Well, Not Quite Like A Virgin, a review by Mike Gold
If I were to tell you that a major British icon has returned, and you hadn’t read the headline above, what image would first pop into your head? Winston Churchill? The Union Jack? Pete Townshend?
Well, all those icons are still around, but I’ll admit that if I weren’t a comics fan, Pete jumping in his jump suit would certainly come to mind. But I am a comics fan, so that space in my filing lobe belongs to Dan Dare.
In case you didn’t know, Dan Dare was to the Brits what Superman is to Americans: their seminal comics hero. This makes Judge Dredd the Brits’ Spider-Man, which, to me, is a funny image. Sadly, Dan hasn’t fared quite as well as the Man of Steel, and he’s suffered through almost as many “reboots.” Created in 1950 by Frank Hampson, who drew most of the stories in that decade. A number of artists succeeded him, first and foremost the astonishingly talented Frank Bellamy. Since the Brits tend to favor (okay; favour) the anthology format, Dan Dare appeared in Eagle (after which the awards were named) and later in may different titles, including the birthplace of the “modern” British comics movement, 2000 A.D.; Dave Gibbons was among the artists on that venture. Much of his career has been chronicled in album reprints and he’s had his share of video games, audio dramas and spud guns.
Dare was a science fiction hero in the classic sense: perhaps more like Buck Rogers than Flash Gordon, but with the requisite sexless British stiff-upper lip. He’s been referenced in rock songs, and a band named itself after his Doctor Doom, a little green tyrant named The Mekon.
Okay. That’s the backstory. The new story is, Virgin Comics has leased the rights and relaunched the series, the first issue of which is on sale now. And it’s damn good.
This is no surprise. Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine are the creative team, under alternate covers by Bryan Talbot (pictured) and Greg Horn. Virgin honcho Richard Branson is a long-time fan and has also glommed onto film, television and video game rights.
The story starts after what I can only perceive as the most awesome British fantasy possible: the United States and China have destroyed each other, leaving the United Kingdom as the sole surviving superpower. Evidently, issue two will reveal what happened to India, but I digress. The British government has detected an interstellar threat and must ask Col. Dare to come out of his self-imposed retirement to an isolated post-apocalyptic neighborhood. While the prime minister is doing this, the rest of his team is being recruited by the PM’s lackeys while the Invader does what all good invaders do: he invades England, revealing his identity to the reader as the cliff-hanger.
Just as the Brits have taught us more than a thing or two about popular culture, they have also been teaching us quite a lot about how to make classic characters relevant to our times. They have done so impeccably with their next-generation efforts of Doctor Who and James Bond, while in America we’ve been rebooting ourselves blind with little more than hairy hands to show for our effort.
Check out Dan Dare. It’s a solid effort.