Valiant and TV21 – 31st March 1973

It’s that time again, lets grab a random single issue of a classic British comic and review it!

… last time I did this, I was pretty spoilt for choice, but this time, I really only had this one (or a bunch of recent Viz, Beano or Commando issues). I bought it from an antiques shop in Kyoto for ¥1000, though a comparable one bought in the UK would probably be no more than a quarter of that.

Anyway, Valiant is a well-known British comic, even amongst people who normally only like American ones. This is probably because most of it’s “serious” characters had powers, and these people can’t fathom the idea of a comic about ordinary people (unless it’s some small press pamphlet about a hipster’s life, which would have been better off as a blog entry).

TV21, on the other hand, ought to be a better-known British comic. It is, in conventional wisdom, the second best British comic, after the almighty Eagle. It contained stories of the various Gerry Anderson productions, the comic and television arms of Century 21 productions complementing each other perfectly, without the comic being some bland, hacked-out retread of the TV show with a bunch of clipart chucked all over it.

Ahem.

By 1973, and the merger, the stars of both comics had waned considerably, though as the senior partner, Valiant has retained a number of it’s classic characters. TV21’s only contribution is Star Trek, which occupies the coloured centre pages (but doesn’t really gain anything from the colour). Even before the merger, the latter day TV21 had long since relegated the Gerry Anderson material to black and white reprints, while the colour pages were occupied by strips based on imported TV shows (though at least they were hand-illustrated especially for that comic, even this would be a rare miracle in today’s Britain).

Anyway, in the style of a number of comics at the time, the cover is not taken up by some dramatic image from a story within, but with a “factual” page about a famous sports star. Valiant did a lot of this, and DC Thomson’s Victor ran “true war stories” for decades. A waste of the colour if you ask me, but it sold in numbers any publisher in the anglosphere would kill for, today!

The first story is Captain Hurricane, the long-running comedy war story in which a huge marine would go into a “ragin’ fury” and start punching tanks, calling the occupants “bratwurst-munching Brandenburg bootmakers” or “slant-eyed yellow weevils” every week. The people who sing Valiant’s praises as the “acceptable face” of retro British comics like to quietly pretend this story never existed. I, on the other hand, want a collected book of the funniest episodes. At least 300 pages, please!

Anyway, in this particular episode, Captain Hurricane’s batman, “Maggot” Malone, is writing his “memwars”, in which he calls himself a general, on the assumption he’ll have been promoted that far by the time the war ends. Some Germans assume he’s a secret agent writing a report, and try to capture him, one thing leads to another and soon the Squareheads are being shaken out of tanks like pepper.

The next story is Kid Pharoh, who is an ancient Egyptian who was cursed to “sleep while darkness reigns” by an evil wizard, then shut up in a tomb for thousands of years. Released by American archaeologists in modern times, he went to America and became a pro wrestler (that’s the first thing you’d do, right?). Anyway, the curse is still in effect, so he falls asleep the instant the lights go out, he’s also up against the descendants of the wizard, who are now his enemies in other ways (rival wrestling promoters, I’d imagine).

The next story is one of Valiant’s best-remembered ones, Janus Stark. He’s a famous escapologist from Victorian times, who is somehow never recognised by the various villains who keep trapping him in complicated ways and leaving him to a slow death. In this story he’s also clapped in irons by the well-meaning crew of a ship, but casts off the “mere trinkets” when he spots real saboteurs approaching. One thing leads to another, and he ends the episode tied up once again, this time watching the fuse on a barrel full of gunpowder burn down!

Yellowknife of the Yard follows. If we’ve had an ancient Egyptian wrestler, why not a Red Indian detective, still dressed in full regalia? Anyway, he’s captured by Count Terror (who looks like Count Dracula) and subjected to the “fear machine” which has already terrified several MI5 agents. Yellowknife, however, finds it “um heap big bore”, before rather conveniently escaping and lassooing the badmen.

Now it’s The Nutts, one of Valiant’s pure comedy strories, and only a single page long. It’s about a family living in a tiny house, the husband always has money-making (or saving) schemes that go wrong.

I don’t normally cover adverts, but here’s one for some other comics! Battle Picture Library was, at the time, putting out eight issues per month, but unlike today’s Commando, they released them all in one bunch on the third Monday. Like today’s Commando, I doubt that was eight NEW stories per month! The descriptions make the stories sound far more interesting than they probably were. The best war picture library was, well, War Picture Library, but only up to the mid 60’s! After that, Commando was running away with the title, and it’s certainly the only one to have reached 5000 issues!

After that, another staple of British comics, a football strip! This one’s called Raven on the Wing, and is about a gypsy boy, with amazing ability, who signs up for Highborough United, aka The Toffs. Here another of his tribe, Spider Mulford, is competing with the team’s back-from-injury goalie, Lionel Jeeps, for custodian duties at an upcoming championship match. Other members of the tribe have got into the crowd and are trying to put the regular keeper off during the first half, but Raven, naturally, doesn’t want to see any of that, preferring a fair contest.

No doubt there would be howls of derision at such a story today, making as it does the stereotyped suggestion that gypsies have strong family ties, even though it’s true. Mind you, family ties among a lot of regular brits are pretty strong too, these days. They side with their own kids against teachers and the police, undermining social order… filthy savages.

After that, we have The Swots and the Blots. Which is a bit like The Bash Street Kids if the class goody-goody, Cuthbert, was mob-handed. It’s resemblance to The Bash Street Kids is mainly due to the fact it has the same creator! Leo Baxendale left DC Thomson in the 1960’s, after a disagreement about the scale he did his artwork at, and went to Odhams, who were later swallowed up in the IPC Empire. Anyway, the strip is across the centre pages, with a huge title, and centres around cooking class. You can well imagine the chaos that ensues!

After that, we get the, erm, “colour” strip, on the centre pages, and it’s a contribution from the junior partner, TV21! As I said before, the days of TV21’s gravure-printed Gerry Anderson epics were behind it even before the merger, but here we have a Star Trek story coloured (badly) with the four-colour overlay method. This story is really Star Trek in name only, it’s more like a World War 2 spy caper given a Trek coat of paint, just replace the Germans with Klingons and the Italians with thier Morkolian allies.

After that, the letters page, with some illustrated jokes (when I was young, I always thought the senders provided the illustration, too, and got quite dispirited that people the same age as me already had skills equal to the pros!) and an interesting notice about the introduction of VAT.

Now for another stone-cold Valiant classic (and one due a Rebellion reprint?), The Claw! This is about Louis Crandell, who has a mechanical hand, and also the power to become invisible when he gets an electric shock (no chance of something like this appearing in a kids’ comic these days!). While not a cop or secret agent, he keeps coming up against flamboyant super-criminals, enemy spies and so on, and must use his powers to bring them to justice. Here a man pretending to be a ghost has nicked the takings from a funfair.

One classic follows another, as the rather spoiled reader now gets their weekly dose of Kelly’s Eye. In this story, Tim Kelly is a time-travelling adventurer who ends up in various times and places. As long as he holds the Eye of Zoltec, a magic stone, he cannot be harmed by anything but a weapon made of gold. Guess what material the villains of the stories always had a fondness for forging their custom knife, sword or bullets out of! When that gimmick had been used too often, he would simply lose the stone instead. I believe the story began with him simply fighting modern-day crimes, but here he is travelling through time in “Doctor Diamond”‘s time machine. Though it also appears able to travel vast distances and land on inhabited alien planets, too. I presume alien planets are used as a shorthand for “the future”. Anyway, if I remember a randomly-purchased annual from later in the 70’s correctly, he later started falling through time at random, by magical means.

Anyway, in this story he and Dr Diamond have joined a rebel movement on the planet Lyrius, which is ruled by intelligent apes (because why nick ideas from just one franchise?). They are in the sewer system, which can amplify a whisper in one place into a shout in another, which doesn’t seem like a very safe idea, to me. A workman burping in the wrong place could devastate a city with the resulting earthquake.

After that, there’s a half-page comedy strip called The Crows, pretty standard material.

I don’t usually cover adverts on my blog, because I’ll get braindead comments from people who are amazed that Matchbox cars used to cost “only” 16p (made you scroll up), as if inflation doesn’t exist and a new Ford Cortina wasn’t £1100 at the same time. But here’s an advert which is also a full-page strip. It appears to be the end of a serial, but that might just be to make it look “comic-ey”. It’s pretty fluffy, as these things are, but better than some generic clipart slapped on a page.

Brain Drayne is another comedy strip, in the Corporal Clott mould. He’s a tad more intelligent, though, coming up with half-baked “clever” ideas that cause more problems than they solve!

After a quick “soccer roundup” page, which reports the usual facts about the early days of football that were in every other one of these comics (fans used to bring planks to stand on because the field was muddy, etc), we get to The Wild Wonders, a comedy adventure strip about two amazing boy athletes. Here they have been tricked into blasting off in an experimental rocket, and have now landed on an “alien planet”, but some things don’t seem quite right…

And last, and definitely not least, we have Billy Bunter, who has hardly changed at all from his debut back in 1908. Only the 1908 stories were text, and Billy was not usually the main character (more of a force of nature that drove the plot). He’s still coming up with “get stuffed quick” schemes to secure a supply of food with minimal effort!

The full-colour back page of the issue is just used for another model car advert, so I’m sure I don’t need to waste your bandwidth with that 😉

The Sexton Blake Library is coming back!

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I love Sexton Blake. An article about him in issue 232 of the Judge Dredd Megazine (May 2005, back when it was £4.50 for 100 pages of varied and interesting reading – it’s golden era) was what started me off on the path of collecting old British comics and story papers. A path which led to this blog, and to the creation of my own Boys’ Own comic (before that I’d been doing serial killer horror stories). In fact, my old comic blog, the Union Jack Index, was an over-ambitious project to catalogue and write-up every issue of the comic he made his own. Though I only actually managed to do about 5 issues!

Though Union Jack was his first permanent home, from 1915 onwards long, novel-length stories were also appearing in the Sexton Blake Library. This went through five distinct “series” from 1915 to 1969, though 1964 was an empty year, and the final books in the late 60’s were no longer explicitly part of the Library.

But now, there’s going to be a much-delayed sixth series! A company called Obverse Books have purchased the copyright from IPC, and plan to launch a new library! Presumably sometime this year, though the current press release carries little in the way of solid information:

http://obversebooks.co.uk/pr-sexton-blake-library/

Of course, we have heard of things like this before. For now, I’ll remain cautiously pessimistic. Though I am hoping we’ll be getting something like this:

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Which will cost in the region of this:

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And not something like this:

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Which will cost in the region of this:

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And I also hope that it will come out at least once a month (the number increasing if successful) and not 2-3 times a year. In the magazine section alongside 2000AD (or Commando!), and not with the books in the Crime section (or, worse, the Sci-fi and Fantasy section… or, worse still, the Steampunk section). And before anybody says the days of regular text-only pocket story papers are long past, well, here’s one I bought today, in Tesco of all places:

sbl-bk06£1.99 to prove a point… not sure I’ll bother reading it, mind you!

Still, despite my expectations of disappointment, I’ll try to keep an open mind. I might even try submitting a certain story idea myself! I think it’s “just supernatural enough” for the Sexton Blake series (why no, n00b, those Scooby Doo-esque Valiant strips are not representative of  of the Blake saga, in fact they’re amongst the worst stories it ever produced. That picture on Deviantart where he’s being menaced by a mummy has massively missed the point too), and would also tie in with the old Captain Justice stories. If there’s any chance of it, I’d love to become a member of the ‘slightly raffish’ club… Though I have “published” Sexton Blake stories before, it won’t really count until they are printed by a proper printer’s, not my laserjet… and are bought by somebody who isn’t my mum!

Tiger and Scorcher, 1st March 1975

It’s time to pick out a random issue of a comic and look at it again!

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My flash doesn’t like coloured ink on newsprint

Tiger started in 1954, and was the second of three “big cat” comics. The other two were Lion and the short-lived Jag (which merged into Tiger). Those were both general adventure comics, but Tiger had a sports theme. in 1955 Tiger absorbed the sport themed story paper Champion, which had been running since the 20’s and was one of the few Amalgamated Press / IPC publications to come through the war.

Scorcher was a football comic which began in 1970, alongside Score ‘n Roar (a “two in one” football comic). These merged in 1971 to create Scorcher and Score, which unusually retained it’s merged title right up until 1974, when it merged with Tiger to become Tiger and Scorcher.

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A kid who uses magic boots to play professional-quality football despite being talentless is in no place to talk about “sporting”!

Sport comics of the time often had a “splash” cover with one big picture, but it was still part of one of the stories inside, and was rotated. This issue it’s the turn of Billy’s Boots to take the cover. Billy Dane is a schoolboy who can’t play football, but discovers a pair of boots that once belonged to “dead-shot” Keen, a famous international. When he wears them he can play as well as “dead-shot” could, making him the best player at his school. Of course, the boots went missing on a regular basis. Here some bullies plot to steal them at half time.

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Those were the days for F1!

Skid Solo is probably the most famous British motor racing comic, which isn’t saying much! He was a driver in top-level single-seat Grand Prix cars. Of course jealous rival teams regularly sabotaged them, or the teams other equipment. Here an arrogant Argentine driver wants to force the British one in his team out of their one remaining car.

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Here’s a typical quiz page. How is your knowledge of 70’s sport?

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You’d think the artist would have got better at drawing Mini’s over time

In full colour is Martin’s Marvellous Mini, a long-running story about a couple of guys travelling around and entering races for prize money, which they can use to fund their next trip. Here they are racing against other Minis, but in other stories you get to see some great 70’s cars like Ford Capris. One other issue features a “relay race” in which they buy a Hillman Imp to use as a second car.

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More text on one of these pages than an entire Doctor Who Adventures!

Next is a special article for footballers, written by world cup legend Jack Charlton. Not every issue had an article like this, I’m surprised it wasn’t announced on the cover!

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Look up “legendary British comics” and you’ll see this picture!

And speaking of football, here’s probably the most famous football strip of all time! Roy of the Rovers was already over 20 years old at this point, and wasn’t slowing down! The following year he would get a football-filled comic all to himself (Taking Billy’s Boots and Nipper with him). Even today, commentators describe amazing comebacks as “Roy of the Rovers stuff”.

And facing it, an advert for issue 1 of another legendary comic, Battle Picture Weekly (later Battle, then Battle Action… then Battle Action Force, but we don’t like to talk about that). This was IPC’s response to DC Thomson’s Warlord, which began the previous year. Battle would go on to host Charley’s War, Darkie’s Mob, Major Eazy, Johnny Red, The Bootneck Boy and many other famous strips.

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Quick Wiki research shows they got to the FA Cup 3rd round, and 13th in the First Division

On the centre pages, a football team pin-up. These would also migrate to Roy of the Rovers before long. No doubt other issues of Tiger featured rugby or motor racing teams.

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And I thought my own “A Sting in the Tail” was the first Speedway strip

Popular fiction has it that the first successful female character in a British boy’s comic was Halo Jones. The truth has it that Tallon of the Track, about Jo Tallon, manager of a speedway team, ran in Tiger for many years through the 70’s and 80’s. Of course she may have been written out of history because she managed a speedway team – all those horrible, polluting motor vehicles! Also in this story the team are on tour in the Soviet Union, though the politics are not really mentioned.

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Great artwork in this

The popularity of professional wrestling rises and falls like a yo-yo (or like the popularity of yo-yo’s). In the mid 70’s TV was full of British professional wrestling, with stars like Big Daddy and, erm, no, can’t think of any others. Of course, this also spilled over into comics in the form of Johnny Cougar, the redskin wrestler. This is another story that runs and runs through the issues I have. He seems to do a lot of touring around America, taking on various wrestlers and their crooked promoters. This is “legit” wrestling, rather than the pre-written “kayfabe” stuff!

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And I thought the Phoenix Fanfare was disappointing for kids, they make their own 10 page epic and all that gets into the comic is the cropped, unreadbly-tiny first page! Here the whole editorial section is only half a page. The editor here talks about references to Roy of the Rovers in football commentary. Perhaps we ought to start ‘promoting’ modern British comics in a similar way… not that you see too many pirates riding on dinosaurs around.

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 Nice Wolsely Hornet there

Hot-shot Hamish is a comedy Scottish footballer who remained with Tiger into the 80’s, when most of the others had defected to Roy of the Rovers. He plays for Princes Park, and usually shoots so hard the ball and the goalkeeper go tearing through the back of the net! Here his friend has won a bet, and they go to collect, the loser thinks they want to take his house, so starts firing at them with cannons. This whole scene wouldn’t have looked out of place in Captain Hurricane!

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These sorts of caricatures always look awkward.

The usual factual strip, this one about the history and successes of Aston Villa.

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Willy Wonty Superstar is the only ‘proper’ comedy strip in the comic. Readers would send in suggested storyline ideas, and the one used would receive £3. Here Willy and his “manager” have to try and score goals against each other.

Facing the strip is an advert for Look and Learn, a factual magazine featuring incredible paintings which are still being re-used in books today. This advert announces it’s merger with another magazine called World of Wonder. The most famous thing about Look and Learn (and the only reason kids bought it) was of course the “Roman”/sci-fi epic The Trigan Empire. This remains fondly remembered, and can be re-bought in hideously expensive hardback volumes. Rumours of a Hollywood film version continue to rumble on…

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 Distinctive, gritty artwork for this one. It would have suited a horror story!

Nipper was yet another football strip, this time about a back street lad working his way into top-flight football. Here he has been selected for the England under-23 team against Italy, and can do nothing right in the eyes of a snob in the team – not even when he scores!

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And the back cover sports star photo. This page also takes suggestions from readers, but only pays out £1 if theirs is used. I suspect the editors already had a list of pictures they were going to use, and awarded the prizes to anybody who was lucky enough to choose from the list. I doubt they specially ran around looking for the stars!

Roy Race gets tough on hooligans

With the “recent” (well recent by the standards of how often I update this thing) riots in Britain I thought this might be timely, I was going through a big pile of comics I got the other week and discovered an issue of Roy of the Rovers from 1980 dealing with “the British disease” of football hooligans. The days of mass brawls on the terraces (in fact, the days of terraces full stop!) are so long gone it’s kind of hard to believe they ever existed… showing things can improve! But when this comic came out hooliganism was at it’s height and people must have wondered if things were ever going to get better.

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Roy race, as well as being the star of the main story in the comic, was also it’s “editor”.

A full page has been given over to an editorial “by” Roy Race, who for the purposes of the comic “really” existed! He even mentions how his own club, Melchester Rovers, is tackling the hooligan problem. Many of the measures mentioned were being adopted by real teams, and the FA in general – for instance creating all-seater grounds (at the time only one existed in Britain), encouraging the whole family to come and watch the game and banning people convicted of violence. There’s also several harsher suggestions including locking hooligans in their own fenced-off section, and even concentration camps(!)

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Boers, Hooligans… same thing!

Another feature of the comic in those days was Roy’s Talk In. There was a phone number that readers could ring and “actually” talk to Roy Race! (or at least a bewildered temp at IPC who has been thrust into a room with a phone and the odd back issue of the comic). Here it’s given a two-page spread with various suggestions recieved from people.

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But wait, what’s that down the bottom?

Down the bottom of the page is a picture of a stadium that was to become one of the most infamous names in British football – Hillsborough. Various anti-hooligan measures such as fencing-in the crowds resulted in a fatal crush in 1989 when Liverpool fans crammed into one area of the stadium, and several suffocated. This disaster was also initially blamed on hooligans, with one ambulance driver being told “They’re still fighting” when he tried to drive in. It was this disaster that was the final nail in the coffin for the terraces.

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 Several of the suggestions made on this pages did end up being put in place over the years.

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The fences didn’t work but the “identity cards” did, in that various ways are in place to keep convicted hooligans out of future matches.

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Five years later English clubs were in fact banned from European competitions because of hooliganism. They were not allowed back until 1990!

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Unfortunately Sheffield Wednesday didn’t keep the standing areas closed off. It’s a difficult balancing act between people kicking off outside because they can’t get in and risking violence inside. The balance has thankfully been achieved with a tough “no ticket – no entry, so don’t bother coming!” policy.

Apart from the all-seater stadiums, better crowd control, ticket allocations and CCTV, one of other main reasons that hooliganism died out was that it was made unfashionable. Once hooligans were treated with a “boys will be boys” attitude, but nowadays anybody boasting about starting a fight among decent football fans will find themselves in Coventry pretty quickly! I bet “Roy” didn’t see that coming despite jokingly suggesting it.

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One place hooligans aren’t mentioned in this issue is the Roy of the Rover strip itself! That features Roy trying to get hold of a new goalkeeper. However the manager of the other team wants a whole two million for his best custodian, which is way too much!

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“The curse of inflation, Roy!”

Hooligans had featured in the strip before though, in 1977…

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Almost doubled in price in 3 years! Now that is inflation.

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“Sixty thousand people didn’t pay to watch you lot running around the pitch!”

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“Some day Titan will reprint my first year in the team as a collected book. Get that down in writing, officer!”

Eagle and Tiger – one of the last throws of the dice

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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…

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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…

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It actually started in the fifties too

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!

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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!

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Well he’s back eventually anyway, apparently he broke himself down into “bacteria” and then makes whoever he infects transform into him!

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.

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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!

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Later to be found in Roy of the Rovers… probably, every other footie strip ended up there!

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!

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Yes, you did just read that

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.

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Oh dear

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…

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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!

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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!

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Surely a North Sea Tunnel could be just about done with todays technology?

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:

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‘ad rather ‘ave a weeks worth o’ vitamin blocks

So who knows. The story doesn’t exactly look like it’s up to Hampsonite standards either, devolving into a galactic dogfight.

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The Mekon would never have been so vulgar

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.

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Does this mean that a “third party” “raided” both Whizz-Kid and Chipite camps?

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??

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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!”

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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.

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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!

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I think this first started in a member of “The 22 Club” called Speed.

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Telling the kids of 1985 that night-time nagging works!

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!

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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!).

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Oh and also “Ernie the Eagle”, a product of the New Eagle, supposedly about the mascot on top of King’s Reach Tower (aka Tharg’s spaceship… did he build Max?)

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.

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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?

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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.

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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).

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Ghostbusters on video! Watch it twice in one day… or three times if you want!

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”.

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Notice how the title of the story has shrunk and the title of the featured game has taken precedence.

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).

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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.

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Woof

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.

Red, White & Blue to be re-launched!

Having produced four issues of my self-published comic The Red, White & Blue, plus one of The Trident storypaper, I thought it was high time I looked into selling them online. I’d also “recently” discovered that the character of Sexton Blake was not public domain, as originally thought, but was owned by IPC. I decided to contact them and ask for permission to use him in my own comics… and got turned down!*

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I will need to re-launch the Red, White & Blue and Trident with my own characters. I have some ideas that I’m currently putting together. One advantage of starting from scratch with my own character is that the continuity issues of 70-odd years of constant publication Sexton Blake had behind him no longer exist – so my own detective(s)** can have a cohesive background and the stories can all link together. This isn’t going to turn into a serial, though – the long text story in each issue will still be complete, just like it was in the Union Jack!

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 The covers of the old series…

Of course, I need to dispose of the old stock of printed comics, but I can’t sell them. Instead I’ll just chuck them in the recycling. Mind you, though, I wouldn’t want to overwhelm Cambridgeshire recycling with one huge lump of paper all in one go. So I’ll distribute the comics to people for free at some event, they can then take them back to all different ends of the country/world and dispose of them there. Of course I’m not sure which event I can dispose of them at yet.

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Picture unrelated. It is especially unrelated to Saturday May 28th.

In order to dispose of the comics I’ve been putting them into “packs”. Most of the packs, for the people who get to me first, will contain issues 1-4 of the Red, White & Blue and issue 1 of The Trident. Then a few with issue 3 missing. Then a few with issue 3 and The Trident missing. Then many with just issues 1 & 2 and then finally a few issue 2’s on their own.

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Pilez O different sizez

There’s no suitable comic events coming up before my planned emigration time that I can reasonably get to and/or get a table at. So whatever I distribute them at I’ll have to have them in a backpack and wear a T-shirt with “Free Comics!” written on it. Events such as the MCM Expo May 28th at the Excel Centre, London usually have “Free Hug” people, so it will just be an extension of that with something you can read on the bog.

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Like this but in T-shirt form.

As an aside I did take that box to work to see if anybody there wanted the lure of free Jingo. I think I only gave away 3 packs at most. Yep, I literally can’t give it away! …so when the re-launch comes (earmarked for August, hopefully issue 1 of the new Trident will be sooner) and the comics are available online, make sure you form an orderly line to pay £1.50 for something people didn’t want for free!

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Tempted?

 * – They also mentioned that a certain large US comic company owns “exclusive print rights” …which possibly explains the non-appearance of the next Snowbooks compliation. It’s also a worrying development as we’ll quite possibly see some full colour version of Sexton Blake fighting against the British government and Empire after uncovering unjust conspiracies. Doubtless set in 1895 but showing him being assisted by Tinker who didn’t appear until 1904 in the proper stories. Or at least that’s the worst-case scenario. Hopefully the big US comic company will just be content to sit on the character and not do anything with him – staying out of print is far better than the wringer they’d put him through in the interests of “updating”.

** – *devious grin*