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Dan Dare - Pilot Of The Future volume 6: The Singing Scourge
David Motton and Keith Watson
D.S. Publications (phone: +44 01793-521219) £35.75

review by Andrew Darlington

"The armoured centipedes stamped across the Volkian plain, the terrifying Scourge whined from the city walls... the air screamed as radiation bombarded its tortured molecules, dust peeled from the wall and its atomic structure screeched like flinty chalk across a blackboard..." As Digby would phrase it, across 27 lightyears of space, the insurrection of the peaceful Trons of Lapri against the four-armed fascistic Vendals from war-devastated Volk was escalating into "a reet scrap."

It's weird, 2000 AD has been delivering weekly thrill-power now since 1977, taking its most celebrated antihero Judge Dredd, into his third decade of consistently innovative excellence. Dan Dare, the only UK picture-strip character of comparative stature, was never quite that lucky. Within 15 years of his spectacular launch as the full-colour cover story of Eagle his status was seriously under threat. By 1965, sales of your six pennies (rising to 7d) Eagle & Boys World as it had become, were spiralling ever-downwards, in a general comics-environment of decline, its golden age prestige little more than memory. As part of its quest for a winning revamp, for a year Dan Dare was even relegated to a series of interior black and white pages, before being shunted around formats, for a while splashed across the centre-pages, before briefly returning to a mix of colour cover and monochrome interiors. This was the main factor determining that when Hawk Books ran their laudable large-format reprint series they neglected this later phase due to its mixed-format reproduction problems. Until now, with Desmond Shaw's project offering valuable opportunities to fill in those irritating gaps in your collection. By the time of The Singing Scourge - 24th July 1965 to 5th February 1966, eye-grabbing Eagle splash-covers were taken up with a militaristic Arms Through The Ages docu-series. While inside there was the ambitiously impressive gladiator epic Heros The Spartan utilising a frame from Rank's The Fall Of The Roman Empire for its title-panel, there were espionage thrills with The Iron Man - "a wonderful robot stronger than a hundred men, with a fantastic mechanical brain," Fidosaurus, The Prehistoric Pooch, plus the modestly amusing exploits of dreamy fourth-former Cornelius Dimworthy, while a text-serial featuring Anthony Buckeridge's 'Jennings' and the continuing sectional cutaway techno-series strove to maintain some vestige of the magazine's traditional quality aspirations.

Dan himself was now being illuminated by Keith Watson's blocky colour art, producing some awesomely alien planet-scapes. Keith had famously started out as a junior member of Frank Hampson's original studio team, before taking over art duties for rival space hero Captain Condor in Lion. When he returned to Dare duties, it was to perform the task single-handed. Around the same time - although uncredited here, scripter David Motton was drafted in to devise and write the storylines. He'd already proved his worth by helming Jet-Ace Logan across the Solar system in Comet, now his resourceful invention shoves Dare into a minor period of renaissance often unfairly neglected by comic-strip academics. This 'space saga' begins "Vega is a blue star of the first magnitude. It is one of our Sun's nearest neighbours, but is still too far distant for its planets to be observed from Earth. But our astronomers did once observe a strange outburst of radiation from near Volk - one of its planets. They couldn't even guess its cause, nor did they know about the sinister capsule that crashed down to the planet shortly afterwards..." but "this single event in itself was to cause empires to crumble, to inflict war, fear and famine..." Naturally, Dan Dare and his team are sent to investigate in their space/time-ship Tempus Frangit, only to find themselves fulfilling an ancient Tron prophecy of "disaster and deliverance coming from the sky." The 'disaster' being the vile Vendal neutron-bombardment weapon named the Singing Scourge (which operates on a "self-reversing nuclear-mutation" power-source). And 'deliverance' coming with the arrival of Dan himself as liberator...

The Singing Scourge might not have a revelatory high-concept theme such as the floating continent of Operation Time-Trap (volume 2) or the fantastic bubble-realm Dan visits in The Wandering World (volume 3) - all devised by the same team, but its egg-shaped gravity-distorted Vega-system double-planet is the kind of astrophysical anomaly that Jean-Luc Picard's starship Enterprise might consider well worth investigation. And the tale that plunges Dan, his faithful batman Digby, handlebar-moustached Colonel Wilf Banger and black American radio-astronomer John F. Smith into the planetary war between conjoined worlds is as solid as they come. In 1966, despite the changes taking place in the comics' world around him, the Dare mission remains in safe creative hands. And will stay that way, at least for another year, or so...
Dan Dare - Singing Scourge

By heck, Danny boyo!

air-taxi for spacemen

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