Dan Dare
Garth Ennis's Dan Dare
Medium: comic
Year: 2007
Keywords: Dan Dare, SF
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Gary Erskine
Country: UK
Format: 7 issues, 188 pages
Website category: Comics
Review date: 13 August 2021
dan dare
It's definitely not Garth Ennis's best work. It's not even his best revival of a pre-2000 AD UK comics character. I still liked it, though, and I respect Ennis's choices.
You see, he grew up on 2000 AD. He loves that 1970s version of the character. He acknowledges that there's much to admire in the original Eagle serials, but they're not his Dan Dare. Furthermore, his natural inclination seems to be to write violent, foul-mouthed scumbag bastards. The anti-Dare, if you like. Nonetheless, though, in this mini-series, the 2000 AD version doesn't exist. Ennis mulled over what Frank Hampson's creation stood for and wrote something true to the character, using his idealism to say things about the modern world in 2007.
The plot's straightforward. Dan Dare's been in retirement for years, but the Mekon's assembled a space fleet three times the size of ours (and an ultimate weapon). He's launching an attack on the solar system. The Prime Minister comes knocking and of course Dan's answer is "yes". What follows involves soldiers, spaceships and extremely bad situations. Dan will be asked if it's time to start shooting the children. There will be life-or-death battles and absolutely no Disney miracles. It's pretty good and at times punch-the-air cool... but it's a similar formula to the one Ennis used for other old UK character revivals (Johnny Red, Battler Britain) that were more exciting.
It's a different kind of war story, though. Dan Dare is a military man and this story is the right place for him, but he's an idealist. He doesn't lie, not even to his enemies. (I love Ennis for remembering that.) He believes in something better and he has absolutely no time for the Little Englanders and worse that Morrison's Dare let himself travel with. He's a patriot... and Ennis examines that, in an age when flag-waving has been appropriated by right-wing populism. Consider also Ennis's Mekon, who'll kill any minion who questions him and yet will also kill them for not showing initiative. Hey, green guy, one of those is a consequence of the other. Brain the size of a planet, sure. People skills, not so hot. (Our heroes, in contrast, will disobey lots of bad orders despite being soldiers in a war.)
It's very faithful to the Eagle's continuity, to the point of headscratchers. (The year is carefully left unstated, but Dan Dare's grandfather fought in World War Two. That fits Frank Hampson's dating for Dare's adventures, but would puzzle any modern fan who tried calculating the year of this SF future.) Ennis has smashed up Hampson's idealistic One World Government, admittedly, because he wants to talk about England and grubby politics, but there are no continuity resets. He lays out the events that led from the Hampson future to this one.
The art is good-ish. Erskine's not bad at all, but he wouldn't be your first choice for character acting. His faces are capable of looking a bit dead and uniform, while I don't think he's really trying to draw Hampson's Dare, Digby and Peabody. They're older, yes, but I don't think that's not enough. I don't dislike this art, but I regret it and it's not what I'd have chosen. On the other (triumphant) hand, though, the cover artists include 2000 AD Dan Dare alumni like Dave Gibbons and Garry Leach.
This doesn't feel like a Garth Ennis story, yet at the same time it does. It worships the military and it's full of 21st century soldiers who look as if they've just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It's also got Ennis's gift for dialogue. The key difference, though, is Dan Dare himself. Ennis is honestly, wholeheartedly telling a story about this old-fashioned hero and what he stands for. Sometimes, he's so Dan that it hurts. His last conversation with Digby is perfect. His relationship with the Mekon takes the story to another level. It's emotional. It's less balls-to-the-wall than Ennis-usual, but I appreciate it.
"They have to be stopped."