Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Alberto Foche
Colour: Jordi Escuin Liorach
Lettering: Simon Bowland
Edited by David Leach
Publisher: Titan Comics
Reviewed by Andrew Darlington
WARNING: Some spoilers toward the end of this review during discussion of the story finale!
The Book: Dan Dare returns in an all new adventure, written by Peter Milligan, in which he faces a sinister new foe sent by a deadly ancient evil that threatens not only all life in the solar system, but the very galaxy itself!
The Review: Millennial Dare
Did the Mekon ever have teeth?
No. He didn’t, not until now. The whole point of reboots, reinventions and re-imaginings is to introduce new slants onto familiar characters and stories. Despite the wailing objections of purists, it’s that which gives them vitality, longevity and relevances to new generations of readers. Movies and merchandising have ensured the overwhelming dominance of superheroes in new guises, to such an extent that – Judge Dredd and the 2000AD family notwithstanding, it’s almost possible to forget that Britain also had a thriving continuum of iconic comicbook characters.
Which makes the latest Dan Dare story from Titan all the more gratifying.
With art by Alberto Foche working on Peter Milligan scripts, the Dan Dare – He Who Dares ran across four issues dated November 2017 to January 2018. Each edition came in a choice of three covers… one of them by Chris Weston recapturing the original Frank Hampson art-style in order to lure hard-core nostalgics. And the familiar Dare team are all present and correct, if in altered forms. Dare himself is more auburn-blond than I recall, although the zigzag eyebrows betray his identity. Digby – or ‘Digs’, was he ever Digs before? – is a more slimline less bumbling variant. And Jocelyn Peabody has been promoted into the action-female part of the trio. Of course, she was always there as part of the Dare cast of characters, which legitimises her escalation into a more pro-active gun-totin’ role in line with millennial expectations. Flamer also gets a walk-on cameo. As does Hank Hogan. While Sir Hubert Guest is still Controller of Space Command.
But the essential axis of the Dare multiverse is counterbalanced by the Mekon, the malevolent scientific genius from Venus, ‘the implacable evil that defined my life and gave it shape and meaning.’ And, until now, he never – ever, had teeth. The Treen physiognomy is planed to geometrically sculpted contours, neatly ascribed eye-ridges, smooth dome-heads and the lower jaw reduced to a single plate, the product of a kind of sinister scientific reptilian techno-evolution. With no dentition whatsoever. Yet in this new incarnation the Treens have simply become green humans, and the Mekon a grinning green goblin, which seems to reduce the alien scare-factor rather than amplify it. Yet the central dilemma remains.
The back-story to the story has vaguely satiric references to the Mekon using a hypnosis machine transmitting electromagnetic pulses “on a bloody massive scale” to brainwash millions of people, hence rigging votes into him becoming democratically-elected World President, and then enforcing crackdowns on dissidents and degenerates. With Dare tracking the Treen technology responsible, there’s a Pink Spring deposing the Mekon and ushering in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity for the Earth Alliance and the Sol system. Recent world-event analogies are easy to draw… only the Golden Age part has yet to be realised.
The Mekon has stood trial before, accused of crimes against the solar system. As far back as the 1964 “All Treens Must Die” in the original Eagle, the Dare continuum was facing up to the conundrum of how a civilised society should deal with individuals of irredeemable evil. In a conscious echo of the Nuremberg Trials in which Nazi leaders were held to account by International Humanitarian Law for their war-crimes, the Mekon stood trial in London for his “crimes against humanity” with prosecutor and defence lawyer arguing the finer points of legal procedure. Frame-by-frame, it brings the enigma of Crime & Punishment into sharper focus.
In its simplified way, the original Star Trek episode “Dagger Of The Mind” deals with the same problem, when Captain Kirk beams down to the supposedly idyllic Tantalus penal colony, only to discover that the enlightened Dr Gelder is carrying out mind-control experiments. Posing the equation, is evil a mental disorder that can be corrected through therapy, or even edited by surgical intervention, but if by doing so, it robs the subject of free-will, is it still morally justifiable? The cult-movie A Clockwork Orange (1971) operates on the same principle. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a sadistic and thoroughly reprehensible character, but subjecting him to aversion-therapy rendering him psychologically incapable of violence even in self-defence, is seen as an equally inhuman solution. There’s further ambiguity. Peabody reminds Dare that the Mekon’s approval-ratings shot up when “women’s and minorities rights were eroded” under his regime. Dare accepts the nuanced truth that yes, “the Mekon revealed something nasty about us.” That “everything is a little more complicated than I’d like it to be…”
The Mekon was genetically-engineered to be evil. Yet he poses the dilemma of his own situation, “the question is, do I have the ability or will-power to change? Or did my engineers predestine how my life must be?” An existential question embedded at the very core of self-identity, never mind penal reform. In the 1964 strip the Keith Watson artwork shows the unreformed Mekon busting loose before the trial can be brought to its summing-up and verdict stage. In the Titan series, Dare is as ever the liberal idealist who believes that “every sentient being should have the chance to change for the better,” through behavioural rehabilitation. So the Mekon is placed in a high-security Lunar facility enforced by Quark technology, where he’s allowed to put his genius to good use, “recalibrating his existence” by contentedly growing marrows and legumes “in the unforgiving soil of the moon.” Maybe there’s a sly in-joke here about Digby’s habit of calling the Mekon melon-head?
There are two high-profile attempts to free him. First by the fanatical paramilitary Mekon Liberation Army, and then by a vast Treen Supership which disintegrates Triton – the moon of Neptune (and incidentally, the location for the 1965 “The Moonsleepers” serial), in a demonstration of Death-Star power. In both instances, the Mekon not only refuses their rescue attempts, but actively connives with Dare to frustrate them through a mobile-phone hotline uplink. Landing Anastasia on Proteus 2, a Neptune moon “discovered by Voyager 2 way back in 1989″, and assisted by a vengeful blue alien called Au Taween, the Dare team infiltrate the labyrinthine four-dimensional architecture of the vast Treen ship.
After years of stifling desk work, Dare initially finds himself “re-energized” by the “passionate intensity” of the blue warrior princess, until he realises that what he’d glorified as a “lust for life” is more the murderous result of a “life twisted and poisoned by pain and hatred”. The Mekon creates a computer virus which jumps species and ends the Treen threat, then intervenes again when the viral contagion infects the Dare team too. In a new quandary Dare finds himself wondering “has my liberal naivety killed the people I care for most?'”
Au Taween’s blind hatred, shaped by Treen destruction of her Si-Lawn race, has equivalent corrosive results. “The only safe Supertreen is a dead one” she yells, snatching a guard’s gun. Dare first interposes himself between her and the Mekon, then the Mekon is apparently shot dead when he intervenes to save ‘Daniel’.
The final sequence operates on equally multiple layering. Can the Mekon really be dead, or has he retracted into a healing cellular hibernation? Can Dare save a ‘damaged’ Au Taween through talking cures and therapy? And is his own thirst for action a symptom of the same psychological craving for danger and threat?
The Mekon’s final escape to “out there in the dark where mankind’s nightmares are made”, seems to constitute a damning indictment of Dare’s gullible liberal foolishness. In the very first issue the Mekon taunts a warning “you’re a fool, Dare. You should execute me while you have the chance. When I get my opportunity I won’t think twice about killing you. And that’s why I will win.” Even Sir Hubert suggests that maybe Au Taween – and the Mekon himself were right all along. All the rest has simply been playing the long game.
Although surely the Mekon has had countless occasions to kill Dan Dare over the long trajectory of their encounters since 1950, a situation that brings to mind the argument between Dr Evil and his son, Scott, explaining the necessity of the villain placing the hero within “an easily escapable situation involving an overly-elaborate and exotic death”, rather than killing him outright at the first opportunity.
Does the Titan tale achieve its potential? It is still recognisably Dan Dare, with his idealism intact, simply recast in a new vocabulary. The hazards and dialogue are teasingly evolved in ways that reflect our more morally ambiguous times, yet within a framework of reassuring continuity. The artwork is strong, yet narrative, without any trace of experimental obscurantism. So, yes, it’s a very satisfying reboot, reinvention or reimagining.
Despite the Mekon’s teeth…!
• Dan Dare – He Who Dares is published as a collection by Titan Comics on 24th April 2018 – using this amazon link helps support downthetubes, thank you
• Peter Milligan will be signing copies of He Who Dares at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Saturday 28th April between 1 – 2.00pm – full details on the store web site. You can pre-ordered signed copies of the collection from Forbidden Planet here (using this link helps support downthetubes, thank you)
Andrew Darlington has had masses of material published in all manner of strange and obscure places, magazines, websites, anthologies and books. He’s also worked as a Stand-Up Poet on the ‘Alternative Cabaret Circuit’, and interviewed very many people from the worlds of Literature, SF-Fantasy, Art and Rock-Music for a variety of publications (a selection of favourite interviews collected into the ‘Headpress’ book I Was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love-Child).
His latest poetry collection is The Poet’s Deliberation On The State Of The Nation (Penniless Press), while his new fiction collection A Saucerful Of Secrets is now available from Parallel Universe Publishing
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The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.