Dan Dare: “Give me the Moon!”

Frank Hampson, being watched closely by his masters

At least Watson’s artwork, for the most part, was back up to its usual standard, and the colouring was once again meticulous, but in all other respects, “Give Me The Moon!”, Dan Dare’s penultimate story, was a crock.
It starts off adequately, with the Tempus Frangit‘s landing after two and a half years in space, on the Vega expedition (a veil had better be drawn over the length of time Dan and Co have been away). The crew are met by Major Spence who, as we shall see in this story, has very much gone up in this world, if not in rank. Spence, who has transformed from the fussy, prim, nervous administrator of before into a hyper-competent, extremely confident controller (different writer, I’ll swear to it) dedicates himself to briefing the crew over the changes the world has seen in their absence, which primarily consist of new, automated, crew-free, faster, bigger load-bearing food transports from Venus.
It’s an odd return to the theme of the very first Dan Dare story, and in all the years between, not only is Earth still dependant upon food shipments from the planet of the Treens and Therons, it is still desperately close to famine and disaster if they are in the least disrupted.
And disrupted they are, by a mysterious terrorist organisation going under the name of Fist. And Fist has a demand in return for giving up its campaign of terror, destruction and world-wide starvation: it wants the Moon.
Fist: we are so in the James Bond Sixties, aren’t we?
A story like this stands or falls on its basic premise, and even as a ten-year-old boy, I knew that there was something fundamentally dodgy about the idea of Fist demanding the Moon. What was it going to do with it? Especially when the Government still had the Earth. It was just a flashy, big, dumb, daft idea, and it’s lack of plausibility was made explicit in mid-story when, with the terrorist organisation at the height of its campaign, someone actually asks what they want with the Moon when they’ve practically got the Earth?
That’s a case of being too clever by half. Fist – which has appeared out of nowhere, with World Security completely unprepared – is too big and too strong. It has resources everywhere, men and machines setting up attacks all over the globe, it can vanish at a moment’s notice, abandoning the organisation’s entire superstructure and not be weakened, it can create a projection of solid light cones that enables an entire spacefleet invade the moon, and this monstrously overwhelming, secret organisation is controlled by a single mind, and a mind with a day job: he’s doing all this in his spare time!
It’s beyond the least bit of credibility, and even the boy I was could see this.
That criminal mastermind spends most of his time in the story flitting around Spacefleet HQ, where he holds the important post of Commissionaire. Dan looks at him with curiosity on his return from Vega, and Spence names him as ex-spaceman Benny Clark, injured in the battle with Xel and the Tritons, restored by plastic surgery and given heavyweight, coloured lens glasses that compensate for his enforced blindness.
But he’s really Laszlo Romanov, the supposedly-dead head of ‘Big M’, an engineering empire inherited from Magnus Romanov’s ‘Magnus Group’. Laszlo, who was born blind, is supposed to have died in a Mars spacecraft accident, after which ‘Big M’ was broken up. Funnily, almost every piece of equipment recovered from Fist is derived from ‘Big M’.
In a way, the notion of Fist’s commander hiding out in so humble a role is very clever: a lowly official, forever on the scene in his menial role, his presence taken for granted, he is ideally placed to eavesdrop. But, like Fist itself, the amount of information – truly sensitive information – he picks up is far too great for plausibility.
And to have his headquarters disguised as a water tanker on the roof of the apartment block in which he lives stretches credulity to the point where it just goes twang!
As for the telling of the story, it’s in much the same mode as The Singing Scourge, all disasters and cliffhangers and colossal bangs. Watson is given a final shot at calling up past characters as Lex O’Malley – still captaining Poseidon – is found in charge of food supplies in the South Indian Ocean and becomes, for a time, part of a triumvirate of chiefs responsible for combating the threat of Fist to the world’s food.
I say for a time for, about two-thirds of the way through, O’Malley drops out of the story, completely forgotten, as Banger and John F. become the troubleshooters who finally track down Clark/Romanov and his secret HQ.
That’s not the only sloppiness about this story. At one point, a list of possible intelligence leaks from Spacefleet HQ is produced, with Clark’s name at the very top. But Dan, who has seen the Commissionaire gun down two unimportant Fist hirelings, swears faith in Clark, insistently so, heading off any actual investigation. Then, several weeks later, when Fist is starting to look more and more like a Laszlo Romanov operation, suddenly Dan’s staking his whole belief on Benny actually being Laszlo, without a word to prepare us for such a volte-face.
The worst moment of all relates to Digby, however. He and Dan, in Anastasia, go out to investigate the Fist satellite, only to be paralysed, like the ship, by electrical defences. Digby is captured and taken on board the satellite to be put to death: his spacesuit is ejected from an airlock.
There’s no two ways about it, Digby has been done for, and here are stiff expressions of regret from Lex, but not Dan. And the Wigan Wonder is out of the story for weeks until, Dan having decided to trick Fist into coming out into the open by actually giving it the Moon, there’s an off-hand reference to Fist, as a goodwill gesture, giving Digby back, alive.
It’s nonsense, utter nonsense, being written by someone who can’t be bothered to give the story the remotest element of consistency or plausibility. If this is indeed the work of Frank Pepper, then it’s negligible: less meant to last for five minutes and then be forgotten, than written in half that time and forgotten twice as fast. The Earth-Stealers was dire, but that was simply bad: it wasn’t done with anything like this level of underlying contempt for the intelligence of its readership.
I’ve already said that Watson’s art, and the colour palette both improve distinctly from the longer part of The Singing Scourge and it’s necessary to point out that John F.’s skin colour and his features go back to their original distinctiveness, though Watson – due to editorial direction? – does to his best to avoid showing the American’s face too clearly most of the time.
But really, “Give Me The Moon!” demonstrates just how rapidly downhill things were going. And then there was only one left.

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