Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Let The Eagle Soar

I didn't have American comix when I was a kid. A couple came my way and I was baffled. The cultural differences were so great that they might have been in a foreign language. One of the ones I aquired was a cowboy comic. It was so much more brutal than anything I was used to. The final image of two cowpokes riding away from Boot Hill with a grave-marker in the foreground disturbed me so much that I hid it away under other books and magazines in my book-case. I didn't want to look at it for fear of nightmares.

So the whole culture of the super hero leaves me cold. All I see in it is that infantile obsession with musculature which I renounced around the time I started noticing girls.

What I had in place of real comix was a thing called the Eagle.
It was published by a dodgy former clergyman called the Rev Marcus Morris- who later went on the publish soft porn. Morris's Eagle was a quasi-educational magazine- high-toned and reassuringly expensive, intended to stouten the hearts of young sons of the Empire. Its star strip- printed on the front page and drawn by the great Frank Bellamy- featured Dan Dare, pilot of the Future- a Battle of Britain type in an RAF cap (I believe he may even have smoked a pipe) who flew space-ships and battled against a huge-headed, green, inter-Galactic super-genius called the Mekon.

If you'd said "Batman" to me- I'd have pictured Digby- Dan Dare's personal body servant- a comical little cockney chap- who was amusing and plucky in the best traditions of the London Blitz.

But Dan Dare didn't particularly ring my chimes. I was a swot (an amusing mid-century word for nerd) and what I liked best were the strips celebrating great heroes from British history. King Harold, for instance. O the flowing Saxon locks, the jutting chin, the piercing blue eyes, the sheer, unadulterated nobility!

And then there was Robert Clive- the guy who stole India for the British- and General Gordon- who got sheesh-kebabed on a jihadi's spear at Khartoum (they didn't tell us about the religious mania and the alcoholism) and Bernard Law Mongomery (whom I saw in the flesh once) the funny, little lisping gnome who "twounced Wommel" at el Alamein and later spatted with Eisenhower and committed us to a Bridge Too Far.

It amazes me. Only fifty years ago- less than that- and the self-conceit of the British was still intact. We were a martial, imperial nation- and a strip showing Clive (in reality a thief and psychopath) displaying noble disdain for cringing oriental types- dashing them and their proffered bribes to the floor with a manly Saxon swipe- could be published in a kiddies' mag and not a voice be raised in protest.

Yesterday's high-toned kiddy-fare is today's guilty secret. Forget about it. Hide it away. To the modern mind Morris took a step up the moral ladder when he jacked in the Eagle for porn.

I'd have done better with Batman. Or would I? Oh I don't know.
The Eagle was pretty much the last gasp of Empire. We'd already given India away and made asses of ourselves at Suez. Next thing down the line was Monty Python- with all those jokes about chaps in pith helmets. One thing leads to another. The lion's carcass shelters bees and the bees make honey.
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