Dan, Digby, Lex and "Flamer" have returned at faster-than-light speed from the planet Cryptos. For them, it's been a year. For the rest of the universe, it's been ten.
They find an abandoned London that's seemingly ruled by robots. (The one we see at the end of ep.1 looks sinister, like either an insect or a deep sea fish.) These first few pages are atmospheric... but then all mysteries are resolved as we learn that the Mekon's conquered the Earth.
This is a huge Mekon story. The problem with recurring villains is that they keep losing, but here the little green guy's achieved the ultimate baddie goal. (Well, almost. He wants to go on and conquer the universe, but it's not explained how he even plans to get there in Dan Dare's relatively realistic SF universe.) He's top dog. He's capable of being impressively clever and ruthless. He's conducting Mengele-like experiments on mankind in the name of science.
"Here is one of my historical research units at work. They are building the city of Nineveh again, using the tools and materials that were used when Sennacherib first ordered it to be built."
"And the same kind of slave labour?"
"Of course, living in the same conditions and fed on the same diet. But this time with a proper record of materials, methods, time factors... and, of course, sickness and death rates."
Mind you, his obsession with Dan Dare is in danger of resembling sexual fixation. "I need Dare! Until I destroy or enslave his body and brain completely, I can never rest!"
The story's epic, but also slow. Well, it's Dan Dare. That's how it works. It takes about four months' worth of weekly episodes before something exciting happens. Dan and his friends fall immediately into the Mekon's hands almost immediately on arrival and then get given a looooong guided tour. I'd stop reading occasionally to do other things.
The strip's not as hard-hitting as it thinks it is. Everyone keeps calling the Mekon a ruthless tyrant who'd kill everyone at the drop of a hat, but we know that won't happen. The strip's too gentlemanly and safe for that. Dan's even had a child sidekick ("Flamer") for three years now and has also acquired a cat-sized alien elephant ("Stripey"). We're expected to care about this animal. "Now Stripey's end seems certain!" "But Stripey has failed to reach base!" Uh, guys, big picture. Planet Earth? Possible extinction of mankind? Your cute pet isn't really on my list of concerns.
Mind you, I did like Dan's "see a Mekon, shoot a Mekon" philosophy in Vol.8 No.21.
The story gets going after a while, though, and it's big in every way. Lots of pages and a story huge enough to fill them. The work gangs, the beardies on the ghost ship, Sondar looking badass and Sir Hubert getting to be heroic... all that I like. (Sir Hubert has more weight on the page than anyone else, because he's more realistically drawn.) I enjoyed seeing relatively realistic-ish interstellar travel, which is rare in SF in general, let alone a comic strip. I was also amused by the racist Treens.
"How strange these humans are, setting such value on empty cans."
"Perhaps they like the bright colours."
Overall, it's reasonably good. It's often the least exciting version of itself you could imagine, including versions you scribbled in notebooks when you were eight. Nonetheless, it's ambitious, confident, painstaking and as lavishly produced as ever. I'd prefer them to drop Flamer and Stripey, though.