Dan Dare #1
“1: Under an English Heaven”
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Gary Erskine
Colors: Parasuraman A.
Letters: Rakesh B. Mahadik
Cover artists: Bryan Talbot & Greg Horn
Editor: Charlie Beckerman
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
Dan Dare is a British sci-fi/adventure property dating back to the 1950s, and from what I can gather, it’s as beloved over in the UK as DC and Marvel’s super-heroes are in North America. I know Dark Horse offered up something of a revival a few years ago, but since I didn’t read it, this new Virgin Comics incarnation is my first foray into the world of the “Pilot of the Future.” What really drew me to the book, though, was Garth Ennis’s participation in the project. The Irish writer has been a standout in the comics industry for more than a decade now, and I’m a fan. His efforts here are as strong many others to have come before it, but nevertheless, it’s a much different sort of script than what one normally expects from Ennis. There’s a softer side to his writing here, less edgy and harsh, but just as engaging. The property and premise may be one revolving around science fiction and a war in outer space, but the real content is about idealism and tradition — and how those concepts have been lost or twisted in the 21st century.
Great Britain is the only real super-power left on the planet, with a fleet of spaceships patrolling through the solar system to keep the Crown (and the Earth) safe from potential invaders. It’s been since Dan Dare’s legendary exploits among the stars, and he now enjoys a quiet, soothing retirement in what appears to be a normal, traditional English hamlet. But when rumors of an approaching threat begin to circulate among the ranks of the space fleet and parliament, the prime minister asks a rather critical Dare to return to duty. Elsewhere, a British space armada spots something that substantiates those rumors…
Erskine’s artwork is thoroughly realistic, and it strikes me as being some of the most refined work we’ve seen from the artist in recent memory. I suspect his inking collaborations with artist Chris (The Twelve, Fantastic Four: First Family) Weston has had a noticeable impact on his pencilling style. Mind you, Erskine’s own style is still quite apparent here. He manages to maintain a thoroughly grounded tone throughout the book, even in the most science-fictiony moments. The clothing styles we see throughout the book are ones that we can see today. While the technology in the story is leaps and bounds beyond our own, the culture and the people seem very much the same.
Bryan Talbot’s regular cover is a wonderful homage to old-school sci-fi comics, and it says everything one needs to know about the title character. He’s clearly a hero and an idealist. His quiet determination shines through. Greg Horn’s painted cover, on the other hand, features a character that doesn’t seem like the Dan Dare we meet in this comic book. Horn’s hero is more of a rogue and a weathered, angry soldier. I rather prefer the refreshingly serene and reflective man at the heart of this story.
There’s clearly a lot of history to these characters, and I don’t know any of it. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Ennis offers an accessible script, and the dialogue is so down to earth that it’s easy to get to know Dare and other key players. I found the exchanges between Digby and Jocelyn to be particularly genuine and convincing. Ennis also manages to capture an awkward and timid tone in the Prime Minister’s voice that conveys that he’s exactly what Digby says he is.
Ultimately, Ennis’s resurrection of Dan Dare is about honor and idealism. The stumbling bureaucracy in this sci-fi story is meant to mirror the corrupted governments of the West with which we’re faced today. Dan Dare lives in a version of England that saw great men as its leaders. Digby laments the lack of leaders and the need for someone strong and true to step up. I couldn’t agree with Ennis more. I look forward to future issues, as it seems that Dan Dare will be about how we can revisit the potential and greatness that was once only part of our history. Dan dreams of returning to a simpler, better time. So does Ennis. 9/10