Written by: Tom Tully
Art by: Eric Bradbury & Mike Western
Price: £12.99 (UK) $17.99 (USA)
This Graphic Novel collects the following The Leopard from Lime Street stories:
- Buster (July 1978 – September 1979)
I absolutely adored the first two volumes of The Leopard from Lime Street when I reviewed them a few years back, and the Treasury of British Comics has now released a third volume to the collection. Written by Tom Tully, with art from Eric Bradbury and Mike Western, this classic comic strip from the late 1970s captures the same teen superhero angst as those early Stan Lee / Steve Ditko issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, but infused with the DNA of The Beano and The Dandy. Scratched by a radioactive leopard, schoolboy Billy Farmer develops leopard-related powers that allow him to fight crime and injustices – however, unlike his New York-dwelling cousins over at Marvel and DC, the Leopardman’s rogue’s gallery seems to consist of school bullies, corrupt businessmen and the police. Despite its superhero lead, The Leopard from Lime Street keeps its roots in the real world as much as possible, giving the series a uniquely British feel.
Reading this in the 2020s, there is an added sense of nostalgia to see the very 70s-esque attitudes towards schoolchildren (“a clip ‘round the ear”) and the overwhelming sense of poverty and working-class communities represented within its pages. It is very much a product of its time, and I think that if it was created today it would lose a lot of its charm and identity. There is something magical about these classic British Comics from the 1970s-80s, and I guess that is why the Treasury of British Comics is so committed to reviving these lost stories and making them accessible for those who’d read them as children and a whole new generation of readers who missed them the first time around, like myself.
As with the preceding volumes, Volume 3 maintains its serialised narrative with a number of multi-episode adventures. Told in three-page chunks, the story is fast-paced and broken up with plenty of cliff-hanger moments; a far cry from the decompressed storytelling seen in modern American comics. Some of the highlights from this volume include a snowman that burgles houses, a gang of neo-Nazi bikers and an evil imposter Leopardman. A recurring theme throughout the volume is how the Leopardman is disliked by both the police and public, as writer Tom Tully leans heavily into the “public menace” aspect of The Amazing Spider-Man. Even when the Leopardman is proven innocent of the accused crimes, he is still hunted by the police – who are carrying shotguns and sniper rifles – another culture shock for current day readers.
The art for this series, produced by Eric Bradbury and Mike Western, is absolutely terrific and captures the grittiness of the era perfectly. Both artists complement each other’s artwork so well that it is difficult to determine which is which, allowing the series to flow seamlessly from episode to episode without a noticeable change to the art style. The Treasury of British Comics wisely reprints the stories in their original black and white colours, maintaining the rawness of Bradbury and Western’s inks and the animalistic nature of Billy’s powers. Another notable element of the art is the dynamic panel positions – it is rare to see a standard grid of square panels on a page, with both artists using their expertise to emphasise and accentuate the panels with the most action. There is also a real sense of momentum to the page that helps convey the movement contained within each panel, whether it be a cricket ball launched out towards the reader or the Leopardman himself leaping across the page.
The brisk nature of the adventures ensures that this collection provides plenty of action for young readers to get their teeth into, and the quality remains high throughout. There is nary a dull moment to be had thanks to the rapid-fire pace and momentum of these stories and once one adventure concludes, readers are propelled at “leopard-speed” into the next one. The stories have a loose sense of continuity between them, mostly revolving around Billy’s aunt Joan and saving money for her hip operation, but there’s no real sense of narrative progression throughout the volume – we leave Billy just as we found him at the beginning. Obviously, these strips weren’t designed to be reprinted decades later and reviewed with a critical eye, they were written to be accessible and to offer some exciting escapism from the mundane.
The Leopard from Lime Street is easily my favourite series from the Treasury of British Comics for all the reasons listed above. It makes me feel nostalgic for an era that I wasn’t born into, and there’s an effervescent charm to the series that will make you yearn for those simpler days before iPhones, the Internet and social media. Despite its inclusion in a children’s comic, the series never pulls its punches and is a lot grittier than you’d expect it to be – both in terms of its stories and its art style. The combined work of Tully, Bradbury & Western fits together perfectly to produce a wonderful series that has withstood the test of time.
With a script and artwork as energetic as its agile lead character, The Leopard from Lime Street remains as fresh, vibrant and engaging as it was when it was first published over forty years ago.
Score – ★★★★★
The Leopard from Lime Street Vol. 3 is available in print and digital formats from Amazon UK and 2000AD’s Webshop.