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.

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.

Dan Dare: Terra Nova Part 2


                                                                                          A bit different…

The truth was, there wasn’t that much that was radically different about Frank Bellamy’s first Dan Dare page, on the cover of Eagle Volume 10 no 28. But then again we were not privy to Bellamy’s original art which, legendarily, featured a close-up on Dan which was not recognisable as the Pilot of the Future. To Bellamy’s (private) mortification, Don Harley was brought in to redraw Dan’s face for consistency – a move that distinctly pre-dates the similar treatment handed out to Jack Kirby when he first drew Superman.
Artistically, the remainder of Terra Nova is something of a mish-mash. Bellamy clearly decided not to launch immediately into wholesale artistic changes, but to tone his naturally dynamic style down in the first few weeks, so as not to rattle the audience. And there was also the matter of Harley/Watson’s page. It’s no disrespect to either man to say that they couldn’t draw like Frank Bellamy, but they were also steeped in Frank Hampson’s style and there was a contrast.
Nor was Bellamy favoured by the point of the story where he took over, which was not conducive to dramatic action and exciting perspectives – and he was frustrated from making the major changes Odhams wanted by being in the middle of an ongoing story, millions of miles from Earth: there could be no abrupt changes in uniform or spaceship design for a long time.
Whilst I’m by no means qualified as an art critic, the fundamental differences between Messrs Hampson and Bellamy that I see can be broken down thus: Stylism vs Realism, Interpretative vs Dramatic art, Line vs Dot.
The first of these is in some respects a false dichotomy. Hampson strove at all times for realistic, convincing art, art that depicted the fantastic in such depth that it would be automatically accepted as real, as Truthful. Three of the characters appearing in Terra Nova were based directly upon real people, Robert Hampson, Peter Hampson and Greta Tomlinson. But neither Dan nor Digby had been based in any comparable degree on models. To that extent, they were abstractions, stylised figures, still reflecting a touch of the symbolic: Dan’s long face, lantern jaw and his eyebrow quirk, Digby’s rotundity, his quiff and those decidedly cartoon eyes. They were stylisms designed by Hampson to facilitate the instant recognisability of characters who would be spending large periods of time in generally identikit spacesuits: think of Hank Hogan’s glasses, Pierre Lafayette’s moustaches.
Bellamy, in contrast, was always far more of a photorealist in his approach. He’d cut his teeth at Eagle on real-life histories and he’d been entrusted with drawing Winston Churchill – Churchill, the Greatest Living Englishman, as the period saw him – and that was down to the realism inherent in every brush-stroke. Physically, Dan and Digby become ‘real’ figures in a way very different to that established by Hampson. The underlying cartoon is stripped out. Digby’s eyes develop irises and pupils. Dan’s eyebrows start to look improbable, freakish. And there’s a close-up panel of Jocelyn Peabody that would make you start to think a bit differently about Greta Tomlinson.
No wonder Don Harley had to re-draw that first panel.
The second difference is easier to define. Hampson, from the first, was concerned with what he called the ‘pictorial sub-plot’. This was the second reading, where the boy, having satisfied himself as to the latest development of the plot, would return to study each panel, to read himself into those panels, to ‘walk around’ the consistent, convincing, strange-yet-understandable world in which Dan & Co existed.
Bellamy simply didn’t think that way. His images were concerned with immediacy, with the exiting effect each instant had, not with any longer term attempt to convince people that here was a real, alien world that had functioned before Dan & Co came to this spot, and which would continue to function thereafter. All that mattered was this instant.
Hampson focussed on showing his readers exactly what happened, in imaging an entire world into being for them. Bellamy thrilled them, made them gasp in awe, scared them, but did not even attempt to address what kind of world lay behind the image.
The third difference is a purely artistic distinction. Both Hampson and Bellamy pursued realistic art in terms of the panels they drew. But for Hampson, detail, shade, contrast, these were all achieved by consistent line-work. Short, straight lines, hatching, meticulously laid into place. This detail of work is what so consistently set Hampson’s work apart from his assistants. But it sets it apart from Bellamy, because the latter’s artistic style was built around a form of pointillism. Bellamy used dots as opposed to lines, intense and detailed and as distinctive as Hampson, but also better suited to his dynamism, since pointillism was always associated with the Impressionist approach. It can be much more conducive to impressing an image, where hatching imposes a greater solidity. It’s a fluid approach, and one that, in Bellamy’s hands, was glorious to read.
But it did not help Harley/Watson one little bit in producing work that would complement Bellamy as opposed to jar wildly against his look. And, once Bellamy had relaxed into his own style of lay-out, the intensity and photorealism of his best work, the contrast with the other page is indeed jarring. Which could not be anything but bad for the story.

                                                                                              Oh wow…

Ah, the story. The poor story. Terra Nova‘s back was broken when Frank Hampson left. The grand story cycle was dead in the water. Alan Stranks was no longer there to guide the story as he had done for the past half-decade, half Dan Dare’s life. To replace him, Eric Eden returned once more, this time as scripter. His brief was obviously to get this thing over with as soon as he could (though that would take six months and another story before he could do that: Odhams may well have fumed at the delay but they would not take it out on Eden, who would script the series for another two years after that).
I’ll have more to say about Eden in later posts. He came in on a hiding to nothing and I won’t blame him for what follows. Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert are taken to the Novad city, in the jungle, on an isolated peak, where they discover that Captain Dare not only passed that way but stayed many years, naming the city Pax (latin for Peace), helping the villagers and even teaching one perfect English that he recalls on the spot despite having not practiced speaking it for ten years.
That’s right, Dan’s Dad stayed for what must have logically been twenty years and then moved on, across the ocean, about ten years ago, in search of other Novad civilisations with scientific achievements that might get him back home to his son. So basically he sat around for twenty years before starting to work on a return?
(And we’ve still not considered the point that, in the thirty years Captain Dare has gone, his son – and all his friends around him – have had ten years taken out of their lives courtesy of suspended animation, so is that thirty years real or subjective? Has Captain Dare been away for forty years?).
That established, Terra Nova relapses. The Novads are continually threatened by the Nagrebs: not another tribe but a colony of giant ants (and people thought Stranks prone to cliché). Flamer, Lex and the Prof come planet-side in search of their friends and are attacked by the Nagrebs. Dan goes off to rescue Lex and Peabody, then uses Anastasia to bomb the living shit out of the ant’s nest: bye bye menace.
All of which may have been based upon Stranks’ original synopsis for this part of the cycle but somehow I can’t see Hampson tolerating such a dull idea for anything greater than an Annual.
Terra Nova ends with Dan still in pursuit of his father, and having Digby and Lex detached to assist him. Sir Hubert stays behind to help McHoo map the heavens on the Galactic Galleon, the Professor and Cadet Spry to help improve the biochemistry of the food available to the Novads of Pax.
Take a long look at Jocelyn and Flamer for this is their departure point. From here, they are declared redundant to the Dan Dare series. There are more adventures to come for other’s of Dan’s supporting cast, even in the fast-approaching Sixties when Keith Watson would be the Dan Dare artist, fighting at all turns to reflect and restore the glory days.
There is literally one last appearance for them at the wrap-up of this cycle. Each will appear in a glorious montage panel that features literally everyone of any importance to the series, in 1964. The ‘ultimate’ fates of everyone bar Flamer will be revealed a year after, and at the very end they will gather on a stage to celebrate the end of the series.
But this is where they leave, quietly, unwanted by Eagle‘s new masters. Despite my reservations about the Astral College Junior Cadet, it is sad to see them go.

Dan Dare: Terra Nova Part 1


Where The Man from Nowhere had imbalanced itself by stretching the journey from Earth out to fully half the length of the story, by 1959, Frank Hampson had learned better. Terra Nova started immediately after the blast-off from the McHoo Asteroid Belt base, and it took a mere four weeks to get into orbit around Earth’s twin planet, four weeks that were occupied mainly by a near disastrous extra-vehicular expedition for the male members of the team, and the incidental discovery of a micro-galaxy through which the Galactic Galleon ploughed en route.
This was a far better approach, keeping the main purpose of the story well to the forefront of the readers’ attention. For on arrival at Terra Nova, the expedition discovered the shell of the Galactic Pioneer, intact but abandoned, in orbit about the planet. Dan Dare insisted on being the first to explore the stranded ship.
Frank Hampson had planned a whole cycle of stories. Dan Dare would pursue the trail of his missing father from planet to planet across the Novad system: new adventures, new environments and, what? What would Dan find? Surely, ultimately, he would be reunited with the father had had missed for most of his life. Given his primary audience, given that his own father had been an integral part of the story, as Sir Hubert Guest, from the very outset, Hampson could not have intended to end his saga with disappointment and death. Surely parental loss could not be the ultimate end of a story told to children in an optimist’s universe?
So Dan entered the derelict spaceship and makes his way to the pilot’s cabin where he finds a body. But the following week, he confirmed that it was Copernicus McHoo. Captain Dare has escaped the ship and descended to Terra Nova, but where? A tour of the planet at night, in Anastasia, identifies concentrations of light, and therefore settlements, so Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert descend to investigate further.
At this point, seven weeks into the story, events in the outside world intervened. A nationwide printer’s strike took Eagle off the street for ten long weeks. Two issues stood in hand, numbered but not dated, ready to go to print when the strike was lifted. The end was sudden, no time to add dates to these unnumbered issues, just the rush to get them out, resume circulation. The second of these featured a fine, silent front page from Hampson as a race of primitive tribesmen prepare their forces to capture the intruders, Dan, Dig and Sir Hubert. The date returned to the cover the week after but there was an even greater shock. Frank Hampson had gone. He would never return.

Dan Dare: Safari in Space


Whatever the truth of the final weeks of The Phantom Fleet, Frank Hampson had used the time well to plan the next phase of Dan Dare’s adventures. In keeping with the broad, sweeping themes of the Man from Nowhere trilogy, Hampson planned an extensive sequence, a series of adventures across a strange planetary system, as Dan pursued an important psychological goal. It was going to be glorious, majestic even. It never happened.
As a prelude to this cycle, Hampson devised Safari in Space. At eighteen weeks in length, it was second only to The Ship That Lived in its brevity, but whereas the latter was a coda-within-a-coda, Safari‘s position as a scene-setter, a gateway to greater things, made its modest length entirely appropriate.
For nobody was to know that it was to be the last full Dan Dare story that Frank Hampson would devise and draw. But that’s not for now.
It’s noticeable that, after a period spent trying to escape from the daily grind of drawing into a directorial role, Hampson had returned in full force. If Rogue Planet had demonstrated the mature Hampson at his peak, then Safari in Space would surpass that work for images that were some of the most glowing, enthralling, highly-detailed and plain superb of his career.
Indeed, the opening page would turn out to be Frank Hampson’s favourite among all the Dan Dare pages he drew, as he later admitted. And it’s a worthy favourite, a single, full-page scene, simultaneously cinematic and near three-dimensional, and featuring some of the most vibrant and astounding colouring the series ever enjoyed,
Dan and Digby are on leave, which they’ve chosen to spend in the Venusian southern hemisphere, on the unexplored island of Maraku. Unsurprisingly, they’ve once again included Flamer Spry in their expedition, although there is no sign of Stripey (nor will there be again, nor any regret from Digby for the loss of his pet). Whilst Digby sets out to cook, Dan and Flamer are led by their Atlantean guides to the Black Lake, where Flamer arouses a stereotypical sea-serpent by throwing a stone. But whilst this is going on, Digby is shot in the back at camp by an electro-stunner. His assailant takes off in Anastasia.
This is just the start. When Dan and Flamer return to camp, they are swept up in a flying net and taken prisoner. Nor does it end there for, in the northern hemisphere, a slightly unlikely trio are on leave in Mekonta, these being Sir Hubert Guest, Lex O’Malley and, in a rather fetching yellow one-piece bathing costume, Professor Jocelyn Peabody (Peabody and O’Malley? Hmmm).
Peabody sees the mysterious ship surface in the Mekontan lagoon, but her sighting is dismissed with casual misogyny by her two male co-vacationers, as typical female hysteria brought on by the Venusian sun. However, once they think to turn their heads, on hearing Peabody scream at being dragged into the water, they both leap gallantly, but ineffectually to the rescue.
The spaceship leaves Mekonta for space, bound for an unknown base, with its five prisoners. Dan has a pocket-tracker that indicates they are bound for the Asteroid Belt, but there is no major space-port there. (This in a Universe post-the Treen Holocaust on Reign of the Robots). Their only clue is that their kidnappers speak in, of all things, a Scottish accent. This seems to give the game away to Sir Hubert, though he doesn’t share his suspicions with anyone else, least of all the readers.
Explanations are given once the mysterious ship lands at a magnificently equipped base in the Belt (complete with cows to provide fresh milk). Digby, and Anastasia, are already there, as are correct uniforms, and some decent threads for the Professor. And it’s all so impeccably, implacably Scottish, even down to the fact that the kidnappers only refer to Dan – who is half-Scottish himself on his mother’s side – as ‘McGregor Dare’.
Sir Hubert’s suspicions are proved correct when the sextet are brought before the Chieftain, Galileo McHoo, Laird of Clan McHoo, who own and operate Cosmic Shipping, Earth’s largest and most successful commercial spaceflight providers. Galileo is nephew to Copernicus McHoo, Cosmic’s founder, and son to Halley McHoo, a brilliant scientist whose work was scorned on Earth, hence the construction of this base where he could pursue his theories.
Dan and Co are here because of events thirty years earlier. Copernicus had discovered a distant planet whose temperature and atmosphere were so close in composition to Earth that he had named it Terra Nova. And Halley had developed an incredible space hyperdrive that could cross the distance to the new planet.
Between them, with Cosmic’s resources, the McHoo brothers had designed and built the Galactic Pioneer, and Copernicus, accompanied by his best friend, and Cosmic’s test pilot, had taken off for Terra Nova. But something went tragically wrong on take-off: there was an explosion that destroyed New Caledonia, killing Halley McHoo. But a final radio message confirmed that the Pioneer had lifted off safely, and begun its voyage
Galileo McHoo has spent the past thirty years rebuilding Cosmic, New Caledonia and, finally the Galactic Galleon, a sister ship complete with his own improvements, now ready to take-off for Terra Nova, to discover the fate of Copernicus McHoo and his co-pilot – who may still be alive.
And the McHoos have kidnapped Daniel McGregor Dare, Sir Hubert Guest, Albert Fitzwilliam Digby and Professor Jocelyn Mabel Peabody, a team of space explorers without equal, to go on this flight. (O’Malley and Spry are mere unwanted obstructions, though O’Malley’s reaction is priceless, telling McHoo that he’ll never get anywhere without at least one Irishman on board!)
The team’s reaction is mixed. Sir Hubert is sceptical, Digby his usual reluctant self, Peabody, O’Malley and Spry are all intrigued and enthused. But it is to Dan that everyone looks, and for Dan there is simply no question. Thirty years ago, he was told that his father, Captain William ‘Mad Billy’ Dare, had died in a test flight. Now he has learned otherwise. For Cosmic’s test pilot, and Copernicus’s best friend and co-pilot was Mad Billy Dare.
Dan’s father is out there, somewhere, and maybe he’s still alive. There isn’t an atom of Dan Dare’s body that can not want to go.
Everyone, including Sir Hubert, agrees to join the expedition, though the Controller is merely biding his time, a time that doesn’t need biding for long as a Spacefleet Squadron is hot on their trail and in pretty short order surrounds the base. The plot appears to have been nipped in the bud, but Sir Hubert hasn’t reckoned with the fanaticism of Galileo McHoo, who is prepared to detonate an explosion that will wipe out everyone – the entire base and Sir Hubert’s men in their pursuing ships – if they do not immediately agree to join him on board the Galactic Galleon. Given the circumstances, the sailor and the boy will have to go too (as if there was ever any real risk of their being left behind).
This leads directly to a page of such stunning detail and colour that I have no hesitation in declaring it my favourite Hampson page ever. It’s a single image of the Galactic Galleon in its launch chamber, with Flamer and Digby to the foreground, and if I could ever afford even one page of Dan Dare original art, this would be it.
So everyone, including McHoo, boards. The Galleon rises slowly on launch jets until it exits the dome. And then it blows free, a spaceship bigger and bulkier than any seen before, dwarfing the Spacefleet squadron and barrelling through them and away. And that’s before the Halley drive is employed, and the ship just runs away from all pursuit and all surveillance.
En route to Terra Nova. En route to, perhaps, Dan’s reunion with his long lost father. En route to the greatest Dan Dare story of all time.