I'm reviewing the first of two Rebellion hardback collections of Dan Dare's 2000 AD adventures. It's expensive, but worth the money. Just look at the page count.
Anyway, Dan Dare vs. 2000 AD. They don't fit, do they? Surprisingly, it's not a great-grandson or anything. It's the original 20th century character from the 1950s Eagle, frozen and then revived in the year 2177. When you read the stories, though, it's Dare in name only. He's tougher, rougher and a lot more violent. He's out of place. He's been dumped into the ultra-violence of the 1970s UK comics revolution and Pat Mills (2000 AD editor) was enjoying all the press criticism. His target audience were lapping it up.
Apparently their first attempt at Dare had something of the original's realistic tone and was good, Mills says... "but only from a purist POV. It was in a semi-Sidney Jordan style with a cool inking style. I know SF fans will like it - but I also know it won't appeal to the mass audience I'm aiming for."
What actually got published... well, it's exciting, but it's also sometimes a bit incoherent. I'm reviewing this monster collection as a whole because there's little point discussing every individual story. There's not always a clear narrative shape. SF, violence, violence, yikes, battle, death, death, battle. That's how it reads, plus spaceships. Sometimes a narrative direction is discernible, but that clearly wasn't the top priority. That said, though, I also quite like it. Speaking as a Doctor Who Weekly fan, it's hard to top Dave Gibbons drawing lots of action and spaceships. It's a nostalgia hit for me. His technically trained design style, his inking, his explosions, even his lettering... looking at these pages makes me regress to six years old. (Gibbons had been drawing Dan Dare when Dez Skinn poached him for Doctor Who, incidentally.)
I can live with Dare's new characterisation. He's been yanked out of place. He doesn't fit in this 22nd century world and he's had to change to survive. It's not what I'd have written, but I can rationalise it. I do, though, dislike his new face. (Kevin O'Neill agreed with me and Pat Mills held a straw poll in the office to see what everyone thought.) Firstly, Dare's 1950s face was better. It's cool as hell and instantly recognisable. This one's pretty anonymous. Secondly and just as importantly, I think they've cut a link with the past. Yes, I realise that Mills had zero interest in Dan Dare's 1950s fans... but damn, it would have been cool to have the real Dare in these pages. If only he'd looked right, I bet the dads would have accepted it. The characterisation shift isn't a huge hurdle, frankly.
It might have affected the tone, though. The original 1950s Dare looks intelligent and thoughtful, while this new one's a thug... but I'm sure Gibbons could have made it work. He's a Dare fan. Note the Eagle logo he gives to Dan's Eagle ship.
The stories in this collection are:
- The Biogs (55 pages, progs 1-11)
- Hollow World (61 pages, progs 12-23)
- Legion (31 pages, progs 28-33)
- Greenworld (10 pages, progs 34-35)
- Star Slayer (70 pages, progs 36-51)
- Untitled (8 pages, 2000 AD Summer Special 1977)
- The Curse of Mytax (10 pages, 2000 AD Annual 1978)
- Visco (12 pages, 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special 1978)
- Untitled (12 pages, Dan Dare Annual 1979)
- Dan Dare: the 2000 AD origin (8 pages, Dan Dare Annual 1979)
Massimo Bellardinelli drew the first two serials and The Curse of Mytax. Wow. He's mental. Reading Bellardinelli is like an acid trip. Aliens melt into grotesque contortions. You're almost too dazzled to follow the story.
He was soon followed by the great Dave Gibbons, helped by Brian Bolland (although you'd never guess). I also like Garry Leach's work on Visco.
As for the scripts, one can't help wondering if the writers had even read each other's work. Everyone gives Dan a different supporting cast, for starters. The Mills/Gosnell opening serial is eleven episodes of crazy. Steve Moore creates by far the most memorable characters and is also the only writer here to use the Mekon. (Moore's Mekon is a massive improvement on the Eagle's original, incidentally. He'll kill you at the drop of a hat and any hero in his vicinity can expect to be dead before we've turned the page, making him scary in a way he'd never been before.)
Gerry Finley-Day then takes over. He gives Dan a new spaceship, a team of desperadoes and a 'Lost Worlds' story arc. The vampire two-parter stands out from its more generic SF neighbours, while Star Slayer has a slaver empire and Dan starting an interplanetary revolution. This builds up to be pretty epic and exciting. Also, the armageddon missile supervillain death made me laugh.
The miscellaneous special/annual stories don't add up to much, but I was gobsmacked by "Dan Dare: the 2000 AD origin". It's a handover story, complete with the Mekon and Digby, showing us how the Eagle's Dare became this new incarnation. That was cool and made me wish we'd had more like that, but I dislike its justification for a 20th century hero being alive in 2177. The original stories already had their own explanation for that! Dare would repeatedly go on interstellar journeys and return to find that relativistic effects meant a decade had passed. You could have made that poignant.
I loved this collection, but that's mostly thanks to Gibbons. I'd recommend it to any fan of Doctor Who Weekly. Don't expect too much from the blood-and-thunder scripts, but they're not without cool moments.