Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: A Debate

Dan Dare Audio

Before I listen to the latest Dan Dare Audio Adventure, I want to address a couple of things Garth Groombridge and I have been debating since I started these reviews. Garth’s reaction has been far more severe than mine with such comments as:
Ugh! No, no, please, why do people who have no love, no knowledge of, no understanding of, a well-established, beloved fictional character, let loose on writing something that pleases no one really;
Yeah, Dan Dare, but why change things? Just because they can? Annoys me; and
Why does anyone write or want to broadcast this inane crap? But, there again, changing the characters and who they were, is akin of Beeson’s equally stupid and wrong-headed changing Valerian from a time-space agent into a quasi-military Major and Laureline, rather than a fellow agent and equal, into a lowly sergeant, with Valerian only wanting to get into her panties. The word is: SACRILEGE.
Now I did enjoy the Luc Besson Valerian film, but at the time I was not at all familiar with the series, and as such wasn’t as disturbed by the changes made. I agree with Garth’s purist response to the Dan Dare stuff, but I’m less roused by it than he, possibly because I’m more resigned to it, and more cynically attuned to why something like this has been done. This was my response to him:
The short answer is that Dan Dare is, in their eyes, a valuable commercial property to be exploited. There is no point in owning the rights to him if you don’t use him. The only people interested in portraying him as he ought properly to be are Spaceship Away, and they have a licence that limits them to Hampson’s continuity (not that they’d ever want to go outside that), and that continuity restricts Dan to a dedicated audience.
The scripter who I quoted had half a point but only half. Dan is right in these constructions but everything else is wrong. It obviously made them money – the sale of the CDs, the multiple broadcasts on BBC radio, it’s all income. I was curious… But like I said, Dare is Intellectual Property and what use is IP if you can’t make money off it? That was ultimately Frank Hampson’s problem. He thought like a creator but his creation was owned by businessmen.
To expand upon that a little, I want to draw a distinction between categories of change. Almost inevitably, when a work of art is adapted from one medium to another, changes have to be made. These relate to the different media. Comics and books have the space and time to lay things out in detail. They can do background stories, situations, emotional responses in some depth because they can rely on their audience’s attention being focussed in their own time. Film and television have a different luxury: audience attention can only be given at the director’s pace, things have to be shown, not told. Stories have to be simplified, details left out, to retain the audiences’ focus. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson telescoped seventeen years of book time into about three minutes of screen-time.
If you like, these can be categorised as enforced changes. What gets Garth and my backs up are the gratuitous change, the ones unrelated to the differences in media. Sometimes these have a purpose: in his film adaptation of The Hot Rock, William Goldman reduces the Dortmunder Gang from five to four members by omitting Chefwick the locksmith and transferring his skills to Kelp, who is otherwise no more than a second-in-command: simplification.
But what possible good can it do a Valerian film to change the pair’s relationship from equal partners to military subservience? In The Devil Rides Out, what good does it do for the film to make Rex van Ryn a contemporary of the Duc de Richleau instead of thirty years younger?
The changes in the Audio Adventures are no better than this. They are in no way justifiable, but they are unfortunately explicable, however gratuitous they are. That is because the original Dan Dare, the one Garth and I respect, is sadly no longer a workable character in the Twenty-First Century.
Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare is a Fifties hero, in a Fifties-envisaged future that science and technology has condemned forever as Fantasy. He’s an optimist in an optimist’s universe that time and cynicism has condemned to be unbelievable. And in his particular roots, he is an idealised Forties character, the dashing RAF pilot brought forward into the dream of that future: it wasn’t just coincidence that his subtitle is Pilot of the Future.
Yes, he is still presented in those terms in these adaptations, and so he should be because these qualities are intrinsic to the character and what makes his stories live. To quote Garth again:
Maybe not purist purist….I could see the Dare stories modified, but within the criteria of the characters and the setting. Chang(e) personalities and you may as well give them new names and not write a Dan Dare story, but space pilot X. It’s a matter of respect for that character, and respect also for these who are fans of that character.
But I don’t see that original working anymore. Sherlock Holmes survives today because his original milieu is still valid. People are still attracted to Victorian times and Victorian crimes. The Sherlock tv series (which impressed me but not Garth) was a root and branch recreation that nevertheless kept the basic relationships between the players, transforming that into the Twenty-First Century. The Dan Dare Audio Adventures doesn’t do that. It keeps the names and nothing more, it strands the intrinsic Dan Dare in a universe whose construction is completely antithetical to his values. Better by far to leave the stories and the relationships as they were, but to do so is to try to preserve a time period in which there is no general interest, in fact for which there is a high degree of contempt, and no concurrent appeal.
I wish they would leave well alone, but understand why they make changes. I loathe the changes they make because, in rejecting the structures of the original, they reject the spirit of the original. Understanding why someone does something doesn’t mean their actions are justified.
The ones doing this for pleasure don’t understand what they’re actually doing. I think, in their way, they think they’re being creative, contributing to the legend if the character, making an addition. Instead, they’re being destructive but they don’t realise that.
As for the businessmen who own the name and the rights, they are only interested in making another penny off them, and don’t care as long as some cash comes in. Those of us who know and understand and respect the original, like Garth and I, are too few in number, and a dying audience. What these people don’t understand is that they are killing their goose, just as much as time is killing the Pilot of the Future. Dan Dare is nothing more than a label to be attached to some hard SF space adventure, to be changed on whim, without consistency to its latterday use, and that each change makes the name more and more just a label, to be be stuck on, then peel itself off as the gum decays…

Valerian et Laureline: 21 – At the Edge of the Great Void


I’m tempted to break with the form of this series and review the last three episodes as one long story, for that is what they are. On its own, At the Edge of the Great Void is not much more than a prelude, that ends on, if not an actual cliffhanger, the gateway to a much more directly involved episode. It stands in the same relation to the succeeding story as does Dan Dare’s ‘The Man from Nowhere’ to ‘Rogue Planet’: it’s about getting into place.
And that place is, exactly as the title states, at the edge of the Great Void, a vast nothingness, without stars, lying beyond the furthest outposts of civilisation, where civilisation is ceasing to have any meaning. Somewhere out there is Earth and Galaxity. Valerian and Laureline intend to find it. But they can’t just head off out there, on their own, hunting at random. Such things have to be approached carefully.
Which means surreptitiously. And without their usual craft, which is too recognisable, especially as too many people want to hinder them. So instead they’re travelling in a beaten-up old clunker that used to belong to travelling peddlers, and our heroes are acting incognito as peddlers themselves, though not with any great commercial success. That’s not the point though: they’re not out to make money, they’re out for information. And it seems that the Shingouz do not travel this far from the centre.
The law on this un-named planet appears to be being administered by Rubanis, which has done everything in its power to chase rival commercial organisations as far away from the centre as it can and, once they’re this far out, is intent on hassling them out of business. Like the clothing factory that’s closed down, putting Ky-Gai, a young girl of Vietnamese looks and dress, out of work and leaving her with no money.
It doesn’t stop her admiring the goods at Laureline’s end of the joint mobile stall, which are feminine products, clothes, jewellery and soft goods. She’s a bright, cheerful girl, and the fastest seam sewer in the factory: Laureline likes Ky-Gai as much as she likes Laureline and takes her on as an assistant.
Just in time, because not only is Val’s end of the business (exotic animals and potentially lethal weapons) not doing much, he’s under constant florid criticism from his bound Schniarfer, and hassle from the Police. Of course, a bribe and clearing out works, but there are hostile forces in Police uniform keeping a close watch on our two.
And indeed, where they next pitch up, outside the Labyrinth Prison, selling to wives and sweethearts and trying not to stifle from the smell of the Limboz, ragged peddlers and invisible thieves, they’re once again sent on their way, with a tax penalty. And the Limboz stealing half their goods, including Ky-Gai’s lovely, old-fashioned sewing machine.
But this is where Val and the Schniarfer come into their own, and the pair of Limboz send them off to Abyss Port, the best place to get, well, anything you want. Which, when Ky-Gai produces two spacesuits of individual size, includes the attention of Captain Shing’a Roog’a, captain of her own ship heading out into the Void to break new routes, a redhead dynamo who prefers to deal with women, and who commissions an entire crew’s worth of spacesuits from Laureline and Ky-Gai.
Now we see where the first instalment is going. There’s a long way to go before our pair can get themselves installed among Captain Roog’a’s crew, much of which could be dismissed as filler, included because it wouldn’t do to make this leg of the story too easy for the heroes. And some of it is a foretaste of mystery yet to be explained.
So, in fairly fast order, the Police descend and arrest Val and the Schniarfer, confining them secretly in Labyrinth Prison, whilst awaiting orders from the Triumvirs of Rubanis. We briefly see them on a small videoscreen. It seems that the Shingouz’ information that former taxi-driver S’Treks had won out over his rivals for power on that planets is at least out-dated, as he is now merely an equal with Na-Zultra and Colonel T’Locq. For reasons of their own, they want Val held until further orders. And they seem to think, quite correctly, that holding Val stops Laureline from going forward.
Whilst this is going on, we watch Captain Roog’a recruit a crew. It’s not quite trial by combat but every applicant has to have the guts, the determination, the self-confidence and at least one special ability to be judged worthwhile.
Ky-Gai is worried for Val, but Laureline is not. The young worker girl keeps busy sewing the spacesuits, with the assistance of other hard workers from her former factory who’ve hung around, all coming from the moon Phnom-Nam (I told you). Laureline reassures her that whilst Val is a rotten peddler, he has other abilities. And as soon as she sends her re-hydrated Tsheung, Val, who’s been refusing the Schniarfer’s pleas to unbind his Shubinal Gland, sets about escaping with his usual, almost casual flair.
And I said there was a foretaste of mystery. Out, somewhere is the Great Void, the Triumvirs of Rubanis are gathered, on the cold, dark, barren surface of what seems to be a planet. Each wears a visor that blinds them but which keeps their eyesight from being destroyed. The news that Val has escaped, that he and Laureline are to try to enter the Great Void disturbs them. It also disturbs the beings they have come here to meet, the Wolochs. We don’t see the Wolochs, we just see a massive black, windowless citadel, a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Monolith and a sawn-off Pyramid.
But the Police on Rubanis are still out to intercept our heroes and keep them from Captain Roog’a’s ship. First, there is a parting: much as she will miss Ky-Gai, Laureline knows the Great Void to be too dangerous for her. So Ky-Gai sets up her own factory with Laureline’s assets, and Val bequeaths her the Schniarfer, to become her economic advisor and HR Director.
They make a run for Roog’a’s ship but come under fire. Val will pilot them through, but gets hit on the head so Laureline has to do it. She’s welcome in Roog’a’s crew, and even gets a cabin near the Captain, but Val is only accepted after he proves himself in combat. And in keeping with Mezieres’ delight in referencing other creators, the bridge Lieutenant wears a very familiar cap and uniform coat, and goes by the name of Molto Cortes…
So off they go, staying on deck as much as they can, until the last stars disappear, and there is only the Void, so they go below, knowing that somewhere out there…

Don’t Write Comics Like This: Roy Thomas’s America versus the Justice Society

Given a free hand, I would remove every comic Roy Thomas ever wrote featuring the Justice Society of America from continuity. I have no doubt whatsoever about his love for the characters of his childhood, and every doubt under the sun about his ability to write a decent story about them.

Ameriva vs JSA 1

For some time now I’ve been obtaining DVD runs of old comics not merely from eBay but from a Scotland-based collector who has provided thousands upon thousands of comics for me to read, enjoy and comment upon, as you’ve been reading. All things must come to an end and, just as I’ve finally reached the end with modern comics, the well of old comics has dried up. Though there are still thousands I could request, I’ve finally come to the end of what I want.
As a final request, I gave way to my private indulgence, my lifelong favourites, the Justice Society of America. If the series I’ve acquired were up to the standard I want, I would not have needed to buy them. Only a handful of the series I requested are comics I read and never kept. And I deliberately excluded Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron and Young All-Stars. Not even completeness could tempt me.
That didn’t stop A from supplying more series than I’d actually requested, as a generous final gesture for which I am grateful. But he did include one mini-series written by Roy Thomas, the 1982 four-issue America vs the Justice Society. I can’t exactly describe it as an absolute nadir in Thomas’ JSA writings, but that’s solely because that title belongs indisputably to his Last Days of the Justice Society of America Special, though the difference is but a hair’s breadth.
So I’ve read it again. And as a public duty, I wish to eviscerate it all over again, in case any of you should discover its availability on Amazon since 2015 and be tempted to spend good money on it.
I reviewed the series once before, in 1986, for the then-prominent fanzine Arkensword, issue 21. I’ve re-read my review and whilst I wouldn’t ever want to reprint it, I was at least pleased to see that I hit every point and didn’t overlook anything way back then.
To give the series it’s context, it appeared pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the JSA were still the heroes of Earth-2, though having emerged just before the Second World War, and indeed owing their origin (first told in 1977 by Paul Levitz) to a secret mission prior to America’s entry to the War. The JSA members are all chronologically in their sixties but physically approximately twenty years younger due to being bathed by chronal energy in a retrospective All-Star Squadron Annual, by Thomas. The adult Robin, Power Girl and The Huntress are members, the original Star-Spangled Kid an honorary member but also the leader and funder of Infinity Inc., comprised of the sons, daughters and godsons of various JSAers. The Earth-2 Batman and Mr Terrific are dead, The Spectre and Black Canary on Earth-1. Now read on.

Ameriva vs JSA 2

The mini-series consisted of four issues but in practical terms five: issue 1 is double-length and breaks down into two chapters, complete with their own splash pages and chapter titles, so either it was originally written for five issues or Thomas overwrote so much, it had to be tinkered about with.
The purpose of the story is for Thomas to tell the complete history of the JSA, with the primary emphasis on the stories in All Star Comics 3 – 57, but incorporating additions by Levitz and especially himself. By itself, a laudable aim, and one that could have been perfectly interesting, especially in an era where access to the original stories was limited to those both rich and lucky. Thomas, however, felt it necessary to load that history down with a comic book adventure. He was inspired as to how to do this by the then current Hitler Diaries, would that he hadn’t been.
So: the JSA, who have been stalwarts of the Law and Justice for forty years, are suddenly accused of having been Nazi sympathisers and Agents during the Second World War, traitors to America by sabotage and having covered this up ever since. As a premise it’s completely unbelievable, but these accusations are lent credence by their source, the late Batman. Yes, Batman left behind his Diaries, which expose the JSA as lifelong traitors to America, proto- and every other kind of Fascists, who only ever attacked the Japanese during the War.
That the Diaries are indeed genuinely those of Bruce Wayne/Batman is verified by Superman so far as the JSA are concerned. How they are verified as such by anyone else is just the first of the plotholes Thomas doesn’t deign to explain.
To develop his story, Thomas adopts the format of a courtroom drama. It’s not an actual trial, just a Congressional Hearing, attended voluntarily by the surviving JSAers of the Forties, to examine the claims and determine if there is sufficient substance for actual charges to be laid. Fortunately for Thomas, the JSA’s ranks include two heroes who are both lawyers in their civilian life, neither of whom are tarred by the accusations and who happen to have the closest relations with the late Batman/Bruce Wayne: Richard (Robin) Grayson and Helena (Huntress) Wayne, ward and daughter respectively.
And Robin is so impressed by and in awe of his late friend and mentor that he serves as Legal Counsel for the Committee, whilst The Huntress is so committed to the JSA’s innocence that she serves as Legal Counsel for the ‘accused’.
That’s not the whole context, not quite. In addition to the question of why the Batman is lying like this, there are naturally undercurrents. There’s a mystery figure behind all this (of course there is, where would we be without a mystery figure behind all this?). There’s a man who hates the JSA and is determined to pillory them: this is John O’Fallon, editor and proprietor of a big Washington newspaper, who’s ripping off J. Jonah Jameson. Mr O’Fallon is the son of former Senator Kieron O’Fallon. Senator O’Fallon is Thomas’ retcon to get the notorious Joe McCarthy off the hook. In the original Paul Levitz story explaining why the JSA retired in 1950, he used an unnamed figure who was clearly meant to be McCarthy, but Thomas decided to have him killed off on Earth-2 and a fictional figure substituted, either to avoid possible defamation issues or because Thomas has always been a lot less liberal than he let on. Senator O’Fallon went on to die in a house fire and his son believes the JSA murdered him.

Ameriva vs JSA 3

Now, I said that Thomas adopts the format of a courtroom drama, but the better word would be ‘borrows’. Borrows because he hasn’t the least intention of following the strictures of a courtroom drama. That’s why it’s a Congressional Hearing not a trial, because you could not get away with the least bit of this shit in a Trial, whereas even before Thomas makes the point of establishing that special informal rules have been agreed, he doesn’t intend to follow any rules at all, because even in a real Congressional Hearing, you could not get away with the least bit of this shit.
Because in essence, what is going to happen is that the JSA, in no particular order, with no particular logic, are going to stand up and talk, whilst those who aren’t talking backchat and grumble at being accused in the first place. As Legal Counsel, Helena Wayne will occasionally say something that, miraculously, sounds like genuine legal advice, but otherwise will make little or no attempt to stop her clients from displaying an open contempt for the Hearing.
As for Legal Counsel to the Committee, Richard Grayson, he will sit there and say nothing whatsoever, legal, pertinent or otherwise. From time to time he’ll bicker outside with Helena, and accuse her of having some oedipal grievance against her father (and she doesn’t even deck him once) but basically he’d better be doing this pro bono because he ain’t worth shit as a Counsel.
Before I go further, may I digress slightly. There’s usually no point in commenting on the art in a Roy Thomas comic, but I do have to draw attention to it. There are actually three pencillers across the four issues: Rafael Kayanan on issue 1, Mike Hernandez on issue 2 and Howard Bender on issue 3, which is unusual in itself, but all four issues are inked by Alfredo Alacala, who I take it to be the primary cause of the series’ appearance. Remember that I said that at this point, the JSA are supposed to be 60ish but have aged slowly into only their 40s? Not one of them looks it. They are lined and wrinkled, Wonder Woman’s hair is half-grey, they look far too old to be active superheroes. Even Richard Grayson looks too haggard to be active. It looks ugly as well as being in direct contradiction of the JSA’s then-continuity.
Back to the plot, such as it is. I have accused Thomas of choosing a format he has no respect for. Worse still, he is completely contemptuous of it. This is not a trial but he keeps insisting it is and then pissing all over anything trial-like. Do the JSA present any evidence? No, but then neither do the Committee, apart from the damned book. The Spectre pops in to threaten to destroy Earth-2 for its temerity. The Wizard gives surprise and ‘damning’ testimony, the value of which being demonstrated by his belief that his full name, William Asmodus Zard, spells out ‘Wizard’, not that anyone picks up on this.

Ameriva vs JSA 4

It’s all hearsay and unsupported evidence, and the actual writing is abysmal, the dialogue being nothing that any human being could actually speak. The only editor who would pass writing like this is Roy Thomas, who edits the series, making you wonder if Jim Shooter didn’t have some justification apart from power-madness for refusing to renew his Writer/Editorship back at Marvel.
Ultimately, because nothing remotely real applies to this series, the JSA are acquitted. No, they’re not because it wasn’t a trial, but yes, they’re acquitted, they said ‘we did all these good things, even the ones you don’t believe for a second because they were too fantastic to be credible’ and the public, not to mention the uninfluenced majority on the committee said ‘Yay, good guys!’ and that was that.
Well, no. We’ve still got to have the rationale for this farrago (rationale? Hah hah hah hah hah!) Why did Batman lie? To cause the JSA to re-examine its history in full. Why? To get them to remember that time-travelling flop Per Degaton? Why? Because he’s tried to conquer the world again except that instead of Professor Zee’s Time Machine taking him into the Past, it’s taken the fatally-wounded Zee into the future, namely today, and now the JSA can stop Degaton again, which will cause him to commit suicide. Why didn’t Batman just point this all out to the JSA? Now that’s a question.
Here is where we need context again. Midway through Paul Levitz’s run as JSA writer in the late-Seventies All-Star Comics revival, he had Batman, or rather Police Commissioner Bruce Wayne, turn against the Justice Society. Roy Thomas uses this as his justification for Batman going through this whole elaborate charade. It’s ironic that Thomas, the great continuity maven, chose this foundation since Levitz very clearly established that Wayne’s paranoia towards the JSA was based solely – and I repeat solely – on having his emotions controlled by the Psycho-Pirate.
So, in order to fit this in, Thomas does a retcon. Not his usual, All-Star Squadron retcon, of adding connective material to fill in gaps, but a direct overturning of existing continuity that is less that five years old, which he also uses to re-write Levitz’s story of Batman’s death. Sure, it was a crappy death story, but Thomas doesn’t remove any of the crappy bits. Instead, he has Batman dying of cancer, which turned his mind against the JSA so that, even though he’s still killed by two utter one-appearance no-marks, he was going to die anyway, and that makes it better.
Don’t ask me how.
No, from start to finish and on every page, this story is a bust, and it has given me great pleasure to descend upon it with knives and teeth and claws and shredding implements. Which is only fair because I didn’t get any other pleasure out of it, not in 1982 or now.

Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: 02 – The Red Moon Mystery

Dan Dare Audio 2

New Readers Start Here:

B7 Media’s second foray into turning Dan Dare into Audio Adventures in the form of 60 minute radio plays loosely adapted the second Eagle story, ‘The Red Moon Mystery’, loosely here being used in the way you would describe the fit of a ten-times-too-large kaftan: it fits where it touches but you wouldn’t recognise what it covers as a human being.

This story is ‘adapted’ by James Swallow, whose upfront note was very interesting, if in a negative fashion. Swallow first discovered Dan Dare in the pages of 2000AD, and freely admits that his favourite version is the second phase Dare, the leather flying jacketed version drawn by Dave Gibbons. I don’t hold that against him in the least: we always attach ourselves emotionally to what we first read. But it’s in what else he says, which I’m tempted to read as self-defensive though I’m sure it’s not, consciously anyway. But he points out, correctly, that Dan Dare has been reinvented many times before saying ‘I’ve always thought that Dan Dare’s persona is strong enough to transcend his origins and retain what makes him compelling wherever you find him…’, not to mention, ‘(p)recisely because Dare encapsulates the elements of a classic hero, he can be reinvented for a new audience time and again…’

Well, yes and no. The problem with that thinking is that it assumes that Dan Dare is an infinitely malleable creation, that as long as you keep certain aspects consistent – the verve, the intelligence, the optimism, the skill – you can drop him down in any situation and you’ve got a Dan Dare story. That’s to completely ignore context because, just as Sherlock Holmes is not recognisable without Dr Watson, Dan is more than just the sum of his own character. He requires a context in which he is surrounded by recognisable figures. And nothing around him is properly recognisable.

These adventures are set against a very different world whose similarities to the original are literally only superficial. The overwhelming milieu is of cynicism and capitalisation. Dan may still be a Colonel and a Spacefleet pilot, and Spacefleet is now rather more overground after the Venus expedition than at the start, but it’s hedged in with restrictions due to being primarily financed by Eagle Corporation, a multinational that behaves like an alternate Government, concerned only with its commercial interests. Professor Peabody is both Chief Scientist for Eagle Corp and chief shill, Lieutenant Digby is military – marines? – and proud of it, Sir Hubert is complaisant at the situation. Nobody is who they are.

This episode also introduces two other supporting characters, one being an impertinent schoolboy named Flamer Spry and, more substantially, Dan’s Uncle Ivor, except that he’s a scientist working for Eagle Corp, instead of being an archaeologist, he’s a fool and a coward and a would-be murderer, and he’s not even bloody Welsh! Hugh Fraser speaks with a posh southern England accent.

The story borrows some elements of the original ‘Red Moon Mystery’, which can be seen poking through the miasma of this ‘drama’ like a ghost skeleton. Basically, Dan, Digby and Peabody are still confined to orbit thanks to the lethal virus implanted in them by the Mekon that, if they descend to the surface, will destroy not only them but the entire population of the planet. Peabody has, however, discovered that the virus is not biological but nanotechnological. The leading authority on that is Ivor Dare, and he’s on Mars.

The problem is not in the breach in the Dare family between Dan and his father and Ivor but that Mars is a dead and uninhabitable planet except for one secret, commercial base, owned and jealously guarded from interference by, you guessed it, Eagle Corp. Where, or where, is Frank Hampson’s utopian future? This one’s too bloody much like our own shitty present.

So, even though Spacefleet can’t interfere, Dan can take the Anastasia on a routine testing flight to Mars, with marines, where we discover that half the Thoris complex (a borrowing from Edgar Rice Burroughs) is missing along with all of its staff except Dr Dare.

Rather than waste any more time on this, let’s just explain that the menace is giant cyborg insect-like robots, or ‘Space Bees’ per the original, but that there is no Red Moon as such, instead this lot hibernate inside Deimos in between stripping planets and civilisations bare. Thanks to Ivor Dare, they’re starting to wake up and Earth will be their next target. Also they’re a damned sight more sentient, consider every other lifeform in the universe as food and don’t negotiate.

So what we have is an unstoppable menace that makes the Daleks look like kids in the park. I make the comparison deliberately: instead of Hampson’s ingenious decoy satellite per Peabody and Dan, the latter comres up with a debilitating sonic boom stunning the Bees and a burnt toast smell that pts them to sleep. At which point we have a replay of Genesis of the Daleks, where Dan can wipe out the universe’s greatest and most malevolent predators, if he can countenance genocide.

Of course, whereas you and I would fry the fuckers and award ourselves a chestful of medals for doing so, Dan can’t do it. Yes, of course, that is completely in character, but placing him in a situation where he puts the entire universe at risk by deciding to just keep them asleep forever is poor writing, and overlooks the moral question about the actual difference between killing someone and putting them in suspended animation until entropy pulls the lever.

So, no, once more a potentially interesting story is crippled by shackling it to the names of characters who deserve better. There are four more such adventures in this series, which I shalln’t be keeping. The first set will be put on eBay as soon as I’ve discovered how the writer of the next episode plans to circumvent the now-non-existent segue into ‘Marooned on Mercury’.

Valerian et Laureline: 20 – In Uncertain Times


The endgame starts here.
As befits the title, we begin with uncertainty, as to when, and where. Two wheres: the indeterminable save in philosophical terms whereabouts of Valerian and Laureline’s spatiotemporal craft, and within the silent craft, hanging in space, lit only by its own lights and the stars of such zone as it occupies, the whereabouts of Valerian. Laureline, who doesn’t like to be separated from him for too long, finds him where he’s so often to be found, in a VR set-up in which he can see lost Galaxity, his Earth, his home (beautiful CGI images created by Guillaume Ivernel).
Valerian longs for his home, from which he’s separated. It calls to him. Laureline is half-angered by the way he cannot forget. She can’t understand, it isn’t in her nature. It was never her home and she is a creature of now, every now there can possibly be. And as the only other Terran who still lives, other than Jal, whether she understands it or not she’s afraid of losing her love, her partner, afraid of him being sucked into whatever hole Galaxity disappeared, willingly, leaving her alone.
And there’s the unicorn in her, a flashback to how she was transformed so very long ago in the first story in the series, ‘Bad Dreams’, the first of many such references to past adventures, to eleven of the previous nineteen stories all told. But Val’s disturbed, has a premonition of something bad happening to Galaxity. Partly to humour him, and partly because she does love the big dope, she places his hands on hers to initiate a spacetime jump to somewhere uncertain: a leap of chance.
But their destination is not the point. The point is that events and factions are gathering, in Earth, at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century, and our heroes will be called upon to make a deliberate journey there when they are shown the edges of the pattern forming.
It’s the beginning of the 21st Century on Earth (‘In Uncertain Times’ was the first story of the new Millennium). On Hypsis, the planet of the Gods, a familiar family of three are facing difficulties. Other Gods show their contempt by congregating around the base of their tower. This family’s fortunes are declining. Apart from having a cheap and crappy Solar System with only one viable planet, said planet is not delivering them the goods they deserve. The future is clear: annexation of their system to a bigger economic unit, followed by Absorption, and finally Expulsion. And once Gods are expelled, there is no coming back.
Or is there?
God is getting pretty wrathful. The lightning bolts are out. There’s a Multinational mega-corporation on Earth, full of hubris, that’s getting a visitation. Their smug response to the idea of a creator isn’t going to do them any good. But unbeknownst to even them, two totally unconnected research projects, in widely-separated locations, are nearing completion, at which point the combination of the pair will change the game irrevocably.
One last set of players need to be introduced. This is a new mover, tall, red-skinned, with horns, a goatee beard and a forked tail. His name is Sat, or to be more formal, L.C.F. Sat. Once upon a time he was a God of Hypsis, but he gambled and lost (including his personal immortality) and fell. Yes, he is intended to be exactly who you think. The religious are once again about to be offended.
Sat is working in an underground industrial environment at Point Central that’s a combination of a mine, a blast furnace, and a smelting plant, when he’s summoned to the surface by the double-detectives, Harry and Frankie. On the way up, he discorporates and reappears. Sat is prone to dying on a frequent basis, without proper explanation. Harry and Frankie are working for him. They’ve found out about the goings on on Earth, which Sat has anticipated. They’re all off there to take advantage of what’s coming.
How they’ve found out is left unexplored. Ordinarily, we’d suspect the Shingouz, one of the most useful devices Christin and Mezieres created, a universal catch-all for the inexplicable acquisition of knowledge, but not this time. The Shingouz pick the information up off them, and locate our heroes to pass it on, or anyway pass it on to Laureline for free (one of the Shingouz has an entirely understandable crush).
So this brings them back to Earth, and the expected reunion with Mr Albert. Everyone’s now in place.
God’s stern appearance at the Vivaxis board meeting has not impressed them, even though he’s blasted both their new logo and the top floor of their building in Paris. They just won’t believe in him, preferring to ascribe what’s happened to anything else their limited minds can conceive, such as the Unions, or the French tax-payers association. But the troubles being attracted to the company are causing their share prices to dip.
This is all to the good for Sat who’s looking at taking control of the company, having been guided to a good, unprincipled lawyer (sigh, the stereotype) as to the best way to start exploiting the situation. They also guide him to high quality tailors and hairdressers, to turn his overall appearance a bit less outré: hide the horns and tail. They can’t do much about the red skin, though at least it’s dull, not shiny. Nor about the flies that accompany Sat wherever he goes on Earth.
Then there’s Mr Albert, who may have updated some of his technology since the Nuclear Disaster was averted but who still has his reliable carrier-pigeons, like the one incoming from his old friend Professor Petzold, of Vivaxis. Thus our heroes have to split up, Laureline to Romania, via the Parisian shops, leaving her looking simply elegant but perhaps a bit too chic, whilst Val heads to South Africa.
Both penetrate the respective Vivaxis bases. Both learn what’s being created there, Laureline a facility creating ready-to-use clones, Val a complex developing genetically perfect humans. You can see where the combination might freak God out. Both also meet old friends from ‘The City of Shifting Waters’, Schroder in Romania and Sun Rae in South Africa (Valerian gets a bonus with the presence of Irmgall, Ortzog and Blimflim from ‘Heroes of the Equinox’). Neither recognise our heroes, but this is natural: with the Nuclear Disaster in that book having been wiped from history, the only place Val and Laureline’s mission took place was in their diverted memory.
Armed with this information, and with Schroder in tow, our heroes return to Paris and to a public meeting affecting the future of Vivaxis, and by extension Earth. God is determined that this pestilent planet should recognise its obligations to him, largely financial but also by not fundamentally changing the nature of human beings. Everyone’s present, including Mr Albert and Professor Petzold.
And this is where Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres up their game the traditional more than somewhat. This episode is written upon the dawning of the 21st Century, and it’s set at the same time. Christin and Mezieres have been writing and drawing Valerian et Laureline for over thirty three years. It’s been a long strange trip, but neither man is immortal, and a time is looming when the series will need an ending if it is not to be carried on by other hands. What better ending can there be than one?
So everybody’s been brought together for one more massive blast and classic farce. Vivaxis’s President wants to recreate public trust but doesn’t yet know that he’s been bought out by Sat, whilst God’s repeated demands to cancel the immortality programme run up against Sat’s presence, he having lost all right to immortality beyond Hypsis. God’s got lightning bolts but Sat’s got the Law on his side, not to mention an arm round the neck of the Son.
But Valerian’s got a bloody big gun, and one of Schroder’s clones… an inducement to negotiate under the chairmanship of Mr Albert. Deals are made that are, at least, not unsatisfactory to all parties (except Vivaxis’ ex-President). And Val has gotten close enough to God and his counterpart to ask the most important question in the Universe: where is Galaxity? Laureline also has a question, about how there can be two versions of history.
That gets only a philosophical answer, and nothing practical in the service of knowledge, but Valerian gets what he wants. Galaxity, his home, does exist. It was hidden in a massive super Singularity, a Black Hole. He has a mission, at long last, a thing of doing to escape all this being. And Laureline, for all that their idle tourist lifestyle has been her kind of living, loves him so much that she will be with him all the way. On the search. And to the end.

The Strange Death of Alex Raymond

Strange death

I know I said never again, but the title of that post was The Last Cerebus, so there are technical grounds upon which I can escape my self-accusation of hypocrisy. But The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, in its original, now overwritten form in Glamourpuss was the last thing by Dave Sim that interested me and, by a very long way, the last thing he produced that was a vehicle for the undoubted abilities he once had. Between curiosity – not the morbid kind – and in a strange way as a matter of honour, for who he was and what he was and for the years of Cerebus the Ardvaark, I had to do this.

Ominously, it took three goes to even buy the book. Despite my having pre-ordered well in advance of its publication date, which eventually happened in July 2021, the order was never fulfilled by Amazon. Eventually, I got fed up, cancelled the order, re-ordered it from a private seller who had it in stock, only for him to cancel the order five days later, on the basis it was out of stock. My next step was to go on-line and finally buy the book from Blackwell’s Bookshops. This one actually arrived. and I hung on to it until Xmas Day, on which I read it in full. It was a lousy thing to do to myself on the day of Peace and Goodwill to all men.

It’s been eight months and four days since then before I have picked it up to read again. Or rather, to read as much of it as I could stand before it descended too far below the minimum level that I require for my reading. If I were to attempt to summarise this book in one word, that word could only be ‘incomprehensible’.

To set the context, in 2005, a year or so after completing his 6,000 page comics series, Cerebus, Dave Sim started a new, bi-monthly series titled glamourpuss. It was intended as a non-narrative expression of his interest in photorealistic art, that being art that seeks to duplicate real imagery in as objective a fashion as would a photograph, and in particular to study those forms of photorealistic art that were applied to newspaper strips, a sequential form of art produced on a daily basis. As you would imagine, it takes a high degree of drawing skill to achieve this without spending every waking hour, and indeed multiple non-waking hours, on your art.

Sim set out to re-hone his drawing style to match the great masters of this branch of art, in a non-narrative fashion, by drawing from fashion models. Given his notorious attitudes towards women, this was never likely to end well under the best of circumstances. But in order to study his subject in detail with the intensity he assumed, Sim not only had to study the linework and art of the great phororealistic masters – Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon), he had to study them. Not just their techniques, but their thinking, and what he saw as being the rivalry between the three of them.

Sim had already made it plain, in the back pages of Cerebus that he was not intellectually equipped to believe in coincidence. Instead, he believed that art influenced, and in fact manipulated life. This led him to focus on the death of Alex Raymond, and the plethora of both real-life and artistic incidents that surrounded it. glamourpuss gained a serious narrative that soon became the most interesting aspect of it before its cancellation.

At the time this started I knew of Alex Raymond as Flash Gordon’s creator, and to a lesser extent the writer and artist on Rip Kirby. I was to learn that Raymond created Kirby after the Syndicate denied him a return to Flash following his stint in the Army. And I was to learn that Raymond died in 1956, aged 46, in a car accident, whilst driving a sports car owned by his fellow writer/artist Stan Drake, of the long-running romance strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones. This became the focus of his story, in intimate depth and speculation, analysing what was known and challenging what was myth. It moved very slowly and never got further than the final few seconds before Raymond drove Drake’s car off the road at a t-junction, causing it to sail through the air, hitting a tree and killing him instantly.

After glamourpuss was cancelled with issue 24, Sim explored the possibility of producing The Strange Death of Alex Raymond as a series in itself.

Sim is a very intelligent man, though an idiosyncratic one. He is committed to opionions that he regards as self-evidently correct but which the majority of people regard as full of misogynist hatred. The vast majority of the existing SDOAR was set aside, and he began again, taking a new approach that, in this volume, barely even gets near to the circumstances leading up to the accident. Nothing of what he wrote and drew of the circumstances of that day even appears in this book.

The book is sub-titled ‘A Metaphysical History of Comics Photorealism’. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. Structurally, the book consists of four issues of a long form black and white comic book in which Sim appears in his own right and an on-page narrator, within a framing sequence of seemingly total irrelevance, featuring dozens of repetitive panels of a young woman, a real-life Canadian Comic Book Store Manager, based on photos, supposedly taking inventory one night, who keeps finding the first four issues in order and reading them. Even she queries why she’s in the comic.

In 2017, Sim began suffering from what appears, most likely to be some form of RSI, preventing him from drawing for anything but a very short time and even then in severe pain. Typically, he has refused to take medical advice. Art Professor Carson Grubagh began collaborating with him, taking over as artist (unpaid). The next section of the book is immensely long and unbroken-down into any form of instalments: at its end it is jokingly referred to as the longest issue 5 in existence.

The final section is what I found unreadable. Dave Sim simply gave up. He recognised that the continuation of the project was impossible, that there were ultimately far too few interested buyers to make it viable. Grubagh, with Sim’s agreement, took over, completing the final section himself, using his own interpretation of and response to a 31 page set of notes supplied by Sim. This is produced in B&W against blue-printed backgrounds. It is, if anything, even more chaotic than what has gone before and is the part I found physically and mentally unable to read.

And that’s it. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is about lots of things but it is not about the death of Alex Raymond. That subject is relegated to a Book 2 that will never exist. In that respect, this book is an horrendous con, incomplete, open-ended, at war with itself, as much a horrible clash of ill-sorted matters as the truly awful cover: orange and blue? It’s a car crash – pun intended.

So what do you get for your buy? You get a lot of jumbled together theories, lacking in any rational basis other than Sim’s claim that it must be connected, that it can’t be coincidence. It is connected because Sim says it is connected. Some of it is: he hasn’t totally lost his mind, except in the vernacular sense, but his conviction that art dictates life, and that seven is a mystical number proving that fiction predicts actuality overwhelms any attempt to bring a rational approach to the material he endlessly drags forward. Even Grubaugh, in his coda, is overcome by this, though whether he can make any better sense of it than Sim will have to wait until I make another attempt to read that final section.

And what we also got is a marathon, widespread rant against Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, purported originator of the idea behind The Heart of Juliet Jones, whom Sim despises from the very depths of his Rational Light for being a sexually active female, and about whom roughly half this book would count as libel if it were legally possible to libel a dead person. We even get the sad old line trotted out that women don’t want to have sex for the sake of it, they universally want ‘long, happy marriages’, but Hollywood took that away from them.

So. I bought it. I read it. I’ve now spoken my mind upon it. I need never have anything to do with Dave Sim again in my life, save for the signed and framed page of Cerebus art hanging over the head of my bed. I find that impossible to reconcile with this book.

Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: e01 – Voyage to Venus

Dan Dare Audio 1

They’ve been around for quite a while, since 2016 in fact, and they’ve been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra as well as being issued in rather expensive triple CD boxsets. The pair of these, each comprising three full-length episodes, have been around my compacted dwelling space for quite a while too, albeit measured in months rather than years, awaiting time amongst all the other things I do for me to just sit down and listen undistracted. Now I have begun and, late though it may be, I’m going to set out my response.

The Dan Dare The Audio Adventures Project was set up by B7 Media, using a team of scripters, with Andrew Mark Sewell as Director and Simon Moorehead as Producer. B7 have a lot of experience in SF Audio books, having done a number of Dr Who projects beforehand. However, I have to give them massive black marks for Volume One for claiming that Dan Dare was created by the Reverend Marcus Morris and only ‘written and drawn’ by Hampson. Dare was entirely Hampson’s work and Morris gave him full credit for creating everything about the character. It got my back up a long way.

Six stories have been produced, each taking their titles and at least the shells of the subjects of Frank Hampson’s original Eagle stories in mostly chronological order. I remember reading brief synopses of the planned stories, which had been freely adapted. Indeed, there’s a charmingly self-congratulatory note from episode 1 scripters Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle about the sterling ways in which they’d not just updated Dan Dare to accomodate changes in scientific knowledge and technology in the years since his debut, but how they’ve revised the whole thing to put female characters on a par with male and to remover ‘all traces of cap-doffing class deference’ out of the Dan/Digby relationship. I reserve making comment.

Anyway, what of the actual adaptation? Let me credit the good things first. The acting is generally excellent throughout, though I have reservations about Geoffrey McGivern’s portrayal of Digby, though much of that has to do with the writing of the character. Ed Stoppard (son of playwright Tom) is very good as Dan himself whilst Icelandic actress Heida Reed plays Professor Peabody. These three are the central characters, alongside Raad Rawi fighting his way through several effects as The Mekon and Bijan Dameshmand arriving late as Sondar but clearly intended for a more major role in the ongoing series. The acting is good, the production very clear and precise and the effects effective.

Those are the good things.

You all know me as a lifelong Dan Dare fan, wedded inextricably to the original Frank Hampson version of the character. Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle say the character had to be updated. I say that’s not necessarily true. BBC Radio once did a four part play, which I also have, that adapted the first story pretty closely, so it can be done without dipping into satire and cynicism about older and simpler ideals. But I’m not so stupid as to imagine that most attempts at a modern Dan Dare will be of a modern Dan Dare. That means changes.

There are three principle types of change that have gone into this episode. Advances in scientific knowledge and technology have been catered for. They preserve the science of the original stories from seeming foolishly outdated. These I am ok with. The other two types, changes of character and of plot, which are inter-related, are much more serious and for me, only Dan Dare, of the central cast of characters, remains a fair representation of the character worthy of the name. He’s solid, he’s intelligent, he thinks quickly, he is an inveterate optimist, free of cynicism. Overall, he tends more to the flippant that the original, but he never goes OTT with this, and at least one of his quips is laugh-out-loud funny, if rather obvious. In the comic, these lines would have come from Digby, but we don’t have that Digby with us.

However, cynicism is the word I would apply, in spades, to both Professor Peabody and Lieutenant, not Spaceman, Digby, though both of them would prefer it if you called them pragmatic. I’ll go into these interpretations in a little more detail shortly, but their ‘remaking’ is part and parcel with the overall episode.

It’s the same old story. This is a perfectly good, in fact probably very enjoyable radio SF series crucified by having Dan Dare and other quasi-random names attached to it surgically when these names lack the associations they’re earned. Dan is the only character to remain properly true to his original: everyone and everything else is no more than a label.

As for the story, it is, naturally, about Earth’s first contact with Venus and the first encounter with the Treen (not Treens, the name is here plural instead of singular) and their Supreme Leader, the Mekon (whose title is Supreme Leader, not Mekon, mking the name by which he is known illogical). That’s all the similarities, though. As for the set-up, where do I begin? Practically every detail has been changed. Let me try.

Ten years ago, due to a spaceship crash on Birmingham, for which the Pilot, William Dare, left on life support ever since, was scapegoated, the ISF (Interplanetary Space Fleet). His son Dan, a Colonel and a Test Pilot (Colonel in what? Test Pilot for what? Never explained) is committed to clearing his father’s name (resemblances to Geoff Johns’ revised origin for the Barry Allen Flash, written 2009, 100%). He also applies to be transferred to ISF every year on the anniversary of the disaster even though it no longer exists, because he believes it will once again.

He is unaware that seven years previously an alien spacecraft crashed in Lancashire, chock full of advanced alien technology and instructions from Sondar on Venus, explaining how to build a spaceship to travel to Venus and meet him. ISF was revived, secretly, still under Sir Hubert (we assume Guest, his surbame is not mentioned) but supported by private enterprise – the Eagle Corporation, natch – who leading scientist and premier free-market worshipper and all-round corporate shill is Professor Peabody (Jocelyn, mentioned once). Dan will pilot both the ship to Venus and the massive publicity campaign over the return to space, because he has a pretty face.

Meanwhile, very much against Dan’s wish, the final member of the crew is Lieutenant Digby (we assume Albert, also not mentioned, probably too old-fashioned). What Digby is Lieutenant of is never mentioned: we assume it’s of ISF since Sir Hubert sends him to fetch Dare, but then Dare is disgusted by him because he represents military brass, and is the warmongerer and weapons master on the mission.

I think that is enough to demonstrate just how different the audio adventure is to the original story. Only the shell of the latter is preserved. Nevertheless, I have one more serious example to put before you, and that’s The Mekon. Yes, he’s the Supreme Intelligence behind the Treen but he is portrayed as almost a benevolent dictator. He runs everything and everyone along lines devised by himself and which guarantee an orderly and peaceful environment for his subjects. He has no desire to take over Earth, not yet anyway.He is content where he is. As for Sondar, he’s a terrorist.

This is a much-diminished version of the Mekon, and I have to say that he loses traction by being only heard and not seen: the brilliance of the character and his true menace lay, like the Daleks over decade later, in his being simultaneously an easy shape/design to recognise yet by that being utterly unhuman. And it is painful to listen to both Peabody and Digby calling him ‘Supreme Leader’ (Christ, no!) and theformer sucking up to him and talking about corporate mergers, sharing his technology and off about ‘No profit, no freedom’.

Yes, true colours come out at the end. The Mekon intends to send the Earthmen back home infected with a disgusting, fatal, rapid-spreading virus that will trigger as soon as they’re in Earth orbit and basically kill off the entire population, leading Peabody to flutters of self-disgust at how she could even have thought of collaborating with him, but by then she has touched pitch.

And as for the Mekon, once he’s forced into flight off-planet by Dare’s ingenious trick that raises the Treen mindlessly against him, he decides on revenge by taking over the entire solar system: better late than never. Meanwhile, he’s taken the only virus antidote with him, so Dare, Peabody and Digby can’t go homde and are forced to go chasing after him, thus setting up the sequel.

So, overall, the same old story. A potentially good audio adventure crippled by tagging it to an existing creation with only minimal and superficial connection to the original, mostly in name only. Why do that? The audience that knows Dan Dare will only be offended, the audience that doesn’t won’t know the difference. Give the characters new names – if you have a spark of originality in you. After all, based on the first episode at least, this is substatially the best effort I’ve seen, read or hurt – in its own terms.

So I’ll make a point of listening to the test of the series, and I’ll drag out the BBC radio series as well, of which I think I’ve got two DVDs. I shall keep you posted.

Valerian et Laureline: 19 – Orphan of the Stars


‘Orphan of the Stars’ followed more or less directly on from ‘Hostages of Ultralum’, as Valerian and Laureline play out their impulsive role as informal Guardians to the Caliphette of Iskaladam. Full marks then for continuity but a considerable demerit for saddling the story with the brat… I’m sorry, the mischievous young thing.
Add in that his father, the Serene Grand Caliph, has put up another massive reward for the return of his tentacle-headed little tyke, which is being relentlessly pursued by the Quatuor Mortis, now conducting their attacks by reference to musical terminology (pretentious or what), and we have an adventure that repeats far too many motifs from its predecessor, but without anything like so serious a point.
By being nice, a fact that Valerian regrets far more than Laureline, and even she’s getting sick of the sight of the brat since he hasn’t learnt an atom’s worth of maturity or selflessness, the pair have condemned themselves to life on the run, chasing around seeking not so much sanctuary from their pursuit as brief respite, and unable to trust anyone, no matter how much a friend, not to turn them in for that reward.
All for the sake of the ungrateful Caliphette. The replay is far less satisfying for lacking anything of substance to it, such as the attempts of the Ultralum workers to claim a decent life from their fascist employer.
As such, I didn’t think much of the story. It introduced a new trick, in short-term time travel devices, given to Val and Laureline by the grateful workers they rescued last story. These are handheld devices that allow them to shift backwards and forwards in time by up to five minutes. They’re of immediate use when the story begins, in media res, on the backwater planet Shimballil, with our two heroes and their burden cornered by the Quatuor Mortis, with no escape. Four minutes earlier, they can take an alternate route, though this doesn’t do much for them at first, until they knock Glu, a mature student puffuz deliverer (think pizza) off his ‘bike’ and bribe him using the grumpy transmuter into helping them escape to a luxury island, currently occupied by film mogul Ty Koun IV (groan!), his scriptwriter Herman and his two triple-breasted starlets (someone’s clearly caught up with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
Once again, we’re reading something that is less a story than a chase sequence. Ty IV challenges Val to a Mug-Wrecker game, which is something like a movable joust, winner chooses his prize. It’s clear that Ty IV has his eye on Laureline, who’s guaranteed not to like that. Thanks to that time device, Val wins the bout, very publicly, and takes a space yacht as their prize. Ty admits he would have demanded Laureline, who he reckons would make a superb film star (she would, you know, but our favourite redhead is not into being told what to do).
So they intend to drop off Glu at the University, but he’s given them an idea. They can’t go on running forever, putting the Caliphette in danger and neglecting his education, so they start looking for somewhere safe and secure for him to go to school, despite his rooted objection to being separated from his ‘nanny’. Meanwhile, the Quatuor pursue them from pillar to post.
In order to pose as the little brat’s Guardian, Laureline once more changes costume. This time it’s nothing overtly sexy, just a pale-blue floaty top and a knee-length skirt, but no matter the look Mezieres gives her, you’d follow her a long way down the street. Fret not, something more overt is coming.
Because finding education at the university that isn’t based upon ridiculously outré psychological principles is harder than you might think, not to mention expensive. And without being able to return to their ship, which is doubtless staked out, to recharge their grumpy, our heroes are rapidly running out of funds.
The solution has already been foreshadowed, so Laureline swallows her pride and agrees to become a movie star. She is welcome instantly by Ty, who has his entire shooting schedule re-written to accommodate her. Rather than a film, it’s like a daily soap, without continuity, with each day’s filming deleted after transmission and the next day’s written on the basis of audience perception as to what they want to see. A satirical vision.
Currently violence is out and sex is in, and despite her having only two breasts to their three each, Laureline is in and the starlets out. Her costume is basically a cross between a swimsuit and a showgirl’s outfit, in bright yellow, and she gets one line, which is a come on to the leading man, who drops into a clinch and gives her an unscripted passionate snog (well, it wasn’t in Laureline’s script).
No need to worry. She’s a hit alright, but whilst she’s being lauded, Laureline is also plotting. She tells Val to follow her back five minutes and be ready. Once again she cruises, once again she recites her line, but this time she gives her leading man one almighty punch in the gob, causing enough confusion for her, Val and the Caliphette to get away.
You see, they’ve found a school. It’s safe and secure. It’s also based upon Eton, down to the school uniform. Naturally the Caliphette hates it, for more reasons than that it’s taking him away from Laureline. It’s also damned expensive and they don’t have quite enough… That is, until the noble grumpy exhausts itself to the limit to fill up the covers.
So now the annoying little brat is off their hands and Val and Laureline can breathe, and move, a lot more easily. They intend to leave their informal charge there until the heat, and the reward, dies down, so there’s the threat of the selfish little bugger reappearing in the future, which I’d rather not see.
But ‘Orphan of the Stars’ has moved us inexorably nearer the end. At this point there are only four more books remaining, and the last three of those are a trilogy. Will the Caliphette return to plague us again or will he come a loose end, left unknotted? It won’t be too much longer until we find out.

Valerian et Laureline: 18 – Hostages of Ultralum


This was more like it, so far as I was concerned. Hostages of Ultralum was a more light-hearted adventure for all its serious underpinning in a story that once again sees Laureline kidnapped, sparking off a chase story that overflows with Christin and Mezieres’ patented weird aliens.
Before I delve deeper into that, I just want to mention this little underlying theme of having the ‘girl’ kidnapped and the man have to rescue her. It’s a crude and, frankly, antiquated cliché that reduces the female to a passive role whilst emphasising the male as the active factor. So why don’t we mind it in Valerian et Laureline?
Largely it’s because the creators subvert it so effectively. Laureline, we know, is no helpless female, whilst Valerian may be the action hero down to his space-boots, but he’s not necessarily the most effective, so between them the rescue is never quite that condescending. But there’s also the factor that subconsciously the victim/rescuer dynamic is perfectly reflective of their complementary natures.
That’s exemplified by the set up. Clearly our heroes have got a great deal of Blutoks left over after getting the ship fixed in ‘The Circles of Power’ as they’ve gone and booked themselves a luxury space cruise on a massive galactic liner, patronised by the rich, powerful and obnoxious. It’s easy to see whose idea it is: Laureline is ecstatic at everything they see and Val is bored, because her nature is in being and his is in doing. Hence, for all her smarts, her toughness, her independence, Laureline is by nature suited to being the kidnappee, and Val the gallant, faithful, rescuer.
Actually, he’s not just bored, he’s nauseated by some of the other passengers. Largely this is the Serene Grand Caliph of Iskaldan, fantastically rich from his near-monopoly of Ultralum, fantastically dictatorial, and fantastically a shit: it’s like some law of the Universe: have x amount of money, turn into a bastard, do not pass Go, do not collect £200. I’m with Val.
Then there’s the Caliphette, his son, who’s the archetypal spoilt rich brat, never heard the word No, who seems to have picked out Laureline to be the subject of his pranks. Which is where the trouble starts.
Our heroes are in the bar. Laureline is dressed up to the nines, although in her case the nines are inadequate, so let’s say she’s dressed up to the thirty-sevens. The Caliphette is hanging around her. Val’s drinking in a bad mood, largely engendered by another rich, aloof, disdaining passenger who wishes him to leave because she does not like the presence of humans. That’s hardly surprising as she’s wearing an ornate, ridged and very recognisable suit of body armour we’ve already seen in ‘On The Frontiers’, and she is indeed poor Kistna, murdered by Jal for her powers (Kistna comes of a race that is guaranteed reincarnation: she has been treated sympathetically by her Gods who have reincarnated her as her previous self).
Enter the Quatuor Mortis, a quartet of mercenary crooks immaculately dressed in evening suits, each wearing eye-covering ‘glasses’ that resemble that incredibly heavy thing the optician puts on your face in order to stick different lenses in. They are heavily armed: they’re carrying a Schniarfer. They’re there to kidnap the Caliphette, and welcome to him, except that in his panic he’s got the tentacles that grow out of the top of his head, like hair, tangled round Laureline’s legs in a knot not easy to unravel, so they take her too.
What’s more, they take Kistna’s ship, whilst leaving the Schniarfer behind to terrorise the passengers, until Val grabs him and binds his Shubinal gland, turning him harmless.
The chase is on. Kistna has a psychic bond to her ship that enables her to tell it’s being taken to Point Central. Despite her resentment of humans, and her open scepticism as to their having deep loving feelings like those Val is currently displaying, she consents to come on Val’s ship, along with the Schniarfer. To Point Central, to the long abandoned Terran sector and its lone inhabitant, a much older and decidedly penitent Jal, who prostrates himself in front of her to apologise for his previously murdering her. Kistna, being of a race that holds grudges but doesn’t do hatred, forgives him, and agrees to join him and Val in the pursuit.
Meanwhile, and there are several meanwhiles to deal with, the Serene Grand Caliph is no longer serene. He’s raving over his Caliphette to the point of offering a reward of 100 Trillion Putibloks (which clearly doesn’t equate to the old farthing, though with 100 Trillion of them…) for his son’s return, especially as he doesn’t trust Valerian not to bog it up. This attracts attention from several quarters, amongst them the cruise-liner’s ineffective security, Frankie and Harry the Double Detectives (kind of re-growable Siamese twins) and those three inevitable Proboscideans, the Shingouz.
And there’s Laureline. She’s been taken to a lousy drab, and extremely smelly planet that has one of the greatest deposits of Ultralum in the universe (into which the Caliphette trips her with a tentacle, after she says something bad about him, causing her to stink to high heaven, be soaked from head to feet and ruin that gloriously sexy outfit). The Quatuor Mortis have been hired by the workers of this planet, who take deadly risks, who work for a pittance, and intend to use the Caliphette to secure proper wages, working conditions and regulations. In short, they want to unionise, which is like a red rag to a bull when it comes to the Caliph, who’s a true-to-his-boots Boss or, more appropriately, Slaver.
Laureline needs a shower, after which she is dressed in the least sexy clobber they could find, which is also too big for her. She’s already sent off her ever-present Tracer-Tshung, enabling Val to find her location, and now she uses her Grumpy Transmuter to bribe her way out of confinement, and onto the side of the workers.
Val has arrived in the system of this planet which is elusive and difficult to locate due to the massive temporal shifts that ripple through the various bodies, and which are a fundamental cause of the Ultralum. When the ship gets banged up, so soon after its refurb too, he and the Schniarfer take to a module that’s more easily manoeuvrable, leaving the ship behind under cloaking.
So everybody gets to the planet. The Serene Grand Caliph intends to slaughter all the workers, they being easily replaceable by other scum, but since to him it appears that Laureline has rescued his son, he gives her the 100 Trillion Putibloks, not that she wants it. Everyone else starts helping themselves whilst she sits there disgusted and sickened. Just the right moment for Val to turn up, holding a Schniarfer whose Shubinal gland he can unbind with a flick of the wrist…
And for Jal and Kistna to materialise in her ship to take away all those who are going, which includes the workers’ leaders, to whom Laureline gives the money, the Schniarfer, the Shingouz who guided Kistna here for free (!?!) and, at the last moment, a Caliphette who has learned more about the realities of the Ultralum business than he is comfortable with, and besides has become attached to our favourite redhead as a much less sycophantic nurse than his Dad’s concubines.
Leaving only the problem of trying to find where Val left that dratted spatiotemporal craft…
Yes, I enjoyed ‘Hostages of Ultralum’ tremendously. It offered a simple story, full of comic elements, not to mention being wonderfully Old Home Week with the return of so many familiar faces, making me wonder why it took so long for Christin and Mezieres to do that.