It seems the only way some British comics classics are ever going to see the light of day again is if fans obtain permission to publish their own limited edition reprints. Such is the case with Hibernia Comics, who gained permission from the Dan Dare Corporation to publish a collection of The Tower King, a 32 year old strip from the pages of Eagle.
The Tower King was written by Alan Hebden and illustrated by José Ortiz, and for many of us was the highlight of the revived Eagle in 1982. This 80 page collection brings together all 24 chapters with superb reproduction on crisp white paper. The concept is brilliant boys adventure material; in the 1980s an accident with a solar power satellite triggers off the deletion of all electric power on Earth, bringing chaos and anarchy. Small groups of survivors battle for their lives in a sort of Medieval state with the remnants of what remain. One group is led by our hero, Mick Tempest, nicknamed 'The Tower King' because his people are located in the tower of London.
With the 'decompressed' methods of modern adventure comics it comes as a refreshing change to read such a tightly packed, fast-paced story. Admittedly, there's not much room for any characterization, but the action and inventiveness more than makes up for that. The structure of these old three-page episodes was to resolve the previous week's cliffhanger, pile on the action, intrigue, and excitement, and leave a new cliffhanger for the following week. Alan Hebden ably proves how absolutely brilliant he is at it. (Some modern-day stories in 2000AD seem so slow and gentle in comparison.) It's a storytelling technique that deserves far more respect from some quarters of fandom than it receives, but thankfully there are a lot of fans who do appreciate this classic method of episodic storytelling.
As for the artwork, José Ortiz was the perfect choice for this kind of tense, exciting action strip, making busy, detailed scenes look effortless. He depicts the world of The Tower King as a grimy, damaged and dangerous place, making even the sillier aspects of the plot appear convincing.
As was typical of many adventure serials of the time, the ending of The Tower King seems all too convenient and somewhat rushed. I'd guess this was due to Alan Hebden perhaps being told to wrap everything up at short notice. However, this in no way detracts from the overall story, and at least we get a proper ending, unlike some UK adventure strips which tended to leave things unresolved.
If you remember this strip from the 1980s you'll no doubt be eager to revisit it, and if it's new to you it's an ideal way to read one of the best British adventure strips of its time. Editor David McDonald and designer Richard Pearce have done a great job on this collection. Limited to just 200 copies, The Tower King is available to buy now directly from the publisher: