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.
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.
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