Rebellion have dusted off a strange piece of history from the 2000AD archives, namely the Seventies reworking of the classic Pilot of the Future, Dan Dare.
Back in 1977, when the first issue of 2000AD appeared in newsagents, it was the name Dan Dare floating above the free space-spinner that caught my attention. His original weekly home, Eagle, had been merged into Lion some eight years previously, the detailed world building that characterised Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare was still 20 years in the future. It was a compulsive purchase, no doubt!
In some respects, 2000AD was the last comic to be launched as a mainstream publication. Or at least the last to have any longevity or success. It still lurks on the newsstand with characters feeding video games and films.
At the time, the character was considered to have a strong enough pull to make it the main feature in 2000AD. Judge Dredd didn’t join the line up for another week. However, some of the creators have said Dare wasn’t a welcome addition, forced upon them from on high.
Except it wasn’t really Dan Dare that made it on to the page. To be sure it gave readers some eye-popping centerspreads by Italian artist Massimo Belardinelli but the suave adventurer had been replaced with a spikey-haired brawler in a leotard. Set some 200 years in the future, the scripts had a demented fervor and manic pace.
Somewhere along the line it was revealed that Space Fleet’s finest had suffered terrible injuries and was placed in suspended animation until he could be revived and restored with a new face. The Pilot of the Future was now a “Space Hyper-Hero”. God, I hated it but felt compelled to see how bad it could get.
The new strip ran some 20 weeks in this fashion and then gave Dan a new haircut. After a brief rest, Dave Gibbons started drawing the strip with a bomber jacketed Dan leading a crew of ex-cons into the badlands. For awhile it became the cover feature on 2000AD.
The new Rebellion collection has all of the Belardinelli strips, the initial salvo from Dave Gibbons, and a handful of tales from summer specials and annuals. It’s anarchic and eclectic and entertaining in its own way if you can get past the name. I’m hoping they manage a second volume because there is another makeover, an encounter with the Mekon coming up, and an interesting tale surrounding what Dave Gibbons and writer Gerry Finley-Day intend to do if the strip hadn’t been abruptly cut off in mid flow.