“The Whites of Their Eyes”
Garth Ennis has a pretty good record with war comics; they’re probably some of his most respectable work, free of the violent, gross-out excesses of much of his output (Preacher, Hitman, The Boys). These stories are a good fit for Ennis’ sensibilities, and his themes of honor and violence fit perfectly into these stories. But even within the war genre, his style can vary, from stories featuring harrowing emotional violence (War Story) to tales of stolid British heroes fighting honorably against long odds (Battler Britton). Since his new revival of the classic British science fiction character Dan Dare is really another type of war comic, where does it fall on this spectrum?
Well, I think it’s closer to the “stolid, honorable” end, at least so far. While I’m not especially familiar with the character of Dan Dare, he seems to be similar to Battler Britton, the other British comics character Ennis recently revived. They’re both witty, honorable men who want only to defend their beloved homeland. In Dare’s case, he’s a long-retired war hero called back into service when the British space fleet is attacked by an old enemy, the Mekon. I assume this all builds on previous Dan Dare stories, but Ennis makes it easy for new readers to jump right in.
Luckily for new readers like me (but probably not for old fans), he even has characters spend time giving exposition about the background of the series. This issue in particular sees Dare explaining the origin of the Mekon to a child. It seems the Mekon was a despotic leader of the Venusian race the Treen, but he fled the galaxy after defeat at Dare’s hands. But now he’s back, and his formidable fleet is towing a black hole into the solar system in order to destroy Earth.
That’s a pretty exciting plot, but Ennis has oddly ignored it for an issue and a half, choosing instead to strand Dare and company on a desert planet to rescue some colonists who are under attack by an army of mad alien monsters. It makes for some good battle scenes, but it’s an odd choice, when a civilization-threatening conflict is going on elsewhere.
But there are some good Ennis war scenes here, with Dare and his buddy Digby trading dry quips as their troops engage the monsters. Unfortunately, artist Gary Erskine doesn’t provide the energy suggested by Brendan McCarthy’s crazy cover; his characters seem stiff and mostly lifeless, only occasionally exhibiting emotion via strained facial expressions. As exciting as the battle should be, we mostly only see rows of soldiers standing around shooting laser guns. And even though thousands of monsters are attacking and we are told that one third of them have been felled, we see very few of the bodies that should be piling up. It’s unfortunate; the scene should be nail-bitingly visceral, but it’s actually kind of boring. Hopefully it will get more exciting in future issues, and maybe Erskine will fare better at drawing space battles.
So, while I plan to keep reading the series, I don’t know if I can really recommend it, except to fans of Ennis, war comics enthusiasts, or those who follow obscure (in the United States, at least) British comics characters. Maybe the series will get better, but for now it’s pretty much just average.
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