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November 28, 2007


CR Review: Dan Dare #1

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Creators: Garth Ennis, Gary Erskine, Bryan Talbot, Greg Horn, Parasuraman A., Rakesh B. Mahadik
Publishing Information: Virgin Comics, comic book, 24 pages, November 2007, $2.99
Ordering Numbers:

"Sturdy" usually isn't a compliment except of the backhanded kind, but that's the word that keeps popping into my head while reading the first issue of the new Garth Ennis/Gary Erskine Dan Dare series from Virgin comics. It's a modern comic book take on the classic British kids' comic character, filled with well-executed modern comic book things. There's a space battle, heroes with chipped-away souls just waiting to be restored by the right cause, the invocation of dread events of alternate history, craven politicians, and a clever plot twist or two that not only move the narrative along but reveal vital elements of character. The dialog feels dignified and proper and clips right along. The book has a solidly professional visual appeal, with a few subtle tricks of panel construction helping to guide the eye.

imageIn fact, save for a hideous-looking alternate-cover by Greg Horn that seems entirely out of touch with the issue's contents, the project entire comes together well enough that what few negatives exist can be re-cast into positives. For instance, whatever stiffness might occasionally appear in the figure drawing feels more like homage to Dare serials past than simple artistic mis-steps, perhaps even a tribute to the square-jawed days being reflected upon and the notion of national identity evoked. It isn't Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes dignified yet morose reflection on the original stories but something a step or two down the ambition ladder: conceptual re-alignment as a character reclamation project. On those terms, so far so good. If I were a serial adventure comics fan, I'd want to see where this one goes.

The book proves competently well-told to an almost air-tight level, so that most criticism seems to rest on a perceived grasp of what's to come. There the answers get tougher. Will the characters develop enough to sustain the interest of those for whom their previous comics' appearances aren't locked into their mental landscape? Will they develop at all? Will the physical aspects of the space conflict remain clever and engaging in a way that distinguishes itself as the action part of the plotline continues to unfold? Will the story allow for its themes to be developed in a compelling way or does the narrative simply require the suggestion it can encompass such ideas to boast a sophisticated comics veneer? It's hard to say one way or the other.

One element specific to Ennis that might be worrisome is that in Dan Dare's encounter with the Prime Minister we see something of the super-certainty that has marked a number of leads in the writer's comics, from Preacher to The Boys. Ennis' characters are frequently, unquestionably right. They fairly swagger through the pages of their comics as if they had been soaking for days in a heavy liquid of undeniable awesomeness. It's hard not to see some of them as slightly more complex wish fulfillment figures for ex-superhero comic readers, icons of cool that tend to overwhelm any story in which they might be a part. Will Ennis resist doing something similar with Dan Dare? I'm not sure I could. Given the strong reaction that Ennis' past work has engendered among comics fans, I'm also not certain it isn't the most fruitful path for him to pursue. If it makes the story less complex and satisfying for readers like me, I can't imagine anyone involved will care.

* cover by Bryan Talbot
* inset art from Gary Erskine
* panel by Gary Erskine

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