Dan Dare
Dan Dare: Prisoners of Space
Medium: comic
Year: 1954
Keywords: Dan Dare, SF
Writer: Frank Hampson, Alan Stranks
Artist: Frank Hampson, Don Harley, Desmond Walduck
Country: UK
Format: 50 two-page episodes, The Eagle Vol.5 #22 to Vol.6 #18
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 19 May 2021
dan dare
It's a change of pace for the weekly strip, for the first time not taking us to a new alien planet. The Mekon's taken control of one of Earth's satellites and wants to re-invade Venus.
The concept's fine, but the strip's unsuccessful. What makes Dan Dare different from other comic strips of its era is that it's epic, sedate and ambitious in its ideas and scale. That's cool when we're exploring an entire alien civilisation on the moons of Saturn, but this story's basically Die Hard on a space station. Unfortunately, this is a bit dull. It's polite, slow-paced and not particularly violent or visceral. It doesn't even feel dangerous, with those paralysing pistols making one unsure about whether or not being shot is fatal. (When a "dead" character revives, the cast are far more surprised than the readers.)
The story expands a bit on Venus, but that's mediocre too. There's nothing wrong with it, really, but the story's already lost us in the first half.
There are schoolboys, which will have excited the target audience but in practice just means two characters that obviously won't die. Two Astral Training College cadets get involved, along with a grumpy old mechanic with an amazing face. I don't mind them, actually. I'd have rolled my eyes had Dan deliberately taken them into space, since this series is too reality-based for that to feel convincing. Fortunately, though, he doesn't. There's an accident. He has to go chasing after them.
There's a theme of bravery vs. cowardice, shading into a related one of honour, duty and obeying orders. The older of the two cadets (called Steve Valiant) pretends to be a dirty stinking coward, which attracts startling responses from the others. (Well, it's only a decade since World War Two. Deserters and turncoats didn't get a good press.) Sir Hubert turns into an even harder-nosed officer than usual, responding thunderously to any breach of discipline and at one point being willing to blast the enemy even if his own men are in there too. Meanwhile, Digby makes Dan break his word (to Dan's extreme displeasure) and commits treason, piracy, desertion, etc. in a good cause. He loves it.
Conversely, there's a Treen who's so dumbstruck by the humans' powers of survival that he turns into a superstitious weirdo freak and changes sides. "I have learned what fear means."
1. "Fag!" on p1. (It's a 1950s portrayal of school, so the word has its normal meaning in that context.)
2. The Mekon ordering his men to "take them from behind!"
3. "Someone's pulled a boner!"
4. A character called Groupie.
You could tell a deeper version of this story, if you pared it down and focused on the themes. As it stands, though, it's mostly just a runaround. It's a very 1950s attempt at a type of story that the 2000 AD Dan Dare would have told much better.