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Monday, 24 October 2011

In Review: Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 3

Steve Holland's Bear Alley Books brings the World War One story of Royal Flying Corps pilot Harry Hawkes to a conclusion in Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 3.

It is 1917 and America has entered the war but for the pilots of No 2 Camel Squadron little has changed and the Red Baron is still their mortal enemy. A talking parrot, that has already visited the Germans and the French, joins Harry and his colleagues with its repetition of phrases getting them into trouble with their superiors before it finally reveals the location of a hidden German force. Things turn dangerous for Entwhistle as his younger brother, the black sheep of the family, joins the squadron and Entwhistle himself is put up on charges as he tries to prevent his brother's schemes. Harry, Entwhistle and Pootle all take part is a mission to land a British spy near Berlin using a British Handley Page Type O/400 heavy bomber but, when the spy breaks his ankle on landing, it is Harry and Pootle that must meet his contact in a small Berlin cafe.

Eagles, originally published in Look and Learn magazine between 1971 and 1973, was written by the highly experienced comics writer and editor Michael Butterworth, who was also writing The Trigan Empire for Look and Learn at the same time, and illustrator Bill Lacey. The previous volume ran a detained feature on Butterworth's work and in this final volume the feature is on Lacey. This takes in his career from Mickey Mouse Weekly in the 1950s through to work for DC Thomson in the 1980s in Buddy, via titles as diverse as Super Detective Library, Tiger, Buster and Valiant.

As with the previous two volumes, Butterworth mixes shorter and longer stories which means that the rhythm of the book never gets predictable while Lacey's artwork remains as clear and as remarkably detailed as before. His depictions of the biplanes are accurate and dynamic while his humour can be seen with his depiction of the invariably hungry Pootle.

The volume offers multiple stories from the humorous to the serious and does not shy away from the fact that this is war and people die, both in the mud on the ground and, with no parachutes, in their burning aeroplanes. The one constant is the continual presence of Manfred Von Richthofen, the Red Baron, and his deadly Flying Circus whether at a distance as bullet spitting aircraft or when the characters meet in person as they do on several occasions. Indeed Eagles Over The Western Front as a comic strip is so involved with the Red Baron that the last story concludes on 21 April 1918, the day Richthofen was shot down and killed.

For most of its readers Look and Learn was a parental-purchase magazine due to its cost and, while parents bought it for its educational value, most of its child readers would have started each issue by reading the comic strips before moving onto the factual features. Strips of the quality of Eagles Over The Western Front were one of the reasons that they were more than happy to keep reading Look and Learn week after week.

• There are more details on Eagles Over The Western Front Volume 3, as well as ordering information, on the Bear Alley Books blog.

• The downthetubes reviews of the previous volumes are here and here.

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