Dan Dare
Dan Dare: Red Moon Mystery
Medium: comic
Year: 1951
Keywords: Dan Dare, SF
Writer: Frank Hampson
Artist: Frank Hampson, Eric Eden, Don Harley, Harold Johns, Greta Tomlinson
Country: UK
Format: 38 two-page episodes, The Eagle Vol.2 #26 to Vol.3 #11
Website category: Comics
Review date: 26 April 2021
dan dare
It's remarkable. It's a Big Dumb Object story, without a baddie. That's already unusual for a comic strip, but what's more they tell that story really well.
The red moon was last sighted 200,000 years ago, above Mars. All life on that planet was extinguished. (It's never explained why it didn't also devour Earth back then.) Dan's hairy archeologist Uncle Ivor is on Mars right now, investigating the mystery with the help of his considerable ego... which is lucky, because the red moon's back.
"What could kill an entire planet and leave no trace?"
Dan helps with the investigation, but pretty soon he's yanked off that by Sir Hubert to organise Mars's evacuation. There are only 1300 people on the planet, but even so that's too many for the available ships. There's a chilling realism to our heroes' discussion of this, reminding you once again how little time had passed since WW2. Dan casually delivers the death sentences, including his own. "Captain has to be last off a sinking ship, y'know, and I am senior dog here."
Yow. That was strong. The gang crack jokes about it.
There are riots on Earth. Voyage to Venus had already impressed me with its willingness to cut away from the action for an episode about current events back on Earth, but this takes that to another level. The human race contains some utter dicks. (The first of those is uncomfortably close to being some kind of foreign stereotype, but later we meet an even more over-the-top British Empire blowhard. "The Empire's going to the dogs..." In other respects, though, this is a fantasy idealist's 1950s view of 1999, e.g. "all super-explosives were completely dismantled after the final peace congress in '65.")
There's exciting action. There's proper science in the explanation of the red moon, which blew my mind. I've been programmed to expect all SF explanations to be horse manure, but this goes into proper astrophysics, electromagnetics and spectrography. (We can forgive 1950s moments like a tidal wave coming up the Martian canals.) Also, above all, Peabody is the greatest. The solar system would have been a grease stain if it weren't for that woman. At the end, she even opens up the gender wars.
I found myself being surprised by Dan himself. He's... human. He's quite flippant. "You old green horror." He's still a straight-arrow hero, of course, but he's also a more interesting person than you'd think.
The painted art's still lavish, but all my comments from last time still apply. I love Dan's face, with those eyebrows, but there's the occasional panel where he's a refugee from Thunderbirds.
I had an odd experience with Vol.3 #2. The front cover page is a montage of Eastern reactions to the red moon, including speech balloons in different languages. One of those is Japanese... but it's different to the kind of Japanese you see in manga. I couldn't identify the second kanji, so I called over Tomoko and was told that I was conflating two characters. The "i" of "akai" (red) had been written so small and scratchily that it looked as if it was part of "tsuki" (moon). Apparently this is completely okay and it's my own fault for being insufficiently familiar with handwritten Japanese. Mind you, that "tsuki" has been written in a way that could, potentially, be confused with a shorthand form of "kaze".
This is a big, epic, rather abstract story of a kind that's not a natural fit for comics... and they nail it. Having wiped out Mars 200,000 years ago creates storytelling weight. We don't just get an apocalypse, though, but also the world's eccentric reactions to it. Dan and the gang are impressive, especially the mighty Peabody. It's really good.