Dan Dare: The Web of Fear

Keith Watson at home

Take away the continuingly excellent crisp, clean, black, white and grey art from Keith Watson, and The Web of Fear is a mess. In fact, with Watson’s art it’s still a mess, quite possibly the nadir of the Dan Dare series, but at least offers some great visuals. But it’s still a mess, whose only saving grace is that it is so short, a mere ten weeks and it is over.
Once again, Earth is subject to a world-threatening threat. That makes the fourth already this year, and that’s not counting the situation on New Year’s Day, when the planet was still half under water, subject to virulent plague and everybody had over-anticipated Jonathan King and gone to Mars. At this point, the Law of Diminishing Returns has not only set in, but is building a bungalow on an acre plot of land.
And it’s not as if it’s in any way a good, or even remotely convincing story either, full of holes and unexplained things that undermine the plot’s already minimal credibility.
Dan Dare is mentoring Cadet Peter Young, the son of old friends, on his test flight to qualify as a Pilot. Unfortunately, young Young crashes and seems to have blown his chances, but Dan stubbornly refuses to accept his judgement may be wrong.
Whilst he’s debating this, Earth finds itself subject to strange, white drifting webs appearing in the atmosphere, which prove to be lethally corrosive, He and Dig are sent to investigate the Moon, and he takes Young, despite the fact that the cadet has started prophesying doom and destruction over the webs, even though he isn’t aware of it.
Once on the Moon, Young goes into a trance and uncovers a cave full of spiders, which forces the Moon to be evacuated. The spiders stow away on the ships and are carried to Earth, where the threat builds. It gets even worse when Dixon’s Comet arrives and hordes of the things are found nesting in it.
Young isn’t the only Spacefleet personnel to be unconsciously and unexplainedly helping the spiders, just the only one we get to see, but Dan trusts him throughout and is, of course, proved to be right when Young saves him and Dig from being blown up on the Comet by Earth when they’re burning out all the nests. End of story, and good riddance.
This really is an awful story. Motton does nothing to establish his spiders, relying solely on the idea that spiders are inherently creepy, and great big ones from space – think Tarantula, think Black Widow, think Shelob for later generations – are creepy enough for us not to care how they’ve gotten onto the Moon in so many numbers without anyone noticing, from a Comet that hasn’t been around for 500 years.
And there is nothing about how the spiders can dominate the will of people like Peter Young to make them into slaves, especially if the hold can be broken in an instant, when it’s convenient to the story, without anything actually being done.
And there’s this business of Dan’s childhood friends, the Young’s from Little Fletchworth, who come and deservedly go in this story with no other mention. The back story is completely invisible, the only hints being that Little Fletchworth reminds Dan of endless happy days in his childhood. Except that, as we proud Mancunians will point out at every opportunity, Dan was born and brought up in Manchester and I can assure you that there is a complete absence of villages called anything like Little Fletchworth. Not even with high-rise apartment blocks.
In his splendid The Report of the Cryptos Commission New Zealand fan Denis Steeper tries to bring the entire Dan Dare story together into a comprehensible chronology. To do so, he leaves out only three stories, one of which was The Earth-Stealers. The second is this, and he’s absolutely right to do so.

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