Name me a teenage superhero who has enhanced agility, strength and climbing skills, gained his powers from an encounter with a radioactive creature and lives with his aunt. If you said The Leopard From Lime Street then you used to read Buster in the 70s or 80s. Or you read the title of this article.
The Leopard-Man fought crime and sold photos of his exploits to the local newspaper, run by an editor who didn’t trust him, whilst trying to make a living and avoid the bullies at school.
But for all the similarities and, *ahem*, homages to Marvel’s flagship wallcrawling hero, there’s something quintessentially British about Billy Farmer and his Leopard-Man alter ego. Several things in fact, which l’ve outlined below in a list article as is the style of the time:
Britain’s odd fascination with big cats fed into the imagery of the Leopard on the loose in the fictional town of Selbridge. Mysterious wild cats are often reported in the media all across the UK, most famously the Beast of Bodmin which has been the subject of genuine scientific study (with no real results to speak of). The Leopard-Man is even referred to as the “Beast of Selbridge” at least once. With more than 250 years of alleged sightings, British big cats are a persistent urban myth and give the Leopard From Lime Street a uniquely Anglo-centric flavour.
Power without responsibility...?
Billy has the powers of a Leopard (which includes a sixth sense apparently) but he’s not too bothered about hiding them. He pays lip service to not getting found out in one panel, and in the next he’s casually leaping 20 feet in the air over passers-by. There aren’t really any morality tales to speak of in the run, very few lessons on why doing the right thing is important. Billy (and the reader) simply know right from wrong and get on with the action. It doesn’t take the death of his uncle for Billy to learn not to be a selfish shit. In fact, if his uncle died his life would get a lot better. Mostly because of...
Casual domestic violence
Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben taught him that “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Billy Farmer’s Uncle Charlie taught him that if you step out of line you’ll get a belt taken to your arse. As Billy says to his Aunt, his uncle was always “knocking you about.” This is unquestionably dark, and within the strip it’s used to portray Charlie as a nasty piece of work, but it’s also accepted as a pretty normal way of behaving. After Billy gets his powers he pushes his Uncle over, taking him by surprise with his new leopard-strength. Hiding in his bedroom, Billy fully expects Charlie to break the door down to administer a beating. Good old 70s Britain.
Two to four pages a week meant a quicker origin for the Leopard-Man’s costume was in order. That didn’t allow much time for a drawn out storyline involving a short-lived wrestling career. In 70s Britain, wrestling was all about World of Sport and Big Daddy (who had his own comic strip anyway). No, Billy just happens to have a Dick Whittington’s cat costume hanging around from a school panto, which he adds spots to and... ta da! He does wrestle the Masked Hangman later in the series, but it’s purely for a £250 prize and he learns nothing. Which is pretty much par for the course really.
So whilst the Leopard From Lime Street borrowed an initial concept and some broad character strokes, it is self-contained enough to have its own identity. The artwork is also stunning and it’s well worth a revisit, whether you remember reading it 30 years ago or you’ve never heard of it before today. It’s a bit of a gem from the rich history of UK comics.
Written by Martyn