Super comic, superhero

Left: Memories from the 1950s, with the first issue of Eagle, then three-pence, at the top left, sharing space in a Comic Book Postal Auctions catalogue with Adventure, Top Spot and a Father Noah’s Ark book.

Left: Memories from the 1950s, with the first issue of Eagle, then three-pence, at the top left, sharing space in a Comic Book Postal Auctions catalogue with Adventure, Top Spot and a Father Noah’s Ark book.

I was brought up on an early childhood diet of the Beano, which progressed over the years to the Knockout and then, as I entered my teens, the Rover and Hotspur.

By 1950 I was a 15-year-old who had long since put picture comics behind him, or so I thought, but exciting rumours were abroad. Comments were being spread via the press and radio about a totally new style of pictorial comic which was about to be launched, and would knock all its forebears for six. It was to be called Eagle, and parents could be pretty confident of its con-
tents being wholesome material, because its Editor was an ordained priest.

I was still on a tight rein as far as pocket money was concerned. When I asked my parents if they would purchase it for me on a regular basis, I was informed that if I wanted it I must adjust my budget accordingly -so, after careful thought, the Hotspur, along with a weekly bar of chocolate, went to the wall. Apprehensively I placed my order with our newsagent and waited for the first-ever issue to plop through our letter box, along with the Daily Graphic (for-
merly Daily Sketch), which was our family newspaper.

On April 14 1950 it arrived, and I was faced with a comic the like of which I had never seen in my life. Larger than the old childhood favourites, it boasted a full-colour layout both front and back, and what truly remarkable artwork it contained. I found myself looking at a beautifully-drawn picture of the HQ of the Interplanetary Space Fleet and, from seeing that very first frame, I was hooked. Colonel Daniel MacGregor Dare became my hero, and remained so until well past the days of my National Service in the RAF.

As we now know, the timescale of the Dare adventures was all wrong, but it must be remembered that, at that time, space travel was still pretty much a dream, and it was not until April 12 1961 that mankind entered space in the form of Major Yuri Alexeyevitch Gagarin of the Soviet Union. It would be fully another eight years before Armstrong and Aldrin would set foot on the Moon on July 21 1969.

The Eagle had other ideas, however. According to its first storyline, by the 1990s Colonel Dare, together with Fleet Controller Sir Hubert Guest, were anxiously watching the launch of the spaceship Kingfisher, departing on a vital mission to the mysterious planet Venus, in order to try and locate new food sources for an intolerably overcrowded planet Earth. With regard to scientific fact, relatively little was known about Venus at the time, and a quite commonly-held misconception was that it could well be rather like our planet had been millions of years ago during the Jurassic period, possibly even complete with dinosaurs. This, of course, explained the often dinosaur-like creatures which Dan sometimes encountered in his travels.

Dan Date was featured on a range of 'space' toys.

Dan Date was featured on a range of ‘space’ toys.

By around Issue 9 (June 9 1950), when Spaceman Digby was deciding that he didn’t like Venus because it was messy, my parents were deciding that they did like the Eagle, because any comic with the courage to plunder the Bible and tell the story of St. Paul in full colour on its back page must be a wholesome publication.

On the basis of this supposition, my father agreed that the Eagle should be transferred for payment to the general newspaper bill for the family, along with the daily paper, John Bull and my mother’s True Story Magazine. Financially this now meant that the Hotspur could be re-instated in my reading material, but such was the pull of Dan, Pugwash, PC49, Jeff Arnold and the rest of the Marcus Morris family of comic strip characters that I never got around to re-ordering my old story comic, although I had enjoyed it thoroughly at the time.

Concerning the Dare sagas that were to come, as I had been a child during the Second World War I was particularly delighted with the Space Fleet uniform. It reminded me of those brave and somewhat devil-may-care US bomber crews whose huge Flying Fortresses had wreaked havoc over Germany. Captain Bryan of Mars Ferries was my favourite, his attire knocking spots off the Star Trek uniform, in my opinion.

With the Interplanetary Space Fleet having largely a chain of command based on standard military ranks, I found it hard to believe that even a Senior Cadet like Steve Valiant would ever have been allowed to get involved in important space missions.

Later in its career, with a newly-shaped masthead and other changes, the Eagle had lost much of its original charm according to many devotees.

Later in its career, with a newly-shaped masthead and other changes, the Eagle had lost much of its original charm according to many devotees.

As for young ‘Flamer’ Spry, I’m sorry, but that character reallyjarred with me, although I suppose one must remember that not just Dan Dare, but the whole publication, was designed for young people and not for adults. Strangely, it was the sheer brilliance of most of the artwork that made one tend to
forget that fact.

I would love to see the British film industry conjure up a director with the vision of Spielberg, who would go for broke and have the financial courage to bring the Dare team to the silver screen in a real blockbuster of a movie. For such a film, that first Venus adventure -introducing the hated Mekon -probably couldn’t be bettered. Play the Hollywood moguls
Looking back now, it is quite amazing to thing that I built up a non-stop run of pristine Eagles until well after my period of National Service was over. It was with the issue of March 2 1956 that I suddenly realised that a stunner of a woman called Margaret now meant more than even the highest quality of work from the old Hampson stable of artists.

With that March issue from more than 40 years ago, my links with a truly remarkable comic were severed, but it is interesting to note that only last year, Colonel Daniel MacGregor Dare was voted the Most Missed Character from the world of comic book art.

Richard Bradshaw