Dan Dare #7 (of 7)
Good lord, who'd have figured Garth Ennis could be so... traditional?
This is the last issue (FOR NOW) of Ennis' and artist Gary Erskine's revival of the beloved Frank Hampson creation, an extra-thick pamphlet with 44 pages of story and a $5.99 price tag. And it's exactly what you've come to expect, if you've been following the story thus far: vast clashes between warships on the sea of stars, gallant adventure in hostile territory, several noble struggles against impossible odds, and plenty of dialogue balloons pertaining to the spirit of England, its cooling embers, suffocated beneath the ash of avarice and indifference, slowly, heroically reddening to life once more under the stalwart breath of Daniel MacGregor Motherfucking Dare, space hero. It's a war story, as Ennis no doubt recognized from the originals. He's written a few war stories.
Yet I can't think of any Garth Ennis war story quite like this. There's no peering into the killing hearts of soldiers, no acrid struggle between decency and mayhem. No dirty jokes, no eruptions of gore. No rueful cartography of inhumanity's continent. No, this is an utterly up-and-up opera of battle, suffused with courage, valor, honor, fairness, respect, cooperation, sacrifice. With spaceships and psychic narcotics and a black hole machine, and a little green guy floating around in a tub. That's the best part - be it homage, affection, anything, whatever, Ennis seems to be using old-timey science fantasy as a means of basking in the glory of Good War, and the good values of Old Times, a solution to all the shit we've found ourselves in. I read Ennis' other war stories, and I wonder if he's whispering "and we'll all fight green men from Venus in space, too!"
He doesn't say it out loud, though. And I'm apt to hearing voices.
Fascinatingly, several of this series' particulars have mirrored another high-profile revival of the character, Grant Morrison's and Rian Hughes' 1990-91 Dare, from the pages of Revolver and Crisis. You've got your retired Dan Dare, pulled out of retirement by England's Prime Minister. The country's gone to shit and the old team have moved onto new roles, but Dare remains a potent symbol. Little does he suspect the Mekon (green fellow in the tub, archvillain) has cozied up to the human governance, and he wants to break Dare just as bad as he desires domination of Earth.
But the Morrison/Hughes project was damn nasty thing, heaping despair upon its protagonist as a means of screeching at the enduring Thatcher government, a perversion of the old Dan Dare ideals into cynical political gamesmanship. It's the type of story wherein the Mekon's capture of Dare sees an array of brutal dildos sprout from his tub for a whopping sodomy session. Our Hero eventually turns revolutionary, fission bombing shitty London and all its shitty politicians into the whiteness of a blank page, which is then revealed to be a literal blank page on a drawing board, because sometimes you just have to blast a concept clean to get rid of the muck, you know?
This series, meanwhile, is chocks away from page-the-first to page-the-last. Even as Ennis acknowledges the overwhelming problems in the world, with its craven leaders and government lies, it's all just another impossible fight for Dan Dare, Heart of Country, to inevitably win. Erskine's art can be a little stiff, but that's how the upper lips ought to be in this one, his green Treens almost like men in suits in a movie, one also armed with some grand, stolid battle scenes of mighty crafts clashing. Anticipate no subversion. No dildos! Maybe that is subversion for Ennis now.
His whole final chapter bounces between Dan's crack commando squad on the Mekon's mothership, a handsome ongoing clash in space, and a port-soaked Earthbound discussion, headed by Home Secretary Jocelyn Peabody, on the topic of a nation that's lost its way. It's the type of story wherein a determined young sub-lieutenant -- put in command by Dare himself -- is told by a mean admiral that the odds are simply too great, and withdrawal from battle is the only sane option, but then the ghostly voice of a dear, departed friend appears with phantom words of wisdom, inspiring words, and thus she stands up to the mean admiral and the fight goes on in the proud Navy manner, we dine amidst heroes tonight, men, be they dead or alive!!
Meanwhile, Dan Dare swats a laser beam out of the air with an electric sword, and allows the story's villains (whom Ennis is obviously having a blast writing) to meet their ruin together. Did you detect a slightly creepy edge to man-of-the-past Dare in earlier issues? "A strange, melancholy man on an asteroid, surrounded by knick-knacks and memorabilia. Trying to live in some long-gone past." It's gone now, and it's perhaps your (and my) fault for seeing his posture as anything other than space medicine for an ailing body. "No doubt a source of enormous amusement," rues Joss, but we know better now!
I thought it was all pretty GOOD. Easy to get sucked into, and almost seductive in its unexpected romantic splendor. There's death, yes, but only as encountered in a worthy clash, one far in the future and up away from our Earth, one of spruced-up icons, on a plane of imagination and nostalgia for comics and movies, maybe the only place its writer can indulge in such dreams, so as to spark a measured reflection upon waking.