Dan Dare
Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury
Medium: comic
Year: 1952
Keywords: Dan Dare, SF
Writer: Chad Varah
Artist: Frank Hampson, Harold Johns, Greta Tomlinson
Country: UK
Format: 35 two-page episodes, The Eagle Vol.3 #11 to #46
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 3 May 2021
dan dare
It's okay, but less interesting than the first two Dan Dare serials. This was Chad Varah's first and thankfully last Dan Dare script, but he's a fascinating man. He was involved in the founding of The Eagle and wrote scripts for it and its sister publications for over a decade, but his day job was being an Anglican priest. He was a social activist and, in 1953, he founded the Samaritans. I'm gobsmacked. (He was also on the board of reference of Penthouse Forum magazine for two decades and was patron of the Terence Higgins Trust, which helps with and campaigns about sexual health and HIV.)
Anyway, this story. Everyone thinks Dan and Digby died at the end of the last serial, but they're actually on Mercury. Unfortunately, though, the Mekon's there too and... well, it's conventional adventure stuff. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing special either. You'll finish it and go, "Well, that was a comic strip."
What's special here is the art. The strip went apeshit with Mercury, with colours like nothing they'd done before. Look at that Vol.3 #15, for instance, with its technicolour lobster and eye candy city. Vol.3 #16 looks like a circus. Meanwhile, the Venusians themselves are an amazing design. I've been consuming SF for forty years and I'd never seen anything like it. They're so goofy! They're like TV Comic aliens, except not for laughs. They're outrageously tall and thin, with heads like flower buds and the oddest, jowliest faces.
(For what it's worth, Hampson was ordered to his bed on doctor's orders after the first two weeks of this serial, although he still vetted scripts and helped with visualisations. It was normal for him to work twenty-hour days. Johns and Tomlinson drew the rest of the pages by themselves.)
Maybe they're actually supposed to be plants? They also have a unique language, which is sung, not spoken, and uses musical notes instead of consonants. Pleasingly, also, the script's aware of how hostile Mercury is. The astrophysics is actually pretty good, although obviously they're handwaving the details for the sake of being able to tell a story there. (The Mercurians live in the tidally locked twilight zone between the boiling day side and the freezing night side.) This is certainly more accurate than the Dan Dare versions of Venus and Mars.
Peabody's omnipotence is starting to stretch plausibility. This time, her vaguely defined fields of expertise include linguistics, letting her decipher and learn the Mercurian language in a few hours. Uh, right. The gang's still fun, though. Alien Blue Goof Boy's face makes me laugh. (He has a name, but he looks so daft that Goof Boy will do.) There's also fun dialogue when everyone's rude about the Mekon.
MEKON: "Greetings again, Colonel Dare, after all these years! If I was weak minded enough to feel emotion, it would give me great pleasure to see you in your present situation."
DAN: "It gives me a great pain in the neck to see you in any situation. If you've anything to say, say it quick and get off the set."
I also liked the bit where Dan's immune to the usual "obey me or your friends die!" He's a soldier. That line won't work on him. He knows what it means to weigh millions of lives against four. There's also a bit at the end where Dan tells the Mercurians that appeasement never pays.
Overall, this serial's quite fun. That's all, though. The writing's not startling, or brilliant, or ground-breaking. It's a perfectly good adventure that you could easily slot into Doctor Who, Flash Gordon or any other SF franchise. There's some eye-popping colour work, though.