(2008) Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine, Virgin, £7.99/US$13.99, hrdbk, pp??, ISBN 978-0-981-52002-5
Dan Dare is a British comic-strip SF icon and everyone over a certain age (born before 1958) in the UK knows of him. Therefore this review is going to have to begin with a bit of history lesson for those below a certain age.
Though in print in one form or another every decade since its creation, Dan Dare is primarily associated with the comic Eagle from the 1950s and 60s. Dan was an astronaut and game for any adventure in true 'British' style. He was colourfully brought to life by Frank Hampson (1918-1985) in an optimistic world of 'white heat of technology', mid-twentieth century standards set in the 21st. He was not a super hero. He had no super powers. He was simply 'Dan Dare - Pilot of the future' who was often found with his side-kick Digby battling an evil Venusian, The Mekon. His weekly adventures were the mainstay of the original Eagle weekly comic through to 1969. Keith Watson took over drawing the strip from Frank Hampson in 1962; but fortunately his style was very similar to Hampson's and the magic continued until the Eagle's 1969 demise. Dare briefly reappeared and re-vamped - having spent years in suspended animation - in 2000AD in 1977 (again to battle the longer life-spanned Mekon). He also returned as his great great grandson (again drawn by Keith Watson) along with a descendent of Digby in a re-launched Eagle in March 1983. Then in 1989 the 'original' Dan Dare returned to the Eagle drawn by Watson and survived until 1994. Juvenile SF certainly, but picturesque, fun and pure SF nostalgia. A version of Dare appeared in a political satire, Dare, by Grant Morrison, published in 2000AD's sister-mag Revolver for a more adult readership. A children's TV computer animation series entitled Dan Dare (fb 2002) was created by Colin Frewin and conveyed an image vaguely reminiscent of the original graphic strip though noticeably Digby did not have his Yorkshire accent... And this brings us up-to-date (2008).
Garth Ennis is known for Preacher as well as The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin and Bloody Mary. He is also known to 2000AD readers for his Judge Dredd tales such as Judge Dredd: Goodnight Kiss and Judge Dredd: Judgement Day. In short Ennis has form: good form. So what have we got here?
Well, this volume is the first three of the new 2008 comic strips collected into a single graphic novel that forms the first half of a new adventure. Here Ennis has gone back to basics and imagined what Dan Dare might be like if Hampson had created an oh,-so-British space hero envisioned more in the present day that back in his original 1950s Eagle adventures. In this version of Dare, Dan is now retired but he is not that old. This allows for the artwork to be slightly different and Digby's hair is decidedly grey. Britain rules space because an attack hammered heavily-cratered North America as that nation did not have shields to protect it. Meanwhile there has been many years of peace with the Treens (Venusians) as the Mekon (Dan's long-standing foe) has disappeared... Then word comes that the Mekon has assembled a fleet in the depth of space and is now heading to Earth... with a black hole in tow!
It has to be said that Ennis' story is reverential and true to the spirit of the Dare legend. Gary Erskine's artwork is brilliant except that he has not given Dare a square enough jaw. This is a shame as in one full page picture (and a couple of smaller pictures along the way) showing Dan's past we see that Erskine comes close to Hampson's original artwork. Nonetheless, this slight regret is very minor as this really is a fine working of a true British icon. As such the, somewhat retch-inducing, comment emblazoned on the cover from Sir Richard Branson (Virgin's overall owner) that "Dan Dare is my hero" is decidedly out of place: Dare needs no validation from Branson, he is 'the pilot of the future'.
One thing worries me. I understand that Virgin Comics has shut down in the US and so I am not sure what this will mean for the second half (parts 4 onwards) of this adventure? If you are outside the UK you may not know that this is par for the course for the Virgin brand that has gone downhill since the late 1990s to become a money-grubbing franchise. I will though keep my eye out for you.
STOP PRESS ALERT -- Do NOT buy this volume! Virgin Comics went bust before the second half of the story came out. So to see the whole adventure you need to get the complete volume published by Dynamite Entertainment.
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