Ahh, Eagle and Tiger. What great names, standing astride British comics like a gold-plated colossus. Eagle gave us the greatest space strip of all time, Dan Dare…
The Red Moon Mystery is unbelivably good. It’s a shame you can only read it for the first time once.
And Tiger was the birthplace of the greatest football strip of all time, Roy of the Rovers…
However in 1985 the world of the weekly adventure comic was far from rosy. Lots of titles were being merged or cancelled, and the decision was made to put these two illustrious names together. The result was… er… oh dear.
The Eagle in question was, of course, the 1980’s New Eagle. Possibly started with noble(ish) intentions, it was nevertheless very far removed from the ideals set out in the 1950’s original which was started by Reverend Marcus Morris. I wouldn’t like to think of his opinions on Eagle and Tiger, I doubt the language would be fitting for a man of god!
The original and new Eagle both had a “real” editor. However the merged Eagle and Tiger went with that British comic trope, the fictional editor. In this case a homicidal computer that was originally created for a horror comic called Scream!
We then move on to the first story, Doomlord. This was one of the star attractions of the original Eagle, and was originally a photo story featuring a bloke in a dodgy mask. Fortunately I have the merger issue which explains the back-stories to all of these characters! It seems that the original Doomlord was sent to “test” the human race to see if they were worthy of being left alive. He decided they weren’t but another “rogue” Doomlord thought they were, and won. But now the original one, thought dead, is back!
Later on we get some 80’s style enviro-preaching. Apparently mankind has “exploited the oceans for centuries” when in fact it was only in the 20th century that dangerously intensive fishing started. Before that a bunch of small boats would sail out and make their catches independently, rather than two huge ones stringing a mile-long net between them. Oh and also we did deforestation and nuclear bombs.
Gee, ain’t we stinkers?
Next story is possibly the second most famous football strip of all time (Roy of the Rovers had his very own comic by this time), Billy’s Boots!
The basic gist of this story is that Billy, who can’t play football, has a pair of boots once owned by the famous international “dead shot” Keen. When billy wears the boots he can play as well as Dead Shot! This strip ran for years in several different comics despite the pretty limited story possibilities – those boots got stolen by robbers/dogs or acidentally thrown out/donated to charity shops hundreds of times!
The next story is the utterly bizarre Star Rider. A shape-shifting (often shifting back to his alien form at inopportune moments, naturally) alien journeys to earth to, erm, compete in BMX Racing. Because that’s what the kids were down with (or whatever they said in the 80’s) at the time. Oh he also has a ray in a watch/ring that can construct or demolish things at will. No doubt in other parts of the story (I only own four issues of this!) he uses this ability to foil crimes and that.
Here’s where things go downhill. One of the limited and precious colour pages is used for a full-page advert. It’s not even a comic strip ad like Tommy Walls in the original Eagle! (or Cheese Strings in the 90’s Beano). The ad itself is for a crappy Transformers rip-off…
Oh dear oh dear
…which is also a story! And one using the limited and precious “black white and red” pages too. The famous comic Battle (later Battle Action) which gave us the seminal Charley’s War and Darkie’s Mob was utterly ruined when it became “Battle Action Force”, and little more than a toy catalogue with stories. It looks like they were dragging Eagle in the same direction. For a start kids can see through this “advertainment” nonsense in a flash, and also kids hate being “told how” to play with their toys. They want to make up their own adventures not be told who the goodies and baddies are and what their abilities are. No wonder Lego is so popular after all these years – it can be anything you want!
Still a stamp collecting ad, though!
Here’s a reader’s page with “Super Dads” and “Glamorous Teachers”! The latter feature appears to be a chance for boys to send in pictures of the teacher they fancy! It only appears in one of the issues I have, and was another thing that Mr Morris would certainly not have been a fan of!
Now we come to the colour centre pages, and Eagle’s most famous creation, Dan Dare! The New Eagle initially featured stories about the grandson of the original Dan, but later bought the original back. This story is set in the 22nd century, so it must feature the grandson (the original Dan Dare stories of the 50’s were set around the 2000’s). However the original Dan’s batman, Digby, also makes an appearance:
So who knows. The story doesn’t exactly look like it’s up to Hampsonite standards either, devolving into a galactic dogfight.
Also there’s another advert page showing another merger going on in the humour comics. Whoopee merging into the “two comics in one” Whizzer and Chips, creating an ungainly title.
We now come to yet another advertainment story – The Ultimate Warrior. This one is a little better disguised, at least to begin with! It starts off with some ordinary boys, one of them wants to stay indoors and play computer games rather than play obesity-busting football. A sign of things to come!
Anyway the one staying to play video games has discovered “the secret code” that you can type into the computer (it’s “ULTIWAR” by the way) and it actually teleports you into the game! However he loses a game and is trapped in the computer (it’s just sitting there saying “YOU LOSE” on the screen). Thoughtfully he left his friend with instructions on what to do if this happens, and so the friend plunges into cyberspace to save him. Wonder what happens if there’s a power cut while they are in there??
Wouldn’t happen today of course. Today the screen would say “EPIC FAIL”
Anyway, the third part of this story is probably one of the laziest comic strips I have seen in my life… and that includes the ones I have made! The kid sits in a basic “space invaders” type game shooting baddies… and then some more, and then some more. He needs to get 10,000 points, and is almost there when he shoots a friendly ship and loses 5000… and that’s the cliff hanger! “Join us next week for more of the same! bet you can’t wait!”
Zap! Boom! Zap! Boom! etc
Next it’s Golden Boy. Another strip from the “sporty” Tiger, and quite a good one too! An orphan, befriended by a police sergeant, is persuaded to give up amateur athletics (despite having two Olympic gold medals) by an American millionaire in order to compete in a gameshow called “The Suicide Game”, which is like Takeshi’s Castle with spikes on. The American knows something about the fate of the boys’ parents but will only reveal the details a little at a time.
Next we have an out-and-out horror story of the kind Eagle was originally started to suppress! It’s called Death Wish and is about a man who had a horrible accident, resulting in hideous deformities (and apparently plastic surgery was never invented). Because of this he wears a mask and constantly tries to commit suicide by doing dangerous stunts or testing new performance cars / aircraft. However his luck is amazing and he always survives the inevitable spectacular crashes, but his constant brushes with death make him somehow able to see and talk to ghosts!
Now we come to the strip that stars the comic’s “editor”, Max the computer! For years he has run Maxwell Tower, a block of flats that boasts “computer control”, making people’s tea for them when they wake up and so on. However Max doesn’t take kindly to burglars and vandals, and lures them to the 13th floor, a place of his own creation where they are subjected to all manner of horrors! The ones that survive are then hypnotised to lead a life of good. As this story (re-)starts the police are finally on to Max and he is shut down. Then he is transferred to a department store and re-programmed to run the store… and not kill people. However the new owner inadvertently activates the old programme!
My 90’s and 2000’s-upbought brain can’t help but see tower blocks as vertical slums no matter how nice they might actually be, mind.
In the 80’s computer games were rapidly gaining popularity, and this is also reflected in the “Max’s Micro Vault” feature. In 1985 people still cared about technical computer terms such as “microcomputer”, so machines such as the Spectrum and BBC were referred to as “your micro”. This page is mainly short game reviews (well it was 1985, there was only about 6 games being continually rehashed and given new names!).
Of more interest, though, is this reference to “micro communication”, computers talking to each other by modems! This was already being used to create “Bulletin Board Systems” or BBS’s (mainly in the USA) and would eventually give rise to the internet.
You can now have a 0.02kbps modem for only £550, that’s not much more than a video recorder!
There’s also this forgotten product, why wasn’t this repeated for Live 8?
Interestingly, given the story about rubbish Transformers rip-offs, a full-page colour ad for the real thing appears! Well actually it’s a promotion for a watch you could send off for. Mind you I’m glad the Americanism “clip” as opposed to “cut out” has vanished from Britain. Still I think I’d rather have that than Labour supporters chanting “Four more years” in American accents. Well yeah as we aren’t in your beloved America it could actually be five or three years.
Do kids ever actually wear these fancy (and heavy) watches for more than a couple of days?
Three of the four issues I have are from the merger in April 1985. The other is from later on, in October. Now the issue numbering (carried over from the new Eagle) has discreetly re-appeared. Plus Dan Dare is now all-colour (in the previous issues only the first two pages in the centre spread were colour).
The Computer Warrior story has now dropped all pretence of being an adventure strip and is just an extended advert. It’s also still boring, I pity the writers who had to try and get an interesting story out of the gameplay of 1985 computer games! This time it’s a car race that no doubt involved keeping a dot in between two lines, avoiding other dots and occasionally avoiding touching a wobbling-about “police car”.
And at the end of the story, a promotion for the game! You can win it, but if you don’t it’s on sale at all computer shops now! (which is no doubt a dingy family run shop with it’s sign painted in a “digital” or “data” font).
The Activision company didn’t do so badly out of the deal, evidently.
Most of the stories in the earlier issues are still going, but there is one new one – following a New York police dog called Shadow. I never really liked stories that star animals, in fact the only one I do like is about squirrels and is in a 70’s Beezer Annual.
We also have the end of the Golden Boy story. The boy in question wins the Suicide Game in America, but gives all his prize money away to the second-placed contestant, who needed it to help his crippled mother. In the end the boy returns to England and goes to live alone on the moors somewhere, shunning all comforts of civilisation. I wonder if he met a certain man in black out there?
The demise of the British adventure weekly has been blamed on a lot of things, mainly videogames and TV. But I think that’s only part of the story – adventure comics, and comics in general, are still popular in several other countries that don’t have any less TV or videogames. Looking at comics like these you can see that an atmosphere of apathy and laziness seems to have seeped into the editorial office. Writing stories based on toys (instant characters) or videogames (instant action scenes) is pointless – the kids want to make up their own adventures with the toys, and they’ll play the videogames themselves rather than just read about them!
Comics should play the the advantages of the comics medium – trying to tell a comic story based on what happens in 1985 space war or motor racing videogames results in very boring stories! Dogfights against alien ships ought to borrow more from World War 2 dogfights, with ace pilots, the burden of command and so on. And motor racing stories are allowed to have such things as “corners” that the game apparently didn’t! The other stories (bar the robots) are a lot better because they don’t have this to burden them – but somehow they just don’t strike me as being as interesting as their equivalents from the 50’s or 60’s.