The Phantom Fleet is volume 11 in Titan’s series of hardback, magazine-size reprints of Dan Dare’s adventures. This storyline began in April 1958, and was published weekly in Eagle magazine until December 1958, in issues 17-52 of Volume 9. Also included is a Dan Dare story from Eagle Annual #5, “Operation Plum Pudding” which, as the name suggests, is a Christmas-themed 8-page yarn set in the far-flung future of 1997.
The book opens with an introduction by Jeff Wayne, who you will no doubt recognise as the man responsible for the musical “War of the Worlds”, followed by an article about Frank Bellamy, the successor of Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson. Although interesting, it does seem oddly placed, since none of Bellamy’s work is actually contained in this collection.
The Phantom Fleet itself runs an impressive 70 pages (remember that these pages are much larger than current comics) and feature some truly classic art and design work. If Wednesday Comics has awakened your interest in how comics used to look, you won’t find any better example than the retro-futurist visuals of Dan Dare. Although this is the penultimate story in Hampson’s run on the character, it’s a perfect place to start, since by this point, the character’s world was well-established and his creators had settled into a groove, knocking out instalments as if it had become second nature.
The stories sees Dare encounter a pair of alien races – the Pescods and the Cosmodes – and naturally, it’s not long before everyone’s blowing the crap out of one another. It might seem a bit straight these days, but back then, this kind of story was new and revolutionary, and Dare’s impact in popular culture has justifiably resonated down through the generations. It’s an enjoyable story, particularly as a historical look at the British Comics industry in its heyday – since Dan Dare was the cover feature of Eagle, we also get the straplines from each issue too – “Exhibition and Show Jumping News, P.8”, “78 Prizes, Free Circus and Cricket, P.11” – some of those are worth the cover price alone!
The production on this collection is exceptional, and whether you’re a fan of Dare or not, you could do far worse than to start with this collection.