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Monday, January 09, 2017

Dan Dare: The 2000 A.D. Years Volume Two

Steve Winders reviews Rebellion’s second collection of Dan Dare reprints from 2000AD weekly in 1978 and ’79.

This book completes the collection of all 2000AD magazine’s strips and text stories featuring their version of the adventures of the space hero Dan Dare. In this second volume are the strips from the weekly comic running from February 1978 until August 1979, as well as two strips from the 2000AD Annual for 1979 and the Dan Dare Annual for 1980 and two text stories from the 2000 AD Sci-Fi Special from 1979 and the Dan Dare Annual for 1979. Most of the art from the weekly is by Dave Gibbons, whose sharp detailed artwork and expertise in conveying action make all the strips visually exciting. One serial is drawn by Brian Lewis and Trev Goring and Gary Leach share the work on another with Gibbons. The annual strips are drawn by Adrian Beeton and Dave Harwood, although both are ‘identified’ as anonymous in the book because the annuals did not carry writer and artist credits.

The first 163 pages complete the adventures of Dare and his crew on the Space Fort, exploring a mysterious region of space. There are seven stories ranging in length from two to seven episodes. These include one where the Fort encounters deadly plants which can take on human form; one set on a planet covered with water where Dare saves a race of intelligent beings from predators who are devouring the planet’s core and one set on an ice world where he rescues a space dwelling creature from entombment in a glacier. The Space Fort saga ends with a seven part story where Dan barely escapes with his life after losing both the Fort and his crew in a huge explosion that destroys the giant spacecraft that the Fort and many other ships have been pulled inside. The Space Fort stories were written by Gerry Finley-Day, Chris Lowder, Roy Preston and Nick Landau.

The next 128 pages, written by Tom Tully, cover a long continuous adventure with Dare’s old enemy the Mekon, who is now dying and desperate to steal the fabled rejuvenating ‘Crystal of Life’ which will restore him to health. He initially tricks Dan who has lost his memory into helping him, but Dan recovers and gains the ‘Cosmic Claw’, a gauntlet which gives him special powers that enable him to escape when on his return to Earth he is sentenced to death for aiding the Mekon.

At this point the story ends abruptly as it did in 2000AD An informative article by David McDonald explains why Dan never returned to the weekly and outlines the various plans that writers and editors had to complete the story. I was able to contribute a little to David’s research because a few months after the story ended I contacted Steve McManus, the 2000AD editor to enquire about its return. I was told of tentative plans to have Dan travel back in time to prevent the incident that caused the near death of the Eagle version of himself, which had led to him being placed in suspended animation and later reconstructed. The 2000AD Dan would die saving his original self, creating a temporal anomaly, but allowing the Eagle version to have new adventures.  A planned TV series based on the original was being developed at the time.

Of the Annual strips, Beeton’s is particularly interesting as he drew Dan’s face closely resembling the Eagle original and even sneaked a character who looked exactly like Digby into the story. This was clearly mischief on his part as he drew the Space Fort in accurate detail and produced good likenesses of the other regular characters from the Fort’s crew.

The book has an introduction by Garth Ennis who wrote his own version of Dan Dare for Virgin Comics a few years ago. Most Forewords are full of praise for the books they introduce, but while Ennis praises the Space Fort series, he heavily criticises the ‘Crystal of Life’ story, saying that the “storytelling rambles, with a great deal of sound and fury yielding very little by way of plot development.” While this is fair comment I actually enjoyed this long running narrative more than many of the short and often predictable Space Fort stories, but it is refreshing to read an Introduction which is honest in its appraisal.

The new book does not contain as many colour pages as its predecessor because more of the earlier episodes included colour, but there are more pages here and as in the first volume the reproduction quality is excellent. The cover has been illustrated by Ian Kennedy who produced some excellent work on yet another version of Dan Dare for the 1980s new Eagle, but apart from one 2000AD Annual story, which was included in the last book, he was not associated with the 2000AD version. Nevertheless his cover is well up to his usual standard, although his style is quite different from Dave Gibbons’ whose work dominates the book.

I can recommend this collection as I recommended its predecessor and Rebellion, the current publishers of 2000AD but not the owners of Dan Dare, deserve praise for producing these albums. The 2000 AD version did not please everyone, but it was a bold and exciting strip which contributed to the early success of the weekly and is fondly remembered by a generation of readers.

Dan Dare: The 2000AD Years Vol.2 by Chris Lowder, Gerry Finley-Day and Dave Gibbons. Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08460-1, 3 November 2016, £30. Available from Amazon.

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