On this day, 2 May 1970: Lion; and Dan Dare in the 1970s and 1980s
This issue of Lion saw the rare appearance on the cover of that comic of Dan Dare, at that point Britain’s greatest ever comic science-fiction hero. The original Eagle comic had merged into Lion in the spring of 1969, and Dan had continued to appear in Lion but in reprint form only (the story illustrated here was 1959’s ‘The Phantom Fleet’), and so didn’t often appear on the cover. It’s a lovely image, however; I’m not sure who the artist is – presumably not Frank Hampson who drew the strip reprinted inside. And it provides a good excuse for me to offer a quick visual history of Dan Dare’s appearances in IPC’s comics throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Classic Dan’s reprints continued to run in Lion until October 1970, after which old quirky-brows took a break from comics until the launch of 2000AD in February 1977. Dan Dare was central to the new comic’s launch, but his appearance was rather different from how readers’ dads and uncles will have remembered him. Dan was now a rougher, tougher, raunchier character in more violent and less honourable universe, realised vividly by Massimo Belardinelli. The Belardinelli Dare lasted only a few months – fighting Biogs and the Mekon – before he was reimagined again as a more hard-bitten military type drawn by the wonderful Dave Gibbons.
Dan Dare was never quite the success in 2000AD that it had been hoped to be, and the series was retired in the summer of 1979. Dan wasn’t away for long though, and in the spring of 1982 he spearheaded another IPC new comic launch – the all-new Eagle – and this time he was here to stay. In actual fact, this was the great, great, great grandson of Dan, but the new series – while written with a more 1980s sensibility – was a little closer to the original strip in tone. It was drawn at first by Gerry Embleton, and then by the great Ian Kennedy for four years. Carlos Cruz took over in 1986, and continued on the strip until early 1988, but the style began to change over this time – Dan became butcher and, Dare I say it, fatter, and the storylines lost the technical splendour that was so important to Kennedy’s work and the original strip. John Gillatt and Manuel Carmona both had a go at the story but Dan seemed to be losing his way until the decision was made, in the summer of 1989, to invite original Eagle artist Keith Watson (followed by David Pugh) to draw new adventures of 1950s Dan Dare.