Didn’t I tell you so? Insignificant.


Mike “the (Nowhere) Man” Doonesbury

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Doonesbury and how it had faded itself into insignificance by going Sunday only. My point has just been reinforced.

I started reading the Guardian in the first place, as far back as 1981, because it had recently picked up running Doonesbury, six days a week. Obviously, I stayed with the paper for more reasons than this, though these reasons wear thinner year on year. But Doonesbury has been indelibly associated with this paper in the UK for over thirty five years.

This has been evidenced by what happened on the two occasions the paper tried to drop the strip. The first was when the Berliner format was adopted. Doonesbury was absent on that first Monday, and back o Wednesday (with the two missing strips reprinted) thanks to a massive and vocal wave of reader protest. I am not alone, people.

The same thing happened when the paper underwent another redesign earlier this decade. The re-designer decided it was old hat, a thing of the past. Monday came, and no Trudeau. And it  (and the missing two strips) were back by Wednesday. Same again: massive vocal protest demonstrating the Guardian was wrong.

At some point, Monday of last week, or maybe even the week before, the Guardian dropped Doonesbury again. Or rather, it dropped the Doonesbury Flashbacks that have been running for over four years now. It’s been replaced by adverts. I didn’t even notice until some time round the middle of last week. Today, I specifically checked, and the more recent printing of the Sunday strip has also vanished.

And there has been no protest, no reaction, no complaints. Nobody wants to fight for it, or if they do the numbers have been so low that not only has the Guardian been able to ignore them with impunity, but there isn’t even any evidence of a protest: no Letters to the Editor, at least, none in print.

So the link has been broken after 36 years, and one once fundamental cartoon strip, in its forty-eighth year, is demonstrated to be, as I said, insignificant.

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Eagle Volume 8


Issue 3 original art

If Volume 7 was a year in which Eagle needed no more than the lightest-touch editing, Volume 8 was, by definition, the beginning of the end. The line-up that had taken almost six years to develop would, in the end, last just over two years, from Volume 6 no 4 to Volume 8 no 10. Change was on its way.
And change came, rapidly, within the first eleven issues of Volume 8, with new stories starting for Dan Dare, Luck of the Legion and Storm Nelson, together with the end of ‘The Great Sailor’, telling the life-story of Sir Horatio Nelson.
For Dan Dare, the rest of the year was taken up by ‘Reign of the Robots’, with the Cryptos Expedition returning to Earth after ten years’ absence, and finding the planet under the thumb of the Mekon. When the artwork was in the hands of Frank Hampson, it continued to be superb, and those weeks when it was more clearly the work of the studio – frequently credited to ‘Frank Hampson Production’ – was still good, although somewhat variable, but there were weeks when the art looked rough, unfinished, lacking any kind of detailed background, that suggested it had neither seen the inside of Bayford Lodge nor yet been turned over to Desmond Walduck.
There were no such signs of concern for Sergeant Luck or the Silver Fleet, with the former winding up their battle again at the Legion traitor before traveling south to defeat a mysterious slave-trader mastermind dressed as a Templar Knight. At the end of the year, the Legion’s most successful trouble-shooting team found itself in fin-de-siecle Paris, being sent on a mission on a balloon!
The Silver Fleet’s adventures took them from Canada into America, to the West African coast and into the Mediterranean, their colourful adventures involving Blue Beavers, Red Diamonds and Black Boxes.
But this was just the natural shift of story to story within series still maintaining their way, albeit with several such concluding in a short space of time. The changes to which I refer were of a different order.
Excluding a single story drawn by Giorgio Bellavitis, Norman Williams had been the artist in residence on The Great Adventurers for the past five years, but with a single week of Lord Nelson’s story remaining, Williams passed away. Jack O’Lantern‘s artist, Robert Ayton, pitched in to draw the final page, and when the series resumed the following week, with the life of David Livingstone, it was now Peter Jackson who took over Eagle‘s back page.
At the same time, David Langford’s ‘Professor Puff and his Dog Wuff’ came to an end after 188 episodes, with neither fanfare nor any sense of loss. To replace it, Langford turned to ‘Simon Simple’, drawn with a much darker, heavier line. This was simple, gag-a-week stuff, about a small schoolboy wearing a cap, round glasses and an imbecilic smile. The new series was silent for the first seven weeks, until the inherent weakness of this approach became obvious: Eagle still had ‘Chicko’ covering the same territory, and doing it better and more imaginatively with three panels to Langford’s six. Even with dialogue, the series was rarely funny.
But the biggest change of all, the true break-up, was on page 3. ‘The Case of the TV Terror’ too a further ten weeks to wrap-up, with the Boy’s Club and PC49 as usual foiling the bad guys. But that was the end for the only other remaining feature from Eagle‘s first week. PC49 had long since disappeared from its original home of the Light Programme, and now, with a farewell in verse, in a story in which he’d at long last given his full name, Police Constable Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby retired.
It was the end of John Worsley’s association with Eagle but not that of Alan Stranks. Apart from his continued association with Dan Dare, which would keep him at Eagle until his death in 1959, Stranks had not done with page 3, and was back the following week with Mark Question – The Boy with a Future but no Past.
There was no comedy in this series, just a straight drama. A neatly-dressed boy aged about fourteen arrives at a London railway station. He has his wallet stolen. The crooks recognise him as someone who can be exploited. But, as he realises he’s lost his wallet, he’s hit by a truck. When he wakes up, he’s lost all memory of who he is and where he’s from. So he gives himself the name ‘Mark Question’ (think about it) and sets off to find out who he is.


Frankly, it’s not very interesting. The art, by Harry Lindfield, is bland, and so too is Mark, who has no personality except for his obsession with discovering his identity. And the plotting is dreadful. The two thieves, Conger and Snuffle, work for Professor Carracul at the British Museum. The Professor, an expert in Natural History, is a criminal mastermind who uses Conger and Snuffle (the names don’t get any better the more you use them) to rob jewellery etc., which he then smuggles out of the country stuffed into stuffed animals bound for foreign museums. The taxidermy is done by Mr Feathers, who owns a pet shop. Where Mark takes a job as a shop assistant.
Oh please, as plots go that has to be the worst contrivance in Eagle to date. Conger and Snuffle keep Mark’s secret to themselves, not telling Carracul, which means that, when the Professor orders them to dispose of Mark, they don’t tell him that the boy might be worth more alive than dead. So, when their speeding car crashes into the river, and only Mark gets out, his identity dies with them.
The series had no formal stories to it, but once Professor Carracul is defeated, when Mark turns out to be an Olympic level fencer, we switch to another, longer story. A Spaniard calling himself Don Scorpio tries to kill Mark by sending him, what else, a Scorpion. This sends Mark and his unofficial guardian Doctor ‘Doc’ Steele (who only has one arm yet can drive a car for twenty hours straight) off to Europe, where they eventually come to the tiny Pyreneean kingdom of Comorra which, despite its Irish-sounding name, is as Ruritanian as you can get, and where Mark appears to be ‘the Boy King’.
No, the story doesn’t quite sink to that level of cliché, but it does directly rip-off Anthony Hope by having Mark be the spitting image of Maximillian, the real Boy King, about to inherit from his grandfather, Gustavo, except that Max is a screaming coward who wants to run away… And Mark is impersonating Max for the King, who knows who he really is but who’s so far gone…
No, Mark Question is no fit substitute from PC49. But he is a foretaste of what is to come as Eagle moves forward.
I’d like to make mention of Jack O’Lantern at this point. His fourth story, ‘Man-Hunt’, took our young shaver, and his faithful dog, Turnspit, across the Channel to France, where Bonaparte was Master. Jack was determined to track down his kidnapped and disgraced cousin Rufus, free him from the captivity of the turncoat Captain Zero, and frustrate Zero’s plan to impersonate Lieutenant Yorke and enable a mass escape of French prisoners from the new Prison on Dartmoor.
Of course, Jack and Rufus succeeded, and the latter cleared his name and resumed his commission, but before that there were several superb weeks of art by Robert Ayton, depicting the English prisoners escaping downriver and out into the Channel, where Ayton’s staging and depiction of the geography was a highlight of each issue, even when set against Frank Hampson!


Riders of the Range spent most of the year on the story of Billy the Kid, with Frank Humphris’s passion for accuracy showing through at every turn. From there, he and Charles Chilton went on to an even bigger story, ‘The War against the Sioux’, that would lead, in the next Volume, to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
MacDonald Hastings was represented in about two-thirds of the issues in this Volume but, apart from a final round-up of photos from Norway in issue 1, there were no further adventures. Instead, E.S.I.’s accounts remained very ‘studio-bound’. At first, there was a series on unexplained events and ghosts, which included a superb two-part take-down of the Mystery of the Mary Celeste that I’ve never read elsewhere and which explodes the myth quite thoroughly. It also included a piece on the then-relatively fresh mystery of the Loch Ness Monster.
Later in the year, Mac devoted his time to a series of reports on acts of wartime bravery that resulted in the award of medals for high courage in both World Wars. All very entertaining stuff, and no doubt exciting, but a far cry from actually going out and participating in adventures on behalf of the readers.
And cheaper too, I imagine. Though we are as yet some distance from the fateful decision by Hulton Press to sell up, that was to have such devastating effects on Eagle, the timescale that led up to that moment had more than likely already started to roll out. Hulton’s empire was past its peak. Picture Post‘s heyday was gone, its circulation declining, the profits from the redtop comics becoming increasingly central to the group’s income.
As the year declined, there was another round of new stories starting together, this time in issue 40, with Luck of the Legion, Storm Nelson and Jack O’Lantern all starting fresh tales. There was another new Great Adventurers story on the back page, but this was very different, and astonishingly prestigious.
The Happy Warrior was not only the first, and one of only two serials to feature a living subject, but this was none other than the hero of Wartime, Sir Winston Churchill, and for this feature, Marcus Morris brought over the legendary Frank Bellamy from Swift to make his debut in Eagle.
The story is almost stultifyingly respectful, as it would have had to be, and as it would have been even if there had been no pressure. This was Churchill, and this was long before the merest hint of revisionism was tolerable. Certainly, in the dozen episodes published in this volume, Bellamy is so respectful as to be stiff, his art notable for its realism, and his use of a limited but effective colour palette, but this is not the Bellamy we are used to. There are no dynamic layouts, no expressive colours, no freedom.
But it was nevertheless a landmark. And once Bellamy hit Eagle he stayed, and we were all better for it.
Of The Three J’s, and Harris Tweed, there is not much to say. Apart from the cleverness of running a term-story into a holiday story to create an eighteen part marathon, there was little new in The Three J’s. Two more new Fourth Formers became the focus of two more stories, whilst John Ryan introduced no new themes, motifs or story structures into the Extra Special Agent.
Overall, a number strong year. But the loss of PC49 upset a subtle balance, and that all important page 3 slot was diminished. Eagle would never get so distinctive a strip for that position ever again. Mark Question was its first fumble for a long time, but it was the sign of the future arriving.

Uncollected Thoughts: Crisis on Earth-X


The TV promo

Where there are four DC Universe TV shows appearing on the same network, you’re going to get crossovers, especially as three of those shows are practically incestuous to begin with, having spun-off each other.

Last year, the crossover was spread over four consecutive nights, with each of the shows retaining their own identity and concerns for the most part against the background of invasion by distinctly unconvincing CGI aliens. It was fun, but most of that came in the last part, when everybody got together for a mass superhero brawl.

This year, it went a whole lot better. Firstly, the four-parter was stripped over only two nights, in blocks of two hours (for which Arrow shot forward three days),which maintained the momentum far more successfully, and secondly it went out under its own title, Crisis on Earth-X, and played as a distinct, four part mini-series, which worked fantastically.

The title alone had a nostalgic ring for veterans like me. Ever since the first JLA/JSA team-up back in 1963, Crisis has been the DC got-to title for big events. And Crisis on Earth-X is personally significant to me because that was the title of Justice League of America 107, all those years ago, my gateway back into reading comics.

The mini-series borrowed the same principle but built its story upon a colossal twist. This further forward in time, their Hitler has died (in 1994) and a new Fuhrer is in charge, supported by a female General. The Fuhrer is an expert archer with a mainly green leather costume, the General is a superstrong, flying, blonde-tressed Aryan type: yes, it’s the Earth-X Oliver Queen and Kara Danvers Queen – his wife!

And supporting this unlovely pair of versions, we have the Reverse-Flash, still wearing Harrison Wells’ face and, if we don’t have enough allusions to early series, another expert Archer called Prometheus, under whose mask is… Colin Donnell, aka Tommy Merlin.

The main thrust of the story is that Super-X-girl is dying due to some form of radiation poisoning and needs a new heart – that of Kara Danvers. As she’s going to be on Earth-1, attending Barry and Iris’s wedding, our villains bust in on the ceremony (does anyone have any objections? Pouf: Minister is vapourised).

The wisdom of trying this on just when the Church is crammed packed with the superheroes of four whole series may be questionable but not to Green-X-Arrow: in fact, the show is heavy with speeches, from him, from Super-X-girl and even from poor Tommy (before he chucks a cyanide capsule down his throat after being captured) wholeheartedly espousing Fascist ideology, and despising the heroes and, by extension, all the other 52 worlds of the Multiverse, as weak, deserving only of serving their betters.

It’s horribly contemporary, though nobody makes that connection outside the audience, and the F-word is never used, though Nazi is bandied around with comfortable ease. But this strength through purity, contempt for the weak, the poor, the non-Aryans: tell me that doesn’t ring a bell with a lot of what we see around us.

The Comics promo

I particularly liked the way that each show abandoned its individual identity in favour of the four episodes going out as Crisis on Earth-X. This was particularly welcome in the case of Supergirl, which I’ve given up watching.

Generally, there was a common core cast of the principals and a couple of essential supporting characters, with the other supporting players having only relatively limited roles, in passing. For instance, Kara brought her sister Alex with her to the big wedding (whereupon Alex copped off with Sarah Lance at the rehearsal), and Oliver Queen brought Felicity.

The Flash got the best of it, but then the story was mainly taking place in Central City and was built around Barry and Iris’s wedding, so having the full cast play through was pretty much a given. And whilst only Sarah, Mick, Jax and Professor Stein went to the wedding, the positioning of Legends of Tomorrow as the close-out show again ensured the rest of the Legends got a good look-in too.

There were more than a couple of surprises along the way. Russell Tovey turned up for the back half as a Concentration Camp victim on Earth-X, imprisoned for being gay but, as advertised, he’s also a superhero, the solar-powered The Ray. Though the Ray is actually from Earth-1, once the whole thing was done, he went back to Earth-X to continue the good fight, but his lover (from Earth-X) decided to stay on Earth-1 for a bit. His lover was captain Cold, the Earth-X version, Wentworth Miller enjoying subtly camping things up as ‘Leo’ Snart, his interactions with Dominic Purcell a total delight.

And despite the vapourised Minster, Barry and Iris did get married at the end. They’d had the ceremony, all they needed was the Licenced Minister, so Barry speed-snatched John Diggle out of Star City.

Not to be outdone, having rather loudly turned down his proposal in part 1, because she did not want to get married, Felicity had a sudden change of heart, and got Dig to tie her and Ollie’s knot too. Aww!

But there was one thing I didn’t expect, not in itself but especially not in a more or less self-contained mini-series with only a minor degree of relevance to each show’s ongoing plotlines. I rigorously avoid spoilers, so I have had no idea where the Legends plot of Professor Stein and Jax trying to separate themselves as Firestorm, to enable the former to return to his wife, daughter and grandson, was going to lead. Was Victor Garber leaving? He is the first name in the credits, after all.

So the cliffhanger for part 3 was that he and Jax had separated to speed up what needed to be done to get everyone home to Earth-1, but they were all being attacked by machine-gunning Nazis, and Stein made a run for the lever he needed to pull, and was shot. In the back.

In the final episode, he made the final effort and pulled the lever, but at the cost of another bullet. So he was rushed back to the medbay on the Waverider, and his physical suffering fed back to Jax, but it rapidly became very clear, that Martin Stein should be dead from his wounds, that he would be if he wasn’t sustaining himself on Jax’s life-force, and that Jax would die alongside him. So Stein refused to drag Jax in with him. And he died.

It was a shock and it was felt by everyone. Next week’s Legends is the Fall Finale and I’m eager to see where they go with this now: I mean, Stein could ‘survive’ as a ghostly voice in Jax’s ear, as Firestorm, or maybe Franz Drameh is out of the series two, and depending on the reaction to Russell Tovey, I’m guessing on the Ray joining the Legends before the season is over.

But this was really a surprise, even if it did turn the last part into Two Weddings and a Funeral (I’m sorry, but the producers were angling for that, obviously).

Speaking of Supergirl, I didn’t see anything to suggest I’m missing anything, and with the exception of Sarah helping Alex get over her separation from Maggie (and I don’t mean by that that her… head was turned by a lesbian one night stand, you filthy-minded sods), there was nothing to do with ongoing continuity there: Kara/Melissa Benoist was in it for the mini-series story only, and thank the TV Gods for that.

So, a palpable hit by being almost purely superhero geek from start to finish. Keep this format for 2018 and, as one who has recently watched Justice League on the big screen, take a bloody big dose of Crisis and inject into everyone who will have anything to do with the sequel: this is how you do it, you pompous bastards!

The nostalgia…

From Watchmen to Doomsday Clock


From this…

I suppose you’d have to say that in the Eighties, I was one of those for whom Alan Moore was God, at least when it came to writing comic books. I discovered him on, simultaneously, Marvelman and V for Vendetta, in Warrior no. 1, and gleefully followed him to DC Comics, where he rapidly became the first superhero writer. And why not? Even in an eight-page back-up, Moore had the priceless gift of being able to see angles upon stories, situations, sensations that no-one had previously thought to look for, let alone discovered, but once seen seemed entirely inevitable. Every Moore story seemed to unpick and re-make the Universe, a piece at a time. Dialogue, captions, notions: no doubt Marv Wolfman summed it up for a lot of people when he said, “if he could plot as well, we’d have to gang up and kill him.”

All this culminated in Watchmen. The official story was that, once DC acquired the rights to the Charlton heroes, Managing Editor Dick Giordano invited Moore to come up with a treatment for them. Giordano, who, as editor at Charlton in the Sixties, had shepherded most of these characters onto the page was looking for something to introduce this group en masse into the DC Universe. Moore, seeing that there was only one genuine superhero among the lot, saw something different.

Moore saw the opportunity for a deconstructivist superhero series. With the exception of Captain Atom, nobody really had any powers. They were human. Conceiving his idea as, initially, a murder mystery – who killed The Peacemaker? – Moore wanted to directly address the notion of ordinary humans who put on bright costumes and went out into the streets to fight crime, hand to hand. When it came down to it, why would someone do that? How would they do that?

It wasn’t until a couple of issues had been carefully devised that Moore, who by now had Dave Gibbons attached to draw, saw the even bigger, and more fundamental question: if people did things like that, what would it do to society? And if there really was a superhuman, in the middle of the Cold War, what would he do to the world?

Reportedly, Giordano blenched at what Moore had done to his babies. In practical terms, DC hadn’t paid out for all these rights just for one use, which was all they would be getting, so Moore was asked to go away and revise his story to utilise newly created characters. This was, on one level, a good thing: Moore and Gibbons could archetypalise their protagonists, emphasising this approach’s universality, whilst using the shadow of Blue Beetle, The Question et al. to equip the likes of Nite Owl, Rorschach etc. with shadow backgrounds.

Watchmen was a massive success. It was different in many respects, deliberately so, heavily, almost obsessively designed and hyper-detailed, and alongside Frank Miller’s contemporaneous The Dark Knight Returns, was massively and misguidedly influential, ushering in the grim’n’gritty era.

It was also be be collected as a Graphic Novel, to be published on book publishing terms: once it was out of print and not in publication for two years, the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons.

No-one expected just how successful it would be, or that it would still be in print and still selling over thirty years later. That had never happened in comics before. The rights never reverted. Moore has always regarded this as a betrayal, and it was a part of the cocktail events that led to his refusal to work again for or with DC.

Legally, DC were within their rights: the book sold and sold, it made profits for them year or year, who was going to be stupid enough to withdraw it? But this was the letter of the agreement, not the spirit, an unforeseen outcome that worked to their advantage. It would have made more sense to have re-negotiated with Moore and Gibbons retrospectively, to revise the contract in a way that reflected what had actually happened. But DC Comics were, and are, a commercial company. Why should they give away any part of their goldmine when they didn’t have to? And this was the company that had already tried to rip-off Moore and Gibbons by classifying a successful set of spin-off badges as ‘Promotional Material’ instead of ‘Merchandising’ so they could deny the creators the royalties.

Moore withdrew from DC permanently. It’s cost him a lot of money, which has got up the noses of those people, many of whom being comic book fans, who, never being prepared to sacrifice anything to principle, have attacked Moore for determinedly living by his ethics, no matter the cost.

One thing that can be placed to DC’s credit, or rather that of President Paul Levitz, has been the refusal to countenance spin-offs. Levitz, who entered the industry as a writer, though he was always primarily a businessman, refused to allow any proposals to use the Watchmen characters that did not mean Moore and Gibbons. It was not so much a door held open as one perpetually resting against the jamb, but Levitz insisted upon it. Whilst he was in charge, the Watchmen characters would not be used by anybody else, even though at all times DC had the legal right to do so.

But Levitz would not last forever. DC’s management was restructured in the 2000s and he stepped down. The company fell under the creative control of Managing Editor Dan DiDio and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Johns certainly was one of DC’s most popular writers, though I have never rated him as highly as his general reputation would demand: DiDio I know more from the many decisions heavily criticised in the fan websites I follow in preference to actually following the DC Universe.

In 2010, DiDio, free of Levitz, decided he was not bound by any questions of morality or ethics, and initiated a series of spin-offs under the overall title of Before Watchmen. It was incredibly controversial. Debate raged between those who saw it as a breach of the sanctity, the book publishing sanctity that had always been afforded to Moore and Gibbons’ creation, and those who saw nothing wrong on any level with letting other writers and artists play with the characters. It’d be cool. We want more Rorschach, more Dr Manhattan, etc.

I sided with the former. The latter represents the age-old comicbook position that the character, not the creator, is what makes a comic good. It’s backwards-looking. To me, it’s no different than, say, Rob Wilkins deciding to write the 42nd Discworld novel. I know he wouldn’t but that, to me, is the level of sanctity demanded.

Although the creators included people whose work I would otherwise be eager to read, I was among those who boycotted Before Watchmen. I have not, nor will I ever read any part of it.

I’m laying this out because, tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going to breach that strict ethical stance, and I want the chance to consider my position before I do.

Five years ago, when DC rebooted their Universe for the fifth time, I wrote a lengthy piece about why I wasn’t going with them. The New 52 Universe was a radical departure that threw out all sense of history and legacy. It was controversial, a lot of it was crap, and last year, DC initiated a line-wide reboot-that-was-not-a-reboot in the form of DC Rebirth.

The underlying structure of Rebirth is the concept that someone, with the deliberate intent of weakening the DC Universe, stole ten years out of it. From the first, it was heavily implied that this had been done by Dr Manhattan. For a very long time, the mysterious and manipulative figure of Mr Oz in Supernan’s titles was expected to be revealed as Ozymandias, from Watchmen, though in the end it was another and even more major character return.

But a few months ago, DC announced a twelve-month limited series under the title of Doomsday Clock. It’s heavily implied that this series will lay out the complete background to Rebirth, although it’s also been stated that it will not have cross-overs into the DC Universe. Nearer the time, it was indeed confirmed that this was basically Superman vs Dr Manhattan.

We all know that, in terms of sheer power, and the ways in which it can be applied, Dr Manhattan can wipe the floor with Superman. We also know that Superman will win over him. DC would rock to its veriest foundations if Superman didn’t win.

Ethically, morally, the position is no different. This is a trespass on Moore and Gibbons’ creative rights in Watchmen, and I should boycott it as completely as I have and do Before Watchman. But tomorrow (as I write this section) I am going out to collect and pay for the copy of Doomsday Clock 1 that I reserved almost as soon as I heard of it.

The ethics are the same but the story isn’t. Doomsday Clock is going to be a major story (or that’s how it’s pitched), it’s going to bring the Watchman Universe and the DC Universe together, it’s going to spring surprises, make changes, be significant. It will change the (comics) world.

I’m not necessarily desperate to read that. I never read Flashpoint, which initiated the New 52. I read the original Rebirth issue, but I haven’t read anymore, and I made a profit, selling it on eBay. But despite the hypocrisy it entails, I do feel the need to read Doomsday Clock 1. And maybe the other eleven too. If it’s too crap, or inessential, or I just can’t stomach it, I shall drop the series and turn to eBay again. But I need to know what’s going on.

It came out on Wednesday. I’ve already spent half the week avoiding spoilers, not entirely successfully (I know Rorschach’s back). Usually, it’d be at least another fortnight before I visited Forbidden Planet again, but I can’t keep avoiding the spoilers that long. So, having addressed my hypocrisy and come to no better reason than necessity, the second section of this will be a review of Doomsday Clock 1.

I would seriously wish to loathe it and explain its multiple deficiencies and crassnesses.

…to this

Since first learning of Doomsday Clock, I have been deliberately starving my imagination of what it could possibly be. That it’s been a massive commercial success right off the bat went without saying. What it is is a comic that, so far, is so slavishly imitative of its original and yet without an ounce of its point as to question the entire point. But this is only issue 1, and it’s entirely set-up, and not much of that either.

First, however, let me record the ways this is an imitation of Watchmen. There is the nine-panel grid layout on all but one, significant yet confusing page. There is the odd title, ‘This Annihilated Place’, that epitomises the chapter and which comes from a larger, also apposite quote. And there’s the four post-story pages given over to newspaper cuttings filling in details of the intervening period. It’s a copycat, all right.

Until the end, the story takes place in the ‘Watchmen Universe’. Seven years have passed since the end of Watchmen. As hinted at at the end of the series, Robert Redford stood for President in 1988 and was elected. Rorschach’s Journal was indeed published in The New Frontiersman, but was completely ignored. Instead, trailing in the polls, President Redford drops the bombshell on the eve of the Election about Veidt’s trick.

Redford got re-elected and promptly headed straight back to the golf course: the world went to shit. Adrian Veidt, the most influential man on the planet for the last seven years, is now the most wanted man. The EU has collapsed, Russia has invaded Poland and the US has given them four hours to get out. Everything’s broken. Veidt can’t fix it a second time. The only man who can is Dr Manhattan, Jon Osterman. A small team, Ozymandias, Rorschach and The Marionette, plus her unrequested but still present husband, The Mime, has got about three and a half hours to find where Dr Manhattan went, and get him back, with enough breathing space to win.

Now that I put it that way, I can see what a stupid, comic book story it is, all fake, hyped-up apocalypse.

Now there’s a few things about the summary where we’re going to have to track back and fill in some details. Ozymandias is as expected but let’s add in the detail that he’s now got cancer, and the implication is that it’s both fatal and well-developed. Hopefully, this will be more than a plain steal from Moloch, first time round.

Rorschach? But he died, blown to smithereens by Dr Manhattan. This is not Walter Kovacs, however, but rather a new Rorschach, about whom all we know is that he’s black. He’s also a pale imitation, no pun intended. Though he’s clearly meant to be the same bull-goose looney as the original, he’s nothing like so absolute. Not only is he working with Veidt, perpetrator of the biggest crime in human history, but he’s breaking out of prison two criminals.

Actually, he’s only there for the Marionette, aka Erika Manson, but she insists she won’t go without her husband, Marco Maez, the Mime. I mean, first he has to effectively ‘bribe’ her to go by offering her the chance of being reunited with her lost baby son, but he gives in to her insistence on springing her husband. Compared to the real Rorschach, this one’s as flexible as Plastic Man.

Either Johns can’t or doesn’t feel comfortable with writing a character so absolute as the real Rorschach. The fake narrates the issue, except that instead of a Journal, this is in his head, and Johns can’t get anywhere near the genuinely disturbed mindset of Kovacs: he just cannot get the words right.

As for the two new characters, I am incredibly dubious. Apart from her being a vicious psycho, we know nothing about her nor what she does and especially not why Ozy needs her on the Get Dr Manhattan Project. Him, he’s mute, and acts like a mime. His special tools are invisible and intangible. Rorschach’s ‘joke’ about pointing an invisible gun not being funny is exactly that: not funny.

But I’ll wait for more. So far, he’s just a vicious psycho, but if either of them start manifesting superpowers of any kind…

Of course, Doomsday Clock isn’t simply a sequel to Watchmen. It’s supposed to be about some kind of merger, or at least planned relationship between it and the DC (Rebirth) Universe, so there’s a four page coda, introduced by Ozy’s tail-off line about “Wherever (Dr Manhattan)’s retreated to” which sees us transition to the bedroom of Mrs and Mrs Clark Kent.

Clark’s dreaming. It’s Prom Night, and Jonathan and Martha have made him put on a tux and go, even though Pete Ross has asked out Lana Lang. Significantly, this page abandons the nine panel grid for a twelve panel grid, three tiers of four. A shift that is immediately rendered meaningless when the next page – still the dream – reverts to nine panels. On which page a lorry shunts the Kent’s truck into a tree, killing both.

(This, I have had to look up, is current continuity, holding over from the New 52. I will make no comment about it).

Lois wakes because Clark’s screaming and hovering above the bed. She comments that she’s never seen him have a nightmare before. He comments that he never has had one before. The episode title is then revealed as coming from a poem called, appropriately, Ozymandias. Only it’s not the well-known one from Shelley but the contemporaneous effort by his mate Horace Smith (I am not making this up, nor is Johns, though I have learned about Horace and his deservedly lesser known Ozymandias only as a consequence of this quote, and since writing the preceding sentence: I presume there is a point to this wilful obscurity).

So, there we have it. In and off itself, Doomsday Clock serves to convince me that Geoff Johns hasn’t got an original idea in his fucking head. If any of his thousands od dedicated fans read this, they will no doubt seek to howl me down, most likely by accusing Alan Moore of only ever ripping off other people’s characters. This is a far from unfounded accusation, though I would draw a massive distinction between Moore’s genuine ability to bring original viewpoints to superhero comics and other genre, expanding the range of possibilities available to both story and concept, and John’s narrower field of vision which seems limited only to producing slicker, more efficient and violent superhero comics, by strip-searching other people’s creations for things he can then distort way beyond their initial ideas.

Frankly, that’s what Doomsday Clock is to me. Watchmen was created as an inherently unitary idea, with a beginning, middle and end. None of the hordes baying for Alan Moore’s head for the crime of wanting to deny them endless exploitation of the characters can deny that that was what was in the mind of both the creators and the company when the series was commissioned. What Geoff Johns is doing is pissing around in someone else’s flowergarden, and I don’t like that.

Having read issue 1 has freed me up to read those recent reviews etc. One indicates the notion that part of Johns’ purpose in this series is to comment metafictionally on the effect Watchmen had on comics. We’ve all been sadly aware that, down the years, it’s been more a case of writers and artists grabbing onto the ‘grim’n’gritty’ and amping up the blood, rapine and violence: Darkness Uber Alles, and I’ve read a lot of people suggesting that that’s a large part of Geoff Johns’ modus operandi, though I haven’t read enough of his work to comment, and far less a case of looking for the strange, the unusual, the innovative in this world of fictional characters we have available to us.

It’s a sour taste this leaves me with, but I’ll stomach it for now. Come back in about a months time and I’ll rip into issue 2. Or praise it, if praise is due. Don’t count the days, though.

PS:

Among the reviews I’ve read so far, which unlike my own have been universally impressed, I’ve read a couple of comments about the metafictional aspect of Doomsday Clock, as an intended commentary on the effect of Watchmen on comics in general.

It’s been suggested that part of Johns’ personal remit is to answer what Watchmen (and The Dark Knight Returns) did in creating the grim’n’gritty era. That he will be showing that the Universe of hope that is the DC universe in its present form is inherently superior to the Universe of cynicism that is the Watchmen Universe.

I hope not, I truly hope not. I’ve already said that I expect Superman to prevail because, as we all know, there’s no way DC are going to allow their most iconic character to come second best to anyone.

But to me, that metafictional intention, if it is correct, is nothing more than the intention to shit, comprehensively, upon Watchmen, long and hard, to diminish and destroy it by proving the orthodox DC Universe to be *better*, with bells, trumpets and whistles all over it.

Watchmen was the product of a particular time, and a particular set of circumstances. It was not meant to show up the DC Universe as inferior, but to offer a different perspective, completely separate and parallel. It wasn’t about anything so petty as who’s stronger, who’s better? Superman and Dr Manhattan didn’t co-exist, never would co-exist, meet or match up against each other, and Watchmen was the better for that.

It sounds to me as if that’s eaten at Geoff Johns, and maybe Dan DiDio until they can’t stand it. Watchmen has to be cut down to size, proved to be second class. Shat on, to put it bluntly. Then it can take its place as nothing more or less that just a facet of the DC Universe.

I’d like to be completely wrong about this, to be proven paranoid and raving. And if that is the case, I will admit it. But I’ll be there all the way, watching, hawk-like, for anything that indicates to me that this is the direction we’re going in. And I won’t mince my words about Johns if this is what is in his mind.

We shall see.

How to be Inconsequential: or, The Weekly Doonesbury


Then…

Once upon a time, my children, there was a daily American newspaper strip called Doonesbury, written and drawn by Garry (‘G.B.) Trudeau. It grew out of a Yale college strip called Bull Tales and was first offered to American newspapers as a college strip in 1970. It quickly married its hip, wordy humour with a primarily liberal socio-political bent, and became increasingly popular, not just for its humour but for its willingness to go into some very serious issues. In 1981, the Guardian started printing it in the UK, and I started reading the Guardian. Despite two attempts to drop the strip, both leading to instant and overwhelming protest, it runs there to this day.

My own involvement with Doonesbury doesn’t predate the strip’s arrival in the Guardian by much. My increasing interest in American commercial and political issues in the very late Seventies kept leading to mention of Doonesbury: for instance, “There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what is going on in Washington: the electronic media, the print media, and Doonesbury, not necessarily in that order.” That was said by President Gerald Ford on the occasion of the strip becoming the first ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.

So I got curious. Then, out of the blue, the strip’s second retrospective collection, Doonesbury’s Greatest Hits, appeared out of nowhere in Wilshaws, Manchester’s supposedly second best bookshop, but to me much more preferable to Sherratt & Hughes. 516 dailies and 80 colour Sundays for £2.95 was well worth a pop and I laughed myself silly.

Thus began a long and satisfying relationship. The strip was still based at Walden College in those days, around the central quartet of Mike Doonesbury (the title character, a mid-Western liberal loser), Mark Slackmeyer (New York Jewish radical), B.D. (football jock and staunch Republican) and Zonker Harris (Californian pothead). But it had expanded dramatically with characters in other spheres who could take a week’s worth of strips anywhere: Joannie Caucus (ex-housewife, feminist and lawyer), Rick Redfern (Washington Post reporter, Joannie’s partner), Honey Huan (former translator for Mao Tse-Tung, now ever-willing and perpetually naive sidekick) and Trudea’s most infamous creation, Uncle Duke, originally based on Hunter Thompson but one of the world’s greatest mavericks.

Picking up new collections at various comics marts, and the odd old one here and there (I would not get a complete set until the eBay era) was great fun, reading Doonesbury daily was great fun. Trudeau was sharp, accurate and inventive, and even when he’d skewer Democrats and other liberals, he still always felt like he was coming from the same place I did, even if that was from the other side of the Atlantic.

Not all that long after I started getting my fix daily, Trudeau did something no newspaper strip cartoonist had done before him: he took a sabbatical. This was heavily criticised, Charles Schultz called it ‘unprofessional’. Trudeau took almost eighteen months off, partly to work on a stage-show, Doonesbury: the Musical, based upon the college characters’ graduation from Walden College, but also to prepare his ground for the strip’s resumption in the run-up to Reagan’s re-election, as adult characters, functioning in the ‘real’ world.

Mike went from hapless college loser to decidedly unconvincing advertising copywriter, married now to performance artist J.J. (aka Joan Caucus Jr), Mark to National Public Radio, B.D. to third-string quarterback in LA and his girlfriend, cheerleader Boopsie to minor starlet (third girl in shower in Porky’s 2).

And over the decades it ran and ran. New characters appeared, courses ran smooth or jagged (I am not even going to try to think of summarising Duke’s career, but for several weeks in 1982 he daily made me sick with laughter when he chartered his drugs-running boat out for a sightseeing cruise to the Falklands Islands War). Characters aged, married, divorced, had children who, over twenty years, grew to become characters themselves (Joannie and Rick’s son Jeff has become a figure of loathing to me, with Zonker’s nephew Zipper his crony, but Alex Doonesbury has been a delight from start to finish, and Sam, B.D. and Boopsie’s daughter was showing every sign of growing up to be a perfectly drawn young woman when…)

It’s been a long strange strip, to quote the tag-line for the twenty-fifth anniversary collection, which of course gave way to the mammoth slip-cased fortieth anniversary collection some years ago. One of the beauties of the strip has been that, since leaving college, the characters have aged realistically – I won’t say grown up, not in certain cases – as well as having remained pertinent and on the money almost all the time.

But I said ‘When…’, didn’t I? Having established the concept of sabbaticals, Trudeau and others who found the idea of periodic breaks from the daily treadmill to refresh the creative mind to be attractive, managed after several years to establish the idea of contractual breaks, regularised at four weeks per year, to be taken at the cartoonist’s discretion. Some would take a month off, Trudeau would just take one week off per quarter. Frustrating, yes, to pick up Monday’s paper, recognise the strip and see it headed ‘Doonesbury Flashback’, and be deprived of a week of fresh lines, situations, gags and energy, but a small price to pay for such high levels of humour.

But this lasted to 2013. Abruptly, Trudeau’s syndicate announced another hiatus to allow him to work on the Amazon streaming TV series Alpha House, a political comedy created by him. Originally intended to run from June to early September, the break was extended into November. Trudeau resumed duties but only until early March 2014 when, to accommodate Alpha House‘s second season, he announced he would only be doing Sundays for the foreseeable future. Despite the show’s cancellation in 2014, the return to dailies remains unforeseeable.

That’s three and a half years now, and counting. Trudeau once commented that ‘political cartooning is a young man’s game’ (he is now 69) and I am cynically resigned to the assumption that at that age he doesn’t want to leap back into the daily grind. But if that’s so, and even bearing in mind that the strip is only three years away from reaching that great landmark of fifty years, I would still rather he cancelled Doonesbury rather than allow it to continue as the increasingly meaningless thing it is.

One strip a week, among an official character list of 24 people, is pretty well redundant. As time went on in Doonesbury, the strip slowly evolved into a mixture of its satire and the kind of character-driven comedy that all the best, long-lasting ensembles eventually must mimic. Caricatures they may have been, in their inception, and to greater and lesser extents, but you cannot record the multiple progressions of a range of people without their turning into some form of living person.

There was no better example of this than the sequence which began in 2004 and featuring B.D. Of the central characters, B.D. had always been the closest to a cartoon throughout. Given no other name in the strip (he was originally based on Yale Quarterback, Brian Dowling), B.D. was the conservative, the jock, the unrealistic blowhard who was never seen without his football helmet. After graduation, the helmet kept changing, especially as B.D. kept going back into service as an Army Reservist (he’d volunteered for Vietnam in the early Seventies, to get out of finishing a term paper). The unreconstructed male, the blue-collar rightwinger, the joke.

And one Monday morning, the strip began with a black panel and a shout of ‘Hey!’. Then two panels of B.D.’s buddy Ray, sweating, desperate, telling someone to stay with him, then shouting for a medic, then another black panel, calling B.D.’s name, shouting ‘Hey!’ again, but louder. The next day’s opening panel made it even more plain: ‘You’re not dying here, man! Not today!’ But with typical Trudeaus expertise, the third day revealed things subtly. B.D.’s hurt, he’s in a medevac chopper, they’re removing his helmet! There he is, in the final panel, grimacing, his hair on show for the first time ever. And, with no fanfare or attention drawn to it, in the bottom corner of the panel, his left leg. Gone.

It was one hell of a risk, taking a cartoon like B.D., and crippling him, putting him through a devastating war injury like that. It could have been a disaster. Instead, slowly, surehandedly, Trudeau unravelled B.D.’s story over literally years. The physical recovery. The mental deterioration. The gradual acclimatisation to therapy. The horrors revealed. Trudeau, without foresaking humour but without ever once demeaning for a second the reality of what he’d done, turned B.D. into both a real human being, and a kind of Every-Soldier.

It was a sequence that was eventually extracted into three special books, all published for charity. And Trudeau used this initial story to look at two other military figures whose own stories unfolded slowly, over years: Megan, the Specialist traumatised by sexual exploitation from a superior officer, and Toggle, the young driver and heavy-metal freak, left with aphasia after his own bombing.

These were extraordinary stories, told with an incredible attention to balance between the humour (not always black) that could be found and the reality of lives thus affected. They were so affecting because they could unfold so slowly, every day another little snippet, another step or moment.

This is an extreme example, both in terms of how personal a story Doonesbury could tell, and how pointed it could be about the life we live today, but it was utterly dependent upon the strip being daily, giving us another piece, another sliver, day in, day out. It was an intrinsic part of what made Doonesbury matter, even if only as an entertainment – which over forty plus years is not to be sniffed at.

What’s Megan doing now? I dunno. She’s not been seen since the dailies stopped. Or Toggle? He met Alex Doonesbury, they fell in love, married, had twins. Been in two, maybe three strips since, each time about the twins. Mike? Still married to Kim, still living on Puget Sound, presumably still has his own business? Mark? Still on the radio. Zonker? Still growing artisanal marijuana with Zipper. Jeff? Still don’t care.

The point is that all we ever get is snippets, frequently tuned to what’s going on in the world, like today’s strip, which features Rick at a press conference, asking questions about things I don’t understand and I can’t even see where the punchline is supposed to be.

It’s like Discworld, except that Trudeau’s not dead yet. Everybody’s still there, and every now and then they jump through a hoop. But I don’t know them any more, and I am sick and tired of impersonal snippets every six to eight months, of people who we’re supposed to be watching move through their lives the way we do.

Doonesbury used to be essential. Now it’s meaningless. And it did it all to itself. And I’m tired of it.

Now

A Twitch of the Nose


Sometimes, just sometimes, little things mean a lot.

This week’s episode of The Flash introduces Hartley Sawyer as Ralph Dibny, ex-cop, Private Investigator, fulltime sleazeball, and the latest victim of season 4’s busload of new metas. Uh, Ralph Dibny, hello?

Ralph Dibny was created in 1960, by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, in The Flash 112, the eighth issue of Barry Allen’s series. He was Barry’s best friend after Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and the first DC hero to make his identity public. He was the Elongated Man, who could stretch his body to impossible length. Dibny’s super-power was a rip-off of Plastic Man, then deep in comic book limbo, and he appeared the best part of a year before Mr Fantastic.

For us DC fans who go a long way back, he’s an old favourite, an oddball, slightly goofy and wonderfully innocent character, and part of the pain and effect of the killing of his wife, Sue Dibny, in Identity Crisis, was that the two were this perfectly matched, untouched pair.

The TV Dibny isn’t any of that. He was thrown off the Force, after exposure by Junior CSI Allen, for faking evidence, although this was to put away a killer who was going to get away with it. Now, he can stretch his arms and legs, and take a bullet to the forehead and only have it push out the back of his skull before it bounces back into shape (and the bullet falls out of his nose). And he’s going to join Team Flash.

I have my doubts. The CGI technology doesn’t yet exist that can make that kind of superpower – stretching – remotely plausible, but let’s wait and see.

But that little thing? One of The Elongated Man’s oldest traits is that whenever he smells a myatery, his nose starts to twitch, and in a comic, boy can it twitch!

And at the very end, when it turns out Dibny’s been hired by Devoe, this season’s big bad, as foretold last season, Barry confirms there’s something big going on. Dibny brightens up. “I smell a mystery!” he cries. And his nose twitches! They got it so perfectly! I am howling with laughter and the day is immediately 80% brighter!

Sometimes, they can get it so right.

Not yet, but…

Eagle Volume 7 (1956)


Original art

It must have been a breeze to have been editor of Eagle in 1956. The classic line-up was in place, and stayed throughout Volume 7. The comic was cruising or, given the nature of the bird, soaring on the wing.
There was a year of Frank Hampson, and his slimmed-down and highly-functioning studio working at their peak on ‘Rogue Planet’, the middle part of the ‘Man from Nowhere’ Trilogy. The story ran the enrtire year, leaving only its surprising coda to come in the next Volume, as a lead-in to the final part of the Trilogy. After a six month absence, Flamer Spry returned from the dead. There were rich planet-scapes and glorious alien cities, and seascapes and cultures, and Hampson signing principal assistant Don Harley’s name alongside his, recognising the contribution of the Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’.
On page 3, Alan Stranks and John Worsley took PC49 and the Boy’s Club, with its core membership of Toby Moore, Giglamps, the Mulligan Twins, Tiki and little Bunny Cotton through the end of ‘The Case of the New Member’, the tightly-run thirteen round of ‘The Case of the Square Ring’ and into danger at sea for a holiday in ‘The Case of the Crazy Cruise’. The year ended with the start of ‘The Case of the TV terror’ and Archie’s only in-strip confession of his radio name, Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby. But PC49 the radio series was dead three years by now, and 49 lived on only in this one weekly page.
After a five week underwater exploration with famed diver Hans Hass, McDonald Hastings, ESI, returned for a long trip to India, several weeks of which being dedicated to photos rather than accounts. He then followed up on one reader’s request with a four part consideration of UFOs, providing an even-handed account of what was then known about the subject, and coming to no other conclusion than that to imagine that we were the only form of life in the Universe was ridiculous. In a comic edited by a Church of England Vicar, who still took services once a week, this was a remarkably open conclusion to be permitted.

E.S.I. and Indian friend

Mac would go on from his investigation of the stars to a rather more hands on visit to northern Norway, meeting the Lapps and visiting the most northerly town in the world, inside the Arctic Circle, where the day last six months, and so does the night.
‘Professor Puff and his Dog Wuff’ occupied the lower part of the sports page for another year, with their curiously anodyne version of children’s fantasy and unhumorous settings, whilst directly opposite, Riders of the Range had another strong year.
‘The Terror of the Pecos’, continuing the long story begun with ‘The Heir of Duncrieff’ ended with Jeff Arnold successfully keeping the Army and the Indians from war, and with young Matt returning voluntarily from life with the Indians, bringing with him his friend Pinaro, son of the Chief, who is to return with Matt to Scotland and enjoy an education there.
Frank Humphris took a nine-week sabbatical for ‘The Wreckers’, drawn in a more brightly coloured style by an uncredited Giorgio Bellavitis, before returning for ‘The Hooded Menace’, during which Jeff’s shirt got burned and he changed it again, albeit not drastically. There was just time before the end of the Volume to start ‘Jeff Arnold and Billy the Kid’. This marked a change in the series as, from this point onwards, Chilton’s stories would relate to real life characters and events, and would keep as closely as possible to the historical reality of such stories.
Luck of the Legion completed its adventure ‘South of Senegal’ and returned to the desert for ‘Shadow of the Scimitar’, featuring a renegade Legion Captain commanding a Toureg tribe, in which our intrepid trio found themselves taking an early motor car across the sands to a friendly chief.

The latterday Tweed

Things started to look up for Jack O’Lantern, with ‘The Prisoner of Newgate’ ending for victory for bare-knuckle fighter Jem Slammer, the exposure of Uncle Humphrey as a French spy and his death at his own side’s hands, the vindication and pardon of Captain Yorke and Jem and the restoration to the Yorke’s of family home, Brackens.
Not that it lasted. The Captain was sent back to war, along with faithful Corporal Kettle, leaving Jack to travel to the South West, in ‘The Moonshiners’ to reside with his cousin Rufus, an effete, lisping fop. At the same time, English-born French spy, Captain Zero, is springing French prisoners from local prisons and getting them back to France with the aid of the local smuggling network.
Rufus turned out to be a Naval Intelligence Officer operating under his wisping, sorry, lisping cover, but the story ended in disaster, with Rufus captured and taken to France. Jack swore to rescue him, which is where the next story, ‘Man Hunt’ began, shortly before Xmas.
Now it was established, the ‘Eagle Club’ was confined mainly to the editor’s page, after which The Three J’s went through their usual routine of school and holiday adventures. a slapstick story about Jacko inheriting a potentially valuable stamp segued into a holiday adventure in Spain, during which Specs’ resemblance to the boy-King of a small European country led to a) trouble and b) the Prince coming to Northbrook, that is, until Specs was kidnapped in his place, as a means of forcing the Prince back to the throne under the Regency of his evil uncle. Business as usual.
And the same for ‘Harris Tweed’ as John Ryan continued his new practice of ‘serial’ stories lasting about six weeks each, with a vague link to the next one.
Storm Nelson – Sea Adventurer concluded ‘The Quest of the Southern Cross’ successfully, of course, with a double dose of disguise: Storm fixes himself with a fake beard to pose as a Swedish captain, and Jonah McCann, infiltrating the bad guy’s crew, shaved off his own to evade detection.

Nelson by Bellavitis

Richard E Jennings was back in place for ‘The Quest of the Blazing Boomerang’, still set in Australian waters, but from there the Silver Fleet transferred to Canada and the Great Lakes, with the crew becoming temporary members of the Mounties in order to operate on Canadian territory for ‘The Blue Beaver Mystery’.
Inside the back page, George Cansdale’s half-page nature series about various animals continued to impress, with awesome nature art throughout the year from Tom Adams. The other half of the page saw the introduction of a new feature, again at reader’s request, ‘He wants to be a…’ Most weeks, there would be a short account of various professions different types of boys wished to follow: the qualities required for it, the course of training, the constant reference to the (deferred) National Service that dates this series even more than the massive salaries the boys could earn when they are successful: £365 per annum! It’s terribly dated but it’s a social picture of the times since the roles involved vary between intellectual professions such as Doctors, Dentists and Solicitors, and skilled manual trades like Plumbers and Plasterers.
On the back page, Norman Williams continued to preside over The Great Adventurers. The first half of the year was devoted to Charlemagne, ending not with his death but his elevation to Emperor, after which the scene shifted to ‘The Great Sailor’, Horatio Nelson (down to one eye and one arm by year’s end, but still a way away from Trafalgar.
Thus was Eagle in 1956, it’s peak year. In the next volume, changes would begin. It would never be such a classic comic again. There was a lot of good stuff to come, and the decline would, at first, be slow and difficult to see. But from such a line-up as this, such a set of writers and artists working in such complete command of their skills, any change could only be for the worst.