Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"This was our Dan Dare...
"Telling a seven-year-old that what he's reading is a travesty will get you nowhere. You can't tell him the original Dare was a true hero, the embodiment of traditional English values; he's too busy marvelling at the guy carrying the psychotic living axe. You won't get very far talking about the wonderful clean lines of the Anastasia; he's transfixed by the battle of Jupiter, with men drowning in acid and living spaceships throwing moons like rocks, and a Martian giant on the cover of Prog 11 beckoning us into the blazing hell of the sun. And you can guess what mentioning a gentler, more compassionate time will mean to him; what price compassion next to a squad of space commandos pouring automatic fire into that week's alien freak?"
Thank you Garth Ennis! I feel slightly guilty quoting so extensively from someone's foreword but it just perfectly encapsulates my then - as a five-year-old - sentiments, and equally my father's contrasting nostalgic ones, to the Dan Dare of 1977's 2000 AD. My dad just couldn't get his head around how disturbing, twisted and violent this brave new world of Dare was. He let me keep reading it, though, to his credit! I do remember being genuinely disturbed by some of the characters though, including that psychotic living axe, but particularly a demented fused pairing called the Two Of Verath, which I think was entirely due to the art of Massimo Bellardinelli. He was a very firm favourite of mine as a kid with stints on HARLEM HEROES, MELTDOWN MAN and BLACKHAWK.
Even the Mekon was impressed with the new Dare, unaware of his suspended animation survival following a fortuitous, retconned-in accident, allowing Pat Mills to neatly move Dan forward in time from the 21st century (when the original Frank Hampson Eagle material was set) to the rather more violent 22nd century...
"Dan Dare? It cannot be! This human looks nothing like the despicable worm who thwarted me in the past! And, besides, Dan Dare would be a drooling ancient now! Yet I have learned to expect the unexpected from the infernal Dare!"
Indeed. Then after a brief, five-Prog pause, Dare returned again, this time with writer Gerry Finlay-Day, and Dave Gibbons on pencils for Dan's stint with his space fort and rag-tag bunch of commandos investigating the Lost Worlds, an area where thousands of colonists and escorting battle cruisers had vanished without trace. Drawn from a cesspool of outcasts and outlaws, his motley crew featured the likes of Bear, an enormous psychotic Russian with a hair-trigger temper and Hitman, a nutter with a gun permanently fused to his hand after a space accident.
The relentless pace of the weekly action, as Dan alternately destroyed or freed planet after planet, made for some serious Thrill Power, as Tharg put it! Gibbons' art style was rather different to Belardinelli's, but it's beautifully fluid smoothness still ensured Dare was one of my favourite strips each week. Re-reading it I was astonished just how many panels I could recall perfectly, they made that much of an impression at the time.
In fact re-reading this material some 38 years later (good grief...), I must say it really does stand up. The only advisory comment for people encountering this material for the first time would be, much like the early JUDGE DREDD CASEFILES, is that it does feel slightly choppy due to the 'story of the week' nature of the plotting, and thus the continuous need for cliff hangers or conclusions every few pages.
But as with all the early 2000 AD material you simply have to admire and be in awe of the quality they managed to turn out without fail, week after week. The trials and tribulations of that process, and just how close to cancellation the title came on a number of occasions were fantastically detailed in the sadly out of print THRILL POWER OVERLOAD: THE FIRST THIRTY YEARS OF 2000 AD. Given that was published in 2009 after the 2007 anniversary, hopefully they'll update and re-release it for the forty year anniversary shortly after that occurs in 2017!!!
[For another, more recent reincarnation, please see the DAN DARE OMNIBUS by Garth Ennis & Gary Erskine, also highly recommended - ed.]