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.

Dan Dare: All Treens Must Die!


Favourites. There’s always one in every bunch, one that means more to you than any other, that arouses more excitement and intensity than any other, When it comes to Dan Dare, as The Stone Roses so eloquently put it, This Is The One.
All Treens Must Die! is my personal favourite, the story of my childhood that thrilled and awed me more than any other. It’s also, by general consensus among Dan Dare’s fans, the best, the most Hampson-esque story of the latter days of the series. And it represented another turning point in the history of the strip, in that this was the point at which Dan Dare returned to full colour, never to appear in monochrome again. Not in any format he had enjoyed before, but arguably even more prestigious, since Dan’s adventures now wrapped the Eagle around, appearing on both the front and back covers.
It’s beautifully drawn by Watson, and Eric Eden’s colours are gorgeously deployed to give perhaps the strongest post-Hampson art.
Yet the story has a very simple, linear line, and it is only 20 episodes in length (according to David Motton, it was originally planned to run for 22 weeks, though he could recall neither what had had to be cut, nor the reason for the truncation).
All Treens Must Die! is as much a follow on from The Wandering World as was The Big City Caper. We have dealt with Xel, now it is time to look to the other captive, who faces trial on Earth for his crimes around the Solar System.
Needless to say, the Mekon is surrounded by massive security, both in prison and in his daily transport to and from the Court buildings. Dan attends, watching proceedings, the application of proper Earth justice. It’s the demonstration that Earth’s system, Earth’s code, works.
Not all is well, however. Major Spence is also attending proceedings and is disturbed to receive an irate call from Banger, protesting against orders apparently emanating from Spence that are sending him and Cob to Venus. Banger has too much on to leave Earth at this point and he makes it plain that he has no intention of following these orders. On the other hand, there are Treens in his and Cob’s quarters…
Dan’s concerned enough to call Banger back, although there’s no answer. But he’s even more concerned when, checking Banger’s quarters, he finds them trashed and his two friends gone. The Police are not yet inclined to take it seriously, until a call comes in from the prison because, as we had all been expecting, the Mekon has escaped. And he has gotten off Earth and onto a Venus transport in the luggage of Banger and Cob, drugged and hypnotised into assisting.
There’s a full scale flap on about finding the Mekon, but the clue comes from Banger himself. Waking from his drugged state, he takes the typically aggressive step of forcing his way into the cabin and sending out a partial message, before he is clubbed down with brutal contempt from the Mekon. But he has succeeded in broadcasting both his personal call-sign and the letter M-E-K.
Dan and Digby head for Mekonta in the Anastasia, for our first reunion in years with President (no longer Governor) Sondar, who has not been seen since The Phantom Fleet. Sondar can provide some additional clues from seemingly unconnected incidents in recent months: a mutiny on three ships, the disappearance into the Flame-Belt of fifty Treens who have not been found.
This latter leads Dan and Dig to investigate the Flame-Belt, which is where the Mekon has made his base. The Earth passengers, including Banger and Cob, have been abandoned here to die, but the Anastasia finds them in time and, though too massively overloaded to fly, manages to get the hapless passengers far enough away for proper rescue.
Dan’s presence, and his interference, spurs the Mekon into advancing his attack. A submarine craft enters the Mekontan lagoon, and the Mekon launches a vicious assault on the main island. His merest appearance sees Treens en masse deserting to his colours, but the truly shocking thing is that they are gunned down, mercilessly, in those self-same masses. As the title proclaims: All Treens Must Die.
What lies behind this is a mystery. The Mekon’s plan appears to be, indeed is no less than the complete genocide of the Treen race, despite its willingness to support him. The stakes are raised high, far higher than an eight year old boy had ever encountered in his fiction previously.
Yet it is not this aspect that lifted the story for me. I have yet to come to that.
The Mekon is incredibly well-prepared. Indeed, too well-prepared, with equipment and soldiers, especially for someone who has not only just escaped from Earth custody, but who was absent in space on The Wandering World for most if not all the past three years. He has to have allies, but who on Earth, or Venus, could they be?
It is at this point that Sondar pulls the veritable rabbit out of the hat. It would be years, decades, before I would read The Ship That Lived so that I was not aware that they had been referenced at any previous time, but Motton takes this moment to go back almost the whole of my life, to ‘The Last Three’.
They are, apparently, a legend of Venus’s early times, ‘The Immortal Last Three of Venus’, and it’s significant that every piece of data regarding them has been wiped from Mekontan records. But they are a clue, and so too is an innocuous looking device left behind by the Mekon’s forces, a translucent ball in a metal frame.
This is Cob’s territory, and his tinkering soon establishes that it is giving off a weak signal to somewhere in the Flame-Belt.
This is enough to decide Dan. Leaving Banger behind to assist Sondar in a defence against another attack, he takes Digby and Cob back to the Flame-Belt in Anastasia, just in time to locate the Mekon’s base as a new wave of ships are sent out to support the Mekon in another murderous attack on Mekonta, another slaughter of the Treens.
Dan gains access to the base with Cob, Digby having sensibly but reluctantly been sent on to the south to enlist Theron aid: after all, they know him. Inside the base, Dan and Cob are quickly separated, and the former captured. The latter, finding himself blocked off from escape, starts to strip down machinery, bringing his technical skills to bear. Dan, meanwhile, is dragged by robots through a super-automated factory until he is brought in from of a gigantic Treen eye. And for Martin Crookall of Openshaw, Manchester, age eight, the story exploded.
There were only four weeks to go, and four banner front pages which built one upon another to elevate this story out of all rational attempts to analyse it.
A front page banner drawing reveals to us a Treen of ancient face, no longer wholly organic. His arms and legs have been replaced by metallic limbs. He is the first of the Last Three, the master of mechanism. Dan Dare is dismissed as mechanically insignificant, of no interest, to be dismissed. All the while that this fantastic figure – a Treen cyborg, long before I was ever to encounter that word – continues the task of administering this vast manufactory, uninterrupted.
If the Mekon was a superbrain, how far beyond him was this creature, this part-machine,showing even less emotion?
Dismissed, Dan was flung away, literally, into a cloud of swirling mists in which his every thought and feeling was pored through  and he was escorted through his own life. This was represented by a glorious panel in which everyone – everyone – who had ever been of importance to the Dan Dare series, appeared. Faces and figures, human and otherwise, a bare handful of which meant something to me then. It was an awe-inspiring moment, a kaleidoscope of stories, tales and adventures unknown to me, strangers who were yet of significance and I wanted to know who each of these were, what they were called, what they meant.
Even earlier than the mind-expanding effects of the incredible sequence in Justice League of America 37, in which the Thunderbolt ranges up and down time, obliterating origins, in this panel I was looking across Time itself.
Then the final panel and those words: “Dan Dare, you are living the last hour of your life!”
And a week passed, revealing the second of the last three: a gloating, floating Supertreen, poised yogicly in thin air, without arms, or so it seemed, for these have merged into the gigantic globic head, bigger even by far than the Mekon himself, impossibly so, even more inhuman. Dan Dare has caused the Mekon’s failures, and so he must die.
And the plan is unfolded, made explicit. The Treen race has failed. It has failed the Mekon, and so All Treens Must Die. The present race has been condemned, and a new Treen race, pure, unsullied, will be born to take up its proper place in the Universe, as conquerors in the Mekon’s name.
Frank Hampson, in devising the Treens and the Mekon at the beginning, had the coldness of the Nazis in his mind. Motton makes that connection flesh, in this story.
And Dan is flung away, to fall again. Meanwhile, in Mekonta, the Mekon has all but taken the city. But there is a message, Cob playing a distant but significant part, transmitting over and over the letter ‘D’. And at the thought of Dare among his allies, the Mekon panics. It’s a foreshadowing moment. The Mekon cracks, giving way to emotion, and in a very short time, this will prove his downfall.
Dan lands on a slab and lies there stunned. Asking where he is, he receives the answer, “This is the place called Life – the place of your extermination and Death.”
Thus the final part of the tryptich, the Last of the Three. Unlike the others, we do not see him clearly, from above, but from below, always at an angle. For he has the form of a normal Treen, albeit much taller, and he lacks the excessive brain-pan. But the Third of the Three is red-skinned, and he is served by Red Treens whose skin colour is even deeper in tone.
He has two questions to ask: “Would you die to save a broken machine?” and “Is dying to save a useless object called ‘Courage?’” For this ultimately what Treens are to Mekons: machines. He is the Breeder, and behind him in vats lie the new Treens, the Pure Treens, who will not be released until the least possible chance is gone that they may be afflicted by Sondar’s condition. They are why All Treens Must Die.
And why Dan must fight now, for himself, for Venus and the Solar System.
Then it’s on into the final episode, and those three portraits of the Last Three are completed by the Mekon, arriving at the head of his troops, to the sudden destruction of his plans. For the Third of the Three is dead, his neck broken by Dan, the stakes so high that our hero must kill. Then, as he climbs back to the halls of the First, he is confronted by the Mekon, who strikes with a tongue of flame, but too hasty, for Dan evades, the First dies and the factory, deprived of its mind, erupts into chaos. And the Mekon reacts in anger, anger towards the Second, the planner whose plans have failed, have ended in success by Dan Dare, yet again, and the supposedly-emotion free Mekon kills, and the Last Three are Immortal no longer.
But before the Mekon can attack Dan, the roof falls in on top of him, a hole blown in the mountain by Digby arriving in proper deus ex machina fashion with the Treens. And it’s over.
I know I’ve gone on too much about those four last episodes, but they’re why I can’t be objective about All Treens Must Die! I know that I can say that the end, in its final tier of panels, is too abrupt, that those two extra episodes should have been expended. I know that I can say that the penultimate episode, and the panel devoted to the Third, would have looked better without the top-of-the-page ballyhoo about the jointure of Eagle with the failed Boy’s World (bringing over the tedious British version of Iron Man).
But this one’s my story, my favourite. And I’m ready to read it again.

Dan Dare: Reign of the Robots


Reign of the Robots is the third but not quite final part of the Man from Nowhere Trilogy.
The Cryptos Expedition returns to Earth after ten long years away in space. It’s an autumnal scene, all greatcoats, full uniform and spitting rain (much to the displeasure of Stripey, who has been brought back by Digby with lack of any forethought on how the little creature is going to survive on Earth), but Spacefleet HQ is deserted. There is nobody on the entire base, and leaves are everywhere.
All communications are dead and there are rats in the canteen. Dan and Co head for London, where they find the city equally empty and unused. They are not aware that they are under surveillance, by something robotic.
At the Space Ministry, they discover that someone has defaced the bust of Sir Hubert Guest by scrawling the date 2002 across its base. ‘Grand Slam’, the ultimate, all-out defence level against planetary invasion, has been activated. Their next stop is Sanctum, the ultimate Government Bunker, impenetrable. But Sanctum has long since been penetrated. The voice that greets them from within, having waited many years for Colonel Dare’s return, is both instantly recognisable and horrifying: it is the Mekon. He has conquered Earth.
And he has had sole control of the planet for nearly a whole decade.
It’s a fine, fast introduction to the story, all the above having been accomplished in only two episodes.
The Mekon is in fine form, confident and sneering, but he has been waiting for Dan’s return the whole time, waiting to rub his arch-enemy’s nose in his triumph, as if it doesn’t matter, doesn’t count, until Dan has to acknowledge it.
We don’t get details of just how the Mekon defeated Earth (these have been left to the imagination of fans, delightedly filling in gaps) but in essence he has triumphed with newly bred Supertreens and Ultratreens, but primarily with mechanical forces, overwhelming Earth with an army of Electrobots.
Dan and Co undergo a tour of what has been done to the planet, their population, now the Mekon can establish rigorous scientific control. The various scenes are couched as historical experience, recreating dimly understood episodes of human history under Treen observation
But what they really are are differently purposed, coldly imaginative concentration camps, though the horrors of the day-to-day of such camps is elided over. It’s intended audience, still a long way from exposure to the realities that informed Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau et al, cannot people those camps with what they were and are. It’s a mammoth undertaking, and one which is too much for a children’s SF series.
Finally, the gang are taken to Mekonta, on Venus. Before they go, Stripey is taken away, to be slaughtered. The Mekon has no time for creatures who do not serve a useful purpose. Though animal lovers need not be offended, any more than those who oppose taking children into combat need ultimately be concerned about Flamer Spry’s seeming death: Sardi, the Treen officer who removes the little animal, is not Sardi but Sondar, Earth’s friend and ally, substituted in his place.
(All Treens look alike, to a higher degree than we imagined it would seem. Though it doesn’t say much for the Mekon that he can’t tell he has an imposter in his personal guard when Dan and Digby can recognise Sondar instantly).
The Mekon wants Dan in Mekonta for a specific, and especially cruel purpose. In the House of Silence there are crystal chambers in which he finds the preserved bodies of his friends: Sir Hubert Guest, Hank Hogan, Pierre Lafayette and Professor Peabody: the old Venus Expedition team that broke the Mekon’s power back in 1996. They’re not all dead yet.
But the touch of a switch is all that is needed for a joyous resurrection. The four are not dead and these are not casques, but Cryptosian ‘Suspacells’. Lero left the formula with Sir Hubert, to be discovered after take-off, the Mekon captured it and, in anticipation of Dan’s return, froze his friends They are only one year older than Dan and Digby, not ten!
As before, the Mekon wants to break Dan, turn him to his side, and threats against his friends are the chosen method. Dan reiterates Earth’s commitment to honesty, the need to keep their word once given, both as a good in itself, and because, if they lie to the Mekon, who will trust them after they regain control? With his friends’ backing, Dan refuses to collaborate.
Just as with Rogue Planet, Stranks and Hampson’s major obstacle lies in rendering a story in which it’s plausible that the four members of the Cryptos Expedition can engineer the overthrow of the Mekon, his Supertreens and his overpowering Robots that have held Earth, Mars and Venus in subjugation for nine long years.
The two situations are not directly comparable. Earth’s situation is worse than Cryptos, but Dan has more basic material with which to work. There is a Spacefleet Underground, an echo of the Resistance in France and elsewhere, in the still fresh World War. It not only consists of SF veterans, such as George Bryan (seen in The Red Moon Mystery as senior officer on the Mars Ferrys) but its leaders are the new generation of Spacefleet, Steve Valiant, Mark Straight and Tony Albright, Astral College’s senior boys, ten years on.

The Elektrobots strike! (original art)

Moreover, as the story nears its end, there is an active, and considerably better-equipped Theron Underground, led by none other than Volstar himself, with President Kalon in safety, who will put in Dan’s hands the final weapon that disables the Mekon’s robotic domination of the three planets.
But the key to the Underground’s eventual success has two elements.
The first, and overwhelmingly magnificent of these is discovered when Dan succeeds in escaping the Mekon’s clutches, blasting off from Venus in a Treen ship. He discovers a space zone out of radio range, a dead zone of drifting spaceships, floating derelict and wrecked. Some are of familiar design, others have never been seen before. It is an astonishing Sargasso Sea of Space.
The graveyard includes a Spacefleet X12, a design still on the drawing board when Dan left for Cryptos, fully lit. He heads for it, hoping to find it usable, but discovers it occupied by its original crew, Captain Bob ‘Crusoe’ King and Engineer Angus ‘Friday’ McFarlane, trapped on board a ship damaged in the Mekon’s original attack on Earth, and eking out their lives in isolation. Dan’s appearance, and the chance, suddenly, to strike back and help to rescue the Earth, galvanises the pair, but there is something even better that they need to show Dan first, in the Sargasso.
It is the Anastasia.
I don’t know how many boys, reading The Red Moon Mystery in 1952, really registered that Dan’s personal spacecraft, designed for him by Sondar in gratitude for the first overthrow of the Mekon, had been abandoned and lost. As the story reached its end, Anastasia had been used to tow the Chlorophyll beacon that drew the Red Moon away from Earth, to a rendezvous with the Treen fleet. It was certainly never made anything of, and I, like, most of its audience, would have just assumed that Anastasia had been taken aboard one of the Treen ships. But it had been abandoned, and had never appeared since, until Stranks/Hampson pulled it as a lovely rabbit out of a hat, dry but still fully-functioning in Space, and giving Dan the manoeuvrability he needed.
So the pieces begin to come together. On Earth, Flamer’s uncanny ability to mimic the Mekon (a much less succulent rabbit out of the hat and one that gets harder to accept once we ourselves arrive in an era of Electronic Voice Recognition) disposes of the common or garden Elektrobots, but fails to dispel the more powerful Selektrobots. To end that threat, Dan must ride the Theron Underground guided missile to ensure it hits the satellite which controls the remaining robot army.
It’s a suicide mission, and one that Dan goes on willingly, regretting only that he cannot say goodbye to Digby. But even in heroic circumstances, suicide is not an option, and besides, there is Anastasia.

Sir Hubert insists on taking this mission himself, going out to rescue Dan, who is as a son to him, just as Pop Hampson was father to Frank Hampson himself (sometimes our relations escape into our stories and the feelings cannot help but resonate throughout the drama). Dan guides his rocket to the target, bailing out when it is on course. The satellite is destroyed, bringing an end to the reign of the Robots, as the Selektrobots become so much metal junk.
But debris has struck Dan’s escape capsule. He is floating in space, unconscious and bleeding from a head wound. If not for Sir Hubert’s pursuit in  Anastasia, he would be a goner. Even once he has been hauled to safety inside his personal spacecraft, it still seems as if the Pilot of the Future has sacrificed himself to save his planet…
I mentioned above that though Reign of the Robots was the third part of the Man from Nowhere Trilogy, it was not the last. This is because, on this cliff-hanging note, the story ended, to be succeeded, the following week, by The Ship That Lived. To which, of course, I will be coming next. I shall have more to say on this transition then.
My first exposure to Reign of the Robots was immediately after Eagle‘s death-by-merger into it’s old, and much cheaper, knock-off rival, Lion (which I also read). The Rogue Planet reprints were heavily condensed to make the story’s end coincide with Eagle‘s last issue, and Reign of the Robots kicked off with Lion & Eagle‘s first issue. In black and white. On cheap and nasty paper.
I think I stuck with the title for about nine weeks. I was getting old (fourteen), and I had already replaced most of my weekly comics with football magazines. The time was ripe, and even Dan Dare looked like crap, reproduced like this.
Eventually, I read the (full?) story in the third Dragon’s Dream reprint edition, where the art had been chopped about appallingly whilst trying to compensate for the removal of the Eagle title block on every cover page.
To some extent, these experiences have influenced my response to this story, which I cannot help but see as the weakest part of the Trilogy. There are several factors in this: Reign of the Robots is not so much a continuation of the story in the first two parts as a ‘what they found when they got back’, disconnecting it rather from the overall story-line. It suffers artistically in the return from those beautifully rendered alien planets (the autumnal rain Britain opening, necessary as it is, imposes an emotional damper that permeates all the story). That Earth has been attacked in this manner, that it has been subjected to an unimaginable horror for a decade, makes the story entirely too dystopic, a mood antithetical to Hampson’s whole approach to the Dan Dare series.
And the art itself, overall, is not up to the standard of the previous two volumes. Perhaps this is in part due to the quality of the issues used for Hawk Books’ facsimile reprints (shoot from surviving comics, not the original art). There seems to be a faint blurriness to some pages that doesn’t help the detail, and there are a number of episodes where art is clearly being done outside the studio, probably by Desmond Walduck, though the style differs from what we grew used to in Prisoners of Space, being much cruder.
The Frank Hampson/Don Harley signature block is not in evidence here, indeed no pages are signed until the twentieth episode when Hampson signs his name only at the foot of the second page, but a ‘Frank Hampson Production’ block appears on the twenty-sixth episode and thereafter more frequently, but still irregularly.
We know that Hampson was beginning to think of withdrawing from actual art. His studio was smart and efficient, and in Don Harley he had an extremely worthy first lieutenant. Hampson had ambitions for his series. He wanted to promote a version of it for the American market. He wanted to meet men he admired over there. He wanted to tackle animation. All of these things would take time, but the studio could take the strain, Stranks was reliable, and if he were to step back from the day-to-day art, he could take on a more directorial role, develop ideas, new approaches.
He’d reached an artistic height in Rogue Planet, rich, complex, detailed, beautiful. His studio couldn’t quite match that, but then his studio couldn’t take Dan Dare forward, the way Frank Hampson could. If Reign of the Robots represents a falling off, to me it is most likely because Hampson was expanding his horizons. A brilliant future would lie ahead. If only.

Dan Dare: Operation Saturn


Hampson was back.
Back at full strength, with his imagination primed and brimming. Credited, for twenty weeks, with writing and drawing the new Dan Dare story, Operation Saturn. And then, suddenly, on the 21st week, the credits changed, to written by Don Riley and drawn by Frank Hampson. A week later, and for the rest of the 64 weeks that Operation Saturn would take to unwind, there were no credits.
Sadly, at some point, Hampson suffered a relapse. This time, things were very different. Harold Johns and Great Tomlinson were no longer part of the studio, having been first marginalised, and then sacked. In Harold Johns’ place, Don Harley had risen in Hampson’s confidence: not, as yet, to the position of ‘second best Dan Dare artist in the world’, but to the role of principal artist when Hampson was unwell. But the studio itself was slim on warm bodies, and as the story rolled out, more and more of the work was being sent for completion to a freelance artist who never was part of the Hampson studio but who plays a big role in the story of the series, Desmond Walduck.
We’ll hear more about Walduck during the next story, so for now let’s look closely at Operation Saturn, and Hampson’s plans for a drive towards the Outer Planets.
Operation Saturn is the first of the Dan Dare stories for which we have a preliminary outline, a plot setting out Hampson’s plans for the story ahead, that we can compare with the actual outcome. Details of this outline can be read in Spaceship Away 17.
I am always fascinated by such things, the opportunity to look behind the work to the author’s workings. Hampson’s outline is, really, only half an outline. It sets up a situation, creates an idea-space, but leaves a solution to the working out of the tale over time. The principal elements of Operation Saturn are already in place, but crucial components of the finished work are as yet undeveloped.
For the moment, let’s consider the story as drawn. The gang are re-united for a new mission, brought to Spacefleet HQ by Dan (in the outline, the story begins on Venus). Explanations are postponed by an Emergency Signal, and the crew take up the Space Rescue ship (a rocket on permanent standby) in an ultimately fruitless attempt to rescue the crew of a ship in danger just outside Earth orbit.
The ship’s fate is tied into Dan’s mission: Earth is being spied upon by small, black, robotic craft, nicknamed Black Cats (for their purring engines), whose source has been traced back to Saturn. Dan’s expedition will travel to Saturn to investigate and, if necessary, quash any threat. However, Saturn is way beyond the range of Impulse Wave generators, so the Valiant will have to use the powerful but highly unstable Monatomic Hydrogen.This can be neutralised by lockwaves (developed, in the outline, by the Therons): Dan, Hank and Pierre will learn how to manipulate lockwaves in order to pilot the ship.
Professor Peabody will be part of the expedition as an adjunct to the Science team, headed, and otherwise selected, by Dr Blasco (the lockwave developer in the strip). Blasco, a mental and physical giant, is cold and supercilious. In the outline, Hampson describes him as being ‘cracked’ on eugenics, and it is a part of the story that Blasco’s half-baked theories should be attacked and shown as fallacious by demonstrating the vital importance of character, not ‘breeding’.

                                                              Blasco

Sadly, this worthy ambition is virtually absent from the story as printed. Blasco is indeed a believer in the superiority of certain types – most notably himself – and plans to take over and rule the Earth, but the overt eugenics aspect is not merely buried so deep as to be almost invisible, but the decadent feebleness of the ruling Saturnian caste – intended in the outline to be the spur for Blasco’s ambitions – is from the outset a counterblast to any such notion of aristocratic superiority (Hampson’s essentially humanist and socialist instincts winning through there).
But I’m getting ahead of the story. Saturn, we will learn, is ruled by Lo Rootha Ti Numidol, the ‘purest aristocracy in the entire Solar System’. Hampson’s outline conceals them until Dan’s expedition arrives, after a running battle with Blasco over who is the leader of the expedition. Lo Rootha have no hostile intentions towards Earth, the Black Cats were merely information gathering, but they divide their world on eugenic grounds. Blasco is deemed a perfect specimen and resources are given to him to take over Earth and rule it in accordance with his obsession, with Digby is classed as useless and ends up, with Dan, on some sort of dead-end moon, from where they begin to foment rebellion.
This aspect was drastically changed in the actual story. We learn that Blasco is, and for some time has been in communication with Lo Rootha, and that they have already agreed to give him the resources to take over Earth (that Blasco had actually been to Saturn already is explicitly rejected in the outline as requiring too many flashbacks: Hampson underestimated himself as he fleshes out Blasco’s back-story with very little use of flashback at all).
So what happens in practice is that Blasco and his men take over the Valiant en route and imprison the Spacefleet crew, who will be handed over to Lo Rootha to take part in Roman Arena-esque games, for their amusement.
But instead of Dan and Digby being ranked and downgraded, they have already made a break for freedom. Due to a late Black Cat incursion, our heroes were initially left behind on take-off, but caught up with the main expedition by using the last intact test craft. Blasco overlooks this, his lofty regard having been elsewhere when Dan and Dig came on board, so they are able to use this to escape, and land on the nearest Saturnian moon, where they meet their first Saturnian.
This occurs in the last panel of the last instalment credited as ‘Devised and Drawn by Frank Hampson’. The following week, the credit reads ‘Drawn by Frank Hampson. Story by Don Riley’. There are no further credits, and Hampson’s outline is binned. Hampson’s own influence on the story rapidly dwindles and before long principal art is by Don Harley, until the end of the story. Many Dan Dare fans are highly critical of the later part of the story, the lapses into cliché, the lack of consistency, the intrusion of silliness, and most clear of all, the irretrievable loss of Hampson’s invention and freshness of thought.
Hampson had already, it seemed, abandoned the final phase of his outline. I’ve already indicated that it would have progressed towards Dan and Dig raising a rebellion, but Hampson also planned the introduction of a prominent Saturnian, in the form of a bold and dashing sculptor – physically and mentally a One, but condemned for his rebellious streak. After Dan demonstrates just who is boss, the unnamed sculptor becomes his chief Lieutenant, and a natural-born pirate, leading raid after raid…
But the Thork – as the Saturnians call themselves – was too good a figure to be ignored. He’s Red Tharl, pirate and rebel, leader of the Saturnian underground, whom Dan and Dig meet almost immediately after ‘Don Riley’ takes over (I have no information as to who did write the remainder of  Operation Saturn and, rightly or wrongly, will assume that Basil Dawson, the man behind the Riley pen-name, saw it through to the end).

Red Tharl, in buoyant mood

From this point on, the story proceeds at pace. After an initial clash of personalities, Dan and Tharl become allies and friends, helped by the mediation of none other than Sondar, taking a break from his duties as Governor of Mekonta.
Yes, Sondar just appears out of nowhere in Tharl’s base, sole survivor of a Treen expedition to Saturn to investigate Black Cats. It’s a move that completely defies every scrap of logic about both the story and the Dan Dare continuity: only four years after the First Venusian War, that toppled the Mekon, the Treens – who are still under a Vichy Government, a leader appointed by their conquerors – have mounted an expedition to the Outer Planets in complete secrecy, without the Earth Government’s knowledge, clearly using a completely unknown form of rocket fuel/drive, with no explanation.
I cannot conceive of Hampson letting that go through.
Anyway, the revolution is about to start. Dan, Dig and their Thork liaison, Nikki, are telesent to Titan (cue more shenanigans involving Digby and transporters) to raise the troops. Meanwhile, Blasco and Lo Rootha put Hank, Pierre and the Prof into the Arena to face a fire-breathing dragon (no, seriously, they do). Dan rescues them, but Dig gets thrown by a painfully malicious flying seahorse and is rushed off by the dragon.
At which point, Dawson throws away virtually the whole story so far by revealing that Lo Rootha are not the true Lords of Numidol/Saturn, but instead an effete puppet regime shilling for Vora. Vora is an alien: short, plump, arrogant, mocking, beaked of face, in his own atmosphere producing spacesuit, and he owns the Nine Moons of Saturn and everyone is scared of him.
Including Blasco, who quickly goes from being a smooth, urbane equal to Lo Rootha (albeit one who’s dropped his deliberately archaic speech pattern as written by Hampson) to being as fearful and fawning over Vora as he expects Earthmen to be over him.

Vora

Tharl attacks the city, and battle sweeps backwards and forwards over several weeks, until Dan wins the day for the rebel forces. Unfortunately, Vora has callously, indeed gleefully, abandoned the hapless, hand-wringing Lo Rootha to their fate, and taken Blasco’s resources (plus Blasco) to travel to Earth and conquer that. Once he’s settled in, he will return to retake the Nine Moons.
Tharl can’t help. He’s won a battle, and with it Titan, but there are nine Moons and much to do. All he can do is restore the Valiant, and send Dan and Co. after Vora’s fleet. A complex and not very convincing substitute for monatomic hydrogen is contrived and the long chase back to Earth begins.
Dan arrives just as the invasion is beginning. Earth is besieged by Black Cats, but in a last, desperate throw, Dan, Dig and Sondar get into Vora’s flagship and use the masterbrain to command all the Black Cats to turn and destroy each other. There’s a brief struggle in which Blasco’s space helmet comes off and he dies in vacuum (one aspect of the story that is not depicted with true scientific rigour) whilst Vora, too proud to accept confinement, turns his cosmic rays on himself, committing suicide.
(Or does he? I first read Operation Saturn in the late Eighties, in the bound volumes of Eagle collections in the Reference section of Manchester’s Central Library. Everyone takes Vora’s action as suicide, but my first thought was that he had teleported himself out of danger/reach. There is nothing in the story to rule that out, or definitively establish suicide: indeed, in a comic aimed at young boys in the Fifties, edited by a Vicar, no such thing would have been conceivable. Should any aspiring writer/artist, looking to add to the universe of the original Dan Dare, be reading this, here is a potential story angle sitting and waiting.)
So Dan wins again. But it’s a mixed victory, albeit not a Pyrrhic victory. Operation Saturn begins as an excellent story, a tremendous advance on Marooned on Mercury, and demonstrably better than Prisoners of Space, it’s successor. However, the story hits the equivalent of an underground rock when Hampson relinquished writing control, and whilst the hull of the boat is sturdy enough to carry things a very long way, slowly but steadily originality drains out. The story starts to rely too much on contrivances. Sondar’s appearance is an unthought-out mess. The arena is a farce. Blasco is not only supplanted as villain by an inverted deus ex machina, but becomes a completely different character.
As for Vora himself… I have very mixed thoughts about the little puffed-up alien. He is a cartoon dictator, a supreme Lord who simply appears without warning, but who demonstrates no justification for his position. What does Vora do? How does he rule? What is his power and how is it effected? We just don’t see this. All we see is people cringe in fear around him, and Vora giving himself airs which, in a purple skinned cross between a teddy bear and a bird-face, is lacking in conviction.
Yet I like the little tyrant. There’s energy and inventiveness in his rants. I like his being batted out of the way when Digby (who spends weeks with yellow coloured skin) drives a space car through Vora’s palace. And I can forgive much when Vora, dangling from a girder, hears his minions call for a Doctor, responds with the outraged roar of: “A Doctor? One Doctor? Fool! I Am Vora – bring all the Doctors!”
Art-wise, the story’s beginning is a refreshing improvement upon the stunted figures and somewhat lurid colouring of Marooned on Mercury. Hampson is still in his early phase: the almost photo-realistic art of The Man from Nowhere trilogy is still a couple of years away and his work, and that of his team, is still crude in spots. As the story goes on, and has to rely more and more on Don Harley, the work becomes more simplified, though not to the extent of becoming sketchy. And in the closing weeks, when Harley was sending work to outside artist Desmond Walduck for finishing, the change in style as Walduck starts to impose on the final version is noticeable.
Given that this combination will draw practically all of Prisoners of Space, the augurs were not good for the next story.
For me, Operation Saturn is very good to begin with, but loses its way and ultimately ends up flawed. In Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, in the Library of the Dreaming, he introduces a section devoted to books their authors planned but never wrote/finished. Among them, for example, is J R R Tolkien’s The Lost Road. I should like very much to visit that library one day, to sit down and read the copy of Operation Saturn that Frank Hampson wrote and drew from start to finish.

Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury


hampsonjohns3-24

All was set.
With The Red Moon Mystery rolling towards its end, Frank Hampson began preparing for its sequel, which would see Dan, Digby, the Professor, Sondar, and an Atlantine Cadet, Urb, survive the fireball of destruction that accompanied the Red Moon’s explosion to find themselves stranded, believed dead, on the innermost planet, Mercury.
He had already requested Walkden Fisher – famous for the weekly exploded drawings in Eagle that turned thousands of boys’ minds towards engineering – to make model Mercurian landscapes for him, to use in depicting the planet nearest the sun, though Hampson had not liked the results, which did not match his inner visions. And he had already decided that once Dan and co had survived their landing, courtesy of the Mercurians themselves, they would discover an old enemy plotting revenge: the Mekon.
Then disaster struck. Hampson pushed his studio hard, but he pushed himself even harder. He’d had to step back a couple of times during ‘The Venus Story’, missing the last four weeks. But now the self-imposed workload caught up with him with a vengeance. An inner-ear infection, destroying his balance, coupled with a diagnosis of exhaustion resulted in an order of bedrest, and no activity under any circumstances. Dorothy Hampson enforced this, but only two weeks into the story, Marooned on Mercury had lost its creator.
So far as the art was concerned, there was a simple solution. Harold Johns, Hampson’s good friend and senior assistant, took over principal art, working in close collaboration with Greta Tomlinson, with whom he’d already formed a fruitful working partnership, on Rob Conway and on at least one Dan Dare short in an Eagle Annual. As for the script, the Reverend Marcus Morris turned to the seemingly unlikely figure of the Reverend Chad Varah.
Varah had been a friend of Morris for some years. Like Morris, he was the Vicar of a Lancashire parish, in Blackburn, and a founder of Morris’s Society for Christian Publicity. He is remembered for something far greater, as Founder of the Samaritans, the charitable organisation that provides an outlet to talk for people who are desperate, lonely and suicidal. But at this early stage of his carer, Varah also had a sideline as the writer of short adventure stories for boys, several of which had been published in the early days of Eagle. In the circumstances, given the short notice, he was the best available choice.
Whatever Hampson had planned for Marooned on Mercury, assuming he had anything planned as yet, was all in his head and Varah had to hit the ground cold. As for Johns and Tomlinson, they were more than grateful for Fisher’s models.
The major problem with Marooned on Mercury is that Varah simply did not have Hampson’s gift for making it up as he went along. The actual story has nothing intrinsically wrong about it, although there is a continuity error (albeit one that can be loosely explained). But the actual week-by-week tale is choppy and disjointed, as if Varah was not able to sustain extended elements of the story in the way Hampson had with the two previous tales.
Varah’s story is that, when he escaped from Venus following his overthrow, the Mekon sought refuge on Mercury, where he has dominated, but not enslaved (presumably due to lack of resources rather than intent) a basically pacifist society. Among the Mekon’s resources are a group of Earthmen, in fact the Captain and crew of Kingfisher, the impulse drive ship destroyed in Eagle’s second issue, now revealed to have survived and been prisoners in Mekonta throughout ‘The Venus Story’ (improbable as it is that the Treens/Mekon would have kept this secret). The Kingfisher crew are unaware that they are working for the Mekon: they were released from prison by Treens claiming to be rebels against the Mekon and are working towards rejoining a war they don’t know has been won, to oppose him.
On Mercury, the Mekon has discovered a plantform harmless to Mercurians but fatal to Earthmen and Treens. From this, he has synthesized a gaseous substance he calls Panthanaton (Latin: All-Deathbringer: the Mekon has clearly studied Earth languages and would no doubt have got a First at Cambridge).
His plan was to use Captain D’Arcy (D’Arcy?) and his crew to fly a spaceship to Venus, relying on their being allowed through the planetary defences, and, when low enough to do so, detonate a Panthanaton bomb that will kill everyone on the planet.
Now that Dan Dare is (almost) in his hands, the Mekon intends to coerce him into being the pilot instead: with Dan at the controls, all security measures will open up, and the Mekon can reclaim his crown.

A Mercurian City

That’s the overall story. It’s decent enough in itself, not that it isn’t easy to pick holes in its logic at significant points, but in this clear and concise summary, we see into the heart of Marooned on Mercury‘s central failing. The above is an outline: it’s a four paragraph summary of what will be revealed to the reader over 35 weeks. It says nothing of how the story is to be told, of what will happen, of the journey the characters will go on.
Hampson made The Red Moon Mystery an attractive, taut, compelling story by moving the action through various stages, each logically flowing from one to the other. Varah lacked that capacity. Marooned on Mercury is choppy and bitty, a process emphasised by his almost immediately splitting the party into three pairs (Dan and Sondar, Digby and Urb, the Professor and the friendly Mercurian they nick-name Samson: I am still ignoring that damned pooch), all of whom are following different paths underground, continually running into obstacles they have to pass, the story cutting from one to another.
In fact, there is more running down corridors than in an entire series of Doctor Who.
The hodge-podge nature of the telling is best exemplified by the swing-bridge, an improbable underground bridge across a bottomless chasm encountered by Dan and Sondar, who use it to cross said chasm and strand a pursuing Treen squad on the other side. As such, this is a minor incident, until, that is, Varah switches to Peabody and Samson, who encounter the self-same swing-bridge and this time have endless difficulties getting across it, as if Varah had suddenly realised he’d missed a trick in not complicating Dan’s path.
Dan and Sondar’s crossing leads directly into the sudden appearance of Captain D’Arcy.
D’Arcy and crew are perhaps the hardest thing to swallow in the entire story. In isolation, there is nothing exceptionable about their role in the story. But the whole point of Kingfisher in ‘The Venus Story’ was that the ship exploded in deep space, outside the anti-impulse wave barrier protecting Venus, in space. The explosion was brutal and sudden and the implication was that all the crew were killed. No explanation is given as to how they survived, or how the crew were extracted from the wrecked Kingfisher (which was under astroviewer observation from Earth) without anyone noticing.
And it’s worth remembering that, when they were captured, Dan and Digby were treated as the first Earthmen to come under Treen hands for experimentation: they are only allowed to attempt to rescue Sir Hubert and the Professor on the basis that this would double the number of subjects, yet all the time the Treens are supposed to have a dozen Earth specimens locked up in a Mekonta prison, just cooling their heels. It doesn’t really sit.
The more obvious error is in calling Kingfisher’s captain D’Arcy, when he’s Crane in ‘The Venus Story’, though this is perhaps surmountable. Crane is referred to by his surname in the earlier story, in accordance with military form, and it’s possible that when Dan calls him D’Arcy, he’s greeting a personal friend who he addresses by his first name, making the character Captain D’Arcy Crane.

Ol’ Greenbean is back!

The encounter is fraught with suspicion. D’Arcy initially attacks Dan, seeing him allied with Sondar, believing him to be in league with the Mekon. An uneasy peace is maintained between the two sides, for long enough that Dan begins to come round to accepting the honesty and probity of D’Arcy’s Treen colleagues, that is until Peabody and Samson catch up and remind him that the very first thing the original Treen party had said to Dan and Co when trying to collect them was to present the Mekon’s compliments…
At least the Kingfisher crew aren’t traitors. The moment they learn they’ve been tricked, they turn on the Treens with a vengeance.
Once everybody’s on the same page, they shoot off into space but, thanks to the use of the Mekon’s magnets, only into the Mercurian equivalent of geosynchronous orbit where, for several weeks, Dan and his arch-enemy play a waiting game.
This section of the story is, for me, even more problematic than the earlier episodes. We now have everyone in the same place, and no more corridors to run down in separate directions, but Varah shifts things into philosophical areas.
It’s now settled that the Mekon wants Dan Dare, and Dan Dare only, to drop the Panthanaton bomb on Venus. D’Arcy and his crew were an expedient, but would be subject to challenge due to their long absence (and the fact that everyone’s thought they were dead since 1995), but no-one would even think to challenge Spacefleet’s Chief Pilot. Knowing what price Dare places on his word of honour, the Mekon rationalises that he only has to get Dan to promise, and his plan ins secured.
So the next phase of the story is a cat-and-mouse game between the Mekon’s forces and one ship, with limited air, food and other resources, trapped in orbit, with the aim of forcing Dan into a promise that will save his friends.
From an adult perspective, Varah overcooks the story. It takes a long time for Dan to come out with the only possible answer, that he cannot possibly place the lives of Digby, Peabody, Sondar and Urb above those of millions of Threens, Therons and Earthmen on Venus. But Marooned on Mercury‘s original audience, the seven to twelve year olds of the first half of 1953, would have been reading their first philosophical dilemma, and perhaps the additional time Varah gives to what, ultimately, is a simple answer, serves more than just the need to perpetuate the storytelling.
Having set things up as turning upon an ethical decision, it’s a shame that Varah then blurs the moral lines in a way unexpected of Eagle‘s ethos. Dan can’t get down from the sky without the Mekon allowing him, but he must get out of the sky and back to Mercury if he’s ever to overthrow his archenemy’s plans. It’s Catch-22, and Varah’s solution is for Sondar, not being affected by the moral convictions of Earthmen, to secretly signal that Dan will indeed do the dirty deed, to break the impasse.
And Dan, discovering that the Treens are expecting him and are indeed willing to lead him to the Panthanaton bomb storage centre, decides to go with the flow and allow the Treens to think that he has given his word, whilst planning all the time to break it the first chance he gets. Please bear in mind that this ethical cross-wired conundrum has been cooked up by a Church of England Vicar: no wonder I turned out an atheist.
However, we are now set up for the end-game, which consists of Dan, with the Mekon having arrived to personally direct his hated foe into the biggest single crime in the Solar System, grabbing a Panthanaton bomb and threatening to kill all of them: it’s worth the sacrifice of his own life to end the threat of the Mekon for once and for all.
With the Mekon temporarily stymied by the Panthanaton bomb, Dan takes the chance to use the Treen controls to contact Earth and signal their survival and the need for an Earth presence, extremely rapidly. By a convenient coincidence, this call comes just as Sir Hubert is unveiling a memorial to the gallant Earth heroes who sacrificed themselves to dispel the menace of the Red Moon (and if that feels oddly remote, remember that, although this took place nearly nine months earlier for Eagle’s readers, in the context of the series only some two to three weeks have passed, making the ceremony almost premature).
Dan’s family is represented by Uncle Ivor, Digby’s by Aunt Anastasia. What should we read into this? In time to come we will know that Dan’s father is believed dead, and it is clear that Lady Jean McGregor Dare must also have passed on. That no other Dare family member is present to pay their respects suggests that Dan was an only child, which sits awkwardly with the introduction of a nephew, Alastair, in the first Eagle Annual short story, running in the first Interplanetary Olympics. A decade later, Dan will also acquire a second nephew, Nigel, but never a mention of a brother to have fathered these close relatives!
And I once again find it notable that neither Mrs Digby nor any of the four Digby children are here to honour the head of the household: I said it before and I’ll repeat it, amicable separation and Digby spends all his time on duty because he hasn’t got any money left for himself once he’s finished paying ample maintenance!
It’s going to take about a fortnight for the Earth fleet to reach Mercury, though it’s a little strange to have that estimate coming from Uncle Ivor, an archaeologist lest we forget, rather than someone from Spacefleet.
Meantime, Dan and Co are still up the sharp end, with the Mekon out for revenge. It’s time to appeal to the Mercurians to rise up against their oppressors. But the Mercurians, for all that they are surprisingly strong for such skinny folk, and fond of bangs and crashes when they travel, are pacifists by nature. The Mekon is a pest, but he’s a bearable pest, is their attitude, and none of Dan’s rhetoric, so effective on the Therons, has any effect. Until the Mekon arrives in his fleet, guns a-blazing, resorting to brute force and ruddy ignorance. And then the Mercurians retaliate, bouncing into the sky and stripping down the Treen ships in midflight. This is rapidly followed by a multifarious Mercurian march cross-planet, aimed at the Mekon’s base, though it arrives just in time to see the Mekon making another tactical retreat.
Thus Sir Hubert arrives to find a peaceful planet, and Dan and co can go back to work.

The last Hampson page

In all of this, I haven’t, thus far, mentioned the art. It goes without saying, and this is no insult to Harold Johns, that the best art in the entire story is in the four pages directly drawn and supervised by Hampson himself, before succumbing to exhaustion. These are also, in terms of what we’ve already covered with regard to the story, the most fast-paced and story-dense four pages of Marooned on Mercury.
Unlike Hampson, Johns – whose signature on the work appears only once in the entire story – was grateful for Walkden Fisher’s models. Hampson had already designed and depicted the Mercurians, so he and Tomlinson are left with little in the way of innovation.
They’re solid and competent, and of course, just as when they were mere assistants, they’re drawing in Frank Hampson’s style, so there are no major differences in the art. What proportion of the Dan Dare audience actually noticed is impossible to say but based on my own experience as a comics reading kid a decade later, I suspect it would have been very small.
But to the adult eye, the change in artist is unmistakeable. It’s not immediately noticeable in backgrounds, in landscape or technology, but it is in faces and, as the story progresses, in figure scale. At this stage in his career, Hampson’s art still contained an identifiable element of cartooning when it came to faces, but Johns’ style exaggerates this back towards the very early days.
His scale is off, too. The Studio research materials contained style-sheets and figure guides including relative heights, enabling characters to be depicted in proportion to one another, and these distinctions are maintained, but there is a general shrinkage of everyone vis-a-vis their setting. Bodies are shorter and stubbier: not by any pronounced degree, but by enough for it to be noticeable.
Digby, who was closest to being a cartoon to begin with, is even more unrealistic throughout the story, and suffers the indignity of having his face drawn in different styles at different times. He’s never not recognisable, but the eye halts far too often for comfort. The effect is like seeing a different actor taking over an established part.
I don’t know just how long Frank Hampson’s illness remained debilitating, but by the time he was fit again, Marooned on Mercury had progressed so far that, rather than re-take the reigns with the concomitant disruption of rebuilding the story into something more impressive, he chose not to interfere but instead concentrated upon Dan Dare’s next adventure.
This fourth story, the second longest single story in the entire canon, would take Dan and Co deeper into space than they had ever been, would introduce another race of aliens to the teeming life of Earth’s Solar System, and demonstrate another step forward in Hampson’s evolution as an artist. But Hampson’s health would still play a crucial part in the telling of this story.

Dan Dare: The Red Moon Mystery


It’s hard to imagine it now, but there was a genuine sense of concern about the second Dan Dare story. Would it work again? Would the kids suddenly get bored with it. Could Hampson do it again?
Well, we know that the answer to that was ‘of course’, but that was not what was in the air at Eagle in the autumn of 1951, as the Venus Story came to an end and there was this sudden realisation that nothing had been prepared for its sequel. Hampson had worked himself hard, had twice had to take month long holidays from his self-imposed long hours at the drawing board. But now was the time to show that Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future was not a one-trick pony.
The Red Moon Mystery began on Mars. This would have come as little surprise: in the decades before rocketships, even unmanned, were anything like a reality, SF’s greatest fascination was with Earth’s sister planets, and Dan Dare had already been to Venus. The time was rapidly approaching when scientific understanding would prove false all those theories that had held hold about Earth’s neighbouring satellites. Venus would not have, beneath its cloud cover, anything remotely resembling a surface compatible for humans, nor would Mars prove to have the long-imagined canals.
But whilst the chance was still there, Dan Dare would have to go to Mars.
Whereas the uncertain passage of time was the greatest weakness of the ‘Venus Story’, The Red Moon Mystery works to a detailed, day by day chronology that is maintained throughout the story in a manner that would feature in no other Dan Dare adventure.
It’s already been established in Hampson’s chronology that Earth has reached Mars, almost a decade earlier, but found it a dead planet. Now, in 1998, two years after the Venus expedition, we begin by learning that the Red Planet is actually a Resort, with a thriving tourist industry (and by implication a very healthy Earth economy to sustain interplanetary holidays less than forty years on from the first Landing on the Moon.)
Dan’s on leave on Mars, intent on some skiing at the North Pole, and Digby, instead of going off to Wigan to spend some time with his wife and four children, is alongside him to look after his Colonel (just how helpless would Dan have been in reality if he had to get his own uniforms pressed?). They’re travelling in Anastasia, Dan’s personal, two-seater spaceship, named for Digby’s fearsome Aunt, and a gift from Venus for his part in ending the reign of the Mekon. Designed by Sondar himself, it combines four different propulsive systems, including Theron magnetic motors, which will make the Anastasia more than useful in the forthcoming events.
But before Dan can give himself over to any hedonistic pursuits, he has a courtesy call to make. The chief Archaeologist on Mars, investigating the ruins of Mars’ last emperor, and seeking out the reason for the destruction of the Martian civilization, is Doctor Ivor Dare, Dan’s uncle.
Uncle Ivor plays a significant part in The Red Moon Mystery. Later, he plays a cameo role in its sequel, Marooned on Mercury, as the representative of Dan’s family at a premature Memorial Service, and he has a small role to play in the late fifties story, The Phantom Fleet, but outside of this he plays no other part in the saga.
Which is why it’s interesting to speculate just how Uncle an ‘Uncle’ he is.

Uncle Ivor

Hampson’s biography of Dan is necessarily spare. His father is the spacepilot and explorer Captain William ‘Mad Billy’ Dare, and his mother Lady Jean McGregor, whom Mad Billy rescued from her disapproving family in an elopement, but that’s all we learn. Dan describes Ivor as being from the ‘Welsh branch’ of the family, so I think we can rule out his being Billy Dare’s brother. And apart from the famous Dare eyebrow, there’s no physical resemblance, with Dr Ivor sporting red hair and extravagant moustaches. From which I’d infer that the Welsh branch of the Dare family diverges from the main branch at least one generation earlier, probably more, making Uncle Ivor more of a cousin than any other consanguinous relation, and the ‘Uncle’ being a courtesy title.
Either way, Doctor Dare has been busy excavating Dorton-uth-Agar’s palace, and has learned that the Martian Civilisation was destroyed by something called ‘the Red Moon’. What the Red Moon is is another thing entirely, though its mystery is not to be delayed as long as the good Doctor anticipates. Courtesy call done, Dan and Dig take off to start their holiday only for Sir Hubert to summon them back from leave: a mysterious asteroid has entered the Solar System on a direct course for Earth. It’s already been nick-named ‘the Red Moon’.
And this was only the first episode!
Nor did Hampson let-up. Whilst I wouldn’t accuse the ‘Venus Story’ of being slow at any time, in contrast there is no let-up to events in The Red Moon Mystery. The crisis is there from the first episode and the threat of the Red Moon drives every moment that follows.
Having had his leave so abruptly terminated, Dan needs to get to the Red Moon and find out what it is without delay. A very familiar team is quickly assembled at SFJ2, the main Mars satellite. It’s commander, the newly-promoted Pilot Major Pierre Lafayette, has commandeered a ship, the Hirondelle, for Dan and Dig. For co-pilot he has seconded the captain of the Space-Clipper, ‘Yankee’, currently at the station, Hank Hogan. And, to handle the spectroscope and thermocouple he has had installed, a scientist is needed, and who should be on the passenger manifests, vacationing at the south pole? None other than everybody’s favourite boffin, Professor Peabody. But for Sir Hubert being on Earth, the gang is all here.
While Sir Hubert picks Ivor Dare’s brain about ‘his’ Red Moon, Hirondelle makes haste to the current day version. Unfortunately, the Moon is generating a powerful magnetic field that overwhelms the craft and drags it in at incredible speed. Only by pushing the engines to full burn and exercising a slingshot turn can Dan push Hirondelle to the speeds necessary to escape the magnetic pull. But in the course of things, all the crew are knocked out by a mysterious, overwhelming throbbing noise generated from the Red Moon.
So its back to SFJ2, not to lick wounds but to make a second attempt, this time using Anastasia, whose Treen magnetic motors should be proof against the Red Moon’s attraction.
But that plan has to be abandoned. The Red Moon has altered course and is now approaching Mars. Given the devastation the Moon caused on its first visit, Earth has no option but to evacuate th planet, and Dan, as senior officer, is placed in charge. He has one major problem: it can’t be done.
It’s an example of the cold equations of space travel, and of Hampson’s determination that Dan Dare should occupy a realistic and scientifly justifiable Universe. There are over 1000 people on Mars, civilians and Spacefleet combined. The available passenger transport, including ships that can return to or reach Mars in the three day period before the Red Moon completes its attack, will jointly hold about 900.


Dan takes charge of the impossible ‘Dunkirk’, whilst Hank and Pierre are detached to make a second approach to the Red Moon in Anastasia. Though the magnetic motors have the desired effect, both are again affected by the throbbing noise. Pierre, who sees something fleetingly, is badly injured and Hank has to get him back. We never directly learn what Pierre has seen, for he disappears from the story at this point, but it’s safe to assume that he has seen one of the inhabitants of the rogue asteroid.
As for Dan, he, Dig, and the Mars ferry Captain, George Bryan, descend to Mars to check everyone has been evacuated, save for stubborn old Uncle Ivor, working frantically to find anything that the long gone Dortan-uth-Algar had left to identify the specific menace of the Red Moon.
In his absence, there is a riot on the station. Two passengers, given low priority numbers after women and children, panic, imagining that Spacefleet is saving themselves at the passenger’s expense. In one of the few moments that speak to the era, these two passemgers are clearly not English. Their nationality is not defined, but one wears a red fez. They are easily beaten by Progessor Peabody, who waits for them to reach the top of the control tower then simply suspends gravity, bringing the riot to a dramatic stop and demonstrating the Prof’s cool and good judgement.
It also inadvertently solves Dan’s problem. The Red Moon has moved into its third and final pass, and SFJ2 is caught in its magnetic grip. Not all the available ships, at full poqwer, can drag the station out of an inevtiable descent to the Moon’s surface, but Dan orders all the remaining staff and passengers up to the comming tower whilst he prepared Anastasia‘s disintegron shot to blow the control tower away from the bulk of the station and enable it to be towed to Earth, solving the evacuation.
It’s a desperate, deadly shot, and not even Dan can take it in safety. But chance, and the seven year old audience, are satisfied as the abandoned dog Digby brought back from Mars leaps on Dan’s firing hand, causing the perfect shot.
Under Hank Hogan’s command, the evacuees sail back to Earth, and Hank from further substantial participation in the story, and Dan is free to tackle the Red Moon head on. He retrieves Uncle Ivor and the metal box hidden by Dortan that the archeologist has discovered thanks to the last pass. But back on Earth a frantic Hank is making a final appearance in the story, gabbling excitedly to Sir Hubert that they have left someone behind: that Professor Peabody was trapped on the station and has fallen to the Red Moon.
Once again, Hampson obeys the cold equations. Sir Hubert refuses to notify Dan that the Professor is in need of rescue. Despite his own personal regard for Jocelyn, his recollection of the time they faced the silicon mass, he will not allow Dan to be distracted from a mission that affects the safety of the entire Earth.
Though it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. Dan brings Anastasia in to land on a tall, rectangular column in an area of wild ranges and steep peaks. Exploration is limited but they have landed close to the area where the station has crashed, close enough to catch sight of Peabody’s SOS lights. Tracking her seems impossible, but with the Red Moon once more bound for earth, and the evidence of the devastation is causes all too evident, Spacefleet set out to try to stop/divert the Moon by using Earth’s last dozen A-Bombs. They are ineffectual, but they roll up the clouds surrounding the surface long for Dan to take Anastasia down, discover a Sargasso Sea of wrecked spaceships, held by the Red Moon’s magnetism, and pull Peabody’s fat out of the fire.


Anastasia high-tails it for Earth coming in for a crash-landing at the very doors of Spacefleet HQ, under Sir Hubert’s nose, literally.
The crash gives Hampson a visual narrative for the only slow spot in the entire story: it takes several issues to fully explain what Dan’s team have discovered about the Red Moon. Between the discovery in Dortan’s box of primitive natural photographic plates, and the discovery of a dead body blown into Anastasia’s engines, the story of the Red Moon is unfolded. Against a background of Construction Branch moving it to retrieve and remove Anastasia, and start repairing the scene whilst five people stand around in coats and spacesuits and discourse!
The Red Moon, it appears is home to a race of insects that Hampson calls Space-Bees, though a more appropriate term would be Space-Locusts. The Bees are magnetically polarised and can cause the Red Moon to travel through space by jointly displaying one pole or other in the desired direction. In sight of a planet with vegetation, the Bees send the Moon into a three day orbit, creating the throbbing noise by rubbing the sounding boards on their legs, effectively blasting away opposition, before issuing forth to strip the planet, after which they go into hibernation on the journey to the next target.
The Bees are lethal, destructive on a planetary scale, yet it is typical of Hampson’s Universe, of the morality that Eagle existed to promote, that there is no condemnation of the Bees as evil: they are just an example of ‘life twisted into an unsual pattern by circumstances’. This line is vitally important to understanding the Dan Dare series and its central character. Even the Mekon has a motive for what he does. There is no such thing as evil per se, no easy or soft options for dismissing anyone, no excuse therefore to just blindly slaughter even in self-defence.
Better yet, Peabody’s involuntary excursion has equipped Earth with a means to save itself. The Professor’s spectographic readings show a decided change in that region corresponding to chlorophyll before and after: Peabody analyses from this that the Red Moon navigates by response to that part of the visual spectrum corresponding to chlorophyll: how else can the Space Bees detect a target. It can therefore be decoyed away by dangling ‘a tastier planet’ in front of it. There may be no such thing on hand, but Dan seizes on the concept to suggest a powerful space beacon, draped with chlorophyll filters, to create the same effect.
This ingenious solution is quickly adopted. Anastasia is repaired and Dan is presented with the beacon, all set to decoy away the danger. It’s a tense wait whilst the confused Moon tries to handle the sudden emergence of a better target, but once it moves in pursuit, Dan and digby are off at full-speed to rendezvous with a Treen-Theron fleet, headed by Governor Sondar himself, carrying a weapon that they believe will paralyze the Red Moon in its tracks. It’s only when Anastasia is committed that the stowaway emerges from her hiding place with recommendations for Digby’s dusting: Peabody has no intention of missing out on the fun, just because she’s a woman.
At the rendezvous point, the crew transfer to Sondar’s ship. What is not made explicit at this point is that Dan and co are abandoning Anastasia. That clearly wasn’t the intention, but the Treen superweapon fails to immobilise the Red Moon, which responds like a cat whose tail has been trapped under arocking chair, and takes off sunwards. In the rush to pursue, in the decision to destroy the Moon to prevent it from ever menacing another planet, Anastasia is silently left behind. The ship will not surface for many years…

Anastasia

The pursuing fleet finally catches up with the Red Moon in the vicinity of Mercury. Sondar’s ship advances, firing the shot that destroys the Moon once and for all. But the destruction is greater than anticipated. The blast sphere expands faster than anticipated. It sweeps over Sondar’s ship, carrying Dan, Dig and the Professor. No trace of it is found, and the death of the gallant allies is reported to Earth, which is plunged into morning.
Only the reader sees the crippled flagship descending to the surface of Mercury…
The Red Moon Mystery was a very different story to its predecessor, maintaining a high-paced, all-action storyline with the dial continually turned up to Crisis. As such, Frank Hampson was able to complete a wholly satisfying, exciting story in a mere 38 weeks, a fraction over half the length of ‘The Venus Story’.
Of course, he had some natural advantages. On the one hand, we know all the characters, and they know each other: interactions are smoother and easier and are on the level of pleasant insults that characterises so many friendships. On the other, the action takes place primarily on Mars, which is a) a known quantity to the characters, who do not need to discover anything about it and b) is a dead planet. The only alien race to be dealt with is the Martians, who have been dead for a couple of millennia, unless you count Uncle Ivor, as a Welshman of minuscule modesty.
And the ending of the story demonstrated a technique that would be utilised on subsequent occasions, whereby the end of one story would segue directly into another adventure. This would be used most notably in The Man from Nowhere Trilogy, and again in the Terra Nova Trilogy, and would even be revived in the Sixties when future creative team David Motton and Keith Watson would have their shackles unloosed.
One aspect that ought to receive greater attention than it does is the closing sequence. Earth faces attack from the Red Moon: it’s Venusian allies are working together to come to Earth’s assistance, although their distance from Earth means they cannot arrive in time to directly affect any attack. But it’s not yet three years since the Venusian war and the driving off of the Mekon, and the Treens are allowed a space force and access to lethal battle technology. It shows a remarkably trusting attitude from Earth, although one that is at least consistent with the approach taken at the end of ‘The Venus Story’.
Over the years, many Dan Dare fans have constructed elaborate chronologies that try to encompass all the stories from Eagle and its Annuals. New Zealand based fan Denis Steeper has been one of the most zealous among these, and has written a number of Dan Dare prose stories, including four full-length novels, that develop this overarching chronology, and in finding Earth’s leniency naive at this point, we must bear in mind that Frank Hampson did not create any overarching chronology, and had no idea at this time just how many times the Mekon would return.
The Red Moon Mystery was the first story to be wholly completed in Epsom, at Bayford Lodge, in surroundings much more conducive to luxuries like breathing in independently of someone else breathing out, and during the course of the story, a new assistant joined the team, Don Harley, who would go on to become, in Frank Hampson’s own words, ‘the second-best Dan Dare artist in the world’. Don’s first panel appeared during the riot and featured its culprits.
One final point: Except where it was absolutely essential to the plot, as it regrettably became, I’ve avoided mention of Digby’s dog. I’m no longer seven years old, and to be truthful I wasn’t even born when The Red Moon Mystery was appearing, but I was and am completely out of sympathy with the hound. Digby picks him up, abandoned, on the Martian surface and smuggles him into his spacesuit. Originally, he nicknames the dog ‘Towzer’, a once popular name for dogs that slipped completely out of fashion half a century ago, but after the pooch’s feats of marksmanship, Dan renames him Sir William Tell. For some reason, the dog goes with Dan and Dig in Anastasia on the mission to dangle the beacon in front of the Red Moon, when he really ought to have been dropped from the story at that point. Digby makes him a ‘cute’ spacesuit of his own and the hound is transferred to Sondar’s flagship, meaning of course that he is counted among the survivors that continue into the sequel.
Not a wise move, methinks.

For more information about Dan Dare and for new stories fit to stand alongside the originals, go to Spaceship Away…

See also Nicholas Hill’s excellent site at Dan-Dare.org

Dan Dare: The Venus Story


Dan and Dig – the old firm

The first Dan Dare story has no official name. In view of its subject, it’s usually referred to as ‘The Venus Story’ or ‘Voyage to Venus’, the title applied to the last round of reprint editions, published by Titan. It’s by a substantial margin the longest story, running to 77 weeks, a week short of eighteen months. The boy who started reading this story in the week of his seventh birthday was nearly halfway towards his ninth before he finished it, an almost incredible example of retaining attention.
The Venus Story has first to set-up Dan Dare and his cast of regular supporting characters and, more importantly, the world in which they lived. Though Hampson had no prior experience of building a story, or a world, he managed all of this with an instinctive skill, and an eye for building in exposition without ever nearing the shores of the miserable ‘As you know’.
Part of Hampson’s success was in his canny construction of a story that, whilst set in a future that was close enough for each reader to imagine himself growing into, was also keyed to their current experience. Dan is the Pilot of the Future, immediately linking him to the dashing RAF pilots of the recent War, heroes to small boys. And his task is to eliminate Food rationing, an issue that still plagued Britain five years after the end of the War, not being abolished until 1951. The theme joined dismal present to colourful future, a future that Hampson crammed dozens of fantastic futuristic devices into: fantastic but utterly plausible and realistic.
I’ve already described the first week’s set-up. In addition to that, Hampson announced that ‘Kingfisher’s flight to Venus, via this future’s dominant technology, Impulse Wave Engines, would take seven days, automatically drawing its audience back for week 2 when, that dull and mundane week of waiting done, they could find out what happened when Kingfisher reached the clouded planet.
What happened was another disaster. To the frustration of a control tower that could do nothing, Kingfisher is consumed in a space explosion exactly as its predecessors were, and Sir Hubert and Colonel Dare must fly immediately to a World Cabinet meeting, at which the Controller will report, and the Chief Pilot will give his quick-witted (and of course correct) theory of what is happening and how it can be overcome.
Which is that Venus is shielded by a barrier that causes explosions in Impulse Wave Engines, which can be by-passed by approaching in old style Chemical Motor Rockets (i.e., our own technology).
Dan’s theory is accepted, a fourth expedition is ordered, and this time Dan Dare has his way: it will be under his command. He won’t be left out any longer.
This, after three weeks continuity, will give Hampson the chance to introduce the rest of his cast, as they assemble to crew under Colonel Dare, but before we meet the men (and woman) who will be regulars in the strip for the next decade, we must pause to examine that one essential cast member, the other ranks Spaceman who will be the most loyal and most consistent member of the team for the entirety of the run, Spaceman First Class Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, of Wigan.
The faithful Digby, Dan’s batman (i.e., personal servant). Short where Dan is tall, prematurely white-haired (with a quiff) where Dan has smooth, well-brushed brown hair, tubby where Dan is slim, Dig is the physical opposite of his Colonel just as he is the other pole in the series.
Before long, Hampson would break down his two principal characters into an easy, aphoristic line: “Dan Dare was the man I dreamed of being, Digby the man I was afraid I was.”
It’s easy to take such a jokey approach to Digby: after all, he was the comic relief character, the constant companion to whom everything had to be explained, benefiting the audience. He was Other Ranks, he came from Wigan, with the appropriate accent and language, he was concerned with his comfort, he was rotund (almost to the extent that you wondered about the Health Requirements for Spacefleet). But Digby was brave, and he was loyal, and he never let anyone, especially ‘his’ Colonel down.
Well, perhaps that’s not wholly true. Digby was married, and the father of four, with his wife and children back at home in Wigan, but despite his longing for familiar surroundings (only slightly less pronounced than his desire for a plate of fish’n’chips), the one place we would never see Albert Fitzwilliam was Wigan, with his family. Whether or not he took leave was never revealed: certainly, every time Dan is on leave, Dig is by his side, brewing up and looking after his clothes. And on those rare occasions that Digby received awards for his bravery, it would not be his wife who came to the ceremony but his spinster Aunt Anastasia, who had brought up the orphaned Albert from a very early age and retained no high opinion of him.
As adults, we can perhaps wonder about this: even if Hampson would have been minded to address the Digby marriage in the series, Morris as Editor and Vicar would certainly not have allowed any reference to marital discord, so perhaps we are on safest ground in assuming that the Digbys’ relationship was like that of so many happy marriages of the Twentieth Century and before, and founded on never seeing each other! We can at least be sure that Digby made over enough of his pay for Housekeeping!

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

But the next member of the cast that would dominate the early years of the series had already been introduced before Dig. Sir Hubert Gascoigne Guest, Controller of Spacefleet, was a veteran of space travel (Guest had been part of the expedition that made the first Moon landing in 1965, and was the third man to walk on the Moon). A crusty, old-fashioned Commander, Sir Hubert was a father figure to Dan, a man he clearly regarded with a paternal eye, though not one unfocused in its adherence to rank and order. It would be many years before we heard about Dan’s actual father, though Hampson had composed a biography of his hero – of each of his characters – that underpinned their on-panel solidarity whether such details were ever mentioned or not.
Sir Hubert may have been as a stern, strict father to Dan Dare but to the boys who read Dan’s adventures, he would have been seen as a grandfatherly presence. As I’ve already mentioned, given that he was born the same year as the first generation of Eagle readers, Sir Hubert was their promise of an exciting future.
He also stood more firmly on the ground than any other character, for Frank Hampson sought the only father figure he knew, former Detective Inspector Robert Hampson of the Southport Police, and tremendously popular and supportive figure in the Dan Dare Studio (or the Bakery, as it was in real life). Frank simply drew his own father, to a level that is almost frightening in its accuracy. I was fortunate enough to see a Granada TV documentary on Dan Dare that included film of an interview with Hampson in the Fifties, seen drawing at his table with Robert, in his Hubert Guest uniform, overlooking his shoulder. It is disturbing to see Sir Hubert walking around, off the page: very disturbing.
Hampson completed his cast in the fourth week of the story, jumping ahead three months. Spacefleet Construction Branch had knocked itself out, completing three two-seater scout ships with old-fashioned chemical rocket motors. These would be transported to Venus orbit, outside the presumed Barrier zone, where Dare’s expedition would then launch and try to penetrate the Barrier.
Three times two made six: Dan and Digby counted as two of these, and Sir Hubert, despite being over the age for active service, insisted on forming a member of the party: as a veteran of the early days of spaceflight, he wasn’t going to miss this nostalgic chance.
This still left three. Two were accounted for quickly. Dan had arranged for two of Spacefleet’s most-accomplished pilots, and his two closest service friends, to be assigned to the mission. Pilot Captains Pierre Lafayette and Henry Brennan “Hank” Hogan emphasised the international element of the future, of the World Government. Borders may have been abolished, but Pierre and Hank were as distinctively French and American as their names suggested, the one with his slightly tubby appearance and his little Gallic moustache, the other a Texan with an exuberant disdain for authority, and little wire-rimmed glasses: features that would easily identify who was who in the plentiful scenes in spacesuits.
Hank and Pierre would be mainstays of the series for the first five years, missing only from Marooned on Mercury. They were easy-going, reliable lieutenants, cheerfully insulting each other along the way, and occasionally causing accidents. But Hank and Pierre’s main weakness was that they were only lieutenants: they lacked the initiative to take independent action when they were removed from their commander, as we would see later in The Venus Story.
But Hank and Pierre would be overlooked for the first two parts of the classic Man from Nowhere trilogy, only to disappear again immediately after its conclusion, appearing only in one final adventure together in the early Sixties.
There was one more almost indispensable member of the series, the last to be introduced in those early weeks, and the most usual of all in the context of a boy’s comic. Professor Peabody was a Botanist, directed to the mission by the World Government to carry out the necessary tests to determine if food for Earth could be grown in Venusian soils.
But the Professor was not the ancient greybeard that the team expected. The Professor turned out to be a capable, cool, slim red-headed young woman in her late twenties, Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody. And she was an attractive young woman to boot, though not portrayed as a knock-out of any kind (as Robert Hampson modelled Sir Hubert, the Professor’s template was the studio’s youngest member, Greta Tomlinson).
A woman in a boy’s comic! And not just a woman but an independent highly-qualified woman who was determined to look out for herself and perfectly capable of so doing. In all the ways Dan Dare and Eagle broke with convention, in the early Fifties, Miss Peabody was probably the most radical. Jocelyn was a feminist almost twenty years before feminism began.
Of course she would still need rescuing, from time to time. And once, but only once, she was left crying. But the Professor, despite the chauvinistic response of Sir Hubert, was part of the team, and she would be so for most of the rest of the decade.
There was one team member that Hampson was not allowed to introduce. To emphasise the utopian nature of the series, that the recent War had led towards the inexorable development of a United Planet under a World Government, Hampson wanted to include Boris, a Russian, among Dan’s team. Sadly, with Germany partitioned, with Stalin still in charge, with the Iron Curtain settling across Europe, that was a step Hultons were not prepared to accept, not in a comic directed primarily at seven year old boys, who might think the Russians and the Communists were not dire enemies forever.
And so the adventure begins. ‘Ranger’ conveys the team to Venus orbit, and the expedition prepares for Venus-fall.
The team split themselves up naturally: Dan and Dig in ship 1, Hank and Pierre in ship 2 and the odd couple, Sir Hubert and the Professor in ship 3. How else it could have been done was irrelevant: Sir Hubert insisted on accompanying the Professor, in order to keep an eye on the clearly unreliable female.
So Dan and Dig made the first approach, proving Dan’s theory. However, by a clearly understandable design oversight, the ships had been provided with standard issue Impulse wave radios. This blew, cutting off communications and forcing a crash-landing on Venus, in a tropical belt of strange and wonderful vegetation, waters and fauna.
This, as much as the story itself, is what Frank Hampson excelled at, and was what made Dan Dare so memorable over so many years. Hampson imagined into being, in an utterly convincing manner, the surface of an alien planet. Not so alien that it was utterly unrecognisable, without logic, but coherent: a wonderland for the reader’s imagination, which after reading the story would return to sink into the landscape and explore, in their mind, what lay out of sight in the panel.
Meanwhile, Dan and Digby were marooned, unable to escape or even earn their team-mates about the risk. All they could do was set off towards the planned rendezvous point at the equator.
Back in space, it is the logical Pierre who divines the reason behind Dan’s radio silence and, after the radios are removed back on ‘Ranger’, he and Hank set off from the second attempt. But when Sir Hubert announces his intention, should they fail, to return the Professor to the ship and proceed alone, Miss Peabody, who is a fully qualified space pilot and is at the controls, defies orders and sends no 3 ship in pursuit.
We leave them for now and return to Dan and Dig on the Venus surface. The air, it appears, is breathable, though their suits’ atmosphere testers don’t agree. But their first encounters with Venusian life are imminent.
First they are captured by blue-skinned primitives, human in shape save for their thick red hair and a pronounced bump on their forehead. These primitives take then to a base controlled by a technologically superior race, green-skinned, hairless, seven foot tall dressed in near identical costumes.
These are the Treens, the dominant life-form of the northern hemisphere of Venus, cold, calculating, scientific, of lizard-like descent. In due course, the Treens will be found to be led by their Chief Scientist, the Mekon.

                                                                        The ever-present threat

The blue-skinned people are the Treens’ slaves. They are Atlanteans, descendents of slaves stolen from Earth a millennium ago, by the Treens, whose depredations led to the destruction of the great land barrier that preserved the vast inland valley where Atlantis lay, and which is now the Mediterranean Sea. There is a third race on Venus, but we are not destined to meet them just yet.
Dan and Dig are taken to the Treen capital, Mekonta, the first chance Hampson had to draw a full-page spread, sixteen weeks into Eagle and the series’ life. It is Mekonta, a fantastic yet logical creation, set in an artificial lagoon of multi-coloured water. It is a page that can be studied forever.
In the city, they learn that they will be subjected to scientific experiment. The Treens apparently know a great deal about Earth, and have plans to invade and take over the planet in order to scientifically rationalise it and its population. Furthermore, Dan and Dig are shown a broadcast of the other two ships of their expedition.
This is where the one significant failing of this story first appears. It’s at least heavily implied that what Dan and Dig see is happening live, yet their own experiences and journeys have taken the equivalent of a couple of Earth days, and no such lapse in time could possibly have happened to the other four members of the team. It could be that the Treen scientist is only showing a recording of what has already happened, but if this is so, it’s certainly not made in any way clear, and as the issue of time on the Venusian surface against time in space and on Earth will continue to be completely at odds, this is not an explanation I am prepared to accept.
It appears that Venus’s Equator is surrounded by a ferocious flame-belt, separating the hemispheres completely, and the expedition’s rendezvous point is right in the flamebelt. Pierre and Hank manage to force their craft out of its dive and soar away, trailing smoke, into the southern hemisphere – which the Treens dismiss as lost – which the Professor’s piloting gets her and Sir Hubert down in one piece, but with no hope of lift-off or escape.
Dan’s pleas to be allowed to go to his friends’ help fall on deaf ears until he cleverly intimates that more experimentation – including vivisection – would be possible with four subjects, one of them female. He and Digby are sent out with a Treen pilot to rescue Sir Hubert and Miss Peabody.
That they are sent with a single Treen is either a subtle expression of a Treen overwhelming superiority complex, or else a convenient device for ensuring Dan and Dig don’t have to do anything improbable to take over the craft – or indeed, possibly both. The Treen is Sondar, who is to become the first ‘good’ Treen, though no explanation will really ever be given for his turning out to believe in Earth’s democratic ideals.
It’s an interesting defection. There is nothing – physically or intellectually – to distinguish Sondar from any other Treen. The only thing that seems to differentiate Sondar from his fellows is that he reacts with anger to being attacked by Dan, and fear when the craft is threatened with the Silicon mass that inhabits the Flamebelt. Once he’s beaten, he is glumly resigned to the knowledge that he will now be wanted back in Mekonta just as much as the Earthmen, because he showed an emotion.
Sondar throws in with Dan’s expedition on the purely pragmatic grounds of survival, and his later absorption of human principles seems to take place by osmosis.
So the trio rescue Sir Hubert and the Professor from the menace of the semi-sentient Silicon mass that threatens to sweep over them and, with a Treen military party in hot pursuit, they set off into the interior, trying to escape. Their flight is ended at the top of high cliffs: a brief battle reaches a horrifying moment as a blast from Sit Hubert’s para-gas pistol inadvertently hits Dan who, paralysed but unstable, falls from the edge. The others are captured and returned to Mekonta.
Thus, and surprisingly, the first meeting with the ultimate enemy, the threat to peace in the Solar System, the mighty Mekon, takes place without his inveterate enemy, Dan Dare, missing presumed dead.
The Mekon. Though Hampson would go on to say that he kept bringing the Mekon back because he couldn’t think of anything better to do, there’s no doubt that he had created something that resonated acutely with his readership.
Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who, has been sneered at and satirised for decades for the supposedly amateurish, cheap and unconvincing design of the Doctor’s oldest enemies. Not one of these ignoramuses has given a moment’s thought to what Nation did. He conceived of an alien race that was simultaneously clean, sharp and comprehensible, and utterly, disturbingly alien. Why do you think the Daleks have lasted almost as long as the Doctor, and with fewer essential changes? Because we see them, we interpret them and yet they are wholly unlike us.
A decade earlier, Frank Hampson did exactly the same with the Mekon. He had already introduced the Treens: humanoid in shape, hairless, with heavy-lidded eyes and a wide, flat mouth, just above a wide, flatter jaw. The Treens are descended of some lizard-like genus, but they are still shaped like us. They’re functionally identical, which many commentators – having regard to the superb Sixties story, All Treens must Die!, in support – have interpreted as being a race that does not reproduce sexually, but rather by some biomechanical process: what SF would later term as ‘cloning’.
But the Mekon, like the Daleks, was disturbing and ‘wrong’ to look at, yet instantly comprehensible. It is his head that disturbs, that great, circular, globe-like formation, with the compressed, cruel face beneath it, Treen in structure but closer to human in its inner configuration. And the globe, which houses a brain that is not born, but bred and developed by sophisticated and lengthy procedures, dominates not just the face but the body: thin, spindly arms and legs, incapable of supporting themselves, a shrivelled trunk, the whole balanced upon a flying boat that places the Mekon, literally, above everyone he surrounds himself with. As they look up to him politically, so must they all look up to him physically.
The form is human, in that it was resembled human, but the dictates of the brain have thrown the body into terminal imbalance that we recognise but shrink from, sensing instantly that t is unhealthy. As is the mind it bears.
What many forget is that the Mekon is not a name but a title: Il Duce without the presence of Benito Mussolini. If the Mekon ever had a name, a Treen name, it is never spoken, and it probably never existed. Mekons are not natural: they have to be bred from a special strain of Treen, developed over a course of injections and treatments that take decades.
The Treens fear the loss of their leader: the ‘next’ Mekon, we are told, is fifty years away from being ready to assume power. That is the only word we ever have about the New Mekon: he is not mentioned again, not found on Venus when the Mekon is beaten and escapes, not taken with him. The most logical assumption is that he was concealed in the Mekon’s undiscovered base in the equatorial flamebelt, under the supervision of the ‘Last Three’. But that is a story for a much later time.
So it is Digby, Sir Hubert and Professor Peabody who first encounter the Mekon of Mekonta, the most advanced scientific brain on the planet Venus. Like any villain, he cannot resist relating his plans to them, the long-developed plan for the Treens to invade and take over Earth, and rationalise it to run on scientific principles.
It’s a Saturday Morning Serial Villain ploy but none the worse here, as the Mekon plans to use the puny humans to assist his plan. The Treens will soften Earth up first, into allowing them to place a base on the Moon, by pretending that the Dare expedition has been a disaster, that Dare is dead, and that the Treens have nursed and succoured the three badly-injured survivors. They will provide messages for Earth to this effect.
It’s time to return to Dan Dare. He hasn’t of course, died. He may have fallen from a cliff, been swept into an underground river and spent nearly twenty-four hours underground, under water, being swirled along, but the influence of the paragas shot has placed him in a form of suspended animation: he wakes, south of the Flamebelt, alive and unharmed.
The Southern Hemisphere seems to be an idyllic place, agrarian, beautiful, unspoiled, and yet somehow tended, unlike the Atlantean lands where Dan and Digby first landed. It also seems unpopulated: the only city Dan finds is robotic: clean, elegant, efficient, non-polluting. It’s a complete puzzle. Until Dan encounters his first Theron, a young boy, about the age of the reader, who addresses him with the immortal words, “Got any gum, chum?”
It’s pure Hank Hogan, and Dan quickly discovers his two lieutenants lazing in the sun, idly discussing repair plans for the crashed spacecraft with their Theron host, Volstar. So much for the Treen claims that the Southern Hemisphere is a vile and barbarous place.
The Therons – golden brown of skin, given to long, immaculately coiffed hair – can be seen as humanity tuned up. They are scientifically advanced but, unlike the Treens, they have retained their emotions. They have achieved peace. They care for their half of the planet, confining industry to clean, efficient robot cities, and avoiding living off the ground. They occupy flying houses that ride Venus’s Gulfstream. Environmentalist: in 1950!
President Kalon outlines the history of the Therons, the Treens and the Atlanteans, attributing their blue pigment to the different effects of the sun’s rays filtering through Venus’s clouds, and the forehead bump as being an evolutionary development, forced by Venus’s long days: it contains extra tear-ducts to keep eyes moistened.
The Therons are even responsible for awakening the intelligence of the Treens and setting them, inadvertently, on their path to their particular breed of arrogance and science. Since the disaster on Earth, the two races have maintained a closeted neutrality, using the physical impassability of the equatorial Flamebelt as an excuse for avoiding contact. Nevertheless, the Therons do do some judicious spying from time to time, just in case.
This is all very well, but in their commitment to peace, the Therons have forgotten something, until Dan issues a stirring lecture upon good people’s relationship with the bad. Peace is all very well, but men must take up arms against evil and not simply allow it to propagate. Not for the last time, Earth’s shining example shames more advanced races into recognising their responsibility to fight for what is right.
With Hank and Pierre safe and trying to return to Ranger, Dan’s main concern is to get back to the north and rescue the rest of the gang. To aid him, the Therons arrange to disguise him as an Atlantean. This involves a change in pigmentation to turn Dan blue, and the provision of a wig incorporating an artificial lump: the wig does dual-service as a translator.
So Dan heads back to the Treen hemisphere. Hank and Pierre head back into space, only to discover that ‘Ranger’ is no longer there, having stayed to the utmost limits of its power and rations before returning to Earth. This latter is another of the few loose holes in the plot: if the Therons are as technologically advanced as they are, to the extent of maintaining covert surveillance on the Treens every fifty years or so, why have they not detected Ranger’s departure beforehand?
But Hampson needs this craft to take off and become apparent to the Treens. This evidence of interference from their Southern neighbours outrages the Mekon into starting military action against the Therons. This means that able-bodied Atlanteans are conscripted into armies. And that means Dan will be swept up in that war.
Though his disguise is perfect, Dan’s blown his cover at the first encounter, being unaware of Atlantean ritual. He’s in danger of being speared when his wig is knocked off, revealing his smooth forehead: the Atlanteans immediately equate him with their legendary rebel, Kargaz, who is prophesied will return to lead them to freedom. They keep his secret from the Treens, but it is a narrow thing before the Treens arrived to conscript villagers into an army.
Dan is therefore sent to Mekonta. Unfortunately, his familiarity with straps and buckles alerts the suspicions of the Dapon-in-Chief (a Sergeant Major to his Atlantine socks). Thankfully, the Dapon is a believer in the old ways and as soon as Dan reveals his smooth forehead, he is recognised as Kargaz, and the Dapon immediately surrounds him with a squad of trusted men.
Having arrived undiscovered in Mekonta, Dan is lucky enough that the Dapon’s squad is summoned to act as a guard to the Mekon as he advises the captive humans that their usefulness has now been outlasted and they are to be escorted to scientific enquiry and dissection. Sir Hubert leads the protests, mainly about Professor Peabody, but it is Digby (of course) who sees through the blue camouflage to his Colonel and who is the first to react when Dan decides to take a hand and bundle the Mekon off his flying chair.

Original art

The Earthmen try to get away with the Mekon as a prisoner, using the Treen flying chairs, but the Mekon’s superior brain power overrides the controls and dumps them all in the lagoon. He escapes, but Dan and Co get away with one of the Telezero Reflector ships, taking off for Theronland, under pursuit and fire.
And that is the whole of Dan Dare’s interaction with his arch-enemy in their very first encounter: fifteen minutes, maybe twenty tops. It’s a surprise to realise that all those years and hatred turn upon so short, and indeed tangential a meeting, but from this point onwards Dare and the Mekon are eternal foes.
The raid is succesful in freeing the prisoners and escaping. Though the Reflector ship is shot to pieces, it lasts as far as the Theron border, where the escapees are rescued and enough of the plate hull of the Reflector ship stripped by the Therons to enable them to proof themselves against the Telezero ray in future. And there is a moment of sadness and gallantry, as the wounded Dapon, symbol of a race that has been enslaved for thousands of years, pilots the doomed ship back to Mekonta to destroy its base, sacrificing himself in the process.
Dan’s rescue brings the story to an interesting point. In Mekonta, the enraged Mekon opens war upon the Therons for their interference, and advances his plans to establish a base on the Moon. The materials have been prepared, though the Earth prisoners refused to record personal messages, except for Digby.
But Dig is only playing on his image as a bumbling coward, concerned only for his comforts: he volunteers a personal message to his Aunt Anastasia in Wigan, comparing his conditions on Venus to that week on holiday in Sunnymouth.
The Treens land on Earth, disrupting a village cricket match, and are advancing negotiations for the base they want for a spearhead, when Digby’s message get to his Aunt Anastasia: ‘Just like Sunnymouth’. Which brings Miss Digby marching into Spacefleet HQ at Formby, ‘to speak to the manager’ and tell him that Albert Fitzwilliam Digby’s only experience with Sunnymouth, when he was mistaken for an escaped murdered and kept in prison all week. The Moon-bound Treens are intercepted and imprisoned and the day saved.

Aunt Anastasia

Back on Venus, the War takes an unexpected turn. The Venus Story has been adapted twice, for a 1977 paperback written by comics scripter Angus Allen and a 1980 four-part BBC Radio 4 serial starring Mick Ford as Dan. Both adaptations abandon the story at this point, preferring flashbang endings to the actually completion of the story as devised by Hampson.
Admittedly, on the surface, it’s a bit of an absurd resolution, but as explained in the story it’s not only completely logical but also the only practical approach.
With both sides earnestly jamming the other, electronics on Venus start to fail. Whilst they can, Dan’s party head back to Earth, with Sondar for the Treens, and representatives of the Therons and Atlantines, to seek aid from Earth, despite its gaping technological inferiority.
But that’s where Earth’s strengths lie. Remove electronics from the equation and all that is left is force of arms. And whilst the Treens have rationalised itself, eliminating animal life as useless, Earth’s sentimentality and love of ritual has led them to preserve their horses. And everybody knows that in a fight, cavalry beats infantry hands down.
So, strange as it may seem, Earth can tip the balance by transporting mounted troop: ceremonial army units, mounted Police, cattle herders (cowboys to you and I). It’s an unlikely and motley army, but it does the job: under cover of their attacks, Dan leads a sabotage team into Mekonta that switches off the Treen jamming, and ends the war. The Mekon, not for the last time, beats a strategic retreat.
Earth wins the War, but the only reparation it demands is complete disarmament. The food it has needed all along is a matter of request.
And with this demonstration of the moral principles that Marcus Morris as a Reverend of the Church of England, and Frank Hampson as simply a decent human being were out to propagate through Eagle, the first and longest Dan Dare story came to a satisfying end with that most apt of comics conclusions: a feast!