Deep Space Nine: s07 e23 – Extreme Measures

Almost the perfect con…

I admit to a cynical expectation about Deep Space Nine after all but a tiny few of seven seasons. Though I’ve enjoyed a majority of the episodes I’ve seen, far too many of these have been spoiled for me by poor writing, sloppy writing, writing that has skimped on logic or dodged self-constructed corners with the equivalent of a ‘Hey! Look! A Squirrel!’ that distracts the audience’s attention (they think).

Last week, Julian Bashir and Miles O’Brien declared a private war on Section 31, determined to get out of it the cure for the morphogenetic disease that’s slowly killing the Founders but rapidly killing Odo: in an extended and emotional open, Bashir diagnoses our horribly flaky friend as having a week left, maybe two. Typically, crusty Odo sends Kira back to Demar and co, so he can die alone without her having to watch.

That Julian’s plan – to lure someone from Section 31 to DS9 by pretending to have the cure, have them come to destroy it and extract the real one from them – would work was scarcely in doubt. It was how it would work and, given the nature of Section 31 and the massive imbalance of forces, whether it would be remotely credible that worried me.  And my doubts were gloriously refuted.

‘Extreme Measures’ was practically a two-hander, three if you count William Sadler, making a final guest appearance as Luther Sloan. This enabled tight, focussed writing that, because only minimal use of the rest of the cast was allowed (no Quark for two weeks running!), left room for a beautifully constructed twist that I confess I didn’t see coming at all, but which was perfectly logical.

Bashir’s bluff, which he and O’Brien have to reveal to Sisko in the open, works, and of course it’s Sloan himself to rises to the bait, appearing out of nowhere in the chair in the Doctor’s quarters in the night, just like last time. That is what Bashir’s counted upon, and he has a containment field ready. He also has Romulan Mind-Probes ready, despite their being highly illegal in the Federation: Sloan has underestimated just how much of an underhand sneaky bastard the genetically enhanced Julian is prepared to be, and we should all be thankful that all he’s motivated by in the life of a friend.

But Sloan is going to be a tough nut to crack: rather than allow the cure to be extracted, from where it might fall into Dominion hands, Sloan activates the futuristic equivalent of a cyanide tooth, a neuropole thingummy that crashes his brain and will cause his death within an hour. Which leaves Bashir only one option, a complex and dodgy on many levels neural link that will allow him to enter the dying mind of Sloan. Not just the Doctor but also the Chief: O’Brien will not let him go alone, and it is O’Brien alone who will circumnavigate the last and most brilliantly conceived trap.

Inside Sloan’s head it’s DS9. Sloan appears to the hunters almost immediately, willing, indeed eager to hand over the cure but incapable of doing so until they join him in the wardroom and hear his speech in apology to his family and friends for ruining their and his lives by his secrecy and self-erasure, a life he deeply regrets and for which he is shamed by the beliefs of Bashir.

On the one hand, this Damascene conversion is a thrilling refutation of secrecy and manipulation, a self-condemnation for the pain and deceit, but it was laid on a bit with a trowel, and I rapidly decided I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Not from Sloan. In physical terms, the plot wasn’t having any of it: Sloan’s about to hand over the PADD his ‘wife’s been keeping for him when he’s shot and killed by… Sloan. Two warring impulses in the same mind, we’re meant to think, but one of us wondered if this whole thing hadn’t been a diversion, a delaying tactic using up as many as possible of the precious minutes between now and Sloan’s brain-death.

In pursuit of the ‘real’ Sloan, our intrepid pair get themselves shot by a Section 31 operative, witness the light at the end of the tunnel, the one that leads beyond, and soldier on, until, that is, they’re pulled out by a medical team summoned by Sisko after Ezri finds the trio laid out in Science Lab 4. Despite Bashir’s best efforts, Sloan dies.

It’s an unexpectedly final barrier that had me wondering where they could now take this story, with Odo condemned to death. But here was the twist, and it was as beautifully played as the one in ‘The Chimes of Big Ben’ in The Prisoner, the infinitessimal detail that Sloan’s overlooked that makes Julian realise they’ve been conned; they’re still in Sloan’s mind and they have been all along! So small a thing: Julian’s been reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, an antiquarian copy borrowed from Ezri (whom he admits, though only to Miles, that he loves passionately). It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, the famous opening line, repeated on page 194… because Julian hadn’t finished reading the book and Sloan, who had never read it, couldn’t pull the rest of the story out of the Doctor#’s head to construct this trap.

So at last we come to Sloan’s lair, the heart of section 31, and a storehouse of everything necessary to destroy it utterly. Sloan knows that and Bashir knows that, and O’Brien knows that it’s the final and most elegant trap: without O’Brien to maintain focus, Bashir will grab everything he can to take back, and will die in Sloan’s mind when time wasted runs out without ever collecting enough to satisfy him.

And thanks to Miles, they’re out for real, and Sloan is dead, a sacrifice in pursuit of what, to him, was an ideal in itself, however much an anathema it might have been to the rest of the good Federation believers. In its own terms, its a noble death, but in Slaon’s it’s a wasted death. Bashir has the cure, and after a big build up about how painful this is going to be, it takes about two seconds to work, an instant transformation that undercuts the seriousness of this episode, but doesn’t mar it, thankfully.

Indeed, but for that and the shoehorning in of the unconvincing Ezri/Julian romance, this was a near perfect episode. Only two more to try to keep that high standard.


International Men’s Day

Today has been International Men’s Day. The company I work for has decided to celebrate this, as represented by a wodge of papers being handed out as late as 5.30pm, including one sheet on which we are invited to design a moustache (this is also Movember) and a Word Search featuring inspirational male figures, including Walt Disney.

Quite apart from having had the lifelong impression that Men’s Day occurs 365 days a year, I’m also a little pissed off at the serious stuff at the back. I quote:

“Crime – Men are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime and are more likely to be killed by strangers and killed by someone they know accounting for more than 71% of all murders.”

Now that doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless I am overlooking some obvious category in addition to people you know and people you don’t know. As for the twice as likely and 71% bits, these presumably indicate that men make up the majority of murder victims.

These statistics may well be completely correct, but what they don’t do is take into account the commonplace fact that in order to reduce murders, you have to concentrate upon reducing murderers. And I would be interested in knowing what percentage of murderers in general are men, and even more interested in what percentage of murderers of women are men. I suspect that 71% would be left in the shade on both scores.

I have an aversion to slanted information, even when – especially when – it’s slanted in my favour.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Records’ ‘Starry Eyes’

Some songs are paired up in The Infinite Jukebox. The Searchers’ ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ and The Records’ ‘Starry Eyes’ are back-to-backs, one demanding the other. The connection is obvious: both songs were written by John Wicks and Will Birch, one covered by the veteran Merseybeat outfit when the original only existed as a demo, the other the first release from Wicks and Birch’s own band.
Whilst ‘Hearts in her Eyes’ was introduced to me inaudibly over the Droylsden FC tannoy, ‘Starry Eyes’ was merely a recommendation from the same source. I acquired it in the same way, however, at the Victoria Centre Indoor Market record stall, and once again my instincts were good.
‘Starry Eyes’ is another dream of a single, a pure pop sensation, with the classic components of jangly guitar, a solid beat and three part harmony chorus. It’s the archetype powerpop record, and or one I don’t mean that pejoratively: powerpop was mainly an attempt to borrow the energy and simplicity of punk without having to have any of it’s edge, it’s rawness, it’s confrontation. It was conceived as Punk-So-Lite-It-Was-Hollow, but Wicks and Birch were like Nick Lowe, a songwriting team with the knack of clean, crisp melodies, Pure Pop for Now People, as the Jesus of Cool put it.
And yet ‘Starry Eyes’ began in the lost uncommercial of manner, with a long build-up, a careful assemblage of guitar notes gathering pace, like a plane taxiing onto the runway, before strapping in and blazing into cruising speed. Those Radio 1 DJs who played it, and there were few, got their money’s worth of intro to talk over, just as they had relished The Motors’ ‘Airport’ in the summer, but once the band cut into the verses, here was a different song entirely.
“Get me out of your Starry Eyes and be on your way”. It sounds like it should be a love song, but it wasn’t. While you were lost in France, it led off, we were stranded in the British Isles. While you were at the pool we were speaking with the boys upstairs. Someone was playing silly beggars, taking their unjustified ease a country away and leaving the boys to carry out the business. Wicks and Birch formed The Records out of the wreckage of The Kursaal Flyers, and whilst I’ve no idea just what brought that band to grief, it’s tempting to see this as a pointed comment about an old bandmate.
Certainly, the musics got a momentum of its own, a streamlined drive that’s a forerunner of Peter Buck in the early R.E.M., which the music pushed on by a permanent solo, a pile-up of exasperation and accusation coming back always to the most gorgeously harmonised washing of disgusted hands: I don’t wanna argue, I ain’t gonna budge, they make it plain, demanding that their absent cohort takes this number down before he calls out the judge. I ain’t gonna argue, there’s nothing to say. Just get me out of your Starry Eyes and be on your way.
No, no love song.
And those guitars rip into the music, and the solo lights up the fade, and it disappears from hearing, a ghost trailing the echo of resentment and anger that nevertheless spills over with life and light and the precision of the music.
This is the single version. The track was unnecessarily re-recorded for the band’s debut album, Shades in Bed, a collection of brilliant pop songs ruined by an unforgivably thin and weak production that made me long to hear The Searchers cover the lot. Sometimes I think I’d have loved to hear The Searchers cover this, because if this song has a flaw it’s in the lack of distinction in the voices, but given the concern of the song, only The Records had the right to sing this.
It’s the companion to ‘Hearts in her Eyes’, in time and space and quality and lack of success. No more than The Searchers were The Records what the music business wanted at the time, for the same old reason: they were too damned interesting in the aftermath of Punk, and too soon for post-Punk. This was powerpop the way it should be, not the way the Radio wanted it to be. Too real, too good. It was a sign, though, that 1979 was going to be a good year…

Film 2018: Hear My Song

When I was sorting out the DVDs for Film 2018, I automatically included the 1991 feelgood film, Hear My Song, about the famed Irish tenor, Joseph Locke, starring Ned Beatty in the Locke role, with Adrian Dunbar (who co-wrote the script), Tara Fitzgerald, James Nesbitt, David McCallum and Shirley Anne Field.

Watching it though, I have my doubts as to whether it should have been included. It’s a FilmFour production, and whilst they were also behind The Madness of King George, which was released theatrically, I’m not sure if Hear My Song was ever released in the cinema in the UK, though it certainly was overseas. One look at a single scene clearly confirms that it’s shot on TV stock, and the profusion of tight, close-up shots of characters with their heads together, gives the film the feel of something whose natural setting is a TV set, not a cinema screen.

The story is very simple. Dunbar plays Mickey O’Neill, an Irish club manager struggling to make a go of Hartley’s, a Liverpool club owned by the Ryan family. Mickey’s an easy-going, free-wheeling kind of guy, a talker, a dreamer. in short, a bullshitter. When he books Mr X, who may or may not be the fabled Josef Locke, he comes a cropper. Locke, a very popular tenor of the Forties and Fifties, made headlines in the late Fifties by fleeing to Ireland to avoid tax demands in Britain, and is a wanted man still, especially by Chief Constable Jim Abbott (McCallum), the officer who failed to prevent Locke escaping twenty-five years earlier.

Mr X is indeed a fake. The problem is that Mickey’s girlfriend, Nancy Doyle (Fitzgerald) is the daughter of Cathleen (Field), who was Locke’s beauty queen girlfriend in 1958 when he fled. She’s still in love with Locke, and she exposes Mr X as a fake, to Mickey’s complete ruination.

So Mickey skips to Ireland where, with the aid of his old buddy, theatrical agent Fintan O’Donnell (Nesbitt), he tracks down the reclusive Locke and eventually persuades him to return and sing at Hartley’s. This gets him back with Nancy, secures Cathleen’s favour, and gives Abbott another shot, only to be foiled by an elaborate deception involving Mr X…

Jut above half the film is shot in the Emerald Isle, though during a spell of bad weather, where the colours are depressed and hazy, and the lovely scenery is far from looking its best. This is where the televisual roots of the film really sting.

For all that I enjoy the film, and enjoyed it again today, its shortcomings are many. For a start, and to use the favourite word of not just Mickey or Fintan but the entire Irish community, it’s bollocks. I’ve always accepted it at some kind of face value, at least to the point of its premise that once Locke had fled, he was forever exiled from the UK, at least in the 1983 or thereabouts of the film’s setting. Bollocks. A quick bit of research reveals that Locke settled his differences with the tax authorities and was singing in Britain again as early as 1969.

Remove that plank, and everything else falls into the hole. Fitzgerald is her usual lovely self, and a pleasure to see each time her sweet face appears onscreen (nor is her then-characteristic nude scene hard to bear, though it’s completely out of keeping with the rest of the film), but she’s a plot device and nothing more. Field, whose role is much more pivotal, is also absolutely lovely (aged 55 at the time, but looking at least a decade younger without seeming in any way artificial). She’s much more defined as a character, even though ultimately she’s no more than an appendage to her man, as Nancy is to Mickey.

And whilst I’ve never been to Ireland, and not rural Ireland, and not lived amongst its people, the Irishness of that length of the film is laid on with the trowel of eccentricity, to the point where it’s a fine question as to whether it is Irish or Oirish.

As for the ending, it doesn’t hold up to any kind of logical scrutiny, but then neither does the film. It’s a feelgood fantasy, resolutely retrograde in its intent, and unsurprisingly sparked a revival of interest in Josef Locke’s singing, duplicated in the film by Vernon Midgeley, though Beatty is himself an accomplished star of the musical stage. The story might be set in or about 1983, but it’s never left the Fifties and The Beatles have never happened.

I still like it, and I will put it on again, and not just for Mesdames Fitzgerald and Field. It deserves its place, although to be honest it’s one of the weakest films of the series. Sunday lightweightedness.

Not always Crap Journalism (again)

Sometimes, I link to articles in the Guardian, a paper currently towing far more of the Government’s slimy line than it has ever done whilst congratulating itself on how different it is. Usually it’s to rant against Crap Journalism, most but by no means all of it coming from Stuart Heritage (that I haven’t done so lately is not down to his standards improving but the skill with which I avoid reading him at all).

But I also like to credit Not Crap Journalism and today it’s Hadley Freeman’s Saturday Column. I don’t always agree with her, but more often than not her thinking is along good lines, both good and Good.

I quote the end of today’s column. I hope it inspires you to follow the link and read the rest of it yourself. This, I believe, is writing of the simplest and highest sanity:

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect my sons to know they can’t assault women, or support a political infrastructure that benefits only them, or be compulsive horndogs like Bill Clinton. I’m good with them growing up knowing that if they are sexually or physically aggressive they will pay for it, and that voting only for their own rights drags everyone backwards.

Boys may well be boys, but one day they will be men. And being a man is not an excuse – it’s a responsibility.”

William Goldman R.I.P.

The names are starting to blink out far too quickly again. William Goldman, writer of The Princess Bride in book and film form, and writer of films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men has gone into the sunset aged 87.

I will remember him for All The President’s Men, which led me to a fascination with American political history that endures almost forty years later, for his magnificent and enduring study of Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade (and it’s almost as wonderful, twenty years after sequel, Which Lie Did I Tell?) but most of all for the sheer joyousness of The Princess Bride, one of those ten films that would go with me to a desert island, and a film that would survive a very long time if you started reducing that category one by one.

Goldman was one of my favourite writers ever. There are ever fewer of them left.

The Lion in the Seventies – Part 1

Lion and Eagle. As an unreconstructed Eagle fan, even as one whose collection deliberately excludes the last two years and four months of its history, I cannot help but see that title as a tragedy. I received Eagle week by week from the first week of January 1964 until its last issue in the last week of April 1969, and I carried on with the merged comic for maybe another seven or eight weeks before ending my connection. I was growing out of comics anyway, I was getting football magazines weekly and monthly, I do not know if any other comics remained on my order. But Eagle was not recognisable as Eagle in any of this, and I did not wish to see more.
As for the host, there was a mass attempt to bring existing stories to a rapid, and in come cases, rushed conclusion. Some old favourites, and several new car-crashes came to an end: The Spider in the first category, the Captain Condor and Rory MacDuff reprints crashed, Andy’s Army, Wyatt Earp and The Mind Stealers were terminated.
In their place were a whole host of new series, all of them to the Lion born, and four transfers from the hapless Eagle, the most significant of which being Dan Dare, for whom the ‘Rogue Planet’ reprints had been cut to ribbons to allow the Pilot of the Future to start with a reprint of ‘Reign of the Robots’ to celebrate his new berth. Though celebrate was not the word: all the new setting did was to demonstrate just how integral the Hampson studio’s painted colour was to the art.
It was not long before faces were being touched up to render them more distinct for B&W and done pretty badly too.
Accompanying Dan was The Gladiators (drawn by Archie’s Ted Kearon), about six Gladiators from the Roman Arena who had escaped thanks to an old sorcerer, who had sent them 2,000 years forward in time, to the middle of World War 2, Lightning Stormm, about a wheelchair bound crime-fighting ex-racing driver, obviously inspired by TV’s Raymond Burr vehicle, Ironside, and The Waxer (with art by Reg Bunn), in which ex-cop Mike Martin tried to convince his old colleagues that sinister waxworks owner, Septimus Creech, was bringing waxworks to life to commit dastardly crimes.

Paddy Payne (going into reprints), Robot Archie, Zip Nolan and Carson’s Cubs all survived from Lion, as did Mowser. New series were Turville’s Touchstone, Gargan and Oddball Oates. The new mix was widespread and it would be some time before the value of these could be assessed. But in a single issue, what was Eagle was buried, deep and dead.
In traditional Lion manner, another new series turned up just four weeks into the merger, a one page cartoon with overtones of Charlie Drake’s sitcom, The Worker, in the form of Chester the Cheerful Chump. Like every such one-pager except the inescapable Mowser, this only appeared when they felt like it.
Frankly, I remember absolutely nothing about the other Eagle transfers, even though I was still reading the comic until the end. Discovering them now, as if anew, they are a mixed bunch. The Gladiators is actually quite entertaining. There’s is a pretty basic fish-out-of-water series, but the writer creates an authentic feel to the gladiators, their attitudes and their speech, that gives the story a strong underpinning.
The Waxer is cheerfully OTT on spookiness, but then if you have Reg Bunn as your artist, I suppose it’s only natural. The story premise is goofy and without Bunn it would probably be an ugly mess, but it’s atmospherics (and the fact that it is not as idiotic as The Spider, which it effectively replaced) sustained it in the first instance.
In contrast, Lightning Stormm is a real loser. It apparently ran in Eagle as Lightning Strikes Again. I don’t know how long it had been around but it was awful: ex-racing driver Dan Stormm, crippled and confined to a wheelchair, fights crime in the motor-racing game. The practically paraplegic Dan, sat ramrod still in his over-armoured Supercar of a wheelchair, was a ridiculous image and the strip no better.
The new series was a similar mix in quality. The best of these was Turville’s Touchstone, a comedy drama. Thomas Turville inherits the family mansion, which is dilapidated and badly run-down. There is a lost family fortune which ‘rascally’ Solicitor Crabtree is determined to get to first. Tom however is aided by his 16th Century alchemist ancestor Sylvester, possessor of the titular touchstone, who is not all that fazed by the difference between the world in which he was cursed and that in which Tom has awoken him.
Oddball Oates, as the title implied, was a straight comedy series. Albert Oates is a mild-mannered, scrawny, bespectacled botanist who has discovered a wonder herb which, when smoked and sniffed, gives him wonderful athletic powers. Oates, who prefers to wander around in a caravan, becomes the target of Dr Vulpex, who wants to kidnap him, learn the secret of the herb and turn his country into a sporting superpower. This was a straight comedy, with exaggerated, quasi-cartoonish art and all sorts of sporting feats.

It’s not steroids, but the story rests on a very dodgy basis that you couldn’t write today. In Carson’s Cubs, at one point, Arthur Braggart calls Herbert Snook a Coke-head. Given that Oddball Oates was getting his ‘powers’ by smoking a wonder herb, and getting one heck of a high off it, I start to wonder just what the writers might have been smoking themselves.
The last series, Gargan, was a bust. Gargan was a big Yeti-type monster from the Himalayas, gentle as a lamb but looking like a monster. He and his sherpa boy companion Rhurki are kidnapped to America by a crooked circus owner who intends to exhibit him as a monster. Cash Maddack has a hold over Rhurki because he steals the magic mirror belonging to the ancient Reega the Wise, who is immortal as long as the mirror isn’t broken.
The series never rises above the predictable and, even as a ‘monster’, Gargan looks too silly to be convincing.
Of the Lion stalwarts, Paddy Payne reverted to reprints, and Robot Archie to the jungle, although without overwhelmed and superstitious natives. Zip Nolan was the same as it always was, week in, week out, as was Mowser, but with the excuse of being reasonably amusing. Chester the Chump totalled only four appearances, and was not a great loss, or any loss at all.
There were a few Reg Bunn Zip Nolans along the way, one of which I definitely recognised. These had to be reprints, leaving me to suspect that Nolan’s stories were the same every week because they were literally the same, reprints from years of formula tales impossible to distinguish any longer.
As for Carson’s Cubs, this had now gone stale as indicated by the fact that the stories were no longer about the Cubs’ progress on the football field but about the distracting shenanigans that took place off. It was rather like the Nineties’ TV series, Playing the Field, about a woman’s football team: two series about the club and its fortunes, and then it collapsed into a soap opera about a group of women whose link happened to be being in a football team.
The new line-up was pretty much settled for the rest of the year, but Lightning Stormm was the first to crack, lasting only twelve issues before transforming into Tales from the Tracks, a series of weekly motor racing stories narrated by Dan Stormm, which got rid of the embarrassing crime-fighter-in-a-souped-up-wheelchair aspect. These were actually surprisingly decent, but the feature was pulled after 29 November, making way for Drive for your Life.

This was a pretty implausible motor-racing story. Count von Drakko’s cowardice on the track causes a massive pile-up, as attested to by six fellow-drivers, resulting in his banning from racing. Six years later, all six drivers are kidnapped to drive a private race track designed by the Count, who means to show them what being scared really is: the track is a vicious obstacle race with fatal traps designed to kill five of the drivers. Only the race winner will survive, and it’s obviously going to be the American, Rev Ryder, because he’s the one with the stupid hero’s name.
The Gladiators had already lost both Ted Kearon and his successor when, on 4 October, The Waxer’s series lost Reg Bunn, and renamed itself Palace of Villainy. However, Bunn was back in harness ten weeks later, for the series’ next phase, When Midnight Chimes, The Waxworks Walk, which has to be one of the most stupid titles in Lion‘s history.
Gargan was now rambling with no real direction and Rhukri just whined all the time. Archie’s time-travelling adventures were having less and less point, and now the pals found themselves in some undated near future period battling the Sludge, that old jelly-like monster from 1964.
These changes apart, the Lion and Eagle line-up occupied the last months of the Sixties, and held over until the end of January 1970, but once again it was time for a revamp, with stories and series coming to abrupt endings and a new round of features starting up.
To begin with, Eagle was gone: we were back to being Lion again, until the next swallowing up of a weaker rival. Dan Dare, whose reprinted adventure had been chopped down into an unnaturally short four page finale to make room, was all that remained. Turville’s Touchstone was renamed Spellbinder and acquired Reg Bunn on art, although the boring rascally Solicitor Crabtree was kept on. Carson’s Cubs started a new story in which they found themselves playing the Circus Wanderers, that is the stars of the Eagle series that didn’t get carried over into Lion. Zip Nolan was no different, Paddy Payne was still in reprints, Archie, Ted and Ken finally got back to the right time and place but, as telegraphed the previous week brought The Sludge with them, Oddball Oates went Rugby League and Dan Dare brought up the rear with an untitled reprint of The Phantom Fleet. The quality of Frank Hampson’s art still shone through, but it was a close run thing, and as the story went on, it stopped being close and more often than not turned into a travesty. And Mowser rolled on, but James the Butler was demoted from co-billing.

Four new series of mixed quality began. Stringbean and Hambone was a comedy thriller about two mismatched wrestlers teaming up to tag-wrestle, with the unknown benefit of a magic wish-granting stone from China, which was marred from the offset with incredibly racist bullshit in the form of Chinese ‘dialogue’ in which no-one could plonounce the letter ‘R’. Yes, 1970, kids comic, blah-de-blah-de-blah, it’s still racist bullshit, and I simply refused to read it.
Flame o’the Forest was an altogether more serious affair, set just after the Norman Conquest, with a young Saxon sworn to vengeance on a vicious Norman baron who’d tortured his father to a premature death, whilst The Fugitive from Planet Scorr was a lumpen SF story about a rebel alien trying to stop his race’s plan to destroy Earth, only to be hated and feared as a monster whatever he did: like Gargan, then. As for General Johnny, this was an unwelcome re-run of Andy’s Army, with a schoolboy military tactician genius becoming a World War 2 General, about which you have to say it’s a wonder we won the bloody thing at all, given some of the notions weekly comics writers came up with in the Sixties. Except that Andy’s Army was actually better and more plausible than this.
This latest line-up was worse than weak, it was dull. Thanks to Reg Bunn, Spellbinder was visually interesting, but there was insufficient variation in the storyline, whilst Flame o’the Forest, after an initially interesting premise, got bogged down in having the Flame act like another superhero, as if this were still 1967. Lion had never pretended to be anything but a boy’s action, adventure and humour comic, but it had always had series, and frequently several off them, that proved interesting to an older audience. Now, the knack of spanning those generations seemed to have been lost. The title was lodged in a very narrow band of appeal, and its stalwart series had gotten very very tired indeed.
Reading it at this point is more of a chore than an enthusiasm. Nor am I surprised to learn that this is when the sales started to dip.
Apart from a run of poorly-reproduced Sky-High Bannion stories, billed as complete adventures, there was no change to the line-up until 25 July, when both The Fugitive from Planet Scorr and Hambone and Stringbean gave up the ghost together. Their replacements were Britain 2170AD, in which a four man spaceship crew returned from a five year mission to a Britain regressed to jungle primitivity and Sweeper Sam the Mild Matman, which I don’t even want to talk about.
Archie, Ted and Ken abandoned the time-travelling Castle at last as if it had never existed, for a trip to Mexico (superstitious peons, sigh), in search of a Golden City under the ocean whilst beating off a villainous rival who sticks at nothing to beat them to it, snore.
It’s not as if any of the new series had decent art, either. By now, only Reg Bunn’s pages for The Spellbinder were of any quality. Frank Hampson’s carefully prepared Dan Dare art was being trashed weekly by catastrophic cross-hatching and shading that looked as if it had been applied with a carpenter’s pencil, and whilst Flame o’the Forest’s artist maintained a decent smooth line, it was no better than bland. But bland was vastly superior to the horrifically scruffy art everywhere else.
At least Dan Dare was put out of its misery on 24 October 1970, when The Phantom Fleet reached an unabridged end. That was it as far as the old Eagle was concerned, and as far as this blog goes. I’ll make one new series an excuse for the next instalment.