Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun (D.C.M.T. / 1950s / U.K. / 4 x 6.5 inches)

Americans had been enjoying the exploits of Buck Rogers for more than 20 years when Frank Hampson created Colonel Dan Dare for for a comic strip in Britain's Eagle Magazine in 1950. Despite the late start, the U.K.'s toy market was quickly flooded with dozens of amazing toys and tie-ins, from space ships to pop-up books to walkie talkies to ray guns. Yes, ray guns. Sweet, sweet ray guns. And one of the best of the lot is the Atomic-Jet Gun.

The Atomic-Jet has a lot of stylistic zing, making it a popular ray gun today. But it's definitely one of the less common Dan Dare toys, probably due in part to the delicate plastic construction. A little rough play and Britain's space cadets would be left with inoperable firearms. Not a good position to be in when the Mekon's hoards attack. (The Mekon, for the uninitiated, was Dan Dare's fiercest enemy.)

That is one thin freakin' ray gun!

As far as I know, the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet has no variations. But then again, I'm constantly being surprised by this hobby, so who can say? Rare in any condition, when it does pop up it often has some cracks, or a broken trigger, or a missing plastic tip. It's almost always missing the black plastic cap on the back of the water tank. In fact, mine is a reproduction that I made out of Super Sculpey. Not half-bad, if I do say so myself! (I did find a company online that makes small, plastic caps that look like they might be a closer match to the original piece. I've ordered a few different sizes, if they work out well I'll update this post.)

Now, while the toy might not have variations, it does have some relatives. The gun is clearly based on an American toy from the 1940's: Hiller's aluminum Atom Ray water pistol.


It's also related to an earlier British gun, also called the Atomic-Jet, which was made out of metal by a company called Crescent (and which was itself based on the Hiller).

All three toys share the same handle, large water tank, and general shape. However, the Crescent version of the Atomic-Jet is a bit more elegant, with a barrel that's been moved up so that it can extend directly from the tank. In one final bit of weirdness, the box for the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun depicts the titular hero holding the Crescent Atomic-Jet Gun. Like I said, weird.

While many collectors favor the original Hiller version of the gun -- and hey, what's not to love? -- the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet is probably the rarest of the three. It just wasn't as durable as the other two toys, whose metal construction helped them survive many an imaginary battle. Personally, I can't say which I like the best. The two metal guns have greater design cohesion, but there's just something compelling about the brightly colored plastic. To me, it screams "mid-century."

Heck, I'll gladly take all three!

This is a gun I've wanted for a loooong time -- it was really a thrill when I finally snagged it. So c'mon, Mekon -- I double Dan Dare you to make your move!


  1. Great find! I'm a *huge* fan of Dan Dare (I even like the 80s revival!), so this is an especially fascinating post.

    It actually even looks like the guns the humans had in Dan Dare!

    Great stuff!

  2. @Richard@The Bewildered Brit:
    Actually -- and this is really only going to confuse matters -- the Crescent version of the Atomic-Jet Gun was featured in the original comic strips. As I said, this is the gun pictured on the box for the Dan Dare Atomic-Jet Gun written about in this post. And as an added little twist, in the comic strip, the gun is a flame thrower, not a water pistol. It's one strange paradox after another with this thing...

    But I agree, the original Dan Dare strips were fantastic. Frank Hampson's art was miles ahead of everyone else drawing space heroes at the time (except for perhaps for Alex Raymond, who drew Flash Gordon -- I'd say the two were neck-in-neck). And the writers absolutely refused to talk down to their audience. The stories were action-packed, but also had wit and intelligence that can easily appeal to more sophisticated readers. Okay, it wasn't Frank Herbert or Philip K. Dick, but it was a damn sight better than the Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon strips of the time.

    Between Dr. Who and Dan Dare, it's pretty clear that the Brits knew how to do science fiction right from the get go.

  3. I was rummageing the river bank, (the Dodder in Dublin), as you do and found the aluminium casing of one of these 'Atomic Jet Guns', ...which brings me here!


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