writer: Garth Ennis
penciller: Gary Erskine
A legend returns this week. Here in the United States, only a small portion of comics fans really know Dan Dare, but elsewhere - elsewhere he has been missed. In the world that Garth Ennis posits for the old space hero, he has been forgotten. All that is about to change.
Opening on the outskirts of a tranquil English village, Ennis may confuse you at first. How could this be a stirring space adventure when the man known as Mr. Dare so clearly lives a bucolic - and one might also say anachronistic - lifestyle. He watches friends play cricket, and passes by a statue honoring the village's sacrifices in World Wars I and II. In a clever collaboration with artist Gary Erskine, however, Ennis allows for a knowing moment to pass between Dare and a fox. Nothing is as it seems.
Up above, of course, orbits a huge space station, keeping vigil to protect what's left of the Earth. Though Dare's earlier adventures included global cooperation, it seems that most of the United Nations self-destructed, and only England survives as a superpower. Good thing, too, because Dare's old alien enemies have decided to come back for one last hurrah.
It would seem that Dan Dare should be buried in back story, but Ennis treats it as absolutely that. The earlier series (one or many, I honestly don't know) serve as a foundation but not continuity. Though Dare had many adventures, Ennis distances this narrative from them, and likely many were never recorded.
This character follows a different trope: the old soldier returning for a last shot at glory. Like a true old soldier, though, it's not something that Dan Dare really wants. As one of the villagers mentions in passing, nobody knows Mr. Dare and that's just the way he likes it. His hard-earned peace reflects the reality that there's very little glory in killing.
Though the government in the story claims to be British, a case could be made that Ennis pays tribute to the American spirit as well. Characters criticize the government for lacking moral authority due to its own corruption, and certainly that reverberates on both sides of the Atlantic right now, with the Homeland Secretary's saddened defense that "…when things are at their worst, and the man for the job just isn't there, you have to settle for what you can get."
But Dan Dare stands for the things that have been lost. True heroism, true kindness, true nobility - the things "…that make a people what they are." Strangely, the often brutally cynical Ennis makes you believe this earnest goodness, and dare to hope for it.
With Erskine, he also sows a few mysteries. From the callow
Prime Minister, clues can be gleaned that too much time
has passed for Dare and at least one of his compatriots
to appear as young as they do, especially when another so
clearly fills the "crusty old veteran" role.
Then there are Dare's alien foes, of whom we newcomers
know nothing, though they clearly scare the crap out of
the government. To finish everything up, Ennis also delivers
a delightfully outrageous cliffhanger.
So this offering from Virgin Comics has everything you
could want. Uplifting writing, great art and the promise
that we're only going to get more of the same. With books
like this, it's no wonder Virgin keeps trying to play the
game. If you're smart, you'll help them keep playing.