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Initially, JOHN STEEL was a “Special Agent” working for British Intelligence during World War II. Prior to the war, he’d been a sergeant in the London Police, but when duty called, he did not hesitate. He tried to enlist in 1939, only to be denied. That didn’t stop him, though–he promptly joined MI-5, and was soon being dispatched all over Europe on “special” missions.
But a lot of these “special missions,” as related in his early comic book adventures, were basically just war stories–lots of German planes, tanks and the like blowing up, with Steel slugging it out with various Nazis–typical British comic book fare for the era.
Steel first saw action in 1959 Super Detective Picture Library, a comics anthology, and proved popular enough that he continued his war time adventures regularly in Fleetway’s Thriller Picture Library by 1960.
Well, for a few issues, anyway. After a few appearances, he had morphed into a rough-and-tough private eye, hanging around the jazz clubs and cafes of of post-war Soho, “tired with the whole dirty traffic of counter-espionage,” although many of his cases still somehow involved national security, Nazis and other war criminals. And he got around–from Soho down to South America and Paris, Steel must have played them all, kicking down doors and taking down names, often accompanied on his cases by hip young musician Riff Morgan, who blows a mean clarinet.
But by 1966, he was a regular in Buster Adventure Library, yet another digest. His connections to British Intelligence were played up and he was breing billed once again as a “Special Agent–the world was going spy crazy, after all. His “Casebook” adventures alternated with issues featuring Robin Hood.
Steel was one of those British characters whose occupation was malleable–he could be shaped to fit whatever was trending. In his relatively short run of seven or so years, he was a soldier, a spy, a private eye and then a spy again (or at least a “Special Agent.” But he must have been doing something right–folks seem to remember him fondly.
The plots were often overblown, text-heavy, and a little too on the nose, all gee-whiz action and Boys World hokum, but the art–despite being black and white–was frequently impressive. Particularly that done by Luis Bermejo. In fact, when a couple of the stories were reprinted in The John Steel Files (2020), collecting two stories from Steel’s “private eye” phase from the Thriller Comics Library, the artwork by Bermejo was given “contemporary” colouring by Pippa Bowlan. It’s frickin’ awesome!
- SUPER-DETECTIVE LIBRARY
68 pages, B&W
A digest-sized comic anthology, featuring mostly original stories and art, although they occasionally included reprints.
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (September 1959; #157)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#160; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#161; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#165; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#167; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#169; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#171; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#173; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#175; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#177; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#179; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#181; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#186; John Steele)
- “John Steel Special Agent World War II” (#187; John Steele)
- THRILLER COMICS LIBRARY
(aka “Thriller Picture Library”)
64 pages, B&W
It started out presenting illustrated adaptations of classic stories such as The Man in the Iron Mask and Moby Dick,, they soon started to feature new original stories based on the Three Musketeers, Rob Roy, Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and others. It later became Thriller Picture Library, and published more original material, including mysteries, westerns, war stories and adventures.. Among the recurring heroes were John Steel, Dick Daring (of the Royal Canadian Mounties), Spy 13, Dogfight Dixon and Battler Britton.
- “Mission to Maru” (November 1960, #343)
- “Operation Freedom” (#347)
- “The Debt of Honour” (#351)
- “Meet Me in Lisbon” (#355)
- “Downbeat” (#359)
- “Blues for Danger” (363)
- “Violent Tempo” (#367)
- “Bullets in the Sun” (#371)
- “A Picture of Guilt” (#375)
- “Play It Cool” (#379)
- “Dead Heat” (#387)
- “City of Shadows” (#395)
- “Motif for Murder” (#399)
- “The Rising Tide” (#403)
- “The Town That Died” (#407)
- “The Devil’s Lair” (#411)
- “The Demon Drums” (#415)
- “One False Step” (#419)
- “The Big Take” (#423)
- “The Eye of the Hunter” (#427)
- “Shakedown!” (#431)
- “The Silent Enemy” (#435)
- “The Fatal Blow” (#439)
- BUSTER ADVENTURE LIBRARY
(1966-67, IPC Magazines/Fleetway)
- “Dateline for Danger” (#1)
- “Catch Me a Killer” (#3)
- “Showdown” (#5)
- “Death Deals a Joker” (#7)
- “Terror Calls the Tune” (#9)
- “Tomorrow You Die (#11)
- “Death Shadows the Hunter” (#13)
- “Savage Waterfront” (#15)
- “Dead Man’s Tale” (#17)
- “The Big Fix” (#19)
- “Who Is The Enemy?” (#21)
- “Invitation to Death” (#23)
- “The Devil of Antiga” (#25)
- THE JOHN STEEL FILES
Art: Luis Bermejo
Colouring by Pippa Bowland
Contains “Play it Cool” and “Bullets in the Sun”