Eagle Volume 7 (1956)


Original art

It must have been a breeze to have been editor of Eagle in 1956. The classic line-up was in place, and stayed throughout Volume 7. The comic was cruising or, given the nature of the bird, soaring on the wing.
There was a year of Frank Hampson, and his slimmed-down and highly-functioning studio working at their peak on ‘Rogue Planet’, the middle part of the ‘Man from Nowhere’ Trilogy. The story ran the enrtire year, leaving only its surprising coda to come in the next Volume, as a lead-in to the final part of the Trilogy. After a six month absence, Flamer Spry returned from the dead. There were rich planet-scapes and glorious alien cities, and seascapes and cultures, and Hampson signing principal assistant Don Harley’s name alongside his, recognising the contribution of the Second Best Dan Dare Artist in the World’.
On page 3, Alan Stranks and John Worsley took PC49 and the Boy’s Club, with its core membership of Toby Moore, Giglamps, the Mulligan Twins, Tiki and little Bunny Cotton through the end of ‘The Case of the New Member’, the tightly-run thirteen round of ‘The Case of the Square Ring’ and into danger at sea for a holiday in ‘The Case of the Crazy Cruise’. The year ended with the start of ‘The Case of the TV terror’ and Archie’s only in-strip confession of his radio name, Archibald Berkeley-Willoughby. But PC49 the radio series was dead three years by now, and 49 lived on only in this one weekly page.
After a five week underwater exploration with famed diver Hans Hass, McDonald Hastings, ESI, returned for a long trip to India, several weeks of which being dedicated to photos rather than accounts. He then followed up on one reader’s request with a four part consideration of UFOs, providing an even-handed account of what was then known about the subject, and coming to no other conclusion than that to imagine that we were the only form of life in the Universe was ridiculous. In a comic edited by a Church of England Vicar, who still took services once a week, this was a remarkably open conclusion to be permitted.

E.S.I. and Indian friend

Mac would go on from his investigation of the stars to a rather more hands on visit to northern Norway, meeting the Lapps and visiting the most northerly town in the world, inside the Arctic Circle, where the day last six months, and so does the night.
‘Professor Puff and his Dog Wuff’ occupied the lower part of the sports page for another year, with their curiously anodyne version of children’s fantasy and unhumorous settings, whilst directly opposite, Riders of the Range had another strong year.
‘The Terror of the Pecos’, continuing the long story begun with ‘The Heir of Duncrieff’ ended with Jeff Arnold successfully keeping the Army and the Indians from war, and with young Matt returning voluntarily from life with the Indians, bringing with him his friend Pinaro, son of the Chief, who is to return with Matt to Scotland and enjoy an education there.
Frank Humphris took a nine-week sabbatical for ‘The Wreckers’, drawn in a more brightly coloured style by an uncredited Giorgio Bellavitis, before returning for ‘The Hooded Menace’, during which Jeff’s shirt got burned and he changed it again, albeit not drastically. There was just time before the end of the Volume to start ‘Jeff Arnold and Billy the Kid’. This marked a change in the series as, from this point onwards, Chilton’s stories would relate to real life characters and events, and would keep as closely as possible to the historical reality of such stories.
Luck of the Legion completed its adventure ‘South of Senegal’ and returned to the desert for ‘Shadow of the Scimitar’, featuring a renegade Legion Captain commanding a Toureg tribe, in which our intrepid trio found themselves taking an early motor car across the sands to a friendly chief.

The latterday Tweed

Things started to look up for Jack O’Lantern, with ‘The Prisoner of Newgate’ ending for victory for bare-knuckle fighter Jem Slammer, the exposure of Uncle Humphrey as a French spy and his death at his own side’s hands, the vindication and pardon of Captain Yorke and Jem and the restoration to the Yorke’s of family home, Brackens.
Not that it lasted. The Captain was sent back to war, along with faithful Corporal Kettle, leaving Jack to travel to the South West, in ‘The Moonshiners’ to reside with his cousin Rufus, an effete, lisping fop. At the same time, English-born French spy, Captain Zero, is springing French prisoners from local prisons and getting them back to France with the aid of the local smuggling network.
Rufus turned out to be a Naval Intelligence Officer operating under his wisping, sorry, lisping cover, but the story ended in disaster, with Rufus captured and taken to France. Jack swore to rescue him, which is where the next story, ‘Man Hunt’ began, shortly before Xmas.
Now it was established, the ‘Eagle Club’ was confined mainly to the editor’s page, after which The Three J’s went through their usual routine of school and holiday adventures. a slapstick story about Jacko inheriting a potentially valuable stamp segued into a holiday adventure in Spain, during which Specs’ resemblance to the boy-King of a small European country led to a) trouble and b) the Prince coming to Northbrook, that is, until Specs was kidnapped in his place, as a means of forcing the Prince back to the throne under the Regency of his evil uncle. Business as usual.
And the same for ‘Harris Tweed’ as John Ryan continued his new practice of ‘serial’ stories lasting about six weeks each, with a vague link to the next one.
Storm Nelson – Sea Adventurer concluded ‘The Quest of the Southern Cross’ successfully, of course, with a double dose of disguise: Storm fixes himself with a fake beard to pose as a Swedish captain, and Jonah McCann, infiltrating the bad guy’s crew, shaved off his own to evade detection.

Nelson by Bellavitis

Richard E Jennings was back in place for ‘The Quest of the Blazing Boomerang’, still set in Australian waters, but from there the Silver Fleet transferred to Canada and the Great Lakes, with the crew becoming temporary members of the Mounties in order to operate on Canadian territory for ‘The Blue Beaver Mystery’.
Inside the back page, George Cansdale’s half-page nature series about various animals continued to impress, with awesome nature art throughout the year from Tom Adams. The other half of the page saw the introduction of a new feature, again at reader’s request, ‘He wants to be a…’ Most weeks, there would be a short account of various professions different types of boys wished to follow: the qualities required for it, the course of training, the constant reference to the (deferred) National Service that dates this series even more than the massive salaries the boys could earn when they are successful: £365 per annum! It’s terribly dated but it’s a social picture of the times since the roles involved vary between intellectual professions such as Doctors, Dentists and Solicitors, and skilled manual trades like Plumbers and Plasterers.
On the back page, Norman Williams continued to preside over The Great Adventurers. The first half of the year was devoted to Charlemagne, ending not with his death but his elevation to Emperor, after which the scene shifted to ‘The Great Sailor’, Horatio Nelson (down to one eye and one arm by year’s end, but still a way away from Trafalgar.
Thus was Eagle in 1956, it’s peak year. In the next volume, changes would begin. It would never be such a classic comic again. There was a lot of good stuff to come, and the decline would, at first, be slow and difficult to see. But from such a line-up as this, such a set of writers and artists working in such complete command of their skills, any change could only be for the worst.

Farewell to the Admiral


It’s today been announced that the actress Rosemary Leach has died at the age of 81. She’d kept busy though I haven’t seen her in anything for decades, literally. I remember her from the Sixties and Seventies as a pretty young woman, not a sexy girl, but always appealing, with her short, fair hair and one of those faces that seemed always ready to break into a smile.

I don’t remember anything specific that she appeared in, and none of the credits in Wikipedia are things I would have watched or, in one instance, would have been allowed to watch.

The last thing I remember seeing her in, and the DVD of which I have not five minutes ago bought through eBay, was the 1984 BBC1 series, Swallows and Amazons For Ever!, in which Rosemary Leach starred as Mrs Barrible, aka The Admiral.

The series, which was enjoyable to watch without being outstanding, consisted of eight episodes, four each devoted to adapting two of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books, which caused considerable consternation and confusion among the critics, who couldn’t cope with the fact that the series didn’t include a single Swallow or one Amazon.

That’s because the series adapted the two Norfolk Broads books, Coot Club and The Big Six, starring the D’s, Dick and Dorothea Callum, and the Coot Club, making this to only adaptation, to my knowledge, of anything other that Swallows and Amazons itself.

It was good fun, and a sequel adapting Winter Holiday and Pigeon Post was mooted, but never got beyond mooting stage.

I’m going to enjoy watching that again, and Rosemary Leach one more time, though she was no longer the slim and svelte young woman I remember. She always was a delight. They’ll have one hell of a repertory company up there.

Congratulations President Trump


Now that’s attracted your attention, hasn’t it? Normally, those words have no meaning in English unless spoken in deeply sarcastic tones (alright, this once I will admit to using sarcasm where I normally only speak with deep and bitter irony, but, let’s face it, Trump’s too shallow for anything more than sarcasm). However, the Combover Crybaby (cf. Tim Fenton) has announced that he will not block the release of over 3,000 never before publicly seen and over 30,000 previously redacted National Archive documents pertaining to the Kennedy Assassination, long my favourite conspiracy theory.

Credit where credit’s due, though no doubt the dumbfuck will do something to fuck it up literally within seconds.

Hey, maybe the real assassin was Trump’s dad, from the grassy knoll? Wouldn’t that just be brilliant?

The Day I Went Back


Wainwright’s Favourite

Many years ago, in the first half of the Nineties, on a whim I decided to commit myself to playing every album I had – CD, vinyl, tape – during the year. When you live alone, you can do oddball things like that. I can’t remember how many albums I had then, but it was probably more than 400. That’s a lot of listening: I got to the last album somewhere in the early weeks of December.
Three or four years later, and a substantial number of additional albums in my collection (I was a considerably more voracious acquirer back then, when there seemed to be more good music) I decided to repeat the exercise. This time, I had listened to everything by the middle of May.
The difference was that, second time round, I was a lot more methodical about the task. I planned, I executed, I zipped through.
I mention this because my fellow blogger George has suggested I write about a particular walk that has a poignant element for me, and my lack of method first time round the Wainwrights was in its way responsible for that day.
I’ve spoken before of how my Dad, Stanley Crookall, introduced me to fellwalking in 1966, and of how reluctant, and complaining, I was. I grew out of it reasonably quickly, or at least that’s what I remember, but I have never forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the fells. I went on to complete the Wainwrights, and a part of that achievement was to do what Dad would have loved to do, and to see all these things that were denied him by the cancer that took him away from the fells, and eventually from us all, before he reached the age of 42.
I would love to set out on another Wainwright Round, go back to all those 214 summits (with especial reference to High Stile, Dodd, Scale Fell and Seat Sandal, from which I have not seen any views). But I know that it’s impossible, and my body wouldn’t let me. I have my doubts about getting to even a low summit again, given the state of my right knee.
But if I were to tackle the Wainwrights again, I would be methodical. There would be a plan, and it would be efficient. Not like the first time round, where planning did not extend beyond a Big Walk for the last day, and trying not to use the same Wainwright book twice.
There would be no holes in the jigsaw ‘next time’, no little fells in awkward corners that hadn’t tagged on to larger rounds, leaving me, as I neared the end of the list, with the prospect of short walks that didn’t amount to a full day’s expedition. Such as Fleetwith Pike.
Everyone who knows Buttermere knows Fleetwith Pike, and everyone who’s looked at even a small selection of Lake District photos knows the stunning view from its summit of the Buttermere valley, with the two lakes stretching out in a line. From the valley, the ridge is an obvious temptation, a straight, steep prow leading directly to the top.
On its own, Fleetwith Pike is maybe a half-day outing, with no real appealing route of return. To make it into a decent day, it was obvious that I should combine it with Haystacks, circuiting the short Warnscale valley, and returning via Scarth Gap. I have been to Haystacks before. It had been one of the very earliest fells I had climbed, or rather, we had climbed: the whole family.
My Buttermere walks were always done from Keswick, and for something at the head of the valley, I would cross Newlands Hause, pulling up at the top to allow my engine a chance to recover from that final steep pitch, after the bend, where there was never time to get out of first gear, and then that steep descent to Buttermere Village, riding on the brakes the whole way, which was why I would never drive over Newlands from the Buttermere end.
The only freely available parking at Buttermere by the Nineties was in Honister Bottom, and I had to go a good half-mile to find a suitable spot. The sun was well up the sky, and I had clear blue conditions and a fair amount of heat to face.
It was one of those days that started heavy-legged. There’s very little preliminary to the ascent: you leave the road and immediately you’re zig-zagging, in the lea of the fell, past Fanny Mercer’s white cross. I found it a struggle until I was out on the ridge.

Fleetwith Pike

Narrow ridges of this kind, thin trails amid the grass and rock, are great to follow, especially with that kind of view behind if you feel the need to halt for a breather. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ridge as much as I have others: it felt just that little bit too unremittingly steep, and although it was better to be out in the open, it was still a breathless day. Nor was I gratified that the path kept more to the Warnscale side of the ridge: Honister Bottom may not offer the best views, but Warnscale has a devastated look to it, as if it is the scene of some quasi-nuclear bomb test that has left a blight on the ground.
But persistence always brings the summit underfoot, and this was where the day changed, for the better. There was a breeze, and the air felt fresh now, and that spectacular view behind, with which I was so familiar already, but photos can never measure the scale of such sights. Still, I was peeved that the sun was shining too directly into my lens to make taking my own shot viable.
Fleetwith’s neat, bare summit was not bare of walkers. In fact, it was a bit like a tea party up there, like a Helvellyn summit crowd crammed into a smaller compass. I found a small patch of unoccupied ground, lowered myself onto it and dove into my rucksack for my sandwiches.
When I got up to move on, I was at last alone. I left the pack at Fleetwith’s summit behind, and strode off to descend the grassy decline to Dubs Bottom. I always preferred having the fells to myself, and I could now relax into sole possession of the afternoon.
En route to Dubs Bottom, I passed Black Star, the ‘summit’ of Honister Crag, and contemplated for a moment stepping aside to reach its summit. The thought amused me, that a mere walker like me could so easily reach the top whereas all the climbers were making it difficult for themselves, but then I realised that that wasn’t the point. It’s walkers who pursue summits: to climbers they’re the least interesting part of the crag.
Dubs Bottom was an interesting place, a wide depression studded with levels and derelict buildings from the old mining days. Beyond it, I could see the ground rising to the Old Drum House, at the stop of the seriously stiff ascent from Honister, the road to Great Gable, or Moses’ Trod, or the descent to Ennerdale by Loft Beck, so well used a thoroughfare yet almost invisible in Wainwright because it lends itself to no ascents.
Though it was no part of this walk, I crossed the dip and went up to the Drum House, climbing onto its platform and surveying that odd plateau that lies between the Buttermere and Ennerdale Valleys, and the way the Gable path turns towards the low ridge and seems to spring forward along its base. I’ve done that each time I’ve sweated up from Honister: by the time you get to the top, you need a few moments breather.
I turned back towards Dubs Bottom, which needed to be crossed at a diagonal, from the near right corner to the far left corner, to escape onto the fellside and the ridge of which Haystacks in the primary part. There were paths through the old workings, and I switched from one to another, like a child following a maze with invisible walls.
I emerged onto a path snaking in and out of the outcrops along the front of Haystacks. It moved up and down, and in and out, never the same for ten yards straight, and giving no glimpse as to what was ahead. I didn’t have Wainwright’s proverbial raging toothache, and I suspect I would have been giving it the major part of my attention if I did, but this crossing had immediately etched itself into my short list of paths I would happily go back and walk immediately: Ullock Pike to Long Side, the Corridor Route being other examples.

Blackbeck Tarn

The best part came when I crossed the entrance to the cove that holds Blackbeck Tarn. Everyone sees Innominate Tarn as the jewel of Haystacks, but one look at Blackbeck, glittering in its sheltered bowl, the Tarn’s boundaries swelling towards the back of its expanse, and I was hooked. I’ve never been one for camping, being too fond of guesthouse beds in which to rest myself after a hard day’s fellwalking, but I could imagine the joy of an early awakening on the grasses above the reedy banks at the far end.
After Blackbeck Tarn, the winding path continued to weave up and down, but far too soon I was emerging onto the broad back of the fell, and could see across the head of Ennerdale to Great Gable, and Pillar. From there, it was just a gradually ascending way, passing Innominate Tarn’s shores (I cannot remember whether Wainwright had adorned it then) and on to the nearby summit, which surprised me by merely revealing another, and higher outcrop.
I had been here before, nearly thirty years before. I remembered that we’d not been able to see Innominate Tarn from the summit and had moved on to the other outcrop to see it, with the ring of high Ennerdale fells as its backcloth, but no further.
Part of me still can’t believe we had ever been there at all. My family were wedded to the quarter of the Lakes from Ambleside to Wasdale, and apart from the traditional wet-Friday trip to Keswick, never ventured further. I hadn’t even seen Haystacks until the previous year, when, for my benefit, we spent a non-walking rain-soaked day going round the Western Lakes, and I saw Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere for the first time ever, four new Lakes in one day, and we escaped by going over Honister Pass, between writhing clouds and towering cliffs, and this from my Uncle who normally wouldn’t take his cars over anything more steep than Dunmail Raise.
And here we were, in Buttermere, parking opposite Gatesgarth Farm, bound for Scarth Gap and Haystacks. I can only assume that it was its status as Wainwright’s favourite fell that brought us there. The pass was supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes, but once again our family maxim applied: ‘if Wainwright says it’s easy, it’s hard: if he says it’s hard, it’s bloody difficult!’
Enough so that, at the Pass, in a precursor of the stomach problems that would limit our expeditions in the Seventies, my Uncle stayed behind, leaving only the four of us, mother, father, daughter, son, to scramble up the gully and find our way to the summit.
My Dad was 39 in August 1968, fit, healthy, active. He was looking up, and ahead, to the high fells. His younger child, my sister, was older every year, and the range of our walks would be growing with her. His son had stopped whingeing if you so much as asked him to lace up his walking boots. No, he wasn’t as impressed with Haystacks as he’d hoped to be: to him, Lingmell, our second and highest top to date, was more the mountain top he envisaged. Idly, he suggested he’d prefer his ashes sprinkled there.
That November, we got away, just the four of us, for a couple of days in a small cottage in Grisedale Forest. I remember walking down the road to see Forge Force Falls on the evening we arrived, I remember lying in the top bunk in a crowded bedroom we all shared, feeling so much part of everything as my parents talked below, and I remember following the Grisedale Forest on our last day. There was no fellwalking as such.

Forge Force

Dad was complaining of pains in his left shoulder. Back in Manchester, he went to the Doctor. He was in hospital more than not over the next twenty months. He never saw the Lake District again. Haystacks was his last walk.
That’s not the place of sentiment for me. That came a couple of years later, crossing from the last Wainwright to the one that had been the First, unlovely, ungainly, unlikely Middle Fell in Nether Wasdale. As I arrived at the summit from the back, the party there was packing up and leaving. I walked round for the next half hour, talking to those who would never come back as I had come back, this once and only time.
But Haystacks is still one of only three tops where I can look the memory of my Dad in the eye and stand equal to him. Me and you, Dad, me and you.
I scrambled down to Scarth Gap and set off for the valley. I can’t remember if this descent came before or after the one I made after completing the High Stile range, which was the one where I sat down on a pathside stone to look at the very strange goings on in the wide green fields below, that I finally realised was the filming of an episode of One Man and his Dog.
Sadly, I never saw the broadcast episode, so I have no idea to this day whether I managed to get myself into the background of any shots, and add to my small stock of TV background shots.
And I drove away over Honister.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e20: A Distant Shout of Thunder


It’s the penultimate episode, and one that, for me, frankly didn’t work. The ingredients were there, but they didn’t combine to make the story convincing, and there was no clear indicator as to what let things down.

The basis of this episode was that of the clash of cultures between the native Polynesians and their primitive Gods, in this case Pele (not that one), whose ‘wrath’ was awoken by a total eclipse and the presence of a scientific team studying it. Lucien, the local equivalent of a Hellfire Preacher, protests it. He’s a well-known, indeed tiresome figure, attempting to overturn French colonial rule, and it’s doubtful for most of the episode whether he genuinely believes in Pelle, or whether he’s just the opportunist Jake accuses him of being.

Unfortunately, I could not find guest actor Jose de Vega the least bit adequate for the role. He had nothing of the force the character required, nor could he conjure up the steeliness that might have sufficed in its place. Given that his role is to re-awaken the islanders’ beliefs, stir them to the edge of hysteria and persuade them to sacrifice Sarah to atone to the Gods, he was just a non-starter without which the episode never hung together.

Sarah became involved because, traumatised by old fears deriving from a childhood visit to Cambridge  with her father for an earlier total eclipse during which she got lost, she stumbles over and picks up a small statue of Pele, which marks her as the defiler, and makes her Pele’s target.

And it is at that moment that Bora Gora’s dormant volcano chooses to wake up and threaten the island.

With Lucien sitting in the centre of things calmly arrogating every incident to Pele’s wrath on one side, and Sarah’s (intentionally) unconvincing refusal to accede to superstition on the other, the episode built up to the inevitable sacrifice, with a drugged Sarah seeing molten lava as clear blue sea into which she wanted to slide.

Jake’s coming after her, alone as usual. Not at first: Corky, Louie and the Reverend Willie insist on joining him. It’s a well-played moment: they care for Sarah too, and will not be left behind, until circumstances are contrived to leave them behind.

And the episode doesn’t help itself by having the easily-misled islanders suddenly see sense and turn their backs on Lucien, who sacrifices himself, lost in his own preachings, for no adequate reason other than the plot demands it.

That’s really all, to be honest. Donald Bellisario pops up in a cameo role as a father whose curly-haired little moppet of a son (played by his actual curly-haired little moppet of a son) engages in a raspberry blowing contest with Corky. Special effects are spared by intercutting genuine film of a volcano and its attendant effects, though the glaring difference in the quality of film stocks draws too much attention to the contrivance. But on the plus side, with only an episode left, the show does at least pick up on the genuine nature of the relationship between Jake and Sarah, with lots of unashamed kissing.

I’m hoping for a better send-off next week. But, having seen the plot outline in imdb, I’m expecting another whimper.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e17: A Simple Investigation


See, I told you so

I was unconvinced about this week’s episode on watching the open, which came over as bitty, and threatening too many elements for an ordered episode, but I was wrong about that side. We went from a hooded Idanian being thumped and eventually disintegrated by two Finneans, all blue skin, holes in their faces and raggedly clothing, looking for It and a woman, to Bashir, Dax, O’Brien and Odo discussing their holosuite programme that’s a sequel to ‘Our Man Bashir’, only for Odo to get all nervous over how he’s supposed to steal the girl and walking out, and ending at the bar with Quark hitting on a very attractive blonde woman of a certain age, who doesn’t need Odo’s help to handle importunate Ferengis, even if the Constable has ‘bedroom eyes’ (now, there’s a term that has gotten seriously out-dated). It didn’t need the camera shifting angle to expose the two Finneans watching the lovely Arissa for us to link the first and final parts of this sequence together.

After that, however, the episode settled into being a well put together two-hander between Odo and Arissa, played with neatness and economy by guest actress Dey Young, a less-than-blatant beauty that nevertheless convinced at least one member of the audience that she was someone that men could get obsessed about at first sight.

Odo is clearly smitten, but his next encounter with Arissa is on a professional basis, when she’s arrested for trying to bypass station security and access data on an Idanian named Torvid Rem, i.e., our disintegrated guy. Arissa tells Odo a bunch of porkies, claiming he was assisting her in tracking down the daughter she’d given up fifteen years ago, but Odo doesn’t believe her, which he’s right to do. And he keeps harping on about strip-searches and the like, to Arissa’s flirtatious amusement.

No, flirtatious is not the right word. Odo is beyond inexperience, and is aware of that, which ensures that he is keeping everything tremendously reserved whilst at the same time betraying his fascination in every movement (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar). And Arissa’s ‘flirtatiousness’ is too cool, too grave, to strictly merit the word. Since we’re seeing things from Odo’s perspective, we simultaneously find it obvious that she wants him to unwrap her from that clingy grey dress she’s wearing and do naughty Changeling things to her, and that Odo can’t be sure that it isn’t just an act by which a much more experienced woman strings him along (boy, did that come over as being incredibly familiar).

The true story (at this point anyway) is that Arissa worked for Draim, a big wheel in the Orion Syndicate but, having realised that the far-removed things she did nevertheless resulted in great harm, she wanted out. The crystal Torvid Rem had contained the super-seriously encrypted information that would enable her to walk away without Draim having her knocked off.

Not that Arissa really believed that. Even with Odo appointing himself her personal protector, willing to take leave of absence to go with her, Arissa knew too much to ever really believe Draim wouldn’t get her. And finally, Odo, after interrupting the holoprogramme to seek advice, works up the nerve to kiss her, after which it’s a night of red-hot sex, so good that Arissa doesn’t even realise Odo’s been a virgin up to that moment (boy, was that not in the least familiar. Or plausible).

But the denouement is rushing towards us. Arissa gives way to her fears, does a deal to trade the crystal for her life, not that Draim intends to keep his side of the bargain. And an Idanian Intelligence agent turns up in Odo’s office to drop the bombshell I hadn’t foreseen, namely that Arissa is actually a surgically-altered Idanian Undercover agent, given a fake set of memories and personality, who’s spent the last two years getting information on Draim that’ll crack his organisation wide open.

What’s on the crystal is the real memories and personalities of not-Arissa. Which, we learn in the close, include the fact that she’s married. Not to mention that, once her sub-Cardassian knobbly forehead is restored, and she’s covered up by the hood all Idanians wear,  Dey Young doesn’t look a bit attractive. Nevertheless, before she leaves Odo alone and heartbroken, she does rather rub a bit if salt in it by telling him that she remembers Arissa very well, and she did love him and that that love is still there, a bit, fat consolation that is.

So this episode is basically a love story, and one of the better-handled ones, given that Dey Young not only looked seriously attractive, but also looked, and played, very intelligent. You could imagine talking to this woman for a very long time, which isn’t always the case.

For all that, and in the grand scheme of things, ‘A Simple Investigation’ was not at all well-planned. In the first place, it should have come whilst Odo was still humanoid, and exploring being human, not reverted to Shapeshifterdom. And it was intended to show that Odo had gotten over Kira, and was no longer in love, an intention that, I am reliably informed, will be reversed less than six weeks from now.

As for Our Man Bashir II, this was restricted to one entirely nebulous scene apparently because MGM had threatened to sue over the original episode, stupid idiots.

Overall, an enjoyable episode, enlivened for me by the presence of the attractive Dey Young (have I mentioned she was attractive?), though I note this is the second one-off episode since the great ground-shifting of ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light’ to not even reference the changed situation. One step up and two steps back, as it ever was.

Dan Dare: Pilot with Another Future


Perhaps if I’d got this cover…

It’s a decade now since the surprisingly successful Virgin Comics attempt to revive Dan Dare in a form acceptable to the contemporary age, and now Titan Comics have discarded the habit of a lifetime, of only publishing comics that have been successful for other people, and have hired Peter Milligan to write and Alberto Foche to draw a new series.

This time, we’re looking at four issues, so that if it’s a disaster, at least it will be brief. Today’s visit to Forbidden Planet included the first issue, so I want to record a few immediate impressions.

Garth Ennis, ten years ago, seemed an improbable writer for a traditionally ‘straight’ character who was born out of the desire to present a truly clean-cut cut, moral yet still quite human hero for young boys, yet he understood the ideals of the Pilot of the Future came from and respected Dan Dare, and his version was worthy of revival.

Milligan, on the other hand, has always been an iconoclast, an underminer of all things established, and a trickster of a writer. I’ve read very little of his work, it just not being to my taste, so I was doubtful of the choice from the moment I heard of this.

His set-up does, at first, promise a different approach. For one, there is no Prime Minister appearing as a veiled depiction of David Cameron or even, thanks all the ghosts of Spacefleet, Theresa May. On the other hand, we have the Mekon: of course we’ve got the Mekon, we always have the Mekon. It’s like only ever having Doctor Who face up to the Daleks.

Milligan’s included a lot of the old cast already: Dan, Digby, Peabody, Hank Hogan, Sir Hubert, Flamer Spry, though he’s jumbled some of them around. Digby, or ‘Digs’ is now an engineer and openly calls his Colonel ‘Dan’, Peabody’s a Special Science Advisor who walks around in uniform and carries big guns, and Dan only ever calls her Peabody. Hank’s had one line so far, and already sounds out of character.

Then there’s the Mekon. Milligan’s story, subtitled ‘He Who Dares’ actually starts five years ago, with the Mekon as the democratically elected President of Earth and Dan’s little band declared terrorists. That is, until they expose the hypnosis machine by which ol’ Greenbean has cooked the result.

He’s been in rehabilitation for five years, concentrating his supreme intelligence on growing food on the moon. Even when a Liberation Army comes to free him, he orders them to disband and hands them over to Dan for incarceration.

Can the Supreme Brain overcome the Genetic engineering that made him into a power-crazed overlord? Has he? Milligan’s certainly come at things from a previously unexplored angle (for what it’s worth, I’m going for No).

But the only problem is, if the Mekon is beaten for good, there are no enemies left. No obstacles to Galactic peace and harmony and progress. Nothing for Dan Dare to be Dan Dare for, and Dan’s actually praying for something for him to do, to get back into space for.

Which is when a dirty great spaceship appears out of nowhere, Crypt-like, and destroys one of Saturn’s moons, just like that. Dan’s prayers have been answered, or so it seems. No hint yet as to whether Tharl and his empire exist in this Future, though again I’m going for No.

Apart from this bit about Dan Dare wishing for violence and enemies, which is not, never has been and never will be any part of any legitimate version of the character, it’s reasonable enough so far. Certainly worth suspending judgement over until we see more.

As for Foche’s art, I’m always going to start off by looking askance at anything not authentically Hampsonian, and it’s fair to say that this art in no way draws from the master. Apart from a token effort with Digby, and an even more token one with Sir Hubert, oh, and of course Dan’s eyebrows (that’s all anyone ever cares about: get the eyebrows properly crinkled and it’s Dan Dare, no matter how wide of the mark everything else is), Foche makes no effort whatsoever to follow any existing design work.

And his Mekon, redesigned to make the big brain a bit more organic, has immediately become less frightening, less distinctive, less alien. Even at his most evil in the flashbacks, this guy just doesn’t look in the least bit evil: Hampson’s Mekon, indeed his Treens, were unnatural. It’s why they worked so bloody well in the first place.

But I won’t judge until the series is over, unless it takes an irreversible nosedive into the sludge to the point where it’s obviously a schtumer. There are two pages of Foche’s designs featuring half a dozen and more characters we’ve not yet met, none of whom thrill me with anticipation, but we’ll see. It won’t take long, at least.