Dan Dare 2000AD Review: Beyond the Final Frontier

The second Dan Dare series began in 1977 almost a full decade after the original had ended. Times had of course changed since Dan’s heyday in the 1950’s. The sunny optimism of Captain Dan’s exploits in the 50’s would most likely not have appealed to the new generation.

People no longer wanted perfect stiff upper lip heroes who espoused perfect values. They wanted heroes who were complete bastards who rejected authority of all kind.

Wolverine with his “I’m the best at what I do and what I do ain’t nice” had just taken the comic world by storm. Blake’s 7 which would regularly pull in over 10 million viewers, with its gritty, unsympathetic and even murderous main characters was just around the corner, and the Sex Pistols were at the height of their popularity too.

In the 50’s people were hoping for a better future which is why that version of Dan Dare along with other series throughout the 60’s like Star Trek, even Classic Who in stories like the Tenth Planet which gave us a multi ethnic version of the future were so popular.

The government that would be elected not long after the second Dan Dare was published meanwhile introduced things like the Poll tax and also imposed the first new anti gay law seen in this country for 150 years with section 28. When people say the 80’s set us back 50 years, they are wrong. It set us back 150 years!

Thus the late 70’s Dan Dare was simply a reflection of the times. People had abandoned optimism for the future and were now pissed off that things hadn’t changed when they seemed on the cusp of a huge improvement in the 60’s.

As result of this the 70’s Dan had to be both angry and miserable if it had any hope of appealing to contemporary audiences.

Dan now lived in a dystopia, more similar to the Federation from Blake’s 7 than the one from Star Trek where things were corrupt, rotten to the core and unfair. He was something of an anti authority figure regularly breaking the law and going against regulations. He was even shown to be willing to murder innocent people for the sake of the greater good.

His team was made up of criminals and murderers rather than lovable oafs like Digby, and they regularly met violent, painful, gory, and pointless deaths on Dan’s adventures too.

Dan even looked more like a punk rocker than an RAF pilot.

Naturally all of these changes angered many old school Dan Dare fans, who felt the character was all but unrecognizable .

They were right of course Dan had changed, but these changes were in all fairness probably vital to Dan Dare winning over the next generation.

Dan Dare 2 was a big success. People often forget that because it was overshadowed by 2000AD’s own Judge Dredd, but it was still nevertheless a hit in its own right, though it did come to an end a lot quicker than its predecessor. It’s success nevertheless showed people that there was still an audience for Dan Dare that was essentially seen as a dead brand at that point.

It paved the way for the next version of Dan in the revamped Eagle which started soon after and ran for almost as long as the original, over ten years.

Recently this version of Dan was released as part of two volume trade paperback to great reviews. The positive contemporary reaction to this version of Dan Dare I think showed that removed from the obvious comparisons to the original this series holds up in its own way just as well.

Whilst it may not have made quite the impact on popular culture that Frank Hampson’s pioneering original series did (though it was still influential. It had a big influence on Blake’s 7 in particular) I feel that in terms of its art and stories its just as good as the original series and hopefully any newcomers will see that as I review all of the 70’s strips starting with the first story which is the subject of this article.

This story has no official title. It is simply known as Dan Dare, so I decided to call it beyond the final frontier which is mentioned on the first page, and to me seems like a sub title.

Without any further delay lets get started shall and look at how Dan was brought out of the optimistic 60’s and into the gritty, hard edged, punk rocker late 70’s.

Plot

The year is 2177AD. Its 200 years since the events of the original Dan Dare adventures. At this point no explanation is given as to how Dan is still alive in this time period. Indeed it will not be until the next issue that we will find out how Dan was catapulted close to 200 years in the future, as well as why his persona and physical appearance are so different.

Regardless of how he got to this time Dan clearly does not fit in quite as well as he once did. Whilst he was once a celebrated hero, now few of his superiors trust or even like him. Technology has of course improved greatly since Dan’s time and mankind has made contact with many more alien creatures, but still it is obvious that this society is far from the perfect utopia that Dan left behind.

Dan’s ship whilst travelling past Jupiter is soon sucked into the planet where it is destroyed. Dan is the only survivor, but just before he escapes he manages to spot something alien on the surface of the planet.

Dan tries to warn his superiors that there is a hostile life form on Jupiter that is capable of destroying earth ships, and that if they don’t deal with it instantly thousands more lives will be lost.

They don’t listen to him however and claim that he is just lying to cover up his own mistakes. They blame him for the loss of his own ship and decide to court martial him. Thus Dan decides to take matters into his own hands. Fighting his way past security he stows away on board a ship called the Odyssey that is headed past Jupiter and thus is in danger.

The Odyssey is commanded by Monday a human being who is a descendant of the early human colonists on Mars. He is taller and stronger because of the different gravity on Mars.

Whilst on the Odyssey Dan is forced to murder two guards who try and apprehend him, before being captured. He is taken to Monday who agrees to hear him out before executing him.

Dare tries to warn him about the hostile alien entity on Jupiter but Monday doesn’t believe him, describing Jupiter as a Hellish planet incapable of supporting any life. Just a Dan is about to be executed, the ship is suddenly attacked by a hideous monster that begins killing the crew. Though Monday orders it to be destroyed Dan insists on taking it alive. Knowing that it came from Jupiter he hopes to examine it to find out more about the mysterious creatures on the planet.

The creature has unnatural strength but Dan manages to overpower it and knock it unconscious by attacking its weak spot. Its horns.

The creature is examined by Doctor Ziggy Rodan.

She tells them that the beast’s brain is three times the size of a normal human being’s, that it feeds by absorbing solar energy, that it is telepathic and that it has extra muscles added to its body to make it even more powerful. She declares that it is not an ordinary life form and has been biologically engineered.

Monday orders an expedition be sent down to Jupiter to find out who created this beast which both he and Dan are a part of.

Once they land on the planet (after making their way past a storm) they land on a strange island made of crystal titanium, surrounded by a molten sea.

On the surface of the planet they encounter a hideous gigantic bug like creature that begins to attack them, whilst back on the ship the mutant comes to and begins to attack Doctor Rodan.

The giant bug like creature on Jupiter devours Dan and Monday and all of their men who are swallowed alive, screaming. Once they come too, Dan realizes that the creature is using its stomach to transport them to its master whoever that is. On the ship the creature holds Doctor Rodan hostage and threatens to kill her unless they hand over control of the ship to it. Though she tells them not to put her life above the good of the crew they surrender and the beast decides to rendezvous with its master, the Biogs!

The men try and rescue Dr Rodan but it incinerates all of them. Dan and Monday meanwhile are taken to the leader of the creatures who tells them the origin of its race.

These creatures are called the Shepherds and they serve the Biogs, who come from the planet Zircon. They say that the Biogs grow all of their technology from living tissue and they use living organisms as live fuel. The Shepherds travel the universe looking for living organisms to be converted into fuel for their masters as their home planet cannot produce enough fuel.

The Biogs plan to establish a new base on Jupiter and from there take over the earth. They plan to harness most life on the planet into a fuel source, whilst those who aren’t painfully converted into fuel will be transformed into new Shepherds who will search for more planets to conquer.

Dan naturally refuses to become part of the Shepherd horde and he and Monday manage to escape from the monsters after a gruelling battle.. After leaving Jupiter Dan and Monday discover the Odyssey being dragged into the Biogs living spaceship. 

With the Biogs planning to convert its crew into fuel, Doctor Rodan manages to disable the mutant that held her prisoner by catching it off guard and striking it on its horns its weak spot. With the creature knocked out she manages to seal the ships airlocks before the Biogs can enter and consume them. 

Dan, Monday and their team meanwhile make their way into the living ship. There Dan is able to trick the Biogs by convincing it that he wants to join them. He later along with Monday manages to make his way back the Odyssey where he manages to free the ship from the beats clutches.

Unfortunately after they escape Dan soon sees that the aliens they encountered were just the advance squad and that there is an entire invasion fleet ready to attack the earth.

The Biogs begin slaughtering the earth fleet that tries to defend mankind. They also manage to make their way into the Odyssey where they eat everyone on board the ship except for Dan, Dr Rodan and Monday.

Dan decides to pilot three ships straight into the heart of Biogs space ship before it can launch its final assault on the earth. Unfortunately during the assault Dan’s ship is damaged and he is unable to strike the final blow. Thus Monday decides to sacrifice himself and pilots the Odyssey (of which he is the only crew member left with Rodan having managed to escape) into the Biogs mothership which sends it into the sun.

The Biogs are wiped out, but at a terrible cost as Monday is pulled into the sun as well, with his final words being that it was an honour to serve with Dan.

Mankind is saved but Dan is still strip of his rank and status and court martialed.

Doctor Rodan tries to defend Dan saying that he saved humanity, but his superiors still say the must be punished, with one of them furiously demanding that he be executed!

However he is instead simply dismissed from the service, not out of gratitude but simply to avoid the scandal of executing Dan, whom many others still view as a hero.

Many in charge even blame Dan for the attack by drawing the Biogs attention to earth as he insisted on exploring Jupiter, even though Doctor Rodan defends him by saying that the Biogs were already planning to attack humanity.

Later Dan and Dr Rodan are relaxing, having a drink together in a bar. Doctor Rodan asks Dan what he will do now and he says that he wants to know how the Biogs knew about humanity, with Dan believing that something led them to our solar system.

Sure enough it is revealed to the readers (but not to Dan) that the creatures were led to our solar system by Dan’s old archenemy, The Mekon!

Review

Beyond the Final Frontier is a brilliant story for launching the new and grittier Dan Dare.

We are not told how Dan Dare ended up in the future. Indeed based on this issue one would actually think this was a reboot rather than a direct sequel. Its not until the next issue where it is made clear that this is the same Dan Dare as the one from the 50’s and 60’s.

Still this issue does a great job of letting the readers know right away that this is a very different take on Dan Dare.

Its opening is not too dissimilar to Voyage to Venus involving a threat from a planet in our solar system that is preventing ships from going near it. From that point on however it almost goes out of its way to deconstruct all the tropes from the original Dan Dare.

In Voyage to Venus, Dan is so respected that space fleet instantly take his word and follows his idea to get to Venus. Here its obvious those in charge view him with disdain and consider him a coward who abandoned his men. He is forced to go against the law and risk a death penalty just to try and get people to listen to him!

On top of that Dan who in past would have never used lethal force unless he absolutely had to, actually murders two innocent men in quite a gruesome way. Granted its still just in self defence and he is shown to regret it afterwards, but still to watch Dan burn two men into nothing but dust is like watching Batman gun down two police officers who get in his way!

Many of the main characters also meet violent and horrific deaths. Dan and Doctor Rodan are the only two characters to survive the strip. It would have been unthinkable for any of the main cast to die in the original Dare series. Also in the original whenever a character did die it was often a big glorious sacrifice. In this strip however people die for so simple a reason as something goes wrong with their space suit and they are crushed by the gravity of Jupiter into nothing.

The most striking difference however between this series and the 50’s one is the artwork.

Massimo Beraldini’s art is just completely wild compared to Frank Hampsons. He really embraces what sci fi in comic books has over other mediums like film and tv, the fact that there are no limitations except the artists imagination.

No budget, no wobbly sets and as a result he really lets his imagination run completely rampant and I feel comes up with much more unusual aliens than anything in the Hampson stories. Whilst the Treens may have been fabulous creations they do just look like green men, similarly the Phants are just fish men.

The Biogs however? I honestly don’t know what to compare them to.

Dan Dare in 2000AD prog 8

I find that Hampsons artwork was often designed to look more attractive too. His use of the bright exotic colours were often what drew young readers in to the world of the pilot of the future, and the landscapes of planets like Venus were often beautiful too.

In this strip however the creatures are designed to look more repulsive. With their long sprawling tentacles and rotten skin they are truly the stuff of nightmares. Also whilst Venus was full of lushous jungles, Jupiter is drawn as a burning hellhole full of molten lakes and fire.

The characters deaths are also depicted as being very gory and brutal. We see people’s skeletons with their flesh dripping down it, an image of a man who has died from sheer terror, even the guards Dan kills bodies slowly burn away into nothing. It would have been unthinkable to have shown such images in the Eagle.

I also like Beraldini’s design of Dan Dare too. Its true he does junk all the aspects of Dan Dare’s classic design like his costume or trademark massive chin. The only thing he keeps are the wavy eyebrows, but still I like the new look for the character. With his red hair, leather coat and slighter frame he looks almost like a punk rocker version of the late great David Bowie! That most likely was Beraldini’s inspiration for the character which would be a nice irony as Bowie was a Dan Dare fan, and even referenced the character in one of his songs.

Whilst all of these differences will have angered more traditional Dan Dare fans at the same time I think it really gets the idea of Dan being a man out of time across really well. Its almost like a nightmare for Dan to be pulled out of his utopia and thrust into this dark age of petty bureaucrats and the most nightmarish monsters.

The Biogs are a truly fantastic creation. They are along with the Daleks from Doctor Who among the few genuinely alien creatures in all of science fiction. I honestly can’t think of anything even remotely human or familiar about the Shepherd that devours Dan and Monday.

They are also a very interesting idea, creatures whose technology is made of flesh and blood and who consume and convert other races. They are a somewhat similar idea to the Cybermen in that they are a race who travel across the universe converting others into members of their own kinds and absorbing whole species into their collective, with the key difference being that these are flesh and blood creatures.

The supporting cast in this story is strong too. Dr Rodan is clearly a substitute for Peabody. Like Peabody she is a strong non sexualized female character who is a genius scientist. She and Dan also have a strictly platonic relationship too. It seems Dan’s asexuality is the main character trait that carries on from incarnation to incarnation. Though their final moment together does seem to suggest that perhaps the two’s relationship is more than platonic as we see them both having a drink together off duty whilst Rodan is dressed in more revealing clothes.

Sadly Rodan only appears in one more strip. I think she would have been an excellent supporting character for Dan. Like Peabody she could have been the brains of Dan’s team and perhaps her and Dan could have developed a romantic relationship with one another. I wouldn’t have minded it even though Dan as a character is as asexual as the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes I think its okay to explore a romance with such a character as long as its handled very delicately such as in the case of Irene Adler.

Physically Rodan is given jet black hair no doubt to help her stand out from Peabody who had blonde hair.

Monday, the fifth Generation Martian is also an interesting character and again its a shame that he is killed off, though in all fairness his death really does give the story quite a powerful ending. I’d have loved to have seen Monday and Rodan joined Dan and become his new team. Had this been the original strip then that’s what would have happened, but again this will become a feature of this strip with the only character being there right the way through being Dan himself.

The cliffhanger to the story sees the return of the Mekon. Its not surprising that they would waste no time in bringing the character back. The Mekon is Dan’s iconic enemy, Joker to his Batman, Moriarty to his Holmes. Wherever Dan is the Mekon will be there. His tiny cameo in this story I feel gives the reader a strong hint that this version of the Mekon is a lot more twisted than before as the Mekons only reason for setting the Biogs on earth would have been vengeance against humanity. He would have been unable to conquer mankind with them.

Overall I’d rank this as a very strong start to the series. Its not quite on the level of Voyage to Venus, but its still a very exciting and at parts quite frightening story in its own right. I’d give it 4 stars.

Comparison to other revivals of long running franchises

An interesting comparison can be made between the 70’s Dan Dare and Modern Doctor Who. The New Doctor Who like the New Dan Dare betrayed a lot of the classic tropes and characteristics of the original and provoked extreme anger from many die hard classic Who fans and still does to this day. Look at some of my rants online!

However the new Dan Dare didn’t bother me as I only came to the Dan Dare franchise recently. Unlike Doctor Who which I grew up with I obviously didn’t have quite the emotional attachment to Dan Dare as I did to the Doctor and thus big changes to the character of Dan don’t bother me quite as much.

Really the changes to Dan Dare are the same as those to Doctor Who. The 70’s Dan Dare strips are shorter than the original. The character is portrayed as more of modern day anti hero. In both cases he is also perhaps no longer asexual as demonstrated by Dan’s possible date with Doctor Rodan and the Doctors relationships with many characters like Rose. His costume and look has changed too. In Dan’s case his iconic big chin is gone as is his RAF pilot costume and he looks more modern with a leather coat. Much like how Eccelston’s Doctor ditched the Doctors traditionally long flowing hair and old fashioned, Edwardian/Victorian era clothing for a modern leather coat.

This coupled with the generally positive reception to the re release of the 70’s Dan Dare makes me think that in say 30 years time New Who will be looked on more favourably. To the next generation they will just see it as another version of Doctor Who, the way I see this as another version of Dan Dare. The generation who grew up with the originals obviously don’t like the vast changes to the concept and character, whilst the people who grow up with the new version perhaps get defensive of it from old fans and that leads to a New Vs Old debate. However 30 years on when the new one has settled in the next generation of fans can take a more balanced view of both of them and enjoy them both for what they are.

At the same time it also makes me wonder if the next version of Doctor Who will be a retro series in the style of Classic Who as after this version of Dan Dare came to a close the next in the revamped Eagle series tried to be more faithful to the original in its depiction of Dan and overall style and tone.

Another franchise that had a similar history to Doctor Who and Dan Dare was the Godzilla franchise. Like Who and Dare it had a second series beginning with Godzilla’s Revenge in 1984 which was very different in tone and style to the original. It ditched the camper elements of the original series like the aliens and it made Godzilla a much darker character, and it changed his iconic design somewhat making him far bulkier and less streamlined.

Just like the 70’s Dan Dare and New Who this earned the scorn of many die hard classic era Godzilla fans and the next version of Godzilla, the millenium series was more faithful to the classics, bringing back elements such as the aliens that had been jettisoned from the 90’s series. Nowadays the 90’s series however is seen as being Godzilla as much as any of the classics.

You can see a similar pattern to Dan Dare, Doctor Who and Godzilla and I think its quite interesting to see how long running franchises can be reinterpreted throughout the years.

There is the original Dan Dare Doctor Who and Godzilla all of which are big hits. In fact they all become culturally significant works that for many people help to define their generation. They also run for many years. The original Dan Dare ran for close to twenty years, the original Godzilla series for 21 years, Doctor Who for 26 years. In all three cases however their popularity began to dwindle towards the end as did their reputation to the point where all three were cancelled. They then went through their wilderness years where people grew to miss them and wanted them back and then when they did come back they were drastically different to how they had been before.

They were all given modern updates in some way to reflect the different times and changes were made to all three of the lead characters in quite large ways. Despite being despised by many purists, they did help introduce a whole new generation to the character and were hits in their own right. In New Who and New Godzilla’s case they enjoyed mainstream attention the likes of which the old one never did. Godzilla vs Mothra from the second series was the most successful Godzilla film ever made, whilst the Doctor Who episode Journey’s End starring David Tennant was the first Doctor Who episode in its 53 year history to reach number 1 in the viewing figures.

Ultimately however none of the second versions lasted as long as the first. Granted New Who is still running, but I doubt it will go on for as long as 26 years. That’s not a comment on the quality of current Who at all, but I just can’t see it running that long as nowadays its hard to imagine anything running that long that’s not a soap opera. I could be wrong but I doubt Who will ever have as long a life as before nor Godzilla as people enjoy rebooting things.

Dan and Godzilla of course later returned with the third versions being much more faithful to the original, which I think may have happened as a response to the different sequel. I think that whenever New Who finishes the next version of Doctor Who will be like the Millenium Godzilla and the Dan Dare of the Revamped Eagle, a retro, faithful adaptation with a Doctor in a frock coat, asexual, calm manipulative Master etc.

Notes and Trivia

  • At the end of this strip the Mekon is described as being as old as the universe itself. This is not true however. The Mekon is at most over 300 years old. In Voyage to Venus it established that Mekon’s are Treens that are bred to lead their kind and have a higher intelligence than the rest, hence their enlarged brains and atrophied bodies. It takes hundreds of years to breed them and in Voyage to Venus it is stated that the successor to the current Mekon wont reach maturity for 50 years which is why the value the current one so highly as if he dies then they will be leaderless. Thus there should be two Mekon’s by the time of this strip as the other Mekon will have reached maturity by this point. In the next strip it is established that the Mekon in these comics is the same as the one in the previous Dan Dare series, so therefore its most likely that THE Mekon killed his successor and found a way to prolong his own life. After all he doesn’t seem like one who would be happy to hand over the reigns of power does he?
  • This strip is also known by fans simply as The Biogs.
  • This strip ran from 26th February 1977 to May 7th 1977.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s