I love cheesy sci-fi from the early 1930s through the 1960s. I make it a point to watch Forbidden Planet every year and my office is a collection of retro robots and rockets scattered on the shelves and desktop. There’s just something about these early days of science fiction, with the ray guns and finned rockets and numerous planets with breathable oxygen. I’ve read and enjoyed early Flash Gordon comics and listened to Buck Rogers radio serials. This stuff is over-the-top, completely unrealistic, and sometimes insulting to some cultures who are often portrayed as villainous stereotypes. But I still love it.
Recently I was introduced to a British sci-fi hero named Dan Dare. Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future was a full-color comic strip that started in 1950 in a British journal for boys titled Eagle. Each two-page weekly strip was told in a cliffhanger style of storytelling, with Dan constantly running into trouble and readers anxious to know what happened next. In the Dan Dare stories, the year is 1996 and travel between planets is fairly common. Dan is a Space Pilot in the Interplanet Space Fleet, and he’s surrounded by a host of supporting characters that include his sidekick Digby and his boss, Sir Hubert, the Marshal of Space.
Titan Books has been releasing the Dan Dare adventures in an ongoing series of oversized hardback books. They provided me with two books, The Phantom Fleet and Trip to Trouble, and all the two books have done is leave me wanting more. The downside is that there are currently about 10 or so volumes in the series, so I’ll need to spread out my acquisitions over the next few years’ worth of birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions.
Various artists have been responsible for drawing the Dan Dare strips, but the overall look and feel of the strip has stayed consistent. The sleek fins and glass canopies on the ships make me smile, as do the stylish military uniforms worn by Dan and his peers. There are jet packs, shuttlecraft, ray guns, and evil alien civilizations galore. (A smart game developer would have an almost unlimited supply of material for a great MMO with all the story lines and technology found in these books.)
The characters in the books are pure stiff-upper-lip — as an American, I just love the British style of writing, the slang (from the ’50s, of course), the hero behaviors and manners, and the way the Interplanet Space Fleet operates.
What’s really fun about reading them is that I just can’t stop. I find myself reading two pages and then another two pages… and the next thing I know I’ve burned half an hour. The dialogue and artwork can sometimes be dense, though, so there’s often a lot of storytelling in a short bit of space. I’m no expert on comic book art, but I will say that the facial expressions, the details on the various space ships, and special effects such as those used to demonstrate acceleration are nicely done. And since the pages are printed at full size, just like the originals, you really get the full effect that young readers (and I’m betting a lot of older readers, too) experienced with each weekly Dan Dare adventure.
One nice bonus with these stories is that they’re quite suitable for my older son. He’s almost five years old, and I recently sat him down to look over the stories and read him some of the pages. The technical talk didn’t do anything for him, but he sure did appreciate the space ships and the explosions and the aliens. I’m looking forward to the day when he’s reading on his own and I can hand him these without any worries… he’s going to love them. (And I’m already wondering what I would have to do to create a Dan Dare Halloween costume should that request be made.)
Each book is around 90-100 pages or so, many with bonus material and essays on the artwork, the stories, and the overall time period that these stories were released. In a day when it’s just too expensive to try to collect the old toy ray guns and rocketships of the 1950s, it’s nice to be able to have a bit of affordable nostalgic fun sitting on the shelf when I want to take a trip back to a time when travel between planets was fast and fun, when heroes had good manners, and when the design of rocketships didn’t have to make sense as long as they looked good.
Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, I salute you.
FYI — A movie is supposedly in the works and it’s rumored that it might star Sam Worthington, but other than a 2013 release date, additional details are scarce — I’ll try to stay up to date and let you know if I hear anything new, as well as possibly doing a review should it really happen.
The current library of Dan Dare books from Titan Books include:
Classic Dan Dare – Voyage to Venus Part 1 (2004)
Classic Dan Dare – Voyage to Venus Part 2 (2004)
Classic Dan Dare – The Red Moon Mystery (2004)
Classic Dan Dare – Marooned on Mercury (2005)
Classic Dan Dare – Rogue Planet (2007)
Classic Dan Dare – The Man From Nowhere (2007)
Classic Dan Dare – The Reign of the Robots (2008)
Classic Dan Dare – The Phantom Fleet (2009)
Classic Dan Dare – Safari In Space (2009)
Classic Dan Dare – Trip to Trouble (2011)