Dan Dare: The Big City Caper


                           It had only just been built when this was drawn

The Big City Caper completed the trilogy of stories that go to make up Motton and Watson’s ‘hybrid’ year. It’s another short story, of similar length to those of the monochrome year, but it follows directly upon the two previous combined adventures, and its brevity was, I assume, dictated by the forthcoming changes expected to Eagle, of which more next time round.
For the moment, this mini-adventure started with a full-page cover of the Tempus Frangit and the Mekon’s ship landing at Spacefleet HQ. It’s a spectacular, sunlit scene, made all the more enjoyable by the distinct presence, in the bottom right foreground, of four familiar figures, greeting an old friend on his return: Hank Hogan, Pierre Lafayette, Professor Peabody and Lex O’Malley. None of this quartet play a part in the story, but this is Watson’s tip of the hat to the Hampson years, and a timely hint that, even if they don’t appear in adventures any more, Dan and Digby still remember old friends.
The Mekon is handed over into custody, to await trial for his crimes against humanity, but Xel, still suffering from the burns sustained at the Mekon’s hands, is rushed into hospital. Nothing seems, at this point, to be planned for the One in One Thousand Million, except medical attention.
Which is an easily foreseeable mistake. The opening episode isn’t over before Dan pays a call to check up on Xel’s condition, and a domineering Matron, commanding her patient to sit up and be cheerful for his guests, sets him off good and proper. Xel is off on the rampage, in London.
Unfortunately, a promising situation rapidly turns embarrassing when Xel starts to build an army among the disaffected youth. Bored teenagers, unhappy at life with their unhip parents. But this is 1964, Swinging London is still a couple of years away and, though the free-flying birds are not as embarrassing in their slang as other comics would be in the middle of the decade, the very idea and the attitudes are wince-making now.
The bored ‘rebels’ are led by ‘Dickie’ Bird (who was more or less the same age as the would be Yorkshire cricketer and Umpire of the future – I wonder if he knew?) and include among their number one Nigel Dare, Dan’s nephew.
Nothing more is said to fix the exact relationship of the family. We’ve already met an Alastair Dare, nephew to Dan and an Olympic runner, in an early Annual, so the likelihood is that Nigel is Alastair’s younger brother. Logically, they must be sons to a brother of Dan, as any sister who had given birth would certainly have done so within the sanctity of marriage, where their surnames would have been different. But there’s no familial enquiries, no ‘How’s your Dad?’ or ‘Is your Mum well?’ Is young Nigel an orphan, or is Dan just emotionally distant from his family? Who knows?
In the end, the story just peters out. The teenagers don’t have the innate fire of rebellion in them and give up at the first sign of discomfort, Xel can’t drug or hypnotise them as he did his Stollite subjects, and besides, Digby managed to get a shot off at him in episode 3 and by episode 11 it’s penetrated far enough through Xel’s body armour to affect him. Collapse of would-be dictator (literally), collapse of rebellion. It’s all a bit pathetic, but not in the category of Dan’s solution: he’s going to set aside a portion of his pay to fund a satellite colony where the bored young can experiment with their own society: like that’s going to pay for it real soon.

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