Continuing to reprint significant British comic book strips, this Treasury of British Comics volume reprinting episodes of The Leopard From Lime Street does an admirable job in presenting this significant work. Written by Tom Tully, with art by Mike Western and Eric Bradbury, this series saw publication in Buster, a humour anthology comic typical of UK comics, between 1976 and 1985, and provided a contrast to the usual cartoon style of its other strips through its use of a realist visual style.
Superheroes had appeared in British comics before, but these were predominantly reprints of American comics from Marvel and DC, and broken into short segments to fix the anthology format that dominated UK comics. Superhero comics like Spider-Man Weekly would prove popular, running from 1973 to 1985, concurrently with Leopard in Buster. Spider-Man was a significant influence on the Leopard, as noted by Steve Holland in his introduction to this volume: both were teenagers working for a newspaper, raised by an aunt and uncle, and fought crime using powers accidentally gained from radioactive creatures. These tropes are transferred from Queens in New York of the 1960s to England – the fictional Selbridge – of the 1970s.
Beyond being a representative and engaging example of 1970s British adventure strips, some of the interest in reading, or re-reading, these strips lies in the way that tropes from Spider-Man are subverted. Ditko’s split face technique, where Peter Parker and Spider-Man are both visible, is an obvious precursor to its use for Billy and the Leopard here, but it also underscores Billy’s realization of a more profound change: he is now half-leopard and not fully human.
This creates a disconcertingly dark overtone to the strip that points towards the horror genre. This dark tone is also evident in the presentation of Aunt Joan and Billy, who are dominated by the abusive Uncle Charlie, and provide a stark contrast to Peter Parker’s sainted Aunt May and the late, lamented Uncle Ben.
As such, Leopard is an interesting precursor to works like Alan Moore and Gary Leach’s earlier Marvelman work in Warrior, later renamed and continued as Miracleman; in hindsight, it’s a forerunner of the revisionist superhero works of the 1980s. Its place in comics history should be revised with this in mind and viewed within the context of the evolution of superhero comics. In short, this work embodies and seeks to move beyond the tropes of superhero and UK adventure strips and is a worthy addition to this series of reprints.
The Leopard from Lime Street is currently available from Rebellion/2000AD.