Dan Dare 2000 AD Review: Hollow World

The second Dan Dare adventure in the 2000AD series, this is also the first to feature the Mekon barring his cameo at the end of Beyond the Final Frontier. This story also shed light on how Dan had ended up 200 years in the future and why he looked so different and thus it is a very important story in the Dan Dare canon as it establishes this series as a sequel rather than a reboot.

Synopsis

Having been relieved of his command Dan is still desperate to find out who led the Biogs to earth. Whilst in London he comes into contact with a strange Wolf like alien called Rok. Rok is a big fan f Dan Dare and invites him to be the navigator of his new ship. Dan agrees in the hopes that he can use this ship to find out the identity of the true mastermind of the invasion.

Across the universe meanwhile the Mekon who it is revealed has been in exile from humanity for many years is discovered by a race of hostile aliens. Unfazed by them, the Mekon demands to be taken to their home planet Verath which is a hollow world that has no centre or core.

There he meets their leader a two headed mutant simply called the Two of Verath. The Two of Verath were once two separate vicious criminals who absolutely despised one another that were fused together as a punishment. Their planet is made up of exiles and criminals from the galactic empire.

One of the two of Verath is a savage barbarian whilst the other is a criminal mastermind. The more savage one does not trust the Mekon and orders his men to kill him, but the Mekon effortlessly disposes of them with a weapon built into his flying chair.

The more intelligent member of the two meanwhile agrees to work with him, having heard of the stories of the Mekon, he believes him to be a useful ally and the Mekon soon works out a plan which he says will allow them all to conquer humanity and the Galactic Empire.

The Mekon plans to destroy the Federation’s economy by disrupting its trading industry which it is entirely dependent on. The Mekon claims that it will cause disruptions among their leaders and whilst they argue among themselves then they will strike at them. Without their leaders he argues that the Federation will be vulnerable for take over.

The more savage member of the two is still not convinced, but the more intelligent member agrees to help the Mekon.

The Mekon asks how the Two of Verath can be sure the other brutes and exiles on this planet will serve them loyally and not turn on them and the Two of Verath says that all they want is to kill and as along as they get they opportunity to then they will be happy.

Dan meanwhile pilots Rok’s ship beyond the galactic rim and the Federation’s area of space. Suspecting that this is where the mastermind of the Biog invasion came from, as they came from beyond the Galactic Rim. Dan’s ship is soon attacked by the Mekon’s forces with the Mekon becoming paranoid that the earthlings have found him.

Dan and the crew are soon taken to the Mekon who Dan realises must have been behind the Biog invasion. At first the Mekon doesn’t recognize Dan but after scanning his mind he discovers much to his horror who he really is.

Here we learn how Dan ended up in the future. At some point after the events of the original Dan Dare series Captain Dan was involved in an accident that horribly disfigured him and left him near death. He was placed in suspended animation until medical science reached the stage where it could help him.

Over 100 years later Dan is revived and reconstructive surgery is able to repair his face but not as it was, and he now looks completely different as a result.

The Mekon prepares a particularly gruesome fate for his old archenemy. He seals him in a cage where maggots will slowly eat him alive. Over the course of several days, possibly even years.

As the Mekon laughs at Dan’s pain, the Rok manages to smash the cage and release Dan when he isn’t looking. Dan and Rok manage to escape though sadly the captain of Rok’s ship, O’Grady is killed in the fight. 

After a long fight with the Mekon’s guards and the two of Verath Dan and Rok are able to escape in the Mekon’s own ship.

During the fight the Mekon lets it slip that he needs the two of Verath for his plans and after Dan escapes when they ask him what he means, he hypnotises them both.

In the Mekon’s ship Dan searches his memory banks and discovers what the Mekon is planning with the two. He intends to hypnotise them and implant a bomb within them. He shall then send them on a pointless mission to disrupt the Federations economy which will lead to their capture. Once they are taken to the Galactic High Council then the bomb will go off and destroy it. There would have been no way for the Mekon to attack the Galactic council which is too heavily guarded otherwise.

The Mekon later destroys the communication device on his own ship which will prevent Dan from warning them and also will prevent him from being able to tell anyone who he is. As he is flying an alien ship he will be shot down in seconds.

Dan however is able to out think the Mekon by using Morse code to tell the humans who he is.

He manages to make his way to the Galactic council fighting past their robot guards along the way. When Dan arrives he discovers that the council were already aware of the Mekon’s plan. Ultimately the Mekon underestimated them. They are creatures who have evolved beyond the need of bodies and are beings of pure light. The members of the council also de-hypnotized the two of Verath and told them about the Mekon’s treachery. The two head back to destroy the Mekon and Dan and Rok stow away on board their ship. Dan is able to convince the two to work with him to destroy the Mekon, and they reluctantly agree. Though the Two obviously wants the Mekon dead, both of them also despise Dare as well.

The three hatch a plan to trick the Mekon. The two pretend that they have captured Dare and want to bring him back to the Mekon. The Mekon is skeptical as to why the bomb has not destroyed them, and believes it must have misfired. Nevertheless he remains cautious.

When they arrive the Mekon discovers all of them working together. He orders the creatures on the planet to kill all three of them, but he discovers to his horror that the two of Verath lied. All of the outlaws on this planet are loyal to them after all and thus they turn on the Mekon. Nevertheless the Mekon manages to give them the slip and sabotages the forcefield which holds the hollow planet together.

As the planet begins to rip itself apart Dan and Rok flee whilst the Two of Verath stay behind. The Mekon seals itself in a protective bubble but the Two of Verath jump into the bubble. The Mekon laughs at them saying that if they kill him his chair will explode and they will die. He then taunts them stating that there is nothing to stop them from killing him. They however counteract this by stating that the members of the council did not remove the bomb and if the Mekon shoots them it will explode.

Thus neither are able to kill each other and as the planet breaks apart into nothing, the Mekon and the Two of Verath are left floating in their protective bubble through space, with both promising to find a way to kill the other. 

Dan and Rok meanwhile head back to Rok’s home planet where Dan will be forced take part in a ritual of initiation into Rok’s tribe before he takes a long holiday.

Review

An all around brilliant story, Hollow World not only brings the Mekon into this version of Dan Dare but also establishes this as a sequel to the original.

In the previous issue you could have easily taken this for a reboot set in the future but this establishes it as the same Dan who was simply in suspended animation for 200 years. They even explain why he looks so different too. I often felt that if they ever adapted Dan Dare for television you could have it run for years as you could have Dan change his face and thus his actor, much like the Doctor through regeneration.

I also feel they are able to explore a lot of interesting ideas with the Mekon as a result making it the same character as the original 200 years on.

The Mekon in this story is desperate. He is without his Treens having long since been overthrown in the intervening centuries and is in exile from humanity. He is also somewhat out of his depth. Rather amusingly his plan to destroy the galactic Federation would never have worked. Dan Dare might as well have not bothered turning up.

You might think this undermines the Mekon and Dan’s characters but I think it shows brilliantly how the two are completely out of time. The Mekon having been in exile for 200 years is still thinking like he’s in the 21st century, where he can just disrupt a peace conference with a bomb and that’s that. He is unaware that now the leaders of the Federation are practically gods!

This in turn I feel allows the writers in later stories to develop both Dan and the Mekon to the point where they do become used to this strange new time. The Mekon and Dan are not shown to be incompetent by any means in this story, just strangers in a strange land and I personally find it to be a very interesting new take on both characters. We are used to seeing the Mekon as this powerful figure. Even in stories from the original series where he was on the run he still always had an army of Treens around him and was greatly feared by Spacefleet. Here the heads of the Federation view him as a joke and he is on his own, with nothing more than his glider.

Of course whilst the Mekon is shown to be unsure in this strange new time, he is still depicted as a vicious, ruthless, sadistic monster and he still causes the deaths of billions of people, outwits two vicious criminals and destroys an entire planet just to save his own miserable neck. Indeed here I feel they are able to go a lot further with the darker elements of the character in some ways than they were in the more family friendly Eagle comics as we actually get to see him gun down his servants in graphic ways , cause the death of supporting characters and try and murder Dan by having him eaten alive by maggots.

This is definitely one of the darkest moments in the story when we see the Mekon taunt Dan about how his maggots know how to preserve their food so it will take them months possibly even years to fully consume him.

The Mekon’s character is absolutely spot on here. They capture his ruthlessness, his craven cowardice, yet also manage to portray him as being more unhinged than his more cold and steely precursor due to having lost everything in the 200 years since. At one point he openly admits that whilst he may have elevated himself above emotions he will take a great pleasure in watching Dan’s slow, agonizing death!

His design is also very faithful to the original. The Mekon’s design much like say the Daleks or the Karloff Frankenstein or the Xenomorph is a classic monster look and so Belardinelli wisely doesn’t tamper with it too much. He just spruces it up a bit. He makes his chair larger and more foreboding, and adds minor changes like a big M on the front of his chair which is quite a nice touch.

The Two of Verath is also a brilliant foil to the Mekon. Indeed in some ways this is an edge this story has over many of the Eagle comics I’ve read. Often the Mekon simply has lackey’s who say things like “Praise the Mekon” where as here we actually see him work alongside another villain who is in many ways his equal.

In fact the Two of Verath are actually the ones with the power here as they have what the Mekon once had with the Treens an army of loyal creatures.

Its interesting the way the two heads that make up the Two of Verath have such a different view of the Mekon. The more intelligent one is impressed by his exploits and thinks he can be a useful ally, whilst the other hates him so much even at the end when they have to pretend to serve him in order to get him, he has to be forced to do it at gun point. He later says his life isn’t worth living as he had to pretend to worship that little green runt!

Of course ironically the more simplistic and brutish member of the two is shown to be right as the Mekon later tricks them and nearly kills them. However in a nice twist the Two were also able to trick the Mekon by making him think that their band of outlaws had no real loyalty to them, which was a reasonable conclusion for the Mekon to accept. After all this is a planet of brutal, vicious criminals so why wouldn’t the Mekon believe that, but turns out that there is honour among thieves after all as the Mekon finds out a little too late.

Again its a nice change to actually see the Mekon panic and be visibly frightened. In the old strips the Mekon was facing an enemy who would never have killed him. Dan Dare of the 50’s was like Superman or Spider-Man he wouldn’t ever have even considered killing the Mekon regardless of what horrors he committed, but the Dan of this story is working with two vicious murderers to actually kill him.

Again though I don’t think this undermines the Mekon. In fact I think if anything it allows him to flourish as a villain more as we see him actually have to use his intelligence more and be pushed to greater lengths like destroying a planet to defeat his enemies. The Mekon’s destruction of the Hollow world to save his own skin reminds me of the Master in the Deadly Assassin being willing to slaughter billions of planets just to save his own miserable neck. It really makes you hate the villain more in both cases when you see how they actually put their own lives above entire planets. What’s even more disturbing in the Mekon’s case is that he succeeds.

I don’t know if the Two of Verath appear in any future strips as I haven’t gotten to the Mekon’s next appearance in Dan Dare after this yet, but I really hope he is. Whilst I do miss the Treens (seeing the Mekon without the Treens is odd, its like Davros without the Daleks) the Two of Verath is a brilliant foil for the Mekon and it would be great to see where their relationship goes from here.

The Two of Verath is a brilliant idea for a character all around. Two criminals who despise one another being fused together forever. Again this can be seen as an example of how much more corrupt the Federation in this series is compared to spacefleet from the original as Dan describes the punishment inflicted on these two men as worse than any crime they could have committed. I also like his design. They way they are fused together looks horrible and nasty, with their skin all stretched and at parts broken. You get the impression that they are both in a state of constant pain. I also like the way the more violent of the two even has a punk style haircut, whilst the more cerebral one is given a traditional mad scientist hair do.

I think its a real shame that they never made a Dan Dare series in the 90’s as I would love to have seen Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson play the Two of Verath. Ade would obviously play the more violent one and Rik the one who thinks he is a lot smarter than he actually is. I think they would have had a lot of fun with this character, its just such a shame that that can never happen now.

What would have been the best choices for the two of Verath, RIP Rik.

The strip’s other supporting characters are strong too. Rok is a brilliant sidekick for Dan. Though his characterisation is fairly straight forward. An alien who is a member of a proud warrior race, he is just such a wild idea, a wolf man from outer space that he is lots of fun. There are also some great moments of comedy with him too such as when he offers to lick Dan’s wounds to make him feel better as that is a custom on his planet.

Sadly however like Doctor Rodan from the previous strip, Rok is never mentioned again. If they ever did a tv version of this I think they should make Monday, Doctor Rodan and Rok Dan’s team, though granted that might be difficult in live action. Still I think together they would have been a brilliant team for the new Dan. I could read hundreds of comics that had Dan, Rodan, Monday and Rok battling the Mekon and the Two of Verath.

The other major supporting character in the strip O’Grady I was surprised to see die so suddenly and without warning. I felt that he was being set up as a possible replacement for Digby, as he seemed to be a similar build and seemed a bit bumbling yet perhaps more competent underneath. Also it felt like they were adding more layers to his character such as his cowardice that they might explore in more detail. Then however he just gets crushed and that’s that!

Indeed much like the last strip the deaths are quite explicit and gruesome in this story. Belardinelli the artist on the story once again lets his imagination run rampant dreaming up fabulously over the top deaths for certain characters.

My favourite is a young man who is aged to death when Dan’s ship breaks the speed barrier and he is not given the proper protection. Its really quite a prolonged and and ghastly death as we see him literally rot away on his bones.

I’d say that Belardinelli is possibly my favourite Dan Dare artist as I find that its images from his comics like the one above that tend to stick in my head more. They manage to be utterly grotesque, yet somewhat appealing at the same time. Sadly however this and Beyond the Final Frontier were the only two stories he ever did for Dan Dare.

Overall I would rank this as a classic adventure that does a good job of bringing Dan’s greatest enemy into the new series and features some fun and interesting concepts in its own right, as well as some very dark and frightening moments too. Its such a shame that it was Belardnelli’s last ever contribution to the world of Dan Dare, but it was a great story to go out on nonetheless.

Notes and Trivia

  • The Treens are not mentioned once in this story by either Dan or the Mekon.
  • The Mekon is in exile from the Galactic Federation in this story and has been for many years. It is not said who exiled him however.
  • This story bares some similarities to Blake’s 7. The corrupt empire Dan works for that punishes its dissidents in severe ways including by experimenting on them is called the Federation, whilst there is also a planet where criminals are abandoned. Though Terry Nation actually used the idea of a prison planet 11 years before this story in The Daleks Masterplan.

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