The British comic The Dandy has given itself a 'reboot' with celebrity appearances - but will it save the 73-year-old publication?
Elderly Dandy tries to iron out a few wrinkles
It all sounds a bit desperate, Dan. A much-loved weekly comic in Britain - one of the world's longest-running - is relaunched. But instead of going back to basics or "rebooting" the brand to revel in the core values that have seen it through the past 73 years, real-life celebrities crop up in cartoon character form.
It doesn't stop there. Cheesily obvious pop culture references (wonder how long it took to come up with Postman Prat, the Y-Factor and the ZZZ-Team) pepper the pages. And, in a shameless bid for reader interaction, we're offered the chance to vote out our least favourite characters, Big Brother-style. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, to The Dandy in 2010.
To be fair, the relaunch of the comic that made a star of stubbly Desperate Dan, the strongest man in the Wild West, does at least signal a return to the irreverent, playful style that children through the decades have adored. The loveable British comedian Harry Hill is the cover image and the comic strip he's written inside - starring his good self - is genuinely rather amusing. He arrives at a factory where Simon Cowell's high trousers are made and remarks: "No one's ever seen inside Simon's trousers." There's a pause. And then he says, "Quite rightly". It's a quantum leap forward from the past few incarnations of The Dandy.
Whether this means the comic will now last another 73 years - or even 73 months - is less clear. The cover also proclaims the added presence inside of Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson and, er, Deal Or No Deal's Noel Edmonds, which appears to suggest it's aimed more at adults than their young children. Still, that may be a canny piece of marketing: ensnare the parents into buying it for their kids (and sneaking a look themselves when they've been packed off to bed) and half the battle is won.
The Dandy relaunch is symptomatic of an era where brand is key. It's just possible that a 73-year-old comic has indeed reached its natural endpoint - but as long as the name of a classic comic, game or film has some cachet, its owners will try to eke some money out of it. And sadly, this usually results in chronically depressing updates of old classics.
Take the baffling case of the murder-mystery board game Cluedo. Last year, Colonel Mustard picked up his last spanner and Professor Plum will never wield the lead-piping in the ballroom again. In a bid to remain "relevant", they were replaced with a video-game billionaire called Victor Plum brandishing a baseball bat in the spa, and the football pundit Jack Mustard committing heinous crimes with a dumbbell in the boardroom. If this was a bling-laden attempt to appeal to a younger generation, nobody at Hasbro appeared to notice that kids these days are more likely to be mutilating each other using automatic weapons on Call Of Duty. The notion of a board game, to them, is positively archaic.
Actually, with brands desperate for the oxygen of publicity, it often seems that these relaunches are simply designed to provoke uproar in newspapers. If the oft-quoted PR maxim of "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is actually true, it doesn't matter that the SpongeBob SquarePants version of Monopoly provoked widespread hilarity. Even this week's blink-and-you'll-miss-it rebranding of MySpace to Myspace is really a tacit acceptance that its rival Facebook has won the social networking war and Myspace is simply one of the best places to hear new music on the web.
Of course, sometimes rebranding does work. When Take That returned after 10 years in the wilderness, they'd shed the gyrating boy band image and instead cast themselves as jumper-wearing dads who made music so serious it was labelled M&S rock. Proof that it was one of the most spectacular relaunches of recent times came on Friday, when the clamour for tickets to next year's European tour crashed websites - a full five years into their second bid for pop stardom.
In a sense, Christopher Nolan's magnificently dark Batman films were a relaunch of sorts too, a re-imagining of the epic comic saga which made the "kerpow" antics of the television series look just a little silly. Indeed such reinvention is all the rage in Hollywood - although why we need another completely new version of Spider-Man in 2012, only 10 years after Tobey Maguire showed us how Peter Parker obtained his special spider-sense, is not entirely clear.
So maybe a gritty Desperate Dan film might be the best way to maintain the madness of The Dandy. In the meantime, the new comic makes it quite clear where poor old Dan's future lies. It's on the very last page, and a wormlike character is right in his bearded face. It says one word to him: "Old."
* Ben East