(2005) Frank Hampson, Titan Books, £14.99, hrdbk, 96pp, Part 1 ISBN 1-84023-809-7, Part 2 ISBN 1-845-76088-3
These are the fifth and sixth volumes respectively of Titan's current series of large format hardback reprints of the classic Dan Dare space opera adventures from the Eagle comic. "Operation Saturn" ran from vol.3 no.47 (27/2/1953) to vol.5 no.21 (21/5/'54). One of the pleasures of seeing these old strips is, for instance, stumbling across the seven weeks of covers from the beginning of May 1953 showing Eagle celebrating the coronation, with the 19/5/'53 issue being designated 'Special Coronation Number' flanked by a pair of Union Jacks. Before my time of course! Or the Christmas covers - 24/12/'53, near the climax of the story takes time out to allow Digby to explain Christmas to ally Nikki (a Saturnian) while on Earth Sir Hubert Guest dresses up as Santa Claus for the men. You just feel all your cynicism draining away when you read this stuff. Britain really should have claimed the stars... We'd have made a much more stylish job of it than the rebel colonists! But back to the books: Part 1 contains, in addition to the main story, a very brief intro by Philip (His Dark Materials) Pullman, the fourth and concluding part of the exhaustive interview of Frank Hampson by Alan Vince, extended character bios from the Dan Dare Spaceship Press-Out Book by Wallis Rigby, and an 8-page back-up Dan Dare strip, "Double Headed-Eagle", as well as the usual checklist. Part 2 has an article, 'How Dan Dare Got There... Eventually', by Steve Holland, a page from Frank's sketchbook, and two 8-page back-ups, "Operation Triceratops" and "The Planulid".
In "Operation Saturn" mysterious robotic probes, known as 'black cats', instigate a series of attacks both on Earth and in space. By chance their flight plan has been discovered and it seems certain that the objects are originating from Saturn. The Interplanet Space Fleet must develop powerful new engines using the experimental fuel MH (monatomik hydrogen) invented by genius Dr. Blasco. Zooming across the solar system Dan and his crew discover the Nine Moons of Saturnia are ruled by the High Lords of Titan, who themselves worship a being called Vora. Vora is 'the last of the great ones who came from outer space' and it is his superior technology that enabled the Saturnians to make the 'black cats'. And Vora has a human ally, the traitorous Dr. Blasco, who aims to become the Emperor of Earth! But help may be at hand in the shape of a band of pirates from Mimas who plan a rebellion on Titan. Can Dan help overthrow the villainous Vora and defeat the plans of Blasco and, even if he helps liberate Saturnia, will he be in time to save the Earth from an invasion by 2 million 'black cats'? Thrills never got more thrilling than this if you were a small child in the Fifties. Atomic power, space battles, robots and aliens, atmospheres so thick you could swim in them as well as breathe them, teleportation (eat your heart out Star Trek!), gladiatorial games with prehistoric monsters, and peril, danger and excitement. A Saturday morning cinema treat in the form of two pages every week! Recommended to anyone who still has an ounce of optimism left.
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