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Dan Dare: The Phantom Fleet by Frank Hampson and Don Harley

01/06/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Dan Dare The Phantom Fleet in the USA - or Buy Dan Dare The Phantom Fleet in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 96 page graphic novel. Price: 16.99 (UK), $22.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84856-127-4.

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Deep breath, chums. Dan Dare is back after a two year hiatus and is looking good in 'The Phantom Fleet' together with a Christmas story, 'Operation Plum Pudding', giving us a reminder of quality British comics from the late 1950s.

Things are also dire, not just for Dan Dare but for any spaceships when something is blocking off radio transmissions. Not only can no one communicate but it also blocks off all navigational aid. Dan and Digby are stuck on a new moonship's maiden flight and Sir Hubert Guest and a bunch of VIPs on a new spaceliner.

The rescue of them by Dan and Digby encounters a water-based species called the Cosmobes, who migrating from their own dying planet, just want to leave a colony on Earth before moving on. Following in their rocket trail is another amphibious species, the Pescods, who carry a deadly red menacing weapon that rusts through any metal in a trice. They, too, want to colonise the Earth but aren't going to stop and play nice with the land-dwellers because they want the whole planet.

Frank Hampson's art for much of this story is colourful and opulent and the panoramic views of the spaceships are breath-taking but it's also obvious that the work was taking time and Don Harley completes the end of the story to stay within deadline. I remember reading a story using the Cosmobes in reprint back in the 60s so it was great to read about how they first appeared. In some ways, Dan and his team are on a hiding to nothing here because they have no serious weapons that they can stop the Pescods with. Ultimately, mother nature takes its course instead.

'Operation Plum Pudding' is more along the lines of British tradition in doing a Christmas story. As it's also a complete length and not listed in the Eagle Checklist at the back of the book was probably in an Eagle Annual. Dan and Digby are co-opted at short notice to take Christmas supplies to one of the space stations only the duo run foul of a couple escaped convicts.

Added to all of this is an introduction by Jeff Wayne, the composer of 'The War Of The Worlds' album and a complete history of that great artist Frank Bellamy who took over for a year when Frank Hampson resigned. Paul Holder's article points out that Bellamy never caught Dan's likeness well and Don Harley consequently did the alterations.

The checklist mentions 'The Ship Who Lived' but hasn't been released in this collection yet.

The Dan Dare books harken to the 1997 (it was a long way from the 1950s) of a British Empire still running things. If you want to see what made 'The Eagle' comic popular then start with this volume and work your way back to the rest.

GF Willmetts

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