Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury Review

Marooned on Mercury is the first Dan Dare story I ever read. I had a very mild interest in Dare after reading about its influence on Doctor Who, but I had never bothered to track it down. My father however had heard me talk about it and so he decided to buy me this story for Christmas last year and I was instantly hooked and have been collecting as many Dare stories as I can since then.

I wouldn’t say this is one of the best Dan Dare adventures. Its a great solid little story, but its not quite the classic that say Voyage to Venus is. Still it will always have a special place in my heart for introducing me to the world of the pilot of the future.

Synopsis

After a successful attack on the Red Moon, Dan Dare and his friends are presumed dead by Earth officials, but they have actually instead crashed landed on Mercury.

Now trapped on the planet, little does Dan know his archenemy the Mekon is also hiding there along with his army of Treens and is aware of his presence having monitored Dan’s ship crash from his base. 

Dan and his team, Digby, Professor Peabody, Sondar, and an Atlantean named Urb are captured by strange creatures who take them to their base. Dan and his team naturally are unable to communicate with the bizarre Mercurians.

The Mercurians toss Dan and his team into a massive pit one by one where they are attacked by a massive creature below. The creature forces them to follow the Mercurians whom it serves. Professor Peabody deduces that the creatures are in fact friendly and simply want to help them survive on this planet. She says that their best chance is to try and communicate with them somehow. Dan reluctantly agrees though he is still worried about Digby who was taken somewhere else by them.

The team are taken into a massive city where they are reunited with Digby. Digby explains to them that the Mercurians are friendly and have found a way for them to breath in their base without helmets on but not on the surface of the planet. Digby also warns them that the Treens are on the planet. He hasn’t found a way to communicate with them, but one of them has found a Treen badge.

Meanwhile the Mekon who has been monitoring Dan says that he must be captured at once before he can find a way to communicate with the Mercurians. He also demands they be captured alive as they are somehow vital for his plans to bring about the destruction of earth.

The Mercurians soon seal Dan and his friends in a room as the Treens approach. Dan realizes to his horror that the Mercurians for some reason are working with the Treens. The Treens enter but are overpowered by Dan and his team. Professor Peabody uses one of the Treens gas masks for Digby whilst Dan manages to escape in the Treens own spaceship along with Sondar.

Unfortunately in his haste to leave Professor Peabody is left behind whilst Digby and Urb are captured and taken to the Mekon. On top of that Dan discovers that he has walked right into the Mekons trap. The ship is programmed to take him back to his base. Fortunately however Dan almost forces the forces the ship to crash. This shows the Mekon that he would he would rather die than be his prisoner and as the Mekon wants Dan alive he is forced to hand control of the ship over to Dan. 

Professor Peabody manages to escape from the Treens meanwhile but soon comes into contact with the Mercurians again. Fortunately she not only manages to reason with them but also manages to find a way to communicate with them too being able to learn their language which is musical in nature.

She soon contacts Dan and he returns to see her and the Mercurians. Peabody tells Dan that the Mercurians are not in league with the Treens after all and that they have tied up the Treens who came to capture Dan and his team.

Peabody says that the Mercurians don’t have a high opinion of either the Mekon who has been on their planet for a while or of the human race and had hoped that they would both finish each other off explaining why they betrayed the humans earlier. She also says that the Mekon has enslaved a good deal of their population and is forcing them to ship much of their resources to his army as part of a master plan.

Whilst Dan and Peabody are talking the captured Treens manage to slip away. Dan wishes to go after them to prevent the Treens from reclaiming the rocket, but Peabody warns him it would be suicide as the Treens would be waiting for him at the exit with their paralyser rays.

She says that they instead should try and convince the Mercurians to help them. Dan reluctantly agrees. Peabody is able to convince the Mercurians to take them to the Mekons base using the back door where they will be safe from the Treens.

Unfortunately the Mekon who has been monitoring them knows they are coming and plans to lay a trap to capture all of them. Digby and Urb however manage to catch the Mekon off guard and pull him off his chair and then smash his monitor. Though the Treens quickly overpower them their actions buy time for Dare and his team.

The Mekon orders that Digby and Urb be put to death, but secretly tells his Treen guards not to harm them as he needs them both alive for his plan. He simply wants them experience fear.

Dan, Peabody and Sondar with the aid of the Mercurians manage to overpower several Treens but unfortunately Peabody becomes separated from Dan and Sondar. Dan and Sondar meanwhile discover the survivor of the Kingfisher a ship that was believed to have been destroyed during man’s first exploration of Venus.

The survivor is in fact the captain of the ship himself D’Arcy. Though D’Arcy is seemingly in the employ of the Mekon he denies working for the monster. He claims that the Treens he and others are working for here are refugees from the Mekon who are planning to overthrow him and save both Venus and earth.

The Treens soon capture Sondar and Dan and D’Arcy does nothing to help them believing that they are working for the Mekon instead. Meanwhile Peabody along with a Mercurian is able to sneak her way into the base. 

The Mekon attempts to trick Dan. He wants for some reason Dan and the rest of the earth men he has tricked into working here such as D’Arcy to return to earth. He tries to convince Digby and Urb to return to Dan and tell him that the Mekon is not on this planet and that they should leave. He tells them that he simply wants them to leave so as not to disrupt his plan here. Digby refuses to suspecting there is some reason he wants them to leave and so the Mekon decides to kill them by ejecting them to the planets surface. He will then have the Treen, Mistag that the men that D’Arcy  is a part of believe is in charge tell Dan that Digby and Urm were killed by fleeing onto the planets surface when they tried to escape before the Treens could explain to them that they meant them no harm.

Dan demands to see their remains as proof and Mistag agrees to take him to them as proof. Just as he is doing this the Mekon’s men prepare to push both Digby and Urb out of an air lock to their deaths. Fortunately Peabody and a Mercurian find and rescue them and alert both Dan and the other men there including D’Arcy that they are being tricked by the Mekon.

The team then escape into space using one of the Mekon’s own ships. The Mekon manages to trap them in space, though he is unable to bring the ship down without killing them. The Mekon orders that they surrender but Dan naturally refuses. The Mekon attempts to starve Dare into surrender as there is no food on board the ship.

Dan still doesn’t cave and whilst on the ship he is able to monitor what is happening below on Mercury. Peabody works out that the Treens have enslaved most of the Mercurians and are forcing them to harvest their own food source for the Treens. She tells Dare that this food source is a poison to everyone else. Dare realizes that this is why the Mekon wants him to fly this back to earth. Somehow he has found a way to weaponize the poison in this fruit. A Treen ship would never get to earth without being spotted and captured, so the Mekon wanted earthmen to fly it back to earth in an earth ship. He knew that no member of space fleet could be forced to take it back to earth or be willing to either. Thus he was trying to trick D’Arcy and later Dare into flying his weapon to the planet. 

Later the Mekon sends a squad of Treens to Dare and his team with food only giving them it if Dare swears to serve him. Urb however is able to defeat the Treens with the aid of a Mercurian named Samson and capture their ship. Dan then connects the Treen ship to his own and uses it to break free from the Mekons trap and lands on the planet below. 

On the ground Dan, Digby and Samson go alone to infiltrate the Mekons base believing they stand a better chance if there is only a few of them. Unfortunately they are soon captured. They are taken to a Treen named Garlok one of their leading scientists who has found a way to harness the poison as a gas. The Mekon plans to release it on earth where it will be so lethal it will destroy all life on the planet to the smallest insect. He also intends to use it to exterminate the Therons and reclaim Venus.

The Mekon manages to capture the rest of Dan’s team and threatens to use his virus on them unless Dare agrees to fly the virus over earth. Fortunately Dan manages to outsmart the Mekon by grabbing a sample of the virus which he threatens to break unless the Mekon lets his friends go. With no other choice the Mekon reluctantly agrees for now.

Dan attempts to contact earth to get reinforcements to Mercury as well as warn them that the Mekon is here. The people of earth are surprised to see that Dan is still alive. Unfortunately whilst they are talking the Mekon manages to teleport himself to safety. With the threat no longer applying, as the Mekon isn’t there and the Treen guards are happy to die for their cause.

Dan and Sondar still escape, though they are forced to surrender the virus. Dan along with Samson, Peabody, Digby, Urb and the rest manage to escape to the Mercurians main city where they try and convince them to fight against the Treens. Dan manages to sway the peaceful, placid creatures to fight just as the Treens are preparing to massacre them. The Mercurians fight back and manage to catch the Treens off guard holding them off long enough for Dan to create an explosion which destroys most of the Treen ships and cripples their army. With their main invasion force destroyed by Dare, the Treens are utterly defeated.

The Mekon manages to escape however with several of his Treens and destroys his base before Dan can apprehend him before Dan can apprehend him, vowing to return.

With the Mekon defeated and the Mercurians saved, Dan and his team are returned home and hailed as heroes for having saved humanity again.

Review

Marooned on Mercury suffers from having a somewhat similar premise to Voyage to Venus the first Dan Dare story. Like Voyage to Venus this adventure revolves around Dan trying to convince a group of peaceful but ultimately useless aliens to fight against the Treens.

Having said that though I think its handled much better here. In Voyage to Venus Dan has a few words with Volstar leader of the Therons and then that’s it. Dan manages to convince him to change the way his people have lived for thousands of years in a matter of seconds. Here however even after a big rousing speech Dan fails to really convince the Mercurians and its only when the Treens attack that they realize the reality of the situation, that the Treens are not simply going to enslave them but slaughter them.

The story has many other strong points too that I think help it rise to the level of a minor classic. Its may be not quite on the level of Voyage to Venus, and it may in some ways be derivative of it, but there is a lot to enjoy here.

To start with Professor Peabody is excellent in this story. Its quite incredible really how progressive this character is for a 1952 comic.

She at no point is presented as being the most vulnerable member of the crew because she is a woman. She is cunning, resourceful and throughout this story she is arguably the most vital member of the crew above even Dare himself. Without her the crew would never have been able to communicate with the Mercurians and also without her Digby and Urb would have been killed and Dan most likely would have fallen for the Mekon’s scheme. There are so many moments where she has to survive on her own without any other characters and throughout pretty much all of the story her solutions are presented as being the correct ones above even Dare’s. Really whilst Dare might be the charismatic leader, Peabody is the brains behind the operation.

Of course at the same time Dan is not undermined as he is still the main character and is ultimately the one who brings down the Treens. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to undermine the main character whether they are male or female simply because well if the focus is on the side character then its their story not the main hero’s.

Fortunately here they are able to give Peabody enough to do whilst still making Dan the hero.

I was very surprised the first time I read this story to see a female character like Peabody. I expected given when it was written almost the 40’s for  any women in it to be damsels in distress with massive breasts, fawning over the male hero and getting captured every two minutes by the villain.

To see Peabody, a non sexualized female character who was a scientist that the male hero respected as an equal, who the other characters came to for advice and who came up with the solutions to many of the problems in the story was very surprising. Even today sadly I think there are few female characters like that never mind in 1952.

The Treens are also used brilliantly here. They are shown to be manipulative, amoral and vicious. There are some very disturbing moments when we see them experimenting on the Mercurians. Garlok is a great Josef Mengele type of villain.

The Mekon however I don’t think is given quite as much to do here, but he still gets some wonderfully vicious lines of dialogue. I think the Mekon is shown to be more sadistic in this story as seen in his torture of Digby.

The Mercurians are brilliant creations. They are interesting idea, particularly in the odd way they communicate, but their design is really quite special. Sadly though none of their characters are really that well developed. Again in terms of characterisation they are something of a retread of the Therons.

The story is pretty straight forward though there are some nice twists along the way, such as finding out the members of the Kingfisher have survived. It also moves a long at a nice pace too. There’s never a dull moment.

Overall whilst I wouldn’t say this is one of the all time best Dan Dare stories, its still a great solid adventure overall. It was my first Dan Dare story and managed to captivate me despite some heavy continuity references to Voyage to Venus and the preceding story. Ultimately it was exciting enough to not only still keep my interest but draw me into the world of Dan Dare and make me want to find out more.

Notes/Trivia

  • This strip ran from the 27th June in 1952 to the 20th February in 1953.
  • This is the second appearance of the Mekon in Dan Dare.
  • This is the third Dan Dare story.
  • It is never explained how the Mekon survived his apparent death at the end of Voyage to Venus.

 

 

 

 

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