Dan Dare – Dieselpunk Pilot of the Future?

Just less than five years after the end of World War II, on April 14th, 1950, Britain saw the debut a new comic book hero . . . Dan Dare “Pilot of the Future.” The story is set in the 1990s, forty years into the future for the original readers, but has a distinct 1940’s style and Art Deco like designs to the vehicles and fashions of this future.

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Created by illustrator Frank Hampson, Dare appeared in the Eagle comic story Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future from 1950 to 1967 and was also in a radio dramatization on Radio Luxembourg from 1951 to 1956. After a ten year hiatus, Dan Dare appeared again in the first issue of 2000 AD on February 26th, 1977.

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Maybe not a chaplain, but certainly a chap!

Colonel Daniel McGregor Dare is the chief pilot of the Interplanet Space Fleet and possesses great piloting skills. Despite his keen fighting skills, Dan Dare often finds non-violent solutions to predicaments and was originally intended to be portrayed as a military chaplain. Dare presents a morally upstanding hero, bound by a sense of honor, never lying, and someone would rather die than break his word. He’s good old pipe smoking chap of a hero with a lean face, a strong jaw, and his characteristic wavy eye brow. 

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Dare’s number one enemy, The Mekon!

Dare’s nemesis is The Mekon, super-intelligent ruler of the Treens, who plotted against the Earth and escaped at the end of each story to return with an even more inventive scheme for the conquest. Not all of the Treens, however, are evil; Sondar is a Treen, a reptilian inhabitant of northern Venus. Originally a servant of the Mekon, he reformed after Dan spared his life during a traumatic episode that also caused his first experience of strong emotion, which the Treens suppressed. He became governor of northern Venus when the planet was placed under UN rule at the end of the first story, but nevertheless joined Dan on later adventures. He was also a talented spacecraft designer, and designed Dan’s personal spaceship.

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The heir of Dare in 1982.

The Eagle ran for another 12 years after its relaunch in 1982 with Dan Dare as its flagship storyline, but this Dan Dare was the great-great-great-grandson of the original hero. Another big change was a lengthy flashback which retconned the original Dan to be a veteran of the Second World War and to have travelled through time to the era in which his adventures in the original Eagle took place—an attempt to explain why a hero in the age of space travel had a 1950’s outlook on life.

The original Dan Dare resurfaced in 1990 as the Dare storyline in the Revolver comic book, in one issue of The Planet in 1996, in Spaceship Away magazine in 2003, and most recently in a seven issue series published by Virgin Comics in 2007. There were two failed attempts in 1981 and 1991 to produce a live-action action series, but in 2002 Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future, a computer-generated TV series, managed to produced 26 episodes drawing from several different incarnations of the Dan Dare comic strip.

Clearly Dan Dare is not intentionally Dieselpunk, but clearly the more modern interpretations are retro-futuristic and for decades now Dare’s appeal has been a sense of nostalgia. While the series is classic 1950’s science fiction, the stiff upper lipped Englishness and the quintessential boyish charm of a World War II fighter pilot rolled into Dan Dare distinguishes it from other tales of the time. Given the rise in popularity of Dieselpunk it seems that Dan Dare is ripe for yet another revival, even if it’s only the Dieselpunk Community discovering the wealth of storylines of a hero that combines the past and the future!


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