Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Comics Page #21: Dan Dare: The Red Moon Mystery

Red Moon Mystery cover and Amazon link
Seeing as I’ve looked at Garth Ennis’ solid DAN DARE revival recently, it only makes sense that I should also go to the original. Titan Books has released several collections of Dan’s adventures in the beloved UK comics weekly EAGLE, and I’ll go through a couple. Because I found both at random we start with the second volume; “The Red Moon Mystery” was my introduction to the character, and a fine one it is. Written and drawn mostly by Frank Hampson and his studio, the second major Dan Dare arc is a classic old-school sci-fi tale which mixes over-the-top space opera with some rather intriguing scientific concepts.
Dan Dare is visiting his uncle Ivor, a famous archaeologist investigating the ruins of the dead planet Mars. Ivor has discovered writings of the inhabitants’ last days, warning of a red moon which approached the planet and somehow wiped out all life on the planet in less than a week. No sooner has this discovery been made than a red moon appears in the solar system, heading towards Earth in a way that makes it appear that it’s being steered by some intelligence. It falls to Dare, his pal Digby, the lovely and brilliant Prof. Peabody, and others to unravel the mystery of this celestial menace while protecting the people in its path, including the colonists of Mars.

Obviously I’m not going to disclose the secret of what the moon is, suffice it to say it’s a downright clever concept grounded in reasonably plausible science. There’s no true antagonist character here, though mutineers among the evacuees provide a bit of extra conflict; it’s mostly a disaster story, with epic scenes of destruction and tempestuous storms aplenty. The pacing on this arc is excellent; there’s always a sense of forward momentum because the Red Moon simply keeps moving closer, bringing chaos with it.

The art isn’t reproduced as well as it could be, but it’s remarkably well-detailed and has an interesting use of color; British and European comics weren’t quite as restricted by printing techniques as their US counterparts, and the deep shades used here add to the story’s atmosphere. The future technology is rendered with great dedication, the character designs (with sketches often being based on poses by people in the studio) are all memorable, and I was particularly struck by the surrealistic vistas of the moon’s surface.

The ending of this story drags on a bit as a way of leading into the next major plot arc, but it’s still suspenseful up to that point. People wanting to get into the classic Dan Dare adventures will likely want to start at the beginning, but if like me you chance across this particular volume, it’s a great introduction. It’s pulp sci-fi done with intelligence and polish, and a certain bit of class.

Grade: A-

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