The Spider

Robot Archie

Archie is taken aback by the sheer stupidity of his palsRobot Archie was the oldest of the characters to appear in Vulcan, having debuted in 1955 as The Jungle Robot in Lion. That only lasted six months, but before the end of the fifties was back, and would stay with Lion until it merged with Valiant in 1976, staying in the Lion Annual even longer (until at least 1982; I don't have the '83 edition). Archie was probably the most consistent of all Lion's characters, occasionally being overtaken by something like 'The Spider', 'The Steel Commando' or 'Spellbinder' in terms of cover star status, but nearly always outliving its' competition. Created by writer George Cowan and artist Ted Kearnon, Archie was a highly advanced remote control robot, taken on adventures by typical adventurous chums Ted Ritchie (son of Archie's inventor) and his best mate Ken Dale.

The Sludge gives Archie a cuddleTheir serials usually involved raiding South America or Africa for some sort of lost treasure, battling against either less scrupulous explorers, the dreaded natives or just plain nature itself. Obviously this rather colonial outlook was changed to keep with the times, with Archie and his pals battling alien invasions, mad scientists and even having a few run-ins with the Sludge, villain of the strip of the same name in the early 1960s. Archie himself received a voicebox in the mid-1960s, which is where the strip really got good, as the robot had a boastful personality and was charmingly unhinged. As was often Fleetway's wont, he gradually developed independence from human control entirely - he still hung around with Ted and Ken, but usually did most of the thinking (and action, especially if it involved shoulder charges) himself. By the mid-1970s, he'd taken to openly mocking the dire Steel Commando (a fellow Lion strip that was basically a mix of Robot Archie and the Valiant's 'Captain Hurricane' with none of the charm of either) during stories.

Power goes to Archie's headIt was around this time that Dutch artist Bert Bus began redrawing Archie adventures for publication in his home country. These full colour adventures updated the looks of the characters - Archie became a bluish metallic colour instead of the familiar red, while the rather fifties look of Ted and Ken was updated to make them look contemporary.

Archie does his bit for woodland conservationIronically, the original versions have a sort of timelessness to them, whereas the Bus versions have dated badly, and the characters look like they should be banging Tove Jensen and Anna Marek on a brown sofa. Bus also couldn't really handle action, which is a slight problem with a strip that revolves around a robot barrelling into things... However, the full colour thing was enough to swing the Dutch version (relettered back into English, obviously) a place in Vulcan.

Since the Lion Annual finished, Robot Archie has cropped up in all sorts of places. He was lucky enough to dodge the infamous 2000AD Action Special, but turned up in a couple of other attempts to revive the Fleetway action stable. In the weekly 2000AD, the robot was given an acid makeover and appeared in the epic third phase of Grant Morrison's 'Zenith', which was actually pretty true to the original's brand of demented violence. Archie would then be a regular for the rest of the 'Zenith' strip. Less impressive was Leah Moore's use of the poor chap in Albion, where Penny Dolmann converted him into a heavily-armed distraction.