Here dies the 2000 AD Dan Dare, cancelled halfway through a story arc. No one will ever revive him. (Even Garth Ennis, a massive 2000 AD fan, went back to the Eagle originals with his 2007 mini-series.) These stories had been falling in popularity with both the readers and editors. No one except me seems to like Tom Tully's run on the character.
The stories in Rebellion's second collection are:
- Doppelganger (17 pages, progs 52-55)
- Waterworld (23 pages, progs 56-60)
- Nightmare Planet (12 pages, progs 61-63)
- Ice Planet (12 pages, progs 64-66)
- Garden of Eden (25 pages, progs 67-72)
- Mutiny! (26 pages, progs 73-78)
- The Doomsday Machine (42 pages, progs 79-85)
- Servant of Evil! story arc (124 pages, progs 100-126)
- Untitled (10 pages, 2000 AD Annual 1979)
- Untitled (12 pages, Dan Dare Annual 1980)
Dave Gibbons is still by far the best thing about these stories. There are interludes with other artists, some of whom are even good (e.g. Garry Leach), but frankly Gibbons is the only reason to read this book. You can even see him improve. His later episodes are cleaner and clearer on the eye, whereas earlier he could be a bit cluttered.
Leaving aside those two negligible stories in the annuals, these strips divide into two groups. First comes the business-as-usual run (mostly written by Lowder) up to the break between progs 85 and 100. These are what you'd expect from 2000 AD, except more anonymous. The stories merge together in your mind. Theoretically, they all have an individual identity, but in practice it's just lots of breathless violence, the odd wild SF idea and not a huge amount of characterisation. I don't mind them, but they were written to be read in weekly explosions and they don't collect very well.
Dan Dare himself is arguably the strip's achilles heel, since they've discarded everything interesting about his characterisation without really finding anything to put in its place. They're not even doing anything meaningful with the fact that he's a man out of time (born in the 20th century, but fighting in the 22nd).
After that, though, Tully changes the strip's direction. He slows the pace right down, which displeased the target audience. He starts with a tiresome story about Dan Dare getting amnesia and thinking he's the Mekon's sidekick. (Even the Mekon is a bit rubbish, being a geriatric and insufficiently evil version of himself.)
I enjoyed it. I thought it was an improvement. Not a huge one, since I was still flicking through in a somewhat desultory style, but the pace and tone are giving you something to get your teeth into. What's more, Tully's harking back to The Eagle. The pacing reminds me of Hampson, although of course Tully's nowhere near that relaxed. (You'd have been hanged, drawn and quartered if you'd tried the full Hampson in 2000 AD in 1978.) He resurrects the Mekon, obviously, but then also brings back Sondar! I collapsed in a heap. It would mean nothing to anyone who hadn't read the 1950s stories, but it's awesome. There are Treens. The Mekon torments Dan with memories of the death of Digby.
Admittedly, Dan gets a superhero outfit and the ability to fire beams from his hands. Hurm. Even so, though, Tully's run is innovative because it has a narrative shape. The scripts are taking a long-term view. To put it bluntly, I woke up.
I enjoyed the first of these two volumes. This time, I'm less tolerant. Even Dave Gibbons can't carry these scripts. To me, the blood-and-thunder stories felt hollow. They lack purpose and direction. They're just the episodic and ultra-violent misadventures of some people in space. I preferred Tully's episodes, but they're not that good either. There are things I like about this run, but I can't imagine anyone ever resurrecting it with the 1950s originals looming bigger and more definitively. It's still that problem I identified last time. Pat Mills changed Dan's face. I don't get a buzz from these pages. It's not him. It's unnecessarily clashing with The Eagle and rejecting the existing iconography, so the new version gets whipped like a dog.
Dave Gibbons is still the greatest, though.