Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dan Dare: The Phantom Fleet

The latest Dan Dare volume from Titan Books continues a run of stories that are amongst my favourites from the series. When The Phantom Fleet was appearing (April to December 1958), Frank Hampson was working at the top of his game. His main assistant on the finished artwork was Don Harley, who had joined Hampson's studio in 1951 and had, in the years since, become the main artist of finished boards, based on Hampson's visuals.

It's great to see Harley recognised on the recent run of Titan's Dare reprints. His name appears on the front cover just below that of Hampson, a recognition of his contribution to the Dare saga that is long overdue. Harley would be the first to admit that Frank worked harder than anyone on the strip—a recent reminiscence in Spaceship Away saw Harley recall that he never saw Frank producing his visuals for the strip from which he concluded that Frank could only have drawn them after all the other artists had left for the evening. But Harley, too, was working six days a week with only the occasional holiday.

The story begins with Dan aboard the lunabus, a passenger vessel launched from the Moon. Shortly after launch, all communications are cut off, forcing the ship to turn back. Dan and Digby return to Earth aboard the Anastasia, only to discover that Sir Hubert and the crew testing a new deep space liner, the Gargantua, are also incommunicado. Digby's sighting of a strange, alien craft holds the clue to the mystery.

Sent to search for the missing ship, Dan, Digby and crew are captured by a fleet of alien ships and learn from Sir Hubert, also a prisoner, that the fleet belong to the Cosmobes, a race of aquatic creatures escaping their doomed planet and searching for new planets to colonise. The Cosmobes are, in fact, a friendly race looking to share their knowledge in exchange for establishing a colony in Earth's oceans. A peaceful resolution is being negotiated... but the problems for Dan and co. are far from over. A second race are heading Earthward from the doomed planet I-Cos, the Pescods—and they're far from friendly!

The book delivers everything that's good about the old Dan Dare strip: an intriguing story and great art. Hampson's Dare has yet to be equalled by any modern incarnation or reimagining and Titan's collections have given a new audience the opportunity to enjoy these old strips in all their colourful glory.

Dan Dare: The Phantom Fleet. Titan Books ISBN 978-1848561274, 27 March 2009.

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