Every now and again, a comic book comes along that completely takes you by surprise. It shows you something you didn’t know you were missing from the crack habit that is comic collecting. Recently, for me, that comic was Dan Dare by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine. The day the first issue shipped, I noticed a review of it over on Newsarama. Before that day, I had never heard of Dan Dare or paid much attention to Virgin Comics. All that mattered to me was that Garth Ennis was starting another ongoing series, and with Punisher MAX ending soon, I needed to get my hardcore Ennis fix from somewhere. So I ran down to my local shop and lucked into the very last shelf copy. Talking to the shop keep, I learned that the book was under-ordered. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one surprised by its release… but I was one of the lucky ones to snag a copy that first week.
But who is Dan Dare? According to Wikipedia:
Dan Dare is a classic British science fiction comic hero, created by illustrator Frank Hampson. Dan Dare appeared in the Eagle comic story Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future in 1950, dramatized several times a week on Radio Luxembourg. The stories were set in the late 1990s but the dialogue and manner of the characters is reminiscent of British war films of the 1950s. Dan Dare has been described as “Biggles in Space” and as the British equivalent of Buck Rogers. Dan Dare was distinguished by its long, complex story lines, snappy dialogue and meticulously illustrated comic-strip artwork by Hampson and other artists, including Harold Johns, Don Harley, Bruce Cornwell, Greta Tomlinson, Frank Bellamy and Keith Watson.
Dan Dare (full name Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare) was chief pilot of the Interplanet Space Fleet. He was born in Manchester, England, in 1967 and educated at Rossall School. Although not a super-hero, he sometimes pulled off exceptional piloting and often proved extraordinarily lucky. He excelled at jujitsu, but he most often found non-violent solutions to predicaments. He was bound by a sense of honor, never lied, and would rather die than break his word.
Going into this book, I didn’t know any of that, and you know what? I didn’t need to know. Ennis’ writing has been so thoroughly captivating and his characterizations so endearing, I think if I read any of the old stuff now it would just ruin it for me. Reading the above description does help me figure out why I like the book so much. It’s a brilliantly fun mix of hardnosed war conventions and Flash Gordon Sci-Fi goofiness. But, unlike the original portrayal of Dan Dare and his compatriots, Ennis plays all the characters incredibly straight. And, this isn’t a parody of what came before, although it would be simple for a lesser writer to go that route. There’s no 1950’s wackiness in the dialogue or the characters’ actions. Playing it this way makes all the goofy Sci-Fi conventions of the 50’s seem incredibly realistic, still fun of course, but in an adventurous way. Ennis’ Dan Dare embodies everything I’ve come to love about the way he writes military characters: that “who dares, wins” attitude; that loyalty to the soldier at your side, no matter the odds; that overpowering English arrogance… nobody alive writes war comics like Ennis.
Also, the art is absolutely exquisite. I can’t believe it’s as good as it is. How can Virgin afford to put out such a great looking book? And at only $2.99, it’s a fucking steal, man! I promise, as long as Ennis and Erskine are on this book, I’ll keep reading it.
Recommended for fans of war comics, British arrogance, Science Fiction fantasies in the Star Wars vein and fans of Ennis’ serious, adult fiction.