Every so often, I focus on a character from adventure fiction (film, comics & prose) that I simply adore. This week we’re talking about: Dart, from DC’s old Atari Force comic book series.
Yes, I know I’m going a bit obscure this week but you know what, that’s okay. Some of you may scoff at the notion of anyone being a good character when they’re coming from something as lame sounding as “Atari Force” but trust me when I say that this series was far better than its origins as a tie-in product to a video gaming system should have ever been. The scripts were by the amazing Gerry Conway and the art for the vast majority of the series was provided by no less than Jose Luis-Garcia Lopez. The entire thing looked great and read just as well. Forget the word “Atari” because that could have been replaced by any word and the series would have worked just fine. Originally, there were a series of digest sized comics included with Atari games that featured the original jumpsuit-wearing Atari Force. The series that featured Dart was set some time after those stories and was a full-size comic series that ran for 20 issues – with Mike Baron writing issues 14-20 and Eduardo Barreto becoming artist with # 13.
Born Erin Bia O’Rourke-Singh, Dart was a mercenary was the daughter of Mohandas Singh and Li San O’Rourke, the engineer and the security officer of the original Atari Force. Admitted to the Atari Academy for training, she was often teased for her “mutant genes” that allowed her brief precognitive visions of the future. Erin and her best friend Dalia were involved in an accident involving one of the other cadets, which cost the cadet their life. Despite the fact that the incident occurred because of the bullying that Erin had been facing, she was removed from the Academy and sent to an off-world training school.
At the new school, Erin and Dalia became the best students that their headmaster had ever seen. Following every successful mission, the duo would mark each other with tattoos. Eventually, their run of good luck came to an end, when Dalia was killed during a mission. Erin experienced a vision of a man who would become both her lover and partner – but when he emerged through the smoke shortly after Dalia’s death, she reacted instinctively and shot him. He lived, though he lost his left eye. This was Moses Fisk, who was better known as the mercenary Blackjak. Having been trained at the same mercenary school that Dart had, they both realized that the school had hired soldiers to work both sides of the conflict.
Dart had a close relationship to the Atari Force hero known as Tempest, regarding him as her brother in many ways. Her tempestuous relationship with Blackjak was tested after his apparent death and subsequent return as an agent of the group’s greatest enemy. I loved Dart’s attitude and appearance. She tough but caring, reluctantly forming very close attachments to those around her. Her skills as a warrior and her unreliable powers were also fascinating to watch – and she was a heavily tattooed character before they became so commonplace in fantasy.
If you’ve never read Atari Force, seek them out in quarter bins — they’ve never been reprinted and probably never will be, given the nebulous rights issues. But the creative team is solid, the characters are fun and the stories are some of the best space opera that the Eighties ever produced.
I do miss Dart and her friends – somewhere, I like to think that they’re still having plenty of cosmos-spanning adventures.