Like the 2000AD Annual 1979, Kevin O’Neill paints the cover for Dan Dare’s first annual (well, the first one since ‘Eagle Dan Dare’s Space Annual 1963’, anyway). It’s a good cover that stands on its own – please don’t have this cover have a text story in the annual!
A Dave Gibbon’s be-space-suited Dare greets us on the contents page, looking across at a painting of the space shuttle. I’ve not been a fan of the real space exploration articles in the annuals, but the blurb on this picture talks about how the shuttle will launch the following year. That’s pretty major news, so I’ll give it a pass.
Remember that reprint of the Eagle Scout craft that appeared in the 2000AD annual? This one has a full-colour reprint of the Space Fortress. Page 3 of the annual and already a reprint – this does not bode well. I suspect I’ll be seeing some Rick Random before the end!
The first Dan Dare story – as with the 2000AD annual, there are no credits given, but this drawn in the distinctive style of Ian Kennedy. Good news – the cover doesn’t have a text short story, it has an actual comic story – but is it any good? It’s alright, the plot involves aliens that looks like a cross between frogs and Treens (from original 1950s Dare) attacking a different alien planet with an ending involving blowing up a gigantic space station with small fighters (this was a year after Star Wars was released and with lead times for preparing stories for annuals – more like six months) – the main strength it has is the complement of fighters on board an asteroid space station. With Kennedy on the artwork, these could only have been included to play to his strengths – in the same way that he doesn’t draw many Dredd stories but the most memorable of the ones he does do has German fighter planes travelling through a time warp to Mega-City One. The ally-of-the-week reminds me of the Aztec priest from Star Lord’s TimeQuake – though this may just be a coincidence of haircuts.
Facing the last page of the Dare story is a black and white copy of some famous NASA space colony concept art from the early 1970s. Because NASA is a government agency, I believe all the art produced is creative commons (at least if you’re a USA citizen).
There follows a Dan Dare Future Quiz, featuring two question number 6s, and all the answers after that mis-numbered. I skim-read the questions but didn’t take the time to work out which answers were which, because I wanted to read…
Invasion sees a Volg rig extracting plutonium substitute from oil and the survivor a boat who witnessed the rig swim to find the neareast Resistance base. As luck would have it the trawler which rescues and the crew to whom he blurts out his plan happens to be a Resistance boat. He asked to be taken to the nearest Resistance HQ before finding out where the crew’s sympathies laid, though admittedly the name of the boat – Revenge – may have helped. Speaking of which – way to be inconspicious, Bill! The rest of this story is a straightforward stand-alone Invasion story, as we’ve seen a number of times while Bill was doing the tour of Britain. EDIT – after finishing this post I listened to a podcast ( details at the end) which highlighted why this doesn’t read quite like a ‘real’ Invasion story – it’s a fairly generic near-future war story with the characters re-skinned as Savage and Silk. The real Bill Savage leers and laughs while shooting Volgs – this one doesn’t.
Next up is Rick Random and the Time Travellers. Looking back at the contents page it does mention this story – I was so taken by the Gibbons art that I forgot that the contents page actually lists what appears in the annual! Dialogue on this is very stilted and the pacing is all over the place. Here’s an example: “Rick paid numerous visits to past and future centuries. Some were uneventful but others proved quite exciting.” The first rule of storytelling – show don’t tell – i.e. don’t tell us something is ‘exciting’, show us what happens and make it exciting for us to read! Other than storytelling quibbles, it’s surprising how egalitarian this story is, especially considering it was already about twenty years old when republished in 1978. Respected scientists appear from a variety of countries and two female scientists lead the breakthrough upon which most of the story is based (though it isn’t all progressive – the best use one comes up with for future travel is to fetch back a fashion magazine). After a few boring travels in time, Rick ends up in the 31st century where he’s expected by Mordoc, the Controller of Future Exploration who shows him around and explains the future history of the solar system, mostly shaped by a war with Mars and Venus.
Comic pages take a break for articles on ‘space traffic control’, speculation about the future of the space shuttle, aliens, power stations in space and finally a text story.
The text story is Dan Dare: The Invisible Death. The identities of the creators have been lost in the mists of time. This is is not good. Dare and co (in this case the Legion of the Lost Worlds crew) are taking a prisoner guilty of a ‘Space Crime’ to a trial at the Space Confederation Justice Chamber. Just about any sci-fi that bungs the word ‘space’ in front of everyday words is on shaky ground from the start. Why make up the Space Confederation? They could have used the Star Alliance (former Starslayer Empire) to try to tie it in to the prog stories. To cut a long (four pages, with pictures – seemed longer) story short the prisoner has minions who are mostly invisible. They’re vanquished based solely on a pun.
U.F.O. Agent is another reprint – this one an origin story of two government employees who go to a clandestine meeting in a remote location (without informing their superiors?) and get kidnapped by aliens. It’s alright though as the aliens ‘teach into’ their memories, give them a UFO and advanced weapons. There’s something about a volcano base in there as well. Their first mission is to rescue a president who has been taken hostage by a general. The president was taken from a plane that was forced down – the entire rest of the crew are left for sharkbait. This is mentioned in passing and not brought up again. The only important thing is that the British government employees working for unknown aliens with mysterious agendas manage to rescue a president. I wouldn’t be surprised if the president in question had been self-appointed – I’m not even sure he isn’t in his position because of a military coup. I should probably mention – the entire story was four pages long and I’m reading far more in to it than was in the original story (though I’m sure if John Probe was around we’d find out who the real bad guys were).
After a colour page of library art and a few hundred words on low gravity on the moon, we go on to probably the most famous story in this annual…
Judge Dredd: Ryan’s Revenge (featuring Mayor Amalfi). Why is it famous? Whoever wrote it makes a few curious choices about Mega-City One (apparently both prisoners and judges get to vote in mayoral elections – the former could be true, but doesn’t seem right and the only time we ever get to see judges vote in the following forty years is (sometimes) in choosing a new Chief Judge). There are a few good bits of worldbuilding though – a penal raft with Titan-esque adapted prisoners in Mega-City Bay and Maor Amalfi himself. We saw the mayor’s son get kidnapped in Brotherhood of Darkness way back in the first few progs, though never got to see the mayor. There’s no evidence that Amalfi has a son, so presumably there was a mayoral election while Dredd was on the moon. I think the next mayor we’ll see if Grubb in the power tower story, though I’ll have to wait and see to find out if he’s encumbent at that time. The thing that the writer reallygets wrong though, is Dredd’s character. Dredd makes a fattist comment when ordered to guard the mayor from the escaped convict Ryan, falsely accuses the mayor of littering (in his own private residence) and falsifies the report on the deaths of Ryan and Amalfi (for no concievable reason – one was shot and fell out of the window to their death, the other slipped on a banana skin and fell out of the same window, despite Dredd’s attempt to save his life). I still like the story though, for it’s naming of the mayor and Mega-City Bay (which I don’t think is referred to by name ever again).
Taking a break from profiles of (real life) space travellers, the next feature is about a test pilot. I have no idea why this is in here – looks like it belongs in an annual for a war comic.
The Recruiting Agency is a black and white strip. I’m thinking this is a Future-Shock commissioned in the early days of 2000AD – it has a ‘Canos 1977’ artist’s signature on it, so it’s been sitting around for a while before being published in a 1979 annual (which would have been on the shelves some time in September of 1978). This is the inverse of another Future-Shock – the one where undesirables are tricked in to going to a hellish wasteland of a planet – as in this one young, healthy and intelligent humans are tricked into spending a year on a paradisic planet in the hope that they will choose to stay and inherit it from the dying race who currently occupy it. It isn’t fantastic, but fills the pages better than many of the other things in this annual.
Speaking of which, a feature on designs for planes of the future (not a plane afficianado and can’t be bothered to research each of the six designs – but I’m pretty sure none of them progressed much futher than the concept pictures) and another on wrist communicators (which we do have – either literally wrist-worn or in mobile phone form and which will cost “less than £5 each” – technically true – most mobiles cost nothing, though the monthly contract is much more than that)!
What would be nice in this comic-related annual is some more comic pages, and that’s what comes next, with Survivor. It’s in that horrible black and white with a single colour added, but I’ll try to ignore that. This is a weird one – let’s start with the scientific inaccuracies. The premise is that the Earth’s sun will explode, destroying the inner planets of the solar system. The first page looks like it’s based on the accepted scientific theory that the sun will grow brighter and turn into a red giant in approximately five billion years. The confusing thing is that the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster still exists at this point, and that Routemaster buses are being driven around the streets of future London. p.s. our sun doesn’t have enough mass to go supernova anyway – in addition to the red dwarf phase, it’ll go through white dwarf and potentially black dwarf phases instead. Scientists on this doomed planet come up with a plan to put the entire sum of human achievements into one person’s brain because most of the brain isn’t used. This tired myth is still with us today and makes me cringe every time I see or read a story based around it – though I will concede that it wouldn’t have been so easy to fact-check back in the 1970s. The myth is based on 130-year-old pseudo-science and has been the province of self-help quacks, sci-fi-hacks and snake-oil merchants ever since. Anyway, this human knoweldge will be iplaneted in one person’s brain and will be transmitted to the next creature that the host touches. Erm, what? How? Why? Not that it really matters anyway – as luck would have it an alien race is viewing the implausible supernova and pick up his NASA craft (who are still around, five billion years into the future). They revive him from suspended animation, listen to his story, assume he’s mad and throw him out of an airlock to asphixiate in space – a very early-20th century attitude towards mental health displayed there. The sort-of-twist is that the guard who carried out the execution touched him, now has the entire surviving knowledge of the human race, and will use it on his crewmates. I’m not sure why this is supposed to be a twist as it was actually the plan all along (well, apart from the ‘being executed’ bit).
Yet another article, this time about space stations (three concept designs) plus a 1,000-capacity jumbo jet.
The Dan Dare story joins up the original 1950s Eagle Dan Dare with the 1970s 2000AD Dan Dare. I know next to nothing about the pre-2000AD Dare. In fact, I can probably list them in a sentence: Anastasia; Digby; (Professor?) Peabody; The Mekon; Treens; Venus. That’s about it. To be honest I know much of that from the appearances of the Mekon in 2000AD and Digby in Dare (which appeared in Revolver). First things first, the artwork is typical early annual fare in that it’s not by a credited or recognisable artist and I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer was also nobody we’d have heard of. In the story, Dare is now Controller of Space Fleet and is old (the narrative doesnt specify how old, and the artwork is too ropey to give any idea). A new solar power station is going into operation that day – it’s “out of harm’s way in Earth orbit beaming down cheap electricity”. I don’t know about you, but that immediately brings up a few questions in my mind – like in what way is having a power station beaming energy down from orbit to the ground ‘out of harm’s way’? Somebody called Flamer (presumably a character from the Eagle) informs Dare that the Mekon has taken over the station and is threatening to destroy half the planet unless control of the World Council is given over to him. Dare and Digby go up to the station in Anastasia, using magnetic power to avoid detection. As Dare is the Mekon’s major foe, I’m figuring he’d be on the look-out for Dare’s ship, whether or not it’s operating on magnetic power. Immediately after going through the airlock, the pair are captured by the Mekon who mentions that they were in a Treen ship (I had no idea the Anastasia was originally a Treen ship, and I’m not going to find out any more here, but it makes their attempt at sneaking on seem even more hopeless). To demonstrate his power, the Mekon destroys New Birmingham (which still has the Rotunda building, at least before the solar power beam totally destroys the city). After a few pages of adventures, Dare ends up half-dead being rescued from the exploding station by Digby. Hours later Dare is declared dead – or at least is in the eyes of the media, complete with a funeral at Westminster Abbey. For no given reason this subterfuge continues while he’s secretly put in suspended animation. Over a century later he’s revived due to a deteriorating situation in the solar system and the need for a ‘figurehead’ hero. This doesn’t quite gel with the Dare we saw in Prog 1, who has a jobbing role on the Sirius (though does match more with the Dare at the beginning of the Legion of Lost Worlds story when he was summoned to FASA headquarters). The story ends with the words “Look to the stars – Dan Dare is back!!” which is pretty ironic as Dare is about three quarters of the way through his 2000AD stories in the weekly progs at this point.
Part two of Rick Random the Time Travellers. In a bout of clumsy exposition Mordoc tells Rick about the end of the Venus-Mars war with Earth. This is achieved by the inention of a bomb that is capable of destroying a planet, which is tested on Pluto (also acting as a handy warning to the other planets, a bit like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but without the loss of life). Having won the war, Earth then shares the planet-destroying technology with its enemies to guarantee an end to war. Y’know, just like the USA did at the end of the second world war. And remember how there weren’t any more wars after Russia developed their atomic bomb in 1949? And how there weren’t any proxy wars between the USA and USSR? Don’t mention the Greek civil war, Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba, Dominica, Chile, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, Israel, Palestine, Somalia, Ethiopia, Portugal, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bonus fact – the term ‘cold war’ was created by George Orwell! Not that any of this matters as all this is flavour text. What does matter is that something that happened in the past with the missing laboratory assistant causes things in the (future) present to vanish, like parts of aircraft, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and naked women unexpectedly having baths out in the open. Speaking of women – I can’t decide if the presence of numerous female scientists (including Swedish twins) is progressive or just an excuse for the artist to draw attractive women. The rest of the story is not interesting so I’ll just list what happens – Rick gets help from an attractive female scientist from the 31st century on controlling the time machine in the 21st century, the pair go back to the 11th century, find out what the point of divergence was (someone got engaged to the lab assistant instead of their betrothed), go back another ten days to stop the divergence happening, go forwards to watch the wedding go ahead as it should have, everything is fixed. If that seems like a pedestrian, straight-forward telling of what should be dramatic events, then I’m just following the lead of the story as published. It’s like somebody telling you the entire plot of a film instead of letting you watch the film.
As if all that wasn’t anti-climactic enough for this annual, it wraps up with seven pages of ‘features’ – one page on UFO sightings, four on Cape Kennedy space port and a two-page spread of the space shuttle approaching to land (sharing the inside back cover with a plug for weekly 2000AD). As I said at the beginning of this post – I can’t begrudge features in a sci-fi comic on the first re-useable space shuttle, due to launch the following year as it is a real game-changer for space exploration, making rocket ships as shown in sci-fi for the previous century closer to reality. I liked the way that the contents page spread showed the space shuttle taking off into orbit and the end pages showed it returning to Earth. I also liked the space colony page (though in these internet days I’ve seen the full colour set of concept art that this black and white image was taken from). The other articles are filler with stock images and varying levels of tenuous connection to the theme of the annual.
Grailpage: tempted by Kevin O’Neill’s establishing shot of Amalfi’s penthouse apartment, with the rest of the building stretching up through the clouds from the street (and other buildings) far below.
Grailquote: Judge Dredd: “Amalfi came up agains tsomething that every politician has to face sooner or later… wind resistance!” So bad it’s still bad, but it’s the one line from this annual that ever gets quoted!
In all the Dan Dare annual is better than the two 2000AD annuals released so far, but some parts are still labourious to get through. I wrote this post on weekdays after work, and it took me more than three evenings to do – it was only the spectre of the two-year haitus inspired by the previous year’s 2000AD annual that forced me to get through some of these stories and features! Looking at my bookshelf the worst year is going to be next year – the 2000AD annual before they got good (1985 in my opinion), the Dan Dare annual, the Starlord and Tornado annuals (and we haven’t even seen Tornado yet). I celebrated finishing it by listening to the Space Spinner 2000 episode, which was much more entertaining than reading this annual! It also goes into much more detail on the
Dan D* Rick Random story than I could be bothered to! Length: 1:29:18, contains swearing!
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