Dan Dare Omnibus by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine

Dan Dare Omnibus
by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine
Dynamite, 2009

The latest doomed revival of an extraordinary comic, doomed because no revival can match the quality of the original, whose values are timelocked in the grey age of the New Elizabethans when the dust was still settling from WWII, and 1996 was far away in the gloriously bright future.

Like the original Star Trek, Dan Dare was optimistic about the future during difficult times, although it was a future where Britain reigned supreme and had spread its benevolent empire to the stars, and everyone was white, Christian and middle class (unless one had an amusing Wigan accent, of course). At its least interesting, it was the RAF in Space, another war comic with a more exotic setting, where the pipe-clenching International Spacefleet endlessly re-hashed WWII each week with green BEM Nazi-proxies, the Treens. At its best, it featured some of the finest sci-fi illustration in the world – the colour pages (published in Eagle Magazine) are still impossibly lush and detailed, decades ahead of their time.

The upright and religiously moral Eagle Magazine lasted from 1950 until 1969, although the golden age of Dan Dare ended when creator Frank Hampson left in 1959. Since then there have been several attempts at reviving this “property”, most famously in 2000AD in 1977*. Most revivals eliminated everything that made the strip special in favour of “updated” gritty nihilism and unimaginative violence, although there was an excellent version published in 1990 by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes. Obviously influenced by the revisionism of The Dark Knight Returns (what wasn’t in 1990?), Dare is the original series set decades later, in a futuristic Britain which peaked in 1996 and has been crumbling since (like Milton Keynes). A retired and depressed Dare, his famous lantern-jawed face lined by defeat, has his considerable integrity exploited by a corrupt British government, led by a Thatcher proxy.

The latest revival attempt covers similar ground but not as satirically, although it’s a lot more cheerful. It lasted for seven issues a few years ago, and while Ennis (Preacher) was probably the best modern man for the job, his usual irreverence is restrained by respect, and the resulting tale has none of the wonder of the original stories.

Again, set years after the original series, Dan Dare has become alienated by the values of modern future Britain and its suspiciously Blair-ish Prime Minister, and retired to live on an asteroid in a rather pathetic Old England village hologram, like Superman in exile in Kingdom Come. Bravely, the look of the characters has been redesigned, although Dare looks far too young to be retired and all the characters look and move like wax dollies. The original strip used detailed photo references and models – this modern incarnation has a few clever conceptual ideas, particularly in the spacecraft, but basically isn’t very good.

There’s a fun Zulu pastiche where Dare faces hundreds of ferocious BEMs in his usual unflappable manner, and an interesting moment when he admits he retired because the British National Party wanted him to enter politics on their behalf, but not much rings true, especially a final showdown with archetypal super-brain villain The Mekon, where Dare brandishes an electric samurai sword for some unfathomable reason… imagine The Dark Knight Return’s Batman confronting the Joker with a nunchaku for some idea of the incongruity.

Central Library has some of the reprinted albums of the original stories, which are well worth seeking out if you’re interested in really, really good comic art. Sadly they no longer seem to have The Man Who Drew Tomorrow by Alistair Crompton, both a fascinating account of the making of Dan Dare and a cautionary tale of the exploitation of creator Frank Hampson, who was comprehensively ripped off, and only enjoyed a few years of late adulation before dying in poverty.

*Or, indeed, in 1977 in 2000AD.

3 Responses to “Dan Dare Omnibus by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine”

  1. Rhinocrates Says:

    Well, that is sad. I can’t say that I feel inspired to seek it out at all. British SF author Stephen Baxter has dealt with the dreams of the New Elizabethans (not to mention some New Victorians) very well in text with postmodern ambivalence but not cynicism.

  2. Rhinocrates Says:

    …oh, and I remember the 2000AD revival. It featured a good selection of artists, but not really the spirit…

    You know, I wouldn’t mind a new version of The Trigan Empire from Look and Learn.

  3. Blimey, I’ve got a copy of that somewhere.

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