Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Dan Dare: The Man From Nowhere

(2007) Frank Hampson, Titan Books, £16.99, hrdbk, 96pp, ISBN 1-84576-412-9


This is the eighth volume of the Titan Books Dan Dare collections and reprints "The Man from Nowhere", from Eagle 13th May 1955 to 25th November 1955, the beginning of Dan's first extra-solar adventure. Lero, a visitor from Cryptos orbiting an alien star, comes to Earth in a faster than light ship (the first time such technology is seen in the series) seeking help to fight the evil phants. If they go Dan and his daring crew, including undersea ace Lex O'Malley, will be beyond the reach of Earth and any help that they can give. Should Dan go? Of course! And so they do. Quite right too; good old British stiff upper lip and all that... Upon arrival at Cryptos, Lero's ship is immediately attacked by phants, with their superior weaponry. Dare and co escape the doomed ship by hiding in its torpedos but, as they descend to the planet below, Flamer Spry's torpedo is knocked off course. Oh no! What will happen next? You'll have to wait for the next volume, 'Rogue Planet', to find out.

Meanwhile this volume also contains 'Mars 1997', 'The Robocrabs' and the Christmas tale 'Operation Silence' featuring the Mekon! Other goodies include an introduction from Paul Cornell (author of Something More and British Summertime and contributor to the current Dr.Who TV series) and some treats from the Frank Hampson sketchbook (from Eagle Times and The Eagler). All great stuff which will appeal equally to the nostalgic older fan, and to the wide-eyed newbie who wants to find out how the future used to be seen, bearing in mind that once 1997 was 42 years in the future, and not ten years in the past! Highly recommended.

Tony Chester


Supplemental: Dan Dare -- A briefing

Dan Dare – comic character, UK (created 1950) by Frank Hampson.  Though in print in one form or another every decade since its creation, Dan Dare is primarily associated with the comic Eagle in the 1950s and 60s, and initially the science underpinning the fiction was assisted by one Arthur C. Clarke acting as a consultant for the strip's creation.

Dan Dare was an astronaut game for any adventure in true 'British' style. He was colourfully brought to life by Frank Hampson (1918-1985) in an optimistic world of mid-twentieth century standards set in the 21st. Think British World War II spitfire pilot type, but an astronaut in a British space force. 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 Yorkshire side-kick Digby battling an evil Venusian, The Mekon.  His weekly adventures were the mainstay of the original Eagle comic through to 1969.  Frank Hampson left the Eagle in 1960 with Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell taking over drawing duties and Eric Eden scripting the stories.  Frank Hampson had for some years found the task of writing and drawing the weekly strips strenuous despite help from assistant artists and writers. So when Eagle's new editors baulked at the length and complexity of the stories as well as the cost of the artwork (all of which is surely what made the strip so enduring) Hampson decided to retire.

Keith Watson (who had previously been a junior assistant artist on the strip since 1958) returned to take over drawing the strip in 1962.  Fortunately Watson's style was very similar to Hampson’s.

In March 1962 Dan Dare stopped being drawn in colour, having moved from the cover to the inside of Eagle in black-and-white.  Keith Watson was then the sole artist working on the strip and did though to January 1967.  The 1962 -'66 Watson drawn stories were scripted by David Motton and all the ones they did were much shorter than the epic Hampson adventures which could take the best part of a year to complete: a lifetime for young readers. Watson left in 1967.  In 1964 Dan Dare returned to the front page in colour.

Finally, from July 1966 to January 1967 there were just two stories both written annonymously and only the first of which was drawn by Keith Watson.  These stories, though in colour, each comprised of weekly, just one-page episodes.

From then on the Eagle only saw 1950s adventure reprints of Dare stories until 1969 when the original-run Eagle merged with the comic Lion.  (Keith Watson then moved on to drawstrips based on Gerry Anderson TV series for TV Century 21.)

Dare briefly reappeared re-vamped – having spent years in suspended animation – in 2000AD in February 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 (New) Eagle drawn by Watson and the strip survived until 1994 when the comic ceased.

In 1990, a strip called Dare, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Rian Hughes, was serialised in the short-lived comic Revolver, a sister magazine to 200AD aimed at a slightly older audience.

In 2007–2008 Virgin Comics published a seven- issue Dan Dare mini-series a little more grittily written by Garth Ennis, with art by Gary Erskine. This was compiled into a graphic novel Dan Dare.  In this incarnation Dare, Britain ruled space because the US had been decimated not having had continental shield protection from attack. Dan Dare is in retirement but then news comes that the Mekon has assembled a fleet in the depth of space and is now heading for Earth… with a black hole in tow. Ennis' version of Dare owes much to the original but it is a grittier Dare even though one still very British.

Away from comics, there was a children's TV computer animation series entitled Dan Dare (first broadcast 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.  This ran to twenty-six 22-minute episodes

Juvenile SF certainly, but the original Dan Dare strips were picturesque, fun and pure SF nostalgia. (See also Jeff Hawke who, though a different character, was kind of similar to Dan Dare but for a slightly older readership.)


Supplemental: How does this Titan reprint edition stack-up against previous versions?

Over the years there have been a number of reprinted editions of Dan Dare's adventures.  Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. The 2007 Titan edition (reviewed above) scores well in terms of price and hardback format. It also features (other than size) faithful copies of the original stories as they appeared each week that include the weekly story title boxes and other identifiers of non-Dan Dare content that appeared in Eagle.  The down side to this edition is that the originals have been slightly reduced in size and the detail of the reproduction is not as sharp as the original with the colours being a little washed out. The differences are slight but noticeable and so a shame given that the artwork is one of the reasons for Dare's popularity.

Back in 1970 Dragon's Dream produced an interesting, but not a pure, reprint. The size of the artwork was close to the originals but the title page banner (signifying non-Dan Dare content elsewhere in Eagle) was removed.  The cover Eagle title box was also removed: each weekly Dan Dare story began on the cover.  To fill this space Dragon's Dream got the original team of Frank Hampson and Don Harley to redraw the first frame of each weekly story. This at least gave some editorial credibility to these changes. The other very noticeable format change was that the picture boxes were not superimposed on plain white but black. This made for an interesting look and did not unduly detract from the compilation. A decided plus point was that the colour was slightly deeper than in the 2007 Titan edition.  The down point was that it was a paperback (not hardback as with the Titan edition) and the binding has not stood up to the years as it might have. (At least my copy has not fared too well despite reasonable care over the years.) This edition has an introduction by Kit Pedlar (remember him?), as well as a five-page article reviewing Dare and his creator Frank Hampson.

Then there are the Hawk Books compilations. There was an initial full-sized paperback edition of Dare's earliest escapades lovingly compiled in 1987 and published in 1988. This must have been a success for this led on to an even bolder project. It is this that, for my money, is the definitive reprint set to get (and I do occasionally see copies in the dealers hall at conventions). The Hawk Books 'deluxe' volumes were compiled by Mike Higgs in the years leading up to and including 1995. Volume 5 (1990) is the one containing 'The Man From Nowhere'. These are full-sized volumes and to my knowledge the only properly-sized production of the various reprint editions so far. They are also in hardback and are most certainly born of love for Dare. There are 12 volumes in this series for die-hard aficionados to seek out.

Jonathan Cowie

See other Dan Dare reviews on this site including: Dan Dare: Marooned on Mercury, Dan Dare: Operation Saturn, Dan Dare: Prisoners of Space and Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus pt.1.

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