Sure enough, when the next issue appeared, gone was the quality paper and printing, and in came the letterpress ‘bog paper’, with flat colouring. Also gone was the photo stories.
This was a shock to the system! The free potato gun did nothing to quell my disappointment! This was now looking quite down market, and it would take me some time to adjust to this ‘new look’. There was an upside though. As time went on I got used to the art on the interior strips, and because of the lack of budget restrictions, the stories became more ambitious. This is especially the case on readers favourite, Doomlord! Pat Mills Dan Dare storyline, with Ian’s art, was quickly wrapped up in issue dated the 29th of October 1983. This was a shame, as a lot of the plot threads and characters developed by Pat and Ian were never really picked up upon again! I am looking at you Scoby, Pat’s surrogate Digby for the new generation. Barrie Tomlinson wrote the next serial of Dan, whilst Ian Kennedy was replaced by Oliver Frey. Ian Kennedy art returned around issue 94. The storyline was uncredited (again written by then editor Barrie Tomlinson), but did recapture some of the original feel, although the letterpress colouring was far inferior to Ian’s own fully painted work.
THE SCREAM YEARS
The next big change to the publication was issue number 128. This was the first big merger. Scream was quietly merged with the New Eagle, after its cancellation after the big IPC strike at the time. Only two strips made the transition, Monster and The Thirteenth Floor, both written by John Wagner and Alan Grant, who were already writing almost all of the strips in the New Eagle under pseudonyms at the time.
The paper settled into this new era quite well, with the new strips a welcome addition. This lasted until issue 158, when we were promised more ‘EXCITING EAGLE NEWS’ on the back cover… yes, it was time for change again…
THE TIGER YEARS
This was a biggie. Welcome to the new ‘Eagle and Tiger’! This was a pretty even merger for IPC, with
Billy’s Boots, Death Wish, Golden Boy and Star Rider all joining the publication. I personally quite liked the new mix, as I was buying Tiger at the time anyway. Only Billy’s Boots seemed a bit out of place, but this was quickly rectified by turning it into a more adventure-oriented strip, with Billy’s gran in a coma, and Billy on the run from a children’s home. At one point, Billy even has to land a light aircraft after the pilot has a heart attack! It’s questionable if the old boots helped or not! This newly merged comic had a fairly long run, with the Tiger name appearing on the masthead until issue 222.
There was more change in the air around issue 258, where the cover dramatically announces the story sensation that ‘DAN DARE IS DEAD!’ This was paving way for a partial re-boot of the character. In the next ‘new look’ issue, we had a return to the better printing (at last!) and the return of Dan Dare, this time written by Tom Tully (who wrote the 1970’s Dan in 2000AD) and painted by Spanish artist Carlos Cruz. This was more like it, even though Dan was now more middle aged, gun-toting and surrounded by a ‘team’, which included a 20th century kid and a renegade treen!
THE BATTLE YEARS
Cruz’s art was a marked step up from his work when the comic was letterpress, and he really upped his game. Again though, all good things must come to an end. A true end of an era here when Battle merged with the New Eagle in issue 306. This was really a cheap merger as the main merged strips were reprints of Charley’s War and Johnny Red. Much as I love Charley’s War, these were strips I had already read in Battle, so they didn’t add much value to the merged comic, unless you hadn’t read them before. They even messed with the design and put very ugly headers over the beautiful original logos!
THE ACTION FORCE YEARS
The one good strip to come from the merger was the Action Force replacement, Storm Force. This continued for a good couple of years, written by James (Tomlinson) Nicolas and drawn by Death Wish artists, the Vanyo brothers.
THE MASK YEARS
The next merger came quite soon after and was the quite forgettable Mask comic. Despite some nice work by Sandy James, this merger never quite caught my imagination, and was based on a licensed toy line.
THE WILDCAT YEARS
The merger with Wildcat was more successful, bringing a host of strips such as Turbo Jones, Kitten Magee and Loner, drawn by Jose Ortiz, David Pugh and Vanyo and more. The Dan Dare strip however had gone way downhill. At this point it was a meandering pulpy space adventure, with no clear direction and fairly poor art by Carmona. This changed in the issue dated 26th August 1989… the old Dan Dare was back! The original, by one of the original artists! Keith Watson did a stellar job of recapturing the original feel, and Tom Tully (initially) wrote to his strengths. It’s just a pity that this version did not have more legs, as yet another revamp was on the horizon.
Some rather in your face ‘SENSATIONAL NEWS’ on the cover of issue dated 21st April 1990… yes, another New Look! Dan, now painted by David Pugh, totes a ‘Peacemaker’ gun, and now feels like an amalgam of the new and the old Dare. Whilst the art is fantastic, it almost feels like Tully is using up old unused scripts from his 1970’s run on Dan Dare in 2000AD! This version of Dan would trundle on until the eventual cancellation of the comic.
THE MONTHLY EAGLE
The decline of the boy’s comics market mean’t that the comic started to be overrun with reprint material, a real kick in the teeth for readers who had been with the paper since the start! The publication switched to a monthly in May 1991, and this was the beginning of a slow end. The reprints, and the two remaining original material strips (Dan Dare and Computer Warrior) struggled to maintain an interest with the huge gaps in-between episodes. The plug was finally pulled in the Xmas Issue, dated January 1994. That it even lasted this long was a miracle. Readers tastes had changed, and the comic looked like an anachronism to the computer games savvy market of the early 1990’s. The glory days were long gone. The real crime is that we lost a true British comics legend around this time, Dan Dare. He was recently resurrected by Titan, but for me, the Dan Dare strip by Pat Mills and Ian Kennedy in 1982/83 remains unsurpassed as a character re-interpretation.
Now over 40 years old, the readers of this comic are now possibly fathers themselves, so maybe it’s time for the great, great, great grandson of Dan Dare (and The Eagle!) to return from the comics grave.
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Author Phillip Vaughan
I still have all my old Eagle comics from 1982 to 1983. Dan Dare strip by Pat Mills and Ian Kennedy was the best. I was so disappointed when it went downmarket with the paper.
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