The Infinite Jukebox: The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’


Listen carefully: this is the Sound of the Apocalypse. Forget two riders, these are the winds that blow Four Horseman onwards.
The first piece of Jimi Hendrix music I ever heard was when ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ was rushed out in the wake of James Marshall Hendrix’s death in October 1970, and briefly held the Number 1 slot before Dave Edmunds and ‘I Hear You Knocking’ improbably cleaned up the rest of the year. To a musical newbie such as myself, freshly fifteen and still not a year of listening to Radio 1, this was the sound of an alien life-form, not music that I could in any understand.
And the Seventies were not kind to me in terms of understanding Jimi Hendrix, when my prog-rock listening friends were into music with more keyboard wizardry than guitar heroics, when Radio 1’s propensity for oldies would only go near the singles and then but rarely, and when it would take until the turn of the Eighties into the Nineties for me to finally solicit a friend into lending me those three albums so that I could at last begin to understand for myself what people saw, and heard, in Jimi Hendrix.
But long before then, I had heard ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and found in it something that I could understand, that instincts as yet too nascent to stand for themselves responded to. This is the sound of the end of the world.
Those acoustic guitars that storm through the intro, the powerful, muscular drumming, the sense of space surrounding what sounds like more than three men. The guitar winding up into the first of several solos. Hendrix, more upfront, more strong than in the past, on songs he had written himself, echoes the sound of the music by singing ‘There must be some way out of here’, but the music has already stolen from us any idea that there will be.
The song comes from Bob Dylan, which enables it to be structured as a song, but Hendrix has taken it apart and put it back together again, in a way that Dylan himself has followed ever since, but the solos are Hendrix himself, riding on the wind. They are short, intense, fluid, punctuating those moments between the verses, as the sound of finality rises.
The hour is getting late: Hendrix cues off this to spiral away into the most expressive of his solos, uses all the sounds he can bend out of his guitar, including a brief backwards slide. The acoustics perpetuate the rhythm, Mitch Mitchell muscles up, Noel Redding holds the two together…
And All Along The Watchtower…
We are on the walls, the last walls, looking out over the devastation. Outside in the cold distance… two riders were approaching…
And Hendrix screams into the sound of the end of the worlds, his guitar howling into the void that is coming, all words gone, only the music to tell us what comes forward from the last horizon that you or I will ever see…
There is almost common consent that this is one of the greatest cover versions ever recorded. George R R Martin didn’t need to invent the Nazgul and the Armageddon Rag, he could have just popped this on the stereo and played it.
Yet in a way it was my gateway back into the rest of Hendrix’s short but bountiful career, the gateway inwards and the song was the gateway outwards. I took in his music, found a place and a meaning for it many years after the effect, added to my understanding after decades of listening to imitators and disciples.
And still I come back here, to stand on the edge, and know that when it all comes crashing down and the last fire and ice breaks upon us, I have heard the wind howl and seen those cold blank shapes moving their slow thighs, slouching towards us, not to be born but to wipe the universe clean. And Hendrix’s last solo will accompany their slow advance upon the Watchtower.

 

Dunblane: 22 Years


Some things never go away.

It took a mention on a Social forum to clue me in that today is the 22nd Anniversary of the school massacre at Dunblane, and it took less than an instant to take me back.

I was working in North Manchester then, Sedgley Park, near Prestwich, and going to Manchester United games. It was possible, without straining the speed limit, to drive from Sedgley Park to Old Trafford, visit the Ticket Office and be back within my lunch hour. We were on the run-in to overhauling Newcastle United, on the road to the Double Double. I was going to Old Trafford.

It was a bright, sunny day. I hadn’t popped in a cassette player, instead I was listening to the radio. I’ve no idea what channel it might be: certainly not Radio 1, probably Five Live. I was about ten minutes out and driving alongside a park-like area when they announced shootings at a Scottish school.

There were further bulletins, there, and back. Flat updates, delivered from a studio nowhere near Dunblane. It maintained a distance in those early minutes, for which I’m grateful. I switched on a car radio midway through Hillsborough: no-one was speaking but the background sound was enough to tell me that something horrible was taking/had taken place. I don’t think I could have coped with an update directly from Dunblane, not with the atmosphere that would have penetrated.

I got back to the office, in a dilemma as to what to say. This was an age before the Internet, and social media. We don’t realise now how slow news could spread, when there weren’t a million sources diseminating information from the middle of things. I could easily have been the only person in that office who knew what was going on.

It was strange to be like that. It could have been something I’d imagined, misunderstood, got wrong. No such luck. The television that night confirmed everything, made it all horribly real.

But mention Dunblane, and I can see what I saw out of the car, sun in the sky, empty parkland, all things of peace and quiet and this news coming over the radio that no-one wanted to believe.

And I have another indelible memory. A group of local musicians recorded a charity single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’, with which I was familiar from its 19070’s chart run. I no longer listened to Radio 1, I hadn’t heard it. I no longer watched Top of the Pops but I watched it the night they were to appear.

It wasn’t the song itself but the occasion. The sincerity in the faces and the voices. I began to cry. I wasn’t so sentimental, and prone to emotion then, when I’m having to repress tears just at the memory.

The song was received in silence, and at its end, the camera panned across the studio, to a young man beginning a song with an acoustic guitar intro. Was this part of it? Was it a segue? The song, pure and sweet, with a refrain of ‘Child, beautiful child’ couldn’t have been more faultlessly chosen. My heart split even further apart.

Later, I found that this was Mark Owen, ex of Take That, a long time before I found myself finding out more about Take That than I dreamed I’d ever need to. It was his first solo single. It was a fortuitous release, for although the juxtaposition sounds cheap, mechanical and manipulative, in that moment it was perfect for squeezing out even more sobbing.

And now it’s 22 years. It was many of those years before I learned that Jamie Murray was one of the children, cowering under the Headmaster’s desk, trying to shelter his little brother Andy in case that murderous bastard should come in. I cannot begin to conceive what it would be like to go through that experience, at that age, and if Andy Murray is ever something of a grump, he has a free pass on that from me.

But 22 years is as nothing to those memories. The sinking feeling, rendering everything else, including the ticket I was going to buy, utterly meaningless in the face of what had happened. The impact of those two songs, presented in silence (I didn’t watch the rest of the show: how could you have a Top of the Pops after that opening?). Some things never go away, no matter how much you might wish to find them sinking into the back of your memory. Say Dunblane, and I am there again. I always will be. And I wasn’t even involved.

Dan Dare: Parsecular Tales


Another issue of Spaceship Away and another new Dan Dare story, written and drawn by Tim Booth, comes to an end, temporarily at least.
‘Parsecular Tales’ made its debut as long ago as 2010, immediately following on from the completion of Booth’s ‘The Gates of Eden’. It’s taken over six years to reach this point, issues 22 to 41, a loose, sprawling story, full of rambling diversions that never really amounted to anything, and which ended up in the same place as ‘The Gates of Eden’. I’m honestly not sure what to make of this story, and I’m not immediately convinced about taking it as ‘canon’.
The story is set in 2034, and according to Booth, Dan Dare has only just taken over as Spacefleet controller, as opposed to merely Controller (UK). Digby has finally accepted a promotion to officer, and is now a Major, and still the Controller’s right hand man. Hank and Pierre have left the Service, cashing in on their back pay from their period in suspended animation, Hank to become a Fluffalo (?!) farmer on a Saturnian moon, Pierre as a trader (and sometime smuggler). Everyone’s gotten noticeably older except Sir Hubert Guest, who is now the Prime Minister and looks completely unchanged, even though he’s 91 years old in Frank Hampson’s chronology.
Dan looks haggard and Digby’s gone bald and grown an enormous great handlebar moustache to compensate.
The looseness of the story was reflected by the looseness of its format. ‘Parsecular Tales’ began as six-page episodes, lacking the traditional Spaceship Away format of the Eagle title box. This continued for thirteen episodes, until Booth began producing ‘Mercury Revenant’ contemporaneously, when it dropped back to four page episodes for two issues, and then wound up as traditionally designed two page episodes, with the logo, appearing two an issue until the recent final episode. This puts the whole story at 112 pages by my count.
Booth starts with Hank on his farm, receiving an unscheduled visit from his old copain, Pierre, who has a delivery for him: it is a Thork telesender which he has to switch on and then just watch until something happens. This is many weeks later, in which time Pierre, heading for Venus for  a ceremony recognising the overthrow of the Mekon has only got as far as CONSDOCK, a secret Earth Research Station commanded by Colonel Dare, with his batman, Spaceman Digby
Intertwined with this is a Thork take-off from Spacefleet HQ with the Controller and Major Digby on board, already in suspacells to permit a fast getaway at the kind of speeds only Thorks can endure. Funnily enough, they are en route to CONSDOCK.
But the Colonel in command is Alastair Dare, nephew to the newly-elevated Controller and former Olympic Runner (looking good considering that that was the 2000 Olympics on Venus), and Spaceman Albert Digby, scion of the newly-balded Major.
Alastair Dare is overlooking the forthcoming test flight of Project Magellan, the latest attempt to come up with a Faster Than Light drive. Controller Sir Daniel is there to inspect it, Major Digby to inspect his son.
But that’s not all. Booth is tripping from scene to scene, laying a network of seemingly isolated incidents that, as the story develops, will come together to fit a so-far-unseen pattern. Admiral Lex O’Malley, crossing the South Martian Pole solo for what appears to be no more than a bet, discovers something that has him calling for Dan Dare before he’s knocked out in mid-transmission.
And Hank Hogan’s telesender finally delivers an unexpected visitor, all the way from Mekonta: the now somewhat mature but still attractive Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody.
The action is kick-started by the sudden failure of the Asteroid Belt Impulse Wave generators, sending the Solar System grid off-balance. This causes panic everywhere, and the immediate postponement of Project Magellan (to be more or less forgotten for the rest of the story) whilst Dan takes personal charge of the Asteroid situation. Thankfully, there’s a ship on hand at CONSDOCK that can get a hand-picked team to a) the Martian South Pole to rescue Lex and b) the Asteroids, and this is Pierre’s Le Chat Noir, which may be old and decrepit like everyone, but which has multiple motors including Monatomic hydrogen and an untested Halley Drive (to later be forgetfully called the Haley Drive: sloppy).
But let us not forget Hank and Jocelyn, who aren’t exactly shagging from the moment they are re-united but might as well be. Booth goes further than he did in ‘The Gates of Eden’ to pointing this pair at each other, and given that Dan Dare is basically an asexual figure, I suppose it’s only fair, but there’s a large part of me that cannot be reconciled to the idea of this pairing, and which has me struggling uphill for much of the story.
Besides, that the Prof still wanting to crawl into Hogan’s arms when he’s wearing a garish pink zoot suit that’s an offence to the eyes is an improbability no story could ever recover from.
Still: the telesender has bounced Jocelyn from Mekonta to Rhea, and now it bounces both of them back for dinner. The Professor is involved in a Treen project to replace the spaceship with inter-system telesending, and both she and Hank are to be surreptitiously arrested and taken to the base of a secret Treen Trans-Temporal Research station, set up under the behest of Governor Sondar, but headed by one Halcyon Scobal, Chief Scientist.
Scobal is tall and striking, dresses in archaic clothing, plasters a basilisk symbol over everything within reach and his surname practically screams anagram across the entire auditory spectrum, but even with all these clues for the terminally hard of thinking, not to mention that he’s the living spit of his uncle, it takes Hank and Jocelyn absolute ages to recognise him as being the nephew of Doctor Blasco of ‘Operation Saturn’.
One final story element to throw in: before Peabody and Hogan are picked up by the Project security force, they have a strange encounter via the telesender, as a broken and battered version of Syndar appears, seeking aid and mouthing cryptic utterances, before vanishing. Remember Syndar? He was the cyborg Treen of ‘The Gates of Eden’ who was the aid of Bob Dylan, aka John Wesley Hibbings. And according to him, their base, Shelter, has been destroyed and Hibbings is dead. Only one of these things is true.
The thing is that, despite everybody’s memories having been erased after ‘Eden’, and Hogan having no idea who Syndar is, Peabody remembers him instantly, as do most of the others later in the story. Why is this? I’m sorry, Booth doesn’t provide any explanations. In fact, he doesn’t provide much of anything relating to any answers.
I’ve described the set-up at some length so that you can see that a good job is done in providing a web of disparate strands, out of which a good, cohesive story can be forged, but the problem is that they are all little more than gossamer threads, to be abandoned in favour of Booth’s real interest in the story, which turns out to be bloody Bob Dylan again.
What was O’Malley doing in the Martian Antarctic and what did he find there? No idea, don’t care.
Will Project Magellan succeed? No idea, don’t care.
What is Scobal/Blasco’s plan? Hooking up with the Vashtilian Migration, which is coming through the Solar System and will destroy it en route. What’s his part in all this? Don’t know, don’t care, blast him to death off-panel and have the Professor tell us it happened.
What about the Asteroid Impulse Generator? It was blasted by the Vashtilian’s, one wave of which appears to have slipped through the Solar System without anyone noticing, except that it destroyed Cosmic and the McHugh’s (McHugh’s? McHoo’s: sloppy). Incidentally, they destroy CONSDOCK too, and Shelter, though in contrast to what Syndar said earlier, it seems that was because it was actually in the way of the beam they sent to destroy CONSDOCK.
What’s Dan Dare going to do to protect Earth from the Vashtilian menace? Fuck all, actually, don’t care.
No, seriously. We really are re-running ‘The Gates of Eden’ here. Dan and Co get whizzed off into some kind of hyper-space to board a massive space vessel that looks like a gigantic juke-box, where of course Hibbings has been alive all along and is offering a repeat of the explore-the-Multiverse deal. O’Malley’s too busy with the Navy, Hank wants to go back to his Fluffalo farm, Peabody to join him there and Pierre wants to keep on trading. But Dan the newly-promoted Controller is fed up with Admin and decides to have some fun for himself, and Digby has completely reversed his original opposition, so to Hell with the threat to the Solar System, let’s boogie.
Cue final episode. Dan has disappeared, all sorts of plans are being carried out in and out of Spacefleet, nobody’s talking about or concerned in the slightest about the implacable, invincible Vashtilians, who have vanished as completely as any sense of logic or structure or consistency to this ‘story’. And Digby’s hair has started growing again…
It’s not even an ending, just a coming to a stop. ‘Parsecular Tales’, named for a made-up word whose most plain association is the parsec, a measure of spacial distance approximating to 3.6 Light-years, is a meaningless title, befitting a meaningless story. The inference is that it will return at some future stage but frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that nobody else seems to be able to produce new Hampson-continuity Dan Dare stories, I’d counsel against agreeing to run any more episodes.
This does not count as extended canon as far as I’m concerned.

The Infinite Jukebox: Joan Baez’s ‘Diamonds and Rust’


I love this song. For me, it’s the best thing Joan Baez has ever done, especially the full-length version (a verse was edited out of the middle for the single, which even in that truncated form was still a pure gem). It’s a very simple, very beautiful love song, addressing old times long since gone. It deals with Baez’s relationship, in the Sixties, with Bob Dylan, and it’s addressed as a letter, or some other form of memoir to him, recalling what what was between them, but in the end dismissing, not without a degree of regret, any thought of resuming things. It’s spun on a delicate acoustic guitar line, with Baez’s pure, clear voice soaring above, in the grip of memory.
Well I’ll be damned, she starts, here comes your ghost again, but that’s not unusual, it’s just that the moon was full, and you happened to call. A voice comes out of the past and starts her memories. She asks, out of idle curiosity where he’s calling from (a booth in the midwest). It’s just a fleeting call, a passing moment stolen from, probably, a tour, but it’s still enough.
She recalls moments from their shared past: the colour of his eyes, his opinion about her poetry, an exchange of gifts, cufflinks for him, something she can’t now remember for her. But he’s brought her something now, he’s brought her these memories, but they both know that memories bring diamonds and rust. Such a beautiful phrase.
She reminds herself of the circumstances of their coming together, his arrival on the scene, the legends attached to him, his need for someone to protect him, and that someone being for a time her. Then there’s a single moment, frozen in time, a middle eight that defines a moment from their past. They’re in Washington Square, in winter, snow in his hair: a crummy hotel, smiling out of the window, their breaths condensing in the cold and mingling, and she concludes with a line that goes through anyone with a heart to understand, like a knife: speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.
The song breaks, the guitar takes over, for things for which there are no words to follow that moment, whilst Baez recovers herself and that balance that comes with age and distance. When she resumes singing, she’s cool and distant. Bobby’s trying to tell her he’s not nostalgic, that there’s some other reason he’s called her that day, that night. Well, if he’s not nostalgic, she challenges him to come up with an alternate word. He was so good with words (wasn’t he just?), but there’s the little moment of acid, as she adds that he was also good at keeping things vague. It stands for more than just his celebrated lyrics, we sense.
But for now she needs a vagueness of her own. The memories have come back too strong. Yes, she loved him dearly. But if he’s offering her diamonds and rust, she will keep her distance: she’s already paid.
There’s a life and a history in this song, depths summoned up in words that allude, except for that naked moment in the middle eight. Speaking strictly for me: who hasn’t had that moment, when it’s all too good, when it’s all too perfect that nothing else is required.
‘Diamonds and Rust’ is a beautiful tribute to the reality that what follows all too often never does live up to that moment.

 

Dan Dare: The Gates of Eden


A great gift

The advent of Spaceship Away was a godsend to many, not least those who had dreamed of working on their own Dan Dare stories. One who was far more advanced than most, and far more qualified, was Tim Booth, writer, artist and musician, who approached Rod Barzilay with a story he was writing and drawing. Barzilay approved of it, and Booth’s The Gates of Eden debuted in issue 9, running for 39 episodes.
I love it. There are reasons why I shouldn’t, and I’ll explain these, and it’s something Frank Hampson would never have countenanced, for many reasons, and it’s not as if it has a proper ending, except in the closing of a door to something way beyond the Dan Dare series. But I still love it: for the imagination it displays, for the long periods in which it focuses on Hank and Pierre and their continual banter, and for its art.
I didn’t really care for Booth’s contributions to Green Nemesis. He’s not as precise an artist as any of the ‘professional’ stable, his work is frequently fussy and over-detailed, and his colouring is far too Sixties psychedelic to be wholly suited to Dan Dare.
But for The Gates of Eden, Booth adopted, and primarily hewed to a simpler, more direct style, with more naturalistic colouring. In some ways, it’s like a cartoon version of Hampson’s style, and the early style at that, which befits a story that slips into continuity between The Venus Story and The Red Moon Mystery.
And Booth is to be congratulated lavishly in one tiny aspect at least: he is the first and only Dan Dare writer or artist to show Albert Fitzwilliam Digby speaking to his wife!
Booth takes his time over the first half of the story. He’s not just preparing for the dramatic aspect of his tale, he’s enjoying himself filling in details of Hampson”s world that were left to our assumption. I do have to criticise one immediate detail, which is that The Gates of Eden begins in 1998, and one of its preliminary details is Dan being taken off a mission to the Asteroid Belt to supervise the first full Venus Food Run: given that the Venus Story ended in 1996, that’s an awfully large gap for a planet so desperate to escape from reliance on food blocks.
But Dan, and of course Digby, have to go to Venus, leaving Hank and Pierre, that pair of puzzled pilots, to go it alone in the old-fashioned Nimrod. Their mission is to identify suitable asteroids for Impulse Wave Relay stations to be built upon, extending Earth’s space-shipping range. En route, picking up newly-designed spacesuits, they bump into the designer, Professor Peabody, with Tystar, the young son of the Theron Volstar. These two will also have a part to play, when things hot up. Take note that the ship they are travelling on is the Milton Caniff.
Meanwhile, the ‘Frogboy’ and the ‘Yankee Palooka’ fly on to the Asteroids, the latter toting a ukelele/mandolin on which he sings, badly and, if the picture in his cabin is any evidence, a bit of a torch for the fair Jocelyn. And the two ‘copains’ go about their mission, but Pierre the more sensitive of the two, has the feeling that they are being watched, and he is, of course, right.
On Venus, the urgent reason for Dan to supervise this Food Run is carefully revealed, and it is a genuinely touching moment. There is a symbol of Treen/Theron co-operation, designed and constructed in secret: nostalgia overwhelms as Sondar and Volstar present the Pilot of the Future with his personal spacecraft, the Anastasia.
And there’s a perfect excuse for a first mission, as radio contact is lost with Hank and Pierre in the Asteroids. Dan and Digby take their new craft (about which Dig has doubts, given the number of windows that will have to be polished) and set a course.
En route, two things happen: first, the Milton Caniff goes missing, with young Tystar and Earth’s premier food expert, Jocelyn Peabody aboard, and the Anastasia is overtaken, swept up and given a lift by an American crewed Rescue Fleet commanded by Colonel Estev Cyonna.
Yer what? Estev who?
This is a moment to step away from the story and address some of the issues that ought to disqualify The Gates of Eden from consideration.
Those whose knowledge of comics, strips and cartoonists stretch beyond the purely British world of the Eagle ought to have recognised the name Milton Caniff as being the highly influential master of the adventure strip, the writer and artist of the legendary and rip-roaring Terry and the Pirates. Caniff was a master of chiaroscuro, an artist dedicated to realism and accuracy, one of the most influential American strip artists of the Twentieth Century.
Personally, like many, I prefer the dozen years Caniff put in on Terry to the near fifty he spent on his second great strip, the one he left Terry to create and, more importantly, own. That was Steve Canyon, and if you jumble the letters of the improbable Estev Cyonna… And within Booth’s style, he is drawn to be Canyon.
I’ve not the least objection to that, but I feel that, as a matter of consistency, I ought to. It’s not just Caniff and Canyon, but there are spaceships of all sizes and dimensions, such as the rock-crusher Bo Diddley, the Little Eva, Miss Liberty, Crazy Horse, Dixie Darlin’, the Thomas Pynchon. Admittedly, the list of ship names also includes the Lancastrian but that’s very much an exception. Booth peppers his strip with American names and icons, all of which should be thought of as inimical to the atmosphere of so British – so English – a character and series, as Dan Dare.
That’s not all, but we’ll return to that subject after another section of the plot, this time the ongoing mystery of what is happening to Hank and Pierre.
They are being watched and, what’s worse, whilst investigating one asteroid’s possibilities, their ship is taken, leaving them in desperate straits with only a few hours of oxygen each before inevitable death, long before Anastasia could possibly reach them.
Only death is not inevitable. Hank and Pierre have been led, and where they have been led is into the interior of the asteroid, where they find a strange, unmanned base. It’s accessed through a mysterious, yet familiar to Pierre, set of numbers: 21 – 12 – 1918, it’s got breathable air and it’s got a doorway out into the open. It leads to Eden, a planet of natural goodness and beauty, an idyllic yet empty world that proves to be populated by robots fighting an automatic war.
Just what the heck is going on?
What’s going on is a cyborg-Treen, Syndar by name, vat-brother to Sondar and so valued by the Mekon that, when involved in a bad crash, he was rebuilt with robotic parts. Let’s be honest, if it was hovering near the margins of an authentic Dan Dare story, at this point Booth takes it outside the line and keeps it over for almost everything that follows. The Mekon repair a damaged Treen? No, he wouldn’t, under any circumstances.
Syndar conducts Hank and Pierre from Eden to Isshka, a primarily water planet, via some form of telesender. They are greeted by a mermaid, or rather Professor Peabody, with Tystar. Forget Tystar, the Prof looks like she’s never done before, with a grin on her face far more sexy than any look managed during Eagle‘s run, and she changes out of her wet-suit on-stage, revealing a fetching pink slip. No wonder Hank closes in for a hug. And good old Jocelyn is definitely on-side with what’s going on.
Then, with Dan and Digby being led carefully to a rendezvous at Shelter, a secret asteroid base constructed and run by the man behind all of this, we get the great revelation. And it’s Bob Dylan.
No, it’s actually former Earth scientist and spacepilot John Henry Hibbings, who prefers to be known as Mr Jones (as in you don’t know what’s going on, do you?) and in both the visuals and the dialogue, the Dylan references pile up so thickly you could pick them up in lumps. And is not the title of the very story a not-in-the-least coded reference to the man?
Let’s cut quickly to the chase. Dylan/Hibbings has bummed around in space since the Sixties. Early on, he found some crystals with power over space, time and dimension. He has learned how to master them. But the longer time has gone on, the more he has sensed something dark, dense, distant, a threat of immense proportion. That’s why he’s gathered the Venus team, minus Sir Hubert, together. It’s a repeat of what the McHoo will do in Dan’s future, collecting an unparalleled Space Exploration Team. Will they help him?
Unlike McHoo, Hibbings/Jonesy will not force a decision. Should Dan and Co refuse, they will be returned to those places in space and time where Hibbings first interfered, without memory, to live out their lives as they choose. With Tystar absenting himself from decision-making, it becomes a matter of democracy.
There are two in favour – the Professor, already enthralled with the possibilities of discovery, and the ever-adventurous Hank – and two dead-set against – the disbelieving Pierre and Digby, who has taken against this ‘snake-oil salesman’ on sight. The final decision falls to Dan. As it must always have been, and by this I don’t mean the future we already know of, he turns it down. He’s younger, less convinced, lacks the personal elements of his lost father and McHoo’s fait accompli, but it’s down to his duty, to his Controller, to Spacefleet, to the people of Earth.
So Hibbings keeps his word, and everyone goes back, without memory, without trace (save for Hibbings’ compulsion to re-string Hank’s rackety old mandolin). What remains is the successful conclusion to the Venus Food Run and a soiree hosted by Jocelyn, at which Pierre re-finds the mysterious numbers, that mean nothing to anyone save Digby who, metafictionally identifies them as Frank Hampson’s birthday.
Where do we start with all the ways in which this is absolutely wrong for a Dan Dare story that seeks to ground itself in the authentic canon? I’ve already alluded to the overt Americanisation of things, the worship of Caniff and the utter wrongness of Syndar, but the biggie is of course the presence and tutelary spirit of Mr Robert Allan Zimmerman.
Booth’s fixation with Bob Dylan practically takes over the strip. This buttresses the Americanised aspect of the tale but also gives it a distinct leaning towards the Sixties, when Dan’s proper metier is the Fifties.
Then there’s Eden, and the opening of the gates to a wider world, to more universes that Dan’s own. Booth even uses the word Multiverse to describe what lies beyond, a word that I at least cannot hear or read without instantly thinking of the Justice Society of America and DC Comics. It’s wrong, completely wrong, and it has the unintended effect of diminishing Dan Dare by making his Universe one among, well, a Multitude.
None of this is appropriate to a series whose basis lay in hard science, in plausibility and realism. So far as what Booth introduces here, it is advanced science of a kind indistinguishable, in Arthur C. Clarke’s saying, to magic, and so in Dan Dare terms it is magic, by virtue of not having any rational explanation, such as Impulse Waves, or Nimbus Drives.
Of course, there is another interpretation of this final phase of the story. It can be cast into symbolic terms and read as a metaphor for Frank Hampson’s desire to extend Dan Dare’s reach, into American newspapers, into animated films, to take Dan into a world wider than that occupied by Hulton Press, where stories may well have had to be retold in a different manner to his art boards. Though the analogy is weakened by it being Dan himself, supported by the solid, stolid Digby, who rejects such an expansion.
As for that metafictional ending in which the characters themselves disclaim any knowledge of their creator, let’s adopt Dan’s final verdict and not go there, just not go there.
Yet for all that I said I loved The Gates of Eden, and I still do. That’s why it appears here in this series, on an equal par with the official canon. The only part of it that makes me truly flinch is Peabody’s overt sexuality, because it’s just wrong for Dan Dare’s world (and besides, forget this anonymous Jack Gurk – Professor Jocelyn Mabel Gurk? No way – if there’s any marrying to be done, it should be with Dan, there’s definitely a story there in getting him to come down off his Confirmed Bachelor perch and recognise what good things could ensue).
As I said before, I recognise the people. Booth’s story and setting may be wrong, but I believe it’s Dan and Co who take part in it. And I will forgive much for Booth bringing Albert Fitzwilliam Digby and his wife and four-times mother to his children together at long last, even if it’s over distances counted in the millions of miles, via a viewscreen, Earth to Anastasia. “’Ullo monkey, how’s tricks?” she says, getting a word in edgeways before Aunt Anastasia starts hassling Digby about wrapping up warm in space.
There’s a long overdue world in that greeting, and enough to let us all know just how the Digbys keep their marriage on track when he’s never home. That’s the real Gates of Eden.