Dan Dare: Keith Watson’s OTHER New Eagle Story


A long time back, as part of my series on Dan Dare stories, I reviewed the first ever real revival of the Pilot of the Future, a six-part, eighteen page story appearing in New Eagle in 1989, drawn by the legendary Keith Watson.
At that time, I was aware of, but chose to ignore, a second Watson story, a pathetically short effort consisting only of two episodes, the second completed by Andrew Skilleter. I don’t know the history of that but, judging by all I know of Watson and his loyalty to Frank Hampson and his work, I could easily see him walking away in disgust at such poor and cheap material.
Not that long after my piece on Watson’s six-parter appeared, I was advised by a commenter that I had it wrong, that Watson had drawn a second ‘full-length’ story in New Eagle. For various reasons – the overall lack of quality of the first story, the complete of my Eagle collection, the discovery of comics collections on DVD – I didn’t bother trying to find and read it until now, and so it can take its belated place in the list of tales I recognise as semi-canon.
The second story started on 3rd February 1990 with a cover by Watson and the excitable blurb about ‘A craft of Alien origin crashlands in England…’ Indeed it does, but the fact that it crashlands in Wigan, practically next door to Digny’s Aunt Anastasia’s house, disrupting her famous annual outdoor party (what famous annual outdoor parties?) doesn’t get things off on the right foot. Nor does Aunt Anastasia immediately vid-phoning Digby at Spacefleet HQ to tell him to come nad drag it away necessarily improve matters. Then Farmer Benson, on whose land it’s crashed, has in dragged into a barn in case it might be worth something for salvage, and starts fiddling with its controls. Which erupt with probably disastrous effects when someone hits it with a hammer…
I confess to having had this first part for a couple of years without feeling the urge to go further, as you may well understand, but now I’ve got the rest of the run off eBay, so how did things develop?
Near two pages of rapidly burgeoning disaster seques into Dan and Digby debating the likelihood of this craft being an alien probe out to make contact, like the Voyager probes launched in the Seventies. This is the Voyager mission of our world, not Dan Dare’s Universe, making the reference an anomaly (the prediction that Earth lost contact with Voyager in the late 1990s was, thankfully, inaccurate). But that’s just a prelude to an energy field forcing the pair down into a School playground where the kids are running from a horrible, dragon-like monster (oh dear…)
Noticeably, whilst Sir Hubert Guest wore the proper Spacefleet cap, Dan and Dig have to wear the unimpressive forager-style peaked caps that characterised the ongoing stories. Not even Watson can make them look palatable. Anyway, Dan and Digby get rid of the fire-breathing thing by decoying it into the local colliery museum and dropping it down a liftshaft. Then a machine appears, collecting soil and plant samples, until it reaches a garden Centre and blows up for no adequately defined reason. Are you detecting a streak of the banal a Saturnian mile wide yet?
Still, the machine is generating an ever-widening energy field that’s consuming everything in its path. Enter Professor Peabody to detect that the field is penetrating everything above ground but not a dicky bird underground. Clearly Earth’s earth is inimical in some way, so Dan whistles up a Thunderbirds style machine known as the Earthworm, which he and Digby will use to literally undermine the machine, causing it to drop into the local subsidence.
This just sets up the cliffhanger. Apparently radio waves in Dan Dare’s future can’t penetrate underground so the moment the Earthworm digs through the surface its incommunicado, and the maps of the old mine-workings don’t show shafts… So the Earthworm gets trapped under collapsed rock, earth and substandard twentieth century coal… unable to move!
But you know Dan Dare will save the day, thanks to an offhand remark from Dig that sets his brain working. By turning up the heat, Dan burns off the coal in time to get the Earthworm where it needs to be. Cue one massive cave-in, enabling the machine to be sealed in and cut-off from sunlight. Day saved, end with Aunt Anastasia complaining about cracks in her garden and a portentous comment from Dan Dare about maybe we don’t want to meet this alien civilisation after all.
Sigh.
This other adventure is very much the traditional curate’s egg. The adventure itself is flat and banal, less involved that some of the old eight-pagers from the Eagle Annuals of the Fifties, and in its determinedly mundane settings I get the impression that the writer can’t really take it seriously. It comes over to me as being penned by someone who can only see Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, as old hat, fit only to be sent up: I mean, come on, Dan Dare? In 1990?
But if the story is, frankly, a load of bollocks, it is nevertheless another eighteen pages of Keith Watson, devoting himself to maintaining the quality of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future. And despite the enforced faux-pas of the forager caps, for which he cannot be blamed, Watson is again on wonderful form, this time supported by a colourist who makes full use of his palate, Even in those panels that are mostly monocoloured, the tones chosen are attractive and sympathetic, and do not overwhelm Watson’s linework.
Good art, shame about the story: how many times have we said that? Sometimes it seems the price of an affinity for this scruffy and disreputable medium. I’m glad to have these pages to look at and drink in. Let this exceedingly minor effort tuck itself into some unimportant and half-concealed corner of the continuity. Keith Watson rides again in our memories.

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