Captain Condor (we never seem to discover his first name) was originally created for the boy’s comic Lion, as a science fiction rival to Eagle’s Dan Dare. He featured from 23 February 1952 to 4 April 1964, illustrated by a number of artists, the most competent being Geoff Campion, Keith Watson, and Brian Lewis. The identity of the early artists are rather vague, but the website downthetubes.net says the first stories were illustrated by Ronald (Ron) Forbes, and the later stories (examples being “The Day the Sun Went Out” and “The Outlawed Planet”) by Leslie Waller. However, neither artist are listed on the very extensive comics artist register by lambiek.net website. The stories were almost all scripted by Frank S. Pepper. Apparently, although I have read only a few of them, there were text stories in 1965-66 and 1968-69. At least some Condor stories (“Planet of Destruction” was one) were later reprinted with his name changed to ‘Rip Solar’ – oh, dear, how awful.
I have only a passing acquaintance of the earlier stories, but what little I have seen would seem to indicate a complete failure to comprehend the reasons for the enduring success of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare character, world, or vision. Even at best, Condor – for the most part – comes a poor second. Firstly the stories are set too far into the future, over a thousand years’ time, at the beginning of the thirty-first century. While this allowed Condor’s adventures to often operate out in the more distant depths of galaxy, instead of confined (for the most part) to within the Solar System, even a few centuries ahead would have been sufficient, and – given the world depicted by Pepper – more credible. One might example the later American television series Star Trek, originally set in the 23rd century. Moreover, there is little continuity or consistency within the stories, while there are only the two characters throughout – Condor himself, and his ‘assistant’ (the actual meaning is never explained), Quartermaster Burke, with short-cropped blonde or fair hair and a boxer’s face, broken nose. But the question has to be asked, would Space Patrol in the 31st century have need of a ‘quartermaster’? The job function seems almost as obscure and perhaps anachronistic as Spaceman Digby’s role of Colonel Dare’s ‘batman’.
That said, Condor as depicted by Campion and Watson does have a certain facial similarity to Dan Dare, with dark hair, a lean long face, strong features, but – dare I say it? – perhaps more realistic and better drawn than Hampson’s sometimes rather cartoonish Dare with his peculiar eyebrows. One criticism, comparing the two, is that Condor is rather shallow, with no character or even a hint of a backstory, other than Pepper’s early stories, which, to those of us first reading Condor’s adventures in the period 1959 to 1961, we are completely unaware of. In fairness, this criticism might be directed at most of the boys’ comic characters. Digby, we are told, has a wife and kids, but we never see them, nor do they feature in any way in the stories. He doesn’t seem to have any life or friends outside being Dan Dare’s shadow. Hampson’s attempts to flesh out his characters – the saga of Dan Dare’s father, space pioneer Captain William Dare, for instance – came to little, perhaps because the editorial politics intervened. In fact, none of our British space heroes come across with any great depth, unlike even the Daily Mirror’s “Garth”, who does have a backstory of sorts, no matter how incredible; or – perhaps the most detailed and believable of any fictional comic strip character – Peter O’Donnell’s “Modesty Blaise”. So the criticism – while valid – cannot be levelled only at Condor.
Mike Conroy’s 500 Great Comic Book Action Heroes has this to say on the (1952) origins of Captain Condor: “Created by Frank S. Pepper and drawn initially by Ronald Forbes, Condor operated in the 31st century when the planets are ruled by a ruthless dictator. After escaping from Titan’s uranium mines where he had been sent for refusing to ship slaves to Venus, he helped overthrow the evil despot. Rewarded by being made the commander of the freshly established New Special Space Patrol, he turned to ridding the solar system of space pirates, criminals, and other scum.”
The much later period when I was reading Captain Condor’s adventures (indeed, my main reason for a regular subscription to the Lion comic) was 1959 to 1962, and the stories were actually quite good, Condor’s Space Patrol now seemingly in the duel role of policing and exploring Earth’s immediate environs of interstellar space. Indeed, in the Watson-illustrated stories the Space Patrol was renamed as the ‘Interstellar Space Patrol’. So, the stories I recollect were: “The Hole in Space” (1959-60, Geoff Campion); “The Forbidden Planet” (1960, Campion); “The Planet of Destruction” (1960, Campion/George Heath); “Operation Catastrophe” (1960, Keith Watson); “The Indestructible Men” (1960-61, Watson); “The War in Space” (1961, Watson); and “The Push-Button Planet” (Brian Lewis, 1961); with vague memories of the beginning of “The Slave Hunters from Outer Space” (Lewis, 1962).
Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare does at least make a token nod to the world beyond Britain. Neither the Captain Condor world, nor that of our next-to-come British spaceman, Jet-Ace Logan, in the Tiger comic, manage to show anyone other than white Europeans, except the early episodes of “Operation Catastrophe”, which was briefly located in South America. There are no Africans or Afro-Caribbeans (other than two faces amongst the World Cabinet delegates in the Campion-illustrated “Hole in Space”), no Arabs or Asians, Indians or Chinese. The first two of the Keith Watson illustrated stories feature London, establishing that Condor is British, but perhaps by the beginning of the thirty-first century we are far enough into the future that there are no nationalities now – everyone is a citizen of Earth. At least once, towards the end of “The War in Space”, we briefly glimpse a few non-human extraterrestrials within the I.S.P. officer ranks, but Earth humans are still predominate at both command and other ranks. Again, there is that interesting similarity predating the American Star Trek series.
Back on Earth, the World President is the usual stereotype – neat bearded, mature, distinguished-looking, white, and male, of course. There are absolutely no females in the Captain Condor world except as fleeing civilians. Again – and, this time, despite over a thousand years in the future – gender equality never happened, but then perhaps what one would expect for a boy’s comic of the pre-school-leaving age range.
Urban transport are the ubiquitous flying machines and jetcopters, hover-cars (with British right-hand drive), and Keith Watson introduced ‘London Transport’ monorail buses, that had once frequently featured under the penmanship of Frank Hampson. City airports have seemingly became space-ports with vertical take-off spaceships coming and going. Despite their now antiquity, Pepper and Keith Watson (in “Operation Catastrophe”) would have us believe that already quite ancient buildings and monuments from our own time are still standing over a millennium in the future, for instance: Tower Bridge; Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament; Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square; St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Church (although a high-level road now runs across the Square itself, and other towering buildings fringe its parameter. In “The Indestructible Men” Condor and Burke take shelter in an abandoned Downing Street in a ravaged, burnt-out London, although at least that is a later, post-Modern building, complete with high-speed lift (elevator) to the top floor.
In the Campion-illustrated “Hole in Space” story, there is still an Astronomer Royal (does that imply there is still a monarchy?), at an unspecified “New Greenwich Observatory”. Unlike Watson’s later, rather quaint and recognisable London, Pepper and Campion give us a towering, seemingly indestructible, World Government building, within which is a really impressive anti-gravity lift – a neat transparent sphere that rises up from a base through a circular opening in the ceiling. The World Cabinet itself sit in stepped rows, facing a podium with just three seats – one for the President, the other two occupied by the (foresaid) Astronomer Royal, and Condor.
While Campion never had the meticulous detail of Frank Hampson, or the clarity of John Gillatt’s Jet-Ace Logan illustrations, nevertheless he did manage to depict interesting glimpses of a future world, if not perhaps what we might really expect by the year 3000 AD. Flying machines in the urban skies, and wheelless, floating ground-vehicles were the norm, but it is amusing now that in the Captain Condor world there are still bulky TV cameras, tape-spool recorders (in “The War in Space”), Red Cross ambulances (“The Indestructible Men”), small domestic television screens, and public telephone booths, even if they are of the open-fronted type that later predominated our late-20th century world. Video screen phones were standard in the comic strip worlds of Dare, Condor and Logan, but no one thought to depict a 1950s/60s version of the personalised mobile phone, despite that American writer Ray Bradbury had predicted them as early as 1952. Computers, too, were huge beasts, even in the far future Condor world, where the ultimate ‘villain’ of “Operation Catastrophe” is a giant ‘electronic brain’ built on its own satellite in space, circling the Earth. Two more, similar ‘electronic brains’ feature in the Brian Lewis-illustrated Condor story “The Push-Button Planet”, each overseeing a centuries-old war fought by robot machines between a alien planet’s two major continents, separated by an equatorial ocean. But then this idea of giant electronic brains eventually replacing us, predates World War Two or the Isaac Asimov stories, and can be found in the flawed, if still magnificent, futuristic classic Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon, published in 1930.
Looked at now, in retrospect, the Condor stories I remember fell into two basic categories – disaster prevention and space exploration. “The Hole in Space” has a malevolent insect-like race, Pepper and Campion’s chlorine-breathing Skarabs, forced to flee their own war-ravaged home planet; instead plotting to destroy all life on Earth, so they might – to use our later terminology – planetary re-engineer it to be habitable for themselves. Again, Stapledon pre-imagined this idea 30 years before, except the intrusive species was humanity, fleeing a doomed Earth, and remodelling Venus to the requirements of our survival, despite the destruction and extinction of the pre-existing native population. As depicted by Campion, the hideous Skarabs, their spaceship (which had similarities to Hampson’s “The Phantom Fleet” spaceships), and the brief glimpse of their own world, were all suitably alien, malevolent, and hive-like. Of the Condor stories, this might have made a marvellous television drama.
By contrast, “The Forbidden Planet”, with its casual nod to the 1956 movie of that name, was about the latest expedition to a planet in the Rigel star system (which is actually 870 light-years from Earth), of sinister reputation, three previous expeditions there having vanished, their fate unknown. Almost from the first panel of episode one, Campion’s artwork on this story is superb – the spaceship interiors, the spacesuits (which design Watson subsequently faithfully continued), the space monsters (which were really mental projections – Sydney Jordan and Harry Harrison used the same idea in the 1957/58 Jeff Hawke story “Out of Touch”), and the exotic city under its protective dome, last refuge of the humanoid native inhabitants against the apparent shape-shifting ‘Dommes’, malevolent and evil creatures who had somehow infested the planet many centuries before.
Another good story plot, if with a few, minor ‘holes’ – how had the Dommes first invaded Rigel III? Why did they not still attempt to hijack Condor’s space-boat after being scared away by the intervention of the young, native Prince Kalif? Condor’s expedition was only the fourth in hundreds of years, the first falling victim to the Dommes’ disguises, the other two somehow rescued and apparently spending the rest of their lives living with the local natives in the domed city. Initially, Condor and Burke land alone, and Condor has a bulky ‘Polaroid’-like camera which takes and develops instant pictures – a complete one-off, never repeated, but which eventually is the means to detect, defeat and destroy, the Dommes, who don’t actually shape-shift, but use telepathic mental power to project an image to the unsuspecting victim. The camera, certainly in this case, never lies. It photographs the Dommes as they really are, human-size, but like shaggy hairy rugs, with slit-eyes and thin, spider-like limbs.
“The Planet of Destruction” returns Condor to disaster prevention, the Earth being threatened in a way not too dissimilar to that of “The Hole in Space”, but this time apparently unintentionally by a super race a million years ahead of us, roaming the galaxy in their own artificial planet. The more glaring flaw in the plot is, if they were so super-duper intelligent, would they not have realised the consequences their planet-cum-giant-spaceship was having on other planets within its path? And the end, where they pool their collective super-minds to turn back time, therefore undoing the damage done, is a total cop-out. Sadly, this story was not helped in that, for reasons unknown, Geoff Campion bowed out within the first couple of episodes and another artist, George Heath, took over – competent, but without Campion’s skill at depicting alien worlds or civilisations.
The story (as still drawn by Campion) opens with that old science fiction idea of London being roofed over by a massive series of hexagonal transparent panels. Numerous American sci-fi magazine covers have shown similar images, although mostly over New York. And, indeed, in 1962, the American architect, futurist and philosopher, Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), actually proposed the construction of just such a transparent geodesic dome over Manhattan – an idea in theory, that is still impossible in practise, even today, 60 years later. Even at the time there were unanswered questions as to construction, structural tension, or controlling conditions within the dome, like haze, condensation, rising and descending air currents, maintaining a static temperature, etc. Nor is it explained, either in the Condor story or others, just how you would construct a dome over a huge, sprawling megacity of, say, ten, twenty, or thirty miles across – perhaps (though never depicted as such) a series of interconnected domes, otherwise the physical mechanics make it impossible. Naturally, as is always the order of things, the final panel of the dome is just being air-lifted into place, when the weather goes crazy, and a major blizzard ensues. Even the boys (again, never girls) up in the World Weather Control Satellite are helpless, as the snow builds up, eventually collapsing sections of the dome – so much for the engineering! By the time Condor gets back, recalled to see the ‘Prime Minister’ (not President) in that towering World Government tower last seen in “The Hole in Space”, the temperature is going up, and the world is in danger of global warming instead!
While Earth bakes – draught and forest fires echoing that of the 1961 movie The Day the Earth Caught Fire – hurricanes swept Mars and the surface of distant Pluto is turned into a whirlpool of melting ammonia. Then comes the distant, cut-off, radio message from the planet Procynon IV, warning of a “shining planet”. There is a star named Procyon (without that middle ‘n’), approximately 12 light-years away. By the time Condor arrives, the Earth colonist cities have been burnt to the ground, the humanoid native population sent near-crazy (they seem to resemble Australian Aborigines, still living in a Stone Age culture), while only an isolated penal prison mining colony, has survived, due to the deep shafts and underground accommodation. The prisoners, incidentally, wear striped uniforms of the style favoured in 1920s/30s American prison dramas. Violent, anti-social convicts rising up to seize control in times of upheaval featured again, in “The Indestructible Men”. Apparently, even by the 31st century, no one had resolved the issue of violent crime or anti-social behaviour! Finally Condor and Burke, in a two-man space-boat, reach the shining planet, to confront the super big-brained inhabitants from an advanced civilisation “a million years ahead of our time”.
There next followed “Operation Catastrophe”, another disaster story, and the first of the Keith Watson illustrated stories. Keith Watson (1935-1994) was another talented comic strip artist who tragically died too soon, aged only 58. He learnt his craft in Frank Hampson’s ‘Dan Dare’ studio, but it was with the three ‘Captain Condor’ stories for the Lion (1960-61) that he first really showed his skills and individual style. The stories might still have been written by Frank S. Pepper, but one can’t help but think Watson brought something of his own ideas to the Condor world that wasn’t there before – not least some of Hampson’s visual imagination and vision. Later, this, in turn, Watson was to recreate when he took over illustrating ‘Dan Dare’ for the post-Don Harley Eagle – somehow he combined resurrected aspects of the original Hampson Dare world (uniforms, Spacefleet headquarters), together with ideas and aspects from his ‘Condor’ period, the architecture, vehicles, recycling Hampson’s monorail buses, even the giant insects from “Operation Catastrophe”.
It is interesting, and under-remarked perhaps, the distinction between monochrome and colour in the comic world – as deep and significant as in photography or the movies. Frank Hampson and Don Harley worked in colour, as did Frank Bellamy for the most part. The Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and Jeff Hawke stories were all in black and white. One might argue this was dictated by cost and printing facilities. I read that to achieve the vivid colour pages of the 1950s Eagle, it was necessary to obtain printing equipment from Germany. Colour in its stories – like Dan Dare, Luck of the Legion, Riders of the Range, Jack O’ Lantern, and the Great Lives – were what made the Eagle such a pioneer, and so outstanding for its time (some might say, even since). It also, especially with Dan Dare, added a greater sense of realism. Dan Dare was about the future – in many cases a very fantastic future – but colour helped make the images on the page more believable and ‘real’.
Other artists worked almost entirely in monochrome. Jim Holdaway was one example, with ‘Romeo Brown’ and ‘Modesty Blaise’. Sydney Jordan (who we will discuss later) was another with ‘Jeff Hawke’. And so, I would argue, was Keith Watson. His style – evolved with ‘Captain Condor’ – was very distinctive, sharp detail, block-like contrasts of black and white, completely different from the lightness and shading of Geoff Campion, and a total contrast to Brian Lewis, the ‘Condor’ artist who would follow him in 1961-62. (*Interestingly, Watson was colourblind, and was to hire fellow Hampson alumnus Eric Eden to assist him when Dan Dare reverted to colour, which may explain this – MBC*)
That said, Watson had a much greater sense of continuity than Lewis, in that he took recognisable aspects of Campion’s Captain Condor – for instance, Condor’s physical features, and that of his ‘assistant’ Burke, Campion’s quite distinctive spacesuit and the Space Patrol uniform – just as he later did with his resurrected version of Hampson’s Dan Dare, which the Eagle comic new owners had so determined to eradicate. His Condor, at times, had similarities to Dare, minus the silly eyebrows, of course!
“Operation Catastrophe” has Earth threatened by the rapid spread of a hitherto obscure, fast-growing, malevolent, seemingly intelligent, South American plant, whose seeds are transported to London by fleeing refugees. Within days, first London, then much of England, succumbs to the plants, and – very soon – a bigger, more deadly, menace, giant (again, seemingly intelligent) insects, ants in particular. Was Pepper thinking of the American sci-fi movie Them!? Most probably. As Condor battled with this intractable foe, another plot element was introduced – a giant electronic ‘brain’ or super-computer, designed by a Professor Masterman, and in Earth-orbit in its own satellite. Attempts to get access to the orbiting satellite result in brain-dead zombie engineers. Of course, the disasters threatening Earth are sourced to the brain, which has gone rogue, although its methods for subduing humankind seem a trifle obscure. Every attempt to destroy the brain – missiles, battlefleets, Condor going solo to crash his space-battleship into it – all are thwarted. The brain out-thinks them. Only eventually – having retreated to the Space Patrol base on Triton, one of the moons of Neptune – does Condor discover research work not yet downloaded to the brain – described as a “magnetic hyper-force induced by bringing two warp fields into resonance” (whatever that means!) Within half a page Condor promptly blows the brain satellite up!
The next story, “The Indestructible Men”, combined both exploration and menace, with a party of six of Condor’s men, under Lieutenant Bale, taken over by a strange, spiral-like life-force, that rendered them impervious to any known weapons. Despite witnesses, Condor is accused of abandoning Bale and his companion on the planet, and is dismissed from the Interstellar Space Patrol by courts martial. So, the fact he had saved Earth numerous times didn’t count in his favour! The word of one of his junior officers against his, counted for more than facts. Needless to say, Condor’s Cassandra-like warnings are ignored. A spaceship is sent to ‘rescue’ Bale and his men, who promptly slaughter the rescue ship crew, down to the last man, and, upon returning to Earth, crash the spaceship into the space-port, wiping it out. From there they rampage London, using the electricity grid to create widespread fires, freeing (and recruiting) convicts (who are instantly bent on revenge against society), sinking a cruise-ship in mid-ocean, taking over an orbiting space-station and firing missiles at New York and the North American space-port where Condor (now restored to service) is attempting to escape Earth. Bale – even his teeth become fang-like – is the over-the-top, megalomaniac nasty, blowing up the Statue of Liberty to replace it with his own gigantic statue! Ha, ha – silly! Only by returning to the original source planet (about the giant star Betelgeuse; actually between 500 and 600 light years from Earth), does Condor find another – this time flame-like – life-force capable of destroying the baddies. Against even the advice of his own fellow indestructible men, Bale insists on following Condor, and hence the flame creature good guys get him!
The final Watson-illustrated story, “The War in Space”, perhaps the best, is again about menace, but not directly threatening Earth, only the long-term peace of the galaxy. The bird-like warrior-race known as the Orcs (interesting name) seize control of the wealthy, but peace-loving, planet Halcia, following a murderous surprise attack on the Space Patrol base there. What follows is Condor leading a resistance movement against Orc rule on Halcia, and then space battles between the opposing Orc and the Interstellar Space Patrol fleets. It is a clever story of twists and turns, its theme quite adult and sophisticated at times. This had all the qualities of a Star Trek movie. Trickery, espionage, an alien planet, land and space battles, Nazi-like bad guys carrying human and non-human settlers off into cruel captivity and concentration camps (still no women, of course, only men), partisan-style resistance fighting against the occupiers, more battles in space, the Orcs planning to use the captive 1,000-year-old Emperor of Halcia as their bargaining chip.
Watson was in his element – creating believable architecture (even if his house interiors owe more to the old High Street ‘Habitat’ store designs), battle-tanks, and his spaceships – which we have already seen in the previous two stories – now come into their own – a spaceship version of an aircraft carrier; battle cruisers bristling with gun-turrets, but strangely vulnerable, one would have thought, in that the control bridge is located in the transparent nose-cone. But what spaceships! What space battles! A combination of C.S. Forester’s Captain Hornblower and the movie Sink the Bismarck! This was Keith Watson going out on a high. We even get a clever bit on the aspects of faster-than-light travel in ‘hyperspace’, that wonderfully convenient piece of science fiction that apparently some scientists do actually subscribe to! At least the Condor stories eventually recognised some form of explanation of how to reconcile interstellar travel with Einstein. Dan Dare, in its hey-day, never did that. Indeed, few sci-fi comics did, before or since.
The last two Condor stories of my acquaintance were illustrated by Brian Lewis (1929-1978), and both are on the ‘expedition to new planets’ theme again. Brian Lewis illustrated three Condor stories in the Lion, before moving to illustrated Jet-Ace Logan in the Tiger. He is yet another comic strip artist who died young, being only 49. However, while seemingly a versatile and competent artist, I would argue he was best depicting robots, machines, and fantastic (if rather impractical to live in) cities. His figures have a certain rigidity to them, and faces especially are often rather bland, and samey. Moreover, with both Captain Condor and Jet-Ace Logan, he made little-to-no attempt at continuity, in style, overall cultural design, or character appearance. Campion and Watson (and John Gillatt in a Condor Lion annual story, “Piracy on Satellite Seven”) had all depicted Condor with dark hair, and strong facial features, Burke as blonde, short-cropped hair, and with a boxer’s face, the broken nose. Lewis makes Condor blonde and rather non-descript, Burke with dark hair. Why? The sudden change of appearance is jarring, even to a 13-year-old schoolboy. It made no sense, and especially after such a strong story as “The War in Space.”
Likewise, while Condor’s spaceship in “Push-Button Planet” did at least echo something of the spaceships depicted by Keith Watson, the interior was different, and the characteristic spacesuits originally depicted by Campion had been abandoned for something resembling the on-the-cheap costume of a 1960s science fiction television play. Again, bland, uninspired, even Bellamy was better when he was drawing Dan Dare. And, indeed, at least one website has remarked that Lewis apparently often ‘lifted’ panels, faces, or design ideas from Bellamy’s Dare period, the final half of the ‘Terra Nova’ trilogy, and “Project Nimbus”, which followed. The alien creatures in the second Condor story “The Slave-Hunters from Outer Space” (which title alone, sounds like a bad 1950s American ‘B’ Movie) are definitely a straight ‘lift’ of Frank Bellamy’s white, blobby, marshmallow-like aliens in “Project Nimbus”, so much so that, looked at in retrospect, they might even be from the same planet!
“The Push-Button Planet” has Condor and sidekick Burke descending solo from the orbiting expedition ship, to investigate possible intelligent life on the planet Algol IV. Once again, please note, this star is actually only about 92 light years from Earth. The planet has two continents, at the north and south poles, with an equatorial ocean in between. There is no response to “mathematical recognition” radio signals, but background “artificial radiation” indicates civilisation. This much is established on page one, episode one. After that, however, the story logic falls apart. Condor descends in a space-boat (remarking there are no lights on the night side of the planet), only to be shot down by a missile from a surfacing submarine ship. They escape their doomed craft by convenient helicopter back-packs and land on the sub, again conveniently gaining entry to the interior before it submerges, to find it is crewed only by robots. The sub is then attacked by “metal fish-like” robots – who, again, look remarkably like the McHoo-designed electro-valets as depicted by Frank Hampson in the Dan Dare story “Safari in Space”!
Condor and Burke are in the middle of an centuries-old, on-going robot war between the two continents. Arriving at the nearest city, they witness the endless cycle of destruction, followed by re-construction. The city itself comprises high-level roadways, few windows, and weird pinnacle towers that, even in peace-time, one would have thought impossible to actually live in. But then the story veers off into the totally incredulous. Suddenly, emerging from a manhole cover behind our two intrepid explorers, is a humanoid-like ‘Algolian’ – but a prince, no less, son to the King, whose kingdom is underground, long-since fallen into primitive ignorance, fear, and disrepair. We are expected to believe he emerged to the surface at just the right moment in place and time to meet the Earthmen. Come on! The chances of that happening are simply astronomical! Despite that later in the story the robots ignore non-robots if not threatened by them, our princely Algolian has to be rescued from death by Condor. There follows a sci-fi slight of hand, when Condor uses a “direct thought transmitter” (“standard Interstellar Space Patrol equipment to overcome language difficulties”), so that, from then on, everyone linguistically understands each other. This is akin (but a bit more cumbersome) to the Star Trek ‘universal translator’, but does at least acknowledge that extra-terrestrials on distant planets won’t speak English.
There follows Algolian politics, treason and plot, before Condor is able to access ancient books – books? – revealing the robot armies are each controlled by electronic brains. Shut down the brains and the war will be over. Condor, together with the young prince, will lead an expedition to the nearest brain. Now things go from the silly to ridiculous. They emerge quite easily from the underground – why did our princeling use a manhole cover, one asks? – and then travel “for many days” to find and disable the master electronic brain. Point one: how do they know where it is? Point two (and on-going, it gets more crazy as the story progresses): what are Condor’s colleagues on the orbiting spaceship doing all this time, having lost all communication with him?) Big, big plot holes! Having gained access to the brain’s headquarters, Condor then attempts to communicate with it by keyboard and screen – in English! Again, come on! But, by what might be regarded as a bit of a design oversight, the brain is conveniently next to the aging pipes conveying molten metal from the nearby blast furnace needed for robot construction. Condor successfully ray-gun blasts the pipes, blowing the brain up by overwhelming it in red-hot liquid metal.
Cue return in triumph to the king (more days travel), and Condor’s decision to next put the other brain out of action – please note, on the other continent, across an ocean on an Earth-sized planet. And to that end, without any shipbuilding knowledge, they somehow construct a huge wooden sailing and oar-powered ocean-going ship – how long does that take? At the same time, the Algolian bad guy, with his own dream of controlling the brain, and his small army of followers, are able to sneak abroad the ship before it sails. Right. More days – weeks? – as they sail the ocean, at one time becalmed in the tropics, then storms and fog, and then, having landed on the other continent, again they somehow are able to locate the rival brain, which Condor finally puts out of action by switching off the “thermal sun-motor” – solar panels to us – just in time to prevent space-scouts from his patrol ship getting annihilated, Condor’s officers finally having decided to come looking for him? Not only looking, after weeks, if not longer, but still actually knowing just where to land! The rival population having long since died – phew, let’s not over-complicate the plot! – the King and his merry men (there are, of course, no sign of any women) can now live in peace, back on the planet’s surface, no doubt in those silly, impractical cities. Call the Space Patrol, if and when you need us, says Condor.
The next story (of much vaguer memory) was “The Slave Hunters from Outer Space”, set on a planet, previously surveyed by Condor, circling about the star Vega (but again, this is quite close, only 25 light-years away), now being colonised by pioneers from Earth. Lewis’s spaceships are now cone-like, but at least the city architecture is rather more practical in design and appearance. Condor stops over to view the construction of the city, although the wisdom of having a very 20th century-looking nuclear reactor right in the middle of your urban zone is perhaps questionable. That said, by then even this 14-year-old schoolboy sci-fi fan was fast losing interest, and the rest of the story, and Lewis’s third effort, the dire “The Unseen Invaders”, are perhaps best forgotten. Let us, therefore, leave Captain Condor there. His best stories, and the most interesting aspects of his world, were as depicted by Geoff Campion and Keith Watson. Campion apparently also illustrated our next British spaceman, Jet-Ace Logan, as featured first in “The Comet” (1956-59), before moving to Tiger (1959-68), when the artist John Gillatt (1929-2016) took over.