“He’ll stop them all, you’ll see” – square-jawed heroics in Dan Dare
Dan Dare #2 and #3,
Written by Garth Ennis, with art by Gary Erskine
If you read my review of the first issue of Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine’s take on Dan Dare you’ll know I really enjoyed it, with its good mix of modern comics laced with enough nods to classic Dan Dare to keep it recognisably Dare but not so much it smothers or stultifies it. There was some nice initial set up, handled briefly but effectively, some digs at contemporary British politics and some cracking, old-fashioned space opera-style starship battles. But of course that was only the first issue – the question is, can the series sustain that encouraging beginning?
Well, as many of you will know by the second issue word seemed to have gotten around, not just in the comics community but in the mainstream media. At which point things went a little crazy, more folks wanted to read it suddenly and issue two sold out in many stores, including a lot of ours. With fresh stocks of issue 2 available again and issue 3 hitting the stands now it was time to have a look and see how the series was developing. These next two issues follow a main story which involves Dan, returned from retirement to join what remains of the fleet after the disastrous surprise attack in the first issue, leading a rescue party on a mining colony en route to join the main fleet.
Again it is fairly simple but very effective storytelling which touches references to classic yarns like the battle for Rourke’s Drift (which also echoes Ennis‘ own outings in titles like Adventures in the Rifle Brigades), small teams of troops forming lines to repel hordes of swarming enemies, in this case monstrous creatures from Treen legend. Ennis once more uses economy in establishing events, both in the main story and in filling in some back-history from the time from classic Dare to his version. In one scene a young orphaned Treen boy colonist asks Dan who the Mekon is and Dan explains about the original Treens and the Mekon. Ennis is obviously aware of his brief excursion into Exposition Country as following right on from this he has Digby comment to Dan “nice potted history of the Treen Diaspora”. And during this segment we’re also treated to a full page flashback of the glory days, with the classic Frank Hampson era styles given a lovely big splash page which will delight fans of the original (yes, it is a shameless harking back to the glory days of the original Eagle and personally I don’t care, I’m happy to go along with that).
(a glorious flashback to the original Frank Hampson Dan Dare, a series which has inspired and influenced more than its fair share of Brit writers and artists we enjoy today; art by Gary Erskine, published Virgin)
There is a secondary story concerning the very Tony Blair-like Prime Minister who visited Dan in the first issue, the one Dan made his contempt for quite clear. There are more allusions to contemporary Britain, with a view of the PM’s office in Millbank Tower (for those unfamiliar with British politics, Millbank is the ugly office block where the Labour party has its headquarters) which are midly amusing, although I can’t help but think a year too late since they are obviously aimed at Tony Blair. Perhaps these little asides were written before he finally retired from office. However, there is more to dislike in the Prime Minister than just being an oily politician; there’s something very fishy going on with him, something possibly sinister and his motivations in persuading Dan to come out of retirement may not be as straightforward as first thought.
A fact that doesn’t escape Jocelyn Peabody, once firm friends and sharer of adventures with Dan and Digby. Jocelyn may not be their scientific sidekick anymore, having accepted political office under the Prime Minister (which it’s implied both Dan and Digby strongly disapproved of) but she’s still the brains of their little group of heroes and it isn’t long before that brain is directed to exploring some unpleasant possibilities in the Prime Minister’s actions. Although if her worst fears are confirmed it remains to be seen if she will be able to act in time. Meanwhile, back on the colony world Dan’s party of troops and civilians are cut off from help and surrounded by the enemy. Cue a classic cliffhanger as Dan eyes the gathering mass of monsters and calmly asks the Sergeant Major to “fix bayonets” …
So is this still working for me? Oh yes, it is. The switch for the main story from spaceship-based to ground-based heroics is a nice change and throughout Dan is just as we want him to be, as we expect him to be: square jawed, blue eyed and utterly the unflappable British hero. An American hero shouts loudly and blazes away with a gun (not a criticism, sometimes we want that), but Dan stands as the calm eye of a raging hurricane, just the way we like our heroes here. Even those who don’t know who he is, like the young Treen orphan he carries, are touched by the simple heroism Dan projects, turning to his friends as they are surrounded by hordes of green-skinned monsters he tells them: “it’ll be alright, Barp. He’ll stop them all, you’ll see.” Faith in heroes, something everyone needs from time to time and with so many flaws in real world heroes it’s no wonder people turn so often to the fictional to answer that need.
(lump in the throat time for all long-time fans as Dan and Digby are reunited in this scene from issue 2; art by Gary Erskine, published Virgin)
We see more of how the world of classic Dare has changed since his heyday, since the war between China and the USA and the collapse of the old United Nations, the rise (or resurgence, really, historically speaking) of Britain as the main world power and how Treens, free of a vanished Mekon, live and work among humans, a detail Ennis uses to showcase how simply bigotry and racism come to the fore when people are scared and under threat (gee, you think perhaps he is hinting about easy-to-hate, easy to tar with one brush groups in our society?). So yes, its still working for me – there are some nice details, some good allusions to contemporary problems redressed in a science fiction setting, the reuniting of two old friends (handled simply but that simple handshake between Dan and Digby probably carries more emotional resonance for old fans than a dozen drawn-out panels might have) and some terrific adventures. But most of all there is our square jawed classic hero. Roll on the next issue. Oh and if you normally wait for the collected versions rather than picking up individual issues there’s some good news for you – Virgin are bringing out a special oversized hardback edition in April collecting the first three issues. Sometimes life is good…