Favourites. There’s always one in every bunch, one that means more to you than any other, that arouses more excitement and intensity than any other, When it comes to Dan Dare, as The Stone Roses so eloquently put it, This Is The One.
All Treens Must Die! is my personal favourite, the story of my childhood that thrilled and awed me more than any other. It’s also, by general consensus among Dan Dare’s fans, the best, the most Hampson-esque story of the latter days of the series. And it represented another turning point in the history of the strip, in that this was the point at which Dan Dare returned to full colour, never to appear in monochrome again. Not in any format he had enjoyed before, but arguably even more prestigious, since Dan’s adventures now wrapped the Eagle around, appearing on both the front and back covers.
It’s beautifully drawn by Watson, and Eric Eden’s colours are gorgeously deployed to give perhaps the strongest post-Hampson art.
Yet the story has a very simple, linear line, and it is only 20 episodes in length (according to David Motton, it was originally planned to run for 22 weeks, though he could recall neither what had had to be cut, nor the reason for the truncation).
All Treens Must Die! is as much a follow on from The Wandering World as was The Big City Caper. We have dealt with Xel, now it is time to look to the other captive, who faces trial on Earth for his crimes around the Solar System.
Needless to say, the Mekon is surrounded by massive security, both in prison and in his daily transport to and from the Court buildings. Dan attends, watching proceedings, the application of proper Earth justice. It’s the demonstration that Earth’s system, Earth’s code, works.
Not all is well, however. Major Spence is also attending proceedings and is disturbed to receive an irate call from Banger, protesting against orders apparently emanating from Spence that are sending him and Cob to Venus. Banger has too much on to leave Earth at this point and he makes it plain that he has no intention of following these orders. On the other hand, there are Treens in his and Cob’s quarters…
Dan’s concerned enough to call Banger back, although there’s no answer. But he’s even more concerned when, checking Banger’s quarters, he finds them trashed and his two friends gone. The Police are not yet inclined to take it seriously, until a call comes in from the prison because, as we had all been expecting, the Mekon has escaped. And he has gotten off Earth and onto a Venus transport in the luggage of Banger and Cob, drugged and hypnotised into assisting.
There’s a full scale flap on about finding the Mekon, but the clue comes from Banger himself. Waking from his drugged state, he takes the typically aggressive step of forcing his way into the cabin and sending out a partial message, before he is clubbed down with brutal contempt from the Mekon. But he has succeeded in broadcasting both his personal call-sign and the letter M-E-K.
Dan and Digby head for Mekonta in the Anastasia, for our first reunion in years with President (no longer Governor) Sondar, who has not been seen since The Phantom Fleet. Sondar can provide some additional clues from seemingly unconnected incidents in recent months: a mutiny on three ships, the disappearance into the Flame-Belt of fifty Treens who have not been found.
This latter leads Dan and Dig to investigate the Flame-Belt, which is where the Mekon has made his base. The Earth passengers, including Banger and Cob, have been abandoned here to die, but the Anastasia finds them in time and, though too massively overloaded to fly, manages to get the hapless passengers far enough away for proper rescue.
Dan’s presence, and his interference, spurs the Mekon into advancing his attack. A submarine craft enters the Mekontan lagoon, and the Mekon launches a vicious assault on the main island. His merest appearance sees Treens en masse deserting to his colours, but the truly shocking thing is that they are gunned down, mercilessly, in those self-same masses. As the title proclaims: All Treens Must Die.
What lies behind this is a mystery. The Mekon’s plan appears to be, indeed is no less than the complete genocide of the Treen race, despite its willingness to support him. The stakes are raised high, far higher than an eight year old boy had ever encountered in his fiction previously.
Yet it is not this aspect that lifted the story for me. I have yet to come to that.
The Mekon is incredibly well-prepared. Indeed, too well-prepared, with equipment and soldiers, especially for someone who has not only just escaped from Earth custody, but who was absent in space on The Wandering World for most if not all the past three years. He has to have allies, but who on Earth, or Venus, could they be?
It is at this point that Sondar pulls the veritable rabbit out of the hat. It would be years, decades, before I would read The Ship That Lived so that I was not aware that they had been referenced at any previous time, but Motton takes this moment to go back almost the whole of my life, to ‘The Last Three’.
They are, apparently, a legend of Venus’s early times, ‘The Immortal Last Three of Venus’, and it’s significant that every piece of data regarding them has been wiped from Mekontan records. But they are a clue, and so too is an innocuous looking device left behind by the Mekon’s forces, a translucent ball in a metal frame.
This is Cob’s territory, and his tinkering soon establishes that it is giving off a weak signal to somewhere in the Flame-Belt.
This is enough to decide Dan. Leaving Banger behind to assist Sondar in a defence against another attack, he takes Digby and Cob back to the Flame-Belt in Anastasia, just in time to locate the Mekon’s base as a new wave of ships are sent out to support the Mekon in another murderous attack on Mekonta, another slaughter of the Treens.
Dan gains access to the base with Cob, Digby having sensibly but reluctantly been sent on to the south to enlist Theron aid: after all, they know him. Inside the base, Dan and Cob are quickly separated, and the former captured. The latter, finding himself blocked off from escape, starts to strip down machinery, bringing his technical skills to bear. Dan, meanwhile, is dragged by robots through a super-automated factory until he is brought in from of a gigantic Treen eye. And for Martin Crookall of Openshaw, Manchester, age eight, the story exploded.
There were only four weeks to go, and four banner front pages which built one upon another to elevate this story out of all rational attempts to analyse it.
A front page banner drawing reveals to us a Treen of ancient face, no longer wholly organic. His arms and legs have been replaced by metallic limbs. He is the first of the Last Three, the master of mechanism. Dan Dare is dismissed as mechanically insignificant, of no interest, to be dismissed. All the while that this fantastic figure – a Treen cyborg, long before I was ever to encounter that word – continues the task of administering this vast manufactory, uninterrupted.
If the Mekon was a superbrain, how far beyond him was this creature, this part-machine,showing even less emotion?
Dismissed, Dan was flung away, literally, into a cloud of swirling mists in which his every thought and feeling was pored through and he was escorted through his own life. This was represented by a glorious panel in which everyone – everyone – who had ever been of importance to the Dan Dare series, appeared. Faces and figures, human and otherwise, a bare handful of which meant something to me then. It was an awe-inspiring moment, a kaleidoscope of stories, tales and adventures unknown to me, strangers who were yet of significance and I wanted to know who each of these were, what they were called, what they meant.
Even earlier than the mind-expanding effects of the incredible sequence in Justice League of America 37, in which the Thunderbolt ranges up and down time, obliterating origins, in this panel I was looking across Time itself.
Then the final panel and those words: “Dan Dare, you are living the last hour of your life!”
And a week passed, revealing the second of the last three: a gloating, floating Supertreen, poised yogicly in thin air, without arms, or so it seemed, for these have merged into the gigantic globic head, bigger even by far than the Mekon himself, impossibly so, even more inhuman. Dan Dare has caused the Mekon’s failures, and so he must die.
And the plan is unfolded, made explicit. The Treen race has failed. It has failed the Mekon, and so All Treens Must Die. The present race has been condemned, and a new Treen race, pure, unsullied, will be born to take up its proper place in the Universe, as conquerors in the Mekon’s name.
Frank Hampson, in devising the Treens and the Mekon at the beginning, had the coldness of the Nazis in his mind. Motton makes that connection flesh, in this story.
And Dan is flung away, to fall again. Meanwhile, in Mekonta, the Mekon has all but taken the city. But there is a message, Cob playing a distant but significant part, transmitting over and over the letter ‘D’. And at the thought of Dare among his allies, the Mekon panics. It’s a foreshadowing moment. The Mekon cracks, giving way to emotion, and in a very short time, this will prove his downfall.
Dan lands on a slab and lies there stunned. Asking where he is, he receives the answer, “This is the place called Life – the place of your extermination and Death.”
Thus the final part of the tryptich, the Last of the Three. Unlike the others, we do not see him clearly, from above, but from below, always at an angle. For he has the form of a normal Treen, albeit much taller, and he lacks the excessive brain-pan. But the Third of the Three is red-skinned, and he is served by Red Treens whose skin colour is even deeper in tone.
He has two questions to ask: “Would you die to save a broken machine?” and “Is dying to save a useless object called ‘Courage?’” For this ultimately what Treens are to Mekons: machines. He is the Breeder, and behind him in vats lie the new Treens, the Pure Treens, who will not be released until the least possible chance is gone that they may be afflicted by Sondar’s condition. They are why All Treens Must Die.
And why Dan must fight now, for himself, for Venus and the Solar System.
Then it’s on into the final episode, and those three portraits of the Last Three are completed by the Mekon, arriving at the head of his troops, to the sudden destruction of his plans. For the Third of the Three is dead, his neck broken by Dan, the stakes so high that our hero must kill. Then, as he climbs back to the halls of the First, he is confronted by the Mekon, who strikes with a tongue of flame, but too hasty, for Dan evades, the First dies and the factory, deprived of its mind, erupts into chaos. And the Mekon reacts in anger, anger towards the Second, the planner whose plans have failed, have ended in success by Dan Dare, yet again, and the supposedly-emotion free Mekon kills, and the Last Three are Immortal no longer.
But before the Mekon can attack Dan, the roof falls in on top of him, a hole blown in the mountain by Digby arriving in proper deus ex machina fashion with the Treens. And it’s over.
I know I’ve gone on too much about those four last episodes, but they’re why I can’t be objective about All Treens Must Die! I know that I can say that the end, in its final tier of panels, is too abrupt, that those two extra episodes should have been expended. I know that I can say that the penultimate episode, and the panel devoted to the Third, would have looked better without the top-of-the-page ballyhoo about the jointure of Eagle with the failed Boy’s World (bringing over the tedious British version of Iron Man).
But this one’s my story, my favourite. And I’m ready to read it again.