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A Long Time Dare

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In 1986, John Byrne was given the task of revamping a national icon. He was given the reigns of reinventing a character as American as apple pie and baseball. The character changed the face of comic books for the country and has made the transition to TV, radio and movies. The character Byrne took on was Superman.

Now, 21 years later, another national icon is set for a revamp. But the nation this time is Britain. The character in question served as the flagship character for one of the biggest titles of the British comics industry. He has made his way into music, computer games, and radio serials. This character name is Dan Dare.

Eagle Comics published its first issue in April 1950. It ran in 2 weekly incarnations from 1950 to 1969 and from 1982 to 1994 and provided the inspiration for the name of the most prestigious honor British comic fans can bestow, the Eagle Awards.

Eagle is one of the most legendary comics in British history and “Dan Dare, Pilot of The Future” was there from the very first issue.   Created by Frank Hampson, the strip was set in the then far flung 1990’s. It told the tale of a bold space pilot who explored the spaceways looking for adventure. Pains were taken to make the feature as scientifically accurate as possible, going so far as to use noted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke as a “science and plot” advisor.

Dan Dare lasted with original stories until 1967 when it went into reprints. It was brought back with new adventures in the first issue of another legendary British comic book, 2000 A.D, in 1977. Over his fifty plus year history, famous creators such as John Wagner, Dave Gibbons and Grant Morrison worked on the character.

Garth Ellis has been quoted as saying that Dan Dare is “…the quintessential British hero. He’s our Captain America, our Superman, our Batman, he’s all of them rolled into one. He’s the original and the best.”  This can be found in his effect on the British cultural landscape. He has appeared in lyrics to songs by British artists like Elton John, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. The Dan Dare concept has been used in political parody to mock Tony Blair and Dan Quayle. He has inspired Warren Ellis’ Ministry of Space miniseries and more than one character in the Doctor Who universe.

Dan Dare has also appeared in radio dramas, cartoons, and even computer video games. He has garnered generations of fans over his five decades of existence. One of his fans is responsible for his return to comics pages—Sir Richard Branson.

Richard Branson is the owner of just about everything with the name Virgin on it and one of the richest men in the world.   Born the same year as Dan Dare was, Branson grew up reading the strip and used artwork from the series to decorate the walls of the lounges for his Virgin Airways.

Branson didn’t just buy the rights to make a Dan Dare comic book, he also bought the TV, movie and video game rights. So, odds are that we’ll being seeing Dan Dare’s and Virgin’s names linked again in different areas in the future.

Virgin Comics tapped two other Dare fans for the revamp—Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine. Their Dan Dare is disillusioned, disappointed and retired. But a potential onslaught from powerful alien forces calls him out of retirement. If he doesn’t get back into the action, the Earth might be doomed.

Dan Dare might not be well known outside of the British Isles, but he is an icon there. Perhaps this new interpretation will be the one to make him into a worldwide sensation.  

Also out this week:

Flying Friar Color Edition:

Back in 2005, Rich Johnston and Thomas Natchlik created a black and white comic about the real-life Saint Joseph of Copertino, a man who legend says could fly. To stave off it being a stale and boring historical biography, they told the story as an homage to the Smallville TV show—Saint Joseph becoming the Clark Kent character. Now, the one-shot is back in a color version.

I had the opportunity to speak with Rich Johnston at the most recent Big Apple Convention and his enthusiasm about the colorization was infectious. He made the coloring part of the storytelling process—red and blue are used for Saint Joseph, the contructs of his enemy Lux are purple and green, etc. So, if you are a fan of Smallville, a follower of Saint Joseph of Copertino, or bought the black and white version two years ago, you might want to pick this one up.

Rich Johnston (W), Thomas Natchlik (A), Markosia Comics, $8.95, One-Shot.

All-Star Batman and Robin #8:

On most occasions, we here at Guiding Lines inform you of good times to jump onto a series. This time, however, we are advising you of a good jumping off point of the series, as this issue finally ends the first story arc.

Some people love this series, thinking it to be an ironic, over-the-top parody of the grim and gritty style of writing. Others think it is a poorly paced, awkwardly constructed, abject failure that serves as a black mark on not only Frank Miller’s and Jim Lee’s careers but in comics in general.

If you fall in the latter category, and still have this series in your pull list because you think it will get better or want to not break the set, you should drop the series after this issue. Odds are it won’t get any better and there are other books in this very column that the $2.99 would be better spent on.   

Frank Miller (W), Jim Lee (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Popgun:

One of the things I like about comic books is the collaborative process: two or more different people coming together and creating something of artistic value.

Anthologies offer an interesting take on the collaborative process. They allow numerous teams of creators to come together to produce something bigger than they could create on their own. And anthologies offer a sampling of story types and creative styles to readers so they may pick up a new favorite artist and writer.

This anthology features work from Mike Allred, Erik Larsen, Joseph Michael Linsner and many others, showcasing many creators in the Image family. I’m sure the company hopes that you will pick up this “graphic mixtape” and that it will lead you to buy more Image products. 

Various (W), Various (A), Image Comics, $29.99, Graphic Novel.

Gargoyles: Bad Guys #1:

They are five of the meanest, toughest, scariest villains in the Gargoyles Universe. Each of them has plagued the heroes time and time again. But now, the world is threatened by a force only the team of the mutant Fang, the mercenary Dingo, the Gargoyle slayer Hunter, the robotic Matrix and the Japanese gargoyle Yama can defeat. Can these baddies stay on the straight and narrow long enough to get the job done? Or are we doomed?

A franchise is only as good as its bad guys. This series puts the best of the Disney property on display. And I’d wager that Gargoyles fans everywhere are very happy.   They get to see some of their favorite villains all at once and working on the side of the angels. Who could ask for anything more?

Greg Weisman (W), Karine Charlebois (A), Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics. $3.50. Ongoing Series.  

Fear Agent: Hatchet Job #1:

Heath Hudson returns to comics in his third series, his second from Dark Horse.

Heath and Mara separate to find a solution to their “Feeder” problems. One travels to the Feeders alien homeworld to find a natural predator that might be able to take the feeders out. The other searches for a way the survivors of the alien invasion can escape Earth.

The Fear Agent franchise has garnered much critical acclaim and a loyal following of devoted fans. If you are a fan of 50s style horror—with the scares mixed in with a gallows humor—then this series is for you. If you are not picking up this franchise, perhaps now is the time to find out what all the fuss is about.

Rick Remender (W), Jerome Opeňa (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Superman Annual #13:

Arion gave Superman two weeks to decide. He showed the Man of Steel that if he continued to be an active hero, it meant a dystopian future for Earth. Supes was given the option: retire—or else!

Well, Superman decided to stick around. Arion didn’t take kindly to him refusing his offer and decided to force retirement on him, by any means necessary. Since Superman is vulnerable to magic, and Arion is a magician, it looks like Supes might not live long enough to enjoy the time off.

This annual completes the “Camelot Falls” arc. It was originally supposed to take place in the the pages of the regular book but lateness meant it was bumped and put in the annual.   Regardless, I’m sure fans of the storyline will know the end was worth the wait.  

  Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza (W), Carlos Pacheco and Renato Guedes (A), DC Comics, $3.99. Annual.

Archibald Saves Christmas #1:

Christmas is the most sentimental of holidays. It is a season for families spending time together, visiting old friends and exchanging gifts. But perhaps it is too sentimental because there is a market for tales from the dark side of X-Mas. From Bad Santa in film to last year’s The Last Christmas special from Image, there have been comedies that acted as an affront to this sentimental holiday.

Add this special to the list. It features a suicidal, “Disney-esque” aardvark just released from the mental hospital. His lonely existence is interrupted when a psychopathic murderer crosses his path. By stopping the madman, he may save Christmas. But does he even care enough to do it?

Dwight L. MacPherson (W), Grant Bond (A), Image Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

The Dock Walloper #1:

Ed Burns burst onto the movie scene in 1995 with his self-financed, writen and directed The Brothers McMullen, which won the Best Picture Award at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, he has appeared in numerous movies and TV shows. Now, he is making the leap to comic books through a new series from Virgin.

Burns writes a tale of John “The Hand” Smith. Born with an extra large right hand, he has become embroiled in the world of organized crime of the 1920s. “The Hand” has set about to change the way that particular world works. Or he’s going to die trying.

Apparently, this comic book will act as a springboard for a potential movie in the future.

Jimmy Palmiotti (W), Siju Thomas (A), Virgin Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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