Dan Dare – Mercury Revenant


Tim Booth’s Mercury Revenant, written and drawn in eighteen parts in Spaceship Away 33 through 40 (whilst Booth continues to produce episodes of his longer-standing Parsecular Tales) is really no more than a short story, a lineal action tale whose main point of interest is that it brings Mercury back into the overall story, albeit as not much more than a background.
Once again, Booth is operating in the early years of the Dan Dare continuity. Given that this tale starts with the test run of a prototype MH-fuelled fighter ship (lockwave control having bounced right up to our-world-date with onboard computers doing the job automatically), it’s post-Operation Saturn, but the Xmas-based setting makes it hard to slot in before Prisoners of Space – and there’s no room after it.
Basically, Dan and Dig do a high-speed test run to Mercury, where a new Spacefleet satellite, the local equivalent of Mars 1, is anchored on the dark side of the planet, under the command of Major Tom (sic) D’Arcy, previously seen in Marooned on Mercury. There’s a fairly isolated research station on the surface, in the temperate zone, where one very familiar red-haired Professor is learning more of the Mercurian language and botany, aided by Urb ut-Urthos, another veteran of the rather ramshackle official Mercury story.
Jocelyn’s delighted at the prospect of having Dan for Xmas (rather a contrast to her obvious preference for Hank Hogan in Booth’s other stories) but the kybosh is put on that planet when a menace turns up. Something is on a collision course with Mercury 1, impact time approximately twenty-four hours away.
Booth makes good use of the original Venus story here. At first, the object appears to be the derelict Kingfisher, but D’Arcy identifies it as its sister ship, the Kookaburra. He goes on to relate how the Kookaburra, and its other sister-ship, Kittiwake, was part of the reserve fleet for the 1996 Earth Invasion of Venus, but was badly hit by a Treen squadron, evacuated and forced out into space.
It appears that Kookaburra has actually drifted, comet-like, out as far as the Kuiper Belt before sling-shotting back towards the sun, on a course that takes it plumb through the space occupied by Mercury 1.
It’s an ingenious set-up but unfortunately, Booth is trying to be too clever by half here. Firstly, the whole point of D’Arcy in Marooned on Mercury was that he had been taken from Kingfisher when it was destroyed, months before Dan Dare ever got to Venus, and that he was the Mekon’s captive all the way from then until Mercury, four years later, so how the hell does he know the minutiae of the battle?
And whilst Dan’s universe is one in which interplanetary travel can be achieved at speeds far greater than those of our universe, for Kookaburra to travel from Venus orbit to the Kuiper Belt and back to Mercury orbit on nothing better than Impulse Power (which isn’t generated beyond the Asteroid Belt), in only five years, is stretching the boundaries of scientific plausibility more than somewhat.
Still, we have a menace, and we have Dan and Digby in a spacecraft, with Jocelyn Peabody advising them on scientific matters. This is going to be fun!
And Booth has one more complicating factor up his sleeve. Over Sir Hubert’s objections, Kookaburra was carrying a highly-illegal, utterly secret weapon, an only-in-the-case-of-utter-defeat Doomsday Weapon, set to wipe out all life north of the Equitorial Flame Barrier on Venus, so we”re talking a real Mercury-buster here. Sort of ups the stakes, really.
After that, though, the story is pretty much Saturday morning serial fun. On Peabody’s advice, Dan boards Kookaburra to set off all its port missiles, with Digby on watch to shoot them out of the, uh, sky. The kick of this one-sided boost throws the stricken ship off-course and away from Mercury 1, but unfortunately all this does is throw it onto a collision course with Ray-Law, the Mercurian capital city.
So Dan has to go back, to divert the ship to land, safely, by parachute power (another aspect of the Venus invasion) in the temperate zone, only that doesn’t work and Dan gets dropped on the hot side, in a lava lake, sinking and burning in molten lead! It’s wonderfully reminiscent of Sir Hubert and the Professor having to be rescued from the Flamebelt in the original story, with everybody galloping to the rescue, and Booth’s final touch is both a steal from, and a foreshadowing of The Ship That Lived, when our old pals Hank and Pierre do a deus ex machina rescue, having been on leave, lava rafting.
There’s just time for a grand old slap-up Xmas feast, complete with Digby’s traditional concern for just how soon they’ll be mixed up in summat dangerous again (it’s got to be Prisoners of Space, though after a successful trial like this, how come these MH powered ships disappear without trace in favour of the ‘Performing Flea’?)
A fun, but light tale, of a kind that would have fitted in fairly neatly in scope with the monochrome shorts of Keith Watson’s first year.
So that’s two more unofficial tales that are good enough to swell out the continuity. There are signs that Tim Booth’s Persecular Tales may be nearing an end, of some sort at any rate, so I’ll probably be back next year at some point, to comment upon that as a whole. And at least one new Dan Dare adventure will have started by then, which looks like it will be from a fresh creator.
It goes on.

Dan Dare – Operation Tau Ceti


They're back!!!
They’re back!!!

Thanks to the ongoing endurance and excellence of Spaceship Away, two more complete Dan Dare adventures are now available to be read, and their worthiness to be incorporated in the canon be assessed.
The first of these is another prose novel from New Zealand fan Denis Steeper, whose Report of the Cryptos Commission, with its carefully devised chronology of Dan Dare’s career tends to be my bible for such things. This latest novel has been included with the last five issues of Spaceship Away, comprising five A5 booklets, each of twenty pages.
I was heavily critical of The Invaders of Ixx, which was set well after the Hampson/Watson continuity, for the aggravated cynicism and, to be frank, rampant interculture racism on display so far ahead. Operation Tau Ceti is not unmarked by such things, but is Steeper’s first extended story set within the Dare canon: our hero is still no more than Chief Pilot of Spacefleet, and though the story is set post the Treen Holocaust, with what that implies about the loss of the original Hampsonian innocence, we are still in a world easily recognisable as that we are most used to.
The story is set in 2015. Two years have passed since the return of the Terra Nova expedition, during which time Earth’s World Government (in which the Liberals are still clinging to post-Holocaust power) have been locked in mortal combat with Cosmic over the Halley Drive and every possible offshoot from its discovery. In Thork-space (i.e., Saturn’s sphere of influence) Red Tharl has finally won the Secession Wars and is in control of the Nine Moons.
Though it’s only three years since the end of the Holocaust, Earth is recovering faster than could have been expected. Saturn is still the dominant power in the Solar System, but the signs are already there that Earth will catch it up and surpass it in a decade, and Saturn will never catch up. Despite the legal stalemate with Cosmic, and with the benefit of the many discoveries made among the wrecked spaceships of the Sargasso Sea of Space, Earth has reverse-engineered the Halley Drive. The first starship has been named the William Dare, in honour of Dan’s father, the second will be the Copernicus, after his McHoo co-pilot on the original starship. And, at a secret asteroid base in the Belt, Cosmic have duplicated the Galactic Pioneer.
Unfortunately for all concerned,these developments are not as secret as they ought to be.
The action is precipitated by a clash of Spacefleet and Grand Union ships in the Asteroid Belt, Disputed Territory between the official boundaries of the Inner and Outer Planets. Given that the Thork culture is a richly feudal one, complicated by racial differences between the various colours, there is a certain degree of autonomy among Admirals, continually looking for advantage which, combined with the natural instinct to see the flatfaces as innately inferior, rapidly escalates towards war between Numidol and the Inner Planets.
Actually, it would usually be quite easy to defuse this situation: just get Dan Dare on the line to his old friend Tharl, who probably (and actually) knows nothing of this, and it would all be switched off. But Dan’s not here. At the same time as this skirmish has begun to escalate, a secret thork attack on Cosmic’s secret base has succeeded in space-lifting out of here the Galactic Pioneer II. And it’s gone out-system, towards Tau Ceti. And Dan is commanding the William Dare on immediate instructions to get out after it.
The absurd thing is that, after much thought and calculation, Spacefleet were about to launch on a survey mission to Tau Ceti, as the best of all the potential stars at a similar distance to Terra Nova, with the best prospect of an Earth-type planet. Now, the survey aspect is pushed way down the list: Dan’s top priority instructions are to recover or destroy the Galactic Pioneer II.
Thus the set-up. Steeper deploys his usual technique of multiple, multi-viewpoint scenes, each identified by date and place. He has two parallel strands in motion and flicks backwards and forwards between different elements of each story, which become further entwined when, after Cosmic are placated in order to retrieve Dan via the confiscated Galactic Galleon, Sir Hubert is forced to join the McHoo team. This brings Controller USA Wynard Spencer in as Acting CIC, due to it being Buggins’ turn, and Spencer is an absolute cretin whose completely wrong-headed tactics threaten to open the door to massive Thork victory.
Both stories are built up by confident detail and a careful assembled extrapolation of the real mechanics of Dan’s universe. Steeper is very good on this, and very good also in his imagination of the convoluted Thork personality, which keeps the home system story bubbling along nicely.
But we are here for Dan Dare and, not unincidentally, Earth’s first official interstellar adventure. For crew, he has the old gang, that is, Digby, Anastasia, Hank, Pierre and the Professor. There’s no Flamer Spry (too busy studying for exams) nor Lex O’Malley (too far underwater) and it’s no disrespect to either to say the story is better for not having their implausible presences along, even if much of the action takes place on a substantial moon, named Poseidon for the fact it’s primarily ocean.
Apart from the renegade thorks, who get wiped out eventually by Dan, along with the Galactic Pioneer II, there are two alien races in the Tau Ceti system. Both are colonists. One, the Krevvid, are insignificant in terms of this story, though Steeper takes time to intimate that they could be a problem if their race ever gets to hear of the Solar System. The other are the Pescods, and they’re a problem.
As if this weren’t enough, Steeper takes him to add a related subplot, in the form of a Treen attack on Formby aimed at capturing details of the Copernicus, which gets foiled thanks mainly to former Astral Senior Cadet and SF Resistance leader, Mark Straight. Apart from its illustration of Earth post-Holocaust, this slim subplot is of no great moment, except that it amply demonstrates the sheer panic at the thought of the Mekon getting hold of any information about building a starship.
And not just the Mekon, but any Mekon. The one we know has neither been seen nor heard of since seemingly committing suicide in the Silicon Mass as long ago as The Ship That Lived, but that still doesn’t mean he isn’t out there – or that somewhere, somehow, the Treen breeders have cloned a New Mekon (remember that, as far back as ‘The Venus Story’, twenty years previously in Steeper’s chronology, the next Mekon was fifty years away from coming to maturity.)
Overall, Operation Tau Ceti  was enjoyable, and sat well within the Dan Dare stories to which it is supposed to be contemporary. The post-Holocaust cynicism is there, as is the abrasion between the lifeforms of the Solar System, but it is at an entirely less well-developed stage: Hampson’s original utopianism is still the primary influence. I’d like to see how Steeper might tackle a pre-Holocaust story: there’s still room in the long gap between ‘The Venus Story’ and The Red Moon Mystery, even after allowing for Tim Booth’s The Gates of Eden.
And speaking of Tim Booth, his is the other new story completed in this past eight issues of Spaceship Away, which I’ll be considering next.

Another new classic Dan Dare


                                          Who will they get to play her?

I’ve just learned of a new, forthcoming proposal to adapt the classic Dan Dare stories from the Frank Hampson era in a series of six ‘audio adventures’, i.e., radio versions, details here.

As you can see, the planned adaptations consist of the first five of Dan’s original adventures in the Eagle, plus ‘Reign of the Robots’ but without first traveling to Cryptos/Phantos.

The series looks as if it’s stripping the cast down to a core quartet of Dan, Digby, Professor Peabody and the Anastasia, which, if it’s going to be the craft that takes our intrepid heroes to Venus, right at the start, is not going to be the personal craft we all know and love.

The blurbs also make it plain that, whereas the audio series follows the Eagle chronology, excepting ‘Reign of the Robots’, there are going to be substantial changes to plots and settings. The piece speaks of ‘a great team that has respect but not reverence for the original comics’ which, whilst objectively probably the best thing you could have, nevertheless fills me with dread. As you may have noticed, I like my Dan Dare to be Dan Dare, so any variation is automatically troubling.

Besides, whilst the only reference to romance is to the ‘romance of space’, the fact that Dan and Jocelyn (will she still even be Jocelyn, since that’s such an old-fashioned name now: five’ll get you ten that the ‘Mabel’ gets dropped extremely silently) are trailing around together is like a red flag.

There doesn’t, in these brief descriptions, appear to be room for the likes of Sir Hubert, Hank or Pierre, though Sondar is name-checked and Flamer Spry’s role exists, but what we’ll get will be quite different to what we know.

B7 Media have been around since 2007 and have an impressive record. They were behind the most recent Sky adaptation of Terry Pratchett, in 2010, and are currently rebooting Blake’s 7 for TV, having already done so for Radio. They’ve also adapted The Martian Chronicles in that form, both series of which having been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra, so Dan Dare is likely to come out on that medium.

I will be listening (and commenting).

Dan Dare: Green Nemesis


Having lived the dream of practically every Dan Dare fan who’s ever lived in writing a new story that had been drawn by two ‘real’ Eagle artists, Rod Barzilay got what he’d originally wanted: the chance to write a true ‘epic’ adventures, a story that would last forty episodes, and of course feature the Mekon as the protagonist.
Green Nemesis follows directly on from The Phoenix Mission, as a reconstituted Marco Polo expedition returns to the Sargasso to resume the original expedition and, this time, investigate Professor Peabody’s theory that the whole thing has been created by the destruction of the Red Moon. Given that the Prof’s theory centres upon the Moon and the Sea having been powered by a small and manipulable Black Hole, it’s hardly a surprise that it attracts the attention of Earth’s most implacable enemy.
I have to be honest and say that, enjoyable as it is, Green Nemesis is nothing like as successful as its predecessor. In part this is, unavoidably, due to the inconsistency of the art. Don Harley had agreed to continue drawing the revival, but upon the same conditions as before: that it should be fitted in around his other, ‘professional’ commitments. For something that involved nineteen pages, and which had an indefinite deadline, that was perfectly workable.
But Green Nemesis not only demanded eighty pages of work, it had a real deadline. Spaceship Away was published three times a year and it set out to publish three episodes of the story each issue. That meant eighteen pages a year. Barzilay had temporised when Harley had not yet made up his mind, contacting latter-day Dan Dare artist David Pugh to produce a splendid first page, but that still left seventy-nine, and Harley is no longer young.
Inevitably, things had to give. Barzilay had already been contacted by artist/writer Tim Booth, whose own new Dan Dare story, The Gates of Eden (coming up next) had started appearing in Spaceship Away. Booth was a natural choice to assist Harley in completing one page, and frequency was reduced to two episodes per issues.
But even at this rate, Green Nemesis was proving too time-consuming. When it became clear Harley would not be able to fit enough pages into his schedule, Booth was the obvious replacement. For a time, the art would alternate between the pair, as Harley was considered the number one choice, but eventually Booth took over the story completely (in parallel to The Gates of Eden, which he was also writing) until the story was done.
This artistic muddle did not help Green Nemesis one little bit, but the story was in any event a much less coherent affair from the outset. I said about The Phoenix Mission that Barzilay had, understandably, tried to cram too much into too little space. But now he had the space to justify the extended cast he’d devised, he made the mistake of dividing the story into too many strands.
Whilst the majority of post-Hampson stories had focussed upon Dan and Digby only, with very few and brief tangents into what other characters might be doing, Dan’s creator had never been averse to maintaining parallel tracks, centred upon multiple characters. Barzilay attempts to extend this approach, but is too ambitious. Counting the Mekon himself, there are four separate, interweaving, principle tracks in the body of the story, only two of which (Dan and Dig, the Professor and Uncle Ivor) feature major characters.
There are simply too many things going on, featuring unknown or minor characters for smooth reading. At three (or two) episodes every four months, I found the story sprawling and confusing, and reading the whole thing in a concentrated Spaceship Away session was little better. Only when I deliberately set out to read Green Nemesis as a whole, ignoring everything else, could I get a grasp of its structure, and follow the individual threads with understanding.
Leaving aside the complicated structure of the story, Barzilay continues to be ambitious in filling in elements of a coherent Dan Dare universe. He ventures towards a slightly more feminist milieu by bringing in another woman scientist, in the form of the Theron Katoona Kalon, granddaughter of the Theron President. President Kalon is missing, presumed dead, since the Treen Holocaust, and the Mekon spends a great deal of time trying to capture Katoona, including trying to tempt her to surrender by revealing that her grandfather lives, in suspended animation, like Dan’s friends.
That the President’s whereabouts on Venus are discovered off-screen, relieving Katoona of her emotional struggle, is a bit of a cop-out.
Barzilay had already, in The Phoenix Mission, introduced Dennis Steeper’s conception of the Union Wars that keep Red Tharl and Saturn out of the way for many years, and in Green Nemesis he goes one better, off his own bat, introducing into the derelict ships of the Sargasso the craft on which the late dictator, Vora, entered the Solar System, itself powered by two balanced suns that, together with the Sargasso’s black hole, threatens to destroy everybody before the job is done.
I’d like to like Green Nemesis better than I do, and whilst I wouldn’t hesitate to criticise, say, Eric Eden over his writing of an adventure, I’m loathe to do the same with Rod Barzilay. He’s not a professional writer. He’s a fan like me, and, more importantly, he’s done something that I don’t believe I could have done, and written no less than two whole Dan Dare stories. And he was candid on more than one occasion in Spaceship Away about the very flaws I’ve identified and where he’d gone wrong. I’ve no doubt that, given the chance of a re-write, he’d have done a much better job.
But whilst I think that Green Nemesis was flawed, confused and difficult to follow, which is a failing of Barzilay’s plotting, on the other hand, except in minor respects, his actual scripting is solid, his dialogue not just believable but believable in the mouths of characters we tell ourselves we know as intimately as our own family, and when I read Green Nemesis, I believe that I am reading Dan Dare, the Pilot of the Future.
Being aware of The Phoenix Mission when writing The Report of the Cryptos Commission, Denis Steeper included both that and Green Nemesis in the index of Dan’s adventures. Indeed, he went further, completing a trilogy with Ghosts of the Sargasso, a story that remains to be told. Rod Barzilay has retired from Spaceship Away and writing Dan Dare stories, but I’ve still got a hankering to see what the final part contains: presumably, it would encompass examination of the spherical spaceship that is the progenitor of the Tempus Frangit
One point remains to be considered. Both these stories are what, in the American comics industry, would be called “retcons” (a contraction of retroactive continuity). The stories have been fitted in between The Ship That Lived and The Phantom Fleet, though they’ve been used in large part to colour in large swathes of the unknown background to stories up to that point.
There’s only one piece of blatant foreshadowing, near the end, when ‘Friday’ MacFarlane decides that all this racketing around in danger is too much for him and he’s going to put in for a transfer to the Moon Run – where we see him one final time in the first week of The Phantom Fleet.
But there’s a bigger issue to think of. In the official saga, there is no sign of the Mekon between The Ship That Lived (where everybody but Digby thinks he’s dead) and The Solid-space Mystery where Dan and Digby both react in shock to his appearance, exclaiming that he’s dead. Green Nemesis is at least consistent in leaving our heroes thinking that the Mekon to be dead again when the Spacelab blows up.
A foolish consistency is not always the hobgoblin of little minds.

Dan Dare: Keith Watson’s New Eagle Story


Long years passed after The Menace from Jupiter, long years with nothing but reprints to sustain the Dan Dare fan and, once Eagle had gone under, merged into Lion, even these were so poorly treated, they were an offence rather than a delight. Long years passed whilst Dan was no more than a memory, until his name was revived with the new 2000 A.D. comic, Eagle‘s only rival for the title of Britain’s best ever weekly comic.
But this was no Dan that we old fans remembered, a name attached to something that so deeply rejected everything that went with our hero’s name that the point of calling this new brawling, swearing, space monster killing Dan Dare was beyond understanding.
Long years passed, and the 2000 A.D. Dan disappeared himself, mid-story, and another Dan appeared, as part of a new Eagle, an Eagle that seemed ashamed of being a comic and tried to tell its stories in photographs, which have never, ever worked as a substitute for art. And this Dan, these Dans, at least tried to feed off the original, though not in ways that satisfied or convinced.
Then it was announced, to everyone’s delight and surprise, that the original Dan Dare would be coming back to the New Eagle, and what’s more, to prove it, he would once again be drawn by Keith Watson.
And Keith Watson came back to the character and the series that he had honoured, on 26 August 1989, and though his art had developed in the intervening twenty years, it was as it all had been. A single look at a single panel, and once more we were in that Universe in which Dan Dare had been the Pilot of the Future, a future once again as familiar to us as warm toast on a breakfast tray.
And not just Dan, but Digby too, and Sir Hubert, and an adult Flamer, and on board the Valiant II there’s a Theron, a Mercurian and a Phant, and the Mekon and his Treens were back, because who could think for even a second of writing a story that did not involve Earth’s Archenemy as its villain: sooner should we have the Sun rise in the West. And even Professor Peabody, on Moonbase, Greta Tomlinson restored to life and youth once more.
And three pages a week, not two, and all of them in full colour. What more could we want?
As it turned out, rather a lot.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this un-named story, but then again there’s not much that is intrinsically right with it, either, saving only Watson’s art, which shone. The story itself lasted only six weeks, which made eighteen pages, as many or as few as The Evil One, but this was not David Motton who was writing, nor Alan Stranks nor Frank Hampson himself, and it was 1989, but eighteen pages here contained considerably less story than had eighteen pages in 1962.
Dan is supervising the maiden flight of the Valiant II, though his role on the mission is hazy: Flamer Spry is doing the actual piloting, and Sir Hubert is along for the ride, supervising communications (what? No, Hank Hogan is Communications, and Pierre Lafayette pilot). And there’s an odd reference to plotting a course on ‘Annie’s systems, when there is no place in the story for the Anastasia.
It’s a flight packed with VIPs and visiting alien representatives, but it’s also a flight that’s taking highly-dangerous nuclear waste for disposal on the Moon, which is, well, implausible.
Disposing of nuclear waste that’s been buried on the Earth since the 1980s, when it was A Bad Idea, is a noble aim, because Nuclear Waste is A Bad Thing, and burying it on Earth was also A Bad Thing. This moralising is indeed as heavy-handed as I’ve made it sound, whilst being out of place in a Universe that had the advantage of Impulse Power superceding Nuclear Energy.
Nevertheless, the Waste is necessary to attract the Mekon, who decoys Dan and Digby away to a derelict spaceship that’s primed to blow up and kill them, whilst he jams the Valiant’s comms and steals the ship, with the intention of seeding Earth’s atmosphere with the afore-mentioned Waste, killing the population in a horrible, painful and Very Bad way.
By the time the villain’s plan is revealed, the story is already one-third over and with only four weeks left, Dan and Digby have to either come up with a clever plan to foil Ol’ Greenbean, or else a very simple one because the writer hasn’t much imagination and pages are already running short.
So basically, after an interlude for a spot of space golf (I am not making this up), Dan and Dig get into Moonbase, release the prisoners and everyone goes out guns blazing and drives the Mekon off again for next time. Cue further reminder that Nuclear Waste is, yes, I think we’ve got it by now, and it’s over.
It’s not even really Eric Eden, is it?
In terms of depicting our old friends after so much time, we are mainly concerned with Dan and Digby. Flamer and the Professor get barely a dozen words between them, and Sir Hubert’s role is not that much more detailed, so it is Dan and Digby, plus the Mekon, who have to carry the burden. In general, the characterisation focusses on Digby, and is decidedly mixed. The Lancashire dialect is laid on a bit too thickly and whilst everybody’s favourite Other Ranks pays the requisite homage to fish’n’chips, the research has been inadequate: it is genuinely jarring to hear him eager to get back to Rochdale.
On the other hand, Digby gets the best line of the whole piece, clouting a Treen guard in the face with an oxygen canister, and apologising for not taking the gas out of its wrapper!
If it weren’t for Watson’s art, this story would not be worth consideration, but this is Keith Watson one last time, and if we can shut our eyes to what’s actually happening, and our ears to what people are saying, we have eighteen more precious pages to treasure, when we thought there would never be one more. True, in a couple of sequences, Watson is hindered by his colourist taking the odd decision to basically mono-colour panels in a space-blue, but that aside, he is the Keith Watson of old, and we had no right to see that without access to the flight deck of the Tempus Frangit.
This story was reprinted in the same Dan Dare Dossier as Mission to the Stars and is a far worthier reason to search out the book. It is not, as far as I am aware, available anywhere else except in old copies of the half-dozen New Eagle‘s in which it first appeared.
That Keith Watson did not do more is explained away as being down to his schedule not allowing the time. But Watson did draw, or partially draw, one further story, a two-part adventure as perfunctory as its length suggests, the second part of which had to be finished by Andrew Skilleter. There was no doubt more to it, not that it matters now, not with what was too soon to ensue.

Dan Dare: Mission to the Stars


Except…
The Menace from Jupiter was the last Dan Dare story to appear in Eagle, but before we end this sequence, there’s an oddity to consider. Not a story from one of the Annuals, nor any of the other Eagle-related publications that came out from Hulton, or Odhams, or Longacre. But a genuine, little-considered but authentic Sixties adventure.
Mission to the Stars was the only Dan Dare adventure to appear outside Eagle. From 20 April to 4 October 1964, 29 weeks in b&w, three tiers a week, Dan’s extraneous adventure appeared in the Sunday People, drawn by Don Harley and written by William Patterson, best known as the scripter for Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke strip in the Daily Express.
As far as I am aware, the only place in which this story can be read, outside of those who carefully clipped each instalment out of the People, every week, and preserved them carefully in their collections, is in The Dan Dare Dossier, a wonderfully informative book published by Hawk Books as a companion to their Facsimile Reprint Series. At the time of writing (July 23rd), there were three copies available on eBay, starting from £16.00.
I’d recommend getting the Dossier for itself, but not if all you want is Mission to the Stars. Reproduction is not consistent: approximately two-thirds of the story is printed neatly, with good, clean line-work, from the original art or at least first generation negatives, but the rest of the episodes, at random, look to have been shot from photocopies of very different standards.
Even if the entire story was printed from the highest quality originals, I still can’t say much in favour of this story. It features Dan, Digby and Wilf Banger on a hyperspace mission in Copernicus II, on a mission to track down the Copernicus I, lost on a mission to Alpha Centaurus five years earlier. There, the trio discover a machine civilisation, robots out to steal the Copernicus II’s overdrive, in order to spread their metal rule throughout the Universe.
These robots have the power to teleport things, and also to duplicate the ‘fleshmen’, which they start by impersonating Digby, except that they haven’t noticed that they duplicate things the wrong way round, making Digby left-handed.
To be honest, it’s a dull and uninspired story, unable to rise above the central improbability of robots, with no apparent creator but themselves, turning out to be identical to cheap, dictator obsessed human villains. Given the timing, and assuming a short lead-in to the serial, it’s possible that Patterson may have been ‘inspired’ by the very recent debut of the Daleks in the fledgling Dr Who Saturday early evening children’s serial.
But Patterson brings nothing to the idea. His Dan and Banger are mere cyphers, and though Digby has the glimmerings of the ‘other ranks’ personality, he’s nowhere near the Lancashire lad we are so familiar with.
This is doubly disappointing. Patterson was so witty and subtle on Jeff Hawke that his era on the series is universally recognised as definitive. He was so much better than this effort, which is just phoned in. And given that this series appeared in a Sunday newspaper directed at an audience of adults, it is a cruel irony that Mission to the Stars turned out to be so much simpler and unimaginative than the stories still being aimed at 7 – 12 year olds.
I’m going to exempt Don Harley from most criticism, given that he was trapped by both the limited range of the story and the restricted space of the format. What he does is perfectly good, though he is far from convincing on Banger’s moustache, and he is as always neat and precise. Though used to drawing for colour on Eagle, he understands the differing demands of black and white
But I can’t help but be disappointed with his Alpha Centaurus robots, who are weedy collations of cones, circles and tubes with little logic to their design, who look like they could be pushed over by a six year old.
Overall, for completists only and they should approach it with large amounts of salt. It has no bearing upon the main Dan Dare sequence, though Denis Steeper will fit it into his Chronology where he boggled (rightly) at trying to incorporate The Menace from Jupiter.
An anomaly, in all respects, a sidebar before the true end.

Dan Dare: The Menace from Jupiter


And then there was one. And the Dan Dare series came to its final story and its final format change, following in the footsteps of Heros the Spartan in being reduced to a single page.
Nothing about this story relates to any other part of the Dan Dare mythos. No characters, no spaceship designs, no element of the story is consistent with what has gone before. Just Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare and Spaceman First Class Albert Fitzwilliam Digby for a final ride, and even Digby doesn’t say anything that sounds like Digby until the penultimate episode. It’s the third of the stories that New Zealand fan Dennis Steeper left out when bringing Dan’s adventures into a coherent chronology in his Report of the Cryptos Commission, and there can be no complaints. Nothing, save the final page, fits.
The plot is very simple. In fact, it’s a straight-up, drastically shortened repeat of The Man from Nowhere/Rogue Planet. Stranger from space crashes from Earth and has to be rescued from the Ocean by Dan Dare. He comes to ask for aid for his people, who are being invaded by an alien race. Dan heads out there and saves the day, not militarily but biologically. Simples.
The stranger from space is Bro (no, he does not come from Harlem in the Nineties), his people are the Verans and they come from Jupiter. Yes, Jupiter, you must have noticed it, largest planet in the Solar System, big place, gas giant, which means it doesn’t actually have any solid ground, but who cares, eh? We are not Frank Hampson, we are not David Motton, the kids don’t know any better, fuck ’em.
The aliens are the Pittars, and they are giants. One head, two arms, two legs, about thirty times taller than Earthmen, nasty bunch, shoot first in order to avoid having to ask questions later.
And, actually, it’s not Dan who saves the day, it’s Digby. Digby who has hung around in the background all story, mostly doing absolutely nothing, and saying the odd perfunctory, purely functional line, turns out to have had a sniffle all along (completely unforeshadowed). In a blatant rip-off of H. G. Wells, Digby’s cold transfers itself to the leading Pittar (despite Digby having spent every second of contact with the Pittars with his spacesuit helmet firmly on: bloody clever germs these are.)
And it may be a cold to Digby but it’s horrendous death to the Pittars who, within the hour, have packed everybody off the planet, in close formation, and – knowing that they can never, ever, not even after scientific research and a couple of Beecham’s Powders taken with honey and lemon, defeat this plague – hightail it out of the System, never to return. Job done.
The art’s an improvement and, mostly, the colouring is excellent, though at this very late stage Watson undertakes a full redesign of spacesuits and space craft, presumably under editorial instruction, which makes this poor effort stand out even further. His Verans, Bro and his people, are very distinctive as aliens, almost Dalek-esque in their design, by which I mean they are a simple, duplicated form, recognisable in shape but looking completely inhuman.
We never actually see a Veran in the flash, as it were. They are squat, bulky, short-armed creatures, clad in heavy body armour, with flipper-like feet, beings that have been crunched down by Jupiter’s gravity that even they can only withstand due to body repulsors that negate gravity.
But, like the Daleks, they are unbelievable as a race that presumably have to eat, and drink, and undertake some form of gender oriented reproduction methods.
The whole story is like that, full of implausibilities that actively cross over into impossibilities. At one point, Dan and Digby are exposed to the full Jovian gravity, until the Verans can get them some body repulsors. Instead of being crushed flat, literally, they live through pressure equal to ten ton of bricks. Show me a human with ten ton of bricks piled on him, and I’ll show you a corpse, but, no.
This is the series that began by employing Arthur C. Clarke as Scientific Advisor until he gave up because he never had anything to correct. The Venus of Dan’s universe may well be as much a fantasy as this solid, inhabited Jupiter, but at the time Frank Hampson devised it, it was completely plausible by the scientific knowledge of the era.
But none of this matters. It was the end, and few would have wanted more stories if this was going to be the sort of thing we would get. The story of The Menace from Jupiter ended in conventional fashion in the last Eagle of 1966. In a final episode in the first issue of 1967, with an enormous sense of disconnection, there stood one final, giant panel. A caption announced that, a fortnight after his return from Jupiter, Dan Dare was invited to the Prime Minister’s Office and promoted to Controller of the Spacefleet.
His active days were over. What we would henceforth see of the Pilot of the Future would be his memoirs, or to put it another way, reprints. Which would still be new stories to eleven year old boys like me, but would mean not having to pay for artists and writers each week.
For one last time, everyone was there, to celebrate Dan’s promotion. There was the old Venus Expedition team, plus O’Malley and a grown-up Flamer Spry, looking extremely odd in Spacefleet green as opposed to Astral blue. No room for Spence or Cobb, but Wilf Banger and Uncle Ivor made it onto the podium whilst in the crowd were Therons and Atlantines, Thorks, Mercurians and Cosmobes, Crypts and Phants, a Treen who ought surely to have been Sondar and sharing that podium, Stripey, the bloody pooch Sir William Tell, Old Groupie, Kettle the wonky electrobot and a couple of others that might have been distinguishable if the colourist hadn’t chosen to blanket so many with some dingy brown shade.
But that was it. It was all over. It was the end.