- Dan Dare (full name Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare) was chief pilot of the Interplanet Space Fleet. He was born in Manchester, England, in 1967 and educated at Rossall School.
- James Bigglesworth was born in India in May 1899, the son of John Henry Bigglesworth, an administrator in the Indian Civil Service and Catherine Bigglesworth (née Lacey), the daughter of the Governor of Bengal.
Originally published in Matrix 188 20.06.2008
by James Bacon
British heros are making a return, with three classic characters staging a comeback onto the UK sequential art market: Daniel McGregor Dare, Bill Savage and James Bigglesworth.
Dan Dare, Savage and Biggles. They are quintessentially British characters originally from the fifties, seventies and thirties respectively; three very different decades, yet all three character are now entertaining readers old and new in the twenty-first century.
Frank Hampson’s original incarnation of Dan Dare appeared weekly in the Eagle comic for seventeen years. From issue one, the character was hugely popular, leaving an indelible mark upon the psyche of a generation of British kids. It was a winning franchise, and as such there have been many attempts to regenerate the success, starting with the short-lived repackaging for 2000 AD in 1977, ten years after the final appearance in Eagle. This was a very different Dan Dare, a very science fictional feel, but without direction and it soon came to an unsatisfactory end.
When Eagle was resurrected in 1982, a new version of Dan Dare was also created. The first story was a massive eighteen-month-long monster of a tale, starring the great-great-grandson of the original Dan Dare. Eagle continued in the ever-constricting comics market through various relaunches and featuring different incarnations of Dan Dare until 1994.
The seminal 1990 Dare was written by Grant Morrison for the short-lived comic Revolver, and was drawn by Rian Hughes. It was a satire on eighties Britain, featuring Dare as a bitter elderly man, disappointed by the future which failed to live up to his expectations, with Treens discriminated against and treated with disdain, a privatised Space Fleet and a prime minister who was very much a parody of Margaret Thatcher. It was a generally depressing return, with a climatic finale.
In 2007, Virgin Comics acquired the rights to Dan Dare and immediately set about producing a comic that would live up to the character’s reputation. Richard Branson is apparently a fan, and he was keen to ensure that the new incarnation was as exciting and imaginative as the original. Virgin also acquired the television, film and computer game rights, in preparation for expanding the franchise.
Virgin Comics has entered the market in the last two years, utilising well known comic and movie names to bolster the usual wariness about a new publisher. Belfast man Garth Ennis was brought in to work on the first, seven-issue Dan Dare series, and with good reason: Ennis is very sympathetic to classic British comics, being a fan himself, and hugely popular after nearly twenty years in the business of crating highly entertaining stories. Ennis also has a track record of doing justice to characters, having recently taken The Punisher from a violent, mindless story vehicle to one that has struck a nerve by focussing on modern issues and atrocities. Ennis seems to adore being allowed to play with classic characters while always staying true to their original conception.
The newest version of Dan Dare follows on from the original comic. Dare is retired, living on an asteroid surrounded by a hologram of 1950s Britain, and avoiding contact with a dramatically changed world. Space Fleet and the UN are no more, and a war between China and American, combined with Professor Peabody’s national defence shields, has resulted in Britain gaining supremacy over the world. Peabody is now the Home Secretary, serving with a Prime Minister who is not only amoral but also, unbeknown to others, compromised.
Our first story sees the hero being asked to come back out of retirement: the great Mekkon threat has returned from outer space! Ennis has done a great job on this series so far. It manages to entertain in a modern, quick-paced way while also giving the hero just enough cynicism to counter his natural charm, bravery and intelligence, so providing the perfect depth and edge for today’s readers but also staying true to Hampson’s original. It’s interesting to see what Dare stands for in the modern age.
Bill Savage was a hero of the seventies. Created by Pat Mills, he started off in Issue 1 of 2000 AD, just like Dan Dare, but lasted fifty-one issues. Set in 1999, Invasion! shows Britain being invaded by the Volgans People’s Republic, a parody of the USSR where fascism rather than socialism was the ideology of choice. Savage, a truck driver from the east end of London, discovers that his young family has been killed by a Volgan tank shell: he vows revenge and destroys the tank crew responsible.
Britain capitulates after the