Fiction Reviews

Dan Dare: The Evil One

(2019) Dave Motton and Keith Watson, Titan,
£35.99 / Can$50.99 / US$39.99, hrdbk, 160pp, ISBN 978-1-785-86293-9


Dan Dare was the protagonist of the comic strip Dan Dare in the weekly Eagle (original incarnation 1950 – 1967).  The stories were then (mid-20th century) set at the end of that century in the 1990s.  It was one of the futures we SF aficionados of a certain age (typically those of us born between 1940 and 1958) were inspired by but never got to see.  (Other such stimulating non-futures in SF include that of the 21st century in various Gerry Anderson TV series and spin-off comic strips: there have been a few.)

I have recounted the writing and artist history of Dan Dare elsewhere and so will not again here.  However, as a character he could be considered as a gung-ho World War II British pilot who instead of flying Spitfires, flew spacecraft.

Back then in the 1950s and '60s we knew much less about the Solar System than we do today: Mars was thought to have an atmosphere 10% as dense as that of Earth's (see Clarke's The Sands of Mars (1951)) and Mercury was thought to have one side permanently facing the Sun, so potentially having a nearly habitable strip bordering the scorching day side and freezing night hemispheres.  The strip's creator, Frank Hampson, went to some length to try to ensure that the Dan Dare strip was scientifically plausible and early on for a while had one Arthur C. Clarke as a consultant so as to get the series onto the right track; the early stories even had brief explanations as to how airlocks and orbits worked.

Manqunian, Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare (called either Dan or Colonel Dare) and his slightly rotund, Wigan-born Yorkshire sidekick, Albert Fitzwilliam Digby (known simply as Digby), were sent on missions by the Controller of the (Earth) Space Fleet, Sir Hubert Guest (based of Hampson's father) which operated out of Britain.  There were other regular characters during creator Hampson tenure drawing the original run of strips.

However, apart from Digby and Dan himself, these support characters were dropped when Hampson left the Eagle and a smaller, new support cast introduced.

Now, the previous, mostly Hampson-led, colour era stories have, fortunately, already been reprinted and collected into graphic anthologies a few times over the years.  But though the writer David Motton and artist Keith Watson, largely black-and white, era (1962 – '66) was the longest, post-Hampson, Dan Dare creative run until the original Eagle's final year (1969), their stories have never been reprinted let alone collected into a graphic anthology.  Until, that is, now.  Dan Dare: The Evil One anthology covers the first half of this Motton and Watson period that followed the strip's creator, Hampson's, glory days..

The stories in this volume are:-

Operation Earth-Saver.  Seemingly coincidentally, following the launch of a cosmic ray research satellite, plants in various places on the Earth start growing super-fast to a tremendous size.  Dan and Digby investigate…

Here, those with a near encyclopaedic knowledge of British SF comics of the latter half of the 20th century might find this vaguely reminiscent of a subsequent (1965) Fireball XL5 story drawn by Mike Noble in TV Century 21 and written by Alan Fennell called 'The Giant Ant Invasion' (reprinted and collected here).  Though there are key differences, there are unmistaken similarities: life forms quickly becoming very large, stimulated by a ray from an orbiting craft, with a space pilot and his cohorts saving the day.  It is impossible to say whether or not this Dare story influenced the Fireball XL5 one.  Certainly those in Britain's SF comics business would have read their contemporaries' working on other titles, and even other publishing houses, work but also here Keith Watson went on to work for TV Century 21 following his time with the Eagle.  But it is interesting to see how SF tropes are used in different ways. Here, in addition to the Fireball XL5 changing scale/size story, giant ants were the sense-of-wonder aspect of the film Them (1953), a reducing human in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) based on the Richard Matheson novel (1956), the reverse in The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), and giant vegetables and farm animals in Mysterious Island (1961) based on the Jules Verne (1875) novel among many other examples. Changing scale stories are therefore a well established SF trope so it is not that unsurprising that there was a Dan Dare story employing this SF plot device in 1963.

The Evil One.  An alien criminal is chased into the Solar System by alien authorities who seek to capture him regardless of the cost to Earth… Again an SF plot that has been used time and again from the Jeff Hawke story 'Sanctuary' to the Star Trek, 'Let that be Your Last Battlefield'.

Operation Fireball.  A cargo ship returning to Earth explodes falling to Earth as a fireball that simply will not go out but make its way across the surface destroying all in its path…

The Web of Fear.  A young cadet on a solo flight crashes returning to Earth. Shortly after a cloud of white floss descends that seems to dissolve animals and plants. And then the giant spiders emerge…

Operation Dark Star.  Radio astronomy detects a 'dark star' and a planet orbiting it…

Publisher's Titan are going to produce a second, final volume of Keith Watson and Dave Motton Dan Dare adventures.  Both these volumes are in the style of the previous Titan, Frank Hampson era, Dan Dare stories (such as Operation Saturn' and 'Marooned on Mercury').  All of these make for a near-complete run of the original Eagle Dan Dare stories that sit neatly side-by-side on the bookshelf.  A must for Dare fans and enthusiasts of 20th century, British SF comics.  Classic stuff.

Jonathan Cowie

See other Dan Dare reviews on this site including:-
          Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury
          Dan Dare: Operation Saturn
          Dan Dare: Prisoners of Space
          Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus pt.1.
          The Man From Nowhere
          Dan Dare


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