80s Eagle issues 79-99

Readers of Eagle issue 78 (17 Sep 1983) will have read on the last page that a new look was coming to the comic. Among the exciting features to come was a free potato gun, 4 extra pages and 9 ‘great’ stories. What was not mentioned was the two most obvious changes when issue 79 hit their doormats a week later (once they’d got past the excitement of their free potato gun, complete with thrilling elastic band) – the photostrips were gone, and Eagle was now being published on cheap newsprint.

 

The two were not unrelated. Most IPC titles at this stage, including 2000AD, Battle and Tiger, came out on cheap newsprint formats, utilising paper that seemed to go yellow almost immediately, and oily ink that would come off so easily that you could often find yourself reading the adventures of your heroes through the mirror image of what they were doing on the opposite page. Eagle had used a more sophisticated printing process on better quality paper, but that seems mainly to have been to accommodate the photostrips, and sales needed to remain very high for IPC to justify the extra expense. At the slightest dip, with typical ruthlessness, they replaced the expensive photographs wth cheap European artists printed on bog paper and left us to get on with it.

 

It wasn’t all bad. As usual with such a change, there were winners and losers. One of the main losers was Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future – actually just called Dan Dare from now on, fact fans. The enormous Return of the Mekon saga was just entering its final stages, but newsprint could not reproduce Ian Kennedy’s gorgeous painted art, so he had to render the last few episodes in the more usual line drawings, with simple washes of colour over the top, and occasional pages in black and white (the strip was now frequently getting the front cover, and another 3 pages inside, so had actually benefited in terms of page count). In this manner, the epic limped to a close after 19 months, ending more with a whimper than a bang.

 

Curiously, from the next story, ‘The Timads’ (issues 84-93), Dan Dare no longer carried any creator credits. The artist is clearly Oliver Frey, but the writer is unknown. It doesn’t seem to be Pat Mills, as ‘The Timads’ throws away all the character development we’ve seen up until this point. Dare is teleported across the galaxy to the planet Belendotor, where the timid Timads (see what they did there??) need his help against an unnamed race of alien invaders. Dare points out that he’s not a superhero, but they basically blackmail him, and with the help of a sophisticated alien gun, he does eventually triumph. What sophistication the story has is restricted to the final episode, where he persuades the Timads and the invaders that they’re not so different after all, and they should work together.

 

Issue 94 saw Kennedy back on art duties, with ‘Prisoners of Space’ (who came up with that title? wasn’t me.) This may just possibly have been by Mills, since it features Dmitri Prodkov, a fairly minor character from ‘Young Dare’ as well as the sleeper ships. It also sees another return of the Mekon, having stayed away for barely 10 episodes. The Mekon himself is the captive of another alien villain this time, Lord Baynor, who also captures the crew of an Earth deep space freighter and starts torturing them to death. No kidding. Meanwhile, Dare has been promoted to Colonel, and getting bored of all the paperwork, stows away on the ship (commanded by his old friend Major Prodkov) that’s been sent to rescue the human prisoners. Good of him to set an example, there. As usual, the crew are put into hibernation, although the writer seems to have forgotten what the point of all this is, as no more than a few weeks seem to pass for Baynor’s prisoners. Prodkov is killed, the Mekon betrays Baynor, and Dare does eventually rescue the humans, helped mainly by a bit of luck and the agency of Robo-One, a cute robot with emotional problems. It says here. Anyway, there’s nothing terribly wrong with either of these stories, they’re just not a patch on what had come before, and we would continue to see Dare bumble along in a very average fashion for some time to come.

 

One of the biggest winners in the format change was Doomlord, which returned in issue 79 with art by Heinzl – it was one of four photostrips to make the transition to an artwork format. Doomlord had always had a lot of fun with the photographic medium (Alan Grant himself appears during Doomlord II, as ‘man who walks in and gets vapourised’), but probably had the most to gain by moving to drawn adventures. Where Doomlord had previously been a comedy mask, he now has some expression in his face, and we can get a sense of what he’s thinking by looking at him. Heinzl’s artwork is workmanlike, but the visual continuity with the photostrips is very good – he obviously had plenty of reference material. Now bereft of numerals, the first story – ‘The Death Lords’ – features Nox making its move against Vek, by sending 3 Death Lords to kill him. These Death Lords have more abilities than Vek – their energiser rings with cool skulls on them have the ability to teleport at will. Vek’s own ring is destroyed early on, forcing him to steal one of theirs – part of a gradual change in image for the character.

 

Mainly set on earth, the story may have been originally conceived as a photostrip, but Alan Grant takes full advantage of the new format. After Doomlord III‘s disappointing confrontation with Zom, this is a full-on stand-up knock-down action piece, with 24 episodes of the Death Lords pursuing Vek and out-classing him at almost every turn. It features several moments which could not have been done – or at least done well – with photos, such as when in a desperate attempt to escape, Vek transforms into a dog, but with his own head. This story was eventually re-printed in a Best of Eagle magazine, and deservedly so.

 

Another beneficiary was Manix, which now had art by Carmona. No, me neither. Manix had been running out of stories, but now gets a shot in the arm with the greater scope offered by an artwork strip, and comes back with ‘The Hitler File’, in which he travels to South America, and finds – you guessed it – Hitler. As with Doomlord, there is an increase in the levels of action and excitement. Manix now has his fourth face, a new bald-headed version, but no more personality than before, and the burst of new ideas would not last.

 

A more awkward transition was for Walk or Die, which as an ongoing story, just picked up from where it left off, but now with art by another mono-named European artist, Escolano. Although the characters could now be more convincingly placed in a Canadian wilderness, the loss of the ensemble cast and replacement with some fairly bland drawn versions meant that the story lost something. Again, the action increases, with encounters with bears, horses and somewhat unlikely killer bees. When Jill Webster and the others are stung half-to-death, it is up to Jim Hardy, having inexplicably recovered from blood-poisoning, to save the day and go for rescue on his own. The story changes gear somewhat, as with Jim heading downriver on his own, we’re no longer seeing things through Jill’s eyes. Jim makes a suitably heroic figure here, as when he finally comes across some loggers, he gets his foot trapped between some logs, and looks as if he will drown. “You know what to do!” he tells them, “cut my foot off!” He must be the hardest boy that ever lived.

 

The fourth photostrip to gain artwork episodes was Sgt. Streetwise, which returns for short runs in issues 97-99 and 103-106. These also lack something, as our pretty-boy lead is replaced with some artwork that really doesn’t look much like him. The script reminds us of what he’s like by having girls walking past in the background going “cor, he’s nice”.

 

Two new strips debuted in issue 79.The first of these was The Amstor Computer, a new anthology series to replace The Collector. Created by Barrie Tomlinson, the conceit here was that readers themselves could programme which story the computer would tell, by choosing a number from 1 to 999,999. You would then be presented with a story which would presumably coincide with whatever the writers had come up with that week. More importantly, you’d win a fiver, so it wasn’t all bad. The end result is a rather good series, with an almost infinite range of stories which can be told, from sci-fi in ‘the Tragedy of the Trals’ (issue 82) to a traditional ghost story in ‘Mutiny’ (issue 93). Some are quite left-of-field, such as ‘Journey on the Junk Food Express’ (issue 83) in which a physically perfect aspiring star, riding the rails to hollywood, somehow gets locked in a storage wagon with nothing but baked beans to eat for a month – by the time he’s finally let out, he’s ballooned to about 30 stone. Occasionally similar to 2000AD‘s Future Shocks, Amstor frequently tells a good, satisfying story with a neat twist, often in no more than 1-2 pages.

 

Probably better known is The Fists of Danny Pyke, with superior story and art by John Wagner and the legendary John Burns. Danny is a heavyweight boxer, and I’m not a huge fan of sports strips, but for once, we can read a story that is clearly close to its creators’ hearts. Danny lives in a world in which reality is heightened, but not completely unrecognisable, and in the first 44 episodes, we get to follow him all the way from youth boxing clubs right through to becoming heavyweight champion of the world. During this time, he meets a girl (admittedly while saving her from a mugging), falls in love, and has a proper relationship which lasts across the length of the story. Wagner’s background was in girls comics, which had a stronger emphasis on character and story, and he brings those skills to Danny Pyke, showing that not all boys comics stories had to have unlikely scenarios and constant explosions to hold their readers’ attention.

dannypike_01

 

Part 4 of our continuing story index, for those who are interested. Anyone? Just me, then:

 

 

DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

untitled (“The Timads”), 10 episodes, issues 84-93 (Oct. to Dec. 1984)
Story by uncredited, art by Oliver Frey

untitled (“Prisoners of Space”), 23 episodes, issues 94-116 (Jan. to June 1985)
Story by uncredited, art by Ian Kennedy


DOOMLORD

The Deathlords, 24 episodes, issues 79-102 (Sep. 1983 to Mar. 1984)
Story by Alan Grant, art by Heinzl


MANIX

The Hitler File, 10 episodes, issues 79-88 (Sep. to Nov. 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), art by Carmona

Project Sicilian, 6 episodes, issues 89-94 (Dec. 1983 to Jan. 1984)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), art by Carmona

Peril of the Deep, 5 episodes, issues 95-99 (Jan. to Feb. 1984)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), art by Carmona


THE FISTS OF DANNY PYKE

The Fists of Danny Pyke, 44 episodes, issues 79-122 (Sep. 1983 to July 1984)
Story by D Spence (John Wagner), art by John Burns


WALK OR DIE

art story, 18 episodes, issues 79-96, (Sep. 1983 to Jan. 1984)
Story by Scott Goodall, art by Escolano


THE AMSTOR COMPUTER

714299: The Computer Murder, issue 79, (Sep. 1983)
Story by Barrie Tomlinson, art by Ortiz

36152: Shooting Star, issue 80, (Oct. 1983)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by John Cooper

1846: They Were Caught with the Boot On!, issue 81, (Oct. 1983)
Story by Chris Lowder, art by John Cooper

56292: The Tragedy of the Trals, issue 82, (Oct. 1983)
Story by J Rimmer, art by Cam Kennedy

6746: Journey on the Junk Food Express..., issue 83, (Oct. 1983)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Redondo

1219: Second Time Lucky, issue 84, (Oct. 1983)
Story by J Nicholas, art by Ron Turner

312: Bike-Man's Bluff, issue 85, (Nov. 1983)
Story by A Stone, art by John Cooper

289301: The Hero, issue 86, (Nov. 1983)
Story by J Louise, art by Ian Kennedy

1045: The Missionary!, issue 87, (Nov. 1983)
Story by Barrie Tomlinson, art by Mike Dorey

162: “There's No Such Thing as Magic”, issue 88, (Nov. 1983)
Story by C Potter, art by John Cooper

76580: Eye of the Bird, issue 90, (Dec. 1983)
Story by K Armstrong, art by Chiari

221: Nightmare!, issue 91, (Dec. 1983)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Ortiz

854391: A Modern Christmas..., issue 92, (Dec. 1983)
Story by R Preston, art by Ron Turner

689927: Mutiny, issue 93, (Dec. 1983)
Story by B Burrell, art by Mike Dorey

45178: Space Invaders, issue 94, (Jan. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Cam Kennedy

1005: Mercenary, issue 95, (Jan. 1984)
Story by B Burrell, art by John Cooper

714295: Who Saved Me?, issue 96, (Jan. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Ortiz

365841: Double Trouble, issue 97, (Jan. 1984)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Mike Dorey

75250: Monkey Business, issue 98, (Feb. 1984)
Story by A Stone, art by Eric Bradbury

16925: The Forbidden Zone, issue 99, (Feb. 1984)
Story by K Armstrong, art by Ortiz


SGT. STREETWISE

untitled (“River Rats”), 3 episodes, issues 97-99, (Jan. to Feb. 1984)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, art by J Vernon

 

 

 

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80s Eagle Issues 49-78

Issue 49 (dated 26 Feb 1983) saw a slight, but significant, change in format for the Eagle. Photostrips were expensive to produce, and poor at representing action, so the number was reduced to allow the introduction of two new artwork stories. This saw the merciful (if temporary – both came back for short runs later on) conclusions of Sgt. Streetwise and The Invisible Boy, replaced by Crowe St Comp. and Gil Hazzard – Codename Scorpio.

 

The former was basically a soap, set in the titular Crowe St Comprehensive, with a large cast of characters taking part in an endless series of largely humourous adventures. Clearly ripped off from TV’s Grange Hill, the end result is pretty successful and must have been popular with readers, eventually running for 75 episodes, and sailing serenely through the major format changes still to come over the next year. It was written by Fred Baker (better known for Billy’s Boots) and drawn in a slightly cartoonish style by Rex Archer. It went on for so long, that the characters eventually grow up, and start looking for jobs when they finish school – a depressing prospect for a teenager in the 1980s.

 

Meanwhile, Scorpio made a big splash, as it’s first 4 episodes were presented in 3D, requiring colour printing, and the free 3D specs given away with issue 49. The script was by  Wagner and Grant (writing as Ian Holland) with superb art by Cam Kennedy, somewhat spoiled by the green and red 3D effect. Gil Hazzard (1 L, 2 Z’s as he must remind everyone he meets) is an ex-intelligence agent turned stunt man (of course), clearly created to take advantage of the 3D effect by presenting as much action as possible. As a result, dialogue is sidelined in favour of cars jumping off of bridges and exploding into caravans. By episode 5, the 3D was proving expensive to print, and most of the kids at home will have lost their free specs by this time, so Scorpio becomes a more standard strip with black and white artwork by Mike Dorey. The action continues with Hazard framed for a crime and forced to prove his innocence.

 

Also beginning in issue 49 was The Fifth Horseman, with art by Jose Ortiz, fresh from his work on The House of Daemon. Ortiz seems to have been used for many of the ‘horror’ strips, but although the artwork remains impressive, The Fifth Horseman is not in the same league as Daemon. For a start, the script this time around is by Alan Hebden, who I’m sorry to say, failed to impress with The Tower King. Curiously, every episode has a banner proclaiming that this is a ‘Thaddius Thorn Story’, despite us never having heard of Thaddius Thorn, who has never appeared in anything else, ever. Thorn is a multi-millionaire, with the funds to get private jets to anywhere in the world within minutes, something he very much takes advantage of. Travelling with him are his enormously strong (but not terribly clever) bodyguard Jeb, and his personal assistant Arlene, who follows in the Cassandra Aldrich tradition by wearing a very short skirt and thigh-high boots throughout. The characters are likeable, but the main problem with the story is the rather nebulous nature of the threat – Thorn is warned that the Fifth Horseman is coming, presaging the end of the world, but since the horseman never actually appears, it’s hard to be all that concerned. What we’re left with is Thorn and his chums travelling around the world, getting involved in various natural disasters and (eventually) some slightly bizarre robots.

 

The photostrip Doomlord III also returns in issue 49, with Vek still living with the Plumroses, waiting for Nox to send a ship to pick him up. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry, and this time he is, when humanity returns to its bad old ways, and starts building nuclear weapons again. In response, Vek reveals his existence, and then just to show he means business (he does, after all, just look like some block in a joke shop mask) he wipes out the town of Prattlewell. Quite a lot of the story is taken up with him trying to get the humans to negotiate with him, while they betray him at every turn. Perhaps they don;t trust someone who just wiped out an entire town. They do finally see sense, but not before Nox has sent Servitor Zom to complete the sentence of death on all humankind. Even Vek thinks this is a bit extreme, but to stop him, he is forced to kill Zom and he knows that the Dread Council will be coming after him, next. Doomlord III is very much in the same vein as Doomlord II, and has the same strengths and weaknesses. The main let down is the final confrontation between Vek and Zom is over very quickly – something Alan Grant would rectify in the next story.

 

The other ongoing photostrip in this period is Manix, now working for “O”, the head of British Intelligence (see what they did there?). The similarities with Bond continue as he is matched against an enemy organisation called S.M.O.G. who want to take over the world or something. I dunno, I wasn’t really concentrating. The problem with Manix is that he’s a complete blank slate, with no personality of his own. He was obviously popular with readers, but it seems to have been difficult to think of new stories for him. The photostrip reaches its absolute nadir in ‘Manix Meets the Uglies’ (issues 68-77) in which a mad scientist wearing a magician’s hat (he appears to be played by the same actor who portrayed Mr Wright in the second Joe Soap story) invents a serum, and injects ordinary people with it, turning them into the ‘uglies’. These are played by (probably) the same actors, but now they’re wearing unconvincing ‘ugly’ comedy masks! Somehow, this gets stretched out to 10 episodes. Frankly, I’m not sure if writer Alan Grant was head-butting his typewriter, or laughing maniacally throughout.

 

The final two photostrips to appear in Eagle debuted in this period. First, in issue 64, was House of Correction. Zero-budget photostrips struggle to convey anything other than the present-day, as should have been clear by now, but the creators don’t seem to have learnt their lesson, as this on is set in October 1943 in Nazi-occupied France! Things start all right, but as the episodes wear on, the occasional Gestapo uniform is less and less able to convince us that we’re not looking at some 1980s guys in jeans. The script, written by Chris Lowder (as Jack Adrian), is pretty wacky stuff. I can hardly bring myself to attempt to describe the plot, but here goes: pilot Harry Beckett crashes his plane over France and is picked up by the resistance. There he finds out that his crew mates, and Lafarge, a local resistance leader, have all been taken to the Nazi ‘House of Correction’, which is running experiments in brainwashing. He has to break in, because Lafarge knows all about a secret conference of resistance leaders happening in a months time! If the Nazis get hold of the information, they could break the entire European Underground! Which is probably a good reason for not holding such a conference in the first place. I mean, whose name do you book the hotel under? Who does the catering? Anyway, describing this somehow fails to convey the full insanity of the next 12 episodes as Beckett variously breaks into and out of the house again, with resistance leaders turning into brainwashed murderous zombies, until everyone loses interest. Or was that just me?

 

Rather more serious, is Walk or Die, debuting in issue 65. Written by Scott Goodall, this story is narrated by Jill Webster, one of a group of school children stranded in Canada after a plane crash. When the last of the teachers dies, leadership is provided by Jim Hardy, whose dad was in the SAS, turning him into a kind of emotionless survivalist. With a personality somewhere between John McClane and Bear Grylls, Hardy is perhaps less-than-convincing as a 12 year old boy. Everyone hates him, but he’s the one who tells them they need to walk out of there – or die!

 

This time a photostrip attempts to convey the vast Canadian wilderness using just some stock photos and a group of child-actors hanging around some woods in Surrey. One episode sees them climbing over some snowbound mountains, which the photographer can only represent by showing the actors against some blank white backgrounds. More shocking now, is that some of the kids are really quite young, and partway through the story, one of them gets separated from the others and actually dies – he falls in a river and drowns. It’s the sort of slightly ‘callous’ story-telling that boys comics of the time seemed to get away with. Even more disturbing to modern eyes, is a later episode where Jill gets captured by a large heavily-bearded trapper who takes a shine to her. He insists on locking her up in his wooden shack, while the boys (who he’s not so keen on) are chained up outside. It’s hard to imagine any comics editor accepting that, now. Other parts of the comic also make curious reading at times. One issue has a ‘Star Scan’ of Jimmy Savile. Talking about his charity work, the by-line reads “Not only does Jimmy have a heart of gold, but also a golden suit!” Someone hold my sick bag.

 

A more generally worrying development came in issue 68, with the debut of artwork strip One-Eyed Jack. Worrying because this is a reprint from Valiant, first appearing on 20 December 1975. Filling the comic with reprints is a sign of attempts to save money, suggesting that sales were not as buoyant as a year earlier. Although the strip went uncredited in Eagle, it was written by John Wagner and drawn by John Cooper, and is now seen as a precedent for Judge Dredd. Jack McBane is a tough, no-nonsense New York cop, with a ‘shoot first, ask questions never’ policy – this is a habit he picks up in the first episode, when he loses an eye after failing to shoot a young criminal dead at his first opportunity. The story which follows is episodic (McBane wraps up the vast majority of his cases in a single episode, some of them only running to 2 pages) and incredibly violent in a way that IPC weren’t really doing anymore by the early 80s. It probably always looked a bit out-of-place in Eagle, even when the episodes didn’t feature characters in spectacular flares. Satisfyingly, after 44 episodes, McBane’s policy rebounds on him when he shoots and kills his own nephew. He then quits the force, a decision which must have seemed mysterious to Eagle readers, but actually coincided with the cancellation of Valiant in 1976, and the strip’s subsequent transfer to Battle, where McBane got a new job as a spy (which fortunately still allowed him to shoot people).

 

Issue 70 saw the debut of another artwork strip, The Hand by Gerry Finlay-Day with art by Vanyo. Best described as a ‘horror’ strip, this tale (bear with us) sees Luke Hackett have a car crash with Mafia man Luca Mancini. Mancini dies in the crash, and Hackett receives his hand in a transplant. So now Hackett has an EVIL HAND which seems to be able to take over at will, and force him to commit murders and travel across America seeking the rivals Mancini wants to take revenge on. The whole concept is daft as a brush, but the end result is surprisingly entertaining, with some clever twists, such as when Hackett marries a beautiful waitress to stop the hand from killing her (as wives can’t testify against their husbands in court). And who said romance had no place in a boys comic? Inexplicably, the story debuts in full colour, although it soon returns to black and white.

 

All this, and I’ve still failed to mention Dan Dare. By issue 49, this had also been through a recent format-change. Originally, Dare had filled the two-page centrefold, which perhaps contributed to the story moving achingly slowly. Since then, it had gained a third page, which initially readers would need to search through the comic to find where it had randomly been hidden this week. Eventually, the third page was moved to be the front cover, and the comic entered it’s ‘best-looking’ phase as Ian Kennedy provided beautiful fully-painted covers week-in and week-out. His artwork inside was also stunning, despite a short-lived and ill-advised experiment to illustrate the ‘spaceship’ panels using models. I have clear childhood memories of these. I still was not a subscriber, but would see random issues at my dentists, where I would seek them out, and try and work out what was going on in stories I was reading out-of-order.

 

The scripting was also going through a particularly strong period. Dan Dare stopped carrying individual story titles about 4 episodes into ‘Fireflight’, but by issue 55, he had finally reached Earth Fort and we start a new story referred to by fans as ‘Young Dare’. A continuation of the Return of the Mekon saga, this saw the human authorities investigating Dare’s past after the Mekon has faked a video showing Dare supporting him. This is an excuse to give a lengthy flashback (19 episodes) showing Dare’s early training period and eventual mission in deep space leading up to the events of episode 1. The story finds a rich vein here, as we explore the young Dare’s vulnerability – his reluctance to face up to command and the reputation of his great-great-grandfather. Writer Pat Mills’ admirable ability to get angry about stuff demonstrates itself here, when the deep space programme sends chimpanzees on the first sleeper missions. We’re left in no doubt that this is a Bad Thing, and it comes from Mills’ research into the early American space programme from the 1960s, which did indeed send chimps into orbit before men. Kennedy also demonstrates his love of hardware, with detailed depictions of space rockets, solar yachts and sleeper ships which have also been well-researched. This will sound like heresy in some quarters, but I’m going to say it: for my money, this is the best Dare strip of all time. That’s right, even better than the Hampson originals (which after a good start, quickly degenerated into a ‘capture and escape’ runaround featuring unsophisticated characters). This version is criminally forgotten, and deserves a re-print.

 

Return of the Mekon was finally coming to a close. Issue 74 saw the beginning of a storyline fans call ‘The Battle for Earth’ which would finally wrap things up, perhaps even a little hurriedly. But things were about to change for Eagle, and Dan Dare would be one of the main victims.

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THE EAGLE STORY INDEX!

PART 3, ISSUES 49-78

 

DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

Return of the Mekon: Young Dare, 19 episodes, issues 55-73 (Apr. to Aug. 1983)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Ian Kennedy, models by J. Baum (eps 4-8)

Return of the Mekon: The Battle for Earth, 10 episodes, issues 74-83 (Aug. to Oct. 1983)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Ian Kennedy


DOOMLORD

Doomlord III, 19 episodes, issues 49-67 (Feb. to July 1983)
Story by Alan Grant & John Wagner, photography by Gary Compton


GIL HAZZARD - CODENAME SCORPIO

3D story, 4 episodes, issues 49-52, (Feb. to Mar. 1983)
Story by Ian Holland (Wagner & Grant), art by Cam Kennedy

untitled (“The Web”), 15 episodes, issues 53-67, (Mar. to July 1983)
Story by Ian Holland (Wagner & Grant), art by Mike Dorey


THE FIFTH HORSEMAN

The Fifth Horseman, 21 episodes, issues 49-69 (Feb. to July 1983)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Ortiz


CROWE STREET COMP.

Crowe Street Comp., 75 episodes, issues 49-123 (Feb. 1983 to July 1984)
Story by Fred Baker, art by Rex Archer


MANIX

The Hostage, 4 episodes, issues 53-56 (Mar. to Apr. 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), photography by Sven Arnstein

S.M.O.G. Over Britain, 8 episodes, issues 57-64 (Apr. to June 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), photography by Sven Arnstein

Manix Meets the Uglies, 10 episodes, issues 68-77 (July to Sep. 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), photography by Sven Arnstein


THE INVISIBLE BOY

untitled (“DJ in Trouble'”), 6 episodes, issues 58-63, (Apr. to June 1983)
Story by Scott Goodall, photography by John Powell


HOUSE OF CORRECTION

House of Correction, 12 episodes, issues 64-75, (June to Aug. 1983)
Story by Jack Adrian (Chris Lowder), photography by Mike Prior


WALK OR DIE

photographic story, 15 episodes, issues 65-78, (June to Sep. 1983)
Story by Scott Goodall, photography by Howard Payton (2 episodes in issue 78)


ONE-EYED JACK

One-Eyed Jack, 75 episodes, issues 68-131, 133-143, (July 1983 to Dec. 1984)
Story by John Wagner, art by John Cooper (re-printed from Valiant & Battle, originally ran to 133 eps)


THE HAND

The Hand, 30 episodes, issues 70-99, (July 1983 to Feb. 1984)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, art by Vanyo


SGT. STREETWISE

untitled, 3 episodes, issues 76-78, (Sep. 1983)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts

 

80s Eagle Issues 21-48

Doomlord had proven popular with readers and returned with ‘Doomlord II’ in issue 21 (published 18 Aug 1982) with an impressive full colour page showing his home planet of Nox. Here we meet the dread council of Nox, a set of cowled figures standing around in what appears to be a greenhouse. The first series of Doomlord  had ended on what we might be forgiven for thinking had been a fairly final note, with the deaths of both Doomlord and reporter Howard Harvey who had been pursuing him. Now we learn Doomlord’s name – Servitor Zyn – and we meet his replacement, Servitor Vek, an inexperienced Doomlord, assigned to find out what happened to Zyn,  and if necessary,  to complete his mission. It is still the same mask and rather bling outfit, however.

 

Where the first series had been from the rather earnest POV of Harvey, this one stars Vek as its hero, this allows greater access to Grant and Wagner’s trademark brand of the blackest of black humour and brings Doomlord to its final form. Ultimately, Vek decides that Zyn’s sentence of death on humankind was misjudged, and he works to save humanity from itself. This involves some slightly dull plotlines with him blackmailing business men into giving money to environmentalists, but has a nice finish in a nuclear missile bunker.

 

‘Doomlord II’  also introduced Mrs Souster, Vek’s genuinely loveable landlady, and her two young sons. Posing as ‘commercial traveller Eric Plumrose’, Doomlord becomes her lodger, and remains so for much of the rest of the series. For convenience, he hypnotises the family so that they always see him as Plumrose, even when he’s in his own guise. Whenever he leaves the house, he usually has a dialogue with Mrs Souster along the following lines:

Mrs Souster:”Busy day ahead Mr Plumrose?”

Doomlord:”Indeed! I am going to save the world!”

Mrs Souster:”Well, don’t overdo it! See you tonight!”

In an ideal world, Doomlord would have married Mrs Souster, but that was not what Alan Grant was about to write. It would have been a bit silly, too.

 

Issue 24 introduced another photostrip from Wagner and Grant (between them, they seemed to be writing about half of every issue) called Manix. Manix is a robot, developed by British Intelligence to be the perfect spy. Played by a normal actor, occasional artwork ‘cutaways’ show us his insides. The problem for us, is that Manix remains utterly unsympathetic, as he has no emotions, no conscience and no sense of morality. In the first two-part story, his evil boss Colonel Cameron (he wears an eye patch, so he must be evil) orders Manix to murder his own creator – which he does without compunction. This is followed by a six-part story ‘The Defector’ (unusually for Eagle, most Manix stories have titles) in which Manix poses as a circus performer in order to get a defecting agent out of East Germany. While there, he is befriended by a really rather attractive girl who works for the circus (and for British Intelligence). In a slightly shocking development, she spots his superhuman strength and abilities and forces him to confess that he is a robot – and so he kills her. His programming has told him to kill anyone who realises his secret. In fact, pretty much everyone dies in this story, including the defector, who Cameron orders Manix to kill once his incriminating documents are safely back in Cameron’s hands.

 

After a 9-issue gap, mostly filled by Collector tales, Manix returns in issue 41 with ‘Project Waldo’. These later episodes are credited to ‘Keith Law’, although this is just a pseudonym for Alan Grant – perhaps to disguise just how much of the comic he and Wagner are writing. The story illustrates one of the problems with Photostrips, as they clearly couldn’t get the original Manix actor back, so the plot contrives to have his face changed so that he can infiltrate an American team trying to build their own spy-robot. Cameron doesn’t want any competition, so Manix’s job is to prevent their project from succeeding, which he achieves using the usual high levels of murder and violence. Starting in issue 47 (and played by yet another actor), Manix’s loyalties are really put to the test when Cameron orders him to murder the head of British Intelligence so he can take his place – which given Manix’s record up to this point, produces a genuinely tense situation.

 

As if Wagner and Grant weren’t busy enough already, issue 25 saw them writing a new artwork strip The House of Daemon, drawn by Ortiz, fresh from The Tower King duties. In this story, Elliott Aldrich and his astonishingly sexy wife Cassandra move into their dream house, which he’s had built on the edge of a cliff. Nothing can go wrong there, surely? Well, unfortunately for them, the house is already haunted by ‘Daemon’ – a ghost who, in a nice twist, is ultimately revealed to be from the far future, projecting his evil back in time. Daemon’s powers seem virtually unlimited, so he is able to turn the house into a fantasy hell from which his victims cannot escape. Running for 23 episodes, this ranks as one of the best stories Eagle ever did.

daemon-wip

Also on the artwork front, this is the period in which Pat Mills and Ian Kennedy really begin to make the Dan Dare strip their own. After 33 issues, with the Mekon still very much undefeated, the initial ‘Return of the Mekon’ storyline came to an end (Mills would receive sole writing credit from now on). It was followed by ‘Return of the Mekon: The Dare Report’, in which the initial mystery of Dare’s grave from 1950 was finally solved. This story was heavily touted in the issues beforehand, but may not have interested Mills much, as it’s over in 5 episodes. It explains that the Frank Hampson original Dare was from World War Two. After the war, he became a test pilot and while breaking the sound barrier in 1950, was thrown into the far future of the 1990s. He then never mentioned it again. It all sounds pretty unlikely, but presumably this was to explain to 1980s comics readers why a pilot from their future spoke like a character from The Dambusters. Looking at it now, it all seems a bit unnecessary, and definitely contradicts events from the original strip. The final episode-and-a-half brought the story up-to-date with panels from the original run of Frank Hampson stories alongside some explanatory captions. This probably satisfied the dads of Eagle readers more than it did the teenage boys of the 1980s, but had a virtue of giving Kennedy a week off, I suppose.

 

By issue 39, the ‘Return of the Mekon’ part of the story title had been dropped, but the endless saga continued in ‘Fireflight’, in which Dare and his supporting cast escaped from the Mekon’s base in an experimental Treen fighter. Running to another 16 episodes, it would be fair to say that this takes them quite some time.

 

Other returning strips during this period included Joe Soap for a brief run, which sadly proved to be its last. Also back (from issue 27) was Sgt. Streetwise, who scripted by the imaginative Gerry Finlay-Day, was beginning to orbit the outer reaches of what you might expect an undercover copper to get up to. In one story, some crooks have taken an air stewardess hostage at an airport, and are hanging out with her in a light aircraft, demanding fuel for their escape. To get the jump on them, Wise dons some scuba gear and hides inside the fuel tanker. Good job they’re not smokers. Wise isn’t a complete idiot, though, because he’s taken the precaution of sabotaging a police marksman’s gun so he can’t interfere. Phew.

 

Wise gets a well-earned holiday, so from issue 38 he’s ‘Off to Sunny Spain’ for a fun, three-part interlude. While there, he tangles with some mafia-types and a Spanish lady who keeps flirting with him. We might be more convinced that he’s actually in the Costa del Sol if he didn’t keep his trousers on while sitting on the beach, mind.

 

Brand new from issue 28 is The Invisible Boy, in which Tim Talbot has an accident in his dad’s lab (like you do) and discovers the secret of invisibility! Scott Goodall’s story runs up against the immediate problem of what possible uses a teenage boy could have for invisibility, apart from spying on girls and petty thievery. Given that, like most Eagle heroes, Tim is unimpeachably moral, neither of these options are open to him, so the stories immediately have to work really hard to find things for him to do. These include spying on the rival football team to check what nefarious plans they have (turns out it’s sabotage and kidnapping – those guys really want to win!), helping a French boy smuggle himself into the country so he can find his dad (like all French dads, he is a racing driver) and even discovering that Tim’s dad’s dowdy new housekeeper is actually a glamorous cat burglar!, who is just posing as a housekeeper because… because… no, you got me.

 

The final new addition for this period, is Jake’s Platoon, which runs for 17 episodes from issue 41. Jake Jackson is a lowly NCO, who ends up in charge of his platoon when all of his officers are killed during the Normandy landings in 1944. For a photostrip, setting a story during World War II is an ambitious step, although Jake’s Platoon has a fairly good go at it. The problem is largely solved by setting many of the episodes in some anonymous fields, while Jake and his mates take on some stock-photo tanks. Jake’s NCO status follows the general IPC policy of keeping all their heroes resolutely working class. Apart from Doomlord, or course. That guy’s a lord.

 

 

Aaaand Presenting:

 

Part Two of your exciting Eagle story index!

 

DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

Return of the Mekon: The Dare Report, 5 episodes, issues 34-38 (Nov. to Dec. 1982)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Ian Kennedy (eps 1-4), Frank Hampson (eps 4-5)

Return of the Mekon: Fireflight, 16 episodes, issues 39-54 (Dec. 1982 to Apr. 1983)
Story by Pat Mills, art by Ian Kennedy


DOOMLORD

Doomlord II, 20 episodes, issues 21-40 (Aug. to Dec. 1982)
Story by Alan Grant (& John Wagner), photography by Gary Compton


THE COLLECTOR

It's Only a Game!, issue 23 (Aug. 1982)
Story by Malcolm Shaw, photography by Dave Watts, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Knight versus King, issue 32 (Oct. 1982)
Story by Ian Mennell, photography by Henry Arden, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Incredible Shrinking Sam, issue 33 (Nov. 1982)
Story and photography uncredited, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Journey Beyond the Grave, issue 34 (Nov. 1982)
Story by Ian Rimmer, photography by John Powell, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

You'll Never Walk Alone, issue 35 (Nov. 1982)
Story by Malcolm Shaw, photography by Henry Arden, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Avenging Arrow, issue 36 (Nov. 1982)
Story by Fred Baker, photography by Anna Hogson, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Death Ride!, issue 37 (Dec. 1982)
Story by Simon Geller, photography by Mike Prior, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

A Model Soldier, issue 38 (Dec. 1982)
Story by Ian Mennell, photography by Carin Simon, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Pen of Doom, issue 39 (Dec. 1982)
Story by Ian Mennell, photography by Dave Watts, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

All in a Good Claus..., issue 40 (Dec. 1982)
Story by Roy Preston, photography by Gary Compton, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Looking Glass Helper..., issue 48 (Feb. 1983)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts, art by uncredited


MANIX

Manix, 2 episodes, issues 24-25 (Sep. 1982)
Story by Alan Grant and John Wagner, photography by Sven Arnstein

The Defector!, 6 episodes, issues 26-31 (Sep. to Oct. 1982)
Story by Alan Grant and John Wagner, photography by Mike Prior

Project Waldo, 6 episodes, issues 41-46 (Jan. to Feb. 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), photography by Sven Arnstein

Rogue Robot, 6 episodes, issues 47-52 (Feb. to Mar. 1983)
Story by Keith Law (Alan Grant), photography by Sven Arnstein


THE HOUSE OF DAEMON

The House of Daemon, 23 episodes, issues 25-47, (Sep. 1982 to Feb. 1983)
Story by Alan Grant & John Wagner, art by Ortiz


SGT. STREETWISE

untitled, 11 episodes, issues 27-37, (Sep. to Dec. 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts

Off to Sunny Spain, 3 episodes, issues 38-40, (Dec. 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts

The Villains & Auntie Vi..., 3 episodes, issues 41-43, (Jan. 1983)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts

untitled (“Crime Garage”), 3 episodes, issues 46-48, (Feb. 1983)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts


THE INVISIBLE BOY

untitled, 18 episodes, issues 28-40, 44-48, (Oct. 1982 to Feb. 1983)
Story by Scott Goodall, photography by John Powell


JOE SOAP

The Brat, 5 episodes, issues 41-45, (Jan. 1983)
Story by Alan Grant (and John Wagner),  photography by Gary Compton


JAKE'S PLATOON

Jake's Platoon, 17 episodes, issues 41-57, (Jan. to Apr. 1983)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day,  photography by Carin Simon

Eagle Story Index – part 1

GREAT NEWS CHUMS!

 

Start this week with your cut-out-and-keep story index! Watch this artwork grow over time into total awesomeness! Or your money back!*

Part 1: Issues 1-20

 

DAN DARE, PILOT OF THE FUTURE

Return of the Mekon, 33 episodes, issues 1-33 (Mar. to Nov. 1982)
Story by Barrie Tomkinson (ep 1), John Wagner (eps 2-18), Pat Mills (eps 19-33), art by Garry Embleton (eps 1-16), Oliver Frey (eps 17-18), Ian Kennedy (eps 19-33)


DOOMLORD

Doomlord, 13 episodes, issues 1-13 (Mar. to June 1982)
Story by Alan Grant (& John Wagner), photography by Gary Compton


THE COLLECTOR

Eye of the Fish, issue 1 (Mar. 1982)
Story by Roy Preston, photography by Gary Compton, art by Pat Wright & Robin Smith

Assassin, issue 2 (Apr. 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Sven Arnstein, art by Pat Wright

Trash!, issue 3 (Apr. 1982)
Story by Alan Moore, photography by Sven Arnstein, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Red Fingers, issue 4 (Apr. 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Sven Arnstein, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Mask of Evil, issue 5 (Apr. 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Gary Compton, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Birds of a Feather, issue 6 (May 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Howard Payton, art by Pat Wright

The Butterfly Man, issue 7 (May 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Sven Arnstein, art by Pat Wright

Devil Doll, issue 8 (May 1982)
Story by Roy Preston, photography by Sven Arnstein, art by Pat Wright

Tomb of the Dragon, issue 9 (May 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Howard Payton, art by Pat Wright

The 13th Victim, issue 10 (May 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Carin Simon, art by Pat Wright

The Jolly Joker, issue 11 (June 1982)
Story by Roy Preston, photography by Mike Prior, art by Pat Wright

Profits of Doom, issue 12 (June 1982)
Story by Alan Moore, photography by Gabor Scott, art by Rex Archer

The King's Shilling, issue 13 (June 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Carin Simon, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Davey's Luck!, issue 14 (June 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Henry Arden, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Monster Maker, issue 15 (July 1982)
Story by Roy Preston, photography by John Powell, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

C... for Coward, issue 16 (July 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Mike Prior, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

Ebenezer's Ghost, issue 17 (July 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Henry Arden, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Duel, issue 18 (July 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Howard Payton, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Last Page, issue 19 (July 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Henry Arden, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)

The Purchase, issue 20 (Aug. 1982)
Story by Brian Burrell, photography by Carin Simon, art by Pat Wright (uncredited)


SGT. STREETWISE

Sgt. Streetwise, 11 episodes, issues 1-11, (Mar. to June 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day, photography by Dave Watts


THE TOWER KING

The Tower King, 24 episodes, issues 1-24, (Mar. to Sep. 1982)
Story by Alan Hebden, art by Ortiz


THUNDERBOLT AND SMOKEY

Thunderbolt and Smokey, 27 episodes, issues 1-27, (Mar. to Sep. 1982)
Story by Tom Tully, photography by John Powell


JOE SOAP

Untitled (“Sparklers”), 5 episodes, issues 12-16, (June to July 1982)
Story by Alan Grant (and John Wagner),  photography by Gary Compton

Case No 2: Looking for Mr Wright, 6 episodes, issues 17-22, (July to Aug. 1982)
Story by Alan Grant & John Wagner,  photography by Gary Compton


SADDLE TRAMP

Saddle Tramp, 13 episodes, issues 14-26, (June to Sep. 1982)
Story by Gerry Finlay-Day,  photography by Howard Payton

 

* – No money will actually be refunded

 

 

80s Eagle Issues 1-20

When the new Eagle finally hit the newsstands in March 1982, it was with an exciting free! gift – the Space Spinner! That’s a frisbee to you and me. Printed on high-quality paper, it was a glossy product, containing 2 traditional art strips and 4 photo strips.

 

The lead item was Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, with fully painted colour artwork by Gerry Embleton. Episode 1 was written by Barrie Tomlinson himself, and titled ‘Return of the Mekon’ – an epic storyline that would last some 18 months. Later episodes were written by John Wagner and Pat Mills. Wagner and Mills no longer wrote together, which means that episodes 2 to 18, credited to Wagner & Mills were actually written by Wagner alone, while later episodes credited to Mills & Wagner were solely written by Mills. They maintained strong continuity with the first episode, in which the Mekon suffers his final defeat, and is sentenced to be imprisoned in space forever. Escaping 200 years later, he returns to Earth, only to find a grave which states that Dan Dare died in 1950. This mystery is left unresolved while the Mekon conquers the Earth, and then Dare’s great grandson, also called Dan Dare, returns from a mission to deep space and finds the Earth already under Treen subjugation.

 

Embleton was best known for his work on TV Century 21 in the 1960s, and although he produces some beautiful art for Dan Dare, his style was perhaps felt to be a little old-fashioned. When Mills takes over the scripting from issue 19, the artist becomes Ian Kennedy. Kennedy is one of my favourite artists from this period, and he does not disappoint, producing some amazing work over the next year or so. The entire look of the strip changes in his hands. While Embleton’s Dare closely resembles the original, under Kennedy, he becomes inexplicably blond, only retaining the freaky eyebrows. All the other characters also change or mutate over time, with Mills apparently unhappy about the direction the strip had taken under Wagner, and moving things in a different direction entirely. What had been under Wagner a series of slightly strange, humorous vignettes begins to head in a more serious direction.

 

The only other art strip was The Tower King, by Alan Hebden, with some fantastic black and white art by Ortiz. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, where electricity has stopped working, the titular tower king is Mick Tempest, who has taken over the Tower of London, and now uses its walls to defend his people from the freaks and troglodytes who now inhabit the world. Good job he already had the cool name – must have come in handy in that eventuality. This strip is well-remembered by those who read it as kids, but does not reward an adult reading. (Which is the only way I’ve read it. I never got the Eagle at this time, I was still reading the sports comic Tiger – which I mostly hated. More on that, later). Most of what Tempest does is so stupid and random that it should just get him killed. How he’s getting enough food for his people in central London is never addressed, nor is how significant parts of humanity have de-evolved in the few years since the electricity was switched off. It seems as if Hebden’s been given a concept that he doesn’t quite know what to do with. It all looks great, though.

 

What of the photo strips? Well, first and foremost is Doomlord, written by Alan Grant. Grant was at this time writing with John Wagner. Wagner was not credited on the Doomlord strips (except briefly during Doomlord III under his pen name of “T.B. Grover”), but it seems likely that he also had a hand in most, if not all, of the scripts.

eagledoomlord

This first Doomlord story ran for 13 weeks, and starred Servitor Doomlord from the planet Nox, who comes to Earth on a mysterious mission. Reporter Howard Harvey spots his spaceship landing, and spends the rest of the tale obsessively chasing the alien, trying to prove that it is him behind the disappearances of top scientists, politicians and generals. Harvey’s new office is clearly represented by Kings Reach Tower – where Eagle (and the other IPC titles) was published from! The interiors are almost certainly shot in the Eagle editorial offices, and staff at the time could probably recognise themselves in the background. Talk about money-saving. As a character, Harvey seems remarkably dedicated to his goal, at one point getting a Concorde to New York in order to catch Doomlord at the UN. Quite an expense on a reporter’s wage!

 

Doomlord was both distinctive and suited to the photo format, since he could be played by anyone in the skeletal, grinning rubber mask that represented his head – apparently bought from a local joke shop. The character would capture humans, drain all their knowledge (an act in itself which was lethal) then disintegrate them with his energiser ring, and take on their likeness. It is only while in human form that he is vulnerable. Even then, when Harvey shoots him, he is able to scratch another character before he dies, and slowly takes over his body, finally turning back into Doomlord.

 

Doomlord’s mission becomes apparent when he reveals he is on Earth to judge humanity, and decide whether they deserve annihilation – and he isn’t very impressed with what he sees. In a grim moral for a rather grim story,  Harvey comes to agree with the alien: “Mankind has gone wrong! Maybe in the end we will destroy ourselves! But that destruction will not be carried out with your hands!” – all quite typical of Grant’s writing, it must be said. Rest assured that Harvey defeats Doomlord, but only at the expense of both their lives.

 

Compared with Doomlord, the other photo strips had rather less impact. One was an anthology horror strip call The Collector, in which the titular character shows us an item from his collection, which then leads into a rather grim story associated with it. This strip shows the limitations of the photo format, exemplified in episode 1 ‘Eye of the Fish’ as the Collector himself always appears in artwork (by Pat Wright), then the story unfolds in photos, becoming an uncomfortable mixture of photos and artwork (in this case by Robin Smith) when aliens turn up and capture the human characters on their flying saucer. The photo format always strongly limited the stories you could tell, and the end result was often visually unexciting.

 

Two of the later Collector stories, ‘Trash!’ in issue 3 and ‘Profits of Doom’ in issue 12, were by comics legend and Watchmen creator Alan Moore – apparently the only time he ever worked for Eagle. That said, he probably doesn’t add these tales to his CV any more, limited by the format, neither is particularly remarkable.

 

You’ll have gathered by now that I’m not a huge fan of the photo strip format, but it could be effective. Readers at the time often felt that the photographed Doomlord stories were more scary than what came later, as something about the format gave an eerie atmosphere. With The Collector, the most effective story was probably ‘Devil Doll’ in issue 9. This story about a man using little plasticine voodoo dolls comes to a genuinely creepy conclusion which is only enhanced by seeing it in photo form.

 

Issues 1-11 also contained Sgt. Streetwise, in which a policeman called Wise who works the street (Streetwise – geddit? Oh, suit yourself) tracks down mostly petty criminals using his street smarts and range of disguises. It’s perhaps unfortunate that Wise himself is played by a young man who looks more like an underwear model than a policeman, and stretches our credibility beyond breaking point. It’s also unclear why normal police work would be unable to pick up the mostly purse snatchers and muggers he arrests each week. In fact, he doesn’t even arrest them, usually sloping off to let the boys in blue take the credit, rather than ‘break his cover’. Yawn.

 

The final strip was Thunderbolt and Smokey, and could not be more inconsequential. It was obviously felt that there needed to be a sports strip, and so the reliable Tom Tully was brought in to write something. Colin ‘Thunderbolt’ Dexter plays football for Dedfield school as the only good player in a team so bad that the sports teacher takes them out of the school league because he can’t be bothered any more. Disgruntled by this, Thunderbolt decides to rebuild the team, with the help of ‘Smokey’ Beckles, a good player from another school, and enter them into the Collyer Cup. They have to win the cup! Yeah! What?

 

The problem with this strip is that the stakes are so low, that it’s impossible to care what happens. We keep getting told that Dedfield school is more focused on academic success, which as a fuddy-duddy adult, sounds about right to me. None of the characters care, except Thunderbolt, who has a football monomania that’s a bit scary. Even Thunderbolt admits he’s a bit mental for being so focused on the school’s football reputation. The rest of the kids don’t care. The adults certainly don’t care. Even the writer doesn’t care – as will become apparent.

 

Using the school-age cast has some advantages – the same faces keep coming back for 27 epic weeks of photo  story – but also disadvantages as the acting is uniformly terrible. The poses are static and wooden, and the footballing sequences all fail. Between matches, Thunderbolt battles his team through a series of extraordinary difficulties which reach their hysterical peak when the school bully knocks him unconscious (!), vandalises the sports teacher’s car, and frames Thunderbolt by leaving him stretched across the bonnet with a screwdriver in his hand.

 

So do they win the cup in the end? Spoiler alert: no they don’t. They go into the last match over-confident and after several episodes of tension… lose. Thunderbolt and Smokey wander off into the sunset pondering what sport to fixate over next, and the readership goes “huh? what was the point of all that?”

 

In issue 12, Streetwise was replaced by Joe Soap, a superior photo strip by Grant and Wagner, about a private detective call Joe ‘Soap’ Soper. This was a humour story, with first-person captions written in the usual sub-Chandleresque patter of this genre wherein Soper describes the daft situations he finds himself in. The humour is perhaps an attempt by Wagner and Grant to find a new way of tackling the limitations of the photo strip, and Joe himself is played by an actor with a very characterful face – somehow, he starts every episode looking like he’s already been punched several times. The scripts are very good, but the somewhat murky photography still seems to undercut and undermine the humour.

 

In issue 14, the first run of Doomlord is replaced by Saddle Tramp, a photo strip ambitiously set in the wild west. Trampas is a bounty hunter, who ends up carrying his possessions around in a saddle (geddit???), since his horses have a nasty habit of getting killed from under him. To get some realistic backgrounds, the photographer does seem to have used a ‘Western’ town – possibly Laredo in Kent – for many sequences. The costumes are mostly not too bad, although the background performers seem to be the same 3 or 4 cosplayers from episode to episode. The biggest problem comes whenever Trampas is required to leave town and start crossing the desert, the entirety of which appears to be represented by one small sandpit with a telegraph pole and a puddle at the bottom. Colour me unconvinced.

 

The comic was rounded out by some funnies from ‘Ernie the Eagle’, regular columns from the likes of DJ Mike Read (who mostly talks about tennis and the latest celebrities he’s met), and also ‘Glamourous Teacher’ – slightly disturbing to modern eyes – in which young boys are encouraged to send in photos of their hottest female teachers for publication. Of which the best that can be said is that it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

80s Eagle Introduction

This will be the first of a probably irregular series of blogs about the 1980s IPC comic for boys Eagle. IPC had a whole raft of comics at the time, aimed at teenage boys and girls, of which only 2000AD is still widely remembered these days in the moribund 21st century UK comics scene. All of these comics sold in numbers that publishers would give their eye teeth for these days, but were run ruthlessly by the management, so that even a slight dip in sales figures could lead to the dreaded headline “GREAT NEWS CHUMS” and merger with another comic, with maybe only 3 or 4 of your favourite strips continuing in the amalgamated title.

 

Eagle had been published before, founded in 1950 by Marcus Morris, an anglican vicar from Lancashire. This version ran until 1969, and famously starred Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future  created by Frank Hampson – a strip which is well-remembered now, and still in print, most recently published by Titan books from 2004 to 2010 in a series of handsome hardcover books. By contrast, the 1980s Eagle, is not hugely remembered these days – except, perhaps, by those of my generation who grew up with it.

 

80s Eagle was allegedly the brainchild of John Purdie, a manager at IPC. Purdie had worked on Bunty for DC Thomson, but joined Fleetway, IPC’s comics-publishing arm with the intention of revitalising their girls comics range. One of his innovations was the cunning addition of photo strips, a popular feature, mostly used on ‘romance’ strips where the teenage girl waited for the boy she liked to actually ask her out. Purdie’s new idea was to try photo strips in the boys comic arena and see if he could achieve similar success. Also in the news at the time was the possibility of a Dan Dare TV series. 2000AD had been running a Dan Dare strip with mixed success – largely because the character bore virtually no resemblance to Frank Hampson’s original – but cancelled the strip in 1979, so the opportunity was there to bring back Dare in his original home of Eagle, and do something a bit more recognisable for fans of the original stories.

 

The work of creating the new comic fell to Group Editor Barrie Tomlinson. Working for him was Editor Dave Hunt, the man who had edited Battle Picture Weekly for IPC from 1976 to 1980 and been a critical factor in the creation of Pat Mills’ Charley’s War, a classic of the war genre. Mills, who had created Battle Picture Weekly and 2000AD would also write for the comic, as would John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd. The new Eagle was worked on in great secrecy, with the first issue coming out on 27 March 1982. Was it a triumph? Well… let’s see. I’m going to read them again. So you don’t have to.

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