Dan Dare’s 1970s res­ur­rec­tion in 2000 AD may not have been a com­plete suc­cess but, says Stephen Jewell, it’s def­i­nitely worth another look

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Look­ing back at the for­ward­look­ing Dan Dare in his 1970s 2000 AD in­car­na­tion.

There are many el­e­ments of story and art that could fea­ture to­day, but not that bloody power- hand!” Vet­eran comics writer Pat Mills is re­flect­ing on the much- maligned Dan Dare re­vival of the late ’ 70s. Mostly drawn by the late Mas­simo Be­lar­dinelli and Watch­men artist Dave Gib­bons, the fre­quently lack­lus­tre scripts of­ten didn’t do jus­tice to the strik­ing il­lus­tra­tions. Now, af­ter an agree­ment has fi­nally been reached with rights- hold­ers The Dan Dare Cor­po­ra­tion, the Pi­lot of the Fu­ture is set to soar the space­ways once again in a new, two- vol­ume hard­back col­lec­tion, the last of 2000 AD’s vintage strips to be reprinted.

“I think the art’s red hot,” Mills tells SFX. “It stands up as be­ing of its time, and is what the French call ‘ clas­sic’.”

De­scribed as “Big­gles in Space”, Dan Dare was cre­ated by Frank Hamp­son in 1950 as Bri­tain’s an­swer to Buck Rogers and his ad­ven­tures were se­ri­alised in Ea­gle comic un­til its can­cel­la­tion in 1967. In need of a space hero to head­line the new science fic­tion comic he was de­vel­op­ing for IPC in 1976, Mills con­cluded that Dan Dare was ripe for a re­boot. De­ter­mined to pro­duce a strip that would bet­ter fit 2000 AD’s punk rock- inspired re­bel­lious spirit, he was told to ig­nore the old fans by pub­lisher John San­ders.

Af­ter un­suc­cess­fully au­di­tion­ing some Ar­gen­tinian and Ital­ian artists, Mills even­tu­ally set­tled on Be­lar­dinelli, who had sub­mit­ted some spec­u­la­tive art sam­ples. Known for his far- out com­po­si­tions and phan­tas­magoric de­signs, the Dan Dare that took prime po­si­tion in the cen­tre­spread of 2000 AD Prog # 1 in Fe­bru­ary 1977 bore lit­tle re­sem­blance to Frank Hamp­son’s orig­i­nal, clean- cut, square- jawed Space Fleet Colonel.

“Com­mer­cially, it was the right thing to do be­cause I had to des­per­ately com­pen­sate for our poor qual­ity pa­per, as science fic­tion had al­ways pre­vi­ously ap­peared on glossy pa­per,” says Mills, who orig­i­nally planned for web off­set print­ing but had to set­tle for the more rudi­men­tary pulp let­ter­press. “But Be­lar­dinelli achieved the im­pos­si­ble, he made it look al­most lux­u­ri­ant.”

While ’ 70s Dare was very dif­fer­ent vis­ually to his ’ 50s fore­bear, open­ing sto­ry­line “The Biogs” – which Mills co- wrote with Kelvin Gos­nell – ac­tu­ally em­u­lated his first Ea­gle ad­ven­ture. “In the orig­i­nal Hamp­son story, Dare goes to Venus to solve a mys­tery, and in our story, he goes to Jupiter to solve a mys­tery,” says Mills, who came up with the grisly Biogs af­ter read­ing an ar­ti­cle in Na­tional

Ge­o­graphic. “There were some re­volt­ing bed bugs fea­tured in there and I thought ‘ yes, these are the aliens for Dan Dare!’” Pro­moted as the lead strip, Dan Dare never quite reached those giddy heights, beaten first by Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man clone MACH 1 and even­tu­ally Judge Dredd in the weekly read­ers’ polls. How­ever, Mills stresses that it was far from a flop, of­ten com­ing third or fourth in the rank­ings.

“Peo­ple did know back then that Dan Dare was pop­u­lar,” says Mills. “You have to bear in mind that the first 12 weeks of a pub­li­ca­tion’s life are cru­cial, and dur­ing that pe­riod, Dare was at about the same level of pop­u­lar­ity as Dredd. At the launch of 2000 AD, I had to try ev­ery trick in the book to get pub­lic­ity. I was spurred on be­cause the pub­lish­ing es­tab­lish­ment both in­side and out­side IPC wanted it to fail. Ar­guably, look­ing back, we may not have needed an es­tab­lish­ing char­ac­ter to help with the launch but, on bal­ance, it was still the right thing com­mer­cially.”

Fol­low­ing “The Biogs” with “Hol­low World”, scripted by the late Steve Moore, Mills con­cluded that Be­lar­dinelli’s or­nate style wasn’t find­ing favour with the read­ers. The idio­syn­cratic artist was re­placed by Dave Gib­bons, who de­liv­ered a less rad­i­cal Dare more in keep­ing with Hamp­son’s orig­i­nal vi­sion. “Be­lar­dinelli’s art was quite so­phis­ti­cated,” Gib­bons tells SFX. “I re­ally liked its gnarly, hal­lu­ci­na­tory qual­ity. But when you’ve got a very strong draw­ing style like that, it’s some­times hard to break through to the story. I al­ways make the story very clear. Per­haps peo­ple some­times want me to put more de­tail in but all I’ve ever wanted to do with my art is to tell the story well. Maybe with an artist like Be­lar­dinelli, it’s more his ren­der­ing style that peo­ple find at­trac­tive than the ac­tual sto­ry­telling, which is what they found in the early days of 2000 AD. Although on the face of it, Dan Dare should have been a huge hit, a lot of peo­ple couldn’t get into the story be­cause they got put off by the sur­face of it.”

As a child grow­ing up in Lon­don, Gib­bons was an avid fan of Ea­gle and couldn’t wait to catch up with his weekly dose of Dan Dare. “It was my favourite thing,” he re­calls. “I have happy mem­o­ries of go­ing to the newsagent, buy­ing the latest copy of Ea­gle and just sit­ting there in the sun­shine, read­ing Dan Dare over and over again.”

Hav­ing started out as a pro­fes­sional artist at DC Thom­son and IPC in the early 1970s, Gib­bons hoped that he would land the cov­eted as­sign­ment of Dan Dare when 2000 AD first launched. In­stead he was of­fered fu­ture- sport story Har­lem He­roes.

“When I heard that Dan Dare was com­ing back to 2000 AD, I thought, ‘ Ooh, I won­der if I could have some­thing to do with that,’ but I couldn’t be­cause they’d al­ready given it to Be­lar­dinelli. But af­ter Be­lar­dinelli’s ver­sion turned out to be a bit too far out for peo­ple, they de­cided that they were go­ing to do a much more down to earth Dan Dare. They then of­fered it to me, and I was thrilled. So I went away and drew loads of sketches and came up with some sto­ry­lines that in­volved the Mekon and the Treens, only for them to say, ‘ Sorry, the Dare scripts have al­ready been writ­ten.’”

Scripted by Gerry Fin­ley Day and Jack Adrian ( aka Chris Low­der), “The Lost Worlds” be­gan in Septem­ber 1977’ s Prog # 28. It started out em­u­lat­ing Star Trek as Dare and his ship­mates em­barked upon a seem­ingly open- ended deep space mis­sion. “There was a space fort, and Dare was like the leader of the Dirty Dozen,” re­calls Gib­bons, who had a lot of fun draw­ing his more rough and ready crew­mates. “You had Dan, who was su­per smooth with slicked back hair, and then you had Hitman, who Be­lar­dinelli would have made a good job of with his gnarly hand with a gun fused to it, while Bear was a very stolid Rus­sian soldier.”

With the re­lease of Star Wars that same year prov­ing to be such a defin­ing mo­ment in cin­ema history ( although it didn’t open in Bri­tain till the very end of the year), “The Lost Worlds” abruptly changed tack with Prog # 36’ s “Star Slayer”, as Dare and his ship­mates sud­denly be­came free­dom fight­ers as they con­fronted the evil Star Slayer Em­pire. “I was there for the Star Wars ex­plo­sion, which meant that peo­ple got very in­ter­ested in Dan Dare,” says Gib­bons. “We were able to hit on sim­i­lar themes, which I sup­pose felt cur­rent at the time.”

Af­ter “The Lost Worlds” con­cluded with Prog # 85, Dan Dare was rested for three months be­fore mak­ing another come­back in the land­mark 2000 AD Prog # 100. Now writ­ten by Tom Tully, “Ser­vant Of Evil” saw the long- awaited re­turn of the Mekon and the Treens. Given a su­per­hero- style cos­tume and lum­bered with that dreaded power- hand, an am­ne­siac Dare is brain­washed into be­com­ing a stooge for his old en­emy. “Tom knew how to do a cliffhanger, and I used to find his scripts a lit­tle more pol­ished than Gerry’s,” says Gib­bons. “But even though it had a lot of el­e­ments that I quite liked, it re­ally didn’t set me on fire. I was so loyal to Dan Dare that I kept try­ing to get it right, but I don’t think we ac­tu­ally did that with 2000 AD.”

Des­per­ate to clear his name, Dan Dare came to an abrupt end with Prog # 126’ s omi­nously ti­tled “Traitor” in Au­gust 1979. “It was one of those pot­boil­ing sto­ries that we could have ended in an episode or two,” re­calls Gib­bons. “But I

The Star Wars ex­plo­sion meant that peo­ple got in­ter­ested in Dan Dare

think they just de­cided to com­pletely change the comic. Dan Dare ba­si­cally wan­ders around space, so they let him wan­der around space some more.”

But while his last 2000 AD story re­mains un­re­solved, Dan Dare found him­self more at home three years later in the newly re­launched Ea­gle. Ini­tially writ­ten by Pat Mills and John Wag­ner, and drawn by Gerry Em­ble­ton and Ian Kennedy, it cleaved much more closely to the tra­di­tional Dare. Since then, Grant Mor­ri­son and Rian Hughes’ rad­i­cally re­vi­sion­ist Dare was pub­lished in Re­volver in 1990 be­fore Vir­gin Comics hired Garth En­nis and Gary Ersk­ine to helm a seven- is­sue minis­eries in 2007, for which Gib­bons was per­suaded to pro­vide a cover.

De­scrib­ing it as “the miss­ing piece from 2000 AD”, Gib­bons is pleased that Dan Dare is fi­nally be­ing col­lected, even if he does have mixed feel­ings about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence. “I don’t have the hap­pi­est mem­o­ries of do­ing it as far as the con­tent is con­cerned, but it was a time in my ca­reer when I had a lot of energy,” he says. “I would take on any­thing, and even if I had what I thought was a bad script, I’d try and draw the hell out of it.”

Much to his sur­prise, Gib­bons has even pro­vided a brand new cover. “I re­ally en­joyed get­ting to draw Dan Dare again and also the space fort, and I’ve put a few Be­lar­dinelli el­e­ments in there as well,” he says. “It’s nice be­cause in the past, a comic was in the newsagent’s for a week and then it was gone for­ever. So the fact that Dan Dare is go­ing to be a book on one of my al­ready bro­ken shelves is great!”

Dan Dare: The 2000 AD Years, Vol 1 is pub­lished on Thurs­day 5 Novem­ber.

1 9 7 7 - 7 9

Dan hadn’t aged a bit in his ten- year “sab­bat­i­cal”.

Well, Mon­day al­ways is a bas­tard.

This Dan Dare was ap­par­ently inspired by Ziggy Star­dust.

Like ev­ery hero, Dan is about to go bad!

The first glimpse of Gib­bons’s Dare. Dan’s so be­fud­dled he’s for­got­ten to shave. Eight pence, eh… eight pence…

The no­to­ri­ous pow­er­hand, aka the cos­mic claw.

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