* Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead *
Forget all of the iconic superheroes from Marvel and DC that have graced (and dare I say dominated) comic books, film and television screens for most of the latter half of the 20th century and beyond. As well as home grown superheroes, the UK gave birth to what was arguably one of the most notable and memorable comic book heroes of the 50s and 60s, was revived in the 70s, again in the 80s through to the 90s and is back once again in comic book form thanks to Titan Comics…
I am, of course, referring to Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. The space-bound hero created by Frank Hampton made his debut in The Eagle in 1950 and spent almost 20 years headlining the adventure paper battling his arch-nemesis, the genetically engineered Mekon. The character was brought back briefly as part of 2000AD and then returned to the Eagle once more when the comic was relaunched in 1982 for a second 12-year run. Now, Titan Comics (an offshoot of Titan Books) has taken on the task of bringing Dare back to print and has bravely attempted to put it’s own spin on the character to bring him to a new audience but have they managed to succeed without alienating the existing fanbase that has built up over the decades…?
Before I continue, I have to say that my own exposure as a reader to Dan Dare is limited to the 1982 run of the Eagle. I’m relieved to say that I’m too young to remember the original Eagle (and I haven’t started buying issues of it yet) and I haven’t read any issues of the 2000AD years so I only have that as a reference point when comparing the two. Granted I shouldn’t really be comparing this new comic with any of the previous incarnations but it’s not easy to do when something is being released as a new version of an old favourite.
So on with this issue. From the offset it appears to take its inspiration more from the original run rather than anything else featuring a return of all of the major characters – Dare himself, his “sidekick” Digby, his scientific advisor Jocelyn Peabody and other key players from the original comic. Dare’s greatest enemy, the Mekon, still has a major part to play in the story but not quite in the same way as before. Still a genetically engineered evil mastermind from Venus, he has been defeated and captured at long last by Dare and imprisoned on the moon where he has been sentenced and is being subjected to rehabilitation therapy.
Prior to his capture, the Mekon used mind-altering technology to brainwash the entire human race to become the President of Earth, took control of all of the military forces and decreed that Dare and his loyal friends were terrorists and enemies of the state. Determined to uncover the truth they managed to remove the Venusians influence on the population, removing him from power in the process and rest is history… Back in the present (well, future but that’s just nit-picking here) and Dare is growing restless after five years of peace. Digby is getting married and the Mekon seems to be showing genuine signs of reform. Even when those around him doubt the Mekon’s apparently good intentions, Dare is soon believing that he could truly be fighting against his genetic breeding and wanting to make something new of himself. This certainly seems to ring true when he rejects a rescue attempt made from some of his former followers…
Dare is still missing all of the excitement and adventure from pitting his wits against the Mekon time after time and realises that something is missing from his life but heading towards Earth rapidly is something that will quickly change all of that…
Once again, as with the 1982 relaunch of the Eagle, the Dan Dare story gets a reboot. This time it has gone back to the original version of the characters and given them a modern twist and attempting to bring them – and the story itself – into a more acceptable framework for today’s readers. Essentially, the stereotypical imagery seen in the 1950s and 1960s for the hapless sidekick and the beautiful assistant have now been thankfully brushed aside with all of the characters given more depth and more substance to their roles in the same way that the 1980s strip did decades earlier. Even Dare himself has had something of a makeover and seems to have mellowed somewhat with age…
As you would expect in this medium, the first thing you notice is that artwork. I don’t know why but I just didn’t find it particularly dynamic and panels often felt empty and lifeless. Throughout the comic I found panels with a lot of empty space where I felt that some background detail would have been beneficial just to put the scene into context of where it was taking place as you can see from one of the panels below. I actually counted the equivalent of over four pages worth of such panels throughout the comic and it just felt sloppy. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the art style as it was – I can’t quite put my finger on it why – but this didn’t help. The new look for Dare seemed a bit too generic as well and I felt that his eyebrows were a little to subtle. For a facial feature that was supposed to be a recognisable trait of Dan Dare I was expecting it to be more pronounced than this.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled here by the artwork of my personal favourites from the 1980s comic – Gerry Embleton, Oliver Frey and Ian Kennedy – and am setting my expectations too high with this or any other Dan Dare story for that matter and as I said at the start this had a high standard to live up to right from the beginning but certainly on the art front it didn’t quite work for me.
Story wise however I did enjoy the new twist on things, especially what Milligan has done with the Mekon and I’m intrigued to see where this is going. We’re left pondering about him and whether he really has turned over a new leaf and is set to become one of Dare’s new allies, or whether he has a hidden agenda and is simply biding his time before showing his true colours. It’s written superbly and really has the readers just as perplexed as Digby and Peabody in that sense.
It’s the writing and strength of the story that more than makes up for any concerns I have regarding the artwork and as such I can’t wait for the next issue to drop through the letterbox. Gripping stuff and this is one comic that you shouldn’t wait until it arrives in trade paperback format. Available now in print and digitally from Comixology.
- Publisher: Titan Comics
- Writer: Peter Milligan
- Art: Alberto Foche
- Colours: Jorde Escuin Liorach
- Letters: Simon Bowland