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Sunday, 30 July 2017

A Hero or A Villain? The Iron Warrior



It occurs to me that, today, a lot of comickers who have no real knowledge of UK Golden Age characters will make things up or make bad guesses based on what they might have seen.

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This can be said to be true when it comes to the Iron Warrior.

I can onloy find one source with any information on the character up to 1990 and that is the late Denis Gifford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Characters[Longman,London,1987].  In the entry for The Iron Warrior,Gifford writes:

..the most violent and bloodiest strip ever seen in British comics to this time,and for several decades to come.  Rodney Dearth,seeking the Jewels of Junius,arrives at the site of the Temple of Sloth in Central Africa,accompanied by his robot,the Iron Warrior. Captured by a White Princess,he summons the Warrior (‘wavelength 60,impulse 400′).  Crying ‘I come Master!’ and also ‘Ahrrr!  Whoo-roo!  Roar!’,the Warrior’s built-in chopper slices up the Sloths,cuts up a giant crocodile,and pulls the head off an outsize eagle.”

And from this we get entries in the Internationalheroes site (which appears to be vanishing bit-by-bit these days):

“A robot controlled by Rodney Dearth, who used it to hunt treasure with him in Africa.
The Warrior isn’t really a hero, as it kills anyone who threatens its master, whose own goals are far from altruistic.”

Hmm.  But then we get,at the League for Extraordinary Gentlemen fan site:

“The Surrogate League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

When the government decided to form the Worral’s League they based it very closely on Mina’s first League, “When in 1946 it was apparent that Miss Murray and her colleagues had deserted our employ by going missing in America, MI5 elected to replace the group with surrogates in an attempt to recreate the impact of the 1898 ensemble…
  • The Invisible Man (Peter Brady) = The Invisible Man (Hawley Griffin)
  • Prof James Gray = Nemo (both submarine builders, Nemo even inspired Gray in League V2)
  • Worrals = Mina (female leads experienced in death)
  • Wolf of Kabul = Quatermain (both in the great white hunter tradition, they even both wear pith helmets)
  • The Iron Warrior = Hyde (both really killers pressed into service).

The Iron Warrior is a robot built by Rodney Dearth, Dearth was not a hero and had a more villainous overtone. He would command the Warrior to do various illegal things, including kill people, but mainly Dearth used him to hunt for treasure in Africa.”

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YAAAR! RRRAHHH!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
 Image result for UK Comics the Iron Warrior
Oh. I do beg your pardon.  Had a bit of an “Iron Warrior” moment there.

Seriously, I hate this whole “we know nothing about the character but it seems it was a killer controlled by a killer so let’s write that” crap.

“…Dearth was not a hero and had a more villainous overtone. He would command the Warrior to do various illegal things, including kill people.”

Dearth was not a villain or scheming killer.  Anyone read any old boys adventure books or H. Ryder Haggard?  By applying what the League page and Internationalheroes entry has written then we have to re-classify Alan Quartermaine as a cold blooded villain.  In fact,up until more politically correct times,most heroes would need to be re-classed according to this methodology.  Biggles takes on arch villain proportions.  Even Indiana Jones would be classed as out-doing the Nazis considering how many deaths he’s caused directly or indirectly.  Think on that.

Let’s get a little bit of perspective here.  Sit down kiddies because if you’ve not watched any films made between 1920 to…well…now,and if you’ve not read any history on the British Empire or American Imperialism (“Hey,Japan:we’ve gun ships and troops harbored offshore now do business with us ‘voluntarily’ or we’ll make you!”) -in fact any empire or power!- you may be shocked.

Most sea-faring nations such as Spain,Italy,England,France etc.,sent out exploratory ships/fleets to seek out new lands and new treasures and subdue the local population by any means including genocide [keep some alive for slaves,of course]. The Ashante were great at being slavers and made a lot of money out of it.  It’s a two-way thing you see -are black african slavers villains? Hey,slavery still exists today (and in the West).

But these Europeans were brave hero-explorers.  Anyone hear of a little group called the Conquistadores?  Dutch East India Company? The British East India Company -all had their private armies to,uh,”smooth things through”.
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Ever read King Solomon’s Mines?

In comparison,Dearth was a limp-wristed liberal!  Hmm. If you were a British soldier at Rourke’s Drift with Zulu warriors rushing toward you would you throw down your rifle and wave -”Hello! I’m really against all this imperialism stuff -care for tea and a chat?”  Mind you, in Zulu Dawn, Denholm Elliott’s character more or less did just that -and was killed straight away!


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Whichever city you lived in -London, Berlin, Paris- you would hear stories of strange lands,lost treasures and much more.  The urge to follow those tales continue to this very day.  If a chap was on his uppers and the old estate was falling to bits and,to be frank,the family coffers had been emptied long ago it was disgrace and destitution -but if you could find the “lost treasure” or anything worth a few quid you were saved!

know that it is wrong to just go marching in,putting down the “locals” and stealing things that belong to them,whether they want to exploit it themselves or not –hey, I’m still for the UK returning the Elgin Marbles and all those Egyptian artefacts we,uh,borrowed!

The context is that this was a totally different world.  Officers and troopers posing for photographs of themselves resting their feet on a heap of natives heads should have been totally unacceptable even in the 19th century but it happened -apparently “fun” hunts were organised with horse-riding officers carrying “pig-stickers” but I get a feeling the natives involved  weren’t having too much fun!

A white man would have his weapons because, even if a peaceful person, not all native persons were friendly in return (read some history).  I could write on the subject all day but it wouldn’t help.

The point is that we know,in the Iron Warrior strip,only that Dearth arrives in Africa with his creation.  If attacked he defended himself.  In volume 3 of the Black Tower Gold Collection,I published such a strip.  Dearth is exploring an area when a local priest stirs things up -Dearth is attacked and,though he could easily do so,he does not set about killing everyone.  In fact, he does fend off an attack by rushing straight at the warriors but then tries to use cunning to defeat the witch doctor.


Once the threat is sorted, Dearth goes on his way.  The one thing we see is that the Iron Warrior is far from some type of remote-controlled killer doing its master’s bidding.  It’s what would today be called a controlled vehicle or “power suit”.

Or we assumed that is all it was. However, I have a little collection of IW strips and, sadly, "The Iron Warrior" is the only title you'll see -no story title.  But at times Dearth talks to the IW -you think a little like a person alone will converse with a dog or cat -fair enough. No. There are points when IW seems to almost -almost- be 'sentient' in some way. And that vocaliser that I have only ever seen once after all this time -an interface of sorts?

And I've mentioned Dearth using the IW in his attempt to get rid of a wily evil witch-doctor. At that point Dearth could have called the tribal lands his and plundered them: who could have stopped him -The King's African Rifles??  A strip I titled "Native Problems...Again" sees Dearth help natives when a an unscrupulous white treasure hunter moves into lands of "The People of The Mist" -he's so downright benevolent I was almost ill. In another strip a cave has a carved out god's head at the entrance that is used by an evil white miner to rob the local tribe.  Dearth stops this and utters the words ....


Dearth could have had all the treasure and power any white supremacist/unscrupulous killer with a "super weapon" would want several times over.  He just continues on with his travels.  He's not telling natives to "remember the white man is superior" or claiming territory for Great Britain.

For all intents and purposes Dearth was an adventurer who was out to look into mysteries and travel "where no European had gone before".  He get’s inside the Iron Warrior and operates controls and fires his weapons from here.  He also operates the axe-wielding arm.  Guessing at Dearth’s height the Iron Warrior has to be around 3-4 metres tall [10-12 feet]. It is still nothing more than a kind of hostile environment suit -almost similar to later [better designed] deep water suits.   Here is something else that is very basic but it is how I vizualise the IW and it is colour.

You see, if Dearth built the Iron Warrior then he was an engineer.  He'd know about metal decay- rust, etc., from sea (salt) water, heat and all types of weather.  So, just leaving it as metallic grey seems logically daft (I'm writing about a man running about Africa in a giant iron power suit so let's jump to something logical!).  Now, one of my first jobs was at Swiftact Tools and I helped another fellow spray-paint crane cabs and lots of other things with red oxide/lead paint. It protected and allowed a coat of another colour to be sprayed over it by a customer.  But the Red Lead protected the metal and welding joints (it was a primer).  That was this colour:
You could get a lightly redder colouration and even Royal Mail post boxes used to be painted with Red Lead -but this was the stuff and, boy,  did you need a full face mask!!

The other common lead paint colour was green. Local authorities used it on railings, urinals and even work sheds, etc because it was all-weather and hard as nails.  Colour:

In one strip I even have Dearth giving the Iron Warrior a paint over.  The axe I always see as plain steel. Yeah, big industrial boy, I am.  Loves a big, heavy chopper (:-/)

What Denis Gifford wrote I have to take to be accurate -he did have a massive collection of comics, so I’m guessing that there was  a remote control device and, it seems, a vocaliser of sorts.  That writ, continuity was never a great strong point in comics back then.  Even the Iron Warrior seemed to vary in size at times.

Yes,the strip was violent to a degree but you have to recall that in early Tarzan films there were people being killed violently and arrows sticking out of heads. However, the idea that the Iron Warrior was constantly chopping people up seems to be based on that one panel from Denis's Encyclopedia.

Do not think that, based on what people who have a narrow view of a character write, and most of them have never (obviously) read any Iron Warrior strips, that Dearth and the Iron Warrior were just deadly killers.  They weren’t.  They were not "mercenaries for hire".  Dearth was not hoarding huge treasures but seemed rather, uh, "socialistic" -at Amalgamated Press or Thomson, Dearth would probably have had the natives swear loyalty to the Crown!

One day, the story will be told of Dearth's last great African adventure before he took off for South America (it's all planned).

And let's not forget that Ben Dilworth has returned the character of Dearth and the Iron Warrior to a time of fun adventuring without the need of a "modern reboot"!  Even I've had a go.

Now, back to Big Bong!


Ben R. Dilworth & Terry Hooper-Scharf
A4
Black and white
 Paperback,
49 Pages
Price: £8.00 ~limited special offer currently £5.00!

In the 1940s, Rodney Dearth and his exploratory fighting machine known as the Iron Warrior left Africa to travel to South America in search of lost explorer Percy Fawcett. Crocodiles, giant snakes, hostile natives and..Big Bong -the terror of the Amazon!

This collection presents a 1940s William A. Ward strip, Ben R. Dilworth's Big Bong, Amazon Adventure and a couple special pages, and Terry Hooper-Scharf's Black Tower Adventure strip The Iron Warrior: Jungle Terror plus text features!


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