I was a reader of the 1980s Eagle from Issue One. My father bought me a copy of that first, glossy issue as he had been a reader of the original comic in the 1950s. I was already a huge comics fan having collected the likes of The Dandy, Warlord, Victor, Commando and the War Picture Libraries, so Eagle came at just the right time for me – I was instantly won over by the mix of photo and picture stories.
Some hardcore Eagle fans from the old days loathed the new format but for me the photo-stories were an exciting new form of story-telling. ‘Doomlord’ ruled supreme and was one of the most exciting and scariest things I’d ever read and I also relished the creepy tales of ‘The Collector’.
‘Dan Dare’ was also brilliant and I loved the artwork of the brilliant Gerry Embleton and was upset when he left the strip. I need not have worried as the equally-brilliant Ian Kennedy would soon take over. Ian was to become my favourite artist and he remains, I think, the ultimate British science-fiction comics artist due to the many hours of work he spends on technological details such as spacecraft, uniforms and futuristic buildings.
In 2000, some years after the 1980s Eagle had finished, I produced a fanzine called Eagle Flies Again, to preserve the memory of the comic. It’s largely forgotten now, remembered only by the small hardcore of readers who loyally supported it throughout its run (some features from it appear here on downthetubes), but I remain proud of some of the work that we did.
Now, here we are in 2016 and there’s a resurgence of interest of sorts in the comic I loved so much. Hibernia have done a few collections of strips from Eagle and its sister comic Scream! but here’s something different – a lively mix of several of the top stories from the comic which should delight old readers and curious newcomers alike – as its cover boasts, it really is ‘64 powerful pages’ of great comics entertainment!
A few years back there was a compilation of old material from the Battle comic excluively through WH Smiths (along with titles based on some of the other Fleetway comics of old). It was a welcome return but missed the mark somewhat due to the randomness with which the material seemed to have been selected – random episodes from long-running strips which lead to at least one cliffhanger left hanging in the air which no prospect of a subsequent issue to continue the story.
Hibernia have avoided this issue by carefully going back through the Eagle back catalogue to find stories that have been told in their completeness in one or a few episodes. Hence, this is a collection which is complete within itself and can be enjoyed as a one-off. ‘The Collector’ consisted of a one-off story each issue so that was an obvious one to include – and there’s also a three-part ‘Dan Dare’ story and a colour ‘Doomlord’ tale from one of the Eagle annuals.
Despite the need to pick these shorter stories, the collection of material is actually very representative with the early photo-story era represented, as well as the ‘non-glossy paper years’ and the post-1987 period when the quality of paper used for Eagle improved once more. The very glossy 1990s issues are not represented here but that was arguably a new era when many of the children who had read the comic since issue one had grown up and moved onto other things.
For me, the real ‘neglected gem’ here is ‘Dolebusters’. I’d forgotten what a sharply-written little tale this was. The story presented here is very effective and is a werewolf tale which rather cheekily includes a character called ‘Lawrence Chaney’! As a young reader I would have totally missed this reference, which makes me wonder what other in-jokes I might spot if I went back through my back issues again. Eagle and other comics of the time were always happy to borrow ideas from classic movies (‘The Collector’ plundered from many a horror movie!) but as most of the readership would have been too young to have seen the films in question it was a totally valid method of storytelling.
To conclude, this is a great publication. My only criticism is that I would like to have seen a slightly thicker paper used for the cover – I realise this is all to do with costs but I’m expecting to thumb through this time and time again, so I’ve a feeling I’ll soon wear my copy out!
• Buy Hibernia Comics collections from www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia
Former Co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Publisher and Editor of comics-related fanzines. Contributor to books on Doctor Who from Virgin and Miwk Publishing. Contributor to cult TV fanzines and periodicals.