Jumpin' jets, Digby, who is this lantern-jawed hero? None other than the dashing Dan Dare, "Pilot of the Future", the Fifties icon last seen lost in space without a comic strip or television series to save him. But now the most British of all cosmic chaps has been rescued from the void by his own knight in a shining spacesuit, the entrepreneur and would-be astronaut Sir Richard Branson.
The character who captivated post-war children in the Eagle has been reinvented – and The Independent on Sunday can exclusively reveal his new look, which owes more to the battered charm of George Clooney than the blond, clean-cut imperial adventurer he used to be.
"Dan Dare is a heroic, thoughtful and fiercely independent character," says Sir Richard, founder of the Virgin brand. "I was an avid reader of his epic journeys. It is a pleasure to be involved with such a legendary character – one of the original great aviators."
Dan Dare will return next month in a new title published here and in the States by Virgin Comics. Readers will have to pay £1.50 to find out if his faithful batman Digby also features.
Dan Dare was born in 1950 – the same year, coincidentally, as Sir Richard Branson, who is planning to start the first commercial tourist flights into space. Created by the artist Frank Hampson, Dan Dare relied on his wits rather than any superpowers to defeat the Mekon, the intelligent ruler of the Treens in a comic that sold a million copies a week. The action took place in the Nineties – which means Dan Dare's present is now the past, and his future our present. Still no sign of fiendish green Venusians, though, not to mention hover packs and flying cars.
Drawn before Sputnik had even been launched, and long before mankind reached the moon, Dare was a symbol of the futurism and thirst for adventure that gripped young people in the post-austerity age of the Festival of Britain. But his manners owed more to the days of empire. Nobody had a stiffer upper lip under their Spacefleet visor.
Reinvented by British duo Garth Ennis, writer, and Gary Erskine, illustrator, the quintessentially British hero remains the antithesis of the modern-day Hollywood hard man. And for Colin Frewin from the Dan Dare Corporation, it is the culmination of a 15-year dream to see the reputation of the hero restored after what he describes as a "sub-standard" attempt at resuscitating him by IPC magazines in the 1980s.
"People are crying out for a superhero with old fashioned values who doesn't just charge around blowing people's heads off," Mr Frewin says.
"He's our Captain America, our Superman, our Batman, he's all of them rolled into one," says Garth Ennis, who has written the hero back to life. "The first few issues see Dan Dare coming out of retirement to rejoin a world that isn't exactly sure that it needs him."
The feature film rights are already being negotiated by the Creative Artists Agency, with Johnny Depp and Clive Owen among the leading actors already being talked about for the title role.
Additional reporting by Joanna Kilvington