15 January 2015

Mixed feelings about Dynamite's Dan Dare

I was an enthusiastic Eagle reader as a boy and I still have a healthy collection of Eagle Annuals, all of which I read many times. There were many strips that I liked, all of them basically, but Dan Dare was a clear favourite.

There were two reasons that Dan Dare was special for me; the artwork by Frank Hampson was fantastical and it had long stories that ran for many weeks.

After the Eagle's demise in 1967 Dan Dare disappeared for a ten years before being reborn in the new 2000AD (before I started reading it) but that experiment lasted only two years. I was reading it by then and quite liked what they did with it.

Dan Dare made a few other appearances before Virgin got hold of him in 2008 and produced a seven part story written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Gary Erskine. I bought the first issue at the time but it did not do enough to get me to buy the second.

Then, late in 2014, the collected volume popped up on a ComiXology sale and I bought it.

The first surprise was that the cover to issue #1 was drawn by Bryan Talbot. Obviously I knew that in 2008 but had forgotten it so it was a pleasant surprise for the second time. Being a goldfish must be like that.

The collection include an interesting introduction by Garth Ennis in which he explained why he chose to write the story. It was to write about Dan Dare, not the places he went or the machines that he used.

He even said of Frank Hampson's version, "the classic Dan Dare is nice, but doesn't really grab me."

So, instead of a story with exotic locations and bizarre creatures we get a story about a modern hero.

And that is my problem with this version, I loved the world that Frank Hampson created and did not care that much for Dan Dare the man.

That being the case, this version of Dan Dare was never going to rekindle my love for the original stories but judged just as a story it certainly had its good points.

I liked the new more menacing Mekon who used to be something like a Batman villain in the 1960s TV series, more cad than credible. Here he was the despot in charge of a fanatical army and he was prepared to sacrifice many of them to further his own ends.

It was also good to see Digby and Peabody again and I also welcomed the new character Ms Christian, a young officer who grew under Dan Dare's leadership. Some surprising things happened to some of these major characters, things I did not see coming, and that gave the story a buzz.

The artwork reflected the new narrative of the comic and it looked much like a standard comic book with rectangular panels drawn mostly from close-range. There were lots of Treens and some monsters but no there aliens and no other creatures. That, combined with Dan Dare's bomber jacket, reinforced the feeling that this was a World War II story moved to outer space.

This may sound like faint praise but I did read all the story, which is not something that I can say about every comic that I've bought on a whim in a sale. The story did plenty enough to keep me swiping the pages to read the story in a single sitting.

Dan Dare has not made an appearance since then and I have no idea who owns the rights but the legacy is still strong and he deserves to come back. I hope he does and I'll give the next Dan Dare a try too.

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