Dan Dare: The Mushroom


The baddy who always comes back

Those who feared for the Mekon’s safety in All Treens Must Die! did not have long to wait, for Ol’ Greenbean was back as dastardly mastermind on the opening page of the succeeding story, The Mushroom.
It seems an odd thing to do, and featuring Dan Dare’s arch-enemy in successive stories had never been tried before. Shoving the Mekon up front, when he’s not actually active in the story, is a dramatic waste of that revelatory moment. On the other hand, that bit’s been done, over and again, and as memory of the Tyrant of Venus hasn’t had time to fade – there is a hiatus of eight panels – you could say that this kind of classic scene is redundant on this occasion.
And given that treens are introduced on the cover of the next issue, it is rather pointless to propound mysteries. Especially in a story that will only run sixteen weeks, all told.
The plot of The Mushroom is very simple. The Mekon begins a terrorist campaign, using a satellite to project a fiery ‘seed’ into the heart of London. This ‘grows’ into a thrusting, metallic mushroom-shaped tower that sucks the life and the heat out of all the surrounding ground and area. Londoners are forced to flee their homes. The Mekon gives an ultimatum, that he be restored to rule on Venus, or his Mushroom will destroy London and others will be used against other capital cities.
By taking his attack directly to the people, the Mekon expects their panicky, narrow-visioned response to force the Earth Government to act in his favour. He’s wrong, of course, because nobody in Government is stupid enough to think for one second that Appeasement will work (shades of Hampson’s original identification of the Treens with the Nazis again), but this is still early days, and one city only. If the situation escalates, and the public’s fears along with it, who knows where this might go?
(Let me point out the continuity disjunction between this story and Reign of the Robots and the Treen Holocaust. I make no comment. At the time, boys not that much younger than me had not been alive to read Reign of the Robots and we were none of us aware of it. Just mentioning it, that’s all).
That the situation doesn’t escalate is, naturally, down to Dan and Co. He and Digby, in Anastasia,  trace the radiation beam that feeds energy to the Mushroom back to the satellite and confront the Mekon and impossible odds. But it’s Wilf Banger who saves the day, on Earth. Brought in as the scientific specialist, good old Wilf has only one scientific thought in his head from the moment he appears, and that is to blow the Mushroom into pieces small enough to be fried with bacon and eggs, and perform scientific tests on what’s left on the side of the plate.
The Mushroom is impervious to every assault, that is, until Banger has his men tunnel underground, pack explosives round the Mushroom’s base, and knock the whole thing over. With no focus any longer, the energy of the Mekon’s beam reverses back to the Satellite and blows it up. Dan and Digby are rescued, and for once there’s no particular attempt to suggest that the Mekon might have gone down with his ship: a green ‘meteorite’ streaks away in a controlled fashion, making it pretty damned clear that it’ll all happen all over again.
Indeed, the Mekon would again be back in the very next story, The Moonsleepers, though not as the principal villain.
In short, its not a complex story. Indeed, it comes close to a couple of the longer stories of Motton and Watson’s Monochrome Year, though it’s more compact and pursues a tighter plot-line. The sixteen week length is awkward: too short for substance, too long for flimsiness, but it’s real failure lies in coming directly after All Treens Must Die! The fall in scope, in ambition on the Mekon’s plans is bathetic, and The Mushroom just cannot get over that hurdle.
Again, it’s beautifully drawn and glowingly coloured, though I do want to take a little time to expand on that claim, because I’m very much aware that there are many Dan Dare fans who deride certain aspects of Keith Watson’s work.
I’m not an artist, and I lack an artist’s vocabulary to either criticise or commend. I’m biassed in favour of Watson because his is the Dan Dare I grew up on, but I still find his art immensely satisfying as an adult. His version of the Hampson style lacks some of the detail, the lushness that Hampson pioneered, but there’s a reassuring solidity to it, and something of a cragginess to his figures. He’s not as graceful as Hampson, and his figurework can sometimes be stiff, and static, but his technical art is superb. His work carries an extra degree of stylisation over Hampson’s resolutely naturalistic approach, but there’s a more modern, appealingly workaday aspect to it that befits the fact that the series, and Dan, has been at this for a long time. The lack of idealisation is much more appropriate to the times.
That said, I am aware that most criticism of Watson lies around his ability to draw faces, or rather Dan Dare’s face in particular. Given Hampson’s original design, it’s a difficult face to draw, especially the lantern jaw, and there have been several instances in past stories where head-shots of Colonel Dan from the wrong angle have looked disproportionate and clunky.
But the biggest difficulty is the head-on, full-face shot and there are a couple of real stinkers in The Mushroom. Watson cannot make Dan’s face look convincing (and there’s another example with Wilf Banger in there). Head-on, Watson’s faces flatten out and drop towards the cartoonish. Deprived of assistance by the colouring, he has to go to excess on closely inked lines, attempting to set up shadow and form, but these fail to cohere. He also makes an awful mess of Banger’s mouth in his close-up.
It’s a weakness, yet he can draw convincing faces from other angles, so the flaw is in allowing himself to be cornered into that particular composition, and not finding another method of presenting the shot that doesn’t betray him to his worst flaw.
Which pre-supposes that he had that kind of freedom to depart from David Motton’s scripts, about which subject I know nothing whatsoever, save that the two only rarely met, and that this was a scripter’s world in the post-Hampson mid-Sixties.
Those who are familiar with The Mushroom will have been wondering why I’ve not yet spoken of the story’s most famous aspect. I’ve chosen to leave that till last.
Watson had done a magnificent job of shoring up Dan Dare. He’d seen the series back into colour, to extended story-lines, supporting cast, the return of the Mekon, Anastasia and, in the previous story, Sondar. Now, on the second page of the opening episode, a lanky, bespectacled Texan Pilot-Captain, swinging a baseball bat, sends a home run through a window. Venturing inside to retrieve his ball, he becomes the first person on Earth to see the nascent Mushroom and its Treen attendants. It’s Hank Hogan, seen for the first time since The Solid-space Mystery, but to all Dan’s oldest fans a symbol of the truly early days, at the beginning.
So Dan and Digby go to meet Hank, and it’s a proper reunion of friends, none of this business call on O’Malley stuff. And, in a supercharge of nostalgia, Hank has a scrapbook, and it’s got everyone in it, all the old gang.
Pierre Lafayette – Principal of the Lake Chad Rockery College, enjoying piloting, fishing and French food. Lex O’Malley – supervising a Sea-Harvesting Project in the Indian Ocean. Sir Hubert Guest – retired and about to publish his memoirs.
There’s a glaring omission, for there is no mention of former Astral College Cadet Spry, though the young Flamer was seen in All Treens Must Die!‘s montage, capering as he did when Sir Hubert authorised his presence on the Cryptos Mission. But the question all the old fans want answered is “And Miss Peabody – the Professor I mean,?”
Oh, my. What emotions might underlie that enquiry? Are there regrets, expectations, hopes? But Hank, with blythe cheerfulness, pronounces the doom: “You mean Mrs Jack Gurk?” (in the Sixties, though thankfully for not too much longer, a woman’s married name submerged her not only underneath her Lord and master’s surname, but also his first name). Jocelyn has married a Mining Engineer, and moved with him to Mars.
How does Dan react to that news? It’s what everyone wants to know, and upon which everyone projects their own pet hopes. But it’s not even Dan who asks, but Digby. Does Dan care at all? The romantics want him to, but the truth is that, since their return from the Terra Nova Mission, he has apparently neither spoken to or of our favourite redhead. Given his seeming penchant for taking burly sailors and fourteen year old boys off into space, perhaps we should not get our hopes up too high.
But at least Hank is back, and a door opened, although once he’s produced his scrapbook, though he hangs around for the rest of the story, he plays no active part in it. But his little half-page steals all the glory in The Mushroom: it’s the only thing the fans ever remember.

Dan Dare: All Treens Must Die!


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

Dan Dare: The Big City Caper


                           It had only just been built when this was drawn

The Big City Caper completed the trilogy of stories that go to make up Motton and Watson’s ‘hybrid’ year. It’s another short story, of similar length to those of the monochrome year, but it follows directly upon the two previous combined adventures, and its brevity was, I assume, dictated by the forthcoming changes expected to Eagle, of which more next time round.
For the moment, this mini-adventure started with a full-page cover of the Tempus Frangit and the Mekon’s ship landing at Spacefleet HQ. It’s a spectacular, sunlit scene, made all the more enjoyable by the distinct presence, in the bottom right foreground, of four familiar figures, greeting an old friend on his return: Hank Hogan, Pierre Lafayette, Professor Peabody and Lex O’Malley. None of this quartet play a part in the story, but this is Watson’s tip of the hat to the Hampson years, and a timely hint that, even if they don’t appear in adventures any more, Dan and Digby still remember old friends.
The Mekon is handed over into custody, to await trial for his crimes against humanity, but Xel, still suffering from the burns sustained at the Mekon’s hands, is rushed into hospital. Nothing seems, at this point, to be planned for the One in One Thousand Million, except medical attention.
Which is an easily foreseeable mistake. The opening episode isn’t over before Dan pays a call to check up on Xel’s condition, and a domineering Matron, commanding her patient to sit up and be cheerful for his guests, sets him off good and proper. Xel is off on the rampage, in London.
Unfortunately, a promising situation rapidly turns embarrassing when Xel starts to build an army among the disaffected youth. Bored teenagers, unhappy at life with their unhip parents. But this is 1964, Swinging London is still a couple of years away and, though the free-flying birds are not as embarrassing in their slang as other comics would be in the middle of the decade, the very idea and the attitudes are wince-making now.
The bored ‘rebels’ are led by ‘Dickie’ Bird (who was more or less the same age as the would be Yorkshire cricketer and Umpire of the future – I wonder if he knew?) and include among their number one Nigel Dare, Dan’s nephew.
Nothing more is said to fix the exact relationship of the family. We’ve already met an Alastair Dare, nephew to Dan and an Olympic runner, in an early Annual, so the likelihood is that Nigel is Alastair’s younger brother. Logically, they must be sons to a brother of Dan, as any sister who had given birth would certainly have done so within the sanctity of marriage, where their surnames would have been different. But there’s no familial enquiries, no ‘How’s your Dad?’ or ‘Is your Mum well?’ Is young Nigel an orphan, or is Dan just emotionally distant from his family? Who knows?
In the end, the story just peters out. The teenagers don’t have the innate fire of rebellion in them and give up at the first sign of discomfort, Xel can’t drug or hypnotise them as he did his Stollite subjects, and besides, Digby managed to get a shot off at him in episode 3 and by episode 11 it’s penetrated far enough through Xel’s body armour to affect him. Collapse of would-be dictator (literally), collapse of rebellion. It’s all a bit pathetic, but not in the category of Dan’s solution: he’s going to set aside a portion of his pay to fund a satellite colony where the bored young can experiment with their own society: like that’s going to pay for it real soon.

Dan Dare: The Wandering World


The One Who Is Obeyed

In a manner that hadn’t been seen since Trip to Trouble, or perhaps even the transition from The Man from Nowhere into Rogue Planet, The Wandering World ran directly on from the last page of Operation Time Trap. Like its predecessor, this was a story that I knew only partially for half a century. There were pages from this story in the bundle bought at that Bring and Buy sale, though from the first week of 1964, I had Eagle on weekly order. The only gaps in the story throughout all that time came near its beginning.
But ultimately I got the complete story, which contained the last pages of the original Dan Dare run that I had never before seen. It’s a fine and private irony that my first and last Dan Dare pages should have been so close together in publication.
The new adventure starts with a dramatic aerial shot of the Tempus Frangit blasting off from Meit’s North Pole. They were indeed close enough to the exact Pole and escape into space, beyond two suns. There, Banger executes the Time Jump to take them home. His calculations have been thorough and precise, he has allowed for every pound of weight, and the removal of every ‘gift’ donated to the Meitians, the Jump will be to an exact position within Earth space. Except that he hasn’t accounted for the stowaway, Xel, and his weight.
And the Tempus Frangit arrives in the Solar System at the right time. Or rather, just outside of it. Beyond the orbit of Pluto (this was before the Kuiper Belt was discovered, indeed before Pluto’s main moon, Charon). They do not have enough fuel to return to Earth down the entire length of the Solar System.
Xel immediately makes his presence known – and felt – attempting to take over the ship. But he quickly realises this is a waste of time if it effectively cannot go anywhere. The impasse is quickly forgotten as sensors pick up a nearby object, what appears to be an artificial world, of immense clustered bubbles broken up by gaping pits that emit blazing radiation. Xel abandons ship to search for something more promising on this satellite/moon/world, with Dan and Dig closely behind, hoping to get to the native people – assuming there are any – before Xel creates a terminally bad example.
What they find on the Wandering World is something completely unexpected: the Mekon.
Whereas, on his last reappearance, Dan and Digby greeted the Mekon with nothing more than the generic “You’re supposed to be dead”, I’m impressed by the fact that David Motton has them reference The Solid-space Mystery.
Indeed, there’s a definitely understated continuity between the two adventures. It puzzled me for years why the Mekon is alone, with a perfectly constructed Treen spaceship, but without any Treens to carry out his bidding. But then when we last saw him, he was ejecting – alone – in an escape capsule from the Solid-space satellite, which was then promptly destroyed with no survivors.
It still begs the question of how he’s gotten from a satellite between the orbits on Mercury and Venus to the far side of Pluto, unaided, though he’s done a world class job on getting the native Navs to duplicate Treen construction.
What is most important is that the Mekon not only has a functioning spaceship, he has fuel for it, and enough to fill the Tempus Frangit‘s tanks as well. Unfortunately for the latter’s crew, he has the local population, the Navs – spindly, blue-skinned, hairless humanoids – under his complete control, and now he has an uneasy ally in the form of Xel.
As a newly introduced reader, completely lacking any knowledge of the series’ history, I spent my formative years thinking of Xel as Dan Dare’s primary adversary. He’s a constant presence throughout the trilogy of stories of which The Wandering World is the middle part, and he has a further role to play as villain in the future. But even at my young age, the contrast between Xel and the Mekon, their alliance a triumph of circumstance above nature, was fascinating to contemplate. Brutishness versus brain. Strength against feebleness. Bull-headed attack against thought and planning.
The Mekon was always the more deadly of the two, and where the Earthmen are incapable, ultimately, of overcoming the Stollite Emperor (though Dan does, incredibly, succeed in knocking him out, temporarily), it takes the greater villain to put Xel out of action with sufficient permanence to permit the story to proceed to a denouement.
The Wandering World is an intriguing conception. The Navs are survivors of an unspecified civilisation (from within the Solar System? From without?) that destroyed itself, leaving only those who were aboard a fantastic sky city, a metal construct powered by great nuclear engines. Over an unspecified period of time, the city has both wandered and developed its surface of bubbles, initially a kind of detritus generated by the engine, but now home to the Nav civilisation and its curious flora and fauna.
Dan and Digby, with Banger, explore the Wandering World until they reach the bubble where the Mekon has taken control. He has enlisted the Navs on a basis of lies about his role in the Solar System, and promises of giving them a planet of their own one he is ‘restored’, but they are quick to turn to Dan’s assistance when he puts them right.
But they are even quicker to turn against everyone when the matter becomes a three-way argument between the Earthmen and the two villains. “A plague upon both your houses!”, they cry, expelling the massive bubble from their world, leaving a massive hole, but dispensing with the threat for (their) good.
This is just what Dan and Co needed. The last few seconds of the Tempus Frangit‘s fuel is used to close in on the Mekon ship and its spare fuel. The Mekon is captured, Xel is incapacitated and the voyage home to Earth is before them.
Going by my personal impressions, The Wandering World is not as good a story as Operation Time Trap. It’s a less active adventure, with a stronger element of exploration: Dan and Dig see several of the bubbles and face various perils that have no direct bearing on the spine of the story, where all the actions of Operation Time Trap are focused upon the menace of Xel and the need for escape from Meit.
But it’s a strong, solid story, and if not up to the level of prime Hampson, it’s a far more worthy substitute than the pallid efforts of Eric Eden’s period as writer. Though it does have advantages that were denied to him, in that the overall story, from the Tempus Frangit‘s blast-off from Earth until it finally turns for home spans almost a full year of story. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen something with that scope.
And there’s still a direct follow-up to come.

Dan Dare: Operation Time Trap


A page it took fifty years to read

watsontimetrapA year had gone by, a year of short stories in black and white, hidden on the inside. But Keith Watson’s determination to hold the fort, to give the Dan Dare series the best of Hampson-standard art, to satisfy the reader’s anticipation, had given the readers something to cling to.
And the readers had done their part, pressurising Longacre about the series, continually asking for Dan Dare to be put back on the cover, put back in colour, in enough numbers, consistently, that Longacre had to admit defeat on all fronts.
Operation Time Trap is where the tide turns, where it starts to flow back towards something like a peak. It won’t ever get far enough up the beach to match Frank Hampson at his peak, but this can joyfully be said to be The Restoration. Back on the cover, back in colour were just the symbols, but with this story, Motton and Watson were freed from the restriction to short, thirteen week or less stories, and the ban on recurring characters was also lifted, equipping Dan and Digby with a new supporting cast to last them almost to the end.
Even better, Operation Time Trap would not merely run 28 weeks but, in the grand Hampson tradition, its ending would segue into the next adventure, and that would lead directly to a third, giving Dan and Co a year of continuous adventure.
But though the point was won, especially with regard to longer, more flowing stories, Longacre had merely compromised, not acknowledged defeat. The new format for Dan Dare did not kick in until three B&W episodes had appeared, and there was still a surprise to come: colour covers maybe, but only the cover – to be done poster-style, with two small panels in the bottom right corner, balancing the yellow-backed Eagle and Swift logo box in the top left corner – but inside the art was still black and white and grey, and there were one and a half pages of it.
One has to wonder why. Why, if the concession was to be made, hold it back until a story had already started? Was it really that impromptu a decision, or was it some feeble attempt to demonstrate that the editor was the one in charge here, no matter what the readers said? And why this unheard of, hybrid format? Was it hedging their bets? Leaving the door open to taking the series back into pure black and white again when they said it wasn’t popular enough? We don’t know, and it’s too late now for more than speculation. But I think the questions imply their answers.
There was one more thing. Watson had done marvelously in black and white, but, being colourblind, was handicapped by the return to colour. So he hired an assistant, an airbrush specialist, to colour these expansive, impressive covers. For the fourth time, no less, Eric Eden was back on the series from which it seemed he could never get away.
When it comes to the story, it’s time I acknowledged that a lot of Dan Dare fans are critical of David Motton’s scripting, regarding his dialogue as unrealistic and stilted. I’m biased by this being the Dan Dare I grew up upon, but I can’t agree. I’ve already spoken about his more descriptive writing in captions, and he’s certainly on top form in the first episode, succinctly setting up the situation and three new characters, in economical stokes.
Operation Time Trap was still on two internal B&W pages when it started, but the astute reader could have drawn from it the inference that the story was about to expand. That opening episode sets up Dan’s new mission, as pilot on the test run for the Tempus Frangit, and the giant, jet black ship, primarily spherical, is given impressive prominence in the opening panel. And the mission involves not merely space travel, but traveling in time as well, a new theme.
Plus Motton introduces three new crewmates, taking care to establish their characters in a manner that we have simply not seen over the past twelve months.
First is Colonel Wilf Banger, Engineer, Scientist, Designer and Builder of the Tempus Frangit: bull-headed with sweeping black moustaches and a bull in a china shop approach to problems. Then there’s his long-term assistant, electronics and mechanical genius, Technician ‘Nutter’ Cob (in later stories, the quotes that imply this is a nickname will be dropped and Nutter will become a genuine first name) who’s no respecter of ranks when his Colonel is in the wrong. And lastly, in all respects, was Major Spence, receding hairline, plump, little moustaches: a fussy, nervous administrator, a stickler for Spacefleet Rules and Regulations, whose value to the expedition – or nearly every other adventure – was impossible to discover.
Incidentally, the Major did have a first name, being Shillitoe. This was not disclosed at first, though it did come out in the first episode, and it would be mentioned only once again.
(Which was more than could be said for the meaning of Tempus Frangit. This was only ever explained in that first episode, which I didn’t read until the 2010s. Of course, the Latin translation was fairly simple, if you’d studied Latin which, apart from the Latin-tagged concepts I needed to know as a Solicitor, and some classic classical tags, I didn’t. I was finally clued in by a fellow Eagle fan at a Manchester Comics Mart in in the early 1990s).
So, the first Time Jump begins. Dan pilots the Tempus Frangit to the pre-determined point in space and Banger engages the Jump, much to Digby’s misgivings about the physical effects of the journey. But the Earthmen’s first shock is that they arrive in a region of lightless space, with no stars visible at all.
Unable to navigate, Banger engages the reverse jump, but the Tempus Frangit goes nowhere: it is held by some kind of magnetic lock.
Use of the short-range astroscope identifies a strange binary sun system with a single planet, Meit, on an eccentric orbit around/between the two suns. Dan reconnoitres the planet without finding any signs of civilisation, though it’s clear that the land is unstable, racked with earthquakes. Eventually, he lands the ship on an island the size of Sicily, only to find that it is made of concentrated, matted weeds that roll with the tidal swell, though they do support the spaceship.
The native Meitians are friendly, though they insist on gifts from their visitors, gifts that ‘give a man dignity’. Dan and Co quickly realise that there is another spaceship already on Meit who have already provided the Meitians with an invaluable gift – instant translators. And Cob quickly picks one apart to discover that it’s also a complex tv and radio surveillance device, which is being watched elsewhere.
There isn’t long to wait before the other visitors to the planet make themselves known. They – or rather he – is  Xel, the One in One Thousand Million, the One who is obeyed, leader of the Svallokin Empire of Stoll. His ship landed on land and has been wrecked by an earthquake, and he demands two places on the Tempus Frangit to escape the planet. Dan must leave two of his crew behind.
That’s never going to be an option, though everybody but Dan does discuss it as if it were a serious proposition. It never would have been, but Dan has already seen Xel for what he is: a tyrant, a brutal dictator, heedless of others lives: he is not putting anybody into jeopardy for someone like that.
Thus a mini-war rages between the two spaceships. The Meitian wise man confirms that it is possible to escape Meit’s magnetic grip. Xel has the wise man kidnapped to prevent him revealing to the Earthmen where and how they can escape Meit, though the wise man’s young assistant, Noli, confirms that it is from the magnetic north pole on midsummer’s day, between the two suns.
Xel temporarily gains control of the Tempus Frangit, at least until the ocean swell incapacitates the Stollites through major seas-sickness. Dan and Digby take one of Xel’s bubblecraft to locate his wrecked spaceship, trying to rescue the wise man and regain the Meitians’ goodwill and cooperation. They are captured, and Xel intends to enslave them, as he has his own, nasty, brutish, short, silver-skinned people.
But Digby saves the day with his usual luck: he’s earlier fallen into a food vat and, in climbing out, bent a feed pipe so that it spewed on the floor, instead of into the mix. That proved to be the drug by which Xel maintained his hold on his slaves. They run riot, rebelling against him, and he is forced to flee, with Dan and Digby (plus wise man) in pursuit.
The threat appears to be over, and Dan and Co can concentrate on floating the island to the North Pole. They are not aware, however, that Xel has stowed away on board, intent on taking the ship, but not until he has killed Dan Dare with his bare hands.
With the conditions getting ever colder, and the remnants of the island freezing and cracking, it becomes a slow-motion race against to get the Tempus Frangit into exactly the right place. Dan is forced to act when the ship is less than 100 yards from the exact point…
And the adventure went on, with a new story, The Wandering World, picking up the following week, directly from the cliffhanger of that take-off.
Incidentally, as an eight year old unused to words beginning with an X, I pondered over how to pronounce Xel’s name and in my head sounded it with an X, as in X-L, or excel, a word I was many years away from encountering. Not until much later, and exposure to xylophone, or Xavier, did I come to realise that, phonetically, it should be ‘Zel’. But that little mental stutter is forever there, and I still stumble in my head over the One in One Thousand Million, X-L.
I have mixed feelings about trying to analyse this story. This is where my relationship with Dan Dare and the Eagle began. Among its pages are the Eagle‘s Dad bought for me at that long ago Bring and Buy Sale. They leap out at me when I read the story with all the force of fifty years of memory.
In truth, this is a difficult story to read. For nearly fifty years, I knew it only partially, without beginning or end, a heavy weighting towards the middle and end, but with one sole b&w episode, and now I read the complete story at last, I find it hard to accept the additional episodes that complete and make sense of the tale.
It’s as if they are not quite real, as if they are an incredibly good pastiche, but still pages that have been made up afterwards, to fill in gaps where the ‘real’ pages have been lost forever.
Ultimately, the fifty-nine year old Crookall can’t override the eight year old boy who first read parts of this story and was so thrilled and excited by it that he wanted to read this every week. The best I can do by way of an objective assessment is that Motton and Watson took full advantage of the freedom from restrictions to broaden Dan’s horizons immeasurably.
Time travel. Distant galaxies. High peril. Strange planets with unusual natural laws. And a new recurring enemy who was in many ways the opposite of the Mekon, but no less evil and no less deadly. To a boy ignorant of Dan Dare’s past, this was glorious fun and astonishing adventure – and the rest of the comic wasn’t bad either!
It was indeed the beginning of a new era: a silver age of excitement and imagination.

Dan Dare: Operation Darkstar


Thankfully, for the last of the quintet of short stories that Motton and Watson executed between 1962 and 1963, Operation Darkstar was both a change of pace and a significant improvement on what had gone immediately before.
This time, there is no threat to the world. Indeed, Dan Dare and Digby are allowed to leave the immediate environs of Planet Earth for the first time since Odhams were still masters, and not just the Earth but the Solar System.
The cause of this is the discovery of a ‘Dark Star’, i.e. a sun going through its dying phase, transmitting previously hard-to-detect radiation. Professor Julian Egon has discovered such a star, far nearer to Earth than any previously detected, with a single planet orbiting it. Dan is put in command of a two ship expedition to explore the planet and collect scientific date.
Dan’s ship, with Digby and his crew, will take off first, with the second ship following after a fourteen day interval. The commander of the second ship is Captain Egon, son of the star’s discoverer who, in that capacity, requests the honour of being the first man onto the planet. Dan’s perfectly willing to concede that honour (even though Egon’s main objective is glory), but command insists on seniority. This leaves Egon fuming, since he considers himself just as good as Dan Dare, so he engineers an accident which sees Dan laid up with a broken ankle, for fourteen days.
So commands are swapped. Egon takes Dan’s ship, with Digby, who spends the whole time on the wrong side of the arrogant Egon, Dan follows in Egon’s ship. He’s going to be needed to save the day, because when the ship commanded by Egon finds itself trying to land on a sea of oil, Egon’s panic crashes it into the mountains.
Dan’s temporary command includes spacemen Newcombe – an everyday, competent crewman – and Mumper who, as his name gives away, is a constant pessimist and complainer. This ship lands on the other side of the Oil ocean but in a crevasse, where it promptly suffers an avalanche. But on the Dark Star planet, the rocks are amazingly light and friable, there is no atmosphere above two thousand feet and water is at a premium, and has to be boiled down from the rocks.
Dan makes friends with the local natives, who agree to rescue the ship in return for half the water supplies. They also supply a kind of helicopter to take Dan and the crew across the ocean to find Digby, Egon and the others. They have fallen into the hands of another all-purpose dictator, Naz the Tyrant, who is working them like slaves. Egon, unlike Dan, hasn’t yet come up with an escape plan, possibly because he’s too busy eyeing up the waste-products of the water-bearing rock: gold, jewels, precious metals…
But Dan masterminds a rescue and is piloting everyone away, until one last warrior gets on board. His gun is trained on Dan, who calmly plots out for everyone to take advantage of his death to seize control and overpower the alien. This is too much for Egon who, awakened to decency and honour at the last, intercedes to sacrifice himself, dying in overcoming the warrior.
Everyone returns safely, with tons of precious gold etc, but on strict water-rationing all the way back, much to Digby’s consternation.
Operation Darkstar is a simple, straightforward story, with a slightly predictable cad-redeems-himself twist at the end. It’s got its flaws, mainly in the unexplained areas: where is the Dark Star, how far off, why are the two ships setting off at fortnightly intervals, and there’s a Hampson-shaped hole at the end the size of a Jumbo Jet in the way Dan flies back to Earth, leaving the planet’s inhabitants to go on eking out a vanishing water supply on a dying world whose atmosphere is shearing away, and instead of trying to assist, he runs off with the money.
But apart from that, it’s harmless, inoffensive and not actively stupid.
Watson had kept the faith. His commitment to Dan Dare had provided a rallying point for the strip’s readers. There was something worthwhile to keep coming back for, every week, so they kept coming back, and they kept demanding Dan be restored to the cover, be restored to colour. They were almost on the point of being rewarded.

Dan Dare: The Web of Fear


Keith Watson at home

Take away the continuingly excellent crisp, clean, black, white and grey art from Keith Watson, and The Web of Fear is a mess. In fact, with Watson’s art it’s still a mess, quite possibly the nadir of the Dan Dare series, but at least offers some great visuals. But it’s still a mess, whose only saving grace is that it is so short, a mere ten weeks and it is over.
Once again, Earth is subject to a world-threatening threat. That makes the fourth already this year, and that’s not counting the situation on New Year’s Day, when the planet was still half under water, subject to virulent plague and everybody had over-anticipated Jonathan King and gone to Mars. At this point, the Law of Diminishing Returns has not only set in, but is building a bungalow on an acre plot of land.
And it’s not as if it’s in any way a good, or even remotely convincing story either, full of holes and unexplained things that undermine the plot’s already minimal credibility.
Dan Dare is mentoring Cadet Peter Young, the son of old friends, on his test flight to qualify as a Pilot. Unfortunately, young Young crashes and seems to have blown his chances, but Dan stubbornly refuses to accept his judgement may be wrong.
Whilst he’s debating this, Earth finds itself subject to strange, white drifting webs appearing in the atmosphere, which prove to be lethally corrosive, He and Dig are sent to investigate the Moon, and he takes Young, despite the fact that the cadet has started prophesying doom and destruction over the webs, even though he isn’t aware of it.
Once on the Moon, Young goes into a trance and uncovers a cave full of spiders, which forces the Moon to be evacuated. The spiders stow away on the ships and are carried to Earth, where the threat builds. It gets even worse when Dixon’s Comet arrives and hordes of the things are found nesting in it.
Young isn’t the only Spacefleet personnel to be unconsciously and unexplainedly helping the spiders, just the only one we get to see, but Dan trusts him throughout and is, of course, proved to be right when Young saves him and Dig from being blown up on the Comet by Earth when they’re burning out all the nests. End of story, and good riddance.
This really is an awful story. Motton does nothing to establish his spiders, relying solely on the idea that spiders are inherently creepy, and great big ones from space – think Tarantula, think Black Widow, think Shelob for later generations – are creepy enough for us not to care how they’ve gotten onto the Moon in so many numbers without anyone noticing, from a Comet that hasn’t been around for 500 years.
And there is nothing about how the spiders can dominate the will of people like Peter Young to make them into slaves, especially if the hold can be broken in an instant, when it’s convenient to the story, without anything actually being done.
And there’s this business of Dan’s childhood friends, the Young’s from Little Fletchworth, who come and deservedly go in this story with no other mention. The back story is completely invisible, the only hints being that Little Fletchworth reminds Dan of endless happy days in his childhood. Except that, as we proud Mancunians will point out at every opportunity, Dan was born and brought up in Manchester and I can assure you that there is a complete absence of villages called anything like Little Fletchworth. Not even with high-rise apartment blocks.
In his splendid The Report of the Cryptos Commission New Zealand fan Denis Steeper tries to bring the entire Dan Dare story together into a comprehensible chronology. To do so, he leaves out only three stories, one of which was The Earth-Stealers. The second is this, and he’s absolutely right to do so.

Dan Dare: Operation Fireball


Motton and Watson’s third story ran for a comparatively expansive twelve weeks. It was back to the world-menacing disaster formula of Operation Earth-saver, though this time the menace was not world-wide but confined to the Atlantic Ocean, and consisted of an unquenchable fireball the size (and heat) of a small sun, floating on the water and bringing heat-related catastrophe firstly to Florida and the Caribbean, and then spinning on its tail and beetling off in the direction of the English Channel.
Dan and Digby are there for the start of things, pulling routine freighter escort duty on a Mars freighter which bursts into the eponymous fireball almost as soon as they set eyes on it, but spend most of the story in space, on Mars, at the Parelli Cobalt Mine, digging into just what the miners have been digging out of the Red Planet that is so volatile.
The story may be set in space but, in what has already become a formula, Motton keeps cutting back to Earth for the latest update on the Fireball, and who and how it is threatening. And he also has an odder, more lightweight excuse to flick back to the mother planet, because he’s started his story with a class of schoolboys (led by a pretty class mistress) getting Digby’s autograph and constantly asking for the news the spaceman had promised to give them.
The culprit in all this is Mr Cragg, the Parelli Mine Manager. He’s not evil as such, not in the positive sense of von Malus, he’s just a greedy, self-centred bastard who’s discovered a source of incredibly profuse gold and diamonds that he’s intent on converting into unlimited personal wealth.
Excuse me, but this is Mars, isn’t it? Red planet, population extinct, wiped out by the Red Moon, we’ve been here before. Suddenly, it now houses a secret underground population of midget Martians, looking nothing at all like Dortan-uth-Algar’s people, who use some kind of strange solution siphoned off the sap of an underground fungus which is incredibly corrosive and dissolves rock into the aforementioned gold and diamonds.
At least, that’s what I think it does. I’m not certain, because Motton gets lost in the middle of his story. The cargo that’s blossomed into the fireball is Cragg’s secret stash for himself, which is presumably gold and diamonds, not things noted as being particularly flammable, and he seems to be discovering the sap-solution along with Dan and Digby, so he can’t have sent any Earth-side before now, but it’s the sap-solution that is both volatile enough to explode into another fireball, and yet at the same time be exactly what’s needed to put the fireball out.
This I don’t understand.
Either way, Cragg gets his comeuppance in the shape of his own mini-fireball, which is what serves to alert Dan and Digby as to just how bloody dangerous this sap-solution is to move around. The second half of the story is of them flying it, incredibly gently, back to bomb the Fireball, put it out and save the day.
The story ends with the class arriving for a full debrief from a fagged-out Digby, Dan gently ribbing him about the price of fame and then discovering they’re all after him: they all got Digby’s autograph in episode 1!
As for the miniature Martians, you can forget about them. After all, Motton, Watson and Longacre did, immediately, as you’d imagine. Apart from recording that Keith Watson’s art is again sensational in its use of black line and grey wash, that’s about it for this one.

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: Trip to Trouble


To give them their due, Odhams did genuinely think that Dan Dare had gone stale, and that what was needed was an injection of action: shorter stories, less characterisation. Trip to Trouble was produced to those specifications and no doubt they were satisfied with the outcome. Unfortunately, it’s proof positive of exactly how wrong they were.
Trip to Trouble (a title of such horrifying stupidity that is unmatched in the whole cycle) lasted only sixteen weeks, and rounded off what would now have to be referred to as the Terra Nova Trilogy. It was meant to cut off Frank Hampson’s ambitious sequence as briefly as possible, and if realisation of intention is a mark of artistic success, then it’s a masterpiece. As stories go, it’s a shallow flop.
We’ll not hold this against Eric Eden this time, as he was probably working to pretty tight instructions, but as we shall see, he would fail to rise much above this perfunctory effort.
Having learned that his Dad had moved on from the first Novad continent, Dan has an inspiration. McHoo confirms that an inflatable life-raft was among the emergency gear carried by the Galactic Pioneer and that the Galleon has a similar one on board. So Dan and Dig in Anastasia, with Lex O’Malley on hand as naval expert, track wind and water currents to identify the approximate shoreline where Captain Dare would have come to land. They then drop Lex, in the inflatable, to complete the journey. Except that Lex is promptly captured by a gun-shooting powered boat and taken ashore.
When Dan and Digby land, to plan a rescue, they are surrounded by rebels who speak a few words of primitive English, and taken to their leader, Calo, who speaks perfect English, for he, like the Novad tribe elder, knew Captain Dare.
And that’s where the bad news kicks in. We’re only five weeks into the new story, and Calo confirms Captain Dare is dead: dead, not only off-stage, but aways off in time, ten years ago, Dan’s whole expedition both a failure and a complete waste of time before it even began. And Odhams, having delivered such a casual brush-off, compound their callousness by delivering these sad tidings in the Christmas week edition of Eagle: Christmas: Goodwill to all men: Rebirth. Some things just suck.
But let us not fret over this news, there’s action to supply to the readers. Dan, after taking a couple of moments to absorb this loss with the stoic, stiff-upper-lip of the true-born Englishman, dedicates himself to a tribute to his father. They are in the land of Lantor which, for over a decade, has been under the control of the neighbouring country of Gan, and its brutal absolute Dictator, the Grandax. Calo leads the Lantorian rebels, and Captain Dare died, shot in a failed uprising. So Dan will now lead a successful uprising.
And it really is as mechanical as that. Three men overthrowing an overwhelming force takes eleven weeks. First they rescue Lex, then they eliminate the Gan air force, then they capture the Grandax, which leaves a power vacuum with no-one psychologically able to replace him.

The Gan forces retreat to Gan, the Grandax mounts a final attempt to overthrow the rebels, but sends himself to his death instead, and that’s it. All done and dusted, wrapped up, and let’s go home, all traumas forgotten, Dan wholly unconcerned as to his father’s fate and the absence of so much as a grave to mourn at. At a conservative estimate, the complete overthrow of Gan takes about seventeen hours.
Next stop Earth, and Frank Bellamy’s chance, a mere six months into the year-long contract he’d signed to draw Dan Dare, to put into place the changes for which he had been hired. To foreshadow these, the final panel features some thinking heads, musing on what they’ll find when they return after so long an absence. Sir Hubert, The McHoo, the Professor (making one final appearance), Digby and Dan. No Flamer Spry: given his total absence from the series until it’s very last panel, It’s tempting to ask whether he was actually left behind on Terra Nova? It would explain a lot…
In his justly-lauded Sandman series, Neil Gaiman, in one of its early issues, came up with a throwaway idea that is still a mark of sheer genius. Dream’s realm contains at its heart a castle that is infinite and meandering. Like all good castles, it contains a library of extensive proportions. But this is the Library of Dream, and as befits such a thing, it holds not only every book that ever was written, but every book that was ever dreamt of, every book that it’s author thought of, or planned, or imagined, or left unfinished except here. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lost Road exists there in full. Charles Dickens’ The Return of Edwin Drood is complete.
I would dearly love to spend a day (or a night) in the Library of Dream reading the real Terra Nova cycle, as drawn by Frank Hampson.