Dan Dare: Operation Fireball


Motton and Watson’s third story ran for a comparatively expansive twelve weeks. It was back to the world-menacing disaster formula of Operation Earth-saver, though this time the menace was not world-wide but confined to the Atlantic Ocean, and consisted of an unquenchable fireball the size (and heat) of a small sun, floating on the water and bringing heat-related catastrophe firstly to Florida and the Caribbean, and then spinning on its tail and beetling off in the direction of the English Channel.
Dan and Digby are there for the start of things, pulling routine freighter escort duty on a Mars freighter which bursts into the eponymous fireball almost as soon as they set eyes on it, but spend most of the story in space, on Mars, at the Parelli Cobalt Mine, digging into just what the miners have been digging out of the Red Planet that is so volatile.
The story may be set in space but, in what has already become a formula, Motton keeps cutting back to Earth for the latest update on the Fireball, and who and how it is threatening. And he also has an odder, more lightweight excuse to flick back to the mother planet, because he’s started his story with a class of schoolboys (led by a pretty class mistress) getting Digby’s autograph and constantly asking for the news the spaceman had promised to give them.
The culprit in all this is Mr Cragg, the Parelli Mine Manager. He’s not evil as such, not in the positive sense of von Malus, he’s just a greedy, self-centred bastard who’s discovered a source of incredibly profuse gold and diamonds that he’s intent on converting into unlimited personal wealth.
Excuse me, but this is Mars, isn’t it? Red planet, population extinct, wiped out by the Red Moon, we’ve been here before. Suddenly, it now houses a secret underground population of midget Martians, looking nothing at all like Dortan-uth-Algar’s people, who use some kind of strange solution siphoned off the sap of an underground fungus which is incredibly corrosive and dissolves rock into the aforementioned gold and diamonds.
At least, that’s what I think it does. I’m not certain, because Motton gets lost in the middle of his story. The cargo that’s blossomed into the fireball is Cragg’s secret stash for himself, which is presumably gold and diamonds, not things noted as being particularly flammable, and he seems to be discovering the sap-solution along with Dan and Digby, so he can’t have sent any Earth-side before now, but it’s the sap-solution that is both volatile enough to explode into another fireball, and yet at the same time be exactly what’s needed to put the fireball out.
This I don’t understand.
Either way, Cragg gets his comeuppance in the shape of his own mini-fireball, which is what serves to alert Dan and Digby as to just how bloody dangerous this sap-solution is to move around. The second half of the story is of them flying it, incredibly gently, back to bomb the Fireball, put it out and save the day.
The story ends with the class arriving for a full debrief from a fagged-out Digby, Dan gently ribbing him about the price of fame and then discovering they’re all after him: they all got Digby’s autograph in episode 1!
As for the miniature Martians, you can forget about them. After all, Motton, Watson and Longacre did, immediately, as you’d imagine. Apart from recording that Keith Watson’s art is again sensational in its use of black line and grey wash, that’s about it for this one.

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