Dan Dare is sadly a name that is not that familiar to most young people nowadays. It is currently sci fi’s great sleeping giant. In its heyday it was one of the most popular and influential comic book series of all time. It helped to inspire other genre classics such as Doctor Who, Thunderbirds and Blake’s 7.
Dan Dare initially ran in the Eagle strip. It was created by Frank Hampson who has been described by Terry Jones as “one of the great unsung genius’s of the 20th century.”
The series tried to be as scientifically accurate as it possibly could, and Arthur C Clarke served as both a plot and science advisor on the strip. It began in 1950.
It was set in the then future of the 1990’s. The future of Dan Dare was not unlike that seen in the later Star Trek. World peace had been declared, all diseases were cured, and all forms of prejudice were gone and technology had risen to new heights with space travel now being possible. The series broke new ground by regularly featuring non white characters in positions of power and authority as well as women in strong, heroic roles too.
The main character of the series was naturally Dan Dare a space pilot. Though there was a rotating cast of characters, throughout the 50’s his team usually consisted of the fat, slow witted, but well meaning Digby and the beautiful and intelligent Joceyln Peabody and finally Dan’s mentor the somewhat old fashioned but good natured Sir Hubert. Together they explored the solar system and often battled with the evil Venusians, the Treens.
The Treens were a ruthless race of emotionless reptile like creatures who sought to conquer the universe. They were lead by the Mekon a being with an enlarged brain and atrophied body who flew around on a levitating chair. The Mekon had been created by the Treens to lead them.
The Mekon Dan Dare’s archenemy.
Dare and his team first encountered the Treens in the very first ever story of the series where they prevented the monsters from conquering both Venus and the earth. The Mekon however escaped and would return many times to battle Dare though there were many other monsters and villains too. Not all of the Treens were depicted as evil either. One of their race Sondar became a trusted ally of Dan’s.
The stories were often long and complex, and usually lasted over a year.
The strips in many ways were just the RAF in space and Frank Hampson even said that World War 2 was his biggest inspiration, with the Treens representing the Nazi’s and the Mekon representing Hitler. Though such an idea may not seem particularly groundbreaking or original today, it was in 1950 a mere 5 years after the war had ended.
The strip was an instant hit and for the next 15 or so years would continue to be massively popular. At one point sales reached as high a figure as 3 million!
There was even a radio adaptation produced for five years from 1951 for Radio Luxemburg. It was on five times a week, though sadly all but two episodes which were rediscovered in 2011 are lost.
Both Dan and The Mekon would enter into popular culture as British icons and over the years many high profile figures have cited Dan Dare as an influence or praised it.
Philip Pullman the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy said
“Dan Dare is the most thrilling and accomplished work ever published in the comics form in Britain.”
Brian May meanwhile the guitarist of the band Queen said that he owed his enthusiasm for astronomy to Dan Dare. May has provided the introduction to a number of Dare reprints. In this interview below he says that one thing he wanted to be when he grew up was a space pilot like Dan Dare.
Jeff Wayne’s who produced the musical adaptation of War of the Worlds also cited Dan Dare as one of his biggest influences. He too has supplied introductions to Dan Dare reprints as well.
Among the other musical figures who are Dan fans include David Bowie who referenced it in the song DJ, Syd Barret also mentioned Dan Dare in his song Astronmy Dome, whilst Dare is also mentioned on Pink Floyd’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Elton John meanwhile wrote an entire song about Dare called Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future) which appeared on the album Rock of the Westies.
There was even a punk band named The Mekons.
Also the Mekon appears in the video for Mel and Kim’s rockin around the christmas tree too. I should warn you thought that this song is pretty shit. Jump to 1 minute 17 seconds to see the Mekon on the steps.
Doctor Who meanwhile was greatly inspired by Dan Dare. The characters of Captain Jack and the Brigadier were directly inspired by Dare himself whilst the Mekon was the main inspiration behind Davros the creator of the Daleks. The Treens served as inspiration on the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans.
The likes of Terry Nation creator of the Daleks and Kit Pedler creator of the Cybermen have praised Dan Dare, with Kit Pedler also providing a foreward to a Dan Dare story too.
Elektrobot from the Dan Dare. As you can see the robots in the Doctor Who story the Mind Robber were greatly inspired by its look.
Meanwhile the Treens as you can see where a clear influence on the Sontaran look.
The Mekon as you can see was also an obvious influence on Davros both in terms of design and character too.
I have discussed Dan Dare’s influence on Doctor Who before so I wont go too much into it again here.
Among other high profile fans include Alan Moore and Richard Branson whose company Virgin later revived the strip in the 00’s.
Dan Dare’s heyday was really the 50s’ and early 60’s. Frank Hampson left the serial in 1959 over creative differences and though Frank Bellamy took over as a leading artist ultimately many felt that after Hampsons departure there was a big drop in quality and gradually sales of Dan Dare began to dip throughout the 60’s until eventually it finished in 1967. Reprints would continue until 1969.
In 1977 Dan Dare would return in the first issue of 2000AD. Now this strip was said to be a direct continuation of the original and saw Dan fall into suspended animation for over 200 years after which he was revived. The Mekon had also managed to survive for over two centuries. Naturally none of the other cast appeared.
This strip was radically different in tone from the original Dan Dare comics in that it was darker and edgier, with Dare now reimagined as more of a grittier anti hero.
This series ran for 29 issues before it took a break for one month after which it was revamped more in the style of Star Wars and Star Trek. This version of Dan Dare would go through many changes including gaining super powers and becoming an outlaw along with Sondar from humanity. Eventually this version of Dare came to an end in 1979.
Eventually the Eagle, the comic that had produced the original Dan Dare would be revived in 1982 and Dan Dare was made its flagship character again. This version of Dare was actually the Great, Great, Great Grandson of the original version who worked alongside the descendant of Digby. Once again the Mekon was the main antagonist. This series ignored the events of the 70’s series
This version of Dan Dare would run almost as long as the original until the New Eagle ended in 1994.
In addition to this two Dan Dare miniseries would also be produced.
Dare written by Grant Morrison in 1990 which was a satire of 1980’s British politics and even featured a British Prime Minister who was based on Margaret Thatcher that had sold humanity out to the Mekon. This series utilized the original characters such as Professor Peabody. This series ignored both the 70’s and the 80’s sequels. Personally I regard this as the weakest Dan Dare revival.
In 2007-08 Virgin Comics produced a 7 part miniseries which again not only featured the original characters, but also another character based on the then Prime Minister Tony Blair who had sold the world out to the Mekon. Once again this ignored the 70’s, 80’s and Grant Morrison versions of Dan Dare, though the characters design in this series was closer to the 70’s Dan than the original.
Finally in 2003 a magazine called Spaceship Away which features Dan Dare stories was launched. Though it has only a small circulation as it is only available through a few select shops or via mail order through its own website, it has continued to run to this day. This series serves as a direct sequel to the original and ignores all of the other sequels.
Sadly though it does still maintain a following Dan Dare has naturally fallen out of mainstream attention. It was announced in 2015 that a new audio series based on the original classic Dan Dare stories will be released by B7 Media in 2016. Hopefully these will help the character find a new audience. Whilst I am looking forward to the audio’s personally I think there should be a television series based on Dan Dare. I think that if done right Dan Dare could become one of the greatest science fiction television series ever made.
Here are my reviews of the classic Dan Dare stories (note this will be updated the more I get a chance to review)
The Original 50’s and 60’s Series
The 70’s 2000AD Series
Other articles about Dan Dare