Dan Dare
Dan Dare: The Phantom Fleet
Medium: comic
Year: 1958
Keywords: Dan Dare, SF
Writer: Frank Hampson, Alan Stranks
Artist: Frank Hampson, Eric Eden, Don Harley, Desmond Walduck
Country: UK
Format: 37 two-page episodes, The Eagle Vol.9 #17-52
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 7 June 2021
dan dare
It's one of Dan Dare's less popular strips, having much less action than usual. Even the editor, Marcus Morris, found it sub-par and made Hampson cut it short. The result is an unintentionally hilarious ending.
I enjoyed it. I think it's one of the more interesting Dan Dare serials.
It starts with a spacefleet base on the moon and Dan doing flight inspections. I love it when Dan gets lumbered with the unglamorous side of his job.
"Was the take-off all right, Colonel Dare, sir?"
"You know jolly well it was. I don't need to inspect YOU! It's just routine!"
There's some wonderful design work for the lunar base and the moon-jeep. Look at Vol.9 No.18. I'd love to revisit that bubble world, which also visually reflects the aquatic aliens we're about to meet. This starts with a weird spaceship and continues with all lunar communications being jammed.
I love the way the story leads us through to the alien encounter. They're wrapped in layers of mystery for the story to peel away.
Some aliens want to colonise Earth? Yeah, yeah, more of the usual... but these are aquatic aliens. The obvious response (albeit directly articulated by no one) is "sure, which ocean would you like?" The Earth is 71% water. Humans hardly using any of it. You could hide entire civilisations at the bottom of the Pacific without anyone noticing. The government debates all this terribly seriously and there's a dick who keeps insisting that the only safe option is extermination, but I was just laughing at them. I mean, seriously. Come off it. What's more, Mr Dick goes on being dickish even when after the aliens have been revealed to be tiny, cute and only planning to "invade" with one ship.
Admittedly, the Earth had just endured ten years of Mekon domination and so has earned the right to some paranoia... but no one mentions that.
The bigots lose the argument, with Dan and Peabody insisting that Earth shouldn't turn away refugees. I celebrated. We then learn about a rival fleet of Evil Aquatic Aliens with a superweapon that can only be resisted with the help of the good ones. A planet of Mr Dicks would now be dead. One of the baddies' ships comes down in Death Valley and the gang try to enter it. This is mildly surreal in itself, trying to break into a water-filled spaceship in one of the hottest, driest places on Earth.
That's the good stuff. Now for the less good.
Firstly, there's yet more of Flamer Spry and Stripey. (Alan Stranks's original story plan gave Professor Peabody a major role from the start, but Hampson replaced her with the child and the cute alien animal.) I don't mind the characters as such, but they wreck the series's credibility. The first Dan Dare stories were surprisingly realistic military stories, by people with first-hand experience of war, duty and death. Flamer Spry and Stripey turn the series into Scooby Doo. (What's more, every so often, the scripts semi-acknowledge this. "Colonel Dan will skin me alive for bringing these two crazy mascots along!" Oh, if only.)
Next is the silver bullet against the baddies' superweapon. It's rubber. This is hilarious, although unfortunately we're spared a gimp-suited Sir Hubert, Professor Peabody, etc.
Then, finally, comes the finale. The baddies dig down into the ocean bed... at Krakatoa. BOOM. I laughed and laughed. Didn't have to lift a finger for that victory, did you, Dan?
Your reaction to this story might depend on your opinion of alien immigrants. Mr Dick makes some valid points. Earth can't guarantee the aliens' good intentions and no one knows what kind of diseases, superweapons or unstoppable alien technology they might have. On the other hand, though, he's wrong in his risk assessments and ideas of "safe" vs. "dangerous". I enjoyed this one a lot, despite... no, partly because of the TV Comic-isms in the plotting.