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?
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.
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