The Book: Dan Dare, Pilot of the Futureids a British icon. Created by Frank Hampson in 1950, he first appeared in the Eagle comic where he was an instant hit with the British public.
Almost a decade after the original series had ended, Dan Dare was resurrected in the pages of a brand new sci-fi comic for boys – 2000AD. Waking from suspended animation after two hundred years, Dan Dare faced an unfamiliar universe, filled with terrible new threats, but also included all too familiar ones… such as his old nemesis The Mekon.
Collected up for the first time, the first volume of this punk-fuelled space opera features the superb writing of Pat Mills (Nemesis the Warlock), Steve Moore (Doctor Who) and Gerry Finley-Day (Rogue Trooper) with art by Massimo Belardinelli (Slaine) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen).
The Review: Unlike most of the content of 2000AD its “Dan Dare” strip, which was a highlight of the record breaking publication’s launch in February 1977, has never been reprinted in book form until now. The stories were edited into a US format monthly comic in the early 1980s, but this over 30 years ago. However this high quality book has made the wait worthwhile. It reproduces all the strips drawn by Massimo Bellardinelli, including his strip for the first 2000AD annual and those drawn by Dave Gibbons for the “Legion of the Lost Worlds” series, up to the end of the long “Starslayers” serial. The collection also includes strips from 2000AD Summer Specials for 1977 and ’78, 2000AD annual for 1978 and Dan Dare Annual for 1979.
Foremost among these strips are an impressive effort in black and white from Garry Leach which bridges the gap between the Belardinelli and Gibbons versions, and a colour strip illustrated by Ian Kennedy, who would go on to draw another version of Dan Dare for the new Eagle weekly in the 1980s.
Dave Gibbons has provided an original cover for the book which captures the essence of the collection, depicting his version of Dan in the foreground looking determined as he points a gun at an unseen enemy. Behind him are many of the key characters from the stories inside.
When the strip first appeared in 2000AD it was printed across the colour centre spread and the next three black and white pages. Consequently, the book’s editors have faced the difficult task of reprinting the centre pages without losing some of the content in the ‘guttering’ between the pages. In this regard they have been mostly successful, although not quite as successful as The Book Palace’s reprint of Heros the Spartan two years ago. However the Heros book cost three times as much.
To be fair, the reproduction quality in the whole book is good and does justice to the artwork. The shiny high quality of the paper contrasts strongly with the poor quality of that used in the original 2000 AD pages, but it allows the artwork to be seen at its best, although it is reproduced from printed pages and not the originals.
The book tackles the problem of having a redundant page every six pages for the first part of the book, by spreading extracts from a short interview with Pat Mills, who devised the 2000AD version of Dan Dare, across them. This is nowhere near an ideal solution to the problem, but it serves to reduce the number of wasted pages. The problem solves itself later thanks to the strip’s reduction to just four pages and the problem of reprinting centrespreads also disappears when the strip moved to the cover of 2000AD and the following three pages in black and white.
The 2000AD versions of Dan Dare were significantly different to Frank Hampson’s creation for Eagle, which ran in that weekly from 1950 until its demise in 1969. Dan was “a harder man in a harsher world” in his 1970s incarnation, noted by Garth Ennis in his informative introduction. 2000AD actually brought two versions of Dan Dare, for after two serials drawn by Massimo Bellardinelli and written by Ken Armstrong, Kelvin Gosnell and Steve Moore, the strip was briefly rested and completely redesigned as Dave Gibbons took over the art credits and Gerry Finley-Day wrote the scripts. The Belardinelli version is a wild fantasy with aliens that bear no resemblance to humans and where even human settlers on Mars have evolved into immensely strong giants. The stories take place in a future where Britain has been cut free from the continental shelf and floats around the world as a holiday park and where the Mekon operates from a planet inside a red giant star.
When Gibbons took over, the tight outfits worn by Dan and his comrades, which resembled super hero costumes were replaced by much looser uniforms, not significantly different from contemporary ones. Dan even gained a leather flying jacket similar to the one he had worn in the old Eagle. Spacecraft and backgrounds were no longer fantastic as the changes recalled designs in the first Star Wars film which was released that year. The stories too became more conventional. In a strong opening episode, reminiscent of the films The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen, Dan is given command of a mission to explore the dangerous and uncharted ‘lost worlds’ region of space and chooses a crew of tough but disgraced spacers to join him. The subsequent adventures show how Dan and his team explore different worlds in that system and all are one or two part stories except the final serial in this collection where Dan fights the evil ‘Starslayer’ Empire in a 16-episode story heavily inspired by the first Star Wars film.
Despite their more traditional and conventional stories and appearance, I always preferred the Gibbons strips. Gerry Finley-Day’s tight storytelling draws in the reader immediately and keeps his attention throughout, while Gibbons’ highly detailed artwork complements the scripts so well. This is my personal preference and no reflection on Mills and Belardinelli’s fine work, which pushed the barriers of space adventures away from the more mundane conventions of Star Trek and deeper into the realms of imagination, with the nightmarish ‘Biog’ creatures and the fifth generation Martian, Commander Monday, with his great height, white hair and pink eyes.
The book is ‘Volume One’ which offers the hope of another and there are still more stories about “The Lost Worlds” to be told, as well as Dan’s later adventure with the Mekon and a few more strips from the annuals. A significant effort has been made to reproduce these stories in a book worthy of the effort that went into their original creation and I can confidently recommend it to fans of space adventure. Sadly, there is nothing like it today.
Review by Steve Winders
- Dan Dare (2000 AD Progs 01-11)
- Hollow World (2000 AD Progs 12-23)
- Legion (2000 AD Progs 28-33)
- Greenworld (2000 AD Progs 34-35)
- Star Slayer (2000 AD Progs 36-51)
- Dan Dare: Untitled (2000 AD Summer Special 1977)
- The Curse of Mytax (2000 AD Annual 1978)
- Visco (2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1978)
- Dan Dare: Untitled (Dan Dare Annual 1979)
- Dan Dare: The 2000 AD Origin (Dan Dare Annual 1979)
- Introduction by Garth Ennis
- Cover Gallery