Diving Belle (1981)

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Published: 4 April 1981 – 6 June 1981 (10 episodes)

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Diving is big in the McBane family. Dad works as a deep-sea diver and his daughter Belle shows promise on the high-diving board. Dad is currently working on the oilrig at the “Fogbank”. The locals have misgivings about an oilrig on the Fogbank because of a superstition that the Fogbank is unlucky. Dad laughs at the superstition. He and his colleagues set off on a shift in their new bathyscaphe.

Later, Belle rescues a woman named Betty Black who is in danger of drowning. Betty says she will return the favour, but then she disappears.

There is an explosion out at the Fogbank rig, which causes Belle to have a bad accident at diving practice. The rig had blown up and is later abandoned. The bathyscaphe got lost, which means Dad is too, and the search is eventually called off. The doctor confines Belle to bed for a week, and of course she has lost her nerve for high diving.

However, Betty Black has other ideas. She says she has gypsy blood and can foresee the future. What she foresaw has her telling Belle that she must start diving again and be at her peak within days. Betty says she was a high-diving champion before she injured her back – so she couldn’t save herself when she was drowning – but she can still coach Belle to the upmost.

Belle is not 100% sure of Betty’s credibility or coaching credentials. She suspects Betty may be a thief too. Still, instinct keeps telling her to trust Betty. Betty is very insistent that Belle re-train as fast as possible, for time is limited. Betty’s tactics certainly are strong-armed in making Belle overcome her shattered nerves from diving, but it works. The coaching is not only intense but also takes liberties in finding avenues in which to train. They break into school for secret diving practice. When the caretaker discovers them it’s training on the cliffs with an improvised diving board. The board breaks, so next it’s Betty having Belle take the place of a stunt diver at the funfair. This really crosses the line to dangerous because Belle has to dive from a board that’s even higher than an international diving board, and she has to land in a shallow tub of water! Nonetheless she manages to pull it off. They then have to do a hasty retreat when the fairground people discover Belle is not their stunt diver. Next they gate-crash a garden party so Belle can use the diving board there. They are discovered and their efforts to get away cause chaos.

They arrive back at Belle’s home, where the police are waiting. They say Betty is wanted for burglary, shoplifting and common theft, and Belle has some serious explaining to do as well. Then Betty has the final vision of where Belle is meant to do the dive, and she must do it right now. They break away from the police and do a crazy dash to get there, with the police in hot pursuit. The place for the dive is none other than the abandoned oilrig – which means Belle has to do an extremely dangerous dive from the height of the oilrig!

Belle trusts her instincts, which say that she and Betty are doing the right thing. She dives, much to the horror of everyone who is watching below. They realise a dive from that height would make her go extremely deep in the ocean. Deep enough, it would seem, for Belle to find Dad’s bathyscaphe, which is all caught up in the legs of the oilrig. Belle’s dive and ensuing rescue save the men in the nick of time, for they were on their last hour of oxygen.

Afterwards it is surmised the blast sent the bathyscaphe all the way to the ocean bottom, out of reach of the initial search. It then floated upwards, but got caught in the oilrig’s legs and the search had been called off by then. If not for Belle’s dive and Betty’s visions the men would have died. So the police drop the charges against Betty. It turns out she had been quite truthful about being a diving champion before her injury. Belle resolves to win so many medals for Betty that she will become the most sought-after coach in Britain.

Thoughts

Now this could well be the most intense and offbeat “comeback” serial in girls’ comics. A girl loses her nerve after an accident, but she sets out to make a comeback, either because she loves her sport too much or something vital, such as saving a beloved horse, depends on it. In Belle’s case it is the latter, but the story is irregular in that Belle has no idea exactly what the comeback is supposed to be for. Not even Betty, who is having the visions in the first place, knows exactly what it is about. Her powers don’t give her the full picture, only flashes. The final vision only reveals where the all-important dive has to be. It doesn’t reveal why the dive has to be done. Some readers might guess it has something to do with saving Dad and his comrades, but it’s all kept mysterious until Belle finds the bathyscaphe. However, the reveal should come as no surprise to readers.

Adding to the mystery is that we, along with Belle, can’t be 100% certain that Betty can be trusted. Only intuition tells Belle to keep on trusting Betty, against the face of the more suspicious aspects about the woman. And in the end, intuition turns out to be 100% right. This story sure is a salutary lesson in trusting your gut.

What turns out to be a race against time against the dwindling oxygen supply in the bathyscaphe makes for very tight plotting. There can be no mucking around with padding to stretch out the story, or go gently with Belle’s shattered nerves after the accident. Of course retraining Belle for the dive still does not go smoothly, which is to be expected. Betty has to be very inventive in devising ways to train Belle up as avenue after avenue closes. Unfortunately this leads to conflict with the law, which is all the more reason for saving the men with the all-important dive.

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