The story of New Eagle Part One

The New Eagle, launched in 1982 was a piece of retroactive revisionism and nostalgia that attempted to tap into the ‘father and son’ market and relied heavily on the recognition of its main star, who
originated in the 1950’s, Dan Dare.

However, this Dan was different. Due to the film rights to the original being held elsewhere, IPC had to create a work around… the great, great, great grandson of the original, enter Daniel Dare (Dan to his friends). But this was not to be the only revision to the once great comic…

I still remember the anticipation of the launch of this comic in 1982. Comics for me up until this point were DC Thomson’s stalwarts the Beano and the Dandy, which magically appeared with my mum and dad’s newspaper, the Dundee Courier every week. I am not entirely sure where I first heard about this new Eagle comic, it may have been on TV or perhaps through my dad, or indeed gossip among friends at school, but this new comic was definitely on my radar.

The first issue, with free Space Spinner was picked up in a local newsagent near Dundee. I don’t recall actually using the Space Spinner… this was casually tossed aside, so that I could get to the contents
of this glossy new comic (yes, the production values on this new ‘paper’ was a marked step up from its
contemporaries!).

So, lets dive into an overview of the first issue, over 36 years since I first read it. The front cover was by Gerry Embleton (with Free Space Spinner™) featuring Dynamic Stories Told in Exciting Photos and Pics apparently!

First up is one of ‘New’ Eagle’s most enduring strips, Doomlord by Alan Grant & John Wagner with photography by Gary Compton. What a way to start! This felt very bizarre to me as a kid… I had peeked at photo stories in girl’s comics, but this was very revolutionary at the time! There was something very
disturbing about this first episode of Doomlord, more than just the creepy mask worn by the poor actor chosen to depict the Servitor from Nox! The first episode mostly takes place at night, giving it an atmosphere rarely achieved in latter episodes. The lighting has shades of film noir, and the episode is
laden with lots of ‘special’ effects… well those that could be achieved in a darkroom, no Photoshop back then! The story has elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers which was alien to me at the time! Alan Grant (and possibly John Wagner un-credited) does a great job of setting up the premise in 4 pages, without it being to loaded with exposition. We are introduced to reporter, Howard Harvey, an unlikely hero, but he is indeed the main protagonist of the story. PC Bob Murton (a reference to DC Thomson’s PC Joe Murdoch perhaps?) becomes the first victim of Doomlord, as witnessed by Howard Harvey. Harvey is surprised when Murton turns up alive and well at the station later. All is not as it seems. Doomlord has taken Murton’s form, and tell us that his mission is ‘the annihilation of the whole human race!’ End of episode one…

Next up is the obligatory football story Thunderbolt and Smokey! written by Tom ‘Roy of the Rovers’ Tully. The premise is relatively simple, Dedfield School is overachieving in academic terms, but has an underachieving school football team. Dedfield (surely only named so that they can be nicknamed Dead-Loss later in the strip!) suffer a humiliating loss (11-1) at the hands of rival team Ashford. Colin Dexter tries to rally the troops, but to no avail, and opposition striker Smokey Beckles fires goal after goal against Dedfield. Dexter also has to deal with creepy games master, Ferris, who has it in for the kids (I’m really not
sure this was the best career choice for him!) and even sends off Dexter under dubious circumstances. The twist in the tale, if you can call it that, is when Smokey gets ‘transferred’ to Dedfield School so he can get better grades. However, after an excited Dexter offers Smokey a place on the team, he turns down the team captain, as he doesn’t want to play with a bunch of losers! Colin Dexter is determined to change his mind! I quite enjoyed this strip at the time as the protagonists were around the same age as me, and I was into football as a kid (my school had a similarly underachieving football team, so it felt relevant to me!). The biggest flaw in this story was the football scenes, which by the nature of the photo strip had to be staged, and therefore felt very static. There was something very working class about Thunderbolt and Smokey, the underdog(s) coming good, and sticking it to the authority, which has to be admired!

Gerry Finley-Day brings us Sgt. Streetwise, a somewhat clichéd undercover cop, ‘The Police have need of men like him… men who stayed Streetwise!” states the opening graphic, in an over-dramatic fashion! Never one for subtlety, Day gives us another one of his heroes with a very convenient name (See almost
every strip he wrote for 2000AD). Detective Sergeant Wise of Special Undercover Operations is ‘played’ by a male shopping catalogue model in this photo strip, which hardly makes him inconspicuous. However, with the use of cunning disguises (in this opener, a beret and scarf!) he manages to infiltrate the
London underworld, and fight crime! The Sweeney, this is not! The first episode is slight, a bungled raid on a jeweller, foiled by our eponymous hero! It’s more of a scene setter for future episodes, laying out the format, and features a bit of internal police bickering and politics which will be built upon in the
coming weeks. Not my favourite strip in the relaunched Eagle, it is thankfully interrupted by the new Dan Dare, more of which in a moment. It does tick the box of a cop/detective drama, but rarely surprises the reader, and becomes even more formulaic as time goes on. The last word goes to the Sergeant, “Now I’ve
got a new identity, no-one will know me for a copper. That’s the way it has to be in my job… when you have to stay STREETWISE!”

Up next was Dan Dare and the Return of the Mekon, written by Barrie Tomlinson with art by Gerry Embleton.

Now we are talking! Smack bang in the full colour centre-spread, the new adventures of Dan Dare. This is what we paid the entry fee for! Some stunning art from Embleton really sets the scene, the Mekon is captured by the original Dan Dare and sentenced to imprisonment in a life support capsule, enclosed in a
meteor prison, set adrift in space… for ever! What could possibly go wrong? We find out on page two as, surprise, surprise, old green bonce is freed by accident, at an undetermined point in the future. We frantically scramble to the full colour back page to continue the intrigue. The Mekon forces his saviours to
take him to earth, the Mekon wants nothing short of ‘The Destruction of Dan Dare!”. However, he is confused (as is the audience) when he discovers Dan’s gravestone in Highgate Cemetery, which states that Dan Dare was ‘Lost in Action’ in 1950, years before his adventures and battles against the Mekon. As the Mekon states, “…even my superbrain fails to comprehend what this means…”. The solution would eventually be revealed as a huge retcon for the original series, which does not really make much sense,
more on that later. This is a great opener, with the art capturing the essence of Dan Dare and the Mekon, replicating Frank Hampson’s original, but with a 1980’s edge. The fact that this is the first drawn comic strip in the comic really shines through, no limitations on location, actors or budget here! A solid opener, but it does not really kick in until Pat Mill and John Wagner take the scriptwriting controls.

Next, we have another hand drawn strip, The Tower King by Alan Hebden with art rendered in grey tones by Spanish master, Jose Ortiz. The backstory is compressed into the first two pages and feels like a narrated title sequence to a TV show from the era. Que voice over…” It should have been the start of a new era… instead, it was the beginning of a disaster!”. “Aaaaarrggh!” yells a scientist in a lab, as something goes wrong!

Generation of electricity is now impossible, and humanity quickly reverts to medieval times. Groups of survivors have sprung up, and based in the Tower of London, our hero, the Tower King himself, Mick Tempest lives! He boldly states to us, the audience in a massive chunk of exposition,” It’s a gutted city,
haunted by crazies and packs of animals gone wild. Disease, destruction and death are everywhere. But our ancestors survived without electricity, and so will we!”. We then discover the ‘Tube Rats’, crazed people who live in the Underground, who attack the survivors, for no particular reason. There is a nice
cliff-hanger, as an old steam train approaches our hero, packed with enemies, who are looking to take over the tower! This packs loads into 4 pages, and is certainly high concept, although it could have done with being spread over three episodes, to really set the tone, however this is a great start!

Back to fumetti for the final comic outing of the issue, The Collector: Eye of the Fish by Roy Preston, Gary Compton with art by Pat Wright & Ron Smith. We are firmly in ‘Tales of the Entirely Expected’ here, with
the New Eagle’ take on the classic twist in the tale, one and done thriller/filler. Rather bizarrely, the framing sequence is drawn (expertly by IPC veteran Pat Wright) and sets up a rather flimsy premise…

“Welcome, I am known as The Collector! Some of my exhibits may seem a little out of the ordinary to you, but then so, too, are the reasons why I keep them!” he continues, breaking the fourth wall, “There is a reason for every object being here. For example, this beauty is the eye of a fish. It reminds me that there is always more than one way of looking at things – as you will see for yourself!” The strip does give off an unnerving feel, not just because of the mixed drawn and photo rendering of the story. There is a strange, all too British Hammer House of Horror feel to the proceedings. The story focuses on Terry Lansberry who has gone fishing with his father. There is often an arrogant ‘protagonist’ in these stories, and the dad fits the bill. Yes, father and son get their comeuppance when they themselves are caught by (hand drawn) aliens. Again, the composited images on the alien spacecraft are jarring, even though they are well painted by 2000AD’s Ron Smith. The sting in the tale is handled humorously, so not to give the kiddie
winks nightmares, and the Collector cannot resist, saying in his denouement, “Ah, poor Mr. Lansberry. If aliens serve their meals as we do, he’s really had his chips!” Oh, you are a laugh, Mr Collector!

There is an amazing Alan Moore Collector strip in a future issue, but this one kind of falls flat, with any sense of menace destroyed by the weird and rather predictable ending!

There was a notable change for Dan Dare circa issue 19. The editorial in that issue told the readers that there was a new artist on Dan Dare, which was being written by Pat Mills and John Wagner. The new artist was from Dundee. Being from Dundee as well, this blew my mind. So did the art by Ian Kennedy. The fully painted pages had it all, great character design, future tech, creative composition and layouts. The scripts started playing to the artist’s strengths, as more aviation and spaceships appeared in the stories. It was a marked improvement, making full use of the full colour double page centre spread. A few years ago, whilst curating an exhibition about sci-fi comics, I was lucky enough to have the original art of this page on my desk to study, in advance of the exhibit install. The art was even more impressive
in real life!

Back to the issues, and the New Eagle was about to undergo one of its numerous ‘revamps’. We were introduced to a couple of new drawn stories, most notable of which was Scorpio by ‘Ian Holland’ (in reality John Wagner & Alan Grant) and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. There was also the gimmick of 3D comics with this re-launch, which lasted a few issues, and tied into an experiment terrestrial TV was trying at the time. The red and green glasses didn’t quite work, and this experiment was quietly dropped after a few issues of characters needlessly pointing objects out towards the readers!

Dan Dare was eventually promoted to the cover, just like his ancestor in the old Eagle! Ian Kennedy made great use of this opportunity to start the story in earnest, with some of his best work of his career appearing during this era of the comic.

The biggest change however was to come after the issue cover dated 17th September 1983. The banner proclaimed “EXCITING NEWS FOR ALL READERS INSIDE!” which send the fear into regular readers of IPC comics! There was trouble ahead!
To be continued…

Author Phillip Vaughan

Read a new interview with Ian Kennedy and Barrie Tomlinson in the History of Comics 1982. Out in April. Pre order here

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