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.
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