Mystery In Space?
Contributing Writer Tim Hayes puts on his space suit and reviews 2000AD’s second Dan Dare collection…
Dan Dare Volume 2
Dan Dare arrived in 2000AD Prog 1 with a bang and eventually left two and a half years later with something nearer a sigh, and for most of the period in between seems to be carrying a lot of baggage. Bringing Manchester’s great space pilot into the upstart comic, along with his storied name and the reflected prestige of the original Eagle comic, was a shrewd move right from the off – one either dented a bit or made more shrewd still by having him absorb 2000AD’s aggressively up-tempo 1970s attitude and roar across the universe with all guns blazing, depending on your level of affection for the old boy’s pipe-smoking Britannic heyday.
Volume 2 of Dan Dare The 2000AD Years captures the dilemma of the strip’s several writers wanting the character to find his niche, but not seeming fully clear on what that niche might be. It starts with Dare and his crew on an episodic voyage through unknown space, meeting toothy ravenous creatures and evil alien artefacts, and often opting to shoot everything that moves or reduce the offending planet to ash. Phase two involves an amnesiac Dare being deceived by the Mekon and sporting something closer to a regulation superhero costume for some cosmic questing, locating a gauntlet of obscure mystical mystery before remembering the score and going after his old nemesis.
So no shortage of things happening, even if a lot of them are echoes of things that already happened elsewhere. The star trekking is affectionately familiar, and there are bits and pieces from Ray Bradbury and HP Lovecraft and the more camp end of Mark One Battlestar Galactica, before right at the end a warrior woman by the name of Morag arrives, sporting a forehead star very much along the lines of Octobriana and looking all set to crack some skulls.
She doesn’t get the chance, and a valuable essay by David McDonald details why Dare rocketed out of 2000AD before his quest was done, headed for the 1982 relaunch of Eagle itself where a more nostalgic incarnation had an initially smoother ride. Lack of a conclusion doesn’t really help the strip’s attempts to settle on a solid identity either, although Dave Gibbons draws up a storm at the start and returns to wave the characters off at the end, sandwiching some atmospheric art from among others Trevor Goring and Garry Leach which looks splendid in this collection.
Even if the fact of noble old Dan Dare’s inclusion in the breakneck iconoclasm of IPC’s sci-fi revolution might be more interesting in hindsight than anything that the character actually got up to, these strips still have the authentic air of 2000AD’s boisterous youth, and of their own time and place: a Britain with no space programme to speak of, dreaming of a place in the stars and not ruling out opportunities to blow a few of them up.