April 14th 1950 saw an all-new comic firmly aimed at boys come out here in the UK called the Eagle. A weekly comic that followed in the grand tradition of other weekly periodicals with a selection of short comic book strips, with none given more prominence than the lead strip, Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future.
A hero that couldn’t be any more British if he tried, Dan Dare evoked images of World War 2 – especially in the dialogue which felt like it came straight out of a British made WWII film of the era – and British success overseas and maybe, just maybe the slight whiff of colonial-era Empire too, with Dare wearing the familiar uniform of a man in military service.
Created by illustrator Frank Hampson Dan Dare would run from 1950 until 1967, but would live on in one guise or another right up to the present day, more or less. It seems every generation of British school children had their own Dare, including my own generation, when he was brought back in an 80s revival of Eagle (1982 – 1994) which relied heavily on fumetti (sequential photos used to tell a story as opposed to comic book art) with Dan Dare being one of the few genuine comic strips in this new weekly. But still, I do remember it being the main reason I bought the comic. The artwork, initially by Gerry Embleton and then by Ian Kennedy was evocative of the original colored artwork and stood out heads and shoulders above anything else I remember.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Long before the 80s Dan Dare was fighting for the survival of Earth against the classic Treen enemy, The Mekon, a bulbous-headed dictator from space and still one of the most iconic villains in comic books, on both sides of the pond.
Making up the heroic cast of characters who always had Dare’s back were the likes of doughy sidekick Albert Fitzwilliam Digby, Sir Hubert Guest, Controller of the Space Fleet and the reformed Treen, Sondar. But, being a boys’ own title and created by Rev John Marcus Harston Morris so female characters were rather thin on the ground and rather manly too.
But then, like other iconic characters who have undergone many a reboot so too with Dare over the intervening decades, starring with the more punkish look adopted when he was initially brought back in the pages of 2000AD back in 1977 and illustrated by Massimo Bellardinelli and then Dave Gibbons. In this versions Dan Dare was woken from suspended animation to a world he does not recognise. And a character many would not recognise either. Jettisoning virtually everything of the older, more stoic and staid Dan Dare that made him so unique, what we got here was a Mad Max like Dare who’s aesthetics were more in keeping with Star Wars than the world of 1950s post-war Britain. Not his greatest hair and probably why it was retired only two year later.
The 1982 Eagle revival saw a Dare more in keeping with the original, although there would several retcons added by new scribes Pat Mills and John Wagner, and lasted a good while longer than the 2000 AD version. The first story took 18 months to tell!
Another punky revival came from Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes in the street-smart but short-lived Revolver monthly in which Morrison satirised the British politics of the era and when all meta. Like he is prone to do. A short but enjoyable epic, if you get your hands on it that is. I highly recommend it.
More recently the now defunct Virgin Comics released a critically successful mini-series from Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine, with a now-retired Dan Dare forced back into action. More recently still, there was the Titan Comics series from 2017 from UK writer Peter Milligan and Alberto Foche, with Dare once again updated to better reflect the times and culture we live in.
With Titan doing a great line of hardback, oversized classic collections which they’ve been publishing for almost a decade now, Dan Dare is never too far way that any newcomers can’t easily get started. Although, at this time we do recommend you check in with at your local comic book store and support them first before going online. I think Jeff Bezos will survive, but will your local comic book, or indie book store?
So, here’s to you Dan Dare, and to whatever we see you next. And in whatever form. It would have been Nic to have a new book out to mark the occasion.
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