Dan Dare: Keith Watson’s New Eagle Story


Long years passed after The Menace from Jupiter, long years with nothing but reprints to sustain the Dan Dare fan and, once Eagle had gone under, merged into Lion, even these were so poorly treated, they were an offence rather than a delight. Long years passed whilst Dan was no more than a memory, until his name was revived with the new 2000 A.D. comic, Eagle‘s only rival for the title of Britain’s best ever weekly comic.
But this was no Dan that we old fans remembered, a name attached to something that so deeply rejected everything that went with our hero’s name that the point of calling this new brawling, swearing, space monster killing Dan Dare was beyond understanding.
Long years passed, and the 2000 A.D. Dan disappeared himself, mid-story, and another Dan appeared, as part of a new Eagle, an Eagle that seemed ashamed of being a comic and tried to tell its stories in photographs, which have never, ever worked as a substitute for art. And this Dan, these Dans, at least tried to feed off the original, though not in ways that satisfied or convinced.
Then it was announced, to everyone’s delight and surprise, that the original Dan Dare would be coming back to the New Eagle, and what’s more, to prove it, he would once again be drawn by Keith Watson.
And Keith Watson came back to the character and the series that he had honoured, on 26 August 1989, and though his art had developed in the intervening twenty years, it was as it all had been. A single look at a single panel, and once more we were in that Universe in which Dan Dare had been the Pilot of the Future, a future once again as familiar to us as warm toast on a breakfast tray.
And not just Dan, but Digby too, and Sir Hubert, and an adult Flamer, and on board the Valiant II there’s a Theron, a Mercurian and a Phant, and the Mekon and his Treens were back, because who could think for even a second of writing a story that did not involve Earth’s Archenemy as its villain: sooner should we have the Sun rise in the West. And even Professor Peabody, on Moonbase, Greta Tomlinson restored to life and youth once more.
And three pages a week, not two, and all of them in full colour. What more could we want?
As it turned out, rather a lot.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this un-named story, but then again there’s not much that is intrinsically right with it, either, saving only Watson’s art, which shone. The story itself lasted only six weeks, which made eighteen pages, as many or as few as The Evil One, but this was not David Motton who was writing, nor Alan Stranks nor Frank Hampson himself, and it was 1989, but eighteen pages here contained considerably less story than had eighteen pages in 1962.
Dan is supervising the maiden flight of the Valiant II, though his role on the mission is hazy: Flamer Spry is doing the actual piloting, and Sir Hubert is along for the ride, supervising communications (what? No, Hank Hogan is Communications, and Pierre Lafayette pilot). And there’s an odd reference to plotting a course on ‘Annie’s systems, when there is no place in the story for the Anastasia.
It’s a flight packed with VIPs and visiting alien representatives, but it’s also a flight that’s taking highly-dangerous nuclear waste for disposal on the Moon, which is, well, implausible.
Disposing of nuclear waste that’s been buried on the Earth since the 1980s, when it was A Bad Idea, is a noble aim, because Nuclear Waste is A Bad Thing, and burying it on Earth was also A Bad Thing. This moralising is indeed as heavy-handed as I’ve made it sound, whilst being out of place in a Universe that had the advantage of Impulse Power superceding Nuclear Energy.
Nevertheless, the Waste is necessary to attract the Mekon, who decoys Dan and Digby away to a derelict spaceship that’s primed to blow up and kill them, whilst he jams the Valiant’s comms and steals the ship, with the intention of seeding Earth’s atmosphere with the afore-mentioned Waste, killing the population in a horrible, painful and Very Bad way.
By the time the villain’s plan is revealed, the story is already one-third over and with only four weeks left, Dan and Digby have to either come up with a clever plan to foil Ol’ Greenbean, or else a very simple one because the writer hasn’t much imagination and pages are already running short.
So basically, after an interlude for a spot of space golf (I am not making this up), Dan and Dig get into Moonbase, release the prisoners and everyone goes out guns blazing and drives the Mekon off again for next time. Cue further reminder that Nuclear Waste is, yes, I think we’ve got it by now, and it’s over.
It’s not even really Eric Eden, is it?
In terms of depicting our old friends after so much time, we are mainly concerned with Dan and Digby. Flamer and the Professor get barely a dozen words between them, and Sir Hubert’s role is not that much more detailed, so it is Dan and Digby, plus the Mekon, who have to carry the burden. In general, the characterisation focusses on Digby, and is decidedly mixed. The Lancashire dialect is laid on a bit too thickly and whilst everybody’s favourite Other Ranks pays the requisite homage to fish’n’chips, the research has been inadequate: it is genuinely jarring to hear him eager to get back to Rochdale.
On the other hand, Digby gets the best line of the whole piece, clouting a Treen guard in the face with an oxygen canister, and apologising for not taking the gas out of its wrapper!
If it weren’t for Watson’s art, this story would not be worth consideration, but this is Keith Watson one last time, and if we can shut our eyes to what’s actually happening, and our ears to what people are saying, we have eighteen more precious pages to treasure, when we thought there would never be one more. True, in a couple of sequences, Watson is hindered by his colourist taking the odd decision to basically mono-colour panels in a space-blue, but that aside, he is the Keith Watson of old, and we had no right to see that without access to the flight deck of the Tempus Frangit.
This story was reprinted in the same Dan Dare Dossier as Mission to the Stars and is a far worthier reason to search out the book. It is not, as far as I am aware, available anywhere else except in old copies of the half-dozen New Eagle‘s in which it first appeared.
That Keith Watson did not do more is explained away as being down to his schedule not allowing the time. But Watson did draw, or partially draw, one further story, a two-part adventure as perfunctory as its length suggests, the second part of which had to be finished by Andrew Skilleter. There was no doubt more to it, not that it matters now, not with what was too soon to ensue.

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