you ask me: it’s Bananaman.

Pete Woodhouse

July 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Can someone also explain why US comics were/are predominantly monthly while the norm for UK publication has been weekly?

Travis Pelkie

July 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Oh, man, this list was hilarious. Well done! I apparently need to read more Gillen.

And as to people saying such and such should have been on, well, I like reading about characters I haven’t actually heard of before.

Like Hookjaw. Sweet lord above, there was a comic where a shark with a hook in his jaw killed people? If you don’t like that concept, why bother reading comics?!!

Pete Woodhouse

Distribution and production times. In the US the same artist does all 20 odd pages.In the UK a weekly consisted of numerous short strips-with different creative teams.

Also US shops seemed IIRC liked to have comics on display for longer.

Re: Pete. UK comics evolved from the victorian picture papers, and they’d come from a weekly publication schedule, so that norm was already established. People were used to it, so when comics came about they kept the same idea. So the material would have to be serialised, simply due to the time it would take to produce it.

Oh now that you mention Quietly being influenced by Watkins, I totally see it, especially in Desperate Dan.

Me, my top 5 would be: Oor Willie, Rodger the Dodger, Dennis the Menace (not his current cleaned up for TV version though), Desperate Dan, and the Bash Street Kids. And sure throw in Minnie the Minx and Beryl the Peril too. Oh and Winker Watson. Oh wait, also the Three Bears. And the Jocks and the Geordies. And Jonah. ugh, sticking to 5 is tougher than I thought.

Never understood the appeal of Bananaman though.

Should be Death’s Head at #1, yes?

Thanks for the comments, everyone. And, as some have noted, the list is comprised primarily of stuff I wanted to write about and thought would entertain people rather than being the best.

Though they are the best. Clearly. They’re in a list, which makes it SCIENCE OBJECTIVE.

Love Impactor. Think he was even better in City of Fear than in Target: 2006. But kudos to the writer of Last Stand of the Wreckers for this little doff of the cap to Marvel UK (as lifted from wiki)

“Impactor’s Autopedia profile mentions that Impactor got the idea for his harpoon arm after meeting an unnamed dimension-hopping “freelance peacekeeping agent” who had been “ricocheting from universe to universe after leaping through an exploding time portal.” Death’s Head, yes? Their meeting is chronicled in Wreckers: Declassified, Datalog 151, which refers to the Marvel UK issue number in which Death’s Head leaps through a time portal with Cyclonus and Scourge and disappears from the story. The title of said datalog, “The Wreckers at the Crossroads of Time”, refers to the short Doctor Who story, “The Crossroads of Time”, which saw the titular Time Lord have a run-in with Death’s Head following the time portal incident. ”

Thanks for the list Kieron.

I know it’s a while since this was posted, but anyone intrigued by how Frank Quitely was influenced by Oor Wullie/The Broons should check out his homage strip called “The Greens” from the short-lived Scottish adult humour comic “Electric Soup”. A minor snippet is viewable here:


[…] WizKids Games, makers of HeroClix, ran a poll last year to let fans choose an upcoming character and Death’s Head beat out characters like Silver Sable, Hellcat, and Annihilus to become a HeroClix mini. The Freelance Peacekeeping Agent has been a thorn in Iron Man’s side lately thanks to British writer Kieron Gillen, who like so many of his generation in the UK grew up with Marvel UK’s Transformers comics. […]

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