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Sunday, 8 April 2012
30 Years of the New Eagle
Thirty years ago last month, a new incarnation of one of Britain’s most famous comics burst on to the news-stands (ok, we're a bit slow off the mark with this one, but the down the tubes office is a busy place ok?!). Eagle, the Rolls Royce of comics during the 1950s, was back in a new format for a new generation. In some ways it was a completely new title - only Dan Dare survived from the previous version. Many purists hated the re-launched publication but for a new generation, Eagle became the comic of choice.
How to mark this landmark anniversary? Well, we could tell you about Doomlord and the other photo-stories. We could tell you about the wide range of features in the comic including columns by major personalities of the day. We could tell you about the interviews with people as high-profile as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and… Cannon and Ball. (Actually, that’s a cheap shot - Cannon and Ball were major stars in their day). We could even tell you about the free space spinner in issue one. But you know all that. Instead, let’s look at what made Eagle different. What made it special, unique, pioneering… And no, we’re not talking about the Glamorous Teacher feature!
Here’s how - New Eagle Did It First!
The magazine format
A lot of boy’s comics today aren’t really comics at all. They are magazines with puzzles and all sorts of features and information for children to enjoy. Eagle was effectively a magazine and was ahead of its time in being so. Sure, there were comic strips but there were also columns written by major sporting personalities, radio DJs and comedians of the day. Eagle was so much more than just a comic.
Predicting/showcasing new technology Eagle used to have lots of features about up and coming technology and gadgets, some real and some imagined, be it wrist watch radios or shiny little discs which music could be recorded on called CDs (wonder if they caught on?). They didn’t always get it right. In January 1983, Eagle suggested that by the year 2000 the skies might again be full of airships! And in February of that year they suggested that Dalek-style security robots would be available within 2 years and that they could replace security guards! Now, I know some security guards might act like Daleks but even so…
In February 1983, Eagle promised us a ‘super new picture-story and features in 3D’. Using red and green glasses that came free with the comic, readers could enjoy stories and photographs in three fabulous dimensions. Ok, 3D had been around for decades and is commonplace today, but in the 80s this was an exciting new development for young comics reader who knew nothing of the craze for 3D movies in decades past.
Showcasing new talent
A lot of very talented people did early work on Eagle and there’s no better example of this than writers Alan Grant and John Wagner who went on to become international comics legends achieving the dizzying heights of, amongst many other things, writing Batman for DC. And the 30 April 1983 issue featured a rather splendid Dan Dare drawing by reader Jonathan Haward - he actually went on to draw the Dan Dare strip for the comic in future years.
Ideas which cropped up in TV/films years later
Eagle’s writers were very, very imaginative. And some of their ideas were used in movies and films years after they had been in the comics. That’s not to suggest plagiarism - two writers can come up with the same idea independently and you will often see an idea in one programme that’s been used in a film years before. Even so, it really is remarkable how some of the concepts in Eagle have been recycled.
Yes, Doctor Who fans may say how original their favourite programme was introducing a flying shark in the first Matt Smith Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, in 2010. A flying shark - who would have thought of that! In fact Dan Dare introduced a flying shark in 1982. The sinister mercenary Star Rider had his own flying pet shark, Zarkuda. Once off its leash , it was a deadly killer. And very cool. Keeping on the Doctor Who theme, the next series is going to feature a cybernetic cowboy it seems - Eagle did a robotic cowboy years ago in - you’ve guessed it - Dan Dare (mind you, that was arguably a homage itself to the 1973 film Westworld). Then there was The Mask of Evil strip which featured a mask which, once worn, merged with the wearer’s face and changed their personality - eat your heart out Jim Carrey! And here’s what Alan Grant said to the fanzine Eagle Flies Again about the Eagle story The Thirteenth Floor (which had begun in the short-lived horror comic Scream): ‘I’ve seen several movies based on the same concept - one of which was actually called The 13th Floor (I think it was Australian, and I bet the writer or director had seen Eagle as a kid).’
Truly, the 1980s Eagle was a comic ahead of its time!