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.
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)