Dan Dare Annual 1979 – Destroy that starcarrier or the whole galaxy will be enslaved!

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.

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Prog 51: You are fast, Dare — but it will take more than clever swordplay to beat the Killing Star! You are as good as dead!

As predicted, Dan Dare gets out his laser broadsword to deflect the Dark Lord’s Killing Star, which has an autopilot function. While Dare deals with that, the Dark Lord takes the opportunity to escape in an Eagle craft where he orders an Armageddon Missile to destroy the Space Fort and all ships surrounding it (including Starslayer ships). Unaccountably he doesn’t get out of the way of the missile first, and dies in a massive explosion. Over the page we wrap up the sixteen-episode story – the Starslayers surrender, the Starslayer’s Empire is renamed the Star Alliance, which will be directed by the insectoid Drones and policed by the Grawls. In all the excitement the credit card got missed off again – ironic considering that Dan Dare was initially the only story which did credit the artist.

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Prog 50: More Starslayer ships — but they’re opening fire on the battle fleet!

The anti-cliffhanger from last episode is replayed and still isn’t a cliffhangar as you turn the front page – the approaching ships that are attacking the Starslayer fleet are, of course, slaves who have risen up and come to Dare’s aid. Dare leads the charge against the Starslayers outside the Space Fort and completely forgets that they have the Dark Lord of the Starslayer Empire in the Reactor Room. Dark Lord takes advantage of Dare’s lapse in judgement and (apparently) goes on a killing spree. The last panel is a proper cliffhangar with the flying star heading straight for Dare’s eyes. In true pulp fiction style, instead of ducking out of the way, Dare completes a full sentence. Then the Dark Lord also completes a full sentence. Dare also has a laser broadsword. I’m guessing this will be relevant in the first few panels of the next episode.

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Prog 47: Give the order — commence the staking of the prisoners!

Dare on the cover for the second week, though seeing the Dark Lord in colour means we can see his green skin. Which makes Dare’s disguise as a Starslayer a bit more… interesting… than it was last prog when we’d only seen a Starslayer on a vid-screen.

The Visible Man makes his debut next – this is one of the stories which was bumped from Prog 1. Starting quite bizarrely – the logo takes up around half of the entire first page – the first episode reads like a Future-Shock, with the last page being the tradition one-panel reveal that ends the story. This story isn’t available on its own these days, but can be found in 2000AD Presents Sci-Fi Thrillers.

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Prog 46: Bodies, Dare, bodies of those who have dared to defy me — remember them well, for soon you will join them!

The first prog of the New Year brings a few format changes. The Dare story pages take to the front of the prog for a while, much like he did in various iterations of the Eagle. This means the wordcount on covers goes up considerably and it might not be so easy to pick a tagline. As Dare is on the front, Dredd now takes the centre pages for the first time.

Speaking of Dan Dare – he’s still being held prisoner. He seems very self-aware that he’s in a story, because his thoughts betray that the crew of the Space Fort lands on Starslay “in three minutes and I’m still a captive!” He knows he won’t be a prisoner by the time four pages have passed…

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Prog 45: Dan Dare greets the galactic New Year

2000AD’s first New Year’s Eve brings a Brian Bolland cover of Dare holding the future-British flag, ready to greet the ‘galactic new year’. At least it was mostly drawn by Bolland – the original had Dare looking off to the side but a managerial / editorial decision was made to have him look straight on. There’s something very Robin Smith about the eyes on Dare’s head, though I don’t think there’s been any other sign of Smith being involved with 2000AD yet. Earthlets wouldn’t have had long to snap up this prog – thanks to bank holidays it would only have been on the shelves from Wednesday to Saturday!

Judge Dredd, 22nd Century Futsie. I was going to start off writing about the second appearance of a Futsie, or how JD doesn’t appear until midway down the third page, but then I noticed something strange about the credit card. The lettering and names of the script and art droids are in one hand and the name of the lettering droid is in another. Flicking through the comic, the same happens with Invasion! Weird, especially as there was a missing credit in a previous prog, by the person who physically would put the credits on the page. Anyway, on with the story – if we didn’t get the idea that Mr Moonie needed to be investigated before (and Judge Dredd seems not to have taken the hint yet), this time we meet an employee of the oligarch, who we see where’s a KKK/Neon Knights-style head covering. One of the other employees predicts that the employee, Arthur, will end up in an alleyway full of blaster holes. He actually succeeds in working through a month’s worth of backlog in one day, finishing just before day and year’s end at midnight, though one of this stupid colleagues (possibly the same one who predicted Arthur’s forthcoming death) knocks all of his paperwork on the floor and the destraught Arthur goes futsie. Arthur’s son (also called Arthur) recruits Dredd who knocks the deranged Arthur out so that he can received medical treatment (rather than just shooting him dead, which is presumably what would have happened if one of the other Luna judges had gotten to him first). The prediction of a premature death almost comes true, but Dredd against two thugs isn’t much of a contest, though it is an excuse to see the hover bike in action (it loses its ventral gun when Gibson draws it – be interesting to see if it reappears when McMahon or Bolland draw it again). We get the promise of meeting Mr Moonie next prog, along with Dredd being in colour. Over the page is an advert for next week’s prog, including the cover which – in an Eagle-style turn of events – will be the first story page of Dan Dare. Though the advert is before this week’s Dare episode, so we already have an idea of how this week’s episode will end before we’ve gotten to it – good planning, droids!

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Prog 41: Ah-aaarrh! Two more of those juicy Earth-sweets I always enjoy!

Looks like Ewins and McCarthy are the regular Supercover artists now – makes sense, if the entire series of covers was initially introduced to allow Brian Bolland to provide a few illustrations while finishing up another job, now that he’s on stories inside the prog (his first full episode over the page) someone else has to take over the cover duties…

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Prog 40: Secret of the microverse

O’Neill draws the Secret of the Microverse, which immediately brings to mind Fantastic Voyage – wonder what the twist is going to be? There’s a few good creature designs in there but the cover is a bit busy for me.

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Prog 36: Take ’em from behind – best way to kill those slimy aliens!

2000adlogo-originalPretty nice cover from Lopez, well composed from a tentacled slimy alien viewpoint and an ironic line from the humanoid (while trying to take the aliens from behind a tentacle reaches behind his back).

Big news this prog – even bigger than the return of the Harlem Heroes (in a new sport) and Belardinelli is that the bottom left hand corner of the first page has a Credit Card – so we can finally see who’s writing a story, and don’t have to guess who the artist is from here on in.  Except for all the pseudonyms, of course…  As for Inferno itself, aeroball has waned in popularity, even as the new sport of inferno has increased.  As with our introduction to aeroball with comparisons to football, boxing, kung-fu and basketball, we get a list of sports to compare inferno to – speedway, ice hockey, football and aeroball.  The former Heroes are invited to join the Washington Wolves, but don’t take well to it, finding it difficult to adapt to the pace and rules of the game.  Presumably they’re going to shape up by next week, otherwise they’re not going to get invited to a second game with the Wolves?

Another artist I’d have recognised without the credit card next, as Ian Kennedy takes to Invasion!  I’m a bit confused about the timing on this one – in earlier progs Savage was doing a tour of the UK (well, England, before he got up to Scotland).  This story is concerned with the Channel Tunnel so it’s strange that it wasn’t featured when Savage was in London and the South East.  An early panel explains how far he’s coming down from Scotland and the last panel explains that he’s going to go back up to Scotland (because obviously not enough Resistance members have sacrificed their lives for him yet).  Anyway, as mentioned, this one is about the Channel Tunnel, which was built by Volgs about ten years after the real one was constructed.  What better way to take out a tunnel than in a jump-jet?  Yes, that’s right – a submarine tunnel gets destroyed by a fighter plane…  Silly nonsense but entertaining, and obviously* Ian Kennedy draws a mean aircraft.  Oh, and the undoing of the Volgs is that they don’t just want to execute Savage, they want to do it in full public view for propaganda points – just like failed when Savage met Rosa…

A Kelvin Gosnell, Kevin O’Neill Future-Shock next, and a huge corporation finds out that our moon is actually as smooth as a billard ball.  I’m cheating here, as the twist ending is that our Solar system is being used in an astrally-sized alien game of a pool-like game.

The 2000AD Nerve Centre features the shock revelation that Tharg’s letter-writing robot needs to be repaired (I think he means letter-reading robot, otherwise where have all those prizes for reader’s letters been going?)  On the same page is the Supercover Saga featuring a space-farmer trying to take aliens from behind while an alien is about to take him from behind.  This space-farmer has gone made through isolation, and unlike the twist ending of some Future-Shocks, it’s not because he’s spent a minute or two in a locked capsule – he’s spent either ten years or ten decades alone (depending on which paragraph you’re reading).

Ironically the one story not to feature a credit card is Dan Dare, which just has its customary Art: Gibbons tag (thus ignoring Bolland and Gerry Finley-Day, I think).  The Space Fortress encounters a very vaguely Death Star-shaped satellite.  I say satellite, but it doesn’t seem to be orbiting anything, though it’s easy for me to pick holes in definitions like this when I can instantly check – a work-for-hire script droid in the 1970s wouldn’t necessarily have had that luxury.  I’m also not suggesting the ‘satellite’ was based on the Death Star – it’s a sphere, it has some sort of line going around the equator but other than that the greebles are nothing alike.  Dan Dare tries to be as non-threatening as possible, but loses one of his Eagle scout craft (and all crew) to the Star Slayer Empire.  Despite being all too ready to kill innocent people approaching and having more firepower than Dare, the Star Slayers then give an ultimatum to Dare to turn around and run.  Dare says one thing and does another, instead painting forty spacesuits black and leaving the ship while the Space Fortress leaves.

M.A.C.H.1 – I’m confused by this one.  Someone steals the secret of compu-puncture from a special house in the English countryside.  They’re electrocuted while doing so, but manage to throw the package containing a video-tape of the process to somebody on the other side of the electrified fence.  The bit that confuses me is that the person on the other side shows strong signs of already being compu-puncture hyper-powered.  Anyway, that’s the premise – as with the Invasion! story a few weeks earlier, we don’t see the identity of the person as the twist is that they’re female!  I guess it’s difficult to be surprised by something like that these days, though I’m sure there are some out there who would be…  It’s been a long time since I read this story so I can’t remember what happens, but it’s my guess that by the end of the next episode she’ll be dying in Probe’s arms.

John Wagner gets his first credit in the prog!  Along with Ian Gibson, who’s sneaked his signature in a few times already.  This is another story which made it into an annual during my first year as a Squaxx, so I’m very familiar with this one.  In fact, more familiar with the story than with the people and concepts that it’s lampooning – to whit the generations prior to the late 1970s from Teddy boys to hippies.  Dredd uses his infra-red headlamps to trace them underground (not called the Undercity at this point).  The Troggies have placed explosives at key points on the now-disused New York subway, destroying the whole of Mega-City One (you can tell how out of touch they are with modern life, as at its greatest extent, the New York subway only covers a small part of the Eastern seaboard of the United States…

The futuregraph on the back page is of Dan Dare’s Space Fort.  A few things stand out – the bridge is in a prominent position, common to much sci-fi, where it can be easily targetted by enemies, when it could easily be deep in the heart of the ship in a much more armoured position.  The other is the planet bomb – which is capable of destroying a planet.  I know how the whole Lost Worlds mission ends (and the following story begins) but can’t remember how the tale gets to that point, but imagine that the planet bomb will have something to do with it.  Dare promises us another futuregraph of the Eagle craft soon.

* obvious if you’re familiar with all of Ian Kennedy’s pictures of aircraft!

Prog 35: All Earthmen must die! Take no prisoners!

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The cover shows three spaceships of an old-fashioned flying saucer design shooting at some floating space wreckage with said Earthman clutching on.  It doesn’t grab me, and could have appeared on any sci-fi comic for about thirty years previously.

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