And then there was one. And the Dan Dare series came to its final story and its final format change, following in the footsteps of Heros the Spartan in being reduced to a single page.
Nothing about this story relates to any other part of the Dan Dare mythos. No characters, no spaceship designs, no element of the story is consistent with what has gone before. Just Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare and Spaceman First Class Albert Fitzwilliam Digby for a final ride, and even Digby doesn’t say anything that sounds like Digby until the penultimate episode. It’s the third of the stories that New Zealand fan Dennis Steeper left out when bringing Dan’s adventures into a coherent chronology in his Report of the Cryptos Commission, and there can be no complaints. Nothing, save the final page, fits.
The plot is very simple. In fact, it’s a straight-up, drastically shortened repeat of The Man from Nowhere/Rogue Planet. Stranger from space crashes from Earth and has to be rescued from the Ocean by Dan Dare. He comes to ask for aid for his people, who are being invaded by an alien race. Dan heads out there and saves the day, not militarily but biologically. Simples.
The stranger from space is Bro (no, he does not come from Harlem in the Nineties), his people are the Verans and they come from Jupiter. Yes, Jupiter, you must have noticed it, largest planet in the Solar System, big place, gas giant, which means it doesn’t actually have any solid ground, but who cares, eh? We are not Frank Hampson, we are not David Motton, the kids don’t know any better, fuck ’em.
The aliens are the Pittars, and they are giants. One head, two arms, two legs, about thirty times taller than Earthmen, nasty bunch, shoot first in order to avoid having to ask questions later.
And, actually, it’s not Dan who saves the day, it’s Digby. Digby who has hung around in the background all story, mostly doing absolutely nothing, and saying the odd perfunctory, purely functional line, turns out to have had a sniffle all along (completely unforeshadowed). In a blatant rip-off of H. G. Wells, Digby’s cold transfers itself to the leading Pittar (despite Digby having spent every second of contact with the Pittars with his spacesuit helmet firmly on: bloody clever germs these are.)
And it may be a cold to Digby but it’s horrendous death to the Pittars who, within the hour, have packed everybody off the planet, in close formation, and – knowing that they can never, ever, not even after scientific research and a couple of Beecham’s Powders taken with honey and lemon, defeat this plague – hightail it out of the System, never to return. Job done.
The art’s an improvement and, mostly, the colouring is excellent, though at this very late stage Watson undertakes a full redesign of spacesuits and space craft, presumably under editorial instruction, which makes this poor effort stand out even further. His Verans, Bro and his people, are very distinctive as aliens, almost Dalek-esque in their design, by which I mean they are a simple, duplicated form, recognisable in shape but looking completely inhuman.
We never actually see a Veran in the flash, as it were. They are squat, bulky, short-armed creatures, clad in heavy body armour, with flipper-like feet, beings that have been crunched down by Jupiter’s gravity that even they can only withstand due to body repulsors that negate gravity.
But, like the Daleks, they are unbelievable as a race that presumably have to eat, and drink, and undertake some form of gender oriented reproduction methods.
The whole story is like that, full of implausibilities that actively cross over into impossibilities. At one point, Dan and Digby are exposed to the full Jovian gravity, until the Verans can get them some body repulsors. Instead of being crushed flat, literally, they live through pressure equal to ten ton of bricks. Show me a human with ten ton of bricks piled on him, and I’ll show you a corpse, but, no.
This is the series that began by employing Arthur C. Clarke as Scientific Advisor until he gave up because he never had anything to correct. The Venus of Dan’s universe may well be as much a fantasy as this solid, inhabited Jupiter, but at the time Frank Hampson devised it, it was completely plausible by the scientific knowledge of the era.
But none of this matters. It was the end, and few would have wanted more stories if this was going to be the sort of thing we would get. The story of The Menace from Jupiter ended in conventional fashion in the last Eagle of 1966. In a final episode in the first issue of 1967, with an enormous sense of disconnection, there stood one final, giant panel. A caption announced that, a fortnight after his return from Jupiter, Dan Dare was invited to the Prime Minister’s Office and promoted to Controller of the Spacefleet.
His active days were over. What we would henceforth see of the Pilot of the Future would be his memoirs, or to put it another way, reprints. Which would still be new stories to eleven year old boys like me, but would mean not having to pay for artists and writers each week.
For one last time, everyone was there, to celebrate Dan’s promotion. There was the old Venus Expedition team, plus O’Malley and a grown-up Flamer Spry, looking extremely odd in Spacefleet green as opposed to Astral blue. No room for Spence or Cobb, but Wilf Banger and Uncle Ivor made it onto the podium whilst in the crowd were Therons and Atlantines, Thorks, Mercurians and Cosmobes, Crypts and Phants, a Treen who ought surely to have been Sondar and sharing that podium, Stripey, the bloody pooch Sir William Tell, Old Groupie, Kettle the wonky electrobot and a couple of others that might have been distinguishable if the colourist hadn’t chosen to blanket so many with some dingy brown shade.
But that was it. It was all over. It was the end.