The Menace from Jupiter was the last Dan Dare story to appear in Eagle, but before we end this sequence, there’s an oddity to consider. Not a story from one of the Annuals, nor any of the other Eagle-related publications that came out from Hulton, or Odhams, or Longacre. But a genuine, little-considered but authentic Sixties adventure.
Mission to the Stars was the only Dan Dare adventure to appear outside Eagle. From 20 April to 4 October 1964, 29 weeks in b&w, three tiers a week, Dan’s extraneous adventure appeared in the Sunday People, drawn by Don Harley and written by William Patterson, best known as the scripter for Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke strip in the Daily Express.
As far as I am aware, the only place in which this story can be read, outside of those who carefully clipped each instalment out of the People, every week, and preserved them carefully in their collections, is in The Dan Dare Dossier, a wonderfully informative book published by Hawk Books as a companion to their Facsimile Reprint Series. At the time of writing (July 23rd), there were three copies available on eBay, starting from £16.00.
I’d recommend getting the Dossier for itself, but not if all you want is Mission to the Stars. Reproduction is not consistent: approximately two-thirds of the story is printed neatly, with good, clean line-work, from the original art or at least first generation negatives, but the rest of the episodes, at random, look to have been shot from photocopies of very different standards.
Even if the entire story was printed from the highest quality originals, I still can’t say much in favour of this story. It features Dan, Digby and Wilf Banger on a hyperspace mission in Copernicus II, on a mission to track down the Copernicus I, lost on a mission to Alpha Centaurus five years earlier. There, the trio discover a machine civilisation, robots out to steal the Copernicus II’s overdrive, in order to spread their metal rule throughout the Universe.
These robots have the power to teleport things, and also to duplicate the ‘fleshmen’, which they start by impersonating Digby, except that they haven’t noticed that they duplicate things the wrong way round, making Digby left-handed.
To be honest, it’s a dull and uninspired story, unable to rise above the central improbability of robots, with no apparent creator but themselves, turning out to be identical to cheap, dictator obsessed human villains. Given the timing, and assuming a short lead-in to the serial, it’s possible that Patterson may have been ‘inspired’ by the very recent debut of the Daleks in the fledgling Dr Who Saturday early evening children’s serial.
But Patterson brings nothing to the idea. His Dan and Banger are mere cyphers, and though Digby has the glimmerings of the ‘other ranks’ personality, he’s nowhere near the Lancashire lad we are so familiar with.
This is doubly disappointing. Patterson was so witty and subtle on Jeff Hawke that his era on the series is universally recognised as definitive. He was so much better than this effort, which is just phoned in. And given that this series appeared in a Sunday newspaper directed at an audience of adults, it is a cruel irony that Mission to the Stars turned out to be so much simpler and unimaginative than the stories still being aimed at 7 – 12 year olds.
I’m going to exempt Don Harley from most criticism, given that he was trapped by both the limited range of the story and the restricted space of the format. What he does is perfectly good, though he is far from convincing on Banger’s moustache, and he is as always neat and precise. Though used to drawing for colour on Eagle, he understands the differing demands of black and white
But I can’t help but be disappointed with his Alpha Centaurus robots, who are weedy collations of cones, circles and tubes with little logic to their design, who look like they could be pushed over by a six year old.
Overall, for completists only and they should approach it with large amounts of salt. It has no bearing upon the main Dan Dare sequence, though Denis Steeper will fit it into his Chronology where he boggled (rightly) at trying to incorporate The Menace from Jupiter.
An anomaly, in all respects, a sidebar before the true end.