I recently came across a fascinating two-part study of the first Dan Dare story by Colin Smith on Sequart, which includes some observations of modern takes on the character such as the Virgin Comics reboot by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine.
In Part 1 , Colin notes how difficult it is for a modern audience to relate to how challengingly bleak the set-up of the first month of Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare – with the world facing grave food shortages – was when it was published. When the Eagle launched just a few years after World War Two, Britain was still experiencing food rationing and kids played in bomb craters where houses once stood.
He goes on to put the strip into grim contemporary context, noting “Part of what makes these first few chapters of Dan Dare so surreptitiously unsettling is the sense that the martial achievements of the past have been for nothing, and that everything which was sacrificed in the two great wars will ultimately fail to help carve out a better world.”
In Part 2, Colin observes that after its grim set up, full of foreboding, the Dan Dare team led by Frank Hampson released more than just a little of that accumulated despair and tension in the strip’s second month – but there is cause for optimism ahead.
“With the strip’s star finally shedding his scene-setting passivity, Dan Dare begins to generate less a looming air of anxiety, and more a spirit-raising sense of backs-against-the-wall defiance and purposeful optimism too,” he noted.
“A great measure of that, of course, lies in the fact that Dare and his colleagues have suddenly taken the lead in a tale where the action was previously disastrously occurring thousands upon thousands of miles out into space.”
The articles offer a succinct and fascinating study of the first Dan Dare story, offering some useful context to the strip and noting many of its ground-breaking achievements, including the inclusion of a strong , intelligent female character, Professor Peabody, whose success meant that in its early days some 20 per cent of Eagle‘s readers were estimated to be female, prompting Hulton to launch Girl comic.