Dan Dare: The Report of the Cryptos Commission


Before going on to consider some of the later Dan Dare stories that supplement the canon, I’d like first to look at a fan project that I find absolutely fascinating, and which is an invaluable piece of work in formulating an overarching continuity that brings together the vast majority of the preceding stories into a continuity that fits.
I’ve said before that ‘continuity’, a frequently exaggerated concern for the consistency of stories and series created by multiple writers and artists, is primarily an American concept, introduced at Marvel Comics in the early Sixties as an attractive and intriguing promotion tool, creating the impression of an integrated story background. It’s subsequently been fetishised, with uncountable stories created out of nothing more inspired than the urge to reconcile a minor contradiction between issues published years apart, but it’s permeated the whole comics world.
It clearly wasn’t a concern for Frank Hampson, and any of those who followed him. Visual continuity was paramount, and a fundamental element in Hampson’s insistence on presenting the fantastic in as realistic a manner as possible, but beyond certain broad-brush elements, not an influence in story-telling. In succession, the Mercurians, the Thorks of Saturn and the Cosmobes appear, and once their story is done, vanish almost completely, which scant concern for the effect of having such people exist in a joined-up Solar System.
New Zealand fan Denis Steeper was one of those fans who wanted to devise a continuity that would plausibly, logically and entertainingly draw together all the disparate strings left in loose ends. This was originally intended as an article for Eagle Times, the quarterly magazine published by and for Eagle fans, but the project expanded beyond the scope of an article and eventually saw the light as an independent, 110 page ring-bindered publication under the name The Report of the Cryptos Commission.
There are many among Dan Dare fandom who dislike TRCC, and accuse it of being boring and long-winded. Given that it’s framed around a Formal Report by an Investigatory Commission into the seemingly limited subject of the Crypts and Phants and the truth behind what they did tell Earth, that’s hardly surprising. Steeper himself points out that it’s not meant to be dramatic as such.
The Report itself forms the majority of TRCC but Steeper elects to present it as having been a secret report, not made publicly available until 2041, thirty years later, and now published with historical commentary by Dr Nigel Dare (Dan’s nephew from The Big City Caper), and it’s via these ‘footnotes’, amalgamated with the Appendix on the Dramatis Personae that he is able to both open up Dan Dare’s Universe and create a framework that pulls together nearly all the stories and the short stories from Annuals and other Specials up to 1966 into a single time-line that can also be projected past Dan’s promotion to Controller.
The first step is to establish a historical background for Dan’s Earth, in which Great Britain remains the pre-eminent power all the way into the Twenty-First Century. To achieve this, Steeper reasons, would require a greater level of stable, intelligent governance of Great Britain, which he chooses to create by ensuring that the Plantagenet Dynasty retains the Throne of Britain, offering strong, wise leadership over centuries.
The divergence comes at Castle Chaluz, where in our world, Richard Lionheart dies, beseiging the castle, when struck by a sniper’s arrow, delivering the Crown to King John with all its consequent effects. To divert history from this course, Steeper conjures up a fire-breathing machine, crewed by green dragons (obviously Treens) that scares the shit out of both armies, resulting in the siege being lifted, Richard returning to England and, in due course, passing the crown to his son, Arthur II.
With John out of the succession, a permanent peace is negotiated with France, a centuries-long Concordat. England retains Normandy. There is no Civil War. With France on their side, Britain repels the American Revolution. When the move to self-determination becomes unstoppable (displacing the American Civil War), it is 1865. Cooler British heads agree this, binding America into the three-way Alliance, alongside France as junior partners. The Empire spreads.
But it takes more than a single change to so comprehensively alter history across so great a period. Steeper knows this well enough. Despite the fact that England and France dominate Europe so, the First World War still takes place, built on German expansionism. The Russian Tsardom still collapses, but Communism is avoided by the expedient of having Lenin and Trotsky shot through the head in 1917, allowing the fragile Democratic Government room to breathe and survive.
Steeper is, to me, on shakier ground by having Hitler rise in Germany and the Second World War happen. It’s an absolute necessity in Dan’s world, a fixed point, but the changes he has already made mitigate in every respect against the creation of the circumstances that brought about Nazi Germany. Sensibly, given that this section is intended as a broad sweep of counter-factual history that’s not intended to delve into detailed arguments, he doesn’t seek to justify Hitler’s War (nor does he at any time encompass the Japanese end of business): it happens, and from its ending, Dan’s world as we know and have seen it in Eagle begins to grow as Hampson outlined.
As history it’s a perfectly good account, though if I’m being honest, I have my qualms about it. Being something of a History buff (Grade 1 O-level, Grade A A-Level, Grade 2 S-Level) there are things beneath the deliberately superficial level that I can’t ignore.
By extending the Plantagenet line into centuries of wise and enlightened rule, Steeper places a massive weight upon Kingship and extends its importance in Great Britain – and, by inference, the world – in a manner that should make a greater difference than shows.
Say what you like about King John’s reign, and many have, it brought forth Magna Carta, the first brake or fetter upon the King’s temporal power. And though this was solely for the benefit of the Barons and the Aristocracy at first, it was nevertheless the forerunner of Democracy in England, and the Parliamentary system (which some say are incompatible institutions, but let’s not digress that far).
Replace John with a wise and good King, too good to warrant opposition, and from where comes Democracy? Where comes the need to place a check on the King’s power if the King is handling it well and smartly, an endless succession of Captain Carrots as in Discworld? Where comes a concern for and by the common people if paternalistic government succeeds too well? Only Injustice creates progress: despite Steeper’s confidence in the Plantagenets, I find it hard to see myself where Democracy gains a foothold. The Upper Classes are not noted for their willingness to cede power to those they think of as their inferiors.
This train of thought is repeated in sharper focus with Steeper’s solution to the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism and the Cold War. In isolation, it’s far too simplistic: the social pressures and concerns that wove together to create the conditions for the October Revolution threw up Lenin, Trotsky and their fellow revolutionaries, but by that token they mean that you can’t kill Communism (and by implication, Socialism) by shooting two people in the head.
But, of course, given the change in history engendered by Richard Lionheart’s extended reign, do the circumstances that gave rise to Marxism etc. still pertain? The only argument is circular: Lenin and Trotsky are still important enough to warrant execution. And what of Mao Zedong, and Chinese Communism?
Of course, I’m reading far too much into this alternate history than I should. Part of it comes from differing political instincts. Steeper, from what he puts into TRCC, is considerably more Conservative than I. There is a King behind Great Britain, and rather more titles. There is, nor has there ever been, a Labour Party. The world is divided between Liberal and Conservative, and whilst I accept fully the post-Treen holocaust assumption of Conservative dominance, I can’t share any enthusiasm for it, not even in fiction.
I’ve probably spent far more time on that aspect of TRCC than I should, since its main objective is to codify Dan Dare’s adventures into a coherent chronology.
The framework is, as I’ve said, that of a major inquiry into the Crypts and Los-System. Steeper has a fine old time of it, constructing an elaborate theory predicated on the assumption that everything Lero ever told any Earthman is untrue (without being a lie). It’s a fine mystery, sometimes too intensely analysed, and Steeper elevates the status of the seemingly humble and simple Crypts in the saga, whilst accounting for their subsequent removal from the series (except for the odd background appearance here or there in stories clearly not tied to the Man from Nowhere Trilogy).
Steeper’s second construct has a similar, though more urgent purpose, and this is to account for the absence of Saturn. The series begins in the Inner Planets, Venus, Mars and Mercury in quick succession, and whilst the Mercurians drop out of sight immediately, this is not surprising. They are vastly different from the other races, and suited only for conditions on their home planet, so it’s understandable that they stay under the radar.
But the civilisation of Saturn, the mixture of colours and politics, the aristocratic, even feudal system across its Nine Moons, makes it as major a power as the parent planet is within the Solar System. Numidol’s absence as a factor in future tales is inexplicable.
But Steeper’s answer is so obvious as to be implicit in Hampson’s story. Red Tharl’s overthrow of Lo Rootha ti Numidol and Vora is not the end but a beginning. Tharl has Nine Moons, nine cultures, almost nine political systems to unite under his rule, and Steeper’s invention of the Union Wars is less an invention than a teasing out of the obvious. It would be less realistic, having concluded Operation Saturn in the indeterminate state Hampson leaves the Nine Moons, if peace and a strong factor in the Outer Planets were the instant result.
This explanation is vital to the larger story of the Mekon’s successful conquest of Earth, and the ensuing Treen Holocaust. If Saturn is such a major power, and Tharl an ally of Earth, how and why did he not come to our planet’s assistance. By distracting, and weakening him at the only point where he might have made a difference, Steeper not only justifies Saturn’s absence from events but extends the difference beyond the final resolution of the Union Wars, as Earth regards Saturn with suspicion and resentment.
Steeper has much more to do in establishing the basis for the Mekon’s success in 2002. After all, if we’re being reasonable, Dan Dare’s absence, with only one ally who has previous experience of thwarting Ol’ Greenbean, is not the be-all and end-all of Earth’s defeat.
But instead of devising an approach that explains the 2002 victory alone, Steeper goes for a much more expansive, over-arching backstory, of which the invasion of Earth is but an element, a part of the web and warp, the rise and fall of the Mekon’s plans over several decades. And he achieves this brilliantly from the least promising, indeed latest of materials, Laszlo Romanov.
Yes, the blind, cliched controller of the exceedingly dull FIST, introduced by Keith Watson and the un-named writer of ‘Give me the Moon!’ Steeper extrapolates backwards from Laszlo to his late father, Magnus Romanov, of ‘Big M’ Industries, and retrofits the Dan Dare saga to a long, detailed, plan of conquest and treachery that takes in so many stories into one conspiracy.
By bringing Romanov into the picture shortly after Dan Dare first liberates Venus, Steeper provides  the Mekon with access to the necessary resources to plan and ultimately execute a robot-based Blitzkrieg on Earth. Romanov’s resources, together with the plans and constructions of the Last Three on Venus are an unassailable foundation. It also enables Steeper to tie together stories from several Annuals as being short-term disruptive elements under the aegis of the overall plan.
It even allows Steeper to account for that mysterious, indeed all-too-convenient disappearance of the Mekon’s invasion fleet at the end of The Moonsleepers. With the Last Three destroyed, the remnants of Big M Industries become the Mekon’s major source of war materials, but Laszlo Romanov has not forgiven the Mekon for the betrayal of his father…
I’m very impressed with this aspect of TRCC, which justifies the entire project in this aspect alone. Steeper’s attention to detail in attaching so many stories to this continuing thread, without adding to or distorting the originals, is reminiscent of George MacDonald Fraser’s consummate ability to insert Flashman into so many areas of history without disturbing actual historical detail.
The other big area of Dan Dare history that Steeper addresses in TRCC is the Sargasso Sea of Space that appears without warning between Venus and Mercury, and which contains so many derelict craft of extraordinary design. Given its potential for stories, it’s astonishing that Frank Hampson never returned to it: few would have complained if, instead of The Phantom Fleet, Alan Stranks would have gone straight back to the Sargasso and, as we’ll see before very long, others set out to repair this omission.
What Steeper does is to link this area in to the Red Moon – which was destroyed between Venus and Mercury – and centre both the asteroid and the Sargasso around a miniature black hole, a gravity well for craft drawn to the Red Moon, and subsequently.
It also gives him a way of accounting for the appearance of the Tempus Frangit, a near spherical spaceship, whose design closely echoes a completely spherical craft abandoned in the Sargasso. Let this craft be a hitherto unsuspected time craft…
So, The Report of the Cryptos Commission. It might have its flaws, some of which I’ve referred to, but in its overall effect it’s a superb document that draws together almost all the original saga into a purposeful narrative and not a series of disjointed adventures, the effects of which having no bearing upon succeeding stories.
As I’ve mentioned in passing, Steeper has omitted three stories from this account, being, in order, The Earth-Stealers, The Web of Fear and The Menace from Jupiter. Operation Earth-saver very nearly missed the cut, but in the end survived, and the effects of The Earth-Stealers do stand in the chronology, transformed into another Mekon assault on Earth.
Steeper also has fun with the order of the stories. Up to and including The Platinum Planet, the print order is sacrosanct, but thereafter he has distributed some of the Watson-era stories to decidedly achronological places in the timeline, to entertaining effect. And he’s soared into imagination by adverting to numerous stories that tale place after Dan’s elevation to Controller (which, at this stage, is only Controller (UK), with further promotion yet to come).
Some of these latterday stories, and a couple of invented stories from within the main continuity, have since come into being, and I’ll be looking at a couple of these next, including stories Steeper has written himself.
But before getting onto these additions to the continuity, there is a professional effort to consider.

Dan Dare: The Platinum Planet


                                                                                      The first page

Whilst Mission of the Earthmen and The Solid-space Mystery had been decent, if not inspired efforts at maintaining the standard of Dan Dare stories, The Platinum Planet was where things started to fall apart, a process accelerated in the closing weeks of the story, when a front page re-design cramped up the page area in which Harley and Cornwell had to work, with effects we will go on to discuss.
At the beginning, the set-up offered almost unlimited potential: one of the Mekon’s adherents, escaping Venus Rehabilitation Camp, has stolen a spaceship and aimed for Spacefleet HQ to cause havoc. His target was the Control Tower, and it was not a good auger for things that he missed it completely, for no reason, and instead crashed into an unimportant hanger. Nevertheless, Dan and Digby decided to use the Zylbat’s VTO engines to control the resultant fire with their downdraft, only for the fuel stored under the hangar to go off. The Zylbat’s controls were damaged, and the ship took off at maximum speed, its navigation locked. Worse was to come: though our heroes repaired most of the physical damage, they were not aware that the hibernation gas pipes had been cracked and as soon as they take off their helmets…
In between episodes, the two were knocked out for as long as it took for the gas chambers to run dry. When they woke up, they were in an unknown area of space, having travelled for ‘years’. They were hopelessly lost.
But, as better writers than Eric Eden have found, it is one thing to set up an interesting situation by sending your characters on a journey, but the story stands and falls by what you have for them to find and do at journey’s end.
At this journey’s end is the Platinum Planet of the title. Dan and Digby first discover a green planet, which they narrowly avoid, after which they use their remaining fuel to follow a transporter that seems oblivious to their presence to a planet which appears to be made of platinum, with a few random rock formations. It’s actually a planet-wide artificial construction sealing off the surface from the outside.
(Can you imagine what that would entail? The labour? The time, the engineering achievement? Even if we assume this planet has platinum in abundance, it’s horrendously unbelievable.)
This is a planet with a platinum roof, beneath which, of all the things you could find on a world advanced enough to do something incredible like this, our heroes find a primitive, hypno-controlled absolute dictatorship.
Yes, the entire population lives, works, eats, sleeps, breathes with hypnotic helmets on their heads that continually control their every movement.
Scientifically, it’s perfectly plausible that the technology to build a planet-sized platinum sheath could also create this kind of absolute control but a moment’s thought is enough to tell you that the idea is insane beyond belief. Even accepting that someone capable of this level of scientific advancement should actually have the mentality of a crummy gang-boss, how can you control and direct the movements of an entire planet (‘three trillion thought-controlled serfs’) and interlock their vasty and various actions?
It’s the question that blows all credibility out of the water, and it’s not made any more plausible by the fact that, by the close, Eden has produced a single person to run the entire system as a power-crazed, self-indulgent tyrant, named Astorat (a Catalan word meaning astonished, which suggests to me that either Eden made it up as a variant of Ashtoreth, a Syrian deity, or else he was making an extraordinarily perceptive metafictional comment on his own story: I’d go with the former, personally).
However, we’ve a ways to go before Master Astorat – who is as petty, vainglorious and childish as you can imagine, a walking cliché that makes this set-up even less plausible, since there’s no way he could have put this set-up together – appears on the scene. In the meantime, Dan and Digby are thrown off-planet, to the green planet, where they are expected to work for the Platinums.

                                                                               Dan and Dig meet General Zeb
Hmm, paired planets, one technically advanced, the other primitive. If it sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a direct rip-off from Mission of the Earthmen. This time round, the green planet is a fiefdom of the Platinum one, populated only by the malcontents, misfits and rebels from Platinum society, or would be invaders from other planets in the system. Dan and Digby meet former General Zeb, a purple-skinned humanoid with two tremendous walrus-moustaches, one on his lip, the other on his forehead, where it sweeps round to the back of his head. Zeb explains that ‘to colonise is death’, meaning that as soon as the green planet has been properly civilised, with roads and cultivation etc., the Platinums will take that over and kill the slaves who’ve done the hard work.
Zeb, being a war leader, has not been idle. He’s built a missile to rocket a picked band of colonists back to the Platinum planet, to retrieve all their spaceships and escape. Dan decides to go one better: they’ll overthrow the dictatorship first (shades of Trip to Trouble and the Grandax of Gan).
It’s at this point, when the colonists have escaped back to the sealed-in planet, that an indignity occurs. I don’t know what lay behind the decision but, with six weeks remaining in the story, Odhams made the editorial decision to cramp and weaken Dan Dare by forcing the series to share the cover with a new feature, Men of Action. This feature was a text and art mini-account of the lives of famous people – racing drivers, motorbike riders, skiers, speed record holders, mountain climbers – placed as a strip down the left hand side of the front page, below a truncated Eagle logo box, with Dan Dare squeezed into the right hand side, it’s width approximately three-fifths that of the cover.
It was a shock, and an attack on Dan Dare’s prominence, and to make matters worse, in order to keep the episode length consistent, Harley and Cornwell had to cram the rest of the story into five narrower tiers of panels on page 2, an impossible strait-jacket. There was no room for their art to breathe, no space for anything other than the perfunctory account of what was going on.
It was a demoralising attack on the primacy of Dan Dare within Eagle. Worse would follow in the not-too-distant future, in the form of changes that all Dan’s fans have interpreted as a deliberate attempt to kill the series, and this would naturally appear to be a precursor to that move, were it not for the fact that this was still Odhams in charge, and not the soon-to-be-incoming Longacre.
What momentum remained in The Platinum Planet was killed off. The rebels win. Astorat tries to pull of a you’ll-never-take-me-alive defiant suicide but makes himself look a fool when his leap out of a high window ends in a safety net ten feet down. Once again, Dan and Dig have saved the day.
Of course, they’re still an unknown distance from Earth, having flown on for years, with no way home even if they knew the way home, but not to worry. This insoluble trap unsurprisingly proves to be only too soluble, as Zeb has a limitless number of starcharts and a few details about Earth will soon reveal it’s whereabouts (oh yes? And when exactly did he go a-roving so incredibly far from his home system and not be noticed snooping around by Spacefleet?).
And Dan and Digby can have unlimited amounts of fuel, supplies and presumably the local equivalent of hibernation gas, not that anyone thinks to mention this, to enable them to get home, years later, no doubt. I bet that doesn’t cause any problems!
No, all round, The Platinum Planet is not merely a weak story, unable to create interest in a mixture of former Dan adventures and full of clichés, it’s a dumb story that has thrown in ideas without the slightest notion as to how plausible they are. In that sense, it’s the complete antithesis of Hampson, and from three men trained by him, that’s a disaster.

Dan Dare: Project Nimbus


As I said, it had taken Frank Bellamy six of the twelve months he had contracted to draw Dan Dare to get the Pilot of the Future back to Earth, and to be able to implement Odhams’ demands for a new look for the series, in uniforms and spaceships. But Odhams had more in mind than just changing Eagle‘s most popular series, they were set upon a redesign of the comic.
The effect on Dan Dare was to remove the traditional red title box that, since Volume 1 number 1, had occupied the north-western quarter of the cover. The red background, the font and the black and yellow Eagle were retained, but these were redistributed to a horizontal title box, crossing the top of the page, leaving a more conventional, almost square space for Bellamy’s art.
Project Nimbus was Frank Bellamy’s third and final story. In view of its significance, he drew both pages of the first episode, meticulously signing each page. The story commenced with a spectacular image of a space station whose design was clean, elegant lines and angles, with nothing of the workable practicality of the Hampson era. It looked amazing, though the new, wrap-around, blouson uniforms looked stupid.
It’s straight into the action. The space station, Spa-One, is searching for Nimbus One, a test ship trialling a new photon drive that has been doing so well until disappearing an hour earlier. Dan and Digby are sent out to help, though it’s noticeable that they don’t travel in Anastasia. It will be a long time before we see ‘Old Annie’ again. Their arrival coincides with the discovery of ten weak signals indicating not-debris, which sends Dan into frantic action: the crew of Nimbus One numbered ten…
The rescue vessel, Andromeda, takes off just before Dan, at top speed, gets back, but there is still a way for him to participate, and get there before the official rescue ship, and that’s in Nimbus Two. Sir Hubert refuses, which seems sensible in all the circumstances if Nimbus One has suffered something disastrous. Indeed, he won’t even ask for volunteers.
But not asking for volunteers is not the same as refusing them when they immediately appear out of the woodwork. How long has Sir Hubert known Colonel Dare and his faithful batman, Albert Fitzwilliam Digby that he thinks they won’t volunteer for anything, no matter how risky? And he also ought to know very well that he’ll have a full crew faster than you can say ‘Odhams are stinkers’ because, a couple of quick, surreptitious phone calls later, who happens to be lounging around HQ, glory be it’s Hank Hogan and Pierre Lafayette, back for the first time since The Ship That Lived, two years ago.
This only takes three weeks to set up, and up to this point Project Nimbus has the basis for a good, solid story, with old friends reunited. However, from here it goes on to waste all the opportunities available to it.
The first disappointment is Hank and Pierre. They may be there in person but they certainly aren’t in spirit. Both get good, close-up, Bellamy-style portraits, but other than that they are just a pair of accents (Pierre’s hammed up more than Hank’s) speaking utilitarian dialogue that has no bearing on their personalities. Neither does anything particularly substantial in the story either. They could have been replaced by two identikit Spacefleet officers and the story would have been different in no whit.
As for the story, we will ultimately discover, an alien ship, filled with aliens who look like human size white ants, has entered the Solar System on a prospecting tour which has taken them to the Moons of Jupiter (without apparently encountering the Numidol spacefleet, which has been completely forgotten since the days of Operation Saturn despite being as influential a Solar System presence as the Earthmen). They are evil, without any redeeming factors, or at least any redeeming factors that Dan Dare bothers to wait to find out about because he destroys their ship utterly.
But before we get this far, Nimbus Two has to undergo an overlong series of genuinely meaningless threats – it is a test ship, remember, and we have to be reminded of that at all turns – that drain the story of momentum by focusing on trivialities.


The alien craft, when we finally get to see it, in the ninth episode, looks like nothing in the Solar System, but it also looks like nothing a workable spaceship. It is a geometric solid, with extended ski-rails at the back, a globe at the front and a top-heavy cylinder at the back. It’s beautifully drawn, a Bellamy special, and it’s fully within his ‘don’t-be-like-Hampson’ remit, but it immediately looks unworkable, and it gives Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell (Keith Watson had already done his jump-before-pushed) an impossible task to emulate when they get a page it appears on.
But that’s nothing before we see the Erg-Boat, the two seater pilot craft that takes two lazy, indolent and basically silly ant-soldiers down to the surface of the Jupiterian moon on which Nimbus Two is currently landed. That’s basically a triangular wedge of cheese with two cocktail sticks topped with balls at the broad end.
Dan and Digby discover the Erg-Boat, then are confronted by the two gun-toting alien nitwits. In order to combat their captors, Dan and Digby studiously ignore their presence and start acting naturally in an artificial manner. Some food cubes fall from Digby’s space suit. For no apparently logical reason, the starship troopers recognise that these are food cubes and, ignoring the fact that they are the nutritional substance for an alien race whose physiology is in no way comparable to their own, stuff their faces with them. Which means that, given these are concentrates, they effectively overeat fantastically, get upset tummies and sit around groaning like your uncle on Christmas Day whilst Dan and Digby do a sharp one.
Thankfully, from this nadir, the story pulls itself together enough to get into space and have a battle with the invading craft. Nimbus Two comes off potentially worse, the aliens using fireballs with the intent of causing microholes in the ship’s structure, through which oxygen can leak away. This danger is averted by the arrival of a Spacefleet Squadron under Sir Hubert’s command, which drives the ship off long enough for Nimbus Two to be outfitted with a heavy-duty, stainless steel shell, strong enough to enable Dan to ride back into battle in safety.
Whereupon he promptly turns his back on the invading craft, literally, fires up Nimbus Two’s engines to full throttle, and basically fries the sucker with the photon drive. End of story.
Except for the chance finding of the intact and undamaged Nimbus One on a nearby Jupiterian moon. The essentially redundant Hank and Pierre hop off in Two whilst Dan and Dig fly One home, with Sir Hubert (given that these ships apparently required a crew of ten to operate them, it’s seems pertinent to question their being operated by crews of four, three and two). Sir Hubert is allowed a spin, in which he cranks the drive up even faster than Dan has previously gone, whilst foreshadowing the next adventure by claiming that the importance of the Nimbus drive lay in developing a hyperdrive that enabled Mankind to leave it’s own system and explore distant galaxies.
I hear cries from the back pointing out that that is exactly what the Halley Drive does, and that only in the last story, have they forgotten? You really must understand that this is a new era, and that continuity between stories is one of those things that Odhams know the kids don’t want. The little buggers don’t want things that make sense, they want action, excitement, flash.
Frank Bellamy had certainly supplied that, and it is not to denigrate him that I say any of these things. He was a brilliant, astonishingly dramatic artist, as much a genius in his way as was Frank Hampson in his. That Frank Hampson’s approach took in other, wider concerns, that he wrote or directed as much as he drew, does not diminish Bellamy, who could do things with a page, or later a centrespread, that no-one else could, and whose actual art, in line, composition, layout and colour, could not be approached by anyone else.
He’d taken on an unwelcome professional job and done what was asked of him. It’s far from his fault that what he was asked to do was unworthy of the character he’s inherited, and the art he’d produced had been superb.

                                                                                    A Harley/Cornwell page
But it was a mistake to choose him to replace Frank Hampson, as he had no intrinsic interest in, no feel for SF. The new uniforms he designed are evidence of this: Hampson had based uniforms and insignia upon his own British Army wartime experiences, and put Spacefleet firmly in a line from the real history of our world, further cementing its reality as a plausible future for Eagle‘s readers. Bellamy was under instructions to change things for the sake of change, and his new uniforms and spacesuit designs broke that progression and inadvertently rendered Spacefleet more of a generic proposition, with its origins less in Britain 1950 than Science Fiction Anytime.
His year done, Bellamy moved on. It’s not strictly part of this series, but it’s pleasing to report that his reward for this dedicated year was his dream strip, Fraser of Africa, about a game warden in the continent Bellamy was obsessed with, and he was unbelievably good with that.
But for the second time in twelve months, Dan Dare needed a new artist. This time, justice would be served where it had been denied a year ago. Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell would now take over art full-time. Would this see a restoration of the series’ true glories?

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