Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Nikolai Dante Challenge!

Prog 1786 sees the beginning of the final chapter of the saga of everyone's favourite Russian rogue, adventurer, lover and all round swashbuckler, Nikolai Dante. The strip has had contributions from some of the best artists in the industry but is synonymous with two in particular, series co-creator Simon Fraser and legendary painter John Burns.

Prog 1786 saw, I assume, John Burns' final Dante cover, and it's just beautiful. Our man Dante standing on the Winter Palace against a beautiful Russinan sky. Talk about bowing out in style! It's great to see an older Dante too, testament to the brilliance of creators Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser, who always envisaged Dante as a finite series where we follow the swashbuckling lifetime of the central character.

Which brings me to this very long post. Covers-wise, I was challenged some years ago by 2000AD fan Mike Gloady to get 'clean' versions of every Dante cover before the series ends. Unfortunately, I have to report I failed! I managed to get all but four, sorry Mike!

So let's use this entry to look back, albeit in a potted history fashion, on the highs and lows of Dante's colourful life. We will marvel at the character development that writer Robbie Morrison has breathed not only into Dante, but the rest of his colourful cast. Before I start though, I'd like to point you in the direction of some much better written articles chronicling the Adventures of Dante. David Page's excellent, ongoing 'Too Cool To Kill' series over on the wonderful ECBT2000AD Blog. He will be going into every Dante strip in glorious detail, even getting notes from Dante novel writer David Bishop to help him. You can find his articles here.  

Let's kick off then!

'The Adventires of Nikolai Dante'

Portrait artist Simon Davis has the honour of being the first cover artist for the strip, giving us the two covers which erm, covered Nikolai's eponymous debut arc on Progs 1035 and 1039. Ironically, Dante looks fairly old on those covers (particularly the second one, which always makes me think of mad monk Rasputin) which kinda contradicts the cocky tone of the first story somewhat, where we see Dante as a reckless young thief and Lothario.

His first adventure sees him arrested and conscripted into Tsar Vladimir Makarov's Raven Corps. Dante, with a Raven Squad and the Tsar's beautiful daughter Jena is ordered to investigate a downed starcraft at Murmansk. Once there, the group are attacked by a mysterious, birdlike cybernetic organism which suddenly seems to bond with young Nikolai. 

With the soldiers wiped out, Nikolai and Jena are attacked by Aleksandr and Aleksandra Romanov - cybernetically enhanced Romanov twins. As Dante battles for his life, he discovers that the robotic creature that bonded with him has given him heightened senses and the ability to extend deadly blades from his hands. He uses these to defeat the Romanov twins, setting two noble houses on a course that will lead to war. 

The grin, the crest, the bioblades. A great first cover for Nikolai
 A slightly older looking Dante here, who could certainly use some conditioner on that hair...

'The Romanov Dynasty'

Dante discovers that the reason the weapons crest bonded with him is because he himself is of Romanov descent. Looking for answers to his heritage, Dante meets the patriarch of the Romanov family, the odious Dmitri Romanov. The tense family reunion is interrupted by Tsar Vladimir who is furious that Dmitri's twin children attacked his daughter. During the meeting, a furious Dmitri learns of the death of his twin children by the Tsar's forces and the two families prepare for a war that has been brewing for decades.

However, seemingly acting alone, the shape-changing consort of Vladimir's Lord Protector attempts to assassinate Dante. When the assassination attempt fails, the leaders of both houses agree that individuals within their organisations have been acting without their master's consent and hostilities are relaxed, for the time being.

In the latter half of this arc, Nikolai is introduced to most of his objectionable siblings before being sent on his first assignment, to negotiate the release of a captured Romanov envoy in the desperate fiefdom of Rudinshtein. The nobility of the estate, the Karazin, have fallen from grace and allowed the area to deteriorate into a slum. They are also guilty of selling drugs, enslaving the population and exposing them to all manner of human rights violations.

Naturally our man Dante defeats the leader of the Karazin, frees the populace and the young Arkady, at great physical cost to himself. It transpires that Arkady is yet another Romanov sibling and the weapon's crest that had attached itself to Dante had been meant for him, much to Arkady's disgust. The young Romanov begs for the badly injured Dante to be put out of his misery, however, with the whole of Rudenshtein chanting Dante's name, his life is spared. This excellent arc had a nasty twist in the tale, in the final part Dmitri gloats to Nikolai that he is indeed his father and that he had raped Nikolai's mother. Nikolai swears to one day kill his evil father.

In two stories, Morrison and Fraser managed to create a believable world, populating it with memorable characters and fantastic set pieces. Most noticeably, Dante had gone from Lothario to thief to soldier to aristocrat to hero and managed to snog the love interest twice!  

Surprisingly, Trevor Hairsine provided the only cover for this arc, showing Dante's brawl with Maralis, the consort of Vladimir's lord protector...
"Evasive Action!" Dante dodges the first of many assassination attempts in this great cover by Trevor Hairsine.

'Moscow Dualists'

Hairsine also produced the mean and moody beauty below from 'Moscow Duelists' story in Prog 1074. This excellent tale sees the young upstart Dante upset several of the nation's noble houses, ending up with him taking part in several duels in the same day! This light hearted story has a typically poignant ending, with Jena's old fencing master refusing to kill Dante in the name of the Empire, at the cost of his own life. 
"En Guarde!" Another excellent cover by Hairsine.

'The Gulag Apocalyptic'

The next cover is from 'The Gulag Apocalyptic"  by Henry Flint. This story takes Dante off-world to the Romanov gulag planet Samovar, where Dante had to escort a beautiful, mysterious lady known as Khara. During the story we discover that the weapons crest technology is from another dimension where a war is raging between two factions - the Red Guard and the White Army. The White have embraced weapons crest technology, rejecting all flesh, while the Reds are trying to hang onto their humanity. It transpires that Dmitri Romanov has been giving aiding the Red Guard war effort by forcing inmates of the gulag through the dimension breach to fight, in return for weapons crest technology for himself and his family.

As well as introducing us to a fearsome, very dangerous new enemy faction, this story sees Dante receive his other signature weapon, his Huntsman 5000 rifle, a powerful, self-loading weapon that is hardwired to fire only on Dante's geneprint.
 See ya later, Isolator!

'The Great Game'

The next Dante arc to give us covers was 'The Great Game' which sees Dante attempting to steal the Darkstar, a devastating weapon that would give the Romanovs a significant edge in the inevitable war against the Makarov Dynasty. This great story sees Dante find and lose his estranged wife Eloise and inch ever closer to the daughter of his enemy, Jena Makarov.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find clean covers for this story, so I had to grab the images from good old Barney.  Firstly, an absolute beauty by the brilliant Greg Staples...
 Greg Staples distilles the very essence of Dante in this brilliant cover.

Followed by a classic by John Charles.
Dante prepares to have his brown hole turned into a black hole!

'The Octobriana Seduction'

Amazingly, it wasn't until Prog 1116 that we got a finally Dante cover by Simon Fraser. 'The Octobriana Seduction' sees Dante and his enigmatic brother Victor on a mission to Paris to track down the killer of a Romanov spy...
Nikolai and Victor in the City of Love...

'The Masque of Dante'

Siku's only foray into the world of Dante was for Prog 1126, another which has eluded me I'm afraid. This story gave us a deeper insight into the nasty Natasia Romanov as she takes brutal revenge on an ex-boyfriend...
Siku's action packed cover for the Mask of Dante!

'Tour of Duty'

The Valentine's Day issue of 1999 saw Jason Brashill's smouldering cover for 'Tour of Duty'; I've always loved this one. The red haired girl is Ingrid Wagner, lady in waiting and confidente of Julianna Makarov. In this story, we discover Dante has been forced to seduce her so that the Romanov family blackmail her into telling them Julianna's every movement... 
'The Cadre Infernale'

Dante goes on the run from scary sister Lulu as he is framed for murder in her sordid Cadre Infernale.

The final illusive cover is the brilliant Steve Cook's image featuring the very popular Lulu Romanov from the 'Cadre Infernale' storyline. I hope Steve covers the creation of this image in his fantastic blog...

'The Hunting Party'

Dante spends time getting to know his family on a hunting trip before being attacked by several familiar looking assassins including two bullet sharks and a warped warrior. 

Next up, easily one of my favourite Dante images, the iconic cover to Prog 1139 by series creator Si Fraser...

'Last Dance of the Trans Siberian'

Nikolai seduces the Firebird, a beautiful dancer for the Danse Macabre. However, the other members disagree and chase Dante and the girl across Russia, wrecking the Trans-Siberian Express. 

Dante swashbuckles atop the Trans-Siberian Express courtesy of Si Fraser on Prog 1143.

'The Courtship of Jena Makarov'

The next three covers are from the heartbreaking 'Courtship of Jena Makarov' arc which began in Prog 1161. This pivotal tale tells of Nikolai's despair at Jenas engagement to media mogul Mikhail Deriabin. This is to be a marriage of convenience, ensuring a slew of positive press for the Makarov Dynasty. However, before the wedding takes place, Jena is kidnapped by the deranged Sir Richard Hawksmoore, also known as 'The Beast of Tungusksa'

Dante is implicated in Jena's disappearance, the Tsar himself manipulating evidence in Nikolai's trial in another attempt to ignite a war between the noble houses. As Dante escapes execution, we discover that it was Jena's fiance himself who was behind the kidnapping, hoping that the resulting war would cripple both sides and that he, with the backing of his media company, would become the most powerful man in the Empire.

While Nikolai fights Hawksmoore and Deriabin aboard the media mogul's massive airship, Nikolai's evil brother Konstantin ambushes and kills Julianna, Jena's sister, finally igniting the Tsar Wars. 

 The first part of the Courtship story carried this beautiful Greg Staples image. 
Mean and Moody Dante watches over Jena from afar...

Prog 1163 added Chris Weston to the impressive roster of Dante cover artists. He had had plenty of experience drawing the character as he's previously provided art for the saucy 'Russia's Greatest Love Machine' story in the notorious sex issue, which saw Dante bumping uglies with an insatiable bearded lady!
Top notch bioblades from Chris Weston.

Si Fraser back in action for a beautifully designed cover which marked the end of Jena's courtship and hurled the Romanovs and Makarovs to war.
Is this the end for Nikolai Dante?

'Love and War'

The next major chapter in Dante's story was the brilliant Tsar Wars. However, Prog 2000 saw a prequel, 'Love and War' where Dante and Jena finally get together, only to be ripped apart again by the news of Julianna's murder and the onset of war.

Brian Bolland's landmark Prog 2000 cover

'The Rudinshtein Irregulars'

The Tsar Wars sees another stark transformation for Dante. He has accepted his Romanov heritage, becoming somewhat of a reluctant war hero and captain of the shabbiest fighting squad in the Empire, the Rudinshtein Irregulars. The Irregulars are made up of scoundrels, rapists, murderers, cowards and thieves, including fan favourites Spatchcock and Flintlock and the gutsy Elena Kurakin. The first of many suicide missions the Irregulars face is the destruction of the Tsar's powerful Conqueror Cannons atop Castle Skuratov. Dante also discovers that the Tsar is holding and torturing the unfortunate Ingrid Wagner in the castle, the girl whom Dante had betrayed to his family. With a mixture of good fortune and recklessness, Dante completes his missions and rescues the girl. However his victory is hollow and short-lived as the guilt-ridden Ingrid takes her own life...

John Burns' striking first cover for Tsar Wars

Evasive action is required as Nikolai is nearly squished by the portcullis of Castle Skuratov. Art by Mark Harrison.

"Love and War'

'Love and War' is the second of the Tsar Wars arcs (as well as the name of the prequel, trivia fans) which again focuses on Dante and Jena's relationship. Whereas the prequel saw the couple making love, this spine-tingling arc sees them facing each other on the battlefield, ending in a bitter duel between the former lovers. Dante bests Jena but can't bring himself to kill her. He lets her go, yelling "Tell your father Nikolai Dante... no, Nikolai Romanov is coming for him!"

John Charles puts Dante in the sights of a young sniper.

Nikolai Romanov in a heart wrenching duel to the death against the love of his life, Jenna Makarov. An incredibly powerful image from Greg Staples...

'Battleship Potemkin'

The next Dante arc is simply amazing! Battleship Potemkin tells the bitter history of Vladimir Makarov and Dmitri and Jocasta Romanov against a dazzling aerial dogfight between the waring dynasties. The story has an amazingly shocking ending with Nikolai seeming murdering Konstantin by stabbing him in the back with a cry of "Heroes be damned!"
Superstar Fraser Irving's first Dante cover shows Dante getting it on with Britannia as he goes on a mission to England to rescue the king from execution in the first part of the excellent 'Battleship Potemkin.'

'Heroes be Damned!' Dylan Teague shows Nikolai making his explosive escape from the battleship after his shocking betrayal and apparent murder of his evil brother Dimitri.


"Fiends", a tip of the hat to 2000AD story 'Fiends of the Eastern Front' is a fun diversion which adds a touch of horror to the Strip. Nikolai and his men become playthings for the Vampiric Family Selene who enjoy hunting and killing humans for sport. Dante enlists the help of a female vampire called Emmanuelle Checkov to help beat the evil family...

A terrifically sexy cover from Si Fraser

'The Romanov Empire'

The Tsar Wars reach their bloody peek in the amazing 'Romanov Empire' arc which sees joyous triumphs and terrible losses for Dante, changing his landscape forever. As this epic begins, Tsar Vladimir is very much on the retreat with the Romanovs winning the war. As Dante, an over confident family Romanov and the Irregulars lead the final push on Vlad's stronghold at St Petersberg, they come face to face with Vlad's secret weapon, a mysterious new Warlord.

The powerful warlord decimates the Romaovs, killing Natasia and besting Lulu, Victor and Andreus with ease. While the Romavos fall, Vladimir's fleet of almighty Dreadnoughts appear and begin to rain fire on the Romanov army. The fleet, believed to be far away in deep space, were secretly summoned by Vlad, and the tide of war suddenly changes. As the Romanov forces begin to retreat, Dante has one last desperate push forward and reaches Vladimir. However, before he can strike, he is shot and wounded by Jena who chooses to protect her father. Before Dante can be led away as a prisoner of war, he is rescued by Victor and reunited with the bloody, beaten Romanov family at Rudenshtein. 

The Romanov's retreat back to their Winter Palace stronghold, but Dante chooses to stay and fight with the people of Rudenshtein to hold back Vlad's forces as long as possible, surprisingly joined by his likeable brother Andreus. The forces at Rudenshtein fight valiantly but ultimately fall, with poor Dante himself having to kill many of his comrades who have been captured and are being horrifically tortured by Makarov forces. Dante himself is captured but released by Jena, who tells him to run away and never be seen again. 

As Rudenshtein falls, Tsar Vladimir leads the battle at the Winter Palace. Finally beaten, Dante's horrible father, Dmitri Romanov commits suicide, though not before secretly passing on his bio-crest to youngest son Arkady. With most of the family Romanov dead or captured and Dante on the run as the most wanted man in the Empire, the terrible Tsar Wars are finally at an end. In the aftermath, Vlad's mysterious warlord reveals his identity to a captured Jocasta Romanov, he is none other than her son, Konstantin Romanov who has been turned against his family by the Tsar.

This powerful ending to the Tsar Wars saga surprisingly only had two covers, but what covers they are! Both are by the excellent Fraser Irving.  

Dante defiant on the Romanov crest.

Dante flipping the crest!

'The Romanov Job'

Renouncing the Romanov name, Dante has gone from noble warrior to wanted man with a massive price on his head. Naturally, it isn't long before he is back to his criminal ways as the gentleman thief. Dante begins an outrageous relationship with beautiful recurring character Countessa De Wynter, herself a professional thief and con artist. Together they blaze a trail across the empire pulling several heists and daring jobs. The couple agree to join an elite group of thieves to take part in an Italian Job style heist to steal the Romanov family jewels for criminal underworld boss Papa Yeltsin.

Nikolai and the Countessa are the sole survivors of the daring burglary, however, at the end of the tale, De Wynter double-crosses Nikolai, leaving him dangling from a cliff before crashing into the sea.

Two covers for this arc, the first saw the return of Simon Davis... 
Blade on blade as Dante fights master criminal Abel Ganz aka The Tarantula.

A very special cover by Si Fraser as Dante celebrates winning favourite comic character at the Eagle awards.

'Hell and High Water'

For Dante's next incarnation, he follows in his mother's footsteps, becoming a swashbuckling pirate on the high seas. The first arc 'Hell and High Water' starts with a flashback to Dante being abandoned by his mother the pirate queen Katarina Dante at a young age. Cut to the present and Dante is adrift at sea following his betrayal by the Countessa De Wynter. By chance he comes across another vessel, where pirates are attacking a woman and her two young children. Too late to save the mother, Dante kills the bandits and rescues the children, Karl and Mina.

The children are the offspring of 'The Kraken,' deadly captain of a pirate band known as 'The Pacific Reavers.' Kraken and his crew arrive and begin to board Dante's vessel. Nikolai battles bravely against the crew, disfiguring Kraken during the melee, but the fight is interrupted when the mighty Black Dragons (or the Japanese Yakuza to you and me) turn up and take Dante and the children prisoner.

Dante is presented to Akita Sagawa, the beautiful head of the Black Dragons. She considers turning Dante over to the Makarovs to claim the huge bounty on his head but appears to fall for his charms instead. However, yet again it is Dante who is being played and while the couple romp, Sagawa's men kidnap Karl and Mina. The safety of the children is used to blackmail Dante into carrying out Sagawa's plots...

We next see Dante re-united with his mother. He tells her about his capture by the yakuza and his daring escape. However, Black Dragon forces arrive and a bloody battle ensues. The Dantes are victorious and Nikola sails off into the sunset with his mother and her all female crew... 

Just one cover for this story, by Andy Clarke.

Nikolai and his M-aaaaaarrrrr! (sorry)

'Agent of Destruction'

We get our next cover for 'Agent of Destruction.' Nikolai is now a fully fledged pirate with his own ship and crew (including Rudenshtein Irregulars Spatchcock and Flintlock, yay!) Dante is tasked by his mother to extract a spy who has been compromised in the field while investigating the existence of a bioweapon being developed by Tsar Makarov.

During this story we learn the terms of Sagawa's blackmail plot, the guaranteed safety of Mina and Karl in return for Dante betraying his mother and handing her over to the yakuza. Sagawa orders Dante to kill the spy and bring the weapon plans to her.

Dante meets with the spy and discovers she is his beautiful childhood sweetheart Lauren. The pair are attacked by Sagawa's assassins but manage to escape. Dante furiously contacts Sagawa to tell her he wont kill the Lauren as her assassins had crossed the line by trying to kill him.

Dante and Lauren travel to the laboratory in the Caspian Sea to retrieve the weapon. They discover the weapon is an ancient living organism that can infect living matter, absorbing their DNA to turn itself into a twisted version of it's host. Kraken and his crew also infiltrate the base to steal the weapon and get revenge on Dante. The organism infects Kraken, turning him into a giant, all consuming monster. Dante and Lauren manage to blow up the base, escaping just in the nick of time...   

Dante and Lauren face off against Sagawa's assassins in another John Burns classic.

"How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When I've Been a Liar All My Life?"

Dante returns to London for his next adventure in the snappily titled "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Loved You When I've Been a Liar All My Life?" This excellent yarn reunites Dante with Jena as he kidnaps her while she is on a state visit to London. However, this timely abduction also recues Jena from an attack by Lulu. Dante's vampiric sister is now a criminal and terrorist, conducting a campaign of terror against the Makarov empire and swearing to kill her brother whom she believes betrayed their family in the war. Throughout this hilarious tale Jena and Lauren bicker constantly as each vie for Dante's affections while he fights off the unwanted advances of mad King Henry Windsor McKray. 

Dante fights off Lulu's demons in the glorious cover by Jim Murray.

'Primal Screams'

Soloman's Palace at Victoria Falls is the wildest, most exotic casino in the world, so  naturally Dante attempts to plunder it in "Primal Screams." Dante is rumbled and he and and a nearly naked Lauren become the hunted in a big game hunt. Cliff Robinson contributed the  only cover for this great tale.      
Help ma boab! Dante is rumbled at the Soloman's Palace Casino.


Dante's betrayal of his mother finally comes to pass in the brilliant 'Usurper.' Following the death of The Karen, the pirate groups of the Pacific meet to divvy out his trade routes. However, the heads of the various factions turn on Katarina, sensing that she is getting old and that even her own son has designs on her power. Nikolai suggests a good old fashioned fight to the death, with the last man or woman standing taking control of the fleet. By the end, only Nikolai and his mother remain. In a tense stand off, a broken Katarina curses her son and tells him to take the fleet.  

The Pirates of the Pacific by John Burns

'Dragon's Island'

Dragon's Island brings Dante's pirate adventures to a close. As he goes to hand his mother over to Sagawa she attacks his ship, taking Katarina hostage and leaving Nikolai for dead. Dante is momentarily saved by Lauren and Katarina's old crew who immediately sentence him to death for the betrayal of his mama!

Quick talking Nikolai persuades the group to pack his vessel with explosives so that they can ram the Black Dragon's Pacific base and rescue his mother. The group agree, but not before tying Dante to the ship's bow! The ship smashes into the Pacifica base, with Dante managing to free himself at the last second. As Dante's crew attack Sagawa's forces, Katarina escapes her cell with Mina and Karl. As chaos reigns in the base, Vladimir Makarov contacts the yakuza leader and offers his assistance. Sagawa refuses as she has one last ace up her sleeve - a breed of super warriors cloned from Kazan's still living host body which her forces had rescued from the Caspian Sea laboratory. The clones quickly over run Katarina's forces and, when all looks lost, Dante swashbuckles his way into the action. He tells the survivors to flee, sacrificing himself to save his friends and family. Surely this would be a spectacular end for our hero?

We got a beautiful cover for this tale by the excellent Mark Harrison. The finished cover was distressed with marks and folds like a pulp, Mills and Boon novel. Very effective indeed.

Mark Harrison's Spectacular cover

'The Sword of the Tsar'

The next phase of Dante's life sees an amazing turn of events as Dante appears to switch allegiances and become 'The Sword of the Tsar.' As Dante is about to be finished off by Kraken's clones,  the Tsar's protector (unbeknown to Dante to be Konstantin) enters the fray. He makes short work of the Krakens clones and drags an unconscious Dante back to face the Tsar once more.

To Nikolai's amazement, Vladimir does not carry out Nikolai's death sentence, but instead offers him the chance to be the 'Sword of the Tsar'. While the two great families were at war, agents from the extra dimensional White Army have been inserting themselves into Dante's dimension. As Dante is one of the few with weapons crest technology, then he is the best man to tackle the crisis.

As Dante investigates he is attacked by agents of the White Army, but saved by Khara, the girl who gave Dante the Huntsman in 'The Gulag Apocalyptic.' However, it turn out even she is a White Army agent, getting close to Nikolai so she can strike at the Tsar. Nikolai kills her and saves the life of Vladimir, cementing his place by Vladimir's side - bojemoi!

Two covers for this series, both my the Dante's daddy, Simon Fraser... 

Wh-what? I certainly did a double take when I was this cover.
Dante saves the Tsar from a White Army agent.

'Deadlier than the Male'

'Deadlier than the Male' was a throwaway tale where Dante was sent to the isle of Amazonia to bring the all female population to heel. He ended up fighting a fifty foot woman  in this hilarious tale with suitably sexy artwork from John Burns.

A giant problem for Dante by John Burns


'Hellfire' sees Dante working with the Lord Protector to track down Lulu in Edinburgh. In this story, Dante visits his step mother Jocasta, who has exiled herself in a monastery. Jocasta used to be the head of the largest spy network in Russia, we begin to see the sowing of the seeds of revolution. When Dante finally catches up with Lulu, he asks her to join him. She refuses and falls to her death in the Water of Leith.

One cover for this story, and what a classic it is too...
The definitive Lulu Romanov image by Si Fraser

'The Beast of Rudenshtein.'

It was back to Rudesnshtein in Nikolai's next adventure as he and Elena tracked down 'The Beast of Rudenshtein.' After the war, Vladimir had cut off the province as punishment for supporting Dante in the war. Dante has the sanctions lifted but has to once again rid his fiefdom of bandits and criminals. As well as saving his city, Dante tracks down Victor who we discover has survived the war and settled down with a peasant girl. Dante keeps Victor's survival a secret, another powerful ally to be used for the future...  

Aye aye! The Beast of Rudenshtein watches over Dante...

'Thieves World'

Following an audacious assassination attempt on Jena, Nikolai returns to the 'Thieves World' to bring Papa Yeltsin's gangs to heel. Dante takes control of several criminal gangs, becoming a credible threat to Yeltsin and forcing him act. Countessa de Wynter is up to her old tricks in this book too, attempting to double cross a pretender to Pappa Yeltsin's throne to help get her hands on a massive war chest. Dante fights with Pappa Yeltsin, pretending to kill him, but spares his life  if he promises to work together with Dante.

This time Dante betrays the Countessa, handing her over to the much less forgiving Yeltsin. Dante leaves on good terms with Pappa, another pawn in Dante's great game...  

The brilliant Richard Elson provides this funky cover.

'The Chaperone' 

When the Tsar promises Arkady's hand in marriage to a Mongolian tribal girl to gain political leverage, Dante and Elena are sent to chaperone the young couple. The group are attacked by a savage tribe led by the evil Lord Skar. During the fighting, Arkady and his feisty bride to be are separated from the rest of their party. Attacked by a large number of savages, Arkady finally reveals that he is part Dimitri, sleighing everyone, including his new fiancée with a devastating weapons crest...

Kev Crossley's only 2000AD cover to date. More please Thargy!


'Amerika' sees the war between Dante and the White Army literally explode! Naturally, in Dante's world, 'The land of the free' is under Russian control, though the Tsar's occupying forces are under constant bombardment from insurgents and terrorists. Nikolai and Jena are sent to facilitate a strategic withdrawal of the Tsar's armies and a chance for democracy for the populace, providing their elected leader swears allegiance to Vladimir of course...

On arrival, Nikolai and Jena experience terrorism first hand as Nikolai is wounded by a young suicide bomber. While Dante recovers, Jena attends a function where presidential candidate Jason Futara gives a passionate speech about his hopes for peace. Futara is a businessman who has created the 'Futara Conciousness', a hugely popular, fully immersive virtual world available only trough a Futara implant in the brain. To escape the poverty of Amerikan life, over half the populan are fitted out with the implant. The function is attacked by a terrorists faction who attempt to kidnap Jena. Before they can make good their escape, Dante arrives followed by a fleet of the Raven's guard who chase the insurgents away.

In the aftermath of the attack, we discover that the bomb that the young suicide bomber had used was made from white army technology, making the situation in Amerika much more desperate.

Dante and Jena arrange a meeting with representatives of  the each of the insurgent factions to discuss terms of the Tsars withdrawal. The White Army choose this moment make their move and we discover they have been using Futara Implants to invade the human race, instead of crossing over from another dimension. Over half the population of Manhattan transform into terrifying cyborgs, attacking Dante and the amassed factions. Dante and Jena escape but are shot down over the East River.

With a rousing speech, Dante manages to unite the rebel forces and lead an attack against the White Army. While the rebels conduct a street fighting campaign, Nikola goes after Jason Futara, using the Hunstman to kill him. As the battle rages on, the Imperial fleet, led my Tsar Vladimir himself, arrive and lay waste to New York. The Tsars promise of peace ending in whole scale genocide.

Filled with rage, Dante confronts Vladimir on his dreadnought and stabs him in the gut with his bioblade. Before Dante can finish off the evil dictator, Konstantin sends a powerful blast at him, almost burning the flesh from his bones. Vladimir stops Konstantin from finishing Dante off, telling him that Nikolai deserves to suffer for his crimes. As Nikolai and Vlad lie horribly wounded, we see Arkady smugly smile as Jena chooses to go to her father's side... 
Land of the free? Yet another brilliant cover by Simon Fraser.
"Abandon the flash, release the white!" Simon Davis captures the horrific White Army perfectly.

'Prisoner of the Tsar'

'Prisoner of the Tsar' sees Dante at his lowest ebb, chained up and tortured in the Fortress Cheka by the Tsar's ruthless interrogators. Naturally, our man refuses to crack. Nikolai has several visitors during this time, a distraught Jena and a gloating Arkady, as well as the Tsar's Lord Protector who is sent to ramp up the torture to extract a confession. To Dante's horror, Konstantin finally reveals his true identity, but still does not break the prisioner.

The Tsar takes matters into his own hands. Realising that Dante won't crack through physical torture, the Tsar decides to harm those closest to him instead. Vlad takes Oddessa, a young girl with precognitive powers whom Dante rescued in a previous adventure, to his cell and orders Konstantin burn out the eyes. Nikolai finally cracks and promises to do whatever the Tsar asks.

Dante confesses to conspiring against the Tsar, betraying the factions he'd been working with to strike against Vladimir's forces. As Makarov attempts to wipe out Dante's comrades, Jena visits one last time, this time freeing him and cutting herself off from her cruel father forever.

Only one cover for this arc, by the fantastic Steve Cook. You can read how Steve did it here.

Daughter of the Phwooor! By Steve Cook

'Army of Thieves and Whores'

Months of Dante's plots and schemes come to fruition when he wages bloody war across the Empire with his 'Army of Thieves and Whores.' Dante's rebellion is coordinated by Jocasta and her vast spy network, led on land by Nikolai himself, at sea by Katarina and her pirate crews, supported by terror and guerilla campaigns by Lulu and her Cadre Infernale and supplemented by the Papa Yeltsin's Thieves Guild.

This arc shows Dante make great gains in his campaign, including the taking of Paris and reclaiming the Winter Palace. We also discover that Arkady is helping the rebellion by supplying information to Jocasta, but can he be trusted?

Again, just one cover for this arc, featuring the main players in Nikolai's army. You can see roughs and inks here.

A lovable collection of thieves and whores by Simon Fraser.

'Lulu's War'

Lulu got her own story as we saw the Cadre Infernale under arrack by the Family Selene in Lulu's War. Two excellent covers for this short series, you can see the first one uncensored in a Simon Fraser special I did a while back.
Come on in, the bug infested water's lovely!
 Paul Marshall's beautifully designed Lulu cover.

'Hero of the Revolution'

The frankly astounding 'Hero of the Revolution' plays out Nikolai's war against the Tsar. Dante's rag tag army gain more and more ground until they are ready for the final assault on St Petersberg.

With most of his forces destroyed, Vladimir agrees to meet Dante in no man's land to discuss the terms of the final battle. Vlad agrees a timeframe for innocent civilians to be evacuated from the city before hostilities begin. Then, Dante promises, it will be a fight to the death.

Dante tasks Elena and old flame Lauren with escorting the evacuees to safety aboard Dante's favourite mobile brothel, Madame Di Grigori's House of Sin. Yet again, Vladimir goes against his word and sends an elite squad known as the Order of the Dragon, led by Elizabeth Hawskmoore to massacre the fleeing civilians.

News of the attack filters through to Nikolai, he and Jena race to the scene to find complete devastation. They also find Lauren who is strapped to a bomb, seconds before the device explodes, she informs Nikolai that the dragons have taken Odessa and Elena.

Enraged, Dante contacts the Tsar who tells him he'll kill Odessa if one shell should strike St Petersberg. Dante ignores Jena's pleas to stay and races off to save Elena and Odessa, leaving the daughter of the Tsar to lead the attack.

With the help of Spatchcock and Flintlock, Dante rescues his friends while the battle for St. Petersberg rages. As the city is about to fall, Vladimir once again sends Konstantin to crush the opposition. He beats Lulu and Victor with ease and as he attacks Jena, Dante arrives and shoots him several times with the Huntsman. In the Tsar's control centre, Arkady leads a coup against the Tsar, forcing him to surrender. The war is over, the Tsar is beaten and Dante is triumphant. His troubles have just begun...

Two covers for this arc, beauties by Karl Richardson and Richard Elson.

Face off in No Man's Land by Karl Richardson
The taking of St Petersberg by Richard Elson. See the making of that cover here.

'Heroes be Damned'

'Heroes be Damned' starts with the beautiful wedding of Victor Romanov to the peasant girl Galya. During the wedding reception proposes to Jena who accepts! We then see the trial of Vladimir Makarov who is offered a life of exile if he agrees to hand power over to Jena. During the trial Arkady finally reveals that he is, in fact, Dmitri Romanov and starts on a bloody rampage that sees the deaths of Papa Yeltsin, Victor's new bride Galya and matriarch of the family Romanov, Jocasta.

Dmitri abducts Jena and fights with Dante, choosing not to kill him but instead burning out his weapon's crest...

Two outstanding covers for this arc, both by Si Fraser. Check out his 'making ofs' here.
Simon Fraser's terrifying first cover for 'Heroes be Damned.'
A Farewell to Arms

'City of the Damned'

When 'City of the Damned' begins see Dante as a broken man, spending his time wallowing in self pity in a drunken stupor. Elena finds Dante and takes him to his mother in the coastal city of Vladivostok. Dmitri has been busy reconciling his relationships with Konstantin and Lulu and beginning wedding plans to Jena Makarov, the ultimate insult to Dante and Vladimir.

As Dante continues to wallow in pity, Vladivostok is attacked by imperial mercenaries. Initially reluctant to fight, Dante reminisces on all the people he has lost, takes the Huntsman and wipes out the invading forces. Nikolai Dante is back!

Dante goes after Konstantin with the help of the Vampire Emanuelle Checkov from the Fiends storyline. The beautiful vampire seduces Konstantin and Date attacks. Konstantin uses Emmanuelle as a human(?) shield but Dante shoots through her, failing to kill his evil brother but costing him an eye and giving him a permanent, painful reminder of Nikolai's continued existence.
A beautiful painting of Castel Kronsdadt by Simon Davis
Konstantin takes Emmanuelle hostage by Nick Percival (see the making of here.)
'The Memoirs of Nikolai Dante'

Below is the cover for 'The Memoirs of Nikolai Dante' which beautifully recapped Ante's sage to date. Much, much better than I have!
A ripping yarn by Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague (see making of here.)

'Bad Blood'

In 'Bad Blood' Dante turns up next at Saudi Arabia which houses a vast solar array that provides energy to most of the Empire. Dante captures the vast Desert of Mirrors, effectively cutting off most of Dmitri's power supply.

As Dante returns to Russia to face Dmitri, Lulu shows her hand, betraying Nikolai and delivering him to his evil father...

One cover for this arc, by Si Fraser...
Happy Families? See the making of this cover here.

'The Wedding of Jena Makarov' 

'The Wedding of Jena Makarov' takes us on the home stretch. With Dante captive, his mother has taken charge of his army of thieves and whores, planning to attack during the wedding of Dmitri and Jena. As the devastated bride prepares to marry, she visits Dante in his torture chamber, telling him she'll love him forever and is doing the unthinkable to save Nikolai's life. She is accompanied by Lulu who sets her demonic creatures on Dante following a bitter exchange.

The rebels attack Dmitri's forces (led by Elizabrth Hawkesmoore) as the wedding gets underway. As Dante helplessly watches events unfold, evil Dmitri sends Doctor Scrotumski to castrate our hero in the ultimate act of malice! However, Dante escapes, it seems that Lulu was on his side all along and had slipped Dante a lock pick when she unleashed her monsters on him. Nikolai interrupts the wedding broadcast with a call to arms for the people of Russia. The revolution is on!

Dante, with the help of Viktor, captures the Imperial Palace, laying waste to Dmitri's armies before using it to literally crash the wedding and he pilots the great ship into the newly re-built Winter Palace.

Former Tsar Vladimir cell is breached in the carnage and he takes the opportunity to escape.  He spots Katarina Dante looking for her son and cruelly shoots her, telling her to make sure Nikolai knows it was him who killed her.

Dante and Dmitri fight to the death, the powerful Dmitri easily beats Nikolai, painfully stabbing him through the shoulder. As he prepares to finally kill his troublesome son, he is shot with the Huntsman 5000 by the mortally wounded Kararina Dante. Shortly afterwards she dies, refusing to hell Nikolai who had killed her...

Again, just two covers for this amazing arc, a Lichtenstein inspired piece by Steve Yeowell and a classic by Neil Roberts...
Dante is driven dotty by Jena (you can see the making of that cover here

Ouch! Dante gets the point thanks to Neil Roberts (see the making of here)

'The Dante Gambit'

'The Dante Gambit' begins to tie up the loose ends. Elena and Elizabeth Hakesmoore fight on the battlefield and Elena wins, with the help of Spatchcock and Flintlock. However, this comes with a terrible price, the death of Lord Peter Flintlock - waaaaagh!

Nikolai's two revolutions have come with a high price, almost bankrupting the Empire. To make matters worse, Konstantin Romanov begins a terror campaign, publicly challenging Nikolai to a duel to the death. Nikolai agrees much to Jena's disgust.

Spatchcock takes Flintlock's body to his ancestral home in England. There, he falls for Flintlock's sister, Lady Felicity Flintlock and they steal the family treasure and start a life together. A happy ending for at least one of the Dante cast! 

Nikolai meets Konstantin for their public duel, the odds stacked heavily against a weapons crestless Nikolai as he battles the most powerful of the Romanovs. However, Lulu infects Konstantin with the same nano virus that Konstantin used against the incarcerated Dante, disabling his weapons crest. Nikolai beats Konstantin in hand to hand combat, eventually shooting him in the back with the Huntsman rifle. Heroes be damned!

One cover only for this arc, a winking Dante by Paul Marshall.  
Cocky little winker! See the making of this cover here.

'Sympathy for the Devil'

Aaaand, that brings us up to date with the series. With Dante in his final arc, will he get the 'spectacular' death that was predicted by Odessa? I hope not, over the years I've grown to  really love this character. I reckon a life ruling over a peaceful Empire would be spectacular enough for me...


  1. There's ONE cover that you DON'T have Pete!

    The LAST one

    That I haven't drawn yet....bbl

  2. I don't WANT to see it! Long live Nikolai!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. That's an amazing post... So many memorable covers from a character that has become a real central element of modern-era 2000AD. Awesome work, Pete.

      (sorry for deleting, but my typos were awful)

  4. Proud of you Pete - I threw it out there as a "I know what someone ELSE should do" kind of idea. Those ideas are really easy to come up with because you'll never have to do the legwork. Thought of it, told you and forgot about it.

    I'm so very impressed that you remembered, ran with the idea and did such an awesome job of it - a great post and a fine commentary. A magnificent tribute to one of 2000ad's greatest strips ever and the work of Robbie, Simon, John and all the other artists, colourists and letterers over the years.

    You deserve so much credit not just for this post but for all of the stuff you've done with this blog. It's a constant source of interest and fun. My hat is well and truly off to you, sir. I'm sure every other reader feels the same.

  5. Holy crap you were right...

    I would love this post. Its amazing and thanks for the plug too!