80s Eagle issues 259-284

By the mid-to-late 80s, computers were changing the economics of publishing. As colour and other printing processes got cheaper, Eagle finally threw off the ear of inky newsprint, and with issue 259 (7th March 1987) re-launched with a new look. It’s an indication of how important to IPC Eagle was, that 2000AD would not do the same thing for another couple of months.

The most obvious beneficiary of the change was Dan Dare, for which Carlos Cruz could now provide fully painted colour art for the first time since the days of Ian Kennedy and Pat Mills 4 years earlier. The script was still by Tom Tully, although he went uncredited for a few issues. In fact, it was business as usual, except for the fact that Dan Dare was dead. This is soon solved, as the Mysterons – sorry, Mythereons – turn up to bring him back to life to ‘balance’ a cosmos which needs a Dan to oppose the evil of the Mekon. Quite why they should think that now is a bit of a mystery, as the Mekon has been trapped in time since their last encounter (see “Eagle issues 209-229”), and turns out to be causing trouble in London in 1987.

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All of this is, of course, an excuse for a bit of a re-format, as Dare is brought back from the dead somehow angrier and more aggressive than before – a move bound to antagonise purists. Most of the old characters like simply Pinkerton disappear, while Digby – now confined to a wheelchair – only appears in a few episodes.

After some angry shouting, Dare follows the Mekon to 1987, but the green dome-head escapes back to the 23rd century with some McGuffinaneum rock (I may have just made that up) he’s stolen from the British museum. Dare has to return empty-handed apart from Zapper Lawrence, a twentieth century teenager who implausibly turns out to be brilliant at the weapon systems of the future. In concept, Zapper resembles Flamer Spry from the original strips, but with the extra wish-fulfilment frisson that he’s from the present day. Dan now goes about putting together an elite team called Dare’s Eagles. Unfortunately, he goes for a rather unsophisticated recruitment policy, which simply consists of wandering around, and hiring whoever he happens to bump into. Ultimately, this ‘team’ consists of Zapper, a mutated blue Treen called Tremloc and coolest of all, walking cliché Apsilon Stelth, an alien knight, dying of a deadly disease, and with his own catchphrase – “Detrimus Krede!”. Later on, they get joined by Velvet O’Neal, a Tully character who had appeared in some previous stories, but who now takes on a larger role, and celebrates by adopting a much tighter jumpsuit. During a lengthy story, they now pursue the Mekon in Dare’s new spaceship – the Britannia Eagle – in an effort to stop him building a mcguffinaneum-based doomsday weapon which will destroy the entire galaxy. For some reason. Unfortunately, Zapper and Tremloc’s main contributions are getting into trouble and hindering the mission. Dare would have been better off asking for CVs and references. Partly as a result of this, the Mekon gets to launch his weapon. Disappointingly, Dare solves this dilemma by shooting it. With his handgun. Having left the Britannia Eagle in a spacesuit for the express purpose of doing this. Sheesh.

Some dodgy plotting aside, Dare had rarely looked better. Unfortunately, the pressure of producing 3-4 pages of fully painted art each week seems to have been a struggle for Cruz. Ian Kennedy steps in for one episode, and Redondo for some others. Towards the end of the Dare’s Eagles plot-line, an episode appears where the two central pages of art are by Cruz, while the back cover appears to be the work of someone else – possibly Redondo again. Clearly something would have to give.

Eagle at this point was still running reprints of old 2000AD strip MACH 1, skipping episodes where necessary so that the storyline would come to an end in time for another revamp after issue 284. It still looked somewhat out-of-place, although as usual, the Pat Mills scripted episodes were often the best thing to appear in any given issue. The comic was also managing to fit in more pages per story, by reducing from 9 weekly strips to 8. This meant that Doomlord was now alternating 3 and 4 pages episodes, allowing some extra sophistication in story-telling. It kicks off the new era in fine style, with ‘Tibor’s Alien Circus’, in which the Souster boys are kidnapped by a weird inter-dimensional circus, and so is Doomlord when he tries to rescue them. The storyline from there is a straightforward series of escape attempts by Vek, but gives artist Eric Bradbury a fine opportunity to demonstrate his skills by creating more weird and wonderful alien creatures. Attempting to return home after defeating Tibor, Vek and the boys are then propelled into another adventure where they visit a version of Earth where Enok defeated his father and created a totalitarian society explicitly based on Orwell’s 1984. The twist (that they’re actually in an alternate dimension) comes surprisingly late in the day, but gives writers Grant and Wagner a chance to really push the concept to its limit. Doomlord had never been better.

The same cannot be said for Death Wish, which seems to have had its own death wish by this stage. The Blake-meets-supernatural cliches had been almost played-out by now, but was given one last shot in the arm by having him and Suzie meet none other than Dracula himself. In fact, this Dracula turns out to be more Bela Lugosi than Bram Stoker, and it’s hard to imagine that writer Barrie Tomlinson put much research into his storyline. With the help of his assistant Igor, Dracula hypnotises Suzie and gets her to drive his hearse. Blake heads in pursuit, with all the trademark Death Wish action and crashing helicopters (seriously – they crash helicopters in Death Wish like, all of the time), and after a prologue in issue 258, the story gets spun out for another 19 episodes.

After 7 years, Death Wish had now strayed a long way from its original USP of the story about a stunt man who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. Perhaps recognising this, it was now re-titled (from issue 285) as The Incredible Adventures of Blake Edmonds (a Death Wish story). This somewhat unwieldy moniker appeared 8 episodes into an even longer storyline where, while investigating some spooky goings-on, Blake and Suzie get accidentally shrunk by a mad scientist down to a few inches tall. Not so much incredible as unbelievable, their latest escapades involve being attacked by insects, sucked up by vacuum cleaners and shut inside washing machines. Captured by some extraordinarily unscrupulous locals, they are locked up in a converted dollhouse, due to be exploited for TV fame and fortune. At 28 episodes, this story very much outstays its welcome. Having squeezed every possible incident out of Blake and Suzie being tiny, Tomlinson has them blown up to giant size and attacked by (you guessed it) helicopters which Blake accidentally bats out of the sky. Clearly, this could not go on much longer, and when it rains overnight, Blake and Suzie shrink back to normal size. At no previous point has the story suggested that they’re water-soluble – particularly when they were tiny and got taken up into washing machines or flushed down storm drains. But no, that’s the end. They shrink in the rain – move on. The ideas sump was empty – when the story came to an end in issue 305, so did Death Wish itself. It had been running in various publications since February 1980, and by my reckoning had clocked up over 400 episodes, 147 of them in Eagle. It was the last remaining relic of the Eagle and Tiger days, but in truth, it had been a shadow of its former self for quite some time.

Tomlinson was capable of more than this. Issue 259 also saw the debut of his new strip, Survival, which is probably the most adult strip he ever produced for Eagle. Like the Terry Nation TV series Survivors, it picks up after the human race has been wiped out by a plague. In Survival, the only survivors are a small number of children with a select blood type, and we follow the adventures of Mark Davies as he treks around Britain, looking for food and for someone else who might have survived. One thing Survival gets across is the terrible loneliness of his position, combined with the desperation to find someone – anyone – to talk to. For a long time, his only friend is an elephant which has been released from a local zoo by a dying zookeeper. If the idea of a bond between a boy and an elephant requires us to suspend disbelief, then it is not unique. The story’s biggest problem, is the constant need for action and a cliffhanger every 3 to 4 pages, which Tomlinson provides as efficiently as ever. To this end, elephants aside, animals are Mark’s enemies, as he gets attacked by tigers, dogs, rats, cats, crocodiles and even – at one point – birds. Having largely run out of animals, Tomlinson has Mark and his new friend Karl (after his elephant has taken off, Mark finally meets another boy) menaced by monsters. In a gee-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this-before moment, the monsters turn out to be adult survivors of the plague, mutated and damaged mentally and physically , as well as being apparently) mute.

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Frankly, Tomlinson is definitely – definitely – making this stuff up as he goes along. I remember reading this story in its original form in the late 1980s – taken in weekly instalments Mark’s predicament seemed to play over a very long time. When read in quick succession, the episodes are less effective, as each unlikely action sequence follows hard on the previous one. The artwork is by the ever-reliable Jose Ortiz. Ortiz had provided previous dystopias for Eagle such as The Tower King, but excels here, as he shows Mark ageing over time, and also brilliantly portrays the collapsing human world gradually getting taken over by undergrowth. By issue 284, Mark and Karl have decided to cross the channel, on the unlikely assumption that things will be better in France. On the way, they have a brief, grim encounter which illustrates what Survival did best. They meet an adult, who by remaining isolated on a lighthouse has survived the plague. Unfortunately, his isolation has sent him mad, so that he attacks them and eventually falls off his lighthouse and dies. In the basement, his mate is just a skeleton – the boys are traumatised but carry on. 26 episodes in, Survival was just hitting its stride.

Two more strips also debuted in issue 259. Of these, more successful was probably Comrade Bronski, written by Alan Hebden. I remember being excited at the time, as the art was provided by comics legend Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra is not a slow artist, but how he fitted this into his schedule is a mystery to me, as he was still working practically full time drawing Strontium Dog for 2000AD. In fact, Comrade Bronski appeared during the lengthy storyline (‘Bitch’) which introduced the perennially popular Durham Red. Unlike Strontium Dog, Bronski is set in the present day of 1987, in what was (still) Soviet Russia. In the first episode, Bronski is released from the gulag, and asked to set up a new special investigations force (apparently by premier Gorbachev himself) in a rival position to the KGB. It’s a clever scenario, only undermined by the unlikelihood of just how long someone in Bronski’s position could get away with being as arrogant and insubordinate as he is. The other let down is that increasingly often Mike Dorey has to step in to provide the art, until – about 16 episodes in – Ezquerra disappears entirely. Dorey takes over for the final stories, and is a perfectly competent replacement, but for me the strip lost something, and it comes to a close after 23 episodes.

The other new strip was Avenger by “W Steele”. No one was stood up to admit being W Steele, although I strongly suspect that this was also Alan Hebden (see next time for why). Perhaps he didn’t want to admit to writing Avenger (no relation to the Marvel Avengers or to John Steed), as the central concept is, er, a bit right-wing. Physics teacher and keen motorcyclist Paul Cannon witnesses yobs running another car off the road, which then immediately bursts into flame killing all four people inside. Cannon testifies against the yobs in court (they have got “Yobmobile” scrawled across the side of their car, so we know what they’re about), but he is disgusted when they are just sentenced to a £200 fine and two years ban from driving. “They kill four people and walk away laughing!” he thinks. “That may be the judge’s idea of justice – but it’s not mine! Those animals deserve to pay for what they did – and I’m going to make sure that they do!” To this end, he uses his science skills to create a stick capable of giving electric shocks, and creates a clever disguise by having a visor he can pull down from the front of his motorcycle helmet. However, you wouldn’t have to be a genius to recognise him, as his helmet has the same distinctive ‘A’ logo on the front whether he’s in disguise or not. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that one of Cannon’s pupils, Dave Henderson, is rapidly ‘on’ to him, and when he’s not beating up villains, Cannon spends much of his time trying to convince him otherwise.

Something about this concept never quite clicks, and the subject is a poor fit for artist Mike Western’s realistic style. It doesn’t help that Cannon is violent but never really likeable and so we don’t care what happens to him. Plus his gadgets aren’t exactly Batman. Eagle never really came up with a successful super-hero strip, and Avenger is no exception. Perhaps British writers struggled with the concept (Alan Moore aside). Superheroes always need super-villains, and by the end of the strip, we’ve met Ultra-man, who has created an entire exoskeleton and uses it to rob banks. The story comes to an abrupt end in issue 284 (29 August 1987), with Avenger announcing in a thought bubble that now that he’s defeated Ultra-man, it’s time for him to disappear as well. He’s not wrong.

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Story index part 8: 259-284

DOOMLORD

Tibor's Alien Carnival, 13 episodes, issues 259-271 (Mar. to May 1987)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury

untitled (“Enok's World”), 16 episodes, issues 272-287 (June to Sep. 1987)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury (eps 1-14,16) & Dave De'Antiquis (ep 15)


AVENGER

Avenger, 26 episodes, issues 259-284 (Mar. to Aug. 1987)
Story by W Steele, art by Mike Western


SURVIVAL

Survival, 47 episodes, issues 259-305 (Mar. 1987 to Jan. 1988)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Jose Ortiz


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“Mekon in 1987”), 9 episodes, issues 259-267 (Mar. to May 1987)
Story by uncredited, art by Carlos Cruz

untitled (“Dare's Eagles”), 31 episodes, issues 268-298 (May to Dec. 1987)
Story by Tom Tully, art by Ian Kennedy (ep 1), Carlos Cruz (eps 2-11,14-31) & Redondo (eps 12-13, 29?)


DEATH WISH

untitled (“Dracula”), 19 episodes, issues 259-277 (Mar. to July 1987)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo

The Incredible Adventures of Blake Edmonds, 28 episodes, issues 278-305 (July 1987 to Jan. 1988)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo


COMRADE BRONSKI

Comrade Bronski, 12 episodes, issues 259-270 (Mar. to May 1987)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Carlos Ezquerra (eps 1-4,6,9-10) & Mike Dorey (eps 5,7-8,11-12)

untitled (“The Siberian”), 4 episodes, issues 272-275 (June 1987)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Carlos Ezquerra

untitled, 7 episodes, issues 277-283 (July to Aug. 1987)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Mike Dorey


COMPUTER WARRIOR

Express Raider, 8 episodes, issues 259-266 (Mar. to Apr. 1987)
Story by B Waddle/D Spence (John Wagner), art by Robin Smith

World Games, 6 episodes, issues 267-272 (May to June 1987)
Story by B Waddle (John Wagner), art by Robin Smith

Ace of Aces, 8 episodes, issues 273-280 (June to Aug. 1987)
Story by B Waddle (John Wagner), art by Robin Smith

Metrocross, 4 episodes, issues 281-284 (Aug. 1987)
Story by B Waddle (John Wagner), art by Robin Smith


M.A.C.H.1

untitled (“UFO”), 4 episodes, issues 260-263 (Mar. to Apr. 1987)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Freixas

untitled (“MACH Woman”), 4 episodes, issues 264-267 (Apr. to May 1987)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Lozano & Canos (eps 1-3)

Death Ray, 3 episodes, issues 268-270 (May 1987)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Lozano & Canos

MACH Zero, 4 episodes, issues 271-274 (May to June 1987)
Story by Steve McManus, art by Ramon Sola

untitled (“Return to Sharpe”), issue 275 (June 1987)
Story by Roy Preston, art by Montero

The Dolphin Tapes, 4 episodes, issues 276-279 (July 1987)
Story by Steve McManus/Oniano, art by Redondo (eps 1-2) & Montero (eps 3-4)

untitled (“Origins”), issue 280 (Aug. 1987)
Story by Nick Landau/Roy Preston, art by Lothano

The Final Encounter, 4 episodes, issues 281-284 (Aug. 1987)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Montero
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80s Eagle issues 230-258

Eagle issue 230 (dated 16 Aug 1986) saw the start of a new Dan Dare epic, generally known as ‘Dargath, Prince of Evil’. This 29-episode tale follows a number of twists and turns, but basically deals with Dargath, apparently an old enemy of Dan’s (even though we’ve never seen him before), who escapes from the penal asteroid where he’s been incarcerated, and somehow gets away with the Z-100 and its crew. The only ones not captured are Dan and Digby, who make it back to Earth looking a bit unshaven and strung out. “I’m going to bring my ship back and, if necessary, the head of Dargath!” cries Dan in an uncharacteristic display of anger. When he tracks down Pinkerton (and the others), artist Carlos Cruz has her place her hand on Dan’s chest – a subtle and probably unscripted hint of a relationship between them. They’re not out of danger however, as the climax of the story sees Dan in a fight-to-the-death with Dargath in a space pirate’s arena – a fight which they both lose. “Dan Dare is Dead!” shouts issue 258, leaving readers to wait and see what happens next.

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Another strip going through a transition is The Computer Warrior, who starts his final mission, Infiltrator, in issue 232. The stakes are upped, as Bobby Paterson is involved in a car accident, and then escapes from the hospital, determined to play his final game while concussed. Tension is high at this point, but when he starts the actual game, he gets fixed up by magic doctors before the mission begins. Perhaps the makers of Infiltrator (a real game) would have objected to someone beating it while off-their-head. It’s a development that highlights the central problem of Computer Warrior, which is that the on-going plot essentially stops whenever Bobby is in a game. The novelty factor of seeing someone play these games “for real” had, for this reader at least, very much worn off by this point, so the actual games simply hold things up. As a result, the end of the story feels like a bit of an anti-climax, as after 83 episodes, Martin is rescued and back with his family within a couple of pages.

 

The following issue (242), artist Mike Western was moved onto another strip, which was arguably a better fit for his hard-nosed realistic style: The Hard Men. This was an early effort from writer Peter Milligan, now better known for his scripts on Batman and Hellblazer, but at this point still fresh creating his break-out hit Bad Company for 2000AD. The story follows two trainee coppers, Clovis and Chowdary, who are framed for a jewel-robbery, expelled from the force, and recruited by a mysterious organisation to carry out dodgy covert missions against London gangsters. The central pair are a very deliberate contrast: Clovis is a posh toff who seemingly always carries a monocle in case of emergencies, while Chowdary is a working-class karate expert of unspecified Indian-subcontinent heritage. The banter between them  is quite pleasing and the situation well-thought out, but probably not among the strips that Milligan will be remembered for. After 17 episodes, the story comes to an apparently early conclusion in issue 258.

 

Meanwhile, after a slightly token 8-week gap, The Computer Warrior returns in issue 249 with a new story. Perhaps we should now call it The Computer Warrior II – that would be nicely 80s. By this point, Bobby has virtually forgotten his computer, more interested in spending his time playing wholesome games of football with his mate, Martin French. Unfortunately, the vaguely Samurai-looking Computer Warlord still needs Bobby to defeat the Nightmare Zone, which is threatening the real world, somehow. Bobby is one of 17 Computer Warriors who will gradually be eliminated until only the Ultimate Warrior is left. By specifying that 17 games need to be played, writers Wagner and Grant are clearly setting themselves up for the long haul this time around. Unfortunately, Bobby doesn’t seem to agree, and so he takes the cricket bat, which has been lying in wait all this time, and uses it to smash his computer to pieces. This turns out to be a bit silly, as (pre-dating the internet) the Warlord can take Bobby wherever he is, so he just ends up going into the first game, Gauntlet, without any practice, and comes 16th out of 17 players. Cleverly, this time around the story does not stop  during the game, but continues as Bobby gets to know fellow Computer Warriors Bev and Floyd, as well as the treacherous Howard Gummer. New artist Robin Smith brings a fresh look to the strip, and overall The Computer Warrior is in rude health.

 

The same cannot be said for M.A.C.H. 1 (he said, using a slightly tenuous link) which replaces Ant Wars from issue 232. It’s another re-print, this time from even earlier in 2000AD‘s history, and about as good a fit for Eagle‘s style. The hero is John Probe, who has undergone “compu-puncture” (whatever that is) and has super strength and speed, as well as a sarcastic computer in his brain, telling him what to do. Created by Pat Mills in 1977, he’s basically a version of Steve Austin, the Bionic Man. The opening two-parter leads into 21 stand-alone episodes, as Probe carries out a number of missions for the slightly sinister government department that created him. Worked on by various writers and artists, these are highly variable in both quality and tone. I’m not sure if all the episodes from 2000AD got re-printed in Eagle (the numbers don’t seem to match up), but by far the best story in this run is the concluding 4-parter ‘Planet Killers’ in which Mills returns to writing duties, and shows the rest how it is done. The result is an exciting adventure on the space shuttle (reprinted just over a year after the Challenger disaster) in which Probe faces an American double-agent, who keeps on coming even after getting knifed in the heart, through his spacesuit. The artwork by Redondo is also particularly good during this disturbing turn of events.

 

Issue 234 sees Death Wish start another story, ‘Mansion of Evil’. It’s another haunted house, but with the stakes raised for Blake and Suzie as the powers of evil directly threaten them with death for their interference. What follows is the usual Death Wish bizarreness. There’s some nice imagery when the pair end up in a jungle with giant insects and tiny elephants, but the ending, where the villains basically tell Blake how to kill them, is spectacularly stupid. Rather better is ‘Unreal Edmonds’ which begins in issue 248. This is a Suzie Walsh story, as every time she encounters Blake, she pulls off his mask and it turns out to be a monster impersonating him. Episode 2 sees her running from hospital in her low-cut nightie, which was a boon to Suzie-fans like myself at the time. Unfortunately, the climax relies on an unbelievable coincidence, as a fighter plane develops problems and happens to crash into the cave system where the real Blake and Suzie are fighting off demon hordes at exactly the right moment to save them. Writer Barrie Tomlinson seems to have been unable to string things out beyond issue 256, so we get a few filler episodes to get us to 258. (Attentive readers will have noticed a lot of stories coming to a conclusion in 258. Is this significant? Well… yes.)

 

Tomlinson keeps himself busy, creating Timespell in issue 238 with artist Sandy James, both of them coming straight off the back of S.O.S. Timespell is an odd, unpromising beast. An evil imp-like being buried under stonehenge is released by a lightening strike. This creature has almost unlimited powers and is pursued by an old man, who remains unnamed throughout, but can surely only be Merlin. Why not name him? It seems strange. Was Tomlinson concerned that the works of medieval monk Geoffrey of Monmouth might still be under copyright? Dunno. But I digress. Merlin, sorry the old man, is frustrated in his pursuit of the creature when it is saved by a boy who actually has a name, Simon Studkins.  Due to some magical hand-waving, the creature now has to obey Simon’s wishes, but usually not in the way that he wants. Cue episode after episode of Simon wishing for something and the creature subverting it for amusing/dangerous effect. There are some parts of this that are really very poor indeed, and I expected to hate this strip, but by the later stages, I ended up rather enjoying it – particularly when it gets to the wild west and World War II. After 21 episodes it comes to an end in (you guessed it) issue 258.

 

Also concluding in issue 258 was that old Scream! warhorse, The Thirteenth Floor. This had run for 144 episodes, but there was only so much that Max could get up to, and the formula was starting to get a little repetitive by this point. Leaving Max’s spy exploits behind, writers Wagner and Grant have him punish a few more miscreants during the last 20-odd episodes, before the inhabitants of Maxwell Tower go mad, and burn it down. Hilariously, this turns out to be due to some additive in the building’s paint. The rather neat ending sees Max getting boxed up, ready to be moved to Kings Reach Tower to take over as Eagle editor.

 

Dolebusters  concludes an issue earlier, 257. Having gone through virtually every ‘funny’ odd-job the team could possibly take on, we finish on an 8-part story in which they have to look after a mysterious man who may, or may not, be a genuine werewolf. It is, as ever, mildly amusing, but Dolebusters was always an idea with a limited lifespan.

 

Last, but never least, we have Doomlord. After 15 months of parenting problems, it’s rather refreshing when ‘Lord and Lady of Doom’ begins in issue 242. The Lord and Lady in question are the uninspiringly named Kev and Shal – the latter being the first female Noxian we’ve ever seen. They also both have hair, which leaves the reader wondering if every Noxian we’ve seen up until now has been shaving their head. It turns out that they are thousands of years old, and used to rule Xonos, a “fire world of Nox” until the dread council expelled them. They’re pretty villainous from the off, and there’s a sense in this story that writers Wagner and Grant are making things up as they go along. Kev and Shal (I think they’re brother and sister) murder several people when they arrive on Earth,  but instead of having them directly confront Vek, the writers get them together for a nice chat and a meal. Shal exploits Vek’s chivalrous side, and tricks him into rescuing their servant Orak the Mystic, who is imprisoned on Xonos. Once free, Orak’s mental powers are so strong, he is able to threaten the dread council itself. However, issue 258 is now rumbling towards us, so the story ends rather suddenly, with Vek breaking Orak’s control long enough to poison all three of them. It’s not quite vintage Doomlord, but there’s a nice bit of world-building going on here, and the more we hear about Nox, the more interesting it gets.

 

And then… issue 258. We’re around halfway through Eagle‘s life at this point, and it was about to go through probably its biggest change in format since the end of the photo-strips.

 

 

 

Story index time!

pt 8: 230-258


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“Dargath, Prince of Evil”), 29 episodes, issues 230-258 (Aug. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by Tom Tully, art by Carlos Cruz


THE COMPUTER WARRIOR

Infiltrator, 10 episodes, issues 232-241 (Aug. to Nov. 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

Gauntlet, 10 episodes, issues 249-258 (Dec. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Robin Smith


MACH ONE

various, 23 episodes, issues 232-254 (Aug. 1986 to Jan. 1987)
Stories by Pat Mills (eps 1-4,7), Robert Flynn (eps 1-2,10,16,20), N Allen (eps 5,11,15,18,22), John Wagner (eps 6,12,13), Roy Preston (eps 8,21), C Herring (ep 9), W Allen (eps 14,19) & Steve McManus (ep 17,23), art by Enio (eps 1,4,7,11), Ian Kennedy (ep 2), Mike Dorey (eps 3,9), John Cooper (eps 5,6), Barrie Mitchell (ep 8), Redondo (eps 10,14), Canos (eps 12,15,23), Henares (ep 13), Lopez (eps 16,17), Carlos (ep 18), Massimo Bernardinelli (eps 20,21) & Frisano (ep 22)

Planet Killers, 4 episodes, issues 255-258 (Feb. 1987)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Redondo


DEATH WISH

untitled (“Mansion of Evil”), 14 episodes, issues 234-247 (Sep. to Dec. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo

untitled (“Unreal Edmonds”), 9 episodes, issues 248-256 (Dec. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo (eps 1-8) & Rex Archer (ep 9)

untitled (“Skull Face”), issue 257 (Feb. 1987)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo

untitled (“Dracula Teaser”), issue 258 (Feb. 1987)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo


TIMESPELL

Timespell, 21 episodes, issues 238-258 (Oct. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Sandy James
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR

untitled, 21 episodes, issues 238-258 (Oct. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz


DOOMLORD

untitled (Lord and Lady of Doom), 17 episodes, issues 242-258 (Nov. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury


THE HARD MEN

The Hard Men, 17 episodes, issues 242-258 (Nov. 1986 to Feb. 1987)
Story by Peter Milligan, art by Mike Western


DOLEBUSTERS

Night of the Werewolf, 8 episodes, issues 250-257 (Jan. to Feb. 1987)
Story by B Waddle (John Wagner), art by John Burns


JOHNNY NOBODY

Johnny Nobody, issue 258 (Feb. 1987)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by De'Antiquis

80s Eagle issues 209-229

A new Death Wish story began in Eagle and Tiger issue 209 (dated 22 March 1986), which I have titled ‘The Haunted Castle’. This might give the game away that the plot involves a millionaire challenging Blake Edmonds to spend the night in his haunted castle. This starts fairly subtly, with paintings following Blake with their eyes, but in true Death Wish style, he rapidly finds himself fighting numerous monsters, chained up, turned evil for a bit, and finally confronting a genuine vampire on the battlements. In truth, the final result is a bit of a plotless mess, with the frantic action failing to cover up that Barrie Tomlinson seems to be making things up as he goes along.

 

In common with most Death Wish tales, this is pretty short, so issue 217 sees Blake and Suzie tackling another horror trope when they come across a werewolf in the woods after their car breaks down. This story benefits from being rather more focussed, with Suzie in trouble as the creepy guy in the garage gets Blake out of the way just before the full moon. It’s more of the same from issue 227 when some students (!) accidentally rustle up a Frankenstein’s monster in their lab. When will they learn? Still, it’s a mistake anyone can make.

 

In issue 209, Death Wish was still one of three ex-Tiger stories to still be running in the comic. By issue 217, it was the last one still-standing. In issue 221, it finally started to use ‘Eagle’ credit boxes, and from issue 222 the comic dropped the ‘and Tiger‘ part of its name entirely, becoming Eagle once more.

 

Issue 210 introduces a new Dan Dare story, ‘The Two Dares’. I’m surprised this does not get more attention from Dare-ologists, as it introduces 80s Dare to his great-great grandfather, the original Dan Dare. This may be due to a change in dates – where the 50s comic set Dare’s stories (if I recall correctly) in the 1990s, the 80s version moves his timeframe to 2018 – which isn’t all that far off, now I think about it. Writer Tom Tully actually maintains continuity well, by having Dare sr refer to his Battle of Britain days. A nefarious plan by the Mekon brings him forward exactly 200 years to meet his blond relative on Dreamland, an artificial holiday planetoid he supposedly built himself. Instead of just killing them, the Mekon makes the two Dares work together, struggling to survive against the re-programmed holiday droids in a scenario which explicitly references the film Westworld. It’s a fun concept, although probably over-long at 20 episodes. Digby gets some nice action, although sadly doesn’t get to meet his own ancestor. There is also a fun time-wimey conclusion, where Dare jr suggests that Dare sr got the idea to build Dreamland from visiting the run-down homicidal version of his own time.

 

Dan Dare was still in colour, but losing more pages to black and white than usual, as issue 212 premiered a new strip, which began with a sort of red wash, then moved to full colour: Legend of the Linkits. The reason, of course, was that this was another toy tie-in. Linkits are a now virtually forgotten toy range manufactured by Matchbox and which appears to have been a less-flexible version of Lego. Good luck getting a story out of that, but G Douglas, fresh from his Star Riders space-saga, gamely gives it a go. The stars are a family of space colonists, Sam Johnson and his parents, who land on the planet of the Linkits and encounter intelligent robots that come apart at will, such as Ricky Robug, and his villainous counterpart, Attila the shop steward – which tells you something about 80s politics. Real evil is provided by the non-Linkit Kranials, a race of frog-like aliens who invade early on, and over the course of its 37 episodes, the strip gradually turns into a war story. I must confess I quite enjoyed this, but it remains pretty gentle stuff right up until the final, magical solution.

 

More sophistication is provided by Doomlord, which is approaching the end of its epic ‘Son of Doomlord’ storyline by this point (67 episodes by my reckoning!). Doomlord Vek accelerates his son, Enok, through the next stage of his growth cycle in an attempt to purge the evil in his heart, taking Enok through to early-adulthood. Enok seems cured, and when Vek is killed by the Kangols – a race of robotic lizards – Enok fights off their invasion. The Kangols turn out to be test, created by Vek himself, but in the sort of about-turn that would become familiar to Doomlord readers, Enok turns out to have been faking all along. He is actually completely evil.

 

I’ve waxed lyrical about Eric Bradbury’s artwork before, but he produces some beautiful stuff here, particularly for scenes set in Doomlord’s isolarium (a sort-of Fortress of Solitude that he’s built on the dark side of the moon) where Doomlord lets his consciousness roam the universe. It’s while he’s doing this that Enok kills him with some Noxian Badstone (a sort-of Kryptonite – next thing we know, Doomlord will be leaping tall buildings at a single bound). Enok then decides to destroy humanity – not because of a mission from Nox, but because he’s feeling a bit irritable. He starts by making a virus which will affect everyone – given that he’s the first Doomlord to actually succeed at this, you have to wonder where the others were going wrong all those times. Fortunately, it’s just a virus which causes boils and itching – Enok wants humanity to suffer before he finishes us off. This gives Sir Douglas Reeve time to sacrifice himself and bring Vek back from the dead to face his worst dilemma: can he kill his own son – even to save the Earth?

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Eagle was going through a stable period at this point, with several long-running popular strips, including The Thirteenth Floor and The Computer Warrior. The former is still finding new stories to do, with Max’s systems getting infiltrated by Boris, a computer in Moscow, causing him to go back to his MI5 friends for an unlikely Russian adventure. Then, in issue 225, Max starts to go mad, leading to an entertaining story where he narrates his own unbalanced behaviour. As ever, the best thing about Max’s adventures is the character of Max himself.

 

Meanwhile, Bobby Patterson is rapidly approaching the end of his mission to save his friend, Martin French, with increasing evidence of padding happening as writers Wagner and Grant realise they have a mega-hit on their hands but not that many games left for Bobby to play. At one point, Martin has his own adventure to see if he can escape the Nightmare Zone for himself. One of the options he is offered is Pacman, which I would have paid to see. In the end, he plays (and loses) at Uggabulla, an entirely fictional game which sadly fails to convince. Meanwhile, Bobby’s parents have reconciled themselves to his computer, with his dad even joining in with some of his games. “He’s getting better,” they tell each other, apparently oblivious to the fact that it’s their behaviour which has changed. Intentional satire? Perhaps. The series now has a regular artist in the shape of Mike Western, who provides some quality work, but I find myself missing the anarchic quality of the earlier stories, with John Cooper drawing a younger version of Bobby than everyone else.

 

Issue 221 sees the debut of another new strip – Dolebusters. This could only really be from the minds of Wagner and Grant, which is lucky, coz it is. Chas, Kaz and Dogbone are three 16 year olds, leaving school without any qualifications, and with virtually zero chance of getting a job. This was a pretty familiar, and as I recall, frightening prospect in the 1980s which had 3 million unemployed. Not much different to today, in fact. Naturally, Wagner and Grant mine this for laughs, as Chas and his mates set up their own odd-job business by placing a classified ad in the papers as ‘Dolebusters’. And they do some very odd jobs indeed. With art from John Burns, this strip is a superior product, although a real-life version of their business would probably just spend all its time mowing peoples lawns.

 

It’s not all good news. As the Tiger-related sales bounce wore off, Eagle found itself back in the world of the re-print, and so both Billy’s Boots and D.A.D.D. made way for Ant Wars (in issue 217), originally published in 2000AD in 1978. It’s fair to say that this is not one of the best remembered strips from the house of Tharg. Set in the forests of Brazil, an untested new insecticide causes ants to grow to the size of houses and destroy an army unit. The one surviving soldier and his native guide then spend the next 15 episodes trying to warn people the ants are coming. Whoever they meet refuses to believe them, and then gets their head bitten off by an ant. It’s a solid formula – just a bit too solid. The main problem is that where most Eagle strips were about 3 pages, most 2000AD strips were (and are) more like 6 pages. Where 2000AD has 5 or 6 stories per issue, Eagle at this point had 9. It did go down to 8 for a few issues, but the introduction of Dolebusters brought it up to 9 again, which meant that to accommodate 6 pages of re-print every week, many original strips like Legend of the Linkits, frequently Dolebusters and occasionally Death Wish, amongst others, were restricted to just 2, limiting the stories that could be told.

 

Story index:

pt 8: 209-229


DEATH WISH

untitled (“The Haunted Castle”), 8 episodes, issues 209-216 (Mar. to May 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo

untitled (“Werewolf”), 10 episodes, issues 217-226 (May to July 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo

untitled (“The Monster”), 7 episodes, issues 227-233 (July to Sep. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Eduardo Vanyo


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“The Two Dares”), 20 episodes, issues 210-229 (Mar. to Aug. 1986)
Story by Tom Tully, art by Carlos Cruz


THE COMPUTER WARRIOR

PSI-5: Trading Company, 6 episodes, issues 210-215 (Mar. to May 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

Uggabulla, 4 episodes, issues 216-219 (May 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

Silent Service, 6 episodes, issues 220-225 (June to July 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

Kung-Fu Master, 6 episodes, issues 226-231 (July to Aug. 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western


DOOMLORD

untitled (Son of Doomlord: Enok the Good), 11 episodes, issues 211-221 (Apr. to June 1986)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury

untitled (Son of Doomlord: Enok the Bad), 20 episodes, issues 222-241 (June to Nov. 1986)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury


THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR

untitled (“Boris”), 15 episodes, issues 211-225 (Apr. to July 1986)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz

untitled (“Mad Max”), 12 episodes, issues 226-237 (July to Oct. 1986)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz


LEGEND OF THE LINKITS

Legend of the Linkits, 37 episodes, issues 212-248 (Apr. to Dec. 1986)
Story by G Douglas, art by Rex Archer


ANT WARS

Ant Wars, 15 episodes, issues 217-231 (May to Aug. 1986)
Story by Gerry Finley-Day, art by Ferrer (eps 1,2,5,9), Lozano (ep 3), Azpiri (eps 4,6-8,10-14) & Pena (ep 15)


IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY...

If You Go Down to the Woods Today... (A Max Story), issue 220 (June 1986)
Story by uncredited, art by Casanovas


DOLEBUSTERS

Dolebusters, 29 episodes, issues 221-249 (June to Dec. 1986)
Story by B Waddle (John Wagner), art by John Burns

80s Eagle issues 186-208

Issue 186 of Eagle and Tiger saw the introduction of a new story from the fertile mind of Barrie Tomlinson: S.O.S. – Special Operations Squad. S.O.S. are a bit like the S.A.S., but there’s only 4 of them. They run around shooting people and blowing things up. Not randomly. Because they’re told to. The central figure is Captain John West, who spends the first few episodes putting together his team – an ex-police firearms expert, an explosives fanatic, and “Fingers” Malone, a light-fingered safe-cracker and coward. This quartet then go on to have some violent adventures, taking out jungle guerrillas, plane hijackers and dodgy dictators, with a sprinkling of mildly amusing wise-cracking along the way. Supported by strong, clean art by Sandy James, this rattles along fairly happily for the next 52 weeks. In fact, the main weak point is John West himself, who is the dullest member of the team. That’s presumably why, about halfway through, he gets killed off and replaced by a new commanding officer – the sexy female Captain Ironstead, who turns up in the tightest of tight jumpsuits and shakes things up a bit. Ultimately however, the continuous action gets a bit wearing, and the one-dimensional characterisation failed to hold my interest.

 

Tomlinson’s masterpiece remains Death Wish, which returns to the supernatural with “The Witch” (issues 193-199). The story also features the return of Suzie Walsh, although it at no point explains how she got out of jail. The story opens with her back in the journalism business when her car goes off the road, and she gets captured by the eponymous witch, put in a medieval maid’s costume and chained up in the cellar. Suzie gets chained or tied up quite a lot. It has been pointed out that she’s actually a strong, brave female role model for the time – she’s not repulsed by Blake’s face, and is frequently getting involved in the action. Having said that, the stories do often put her in the ‘damsel in distress’ position waiting helplessly for Blake to come to her aid. On this occasion, a ghost goes to tell Blake she’s in trouble and sends him to rescue her. Blake grumbles about this a bit at first – the only reference to their falling out (see previous blog entry). I spent this entire adventure looking forward to their reconciliation at the end, but it never happens – when they do get together, there isn’t so much as a “what are you doing out of jail?” before they wander off into the sunrise. It’s deeply unsatisfying.

 

Next up is “Ghost Mine” (issues 200-208), in which workmen restoring an old mine for public access are attacked by scary skeletal figures. This leads to some genuinely creepy scenes from artist Eduardo Vanyo, as men are killed and carried down the mineshaft by skeletons. Blake and Suzie are sent to investigate, and get into the usual high-octane action adventure down the scary old haunted mine. If this scenario all sounds a bit Scooby Doo to you, then you won’t be surprised to learn that the climax owes more to nasty criminal forgers than spooky goings on. And they would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling disfigured sports star.

 

Tomlinson was a busy man at this point, as he was also writing Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, which started new story ‘The Bubble’ in issue 188. This saw the return of the Mekon after probably his longest gap so far, at least 29 issues. The comic makes a big splash out of this, as the old Mekon turns into a husk and dies, and gets his mind transferred into a new one. As the cover promises us, he will “never be the same again”, although he still looks exactly the same, and still has all the same memories, so it’s hard to get too excited. Perhaps sensing this, Tomlinson also gives him a new chair. This also looks exactly the same. BUT – it has new abilities, like weaponry that puts big bubbles around stuff making enemies float away, hilariously. This is such a good wheeze, he uses it to put a massive bubble around the entire Earth, so that when Dare and crew get home on the Z-100, they are unable to land. Much of the subsequent action takes place on Venus. This was slightly controversial by the 1980s, as we knew by that point that the surface of Venus is a fiery hellhole – the excuse given in Eagle is that all probes have landed in the flame belt between the lands of the Treens and the Therons. After some escapades, Dare and Digby defeat the new Mekon, but still have to get rid of the bubble around the Earth. Tomlinson’s science has always been a bit dodgy, and in this story we’re told that the bubble is poisoning the Earth’s atmosphere, because the toxins cannot escape into space. I think even as a young teenager, I knew that this was a crock.

 

Clearly, the time was ripe for a change, and curiously, this happens partway through ‘The Bubble’ as Tom Tully takes over the writing (working to Tomlinson’s notes??) four episodes from the end. With Tomlinson now writing three different strips for Eagle and Tiger, perhaps he felt that it was time to drop one of them. After all, as group editor, he surely had other things to get on with. Tully was a competent writer, but in retrospect, a dangerous choice for Dan Dare. He had previously taken over writing duties on the 2000AD version of Dan Dare in the late 1970s, which had seen the character move further and further away from his Frank Hampson origins, turning into a vengeful and violent figure, complete with a metal hand. During Tully’s 2000AD run, the strip had been abruptly cancelled partway through a story. Well… let’s see how he gets on this time.

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Tully’s first full script on the strip was ‘The Crystal Spores’, beginning in issue 200. (Worth mentioning that the story was untitled in the pages of the comic. Most story titles in this blog, particularly for Death Wish, have been made up by myself, although I have taken some of the Dan Dare ones – this included – from a fan website.) Relatively short (at 10 episodes) it features the Z-100 coming across an abandoned space freighter, adrift in space with a dead crew. It’s a subtle introduction from Tully, who keeps on Digby, Pinkerton and Robo-One, but also introduces new crew members, including Cypho the alien translator, and Velvet O’Neal a bubbly, inexperienced SPS trooper. This helps to round out the cast, making the Z-100 a more interesting and realistic place to be. The mystery on the dead freighter is also rather a lot of fun, and suddenly it feels as if we’re reading genuine science fiction. I make no claims for this being great literature, but I’m a sucker for a ‘ghost-ship’ story, and to my mind this is the best Dan Dare story since the Pat Mills era, over two years earlier.

 

For three of our strips in this period, it’s pretty much ‘business as usual’. Doomlord sees his son, Enok, kidnapped by the Firelords – Noxian fanatics with permanent flame coming out of their eyeballs like Dark Judge Fire from Judge Dredd – and taken to their home planet for execution as an abomination. They distract Vek by creating a volcano in Trafalgar Square which, brilliantly, he plugs using Nelson’s column. Then he tracks the Firelords down to rescue his son. On The Thirteenth Floor (having presumably exhausted all the stories you can set in a department store) Max gets suddenly homesick, and has his MI5 buddies transfer him back to Maxwell Tower as if nothing had ever happened. He soon goes back to his bad old ways with his thirteenth floor, but also uses it to reform an incorrigible old bank robber and to train up a school nerd to defend himself from bullies.

 

Meanwhile, Computer Warrior sees Bobby Patterson defeating several more mostly genuine games in his epic quest to save his friend, Martin French. He faces increasing opposition in the real world, including from his dad who, in a moment of finely-judged sensitive parenting, decides to destroy the computer with a cricket bat. Fortunately for Martin, Bobby’s lightening-fast reflexes mean that he is able to unplug the computer and successfully whisk it away from under the descending cricket bat, before hiding it at a friend’s house. When Bobby returns home, his father is so incensed, he bends him over his knee and takes his belt to him. Sometimes, the 1980s just seem like different planet.

 

After the issue 200 celebrations are over, issue 201 sees the introduction of a new story: D.A.D.D. – Dial a Dawn Destructor! It is written by Scott Goodall, who has not had much in Eagle for a little while by this point, but has come up with some pretty wacky concepts in the past. He doesn’t let us down here, as Dawn Destruction are a four-piece heavy metal band, who only play gigs during daylight. That’s right, as one of the caption boxes tells us: “Two beat-laden hours, and the pulsating show was at an end.” The reason is because after dark, the band fights crime! They’ve placed a classified ad in the paper saying ‘Phone D.A.D.D.’ so that anyone in trouble can, instead of calling the police, get 4 drug-addled rock musicians to turn up instead! Why has no one done this before? It’s all so obvious, now. Strangely, this strip seems to have made a strong impression on me at the time. I can still remember the coolest character, guitarist Slim, explaining that he never smiles in case he gets wrinkles. Funny what sticks in your head. Anyway, this can’t have been popular with readers, as the strip comes to an end after just 16 episodes, meaning that shortly after their lengthy origin story, D.A.D.D. disappear for good.

 

The most notable feature of the early 200s, is the gradually reducing visibility of the merger with Tiger. Apart from Death Wish, the only remaining strips with separate ‘Tiger’ credit boxes were Star Rider and Billy’s Boots. Star Rider had basically abandoned its BMX-origins for a lengthy adventure in space, while even Billy Dane was playing less football than usual. Then, from issue 205, the cover logo was changed to reduce the size of the ‘and Tiger‘, so now the comic was very much EAGLE (and Tiger).

 

Star Rider‘s new outer-space remit made the best use of Jose Casanovas’ art, but the story-telling had not become any more engaging. The bike-riding chums are back on Earth by issue 210, promising to enter the BMX world-championships. We can’t contain our excitement, but then the strip gets cancelled in the very next issue, 211. Billy Dane sticks it out until issue 216, his adventures getting increasingly extreme up until a climax with him crashing a private plane into a mountain. No kidding. After 58 episodes on the run, he is finally reunited with his gran, and then transferred straight to a more comfortable home in Roy of the Rovers leaving Death Wish as the final carrier of the Tiger torch.

 

 

Aaand the story index…

 

pt 7: 186-208


S.O.S. - SPECIAL OPERATIONS SQUAD

S.O.S. - Special Operations Squad, 52 episodes, issues 186-237 (Oct. 1985 to Oct. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Sandy James


THE COMPUTER WARRIOR

Ghostbusters, 6 episodes, issues 187-192 (Oct. to Nov. 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Ian Kennedy

Walls of Jericho, 7 episodes, issues 193-199 (Nov. 1985 to Jan. 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

Desert Fox, 6 episodes, issues 200-205 (Jan. to Feb. 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

untitled (“The Nightmare Zone”), 4 episodes, issues 206-209 (Mar. 1986)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Mike Western


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“The Bubble”), 12 episodes, issues 188-199 (Oct. 1985 to Jan. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson) (eps 1-8) and Tom Tully (eps 9-12), art by Carlos Cruz

untitled (“The Crystal Spores”), 10 episodes, issues 200-209 (Jan. to Mar. 1986)
Story by Tom Tully, art by Carlos Cruz


DEATH WISH

untitled (“Assassins”), 4 episodes, issues 189-192 (Nov. 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo

untitled (“The Witch”), 7 episodes, issues 193-199 (Nov. 1985 to Jan. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo

untitled (“Ghost Mine”), 9 episodes, issues 200-208 (Jan. to Mar. 1986)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo


THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR

untitled (“Homesick”), 3 episodes, issues 193-195 (Nov. to Dec. 1985)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz

untitled (“Back in the Tower”), 15 episodes, issues 196-210 (Dec. 1985 to Mar. 1986)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz


DOOMLORD

untitled (Son of Doomlord: The Fire Lords), 11 episodes, issues 200-210 (Jan. to Mar. 1986)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury


D.A.D.D. - DIAL A DAWN DESTRUCTOR!

D.A.D.D., 16 episodes, issues 201-216 (Jan. to May 1986)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Lalia (eps 1-12) and J Richardson (eps 13-16)

80s Eagle issues 159-185

I didn’t become a regular Eagle reader until issue 159 (6 April 1985). As mentioned in previous entries, I was a subscriber to another IPC title which I didn’t much like – Tiger. Tiger was at this time one of the longest-running comics in the UK, having begun publication in 1954. It had begun as an action/adventure title, but a series of mergers, particularly with Scorcher in the mid-70s, had left it very much with a sports bent – and I didn’t like sports.

 

So why keep buying it, you might ask? Good question. I could have asked my mum to start getting something else for me, but there was a strip – Sintek – where I was gripped by the story. Sintek had had various limbs replaced by cybernetic parts which, this being Tiger, he used to cheat at various sports. Why this had me gripped, I don’t recall, having not read it in the 30 years since, but I tolerated most of the other strips like Hot-Shot Hamish and Johnny Cougar in order to get my fix of Sintek.

 

By the mid-80s, Tiger was perhaps beginning to struggle – I seem to remember a lot of re-print material – but still popular in some quarters. IPC seem to have been going through a process of rationalising, however, and reducing the number of titles they were producing, and so it went to the wall. (Many thanks to superb blog GreatNewsForAllReaders for helping me to get my facts straight on this.) Tiger would be merged with Eagle, and unusually, this would be a combination of equals – in the new Eagle and Tiger, both logos were given equal prominence. Eagle came first, and retained its numbering, but it seems as if things could easily have gone the other way. Most the the Eagle stories in the new comic started new plot lines, while most of the remaining Tiger strips just carried on without pause, leaving regular Eagle readers to struggle to pick up what was going on. A form of apartheid was maintained within the pages of Eagle and Tiger, as the Tiger stories had their own banner (‘A Tiger story’) and credit boxes, distinct from the Eagle ones. Eagle would survive – just.

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Incidentally, did these mergers ever work? I’m sure IPC bean counters thought it was a good idea – “instead of selling these two titles to 100,000 readers each, we can just produce one title and sell it to 200,000 readers!” I’m sure the new title settled down to selling 100,000 copies, and British comics continued their long, slow decline.

 

So anyway, Hot-Shot Hamish transferred directly to football title Roy of the Rovers, Sintek and Johnny Cougar went to the wall, and 4 strips transferred directly to Eagle and Tiger. My favourite of these was probably Death Wish, which started in another comic, Speed, back in February 1980. It starred Blake Edmonds, a racing driver who had his handsome face burned off in a crash, and from then on wore a mask to conceal his horrific injuries. Blake then announced he would take on any stunt – the more dangerous the better – in the hope of ending his life. At some point in his adventures, he met Suzie Walsh, who I think was a journalist or something. She sticks in my mind since, as drawn by Vanyo, she remains one of the most beautiful female characters in any boys comic of the period, and certainly used to get my teenage heart beating a bit faster whenever she was around. There was never any hint of sexual tension between Blake and Suzie in the storylines or dialogue, but reading it now, you have to think, “come on… they are… aren’t they?”

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By about 1984, writer Barrie Tomlinson was clearly struggling to come up with new death-defying stunts for Blake to carry out, and so the story began to stray into ever more outlandish territories, finishing its run in Tiger with my favourite story ever to appear within its pages – a 15-episode epic in which Blake crashes his bi-plane in the African jungle (after events in a previous story too unlikely to go into now) and gets taken to a mysterious building haunted by ghosts – good ghosts and evil ghosts! Eventually, the evil ghosts clone Blake, producing lots of evil Blakes, plus a giant Blake, who he pesuades to fight all the other Blakes, before they eventually explode! Susie Walsh gets approached by the good ghosts and goes out to rescue Blake, despite having no impact on events whatsoever when she gets there! Okay, in retrospect, I can’t remember why I liked this so much. Possibly because there was no sport in it. Also, the ‘good’ ghosts are quite charming and funny. None of which should distract from the sheer left-fieldness of all this: after 5 years of stunts and espionage, we get ghosts! Supernatural! Clones! And this even before Death Wish moved to Eagle.

 

The story may have been brought to a hasty conclusion, for the merger – dropping Eagle readers into all that would have been a bit much. After the move, Blake still seems to be magnet for the supernatural, as ghosts force him and Suzie to go after some gangsters who have robbed jewellery from graves.This leads them to Los Angeles and getting chucked into the Pacific with concrete boots on. Just another day in the life for Blake. Someone may have thought the supernatural elements had gone a bit far, as the next story (issue 171) is set in a more realistic world – by Death Wish standards, that is. In a return to the original format, Blake decides to do a really dangerous stunt – jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute, and attempting to catch one suspended from a balloon.  Some other nutter has already died attempting this, and Suzie is worried enough that she tries to put him off by shooting him in the arm. She ends up in jail, and Blake goes ahead and does the stunt with one arm. The real break-up comes when Suzie calls Blake ‘ugly’ while he’s trying to break her out. He’s a sensitive soul, and leaves her to rot, which was a shame for Suzie fans like myself. Issue 176 sees him start a new adventure, in which an unnamed intelligence agency gives him a face made out of plastic and sends him to rescue an American agent from an unspecified East Asian country (but which bears a strong resemblance to Vietnam). I won’t bore you with details, but every week a bit more of Blake’s new face breaks off when he gets shot, scratched or – in one case – attacked by an eagle, with hilarious effect when you’re reading all the episodes strung together.

 

Tiger‘s most popular strip, although not with me, was Billy’s Boots, in which Billy Dane gets old of some old football boots, once used by Jimmy ‘Dead Shot’ Keen. When he’s wearing the boots, Billy can play genius football, but he’s rubbish when he doesn’t have them. Written by Fred Baker (with superb art by John Gillatt), it’s never made entirely clear whether the boots are genuinely magic, or whether the effect is entirely psychological. I found this intensely boring, as I didn’t like football, and Billy never started flying spaceships or anything. The strip debuted in Scorcher in 1970, and then ran for years and years, despite only really having one plot so far as I could see:

Billy’s got his boots – he can play football

Billy loses his boots – he can’t play any more

Billy finds his boots – hurrah!

 

I’m being a little unfair. Re-reading these strips as an adult, I find that they’re extremely efficiently written. In just 3 pages, somehow every episode crams in a conclusion to the previous cliffhanger, a development of the continuing storyline, some deft characterisation, and a new cliffhanger for next week, while still finding time to cram in some football. The strips in Eagle and Tiger come from a particularly fraught time in Billy’s life as his gran is in hospital in a coma, and he’s been put into a children’s home. He decides to run away with nothing but a few quid, his gran’s address book, his boots and a football. He then does remarkably well at looking after himself and finding people to play football with, despite the fact that everywhere he goes, he ends up bumping into shoplifters, burglars, smugglers, blackmailers and even potential murderers. Really, his luck needs to change sometime. But never does.

 

At the other end of the scale was Star Rider, a relatively recent Tiger strip about a young octopoid alien who comes to Earth, where he disguises himself as a human and adopts the identity of Terry Fenton. Once settled, he quite naturally joins the local BMX team and we get lots of stories about BMX bikes. It always slightly worried me however, because when Terry was in his alien form, he stood on what appeared to be a single stalk, so how exactly was he straddling his bike? Clearly inspired by E.T., Star Rider was one of the strips from Tiger that I liked at the time, despite not really having any interest in the sports elements. However, on re-reading it now, the scripts by otherwise unknown G Douglas are really quite poor. The rather uninvolving plot has Terry causing a fatal accident at a BMX race, which leads to his home planet of Cyton sending another alien to bring him back for justice or kill him or something. By the mid-180s, the Eagle style starts to take over, and Terry takes admits to his 4 interchangeable BMX mates that he’s an alien, and takes them back to his home planet to rescue his father. Naturally, they bring their bikes with them. The only redeeming feature is the art by Jose Casanovas, which is rather swish. Casanovas is another European artist, and one who does not seem to have done much research – his version of the UK is just slightly unconvincing. Things like trains and the countryside don’t look right – when the boys go to the Science Museum to retrieve Terry’s spaceship (naturally, after capturing it, the authorities have put it on display) Casanovas just draws a generic futuristic building in the middle of nowhere.

 

The fourth and last strip to transfer from Tiger was Golden Boy, which I had no recollection of until I read it again. It follows the adventures of Jamie Speed, the titular golden boy, who seems have grown up in the woods or something after the death of his parents, and has gone on to be an athlete and double Olympic gold winner. By the time the story hits the Eagle, this is already done with, and Jamie is being blackmailed to take part in the Suicide Games, a sports competition where every stage is likely to kill you. When the competitors enter a 100 yards sprint, the organisers will release a Cheetah to run down and eat whoever is slowest. We get told that it’s very popular with viewers, although even setting the story in Los Angeles doesn’t convince me that anyone would ever be allowed to do this – it’s basically snuff TV. The script is by “A Power”, whoever that is, and given the quality, it’s hard to see why anyone felt this was worth saving when Tiger went down the tubes. It can’t have been popular with readers, either, and the plot takes a couple of sharp changes in direction. Part of Jamie’s blackmail is that he’s being fed ‘clues’ about his parents’ deaths. These build up like a sort-of jigsaw puzzle, to construct a picture that will explain who is responsible. Its actually quite visually interesting, but a complete cheat, as it doesn’t go anywhere – before we can get the whole picture, the blackmail plot is abruptly wrapped up, and Jamie inexplicably decides to continue competing in the Suicide games even though he no longer needs to. A few episodes after that, in issue 185, the whole story is brought to a speedy conclusion, and Golden Boy is gone – the first Tiger story to get dropped from the pages of Eagle and Tiger.

 

As well as four stories from Tiger, four carried on from the previous version of Eagle. One was The Robo-Machines, which sailed serenely on before stopping rather suddenly in issue 175 with several plot threads unresolved. Then there was The Thirteenth Floor, which had a slightly unusual problem – its central character, Max the computer, had just been promoted to be the comics new fictional ‘editor’. This was quite common in IPC comics, with Tharg at 2000AD and Ghastly McNasty at Scream! Readers of Eagle had got used to Dave Hunt editing it under his own name – it seems he was still working on it, but we now get weekly messages from Max. Which is all well and good, but the Max of The Thirteenth Floor is really quite sketchy, entirely capable of scaring his victims literally to death, so suddenly having him as our genial editor completely undermines the character.

 

Perhaps realising this, writers Wagner and Grant take him in a new direction – just two episodes into the new run, police storm Maxwell Towers and switch Max off. When he is turned back on again, it is to find that he’s been bought by a department store, tasked with looking after the customers. His thirteenth floor is explained as having been the result of a “faulty I.F. module”. Max, of course, wastes no time in burning out his new I.F. module, and creating a new thirteenth floor at the top of the escalators, where he can send shoplifters, rude customers and basically anyone that he takes a dislike to. Even more surprising is when it turns out that the changing cubicles have got a secret entrance through to an MI5 base. Max wastes no time in joining MI5, but has trouble accepting authority, eventually turning in his new boss, Auberon Hedges, hypnotising him, and forcing him to do his bidding. Max decides that Hedges needs to be promoted, and so sends him off with mini-Max to assassinate oriental villain Lee van Choo on his death island. Ouch. Distressing Fu Manchu racial stereotypes aside, this is an entertaining, and indeed frequently hilarious adventure, with Max emerging true to himself, but in a slightly less horror-focused scenario. Wagner and Grant continue to produce the best and wittiest strips in the comic.

 

No exception is Doomlord, which is going from strength to strength in this period. Cleverly, Grant and Wagner choose to virtually reboot the concept in the first Eagle and Tiger by bringing back Doomlord Zyn from the dead and having him as determined to carry out sentence of death on humanity as ever. This time of course, Vek stands in his way, and the Doomlords must battle for survival. There are some striking sequences here, notably when Zyn kills a couple of policemen – one by throwing him against some power cables and the other by spearing him with a football pitch corner flag. Eagle was limited in how much violence it could show, and artist Eric Bradbury renders this scene with very heavy shadows, creating a series of images which have stayed with me through the 30 years since.

 

Even more epic is a new storyline beginning in issue 175, when Vek decides he needs to experience the human emotion of love, and so creates a son. He does this by injecting his blood (!) into a human ovum. I guess we don’t really want to think about what other… fluids he may have. The result is Enok, who comes to resent his own human half, and gradually turns to evil over a loooong sequence of stories which would take up much of the rest of Doomlord‘s run. Again, this is sophisticated stuff, as Vek feels no love for his son at first, but gradually parenthood begins to change him.

 

Finally, there is Dan Dare, which now gets credit boxes for the first time since the days of Pat Mills, and we learn that the writer is “D Horton” – IPC group editor Barrie Tomlinson. In fact, based on stylistic similarities and so forth, I’d be willing to bet that Tomlinson had been writing the strip since at least ‘Prisoners of Space’ back in issue 94. As we’ve seen from Death Wish, Tomlinson was capable of writing some pretty mad stuff, and as Dave Hunt’s boss he could presumably do what he liked (although his Dan Dare scripts are a bit more restrained). Issue 159 saw a new story, ‘The Flesh Eaters’, which – disappointing to me at the time – is set on Earth, with Dan and professor Pinkerton on holiday in Africa. Meanwhile, in Great Britain, which is definitely not on the bottom of the sea where Pat Mills left it, workers digging a tunnel to Scandinavia under the north sea hit an ancient buried spaceship and release some jelly-like creatures. Clearly inspired by the film Alien, these are capable (in some surprisingly gruesome scenes) of sucking the flesh off a living creature’s bones in a few seconds, leaving just a skeleton. And they’re hungry. As attacks spread all over the world, the British Prime Minister is forced ti respond to the emergency, and although never named, bears a striking resemblance to Margaret Thatcher. I can’t help thinking that this suggests that the Iron Lady has somehow taken youth-extending treatment and continued her premiership on into the 23rd century – a frighteningly plausible scenario in the 1980s. Dare encounters the creatures in Africa, but never quite gets eaten. He has developed a cold at a convenient moment, and in a twist reminiscent of War of the Worlds, the aliens catch his sniffles and die. Dare gets to finish his holiday, and in a James Bond-ish final scene, we see him sat on the beach vid-phoning the PM while sat next to Pinkerton who is in a tiny bikini. Hubba hubba. In fact, this does seem to have got artist Carlos Cruz a little over-excited, as the way he’s drawn Pinkerton, her legs appear to be about 6 feet long.

 

In issue 173 begins ‘Planet of Animals’ in which Dare gets a new spaceship, the Z-100, and Robo-One returns with a new look. More significantly, we are introduced to Digby – the great-great grandson of the original Digby, he looks just like him, but without the thick Yorkshire accent. Digby immediately becomes Dare’s new side-kick, pushing Pinkerton even further into the shade. Tomlinson’s grasp of science seems to be a little shaky, as they track a missile which has been launched from the surface of planet Zarton and somehow drifted into Earth’s vicinity within a few months. The Z-100 flies to Zarton, where the animals – they look exactly like Earth animals, but in army uniforms – are engaged in an eternal war with the insects. After some mildly wacky adventures, Dare fails to persuade them to stop fighting, and they blow the whole entire planet. So let that be a lesson to you.

 

The 9th story in issue 159 was a new one and, perhaps significantly, came under the Eagle banner. From the fertile minds of Wagner and Grant, this was The Computer Warrior (originally inexplicably titled The Ultimate Warrior, although this changed after a few issues) and would stick with Eagle for the rest of its life. Teenage hero Bobby Paterson learns that his friend Martin French has uncovered a secret computer code that lets him play computer games for real, but having lost the ultimate game, has become trapped inside his computer forever. The only way Bobby can save him is to enter the computer himself, and beat 10 games on real-life mode to become the Ultimate Warrior (oh… I get it). This was a canny concept, as computer games were already eating into the boys comics market (and would eventually annihilate it) and so Eagle tackles them head-on. The real stroke of genius was that most of the games Bobby plays are genuine games (mostly for the Commodore 64) on sale in the shops, which the comic could then offer free copies of to lucky winners.

 

These days, when computer games are totally immersive and have the budgets of major motion pictures, it’s hard to explain just how exciting this was in the 80s. Something like Wizard of Wor would have been a simple 2D platform game, and even today it’s rather charming to see it turned into a series of real dungeons for Bobby to run around, shooting demons. Each game was usually covered in about 6 episodes, and Bobby’s life outside the computer also got quite complex, as his parents and everyone else refused to believe him when he told them that his missing friend was trapped in his computer.

 

A forced marriage with Tiger had undeniably weakened Eagle‘s USP, but it came with some benefits, too. For the first time in years there was no re-print material in the comic, and it also brought top IPC artists Sandy James and Mike Western to the title. Both of these got to work on Computer Warrior, alongside stalwarts Ian Kennedy and John Cooper as – in a neat stylistic trick – every time Bobby started playing a new computer game, another artist took over the strip. Computer Warrior looked great, and had a gripping storyline – it was an instant hit with readers, rapidly being treated to not exactly colour art, but a sort-of red wash. It looks nice. Honestly.

eagtig27

A small change to the line-up came with issue 176, when Robo-Machines was replaced by Shadow. Shadow is a highly-intelligent alsation (german shepherd if you prefer), beautifully drawn by Mike Western, and reminiscent of Lassie or the Littlest Hobo. He is a New York police dog, who runs away when criminals kill his police handler, determined to take matters into his own paws and catch the murderers. Written by Wagner and Grant, it puts me in and of a canine One-Eyed Jack. The story does run out of steam a bit after he has brought the criminals to justice, and moves onto a farm in the country to live with a boy and his horse. Perhaps understandably, the story was not a long-runner, coming to an end in issue 200.

 

Eagle and Tiger was a hybrid comic, and understandably not entirely successful. It was an unusual experiment, virtually a partnership of equals, but things could not carry on that way indefinitely. With the cancellation of Golden Boy, the proportion of Eagle to Tiger stories went from 5:4 to 6:3 –  the big cat was slowly losing out to the … sharp-clawed bird. Oh, I dunno. I’ve pushed this metaphor too far, haven’t I?

 

The story index, issues 159-185:

 

DOOMLORD

untitled (The Return of Zyn), 16 episodes, issues 159-174 (Apr. to Jul. 1985)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury

untitled (Son of Doomlord), 25 episodes, issues 175-199 (Jul. 1985 to Jan. 1986)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury


BILLY'S BOOTS

Billy's Boots, 58 episodes (of many) in Eagle & Tiger, issues 159-216 (Apr. 1985 to May 1986)
Story by Fred Baker, art by John Gillatt


STAR RIDER

Star Rider, 53 episodes in Eagle & Tiger, issues 159-211 (Apr. 1985 to Apr. 1986)
Story by G Douglas, art by Jose Casanovas (eps 1-41, 45-53) and P Gascoine (eps 42-44)


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“The Flesh Easters”), 14 episodes, issues 159-172 (Apr. to Jul. 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Carlos Cruz

untitled (“Planet of Animals”), 15 episodes, issues 173-187 (July to Oct. 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Carlos Cruz


THE COMPUTER WARRIOR

The Ultimate Warrior, 4 episodes, issues 159-162 (Apr. 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

Wizard of Wor, 5 episodes, issues 163-167 (May to June 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Ian Kennedy

Pastfinder!, 6 episodes, issues 168-173 (June to July 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Sandy James

Rescue on Fractulus!, 6 episodes, issues 174-179 (July to Aug. 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

The Great American Cross-Country Road Race, 7 episodes, issues 180-186 (Aug. to Oct. 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by Ian Kennedy (eps 1-4) and John Cooper (eps 5-7)


GOLDEN BOY

Golden Boy, 27 episodes in Eagle & Tiger, issues 159-184 (Apr. to Oct. 1985)
Story by A Power, art by Mike Western (eps 1-15) & Sandy James (eps 16-27)


DEATH WISH

untitled (“Grave Robbers”), 12 episodes, issues 159-170 (Apr. to June 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo

untitled (“The Break-up”), 5 episodes, issues 171-175 (June to July 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo

untitled (“A New Face”), 13 episodes, issues 176-188 (Aug. to Oct. 1985)
Story by D Horton (Barrie Tomlinson), art by Vanyo


THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR

untitled (“The Big Store”), 9 episodes, issues 161-169 (Apr. to June 1985)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz

untitled (“Max the Spy”), 23 episodes, issues 170-192 (June to Nov. 1985)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz


SLEEPING BEAUTY

Sleeping Beauty, issue 165 (May1985)
Story by uncredited, art by uncredited


SHADOW

Shadow, 25 episodes, issues 176-200 (Aug. 1985 to Jan. 1986)
Story by R Clark (John Wagner), art by Mike Western

 

 

80s Eagle issues 128-158

Scream! is a well-remembered horror anthology title that IPC published for 15 issues between 24 March and 30 June 1984. Unfortunately, it was then hit by a printer’s strike, which cancelled publication for 8 weeks. Although it had been doing well before the strike, IPC felt that it had lost momentum, and rather than risk a re-launch, they simply merged it with Eagle, which with issue 128 (1 Sep 1984) now became Eagle and Scream! – although the Scream! logo on the cover was so small, Eagle readers could be forgiven for not even noticing.

scream-team

This is the first of many mergers that Eagle would experience during its existence, and probably the least damaging. In fact, it was actually beneficial, as lame duck stories News Team and The Brothers were put to bed. Only two stories were continued from Scream! and these were both rather good.

 

First up is Monster, which had a first episode written by comics hero Alan Moore, with art by Heinzl. These four pages are available to read online at the Guardian website, and are an extraordinary and genuinely scary piece of work. The hero is 12-year old Kenny Corman, who is introduced to us in the act of burying his abusive father in the garden. His father has been killed by the titular monster which is kept locked in a room on the second floor. Episode 2 onwards was written by Wagner and Grant (as R Clark) with art by Redondo. They introduce us to the monster – actually Kenny’s uncle Terry, who is deformed, mentally subnormal, and violent with anyone except Kenny. By the time we meet them in the pages of Eagle, the pair are on the run together in a situation actually surprisingly reminiscent of The Brothers. I guess this proves that a story is more than the sum of its parts. As an older character than Bob Trent, Uncle Terry is able to be uglier, more frightening, more mysterious and frequently quite murderous – although usually only in self-defence. He does meet an awful lot of Bad People. After a total of 46 episodes (31 of them in Eagle) the story actually comes to a surprisingly sweet ending in the Australian outback, benefiting from not out-staying its welcome.

 

Of even greater significance was the other addition, Scream!‘s most popular strip – The Thirteenth Floor, also by Wagner and Grant, with art by Ortiz. This follows Max, a computer who runs a tower block, and will do anything to help out his tenants. Many tower blocks are apparently built with floors which go straight from 12 to 14 due to superstition, but Max is able to open the lift doors onto his own 13th floor, where he can generate any horror imaginable and legally available to an IPC boys comic of the mid-80s. Quite how he does this is not explained, but he uses it to effectively torture any petty thieves or thugs who turn up to terrorise his tenants. Max is quite a sophisticated creation – he is the hero and even narrator of his own story, but is actually quite a dubious character, more than capable of committing any crime and imprisoning ‘good’ people on his floor in order to cover his own tracks. When the police start to get suspicious, he is led to take ever more extreme measures, but this is just the start of the story, which would run for years in the pages of Eagle.

 

The other significant change in issue 128 was the change of artist on Doomlord, as Eric Bradbury took over for new story ‘The Populators of Pollux’. Where it came to portraying a character based on a guy in a mask, Bradbury had previous form, having spent years illustrating 2000AD‘s very own Tharg the Mighty in his occasional strip appearances. His artwork style is darker and more dynamic than Heinz, and he is able to bring a greater range of expression to Doomlord’s face, really allowing the character to emerge. I must confess that for me, this is when Doomlord attains its ultimate form. Bradbury’s first story stars the robotic populators of Pollux, who are revealed to have sent the previously defeated Gemini Plague to soften Earth up for invasion. Undeterred, they go on with their plan to replace humanity with another alien race, forcing Doomlord and Douglas Reeve to work together to defeat them.

 

After a week’s gap, Doomlord returned in issue 143 in ‘Six Months to Live’, in which, exiled from the Noxian sun, Doomlord Vek realises that he is dying. He sets out on a road trip around the world, taking on evil dictators and rain-forest destroying loggers before he dies. Douglas Reeve actually comes to his rescue this time, having decided that Earth needs Doomlord, he contacts Nox for a solution – something which Vek has been too proud to do. Some episodes of this saga were drawn by Geoff Senior, and perhaps Bradbury was having trouble keeping up with the weekly workload, as the next story (‘Bullies’) appears to be a filler piece, written by Scott Goodall, with art by Heinzl, returning for the last time. This is the only regular Doomlord story not by Grant or Wagner, and it is a light-weight but quite enjoyable piece, in which Doomlord decides to deal with some bullies at the Souster boys’ school. He does this by dropping off the two bullies (both punks!) in the Amazon rain-forest, where they both get stripped down to their boxers by a local tribe and forced to take part in a rite of adulthood. Goodall does a better-than-expected job with the story, although the change of writer does lead to Doomlord showing some abilities never referred to before or since. At one point, he puts his hands behind his head, and projects an image from his eyes. I’ll say that again. He projects an image from his eyes. I’m not making this stuff up.

 

Goodall’s other main contribution to Eagle and Scream! at this time was the ongoing adventures of Manix, now in a story called ‘Alias Smithson Johns’, in which the robotic assassin impersonates a footballer with the unlikely name of Smithson Johns. This leads to several weeks of frankly tedious football action followed by an extended rest for Manix. He eventually returns for the last time in issue 154 in ‘Operation Greenbelt’. This sees a space satellite packed with secrets coming down on the border between Finland and what was then the USSR. Unfortunately, some idiot has had the satellite fitted with a heat shield and parachutes, and so the ‘Mark 5’ Manix, now in blond Scandinavian form, is sent to destroy it. This is actually not a bad story, but big changes were coming to Eagle, and Manix‘s day was done.

 

Several other strips came to a conclusion in this period, including the Amstor Computer, which peters out somewhere around issue 151. It’s hard to say why they ended this, as it’s followed by several more single-issue stories which are not presented under the Amstor banner.Perhaps they couldn’t afford to give fivers to kids any more.

 

And then there was One-Eyed Jack. After 43 episodes, Jack McBane had already quit the NYPD (in issue 110) after a satisfying plot twist, in which his ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ policy had led to him killing his nephew. In a move which must have led to Eagle-readers scratching their heads, Jack decides he can’t shoot people for the cops anymore, so he becomes a spy and shoots people for the military, instead. In fact, this coincided with the cancellation of One-Eyed Jack‘s original home of Valiant, and his subsequent appearances in Battle. I’ve read on the internet that Jack had a total of 133 episodes, but if so, it seems odd that the Eagle re-prints came to an end after just 75 (issue 143), to be replaced by another John Cooper-drawn re-print from Battle, the patently inferior Gaunt.

 

Gaunt was actually written somewhere around 1977 by John Wagner, although apparently even he didn’t like it much. Gaunt is a spy, who for reasons I can’t be bothered to recall has got a metal hand, which he uses to run around dealing violence to – you guessed it – Nazis. He never seems to have much trouble getting into and out-of occupied Europe, and is generally about as convincingly evocative of tense 1940s WWII espionage as Marc Bolan riding a white swan and singing “summer is heaven in ’77”.

 

Meanwhile, issue 129 had introduced a new story, The Time Machine. This features humans from the 22nd century time travelling back to the cretaceous to hunt dinosaurs for meat – a scenario virtually identical to Flesh from 2000AD. The twist comes when T-Rex Bloodfang turns up, and we realise that this is a continuation of the previous story. From episode 2 onwards, the title reverts to Bloodfang, as we follow Bloodfang being hunted and eventually kidnapped and taken to a zoo in the 22nd century. While there, in a deliciously satirical turn of events, a corrupt zoo-owner gets the punters in by persuading volunteers to attempt to survive 15 minutes in the dinosaur’s compound in exchange for a big cash prize. In 2000AD, Flesh would regularly serve us up a human getting eaten by a dinosaur at least once per episode, but this being Eagle, they can’t seem to achieve the same levels of violence, and most of the people Bloodfang eats sadly get consumed ‘off-camera’ between episodes. The art this time around is by Carlos Cruz, and doesn’t hit the same levels as Jim Baikie. Cruz always gives Bloodfang curiously fat back legs, and the end result looks a bit odd. Vanyo takes over for the climax where Bloodfang gets dropped on the Royal Albert Hall, although again, not as many people get eaten as you might hope.

 

A new Dan Dare story, ‘The Pleasure Planet’, begins in issue 131. Again it goes uncredited, with even Ian Kennedy’s signature on the art getting painted out by this point. As such, we don’t know who wrote it, although I strongly suspect it may be by Barrie Tomlinson, as it introduces Professor Pinkerton. One of the weaknesses of recent Dare strips has been the lack of a consistent supporting cast (apart from Robo-One, who is written out, here). Having said this, Pinkerton doesn’t get much characterisation apart from being a Professor who is (shock, horror) a girl. Dare protests at having to take her into deep space with him, apparently forgetting that he has already had several women in his crews in the past. Anyway, all of that ‘sleeper ship’ nonsense is consigned to the dustbin of history, as we are introduced to the Z-99, the fastest ship in the fleet, which Dare uses to get to the holiday planet of Enjoyous to track down his old enemy, the Mekon. In a plot development distressingly similar to ‘The Prisoners of Space’, both Dare and the Mekon are taken prisoner by another evil alien, Gahork – an insectoid from Tamna-7 with the ability to shrink himself down to micro-dot form and infect people. Dare eventually escapes, and Pinkerton rewards him with a light peck on the cheek. This passes for sexual tension in a boys comic.

robo_machines_gobots_uk_comic_advert

Issue 138 saw another new story begin – The Robo Machines. Like the more-recent Transformers, the Robo Machines are a race of machine creatures from another planet, who like to disguise themselves as trucks and motorbikes. This is because the strip is based around a genuine range of toys owned by Tonka, and being a licensed creation, presumably represent IPC a money-making opportunity, while Tonka use the publicity to sell more toys. The story begins on planet Robotron, where humanoid villain Stron-Domez has modified two machines to make them criminal. It says on wikipedia. All right, I couldn’t be bothered to read this, even though it was written by the reliable Tom Tully. I seem to remember enjoying it at the time, but this kind of blatant marketing makes me uncomfortable, now. Anyway, the story soon moves to Earth, where the machines meet Charlie Bampton, a young boy who in an imaginative twist, has developed ESP. The action continues for some 38 episodes before Tonka pulled the plug.

 

Issue 153 was the last Eagle and Scream!, after which the comic reverted to Eagle – for just 5 issues. The big merger with Tiger was coming, and this was clearly planned well in advance as several issues are spent clearing the decks. Issue 156 proudly declares the beginning of a new Dan Dare story on the cover, but this only lasts for 3 weeks as Dare and the Z-99 encounter a space minefield left by the Mekon on their way back to Earth. The solution is provided by the onboard computer, with Pinkerton again making no useful contribution. Meanwhile, Danny Pyke marries his girlfriend Jane, hangs up his gloves and retires, Doomlord drops off his reformed bullies, and all stories come to an end (apart from Robo Machines). Eagle could very easily have ended here. A big change was coming – and not really for the better.

 

 

 

And now… The exciting story index:

 

pt 6: 128-158


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“The Pleasure Planet”), 25 episodes, issues 131-155 (Sep. 1984 to Mar. 1985)
Story by uncredited, art by Ian Kennedy


DOOMLORD

untitled (The Populators of Pollux), 14 episodes, issues 128-141 (Sep. to Dec. 1984)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury

untitled (Six Months to Live), 11 episodes, issues 143-153 (Dec. 1984 to Feb. 1985)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Eric Bradbury (eps 1-5, 9-11), Geoff Senior (eps 6-8)

untitled (Bullies), 6 episodes, issues 154-158 (Mar. 1985)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Heinzl (2 episodes in issue 158)


MONSTER

Monster, 46 episodes, Scream! 1-15 & issues 128-158 (Sep. 1984 to Mar. 1985)
Story by Alan Moore (ep1) and R Clark (John Wagner, eps 2-46), art by Heinzl (ep1) and Redondo (eps 2-46)


THE AMSTOR COMPUTER

29472: Listen Carefully..., issue 128 (Sep. 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by J Vernon

765: Jaws of Terror!, issue 129 (Sep. 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by J Stokes

603188: Escape, issue 132 (Sep. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by “Redondo” (actually appears to be Casanovas)

956732: Ever Decreasing Circles..., issue 140 (Nov. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Heinzl

13997: The Face of the Devil!, issue 141 (Dec. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Masip

658: The Lady in Grey, issue 142 (Dec. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Casanaovas

1984: Bomb on Flight 109, issue 143 (Dec. 1984)
Story by A Hibbert, art by Heinzl

463700: Into Oblivion..., issue 144 (Dec. 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Ron Turner

785491: Free by Christmas, issue 145 (Dec. 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by Cam Kennedy

853651: The Last Soldier, issue 146 (Jan. 1985)
Story by R Davies, art by T Goring

164930: All That Glitters..., issue 147 (Jan. 1985)
Story by K Armstrong, art by J Vernon

275: Mind Raiders!, issue 148 (Jan. 1985)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Capaldi

199450: The Running Man!, issue 149 (Jan. 1985)
Story by A Stone, art by J Stokes

41: That's the Spirit, issue 151 (Feb. 1985)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by J Stokes


THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR

The Thirteenth Floor, 48 episodes, Scream! 1-15 & issues 128-160 (Sep. 1984 to Apr. 1985)
Story by I Holland (John Wagner & Alan Grant), art by Jose Ortiz


BLOODFANG

The Time Machine, issue 129 (Sep. 1984)
Story by F M Candor (John Wagner), art by Carlos Cruz

Bloodfang II, 29 episodes, issues 130-158 (Sep. 1984 to Mar. 1985)
Story by F M Candor (John Wagner), art by Carlos Cruz (eps 1-21) and Vanyo (eps 22-29)


MANIX

Alias Smithson Johns, 8 episodes, issues 130-137 (Sep. to Nov. 1984)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Carmona

Operation Greenbelt, 5 episodes, issues 154-158 (Mar. 1985)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Carmona


THE ROBO MACHINES

The Robo Machines, 38 episodes, issues 138-175 (Nov. 1984 to July 1985)
Story by Tom Tully, art by Mario Capaldi (eps 1-12), Kim Raymond (eps 13,14,16-38) and Geoff Senior (ep 15)


GAUNT

The Haunted Man, 5 episodes, issues 144-148 (Dec. 1984 to Jan. 1985)
Story by uncredited (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

Blitzkrieg, 5 episodes, issues 149-153 (Jan. to Feb. 1985)
Story by uncredited (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

Tears of Blood, 3 episodes, issues 154-156 (Mar. 1985)
Story by uncredited (John Wagner), art by John Cooper

Cold is the Killer!, 2 episodes, issues 157-158 (Mar. 1985)
Story by uncredited (John Wagner), art by John Cooper


NON-AMSTOR SHORT STORIES

Look Who's Coming to Dinner!, issue 156 (Mar. 1985)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by J Vernon

Tree of Life, issue 157 (Mar. 1985)
Story by I Mennell, art by P Gascoigne

It's in the Blood!, issue 158 (Mar. 1985)
Story and art by J Richardson

80s Eagle issues 100-127

Regular printed issue numbers didn’t come to Eagle until number 127, but before that, the first triple digit issue made a big splash on 18 February 1984, with a huge ‘100’ emblazoned on the cover. With issues coming out every week, this was less than 2 years since the title’s launch, but a good excuse for a party all the same. Two new strips debuted inside, both of which shows signs of having been created in a hurry. I hope that was the case, anyway.

 

First up was The Brothers, in which twins Peter and Bob Trent are involved in a car crash which kills their parents, and throws Bob into some freaky radioactive chemicals that turn him into a brutish, violent monster. Now Peter, newly orphaned, has to find a way in which he and his ugly, mentally deficient brother can stay together. Like The Hand, also drawn by Vanyo, The Brothers could be considered one of Eagle’s horror strips. It also fits pretty neatly into the sub-genre of PleaseGodLetItStop as an idea worthy of maybe 6 or 7 episodes gets stretched out to 30 via some increasingly unlikely developments. You’ll be pleased to hear that there’s a happy ending, however.

 

The other new beginner was the thrillingly titled News Team, about, er, a news team. This team of 4 journalists get more involved in their news stories than seems strictly professional. For instance, in the first story, a president of some vaguely eastern country is kidnapped by terrorists shortly after the news team have interviewed him, so they take their camera and – yes – chase down the terrorists all the way back to their base. Later stories require them to report on erupting volcanoes while standing on them and, ultimately, with the ideas-tank running dry, getting a ride on the space shuttle. Early episodes are illustrated by one of my favourite artists, Jose Ortiz, but he comes off the strip quite soon (perhaps required for art duties on Scream, the new horror title IPC were launching) and two fill-in artists, Bermejo and P Gascoine do surprisingly convincing imitations of his style. The News Team themselves are clearly barmy, as are most of their adventures.

 

After a brief burst of life provided by the art format, Manix was also running out of steam by this point. ‘In Enemy Hands’ sees him captured by S.M.O.G., who re-programme him to do their evil deeds. British Intelligence respond by building another Manix, who eventually defeats the original Manix. However, not that long afterwards, this Manix is dropped into a volcano, and so we get a 3rd (5th? 6th?) Manix turn up, to carry on doing whatever it is he does. Writer Alan Grant seems to have given up at this point, but after a fairly substantial gap, Manix returns in issue 124, now being written by Scott Goodall. Goodall tries his best, but perhaps didn’t quite ‘get’ what Manix is about, as his first story, ‘The Oracle Quest’, introduces the crushingly cute ‘mini-Manix’, who is basically an Action Man that can kill you. Fortunately, the little dude gets killed off, and Manix is as pleased as the rest of us.

 

Meanwhile, Doomlord is going from strength to strength. Now he can teleport, Vek can get into outer space, allowing him to go up and rescue some astronauts trapped on the ever-popular space shuttle. (The real thing first launched on 12 April 1981, and like all little boys at the time, I was obsessed with it. I decided my favourite shuttle was the Challenger. That didn’t turn out well.) To save them, he decides to teleport to where the Death Lords have hidden their spaceship, on the dark side of the moon. Unfortunately, the ship is booby-trapped, and Vek is taken back to Nox to face trial at the hands of the Dread Council. As such, this is probably the first Doomlord story that definitely could not have been done photographically. Heinz’s serviceable artwork gives us a good view of Nox for the first time, where a surprisingly persuasive Vek gets the Dread Council to rescind sentence of death on both humanity and himself. What they do instead is strip him of his bling robes (leaving him in a rather cool-looking vest, skull-motif shirt, trousers and boots) and exile him to Earth permanently. And so he takes up residence here, somewhere between Superman and Doctor Who, but with with rather greyer morals than either.

 

Shortly after this, Doomlord gets his own TV show, complete with a superbly caricatured producer who calls him “doomy-baby”. This entirely satirical section sees Vek getting various corrupt officials and public figures up on his show and confronting them on a lie-detector about all the vile things they’ve done. (Where he gets his information from is anybody’s guess). His main human nemesis at this point is “top government minister” Douglas Reeve, who wants to close the show down, but doesn’t quite dare directly oppose someone capable of murdering an entire town when he gets annoyed. After a one-issue gap (116 – the gap is filled by a one-off story, Happy Families. Clearly intended for the Amstor Computer, which is still going strong at this point, the story is instead introduced by Doomlord’s floating head, despite apparently having nothing to do with him) we launch into ‘The Gemini Plaque’, in which Doomlord and Reeve have to work together to fight off an invasion of alien bugs, intended to kill off humanity in preparation for another race of creatures to take over. Really, you just can’t go wrong.

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Issue 116 also sees the introduction of new story Bloodfang, by John Wagner and artist Jim Baikie (probably best know for his work on Skizz with Alan Moore in 2000AD). Both Wagner and Pat Mills seem to love good dinosaur story, and this is no exception, as for 12 episodes we follow a young T-Rex, Bloodfang, and his incredibly savage introduction to life. Most dinosaur comic strips involve time travelling humans, but not this one, which feels more like a David Attenborough-style nature documentary, but with extra flesh-ripping. As with The Fists of Danny Pyke, Wagner is clearly enjoying himself.

 

Speaking of Danny, having won the world championship, he takes a three-issue break from 123 to 125, with the gap filled by A Bullet for the Marathon Man – a 3-part story by Grant (and almost certainly, Wagner), a rather taut little piece about an LAPD detective who runs the marathon in the 1984 Olympics in an attempt to draw the fire of an assassin who has sworn to murder the American competitor somewhere on the 26-mile course. Danny returns in issue 126 to defend his title, and carries on for another 33 episodes, although some of the life has gone out of the story, now that the main character has achieved his dreams.

 

Dan Dare starts a new story in issue 117, ‘Renagol’, with art by Carlos Cruz, who is actually quite  good match for Ian Kennedy’s style. The story sees the Earth invaded by aliens who can burrow up from under the ground and are led by an enormous brain called Renagol. Towards the end of The Return of the Mekon, Pat Mills had actually had the Mekon mention in passing that he’d dropped the entirety of Britain to the bottom of the sea, possibly as a big continuity-busting F.U. to future writers – but that isn’t acknowledged, here. Robo-One returns instead, and again mostly saves the day on Dare’s behalf. Dan has the final act, in which he blackmails the aliens into leaving, by threatening the life of their leader, Renagol, rather ungallantly failing to mention that he has already killed Renagol by tripping up and falling through his life support system.

 

One suspects that Frank Hampson would not approve.

 

As issue 128 approached, both The Brothers and News Team were swiftly put out of our misery, and the decks were lightly cleared for more changes to come.

 

 

And our story index to conclude:

 

 

pt 5: 100-127


DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“Renagol”), 14 episodes, issues 117-130 (June to Sep. 1984)
Story by uncredited, art by Carlos Cruz


NEWS TEAM

News Team, 28 episodes, issues 100-127, (Feb. to Aug. 1984)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Jose Ortiz (1-7), Bermejo (8-9,12-15,20-28), P Gascoine (10-11,16-19)


THE AMSTOR COMPUTER

684: The Miracle!, issue 100, (Feb. 1984)
Story by uncredited, art by Ortiz

246: “I'm Coming Home...”, issue 101, (Feb. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Redondo

23030: The Alien Pet, issue 102, (Mar. 1984)
Story by C Potter, art by John Cooper

211170: The Forward's Back!, issue 103, (Mar. 1984)
Story by Barrie Tomlinson, art by Eric Bradbury

960518: Fall from Fortune!, issue 104, (Mar. 1984)
Story by K Armstrong, art by J Stokes

19700: A Breath of Fresh Air, issue 105, (Mar. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Mike Dorey

107: The Perfect Specimen, issue 106, (Mar. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Mike Dorey

29111: Starbeast, issue 107, (Apr. 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Cam Kennedy

79257: The Phantom Pilot, issue 108, (Apr. 1984)
Story by K Armstrong, art by J Stokes

66783: The Thief and the Computer, issue 109, (Apr. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by John Cooper

43498: A Taste of Terror, issue 110, (Apr. 1984)
Story by N Allen, art by J Stokes

800503: Uncle Ben, issue 111, (May 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Zeccara

56: The Most Powerful Force in the Universe, issue 112, (May 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Carlos Cruz

1: In Search of Life..., issue 113, (May 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Boix

999: No Hiding Place, issue 114, (May 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by J Vernon

11112: Kidnapper, issue 115, (June 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by J Vernon

400: The One That Got Away!, issue 116, (June 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Carlos Cruz

1970: Snow Beast, issue 117, (June 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by John Cooper

73: Superstition, issue 118, (June 1984)
Story by Chris Lowder, art by Redondo

842631: Going for Gold, issue 119, (June 1984)
Story by I Mennell, art by J Vernon

1999: Galactic Guise, issue 120, (July 1984)
Story by C Potter, art by J Stokes

22056: The Future that Never Was!, issue 121, (July 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Boix

578: Tomorrow's World!, issue 122, (July 1984)
Story by Fred Baker, art by Ron Turner

2574: Rubbish!, issue 123, (July 1984)
Story by uncredited, art by J Vernon? (uncredited)

12345: untitled, issue 124, (Aug. 1984)
Story by J Trevelyan, art by Ron Turner

879642: Pentathlon Soldier, issue 125, (Aug. 1984)
Story by uncredited, art by Mike Dorey

1971: Dead or Alive, issue 126, (Aug. 1984)
Story by I Mennell, art by Cam Kennedy

115600: Locked Away!, issue 127, (Aug. 1984)
Story by C Potter, art by Ian Kennedy


THE BROTHERS

The Brothers, 30 episodes, issues 100-128, (Feb. to Sep. 1984)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Vanyo (2 eps in issue 127)


MANIX

In Enemy Hands, 9 episodes, issues 100-108 (Feb. to Apr. 1984)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), art by Carmona

Operation Rats' Nest, 7 episodes, issues 109-115 (Apr. to Jun. 1984)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), art by Carmona

The Oracle Quest, 6 episodes, issues 124-129 (Aug. to Sep. 1984)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Carmona


SGT. STREETWISE

untitled (“Q Cars”), 4 episodes, issues 103-106, (Mar. 1984)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, art by J Vernon


DOOMLORD

untitled (The Space Shuttle), 7 episodes, issues 107-113 (Apr. to May 1984)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Heinzl

The Gemini Plague, 13 episodes, issues 114-115, 117-127 (May to Aug. 1984)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Heinzl


BLOODFANG

Bloodfang, 12 episodes, issues 116-127 (June to Aug. 1984)
Story by F M Candor (John Wagner), art by Jim Baikie


HAPPY FAMILIES

Happy Families, issue 116 (June 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by John Cooper


A BULLET FOR THE MARATHON MAN!

A Bullet for the Marathon Man!, 3 episodes, issues 123-125 (July to Aug. 1984)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Gual


A FISHY STORY!

A Fishy Story!, issue 124 (Aug. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by J Vernon


THE FISTS OF DANNY PYKE

untitled (“World Champion”), 33 episodes, issues 126-158 (Aug. 1984 to Mar. 1985)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by John Burns