Claws And Effect
♦Tripwire Contributing Writer TIM HAYES takes a look at Rebellion’s reprint of classic 1970s strip The Leopard From Lime Street…
The Leopard From Lime Street
Writer: Tom Tully
Artists: Mike Western and Eric Bradbury
The exuberance of The Leopard from Lime Street is hard to resist, and its blatant transfer of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s 1960s Spider-Man stories from Manhattan’s buzzing Midtown High School to 1970s Britain and the sleepier Selbridge Secondary School For Boys is so affectionately respectful that complaints about thievery seem like bad-tempered grumbling. And if that wasn’t true, the artwork by Mike Western and Eric Bradbury is a treat anyway, a sweet-spot combination of British domestic caricature and US adventure cartooning.
Writer Tom Tully lays his cards on the table immediately, when 13-year-old Billy Farmer acquires feline agility and enhanced strength after being scratched by a radioactive leopard. A boffin, worried that Billy might have been “infected by the radiations in some way,” pronounces him fine. But Billy, already precocious, becomes super-powered and positively boisterous. Working up a leopard outfit and mask from a handy Dick Whittington panto costume, he sets out to corral robbers, foil corruption, and deal with a couple of other cat-costumed criminals, a handy new leopard-sense tingling in proper Ditko half-face style.
Billy Farmer appeared in the pages of Buster for nearly a decade, alongside strips mostly intended for younger readers than Tully had in mind for the Leopard. This new collection from Rebellion reprints the strip’s initial year or so, from 1976 and 1977, and Tully’s aim for a mature kind of reader engagement is clear from the off. The adult world around Billy is tricky and perplexing – his guardian is nasty to his sweet-natured Aunty Joan, and the school bully has a criminal father and is pulled off the rails himself – while the editor of the local Selbridge Sun goes full J Jonah Jameson on the Leopard’s trail. But Billy soldiers on undaunted, a lower-middle-class hero in turn-ups. When he steps masked into the wrestling ring for the prize money, a venerable Spider-Man tradition, he doesn’t even need the cash; it’s to fund a new basketball court.
All this is done with plenty of self-awareness from the creators, and some from the characters too, judging by the single panel where Billy turns directly to the readers and confides in them like a trusted ally. There are subtle winds of social change blowing in the strip too. Billy’s aunt gets a new colour television – “All these wonderful programmes” – while the local Selbridge cinema is long abandoned. At one point Billy drops a note down the family chimney, safe in the knowledge that the coal fireplace is no longer used; and he’s naturally a friend of the Earth, concerned for the welfare of the leopard that scratched him in the first place. “At least you have a mate,” he tells her, saying farewell and bounding up a tree. “A boy who is half-leopard will always be alone.” Young Billy Farmer has a big old heart, and so does the strip.