Oh no. Oh no. Oh no no no…
I read the news on Thursday (oh boy…) and one newspaper at least was making much about the reprinting of a large number of Dan Dare stories, unseen for many years. This volume of material will be printed in two volumes, the first of which will appear next year.
Of course, when I say ‘Dan Dare’, it’s on the understanding that this is not any version of the veteran hero that I recognise as actually being Dan Dare. Rather, it’s the complete IPC revival of the character that began eight years after he was finally laid to rest in black and white reprints in the thankfully-forgotten Lion & Eagle. It is the 2000AD ‘Dan Dare’, drawn at different times by Massimo Belardinelli and Dave Gibbons, that is finally to be reprinted, after thirty seven years unseen.
In 1977, Dare’s revival was one of the selling points for the new 2000AD comic. I was 21 that year, unemployed for most of it, in limbo between Law College and the Articles of Clerkship that would see me on the road to becoming a Solicitor. Money was extremely tight, but I had loved Dan Dare in the latterday Eagle and I was interested to see the return. Not that I ever saw 2000AD 1, which sold out rapidly, so I had to settle for issue 2, which saw the debut of a character who has become as much a definition of British comics as Dan himself, Judge Dredd. It took only a single episode to demonstrate that this ‘Dan Dare’ was not for me.
I didn’t expect to get the original Dan Dare again: if anything, Dan was a very Fifties character, and this was the late Seventies, and the Year of Punk, moreover: when No Future was the watchword, there could hardly be a Pilot of the Future.
But the new ‘Dan Dare’ wasn’t even an updating. It was explained that there had been an accident, centuries before, that Dan had lived on in suspended animation, to be revived in this new future, his body so damaged that his face could not be recreated in any form that looked like he had before.
No Spacefleet, no Digby, no Earth, no eyebrows: they couldn’t have been more comprehensive in throwing out everything about the original Dan, and that went for every tiny aspect of his personality. In short, only the name was the same.
I really have no idea whether the Belardinelli ‘Dare’ was a good character in his own terms. A long time ago, a friend who owned a comics shop in Liverpool allowed me access to his 2000AD back-issues, to read for free, to take notes about the ‘Dan Dare’ strips, in return for me sorting those back issues into numerical and accessible order. There were many gaps towards the beginning, so I never had the chance to form any kind of real assessment of that first revived version, except that it was typically 2000AD: fast, brutal, uncultured, flashy and basically a bit crap.
Well, I was hardly the audience was I? By 1977, the boys who would have once lapped up Frank Hampson’s, or even Keith Watson’s Pilot of the Future wanted violence and destruction and people who fought and swore…
Evidently, the editors of 2000AD agreed with me in some respect about the Belardinelli ‘Dan Dare’, for it was pulled, revamped drastically, and rebooted, this time with art by Dave Gibbons. This was the pre-Watchmen Gibbons, yet to break into the American market. I remember him being regarded in fandom as a good ‘meat-and-potatoes’ action cartoonist, and his artwork on ‘Dan Dare’ bore this out.
It was stronger, steadier, more controlled. It was primarily in black and white, which aided the greater air of stability to the work. Gibbons also met Frank Hampson and apologised to him, though Hampson was pleasant to him about his work!
I read much more of Gibbons’ work in John Mottershead’s shop basement, but I remember very little of it. Better art, certainly, and the return of the eyebrows, if nothing else physically about the character. Did it stand up? Better than 2000AD‘s first version.
But that’s the thing. Certain creations impress themselves upon us, slide into our minds and occupy our memories because we recognise the life in them. They are true creations, neither symbol nor puppet, and they have within them an unshakeable, unchageable core that makes them, for better or worse, what they are.
To exist in 1977, Dan Dare had to be ‘updated’. Given how much he was a creation of his times, I doubt very much that, for a weekly boys comic that year, or after, he could have been presented in the context of his times without ignoring far too much of those core qualities. Neither Belardinelli’s nor Gibbons’ characters stood a chance as versions of ‘Dan Dare’ that stood in any way upon the ground. That clash between the name and the actual stories was unbridgeable.
Burdened by ‘Dan Dare’, neither version stood a chance of breathing. As new creations, they might have established themselves. It’s been the story with the vast majority of the post-1969 attempts to revive Dan.
As far as the historical record is concerned, this is the last of the early 2000AD series to be reprinted and it deserves it from that viewpoint. I shalln’t be rushing, or even idling, to add it to my collection, though I’d borrow it from a Library, out of curiosity. I hope that 2000AD‘s old fans will enjoy it.