Dan Dare retro spaceships Part 2
|FEATURES - TV|
Continued from PART 1
Picture © Martin Bower
Cutaways and 'geek' detail in Dan Dare
One shouldn't underestimate the influence that the design of Hampson's original comic had on later SF conceptual artists such as Ron Cobb and Syd Mead. In the style of such esteemed futurists, Eagle was determined not only to show boys of the 1950s some amazing spaceships but to actually demonstrate how they worked, using 'cutaway' illustrations to reveal the internal workings of the amazing craft of the franchise.
Featured above is an Eagle 'cutaway' of a vertical take-off passenger airliner from Dan Dare, pre-figuring technology that the military would not put into active production until the advent of the Hawker Harrier in 1960. Even the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig (or 'flying bedstead') was strictly a lab experiment when Hampson was weaving such technology into the cutting-edge world of Dan Dare.
Dan Dare after The Eagle
The original Dan Dare came to the consciousness of millions of UK baby-boomers as a cheerful and very Dambusters-style stiff-upper-lip Brit space adventurer, very much a forebear to James T. Kirk and a contemporary of Leslie Nielson's space captain in Forbidden Planet (1956). Though Dare arrived to a nation still under rationing and still paying off enormous fiscal obligations to the US with regard to WWII, it was effectively the Star Trek of its day, positing a bright and technologically-advanced future for a Britain that had proved itself in the forefront of scientific ingenuity and innovation in the 1940s, still had some kind of an empire to rule (though this was eroding at an ever-accelerating rate due to new post-war borders and the accelerated end of colonialism) and still constituted a considerable world power.
Such a future was not to be - not even if the British element of the allies had walked off with Wernher von Braun could Dan Dare's hyper-advanced Britain ever be realised after the new world economics came into focus. We would have to settle for setting the music world alight in the 1960s, spending that decade being almost as 'cool' as Italy and trying to be heard from the cheap seats at ESA.
In the 1970s Fleetway comics launched the highly influential and (for the 1970s) typically radical 2000AD comic. Though most famous for originating cult law-giver Judge Dredd, it also re-launched Dan Dare in a new incarnation, inked in very different styles by Bellardinelli and Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons...
The very different styles of Dave Gibbons and Belardinelli for 'Dan Dare' in 2000 AD comic in the 1970s
A rather more faithful version of Dan Dare got another stab at the comics world with the relaunch of The Eagle in 1982. This time Dare's faithful-but-bumbling Watson-clone Digby was in evidence, and the Heavy Metal/Star Wars-influence of the 2000AD iterations considerably toned down. John Gillatt's revamp of Dan Dare - not uncoincidentally around the time of Robocop - returned our hero to a grittier and more violent style.
Grant Morrisson and Rian Hughes produced a one-off and extremely cynical Dan Dare strip for Revolver in 1990, which (rather in the style of 2000 AD's treatment of Judge Dredd) was a satire on British life and politics of the period, and a bleak counterpoint to the spirit of the original, but at least it featured Dare's greatest adversary, The Mekon (even if it concluded with our hero destroying London, The Mekon and himself in a nuclear blast!)
Sydney Jordan contributed 'Remembrance', a Dan Dare story for the one-and-only issue of the Heavy Metal-influenced Revolver in 1996, before Virgin comics made perhaps the most committed effort yet to get Dan Dare back in the comics mainstream. The Virgin take on the franchise was less nihilistic, but still heavily influenced by the political satire of 2000AD in the 1970s and 1980s.
Live-Action Dan Dare
The ATV attempt to get live-action Dare to us was not the first. Various others had their day (or decade) in development hell both for movies and TV all the way from the early 1960s (particularly after the success of Doctor Who) to another aborted movie attempt in the early 1990s. In terms of what was actually accomplished...
In 2005 Netter Digital produced a CGI TV series based on the Hampson Dan Dare property, producing 26 episodes, each with a run-time of 22 minutes. Though it fared marginally better than the appallingly scheduled CGI version of Gerry Anderson's Captain Scarlet, it was not set for a long run. Foundation Imaging took over from Netter for the latter episodes, and the series premiered on Nicktoons.
If Warner Brothers manage to get a franchise out of Dan Dare, it won't be the first. Besides the Eagle comics incarnation and the 1970s comic revival under the wild art of Bellardinelli (with the advent of the UK SF comic 2000AD in 1977), the Brit space-pilot enjoyed a fair run of 8-bit adventures under Virgin Games in the mid-1980s on the Commodore C64, The ZX Spectrum and the Atari ST...
The ending of Virgin Games Dan Dare - Pilot Of The Future on the Commodore C64:
"The main fun of Dare is the retro-angle; the Britain that might have been"
Little is as yet known of Warner Bros. Dan Dare franchise bid, except that Sam Worthington seems to be the ultimate ticket to a green-light for an SF film these days. Dare himself has been through so many iterations and run through so many cultural filters over the last sixty years that it would be harder than usual to complain if he ends up as an American. Certainly his Britishness was never a big issue with the 2000AD relaunch in 1977, and was used mainly as a tool of political satire in the versions that followed.
The main fun of Dare is the retro-angle; the Britain that might have been, from back in the 1950s, when the urban development that was to become urban blight was bestrewn by flying cars in the architects' visualisations. Take Dare as a straight hero, and frankly, we've seen it all before - 'A man who goes into space and has adventures, and has an established enemy (the Mekon)'.
"Not many of Warners' target-audience even know who Dan Dare is, so leveraging the cultural heritage of this most British of space-warriors is going to prove a PR challenge"
Point is, as most of the web-articles about Worthington's casting indicate, not many of Warners' target-audience even know who Dan Dare is, so leveraging the cultural heritage of this most British of space-warriors is going to prove a PR challenge. And we don't even know if Sam Worthington can remember how to do a British accent anyway (he was born in Godalming in Surrey).
So here's hoping that the love of what might have been, as demonstrated in the superb models of Martin Bower, will surface in the new franchise. I think it could be a hell of a lot of fun.
THANK TO MARTIN BOWER FOR HIS PHOTOS AND HELP WITH THIS FEATURE.