Voyage to Venus is the original Dan Dare story and in my opinion one of the greatest works in the comic book medium of all time.
It is the codifier for many iconic tropes in science fiction and it’s influence in so many areas of British popular culture can not be stated enough.
The year is 1996. Most of the earth’s problems have been solved. There is world peace, all people’s of the earth are treated as equals, inequalities of all kind have been abolished, poverty is gone and all diseases have been cured.
Humanity is for all intents and purposes living in a golden age. One problem however still persists, famine. The “golden age” has seen a rise in the population and the earth simply doesn’t have the resources to feed its ever expanding population.
Space Fleet decides to investigate Venus to see if it may be possible to harness food supplies on this planet. Several space ships are sent to the planet but all are destroyed.
Something on the planet doesn’t want them getting there, and spacefleet is on the verge of giving up until Captain Dan the finest pilot in Space Fleet is able to devise a solution to the problem.
Dan realizes that the reason the ships aren’t making it to Venus is because of the way current space crafts are designed. They work using an impulse engine which a field around Venus causes to explode. Dan proposes that the rockets to Venus need to use actual fuel which the forcefield wont affect.
Dan decides to lead this expedition and his team is made up of his batman Digby, Professor Joecyln Peabody a highly respected scientist and experienced space pilot in her own right, Sir Hubert a mentor figure to Dan and two other experienced members of spacefleet Hank and Pierre.
The team head to Venus in 3 different rockets. Whilst Dan’s theory is correct unfortunately he overlooks the fact that the radios still work by impulse and thus the Venusian forcefield affects it and causes it to explode.
Dan, Digby, Peabody and Sir Hubert’s ships are affected whilst Hank and Pierre wisely stay behind. Peabody meanwhile taking over from Sir Hubert is able to land her and Sir Hubert’s ship and prevent it from being destroyed, though unfortunately she also lands it in the middle of a large silicon lake.
Dan and Digby meanwhile crash in a lake, but are soon attacked by gigantic undersea reptiles. After barely escaping them they soon stumble upon a group of hostile, primitive blue skinned humanoids. These humanoids they discover are in fact servants of a race of highly advanced yet hostile and emotionless reptile men called the Treens.
The Treens capture Dan and Digby and tell them that the blue people were once human beings who were captured by the Treens many centuries ago and have been kept as a workforce as well as lab rats for their experiments ever since. Apparently the Treens have visited earth in its past many times. This is also how the Treens know the humans language too.
The Treens tell Dan and Digby that they want them for their experiments too and they have a great plan in mind for earth. They intend to invade it and turn humanity into a slave force to help them in their conquest of other planets across the galaxy.. They also serve a creature known as the Mekon who wishes to conquer other worlds and even whole galaxies simply for his own scientific research. The Treens also regard all other life forms as inferior to them too.
Peabody and Sir Hubert meanwhile are trapped in their ship and unable to take off due to the ship being damaged. They are also soon attacked by a large monster that lives within the molten lake called the Silicon Mass which can devour anything.
The Treens being aware that there are more humans on Venus through their scanners set out to capture Peabody and Sir Hubert simply to use them in their final experiment. They send one of their number called Sondar and Dan and Digby to rescue them.
Though Sondar, Dan and Digby are successful in rescuing Peabody and Sir Hubert the Silicon Mass manages to attack Sondar’s ship. Dan is able to fight the beast off however and in the ensuing struggle Sondar is overpowered.
Sondar subsequently considers himself defective having shown fear an emotion during the silicon mass’s attack.
Dan, Digby, Peabody and Sir Hubert soon head into the Jungle’s of Venus. There Peabody is able to analyse the food and discovers that it can be ingested by humans. She also claims that if used properly the soil here could be used to grow food for millions of people starving back home. Thus the famine problem is solved, its now just simply a problem of getting the food back to humanity.
The Treens soon track them down and a fight ensues. Dan, Peabody, Hubert, and Digby fight the Treens with their paralyser rays. Unfortunately during the fight Hubert shoots Dan by accident and he falls into a river below.
Hubert, Digby, Sondar and Peabody are soon overwhelmed by the Treens due to their superior numbers.
All 3 are soon shipped back to the Treens city Mekonta where they come face to face with the Mekon.
The Mekon reveals to them that his fleet is almost ready to invade the earth and conquer humanity, but that he wants to run a few final tests on them first. As they are not docile and domesticated like the pet humans he keeps. He wants using these earth humans to test how strong and resilient they are and so he plans to both experiment on and brutally torture them all, possibly to death to test the limits of human endurance. He also plans to fix Sondar’s defective brain for showing emotion
Dan meanwhile luckily is washed near another city where he meets its inhabitants called the Therons. The Therons are brown skinned, blonde haired humans who are peaceful by nature. They contacted Pierre and Hank who are now among them and welcome Dan.
The Therons explain the history of their planet to Dan. The Treens and the Therons two kingdoms are separated from one another by a flame belt. The Therons are similar to human beings having evolved from Mammal like life forms, whilst the Treens evolved from reptiles.
The Therons were highly advanced whilst the Treens were savage warlike creatures who very nearly wiped each other as well as many of the reptiles they lived with out in their wars.
When the Therons visited them they tried to civilize them. They did not conquer them they merely tried to help the Treens by supplying them with advanced technology that they hoped could sort their problems.
Sadly the Treens took advantage of them. After getting all they could from the Therons the Treens attacked and slaughtered their forces that had arrived on their side of the planet and stole their equipment. Though the rest of the Therons were able to survive in their own side of Venus protected by the flame belt the Treens used their technology to slowly advance themselves.
The Therons later visited earth and attempted to help humanity. Hoping perhaps to make up for what had happened with the Treens they visited the mightiest civilisation on earth. Atlantis!
Unfortunately the Treens followed the Therons to earth and began attacking the Atlantines. Hoping to conquer the whole planet earth, they slaughtered many people and shipped other humans back to Venus where they treated them brutally in order to break their will and make them their servants. The Therons though not used to war and suffering many casualties themselves still nevertheless managed to drive the monsters off the earth due to their more advanced technology.
Unfortunately the humans having grown distrustful of all visitors due to the Treens attacked the Therons too. During one such attack they caused one of their machines to explode by tampering with it and not knowing what it was. The explosion destroyed Atlantis completely and set back human development for thousands of years.
The Treens and the Therons would continue to war with one another for many centuries after this until they eventually formed a truce.
The humans that the Treens had taken from Atlantis meanwhile and their descendants would continue to serve as a slave labour force for the Treens.
They were subjugated to extreme cruelty by the Treens who also performed horrific experiments on them which changed their biology from ordinary human beings. The Treens human slaves have blue skins and large bumps on their foreheads. The Therons call them Atlantines.
The Therons refused after their war with the Treens to ever get involved in dealing with them or any other races ever again and forsake all forms of conflict.
Dan however is able to convince them to help him not only save his friends from the Treens but prevent them from invading the earth and they soon make plans to help him infiltrate the Treens city. Though their two kingdoms are separated by the flame belt the cavern Dan came through is a secret entrance linking the two cities which he can use to enter.
Even then however the Treen city is so heavily guarded that Dan is forced to disguise himself as an Atlantine using Theron technology. He also has to face many of the monsters that live in the underground cavern between the two cities including a giant sea serpent and a triceratops like creature.
Meanwhile in the Treen city Dan’s friends are subject to horrific torture, experimentation, humiliation and degradation at the hands of the Mekon and his Treen scientists, all in an effort to see how much they can endure.
Hank and Pierre plan to leave Venus to warn earth, but unfortunately they are soon spotted by Treen interceptors. Realizing that the Therons must have helped them the Mekon calls an end to their truce and prepares to not simply conquer them but destroy the Therons once and for all.
Dan meanwhile after having made his way past the monsters in the lake and the other hostile reptiles in the Treen jungle’s finds an Atlantine camp.
When he tries to rally them against their Treen masters they turn on him and very nearly kill him until they see he lacks the giant forehead that the Atlantines have. The Atlantines believe him to be a figure from their mythology called Kargaz who lacked the bump. Kargaz was a figure who it was said would destroy the Treens.
Meanwhile with his horrific experiment on Dan’s friends completed the Mekon tries to murder them by poisoning them with toxic gas. Fortunately Peabody and Hubert manage to cover the ventilation that spews the gas in their cell, prolonging their lives for a while at least.
The war between the Therons and the Treens begins with both sides now completely evenly matched. The Mekon though confident his superior Treens will eventually destroy their enemies believes that the they can’t afford to fight two wars, one with humanity and one on Venus and so he enacts a plan that will allow him to conquer mankind immediately.
He plans to trick mankind by convincing them that the Treens will help them. He hopes after gaining their trust they will allow him to build Transfer stations on the moon which he will claim shall allow them to live on earth more easily. In truth these will be weapons that will allow the Mekon to control the weather and conditions of earth and thus be able to reek untold devastation on the planet, slaughtering most of humanity. It was always the Mekons intention to build these weapons on the moon but before the humans arrived and the Therons begun attacking them he had planned to build his weapon there by force, but now using his human captives he hopes for a quicker and easier solution.
He forces Peabody, Digby and Hubert to say on film that when they crashed they were injured (explaining their wounds from the torture) but that the Treens have been helping them and wish to help the earth with their famine problem and that Captain Dan was killed in the crash as were Hank and Pierre.
Peabody and Hubert refuse even under the threat of torture and death, but Digby seemingly gives in and convinces the other two to as well by hinting to them that he has a plan.
Dan meanwhile with the aid of an Atlantine guard Dapon sneaks his way into the Mekon’s base. The Mekon has finished recording the messages and plans to send the three humans to a Treen concentration camp where he says they may have a few more years left.
However before he can make good on his promise Dan blasts his chair knocking him off of it and unconscious.
With the Mekon his prisoner Dan is able to force the Treens to release him and his friends and Sondar. Sondar willingly helps them escape by piloting the Treens hovercraft’s which only they can pilot by thought. He warns Dan that if the Mekon who they are holding prisoner wakes up he will be able to control them as his mind is much greater.
As they set off across the ocean Sondar tells him why the seemingly emotionless Treens care so much for their leader the Mekon.
The Mekons are Treens that are genetically engineered to lead the Treens. Their brains are made much larger which makes them significantly more intelligent, though as a result their bodies are atrophied which is why they require their levitating chair.
Mekon’s are produced every 300 years which is roughly how long they live for. The successor to the current Mekon is very young and wont be fit to lead them for the next 50 years meaning if this one dies then they will be leaderless for the next 50 years.
As soon as they reach a Treen rocket the Mekon wakes up and pilots the hovercraft he and Dan are on over the ocean planning to take him back to his base.
Fortunately Dan is able using a device the Therons gave him to disable the craft sending himself and the Mekon into the ocean below.
The Treens who arrive concentrate on saving the Mekon who can’t swim whilst Dan uses the Theron device on any who come after him and manages to make it ashore.
Dan, Digby, Peabody, Sondar, Hubert and Dapon manage to escape in Treen rockets and the Mekon soon dispatches a fleet to bring them back.
Hank and Pierre meanwhile have been forced back to the Therons base. Fortunately when they see a Treen ship being attacked by the others they deduce that it is Dan and ask the Therons to help them.
The Therons are able to save Dan and his friends, though before the Treens can launch a reprisal Dapon flies a captured Treen ship right into the heart of Mekonta damaging the Mekons power base and destroying his superweapon the Telezero beam. Dan and the rest of his friends and the Therons manage to escape back to the Therons base.
Whilst Dan and his team are safe unfortunately they are still unable to leave Venus due to the Treens/Therons war.
Back on earth meanwhile the Mekon puts his plan into action and sends the footage of Digby and Peabody and Hubert to the earth. Humanity is duped and believes the Treens are there to help them and even hail them as heroes for a short while.
Unfortunately for the Treens just as the Mekon is close to putting his plan into operation Digby’s aunt Anastasia discovers his deception. Digby leaves her a secret message in the video. He says that staying with the Treens reminds him of the holiday he spent in Sunnymouth. Anastasia realizes that its a trick as he was wrongfully imprisoned when he was in Sunnymouth. She soon tells the head of space fleet this and the Treens ruse is blown wide open and the Treens on earth arrested.
Back on Venus things get worse for the Treens. The Therons and the Treens are so evenly matched (though Volstar states that had it not been for Dapon’s sacrifice which slowed the Treens down they would have conquered the Therons by now) that their defensive rays are cancelling each others technology out leading to all of the Treens and the Therons equipment breaking down.
Fortunately before all of their technology is affected the Therons manage to use a ship to send Dan and his friends back to earth.
Their they tell them the full story about what is happening on Venus and how they must strike at the Treens now before the Mekon can break the stalemate.
Dan proposes that they strike at the Treens using more primitive weaponry. Stating that it will still be affective against the Treens who are now completely unarmed.
Peabody and Dan manage to devise a way for the ships to get to Venus despite the rays cancelling out all advance technology that arrives on the planet by attaching parachutes to the earth ships as soon as they reach the planet which will allow them to land slowly on the surface rather than simply crash.
All the nations of the earth send armies to Venus and begin attacking the Treens. The Treens still manage to put up a decent fight, but they are hopelessly outmatched not only by the sheer number of humans, but also by the Atlantines who jump at their opportunity and begin to attack the Treens.
With Sondar’s help Dan and his team are able to make their way into the Mekon’s main headquarters and destroy the device firing their rays. With this the stalemate is broken and the Theron’s technology begins working again and they are finally able to defeat the Treens.
The Treens are forced to surrender and the Mekon is apparently killed in the final conflict.
Dan and the earthmen issue terms to the Treens. All of their weapons are to be disarmed (as the Therons will be) and the Atlantine’s are to be freed and treated as their equals and any further aggression against the Therons is to stop.
Dan also asks for the Treens permission to harness some of the food supplies on their world to feed the people back home. The Treen who has assumed command after the Mekon’s death is shocked that the very thing the humans need most they are asking for rather than simply taking even after they have won.
Dan tells the Treen that the earthmen do not take anything by force and that the food on Venus is still theirs and they are under no obligation to share it with humanity. He also tells the Treen that the only condition they have when the war is the same for both the victors and the losers, total disarmament. The Treen leader agrees to this and is even moved by it remarking that he is experiencing his first emotion.
Peace is reached between earth, the Therons, the Atlantines, and the Treens and the food is shipped to earth.
Back on earth Dan and his team are hailed as heroes and Dan’s team along with Volstar throw him a party and a lavish meal using the food supplies from Venus.
Of course little does Dan know that the Mekon has in fact escaped Venus, having faked his death. He has fled along with several of his most loyal Treens into space.
The epilogue of the story shows us an earlier adventure prior to Dan’s mission to Venus where Dan and Digby manage to uncover and foil a terrorist plot to harness supplies of plutonium on Mars.
Voyage to Venus is a truly classic story that on the surface is a fun, exciting page turner of an adventure, yet underneath is a very progressive story that has an incredibly strong humanistic vein.
In terms of just being an enjoyable romp it still holds up almost 7 decades on. It has a fantastic pace. At no moment does it not hold the readers attention. The mystery of why the ships aren’t getting to Venus is intriguing enough to draw the reader into the story, whilst at the same time once they get to Venus, Hampson is able to unveil the full history of this fascinating planet piece by piece and fill it full of so many different and fascinating creatures. From the savage Atlantines, to the cold and logical Treens, to the giant reptiles of the jungles, to the strange silicon mass, to the underwater monsters that attack Dan, to the peaceful Therons and their beautiful civilisation, Venus feels like a fully fleshed out and realized world.
Hampsons artwork is equally as strong. I love his use of really bright and contrasting colours such as the blue skinned Atlantine’s and the green skinned Treens. Its true that the bright, exotic and beautiful colours of Dan Dare are probably a large part of why it was so successful in the 50’s when everything was so dull. In the foreword to Voyage to Venus Dave Gibbons describes the 50’s as “Grey” stating that the colourful world of Dan Dare was practically the only colour he got in an age where tv and films where mostly in black in white, he had to eat “colourless cabbage and stodgy off white potato’s” and watch soldiers march by in their colourless grey uniform’s. The Eagle comic he described as being “like a radioactive gem” with its beautiful colours and I think this was really a large part of why it made such a huge impact.
Hampsons drawing style I think lends itself almost towards caricature in this story the way everything is so exaggerated. The Mekon’s brain, the Atlantine’s forehead, the monsters like the Silicon mass, even Dan’s chin all make it seem more over the top and extreme, but never to the point of actual caricature. Instead it gives it more of a fantastical, almost surrealist look which helps give it its own unique style.
There are plenty of exciting twists and turns in the story. The idea of two races being so evenly matched that in a war neither is able to fire even a shot is a fascinating concept and indeed one that Doctor Who would later explore with the Daleks and the Movellans in Destiny of the Daleks. Its also a nice twist that humanity is able to beat the Treens a race so much more advanced than we are with such primitive technology as ultimately the Treens have become too dependent on it they have lost that resourcefulness that humanity still possess.
I think that the main characters are also very well written in this adventure. In many later strips Dan and his allies would often just be written as straight up good guys, but here I think they add more flaws to them which help them seem more human and relatable.
Dan of course is still just the standard, square jawed hero, but he is likable enough for it not to be too much of a problem. The others meanwhile we get to see other aspects of their personalities.
With Sir Hubert we see what a raving sexist he is as he refuses to accept Peabody at first simply due to her gender. He is depicted as being someone who still has old fashioned values regarding women, but at the same time is still a gentleman first and foremost. He shows a particular hatred towards the Mekon when he treats Peabody in such a brutal fashion, to the point where he attacks the green skinned monster physically.
Digby meanwhile is shown to be reckless often charging head first into danger in order to save his best friend. He is arguably the most useless of the team. He isn’t an experienced space pilot or a pioneering scientist and he is somewhat slow witted and unfit and out of shape, yet he is fiercely loyal to his best friend Dan above all else. In many ways Digby represents the heart of this story that the spirit of man will always prevail as even though he is somewhat more simple than others around him he outwits the Mekon a super genius, because he unlike the cold logical Mekon is able to think outside the box and use something so simple as a bad holiday to save humanity.
Peabody meanwhile is a brave, resourceful genius yet we do get to see a more vulnerable side to her. When she is alone whilst Digby and Hubert are led away to be tortured she begins to break down in tears stating that she is genuinely terrified at hat will happen to her friends. Whilst some people have seen this scene as sexist and I can understand why I personally thought it made the character seem more real.
Dapon similarly is an interesting character who starts out seemingly as a cruel, bitter hateful man with a reputation for brutality among his fellow Atlantine. Yet Dare is able to recognize that underneath his facade he secretely despises his role in serving the Treens and is able to win him over as an ally. Though he does have doubts at first, Dare who believes in the basic goodness of people is proven right and Dapon is eventually able to make the supreme sacrifice for the greater good with Dan later calling him a hero.
I like the way this strip doesn’t hold back. Even though it was aimed mostly at children its not afraid to kill off characters or show us the full brutality of the Treens, with the Treens treating their human slaves no better than animals, the Mekon threatening to torture Peabody to death slowly, and the Mekon even regularly murdering his own henchman for their failure.
The scene where the Mekon tries to gas Peabody, Digby and Hubert in particular is very dark and evokes the then recent images of people being led away to gas chambers.
The Mekon and the Treens are obviously a metaphor for the Nazi’s. Indeed this entire story is World War 2 in space with the Treens racist ideology and their horrific experiments on people they consider lesser than themselves evoking then all too recent horrors of the Second World War.
I also feel however that the Treens perhaps serve as a metaphor for apartheid too. Their racist ideology is also comparable obviously to that of the apartheid regime and the fact that they live in a segregated society away from the Therons (who are shown to have dark skin) whilst treating the similar Atlantine’s as slaves and second class citizens is also a perhaps not too subtle nod to the apartheid regime.
At the end of the story they are forced to treat them both as equals and the human being that leads the final victorious attack against the Treens is a black man!
The Mekon, Dan Dare’s archenemy gets a very strong introduction in this story. Though he actually doesn’t appear until almost the second half his presence as the all powerful leader of the monstrous Treens is built up superbly and when he finally appears he doesn’t disappoint.
He is genuinely inhuman monster who commits the most foul acts against the main characters and even his own people many of whom he sacrifices without a seconds thought in order to try and kill Dan Dare.
He was different to a lot of other villains in comic books at this point the way he was completely cold and emotionless.
Most villains where often very emotional characters like the cackling psychopath the Joker, the vain and arrogant Lex Luthor or the lovestruck Ming the Merciless. The Mekon in contrast was completely devoid of such petty emotions. He did not care about his own personal glory, he seemingly at this point at least had no personal vendetta against Dare like the Joker did against Batman and he didn’t even notice that Peabody was a different gender never mind try and steal her form the hero like Ming and Dale Arden.
Dan and the Mekon surprisingly have very little interaction with each other. In fact they only have one meeting in this story and share one brief exchange, but you can tell how brilliantly they play off of each other none the less.
Like all great heroes/archenemies they are polar opposite’s to one another. Superman is the man of steel whilst Lex Luthor the greatest criminal genius of his age, Batman is the quiet reserved conflicted, tortured hero and the Joker is a cackling, psychotic, colourful, gleefully evil villain and Dan and the Mekon similarly couldn’t be more different, even just visually.
The hideous little green withered, frail reptile man who has no emotions, seeks to conquer, and cares nothing for his own men up against the dashing, brave, honourable hero who will stop at nothing to save his friends. Seeing two such different characters together, clashing over their different beliefs is always exciting.
Whilst the Mekon may be presented as the ultimate monster at the same time the Treens are presented as not all being inherently evil.
Indeed the Treens are shown to be evil because of the culture they were born in. They have been raised in a world ruled by the Mekon and thus have never been taught anything but a belief that they are superior and races like the Therons are to be crushed. However when introduced to new ideas Treens like Sondar and the Treen leader at the end who is genuinely moved at Dan’s merciful actions are shown to be capable of so much more.
I think this was a good message that the story promoted that no group of people are completely evil. Ideas and beliefs are evil such as the Mekon’s and those like him before who sadly came to dominate the Treens culture, but that does not mean that all Treens should be seen as monsters and I think that was a vital message to promote in a post war world when many because of the Nazi’s would have viewed all Germans as monsters.
Dan and his team show no anger towards the Treens, they treat them as their equals who have every right to exist as much as they do after their defeat. Unlike the monsters in other series such as Doctor Who the Treens are not all destroyed but actually get a happy ending having been freed from the corrupting influence of the Mekon and being given a chance to live in a better world where everyone is treated equally.
The story has a deep humanistic theme running through it. For its time it was incredibly progressive in so many ways.
It depicted a multi cultural and multi ethnic future where everyone was living together in peace and harmony. We had a black man who devised the strategy that defeated the Treens on Venus and was Dan’s superior whom he had the utmost respect for. Its hard to imagine many people in 1950’s United Kingdom viewing black and coloured people as even being the equal of a white person never mind their boss who leads them into glory!
Remember this was 16 years before Star Trek would be seen as highly progressive by many people including Martin Luther King for having a black woman be the receptionist to the main character. In this strip the main character takes orders from a black man and addresses him as “sir”. This is also 8 years before the Black and White Minstrel show began which depicted white people dressed in black face doing racist caricatures on British tv and was one of the most popular television series for 20 years.
In contrast not only does this have black people in positions of power, but it also has the Therons who are shown to be beautiful creatures who are exactly like us who have dark skin too.
Normally in science fiction the idea of perfect humans are shown to still be blonde haired, white and blue eyed such as the Eloi from the Time Machine or the Thals from Doctor Who, whilst the Therons though still having blonde hair are shown to have dark skin.
Dan is also shown to work alongside Russians in his final battle against the Treens and both Britain and China are shown to work very closely together and help each other during the time of famine. Both of these countries were communist countries at this point and again its hard to imagine many works of fiction from that time not depicting them as dirty, underhand villains.
Indeed compare this to the first issue of the Fantastic Four 10 years later where the FF are desperate to get into space first before those evil communists. Then of course there are Flemyings Bond Novels released just a few years later which for the first few novels depicted the Russians as evil, loathsome villains too.
The strip also has a very strong feminist theme too. This was of course back when feminism was a decent and worthy movement that did genuinely fight for equality, as opposed to nowadays where third wave feminism is a truly poisonous, hateful movement. Modern day third wave feminism is more akin to the Treens than second wave feminism.
Peabody is unlike most female characters in comic books from round about that time.
She isn’t simply just a scientist, she is a pioneering scientist. She is hand picked by Space Fleet as the best possible person to lead the mission to Venus, she has invented equipment that allows them to determine what food is safe to eat and how it can be harnessed for the human beings back home. She is actually the one who solves the famine crisis and she does it on her own with an invention that she dreamed up by herself in her spare time almost as a hobby!
She is also a very capable pilot managing to land the ship and keep her cool when Hubert panics and is unable too and she is shown to be a capable hand to hand combatant overpowering the Treens and be just as skilled at using the teams weapons as any of the men.
Peabody isn’t the only strong role for women in the strip however. Digby’s Aunt Anastasia is actually the one who saves humanity from the Treens. Had it not been her recognising the hidden distress code Digby sent her then humanity would have fallen for the Mekon’s ruse.
Frank Hampson has stated that he went out of his way to give strong roles to women in the strip. Apparently the publishers didn’t want any female characters at all as they felt its audience would be mostly little boys. Still Hampson was adamant to not only have a female character but to depict her as being the equal of anyone there even Dare.
I didn’t want to produce a strip without a female. In a way I struck a blow for women’s lib. Peabody was shown as a very clever, attractive young lady. It also paved the way for a few arguments between her and Sir Hubert in the first story- a nice human touch. She was just a very normal, efficient, competent girl.
-Frank Hampson on Peabody
The strip has a very strong feminist angle not simply because of the strong roles it gives to women, but also because it goes out of its way to depict men who view women as being wrong.
Sir Hubert believes that Peabody is not up to task and throughout the strip she simply laughs at his opinions. She doesn’t even take them seriously for one minute and even jokes that things got so bad he forgot to give her grief for being a woman. She is also shown to keep her cool whilst he panics as the ship crashes and actually saves his life. She even tells him that this requires nerves of steel that he doesn’t have. Sir Hubert is also depicted as being someone who is old fashioned and stuck in the 50’s (ironically).
At the same time we see Anastasia an elderly woman push give space fleet information that saves humanity from the Mekon.
Of course that’s not to say that the comic isn’t still of its time in some other ways. Digby for instance yells out bravo the black boy’s done it when his commander defeats the Treens. Added to that some critics have seen Peabody breaking down in tears whilst she is alone and worried about her friends as being an example of 50’s sexism.
I can certainly see why people would think that as her we have the strong willed Peabody break down, something that Dan never does. However personally I think this was more an attempt to show a human side to her. After all its not like we can really say Peabody is shown to be weak in this moment. I mean which one of us wouldn’t be upset if one of our friends had accidently been killed by one friend, and then our other two friends were being led away to be tortured and experimented on by evil Reptile men!
Whilst Peabody to herself may be scared, she never lets her fear get in the way of her duty. Indeed the only character who panics to the point where he can’t keep a clear head is the old sexist Sir Hugo.
Whilst there may be some dated aspects of the story, by and large I think its safe to say that this stories heart is in the right place. It promotes equality among all people and depicts those who would view others as inferior for any reason at all in an extremely unsympathetic light such as the Mekon, and to a lesser extent Sir Hubert.
For 1950 an unsure age full of prejudice, paranoia and fear of a nuclear holocaust Dan Dare was the perfect hero for young children to look up to.
There are some other faults with the story. For instance I feel that Dan is able to convince the Therons to abandon their pacifistic ways far too easily. They have refused to attack the Treens for centuries and then Dan basically says “come on don’t be such wimps” and their leader is like “my god you’re right!” and that’s that.
Furthermore the characters of Hank and Pierre are basically complete non entity’s. Though to be fair this wouldn’t change much in future stories. They are definitely my least favourite characters as they really have no character and purpose except to simply help Dan, Peabody and Digby out when they need it and that’s it.
Still despite some minor flaws I’d nevertheless rank this as one of the most accomplished works in the comic book medium of all time and I can’t give it anything less than a full five stars nor can I recommend it highly enough.
Impact and Legacy
I felt it was appropriate to look at this stories legacy separately from its quality.
After all quality and influence are not the same thing. Something can be the first of its kind and have a massive impact yet be utter dross. Thus I wanted to show that Voyage to Venus is an enjoyable story that still holds up to contemporary readers on its own merits rather than simply because of its impact on British popular culture.
However it is still important to look at the influence it had which is truly immense.
Voyage to Venus was an instant bestseller. It sold a staggering 900, 000 issues and not surprisingly both Dan and the Mekon quickly became recognizable icons in popular culture. Dan Dare would continue to run in the Eagle for the next almost 20 years until 1969 when the Eagle finally folded.
In the decades since there have been many revivals of Dan Dare of varying success. In the late 70’s the character was revived by 2000AD for a few years, whilst in the early 80’s the new and revamped Eagle revived Dan as their flagship character once again. This revival of Dan was unquestionably the most successful running for just over 10 years almost as long as the original.
Ultimately it came to an end in the early 90’s and since then there have been 2 miniseries based on Dan Dare, one by Grant Morrison in the early 90’s and the other by Virgin Comics in 2007-08 which was the last mainstream Dan Dare production. Sadly the franchise has all but vanished nowadays, though the comic Spaceship Away which has a very small circulation continues to feature the character.
Whilst the Dan Dare franchise may be very niche nowadays (in contrast to its 50’s and 60’s heyday where Dan was unquestionably the most popular hero among British children) its legacy still looms over many areas of British life and Voyage to Venus in particular, arguably the most iconic Dan Dare story still inspires writers, architects, musicians and even renowned scientists decades on.
The following articles go into great depth about Dan Dare’s influence on architects as well as engineers in Britain.
Stephen Hawking meanwhile has cited Dan Dare as his biggest influence. He even stated when asked about his love for the strip. “Why Am I in Cosmology?”
There have also been numerous pieces of music written about Dan Dare over the years such as most notably Elton John’ song Dan Dare Pilot of the Future. Rocket Man was also partially inspired by Elton’s boyhood love of Dan Dare too.
Finally among the writers and figures in the entertainment industry who have been inspired by Dan Dare include Jeff Wayne the producer of the musical version of War of the Worlds, Watchmen co-creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Terry Jones, author Tim Rice ,Philip Pullman and Gerry and Sylvia Anderson with their series Thunderbirds being inspired by Dan Dare.
Voyage to Venus I think its fair to say as the strip that started Dan’s journey has one of the biggest legacy’s of any comic book story.
In many ways I feel that Voyage to Venus was a precursor to many other prominent science fiction stories, some of which it influenced directly.
One of the many homages to Dan Dare in Doctor Who
Dan Dare was arguably one of the biggest influences on the original Doctor Who series. I have written about Dan’s influence on Doctor Who many times before so I wont go into too much detail here.
Voyage to Venus as has been noted by many critics bares some similarities to the original Dalek story. It even says as much on the official BBC website see below.
The Treens and the Therons and the Daleks and the Thals do have a somewhat similar dynamic. Not to the point where the first Dalek story is derivative of Voyage to Venus of course. The first Dalek story is a classic in its own right.
Still you can see how Voyage to Venus was unquestionably an influence. The Treens are emotionless yet vicious creatures who persecute and despise others for being different and thus inferior to them, whilst the Therons are blond pacifists, exactly like the emotionless yet hateful and vicious Daleks and the blonde pacifistic Thals who share their world.
The Daleks much like the Treens also live in a highly advanced city where they imprison our heroes and monitor them. There is also a lake of monsters that guards the Daleks city. Furthermore the Doctor and his companions also convince the Thals to abandon their old pacifistic ways to battle the Daleks before they carry out genocide against another race.
The Thals much like the Therons don’t wish to fight their enemy because of a previous conflict which cost thousands if not millions of innocent lives. In the Therons case it was their war on earth, in the thals their war on Skaro. In both cases the conflict also came to an instant end with a massive explosion too.
The Daleks are also like Treens metaphors for the Nazi’s too, arguably to an even greater extent as they wield their sucker cups in the air in the Nazi salute whilst talking about crushing the lesser Thals.
The first Dalek story also has strong and prominent roles for women in it too like Voyage to Venus.
Terry Nation who created the Daleks and wrote their first story openly admitted to taking inspiration from Dan Dare and indeed it would continue to influence him throughout his career. Much of his later series Blake’s 7 was inspired by Dan Dare too.
In “Doctor Who and the Daleks” a film adaptation of Nation’s original Dalek story there is an homage to Voyage to Venus as the character of Doctor Who played by Peter Cushing is shown to read Dan Dare vividly before setting off an adventure similar Voyage to Venus.
Its also known that the Mekon introduced in this story inspired Davros the creator of the Daleks too. Philip Hinchcliff who produced Davros’s first story said he told John Friendlander who designed Davros’s mask to give him a dome shaped head like the Mekon, as well as green skin, and an atrophied body. Hinchcliff much like Nation who wrote Genesis of the Daleks was a big Dan Dare fan.
Destiny of the Daleks another Nation story was also inspired by Voyage to Venus and explores similar themes.
In Destiny of the Daleks the Daleks are shown to be trapped in a logical stalemate with another race called the Movellans.
The Movellans and the Daleks are so evenly matched that they are unable to fire a shot at one another as the other manages to find a way to deflect it. The Doctor jokingly tells them that they have discovered the solution to eternal peace.
The Treens and the Therons similarly were so evenly matched at the end of Voyage to Venus that neither were able to do anything to one another and thus were locked in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate.
The Movellans also visually are quite similar to the Therons. Both have dark skin and lighter hair and white clothes too.
Of course in quite a nice twist whilst the Movellans appear like the good guys throughout the first half of the story, the Doctor later discovers that they are in truth no better than the Daleks themselves. In this respect it turns the Voyage to Venus story on its head in quite a clever way.
The Daleks slaves much like the Atlantines also help overthrow the Daleks at the end of the story too and the Daleks once again are led in this story by the Mekon like Davros.
Destiny of the Daleks and Voyage to Venus both explore the same idea not only of two races being trapped in a stalemate but also of logic and reason causing a race to become stagnated.
Finally its also worth noting that the Sontarans and the Cybermen were both partially inspired by the Treens introduced in this story, with Kit Pedler again citing Dan Dare as a big influence on his career and stating “the cybermen are very like the Treens.”
Now I am not saying that Voyage to Venus inspired Star Trek. It could have done, but I doubt it as as far as I am aware Dan Dare was never that popular abroad.
Its possible but I am not going to say it is without any sources or back up which so far I haven’t been able to find.
Still I feel its worth mentioning Star Trek as in many ways Dan Dare was the precursor to Star Trek as much as it was too Doctor Who.
I actually think that Dan Dare could be described as Star Trek’s optimism mixed with Doctor Who’s monsters.
Voyage to Venus presented us with a positive version of the future that is not too dissimilar to Star Trek’s version of the future. Both had earth’s that had eliminated poverty and persecution and inequalities of all kind. Both showed us this by depicting all the races of the earth living together. Both had a very comfortable multi ethnic, multi cultural and multi species version of the future.
Now normally in science fiction the future is depicted as something bad. In The Terminator series for instance our technology has basically destroyed us. In classic novels like 1984, Brave New World and television series like Firefly technology may have advanced significantly but little else has.
In other works like Wells classic novel The Time Machine or Richard Matheison’s I Am Legend or in countless zombie movies and post end of the world films some humans have degenerated and persecute and even eat other human beings.
Dan Dare and Star Trek are among the few that gave us a vision of the future where everything had worked out. Technology hadn’t fucked us, we hadn’t degenerated into twisted caricatures of our former selves, we hadn’t been invaded and conquered by aliens. It was a future we wanted to happen in terms of technology and social values which might be why both Dan Dare and Star Trek inspired so many engineers and scientists and architects, people who wanted to make that future a reality.
One work that presented a perfect society before Dan Dare was Thomas More’s fabulous and influential novel Utopia which coined the phrase.
However Voyage to Venus in many ways brought More’s Utopia into the space age.
So many things that Star Trek would receive massive acclaim for Voyage to Venus did first.
In terms of having a positive future something which the late Leonard Nimoy himself said made Star Trek unique, Dan Dare did first.
In terms of giving black people strong roles where they were the equal of white people? Yes Dan Dare did that 16 years before Star Trek.
It could be argued in fact that Dan Dare was more progressive than Star Trek. After all Uhura was merely the receptionist to Captain Kirk, whilst in Voyage to Venus Commandant Bunch is Dan’s superior and leads the men to attack the Treens. Dan calls him sir and does what he tells him, whilst Kirk tells Uhura what to do.
Of course at the same time it could be argued that Star Trek was more progressive as whilst Voyage to Venus did show black people in higher positions of power, all of the main cast are still white, whilst in Star Trek Uhura was a main character. Added to that Star Trek broke ground in other ways such as showing the first interracial kiss in an American drama.
Don’t get me wrong I am not dissing either Star Trek or obviously Voyage to Venus, but I just find it interesting to see in what ways both of these works managed to strike a blow for equality.
Whilst Flash Gordon may have been Gene Roddenberry’s big comic book influence, Dan Dare is the real precursor to Star Trek.
After all Voyage to Venus has, a future where all the nations of the earth are living together happily, racism, sexism, prejudices of all kind are gone, man kind has made incredible advances in science and technology, cured all diseases, mastered space flight and now lives alongside other alien races.
Its main characters are a team made up of people from different cultures and one alien who doesn’t always understand human emotions. Its captain is a big macho hero who goes around giving speeches about morality and teaching aliens how to feel human emotions though not in the same way as Dan was virtually asexual whist Kirk was anything but!
Yeah not at all like Star Trek. Voyage to Venus and Dan Dare in general is actually the closest thing to a British Star Trek there has ever been except it was almost 20 years earlier.
Now again this is another American series and so therefore it is highly unlikely that Voyage to Venus was an inspiration on this. Its possible of course as Joseph Michael Stracznsyki is a fan of British science fiction like Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who.
Still again its best not to jump to assumptions.
The Narn/Centauri conflict I think is quite a good reversal of the Treens/Therons conflict.
The Narn/Centauri conflict involves two races one of whom is similar to us and feels an affinity for us and the other who are bald reptillian humanoids. The Therons similarly are a race who are similar to us whilst the Treens are bald reptillian humanoids
The Therons and the Centauri have ridiculous hair cuts, which is about the other thing externally that seperates them from us, whilst the Narn basically look like orange Treens.
The Centauri and the Therons are the more advanced races. They visit the Treens and the Narn and share their technology with them however things go wrong and the Narn and Treens drive them both away and steal their technology and use it to become more advanced.
They then try and conquer the Therons and Centuari who become mere shadows of themselves, but it still ends badly for them and they are conquered and defeated.
As you can see the basic outline for the two stories is exactly the same, but the Narn/Centauri conflict has some key differences which make it the complete opposite to the Treen/Theron conflict. In the Babylon 5 version the more human aliens are the bad guys whilst in the Voyage to Venus version the reptillians are the villains.
In Voyage to Venus the Therons come in peace and seek nothing but to help the Treens, but the Treens manipulate them and then attack them and steal their technology from them which they then use to persecute others such as the human beings they capture on earth. The Atlantine’s endure horrific torture and slavery and experimentation at the hands of the Treens.
The Treens seek to conquer the Therons not out of any wrong doings but simply because of their own evil ideology which was always there before the Therons. When they are finally defeated the Therons and humanity are fair to them and do not inflict vengeance upon them and treat them as equals. They merely insist that they do not try any further acts of aggression on either them or humanity and trust that if they treat them as friends this can be achieved.
In Bablyon 5 meanwhile whilst the Centauri start out friendly to the Narn, they soon realize that as the Narn are so far behind them technologically they can exploit them for all they are worth and enslave them. The Narn are subject to brutal treatment at the hands of the Centauri. Its a total reversal of the Treens treatment of the Atlantines, here we see the human like creatures brutally enslave and slaughter the reptillians. G’Kar’s own father is killed by being hung from a tree and left to starve to death.
The Narn do manage to drive the Centauri off and steal their technology which they use to become more advanced.
They seek to destroy the entire Centauri race and develop a twisted ideology, bullying less advanced races the way they themselves were bullied by the Centauri and becoming dirty arms dealers.
This comes purely as a result of the Centauri occupation of their world. Prior to the Centauri occupation they were peaceful creatures. Later however they are defeated by the Centauri once again, but this occupation is even more brutal. They blitz the entire surface of Narn and kill billions of them, they enslave them slaughter their leaders, suppress their culture, ship hundreds of their women back to their home planet to be used as sex slaves, impose laws where if a Narn kills one Centauri then 500 Narn are to be executed including the perpetrators family, they also experiment on them in an effort to remove their aggression from them. 100’s of millions of Narn die in these experiments, whole communities, cities and countries of them are wiped out.
As you can see Babylon 5 completely turns the story on its head by having the Reptile men as the goody guys that we actually feel sorry for.
I don’t know if JMS did ever read Dan Dare but I hope he did as whilst I love the Narn/Centauri conflict anyway the idea that its an anti Voyage to Venus just makes it even cooler.
V bares some similarities to Voyage to Venus. The main villains in V the visitors like the Treens are large reptile men. They even look like the Treens. Like the Mekon they seek to trick humanity but its once again in a reversal of the Treens situation. In the Treens situation humanity is starving and in need of food supplies on Venus and the Treens use this to trick us pretending they want to help us with our problems. In V the Visitors claim that they need food supplies from the earth, and beg humanity for help in exchange for their technology.
Thus both stories revolve around giant lizard men who arrive on earth and lie about a problem to do with starvation in order to conceal their true purposes the subjugation of humanity. In one case it is humanity that is starving in another it is the reptile men, but either way all is not as it seems
Both stories also draw parrallels with World War 2, with the Visitors and the Treens both representing the Nazi’s.
The Treens are really the trope codifers for the reptillians in popular culture. The reptillians are a character that appears in science fiction.
They are humans who evolved from reptile men, usually from Dinosaurs or Dinosaur like reptiles, they normally have human slaves or a race of human like slaves, they experiment on them, torture them, eat them and they are generally depicted as monsters. In terms of appearance they also often look like green men too and they often find a way to infiltrate our society through deception.
We see such creatures in Doctor Who, Star Trek, and many other works. In V they are of course the main villains. There are even people who believe such creatures actually exist!
The Treens in Voyage to Venus are the forebears to all of these creatures. Though there were some stories that explored the idea of lizard men prior to Voyage to Venus, most of them had been fantasy and it was the Treens who really not only brought the idea into a science fiction environment, but who also set down many of the tropes that were to follow with the reptillians.
They were the ones who established that the reptillians were either dinosaurs or evolved from Dinosaur like reptiles. The Treens ancestors on Venus are described as being like Dinosaurs, and the large reptiles they live alongside are said to be like Dinosaurs too. Dan even calls one a triceratops and another a fugitive from Loch Ness. Like many later Reptillians they also experiment on humans, keep human slaves, infiltrate our society through lies and deception by pretending to be our friends who will help us with our famine problem in Voyage to Venus and in terms of appearance they obviously resemble most of the reptillians who came after.
Obviously not all of the tropes are present in the Treens in Voyage to Venus as they don’t shape shift or disguise themselves as humans nor do they want to eat us. Those tropes would come in later works such as V, but still the reptillian trope really does begin with Voyage to Venus.
In this respect the likes of V and Babylon 5 were still indirectly inspired by Voyage to Venus as it was Voyage to Venus that created the reptillian trope that they later utilized with the Visitors and the Narn both being examples of the reptillian trope. Thus one way or another the Narn/Centauri conflict is a reversal of the Treen/Theron conflict as it was meant to be a reversal of the classic Reptillian/human conflict in popular culture which can be traced back to Voyage to Venus.
Notes and Trivia
- This story is also known simply as Pilot of the Future, and the Venus story
- A CS Lewis book called Perelandra is also called Voyage to Venus
- The Mekon is the only character who will go on to appear in every version of Dan Dare. In the 80’s version of Dan Dare the main character was said to be the descendant of the original Dan Dare.