A Girl Called Midnight [1980]

Sample Images

Midnight 1Midnight 2Midnight 3

Published: Tammy 16 February 1980 – 29 March 1980

Episodes: 7

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #30 (final issue)

Plot

Melissa and Martin Bright and their parents decide to become a foster family. The foster girl they are to adopt is named Midnight Meredith. The name “Midnight” has the kids pondering as to whether it might be a portent for something creepy. It turns out they are not far wrong.

No, Midnight is not a witch, and she has no supernatural powers. But there is something weird about her that she herself cannot understand. These are Midnight’s “moods” i.e. inexplicable trance-like states where she wanders off, not knowing what she is doing. She appears to be looking for something, but she does not know what, but she always babbles about the search in terms of “we” – not “I” – who are doing the search. Triggers for these moods include the moon ring (a gift from her mother) that she always wears, looking at her own reflection, hearing the sound of her own voice on playback, or sleepwalking. These moods are not only problematic but also dangerous at times. Melissa worries that Midnight might wander into heavy traffic or a railway line because she does not know what she is doing when she is in a “mood”. During one mood, things get even more dangerous. Midnight tries to force the family car down a road towards a place called Steepling Parva, yelling to Mr Bright that he’s going the wrong way. This sends the car crashing into a hedge! Fortunately everyone emerges with little more than cuts and bruises.

These moods are the reason why Midnight never lasts long in any foster home. Midnight had expected the Brights to be no different, and she does want to stay with them. Not surprisingly, her behaviour is a bit difficult at times, even when she is not in a “mood”, and she finds it hard to settle and ease up.

Fortunately for Midnight, the Brights are a more understanding foster family. A doctor has told them there could be a medical reason, most likely due to something traumatic in Midnight’s past, which also helps. When Midnight tries to run away in shame after the car accident, the family persuade her to stay. They want to help Midnight get to the bottom of the mystery of these moods. As Melissa observes these moods, she notices a pattern: Midnight always goes off in the same direction, going a little further each time. After the car accident, that direction seems to point to Steepling Parva. When Midnight has another mood, the family follow Melissa’s hunch and go to Steepling Parva. There they find Midnight in a field called Marsh Meadow near Steepling Parva. This mood is a real performance – Midnight is yelling and screaming “It isn’t here!”, and her clothes are in rags because she tried to look for whatever she was looking for in thorny bushes.

Next day, Melissa and Midnight return to Steepling Parva to do some investigating. They learn that many years ago, a tragedy occurred in that meadow called “The Marsh Meadow Flood”. A river burst and flooded the meadow, and it washed a lot of campers’ caravans away. Their next call is the cemetery where the flood victims are buried, and this brings on another mood. Midnight starts babbling about her mother, and how she gave her the ring before the flood separated them. Midnight’s mood takes her the grave where her mother, Margaret Meredith, is buried. There is another girl there, and each briefly mistakes the other for a ghost. When Midnight and Melissa investigate the girl, whose name is Dawn, Midnight feels that this is who she has been looking for. Dawn’s parents are there and say they have just about had enough of her “moods”…

Just then, Marsh Meadow begins to flood again. The vicar calls upon the girls and others to help get the sheep to higher ground. Once that is done, the vicar recognises Midnight and Dawn as the Meredith twins and explains that the first flood separated them as babies. Midnight was found crying in her drowned mother’s arms and put in an orphanage, while the flood waters carried Dawn away in her cot. The police found her, assumed she was abandoned, and she was adopted. Dawn also wears a ring that is a gift from the mother, who was an artist. This ring has a rising sun, just as Midnight’s ring has a moon, so the rings represent each girl’s name.

Upon questioning Dawn’s parents, Melissa discovers that Dawn has been having “moods” too; wandering off and getting closer and closer to Steepling Parva ever since her family moved to the area. Melissa realises that these moods have been the twins’ way of trying to find each other. And now they have, Melissa is confident their moods are now a thing of the past. The twins stay on with their respective families, but they can meet whenever they want.

Thoughts

This story was another of my favourites from Tammy. It appeared in the early months of the Tammy & Misty merger, so I have wondered if this story was originally written for Misty, although Juliana Buch was not a Misty artist. The very name “Midnight” tells us it’s going to be a spine-chilling story and it enhances the mystery and weirdness of the story. Until Midnight appears in the story, we, along with the Bright children, wonder if she is going to be a witch or something. It would have been less effective if the story had been told from Dawn’s perspective and watching her “moods” unfold, because her name does not imply creepiness as “Midnight” does.

The reveal at the end – long-lost twins trying to find each other through a twins’ telepathic link – is no a great surprise. Twin telepathy has appeared before in girls’ comics. Until then, though, it must rank as one of the most potentially dangerous twin telepathy links ever used in girls’ comics. More than once it came close to causing serious injury, either for Midnight or for someone else. If nothing else, it could have put Midnight into some sort of psychiatric care or made her a target of bullying, as not everyone would be as understanding or helpful as the Brights. Midnight has lost a string of foster homes because of her moods (not surprising, because they do make her look a real weirdo) and the fact that it is due to something she does not even understand would make it even worse. Midnight was very fortunate to have more understanding people in the Brights, and this really helped her to solve the mystery of her “moods”.

Sister in the Shadows [1980]

Sample Images

Sister in the Shadows 1Sister in the Shadows 2Sister in the Shadows 3

Published: Tammy 5 January 1980 to 22 March 1980

Episodes: 12

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Stella Weekes is a girl born with the golden touch. She comes out top at everything she does, she is always a winner, and she has never lost at anything. At her old school Gatecombe Comprehensive, Stella was the star pupil and even the headmistress virtually hero-worships her; there are displays of Stella’s school achievements everywhere. Now Stella is the star of a TV sports series, Goldengirl. Stella’s parents just never stop bragging about her and they “kill the fattened calf” for her whenever she shows up.

This causes huge problems for Stella’s younger sister Wendy when she starts at Gatecombe. Wendy has grown up in the shadow of Stella’s success, and at Gatecombe she becomes overshadowed even more. Everyone, including the school staff and Wendy’s parents, expect Wendy to be another Stella and keep comparing her with Stella. On Wendy’s first day alone, she is constantly embarrassed and humiliated because the school staff make a huge fuss over her, push her to the front at everything, and give her all the plum roles and expect her to be just as brilliant at doing them as Stella. The headmistress even compares Wendy’s appearance with Stella’s – and it’s not a favourable comparison either. They only see Wendy as “Stella’s sister” instead an individual, and they expect her to be just like Stella. At home, Wendy’s parents, who are just too full of pride about Stella, are just as bad at expecting Wendy to be just like Stella. At least they do it in a somewhat more light-hearted manner. But they are too consumed with pride over Stella to even take in interest in what Wendy tries to do or lend her any support. For the parents, Wendy always takes second place to Stella. Nobody will respect Wendy for herself.

But Wendy does not have a golden touch like Stella. She suffers from poor self-esteem because she is being constantly expected to follow in Stella’s footsteps when she considers herself the opposite of Stella. Worse, it does not take long for the other girls to pick up on how Wendy pales in comparison to her sister. They understandably resent how the big fuss over Wendy is not giving them a chance, while not understanding that Wendy does not like it any more than they do.

As a result, Wendy becomes a target of bullying, with the girls constantly teasing her because she isn’t living up to Stella’s reputation while all adults around her keep expecting her to do so. Wendy’s worst enemies are Angela and Honey, who also like to play dirty tricks on Wendy whenever she tries to prove herself, so as to make her the laughingstock again. Furthermore, they have the whole class send Wendy to Coventry and they call her “weak sister Wendy”. Even their families get in on the act; Angela’s brother Adam helps them play a trick on Wendy to get her into trouble with the headmistress. There seems to be no limit to their bullying; at one point they cause Wendy to take a fall during a bar exercise and land on top of the gym teacher, and then they have the nerve to blame Wendy when the teacher has an attack. Fortunately for Wendy, the doctor sorts them out. At least there is one person who is sticking up for Wendy, but nobody else is there to talk to the parents or help sort out the bullies.

Following a misunderstanding, Angela and Honey think Wendy tricked them out of their chance to meet their heartthrob Gregg Vanderley, who is Stella’s co-star. After this, their spite grows even worse. They try to frame Wendy for stealing exam papers. When this fails, they trick Wendy into an old tower and intend her to have a nasty accident. Wendy breaks her wrist because of this. The doctor has her stay off school until further notice.

But even while laid up in bed with a broken wrist, poor Wendy gets no respite from being constantly compared to her sister. Instead of offering sympathy, Wendy’s mother scolds her for missing out on the end-of-term school exams because of her injury while Stella always came out top in them. All the same, it is just as well the bullies’ trick had Wendy miss the exams, because the constant comparison with Stella and the bullying had inevitably impeded her progress during the term. From the sound of things, the parents have been getting reports that Wendy is not doing well at school.

While in bed, Wendy ponders over another thing she has noticed: Stella has not contacted her family of late, not even when she was in the neighbourhood recently with Vanderley. Also, the TV network is running repeats of Goldengirl instead of the new season, which Wendy finds suspicious. So Wendy takes advantage of her remaining time off school to go to London and do some investigating.

Wendy’s suspicions are confirmed when she discovers Stella has lost the Goldengirl job and been evicted from her exclusive flat because she could no longer afford the rent. At the TV studio Wendy learns Stella lost the job because she became a victim of her own success: viewers got bored of her and lost sympathy with her because she kept winning all the time. It looks like Stella’s replacement is having similar confidence problems to Wendy, which explains why the new season has not screened.

Stella disappeared instead of going home, because she was too afraid and ashamed of what the parents will say because they’re so full of themselves about her. Also, Stella has not experienced disaster before, so Wendy realises she must be taking it extremely badly. Furthermore, Stella is completely broke; Wendy later learns Stella frittered away her salary on the high life instead of investing it, except for a trust fund.

At Vanderley’s suggestion, Wendy investigates a derelict house that other out-of-work actors are using to squat in. When Wendy sees the house, she cannot believe her sister would even set foot in such a smelly, run-down, graffiti-smeared place that is falling to pieces. But Wendy soon finds that this is indeed where Stella is shacking up now. Moreover, Stella, who once earned a top salary as Goldengirl, is now working at a grotty café for an obviously very low pay. Wendy finds Stella working there, and she looks absolutely miserable.

Despite the depths she has sunk to, Stella cannot bear the thought of going home and facing her parents, or what people are going to say behind her back. But it is here that Wendy finds a whole new confidence when she persuades Stella to do so. She gets very bold and assertive in not taking “no” for an answer and insisting on taking Stella home. And screw what people are going to say; Wendy loudly describes what she has been through at school to illustrate that if she can put up with that sort of treatment, Stella can too. Stella listens, and begs Wendy to go on helping her. Wendy does more in that regard when their prideful parents start whining about what the neighbours will say when they hear what happened. Wendy retorts, “Bother the neighbours!” She describes the situation she found Stella in and says, “Would you rather I’d left Stella where she was, Mum?” The parents are humbled at this and offer comfort to Stella. Once Stella recovers, she becomes determined to work her way out of her bad patch.

Then Stella expresses concern about the bullying Wendy is experiencing at school and how it is bound to get worse once the bullies hear about her losing the Goldengirl job. Wendy, emboldened by her new assertiveness, says she has the confidence to deal with them now.

Sure enough, Angela and Honey get a real surprise when Wendy returns to school. When they try to bully Wendy over Stella’s dismissal, she comes right back at their teasing. She also threatens to go to self-defence classes if there is any more of their bullying (a bluff). To reinforce her point, Wendy pulls an arm lock on Angela that Stella had taught her, who in turn had learned it from Angela’s idol Vanderley. Wendy tells the girls she is going to try out for the school choir (she hopes that will help her become respected in her own right) and she jolly well hopes she will have more fun next term than she has had so far. Angela and Honey are humiliated, especially when the other girls begin to laugh at Angela’s humbling.

Thoughts

This is a Tammy story I have come to appreciate more upon revisiting it. It’s not that I disliked the story initially; it’s just that I was more taken with other stories in Tammy at the time.

Girls’ comics have frequently run stories where a girl suffers because she is compared unfairly and unfavourably with a more successful sibling, or, in some cases, a parent. This one is a bit different than most. The more common formula is for the protagonist to constantly strive to prove herself and win some respect, which she eventually does with some talent she discovers or an act of heroism (e.g. “Make the Headlines, Hannah!”, also from Tammy). Of course things don’t go smoothly and she frequently comes up against an enemy who is always trying to sabotage her.

This serial has that theme, but runs it to a slightly lesser extent than most. And the ending breaks the formula completely. The heroine does not prove herself at long last with some talent/heroic act, winning respect and everything ends happily. Instead, Wendy gains confidence by learning to stand up for herself. This starts with standing up to the sister who has always overshadowed her, and using everything she has short of physical force to stop hiding in that miserable run-down hovel, come home, get back on her feet again, face up to those parents of theirs, and deal with what people are going to say about her. Wendy’s new assertion continues with the parents when they start to whine about what others will say, and it gives her a whole new confidence in standing up to the bullies. And instead of school changing overnight for the protagonist, which is the more common ending, the story ends on the hope that school will improve for Wendy, but whether it does so remains to be seen. This is a more realistic ending that avoids the clichéd “new improved school ending”, which makes a very nice change.

It is easy to understand why Tammy went with this ending when we examine Wendy’s home life. Having Wendy prove herself somehow just would not have been enough because the parents were just too consumed with pride over Stella to even notice what Wendy does. They need to have that pride of theirs deflated before they start taking Wendy more seriously. And they get it when they find out about Stella’s job loss and Wendy tells them off thinking about what people will say instead of thinking about Stella. We sense that they will become better parents to Wendy after this.

Stella, too, needed a lesson, and she gets it from the story’s resolution. There is no evidence in the story that Stella’s success turned her into an insufferable big head, which has happened in other stories e.g. “Last Chance for Laura” from Bunty. It is possible that Stella had become a big head, but there is no evidence of it. But even if Stella was not big headed, it sounds like she was in serious need of a fall if she was squandering her salary on high living instead of using it wisely. Further, she had never developed the emotional and psychological tools to deal with failure because she had not encountered failure until she loses the Goldengirl job. Wendy’s whole new assertiveness not only saves her from the miserable squatting but also helps her find the courage and inner strengths to rise above her bad patch. In so doing, we sense Stella will emerge an even bigger success than ever because she gained strength, new coping skills and lessons from that bad time.

Stella had also neglected Wendy because she was always too busy. So Wendy rescuing Stella and helping her to get through her trouble would definitely get Stella finally paying more attention to Wendy. Stella in turn becomes the one to help Wendy stand up to the bullies, by teaching her self-defence techniques, and being a more thoughtful sister towards her.

My Strange Sister [1981]

Sample Images

Strange Sister 1Strange Sister 2Strange Sister 3

Published: Dreamer #1 (19 September 1981) – 10 (21 November 1981)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Monthly #25, June 1988

Dreamer is a little-known photo story comic. Like many other new IPC titles of the 1980s it did not last long, and it became the first title to merge into Girl 2. It looks like Dreamer liked to have cute little animals decorating her bottom margins too. “My Strange Sister” was one of the stories in Dreamer’s very first lineup. Another of her first stories, “Who Stole Samantha?”, was written by Alison Christie.

Plot

Joanne Baxter tells her own story. She had once been an aspiring gymnast. But she has been confined to a wheelchair ever since a car knocked her down when she came out from her last gymnastics display. Joanne’s older sister Eve has been a tremendous help to her since the accident. Joanne is making attempts to walk again, but her legs won’t obey her.

Joanne can’t avoid reminders of her old life, such as a window display of sports gear or music from her last gymnastics display playing. She finds them painful reminders of course, but they are having even more bizarre effects on Eve. Eve seems to go off into a sort of trance, disappears and leaves the wheelchair-bound Joanne deserted, and then reappears with no apparent memory of what she did. Incidents like this are becoming ever more frequent. Joanne is baffled and concerned at Eve’s strange behaviour and can’t understand the reason for it at all. Eve’s behaviour is also putting a real strain on their relationship; they begin to quarrel and Joanne feels they are becoming like strangers.

Eve’s strange behaviour grows even more bizarre when her best friend Candy tries to take her out to the disco. Eve becomes inexplicably terrified and hides herself from Candy. Eve takes Joanne out to the disco instead, but another odd incident occurs along the way. They see a cat walking along a wall, which makes Eve inexplicably upset and she shoos it away. She says she does not want to be reminded, she wants to forget how it was…

At the disco, Eve’s strange behaviour acts up again when the music from Joanne’s last gymnastics display is played. This time she phones up Candy and arranges to see her outside. Joanne is watching them, but can’t hear the conversation. When Eve sees Joanne is watching them, she carts her off home in a bad temper, and accuses Joanne of spying on her.

On the way home, a police siren makes Eve’s strange behaviour act up again, and this time it is a real performance: Eve screams “Aagh, no!”, and then she runs off. When Joanne finds Eve, she is trying to hide. When Joanne asks her who she is hiding from, Eve snaps at her. She says Joanne knows that and she wouldn’t be surprised if Joanne had sent them after her. Eve’s outbursts prompt Joanne to attempt to walk, but she fails. Eve gets her back into her wheelchair and home, and again acts like she does not remember what happened.

The fact that it was a police siren has Joanne thinking that Eve is acting this way because she has done something wrong and is feeling guilty. Realising it must have something to do with Candy, Joanne phones Candy for an explanation. But Candy acts just as strangely. She says to stop pestering. More tellingly, she says: “Just because she feels guilty, that’s no reason why I should…even if I was with her that night.” When Joanne asks what Candy is talking about, Candy tells her that she jolly well knows and “Eve’s just being stupid about it”. She then hangs up, saying she isn’t saying anymore and wants to be left alone.

Eve realises Joanne was phoning Candy and accuses her of spying again. When Joanne says phoning Candy is not a crime, Eve’s odd behaviour acts up again at the word “crime”. She starts rambling about where she can go, where she can hide, and she must get away… Joanne realises that Eve seems to be hearing some weird voice in her head when she has these strange bouts of behaviour.

Next morning, Eve runs away. Joanne finds a note saying: “I don’t want your hatred as I couldn’t face that and I just can’t forget that night. It haunts me more and more so I’ve got to leave home for a while. Tell Mum not to worry.”

Joanne has not been telling her mother what is going on because she did not want her to worry, and she does not tell Mum about Eve’s disappearance either. But when Candy comes around to apologise for that phone call, Joanne shows her the note. Candy says she was afraid something like this might happen. Candy takes Joanne out to look for Eve while she explains what is wrong: Eve is blaming herself for Joanne’s accident. On the night of the gymnastics display, she and Candy slipped out to the car park. They found an unlocked car and played around inside for a bit with the steering wheel. This happened to be the car that knocked Joanne down as she came out from the gymnastics display. Eve thinks their fooling around in the car did something to it that caused the brakes to fail.

Joanne says that’s ridiculous. Candy agrees, so she does not blame herself in the way Eve does, but Eve evidently can’t stop blaming herself. The reason she was so helpful after the accident was to help her forget what happened. But now her guilt is resurfacing and intensifying, particularly at any reminder of the accident, such as the music, the cat on the wall (like Joanne on the beam), and emergency sirens.

After a long search they decide to check out the scene of the accident. Sure enough, there is Eve in one of her trance-like states. A car is approaching, but Eve is not moving or listening to Joanne’s warnings about the car. Joanne realises Eve thinks the only way to pay her debt is to get herself run over too. Desperation to save Eve prompts Joanne’s legs to move and she manages to push Eve to safety. Joanne can use her legs again, and tells Eve the accident had nothing to do with her; the car just skidded on a patch of oil. Joanne is very grateful to Eve for curing her, and Eve is relieved to be free of her guilt.

Thoughts

There have been many stories in girls’ comics where the protagonist is the architect of her own misfortunes because she keeps blaming herself for an accident. Usually it’s for some ridiculous reason or something that was not entirely her fault e.g. “The Black-and-White World of Shirley Grey” (Tammy), “Tearaway Trisha” (Jinty), and to some extent, “Tricia’s Tragedy” (Jinty).

But in this case the guilt complex formula is turned right on its head because it’s being told from another person’s point of view. This gives it a whole new take that’s completely different. In this case it’s the sister, Joanne, who’s also the accident girl. In so doing, the guilt complex story is turned into a mystery story because Joanne does not know Eve is blaming herself for the accident. She can’t understand what the reason is for Eve’s strange conduct and clearly unravelling mentality. Eve’s strange conduct and the mystery of it all are also putting severe strain on the sisters’ relationship and causing a rift between them, which compounds the situation. Having Joanne telling the story herself gives the reader further insight into Joanne’s emotional and mental reactions to the situation as well as seeing things from her point of view. This heightens the drama and tension of the story.

Adding to Joanne’s distress over her oddly behaving sister is that she is pretty much on her own, and she’s further impaired by being confined to a wheelchair. Joanne just won’t tell her mother what is going on, not even when Eve runs off. If the mother had known, she would certainly have screamed at Joanne for not telling her sooner.

It is fortunate that Candy knew the reason, but it would have made things simpler if she had spoken up, especially if she was worried that Eve might do something really stupid like running away. Her rudeness to Joanne on the phone could have come from growing exasperation at Eve blaming herself for such a ridiculous reason. We can just hear her saying, “Oh, come on, Eve, what could you have possibly done to the car to make the brakes fail? For God’s sake, will you please stop going on about it? It’s ridiculous!” All the same, why she says what she says to Joanne is a bit hard to fathom. But of course the mystery has to be kept up for as long as possible.

It is odd and rather unbelievable that Eve did not know the car just skidded on some oil while Joanne knew it. It would have been more convincing for it simply to have been bad luck or something. The way in which Joanne suddenly regains the use of her legs is a bit clichéd, but the story wisely gave hints that Joanne might regain the use of her legs if some blockage could be overcome. Desperation to save a loved one would be a most effective way of shifting it, and we are not really surprised to see Joanne lose the need for her wheelchair in the end. It would also help Eve to shed her guilt, something she may not have done even if Joanna had simply told her to stop blaming herself.

 

Focke-Wulf Hi-jack [2012]

FW Hijack cover

Published: Commando #4543

Art: (story) Rezzonico; (cover) Janek Matysiak

Writer: Alan Hebden

Everyone seemed to like our last dip into Commando, so now we are having another. This Commando comes from when Commando was running credits.

Plot

Ever since 1941 the much-improved MkV Spitfire has given the RAF superiority over the skies and their confidence is running high. But then the Germans unleash their new addition to the Luftwaffe fleet: the Focke-Wulf 190 (Fw 190 for short). It is soon obvious that even the much-improved Spitfires are no match for the Fw 190, and it makes short work of them. By 1942 the Fw 190 is giving the Germans the superiority in the skies. Now it is the turn of squadron commander Major Armin von Richter to feel confident and triumphant from all the shot-down Spitfires he is chalking up with his Fw 190.

FW Hijack 1

The British have to find a way to counter the Fw 190 threat fast. But to do that they need to capture one so they can learn all about its design, strengths, and above all, its weaknesses. They barely know anything about it from the Fw 190 debris at crash sites. So they hatch a plan for a commando mission to raid an airfield in German-occupied France, hijack an Fw 190 and bring it to Britain. Even they realise it is a crazy idea, full of difficulties and has no guarantee of success, but they approve it anyway.

The pilot to fly the Fw 190 to Britain is one Tam McDermott. But first, Tam is sent to a commando camp for CO training. Tam is in for a shock when he discovers who is in charge of his CO training: Laurie Crawford. Laurie and Tam knew each other at school but never liked each other: Laurie looked down on Tam as a “swot” because he liked to read books, and pushed Tam into the school sports teams instead. Laurie was school captain, and a slave-driving fitness fanatic who showed no mercy with his team, no matter what the weather. He tolerated nothing that he regarded as shirking, especially in “Swot”. He kept driving Swot on and on until Swot was ready to collapse, and even then still keep pushing him.

Laurie still has the same old contempt for “Swot”, and he makes Tam’s commando training just as gruelling and relentless. Tam is pushed until he is ready to drop and then some. But then Tam notices the training is beginning to pay off for him and he is starting to earn respect from Laurie for the first time.

FW Hijack 2

Then Laurie makes a sarcastic comment that he thinks the pilot will have the easiest job in the mission in flying the plane to Britain. Tam is so angry that he has Laurie drive them to an airfield full of captured aircraft – at gunpoint. Actually, Laurie is really impressed with this because he now realises CO training has turned the diminutive swot he used to deride into a whole new tough and confident man. Tam realises that Laurie is right about that.

At the airfield, Tam shows Laurie just what will go into flying the Fw 190 to Britain. First, he will be flying a plane he barely knows anything about, and nobody on the Allied side has ever flown an Fw 190 before. Moreover, it is not just a matter of jumping into the cockpit and taking off. There are all the checks, fuelling, arming and so many other things that go into preparing a plane for takeoff, which they will have to allow the Germans to do for them. Plus there’s donning a flying suit, waiting for the engine to warm up, have a path cleared to taxi for takeoff, commandos to cover fire in case the Germans try to stop them…and so many other things he cuts down to bare essentials for the benefit of non-pilot Laurie. Once Laurie has a better understanding of the pilot’s point of view, he apologises to Tam. He now realises that Tam will be the one man they simply cannot afford to lose on the mission. Both men agree to forget the past and work together as friends. Laurie still calls Tam “Swot”, but now it’s a friendly nickname.

FW Hijack 3

The mission is set for late May and an airfield in Normandy is selected for the raid. It is going to be a double mission: a raid on a major radar installation as well as the airfield, and the former will also serve as a diversion for the latter. Tam also packs some indelible ink to mark the enemy plane as “friendly” and hopefully avoid another problem: being mistakenly shot down by his own side. A.A. Batteries on the coast have been ordered not to shoot at Fw 190s until further notice because of the mission, but there is the matter of fighter command.

Unfortunately, landing in occupied territory does not go smoothly because of those huge hedges the French call blocage. One of the two Allied gliders crashes into the hedge and there are several casualties. Laurie says this is why they bring twice as many men as they need (spares!). Resistance takes care of the casualties until they can be picked up. The remaining Commandos, including Laurie and Tam, set off for the airfield. The journey makes Tam realise the benefits of his CO training and why it had to be so gruelling. Tam’s training pays off further dividends when they run into a German patrol and there is a fight, though the skirmish shows Tam the full reality of combat and kill or be killed.

Further along, they see evidence that the radar mission is starting. Laurie is pleased to see it is indeed drawing the German forces from the airfield, so its security will be much reduced now. Silencers (a new invention at the time) enable them to shoot guards without raising the alarm, and help delay raising it being raised (it is a case of the later the better). They make their way to a hangar, where Tam selects Von Richter’s Fw 190 as the one to take: the Germans have it ready, and it will be the newest and best one in the squadron. They make their way in, and force the Germans to start the Fw 190 while Tam changes into a flying suit. Tam is relieved to see the controls and instruments are pretty much how the British experts have figured. The COs splash the ink on the wingtips.

But there is a delay because the engine has to warm up, which loses time for the COs. Now they have to deal with a lorry and car full of newly arrived pilots. The car gets away, so Laurie knows reinforcements will now be on the way. Von Richter happened to be in that car and, using his binoculars, realises what they are trying to do.

Laurie directs the COs to start blowing up the other planes. The plane is finally ready for Tam to take off. While he does so, he sees Laurie take a bullet in the arm. Moreover, an Fw 190 in another hangar is ready for immediate takeoff, so Von Richter is soon in hot pursuit of Tam, along with every other German fighter available. Tam manages to confuse the German fighters by waggling his wings to give the impression he is friendly. The fighters, having not been given the registration number of the stolen Fw 190, are fooled long enough for Tam to open fire on them. Tam encounters Spitfires too, and some also open fire until they recognise the friendly markings. Von Richter is still on Tam’s tail, and the gap is closing fast because Von Richter has far more experience than Tam in flying an Fw 190. Von Richter is getting close enough to open fire. To throw him off, Tam pulls a difficult manoeuvre called an Immelmann turn, which takes Von Richter completely by surprise. As Tam planned, this trick makes Von Richter to use up so much fuel that he has to turn back.

FW Hijack 4

It looks like Tam is home and dry now, with an Fw 190 for Britain. Unfortunately, although higher command told the coastal AA Batteries not to open fire on Fw 190s until the mission is concluded, they forgot to do so with the training units. So now a training unit opens fire on the Fw 190. Tam manages to eject, but the Fw 190 they worked so hard to steal for Britain is lost. Von Richter sees this, and he leaves with a parting remark to Tam that he won’t get another chance to steal an Fw 190 and their airfields will be made impregnable in future. Moreover, Tam later learns the COs were not able to retrieve Laurie and he is now MIA.

A few weeks later, Von Richter and his new Fw 190 are in another dogfight. This time he is having a hard time of it. So he pulls the trick he learned from Tam: the Immelmann turn. This turns the tables for Von Richter, but it also causes him to lose his bearings. Instead of flying south to German-occupied France, he unwittingly flies north and lands in Wales. By the time he realises his mistake, he and his Fw 190 have been captured. So the British get an Fw 190 after all. Tam is dispatched to collect the Fw 190 and bring it to the airfield for captured German planes. While doing so, he takes the opportunity to actually come face to face with Von Richter.

Laurie also returns. He had managed to elude capture despite his wound. The Resistance picked him up and made arrangements for him to be smuggled back to Britain. Laurie is delighted to hear that Tam has been assigned to the first squadron of the new Mark Nines. The Mark Nines have just been developed to match the Fw 190 after the British acquired Von Richter’s for comparison.

Thoughts

The details in this story sounded so authentic and well researched that I wondered if the story itself is based on true events. So I googled, and found this was indeed the case. The characters in the story are fictional of course, but the Fw 190 was such a threat for the RAF that they actually conceived a dangerous plan to capture one by hijacking one from German-occupied France. The operation was codenamed Operation Airthief, and it was inspired by an earlier Commando operation to steal a German radar installation (which succeeded). But on the very day Operation Airthief was to be submitted for approval, it suddenly became unnecessary and was never attempted. The reason? An Fw 190 pilot really did lose his bearings after a dogfight and landed in Wales by mistake. After the Fw 190 had been analysed and dissected, the British began to overcome the threat it posed. More information can be found here.

FW Hijack 5

Naturally, the question “What if Operation Airthief had gone ahead?” has caught popular imagination and spawned works of fiction such as Operation Airthief by Jerry Shively. Such is the case with this Commando, though it never actually uses the name “Operation Airthief”. Having it being a nearly successful operation, only to be whipped away at the last minute, is far more effective and compelling than having the operation beat the odds and being a complete success. But even though the operation itself fails, in an ironic way it does help to capture an Fw 190 in the end, so it was not a total loss.

Exciting and dangerous though the mission might be, the true power of the story comes from the incredible development of Tam McDermott, Laurie Crawford, and the relationship between them. Laurie is initially set up as the character you love to hate: a cruel slave driver and a bully as school captain, and not much nicer as captain of a CO training camp. (To be fair, CO training really was so dangerous that some people actually died on training.) But as Tam discovers, if you can earn Laurie’s respect, he’s pretty much all right. Once this is established, Laurie becomes a sympathetic character and he’s a hero, not an anti-hero.

The way in which Tam earns Laurie’s respect is absolutely priceless – pulling a gun on him to get him to listen! Tam taking Laurie on a tour of the captured enemy aircraft is an extremely clever way to incorporate essential information about what will be required for piloting the hijacked plane in a manner that informs not only Laurie but the reader as well. And it’s done in a manner that is showing, not telling with dry dialogue and text boxes. It also engages and delights the reader because it is teaching that hard case Laurie a lesson into the bargain. When the actual hijack comes, the reader is already well informed about what will be required in regard to preparing the plane for the hijack and what could go wrong, so the hijack scenes are even more intense.

FW Hijack 6

As for Tam, he would never have expected that old bullying, slave-driving school captain to be the one to teach him confidence. But once Laurie tells him that CO training has given him a whole new confidence, Tam realises Laurie is right, and for the first time in his life he feels he can move mountains. But it’s not just the CO training that’s done it – it’s also being stung by Laurie’s remark and still feeling the old resentments towards Laurie from their school days. Putting his CO training into practice gives Tam further confidence and toughens him further as he realises the benefits of the training, and then learning to confront the brutal realities of combat – something he never quite encountered as an RAF pilot although he must have shot down his share of enemy planes.

Even before the hijack, Von Richter is established as the nemesis of Tam McDermott, though the men do not know each other personally, and they do not even meet until the end of the story. For example, at the beginning of the story Von Richter leads the Fw 190 squadron against a Spitfire squadron that Tam is part of. Unlike Laurie, Von Richter is never developed as a character. He is not a cruel Nazi, but he is not portrayed as a sympathetic character either. He is a smug, arrogant enemy pilot whom we hope will get his comeuppance, which he does by becoming the disoriented Fw 190 pilot who mistakenly lands in Wales and unwittingly providing the much-needed Fw 190. Plus, it’s a really nasty twist for Von Richter that the man who comes to collect his new Fw 190 is none other than the man who stole his previous one! It’s no wonder he’s a bit upset (above) when he hears, but there is no doubt his threats of vengeance are in vain.

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

No Haven for Hayley [1981]

Sample Images

Hayley 1Hayley 2Hayley 3

Published: Tammy 21 March – 23 May 1981

Episodes: 10

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Mrs Moore’s home is known as “the Haven” because she works so much for charity. Unfortunately Mrs Moore is exhibiting symptoms of a workaholic. She is so busy and over-zealous with charity projects, and cramming her life with so many charity works that she is neglecting her own daughter, Hayley, and letting her down all the time. She takes Hayley for granted and makes her a dumping ground for tasks she has agreed to take on but has no time for because her schedule is too crowded. Worst of all, Mum never stops to listen to Hayley or help Hayley with any problems. Even if Mum does listen a bit, she just doesn’t seem to understand what Hayley is talking about and Hayley just can’t get through to her. Ironically, one of Mum’s campaigns is for “latch-key” children.

The situation gets worse when Mum decides to foster problem children – on top of all her other work. Typically for Mum, she applies for fostering without consulting or even telling Hayley beforehand; she takes it for granted that Hayley will help out.

Also typically for Mum, she lumbers Hayley with the job of minding the foster children because she won’t make the time for it with all her other charity work. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the fostering itself is a nightmare for Hayley. First she is saddled with a pair of horrors who take over her room, mess up her things and constantly play tricks on her, but Mum won’t let Hayley even raise her voice to them.

But if Hayley thought those two horrors made her life hell, they are nothing on the real problem child to follow, Fenella Briars. Fenella comes from the long line of scheming foster children who take advantage of anyone who fosters them and push out the protagonist with sneaky tricks. This is what she proceeds to do with Hayley and succeeds in turning Mum and everyone at school with her tricks while taking advantage of them all and playing on their sympathy and gullibility.

Then, when Fenella tries to con hospital patients out of money during another of Mum’s charity works, a Nurse Harris catches her out. Fenella tries to put the blame on Hayley, but senses Nurse Harris has seen through her. Indeed Nurse Harris has, and tells Hayley to put Mum in touch with her so she can put her straight about Fenella. But Fenella makes a hasty exit from the Haven before they can do so, on pretext that Hayley is making her feel unwelcome there. And communications being what they are between Hayley and her mother, Mum is not put straight about Fenella and thinks Hayley’s ‘spite’ is the reason for her fostering failure. As a result, Mum loses faith in Hayley, thinks Hayley is turning selfish, and their relationship and communication problems grow even worse.

This misunderstanding has devastating consequences when Hayley organises a door-to-door collection for her school. Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. But worse, Mum never told Hayley that she had been running three door-to-door collections along the streets that Hayley is using for her collection because of her lack of faith in Hayley because of Fenella. The result? People are angry about yet another door-to-door collection so soon after the others, so the collection turns into a disaster. Hayley’s fellow collectors blame her for it and don’t listen to her protests that Mum never told her about the other collections.

When Hayley confronts her mother over the door-to-door collections, Mum explodes over her fostering disappointment and shouts at Hayley. This is too much for Hayley. She blunders out of the house in tears and gets hit by a car. During a semi-conscious state Hayley rambles her problems with Mum to Sister Harris, who then has a serious talk with Mum. Presumably she also puts Mum wise about Fenella at long last, though the serial does not record this or Mum’s reaction.

Mum tells Hayley that she has used “a whole host of good deeds” to fill the gap left in her life following the death of Hayley’s father. But she now realises she has overdone it so much that she crowded Hayley out. Hayley agrees to forgive Mum and they are reconciled.

Six months later, everything has improved for both Hayley and her mother. Mum and Hayley now co-operate as a team on charity projects, with Mum listening to Hayley and even asking her for suggestions. For Hayley, “The Haven” is at last living up to its name.

Thoughts

This is a disturbing and well-crafted exploration of the damage that poor listening and breakdowns in communication can inflict on a relationship. It also proves that effective communication is essential not only for the people in the relationship, but also for the people surrounding them. As the communications between mother and daughter break down, it is not just Hayley who suffers. The bad communications also have an effect at Hayley’s school and, ironically, they undermine Mum’s charity work as well. Perhaps the greatest irony is when Hayley wants to organise her own door-to-door collection, but Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. If Mum had just spared a few moments to listen, all that would have been avoided and she would have taken great pride in seeing Hayley run her own charity collection.

The serial makes deft and almost cruel use of irony to reinforce its points; for example, Mum remonstrating Hayley for being “selfish” on that fateful night, while she herself is selfish in thinking only of her work. It shows there is more than one kind of selfishness, and parents can take their children for granted, too.

The introduction of the foster children, and also a gang of yobs who attack Hayley, add the villainy that intensifies Hayley’s already-existing problems with Mum to the breaking point in the climax. Fenella’s ‘cuckoo-in-the-nest’ scheming has been used countless times in girls’ comics, especially in DCT titles. On this occasion it is used as a plot element rather than driving the plot itself, which makes it a bit different. But even without Fenella’s scheming, Mum’s fostering plans were clearly doomed from the start because she was just too busy, lacked the cohesion with Hayley to work effectively with a problem child for the reasons stated above, and it is obvious she never even thought the idea through properly in the first place.

The reason Mum made herself way too busy with charity work – to compensate for the death of her husband – is credible and rooted in realism. We can even imagine that Mum became addicted to charity work. But she became so consumed with charity work that she lost sight of other things in life, especially Hayley. Girls’ comics have frequently warned about not taking things to extremes (e.g. Jinty’s “Worlds Apart”) and do things in moderation. Apparently, even good things like charity work or generosity should be done in moderation as well, because taking them too far could do more harm than the good they are meant to do. DCT made similar points with stories like “Hard Times for Helen” and “Minnie the Meanie”, both from Judy.

The resolution of the story – Hayley getting hit by a car, rambling her problems to a person in authority who then has a word with Mum – is hardly new in girls’ comics. For example, “Hard Times for Helen” used a similar resolution. But what makes the plotting better in this case is that the accident occurs at the end of the penultimate episode. This enables the whole of the final episode to be used for the resolution of the story instead of a few panels crammed onto the last page, so there is more scope for development of the resolution. We are even shown panels of just how things have changed for Hayley after she was discharged from hospital, not just Mum apologising and promising things are going to be different, as Helen’s mother does at the end of “Hard Times for Helen”. The only shortcoming is that we are not shown Mum’s reaction when Nurse Harris tells her the truth about Fenella and that she had been wrongly blaming Hayley. Considering that the misunderstanding over Fenella is what caused the accident in the first place, not showing how the misunderstanding is resolved is glaring. Perhaps they felt they didn’t have the room to cover it, but couldn’t they have tried to squeeze in an extra line or two to do so? It would have made the ending more satisfying for the readers.

 

June and School Friend 15 May 1971

June cover 15 May 1971

  • Oh, Tinker! (artist Trini Tinturé)
  • Wild Girl of the Hills (artist Carlos Freixas)
  • Angela Replies… (problem page)
  • Gymnast Jinty (artist Jim Baikie)
  • Pick of the Post (letters page)
  • Bessie Bunter (artist Arthur Martin, writer Ron Clark)
  • Pony Trek Penny – text story (artist Jim Baikie, writer Linda Blake)
  • The Grays Fight Back! (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Showdate Shirley Reports on Arthur Lowe (of Dad’s Army)
  • Sindy and Her Friends in: Operation Ugly Duckling (artist Phil Townsend)
  • Sindy’s Scene: Her Diary and Club News
  • Nature’s Wonderful Ways (artist Helen Haywood)
  • Lucky’s Living Doll (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • The Champions (Karen Muir) – first episode
  • Animal World
  • The Curse of Witch Wood – Strange Story
  • Dotty Doogood (cartoon)
  • Orphans Alone (artist Tom Kerr)
  • Call Me Cupid! (artist Bill Baker)

In this issue “The Champions” begin, a feature that profiles a sports champion each week. Starting off the series is Karen Muir, a South African swimming star who retired at 18. At the time, Muir was distinguished for being the youngest world breaker holder at the age of 12.

This week’s Strange Story is about a ship’s head that has a curse on it. It turns out this is because the tree used to make the ship’s head was taken from Witch Wood without planting an acorn to replace it. If there is no acorn to replace a cut-down tree in that wood, the witches curse anything made from the tree’s wood. Sounds like very ecological witches.

Tinker tries to help a boy whose lion costume lacks roar – but it works too well. Tinker manages to put it right, and the boy has no memory of what happened, thank goodness. But she now has to face her Fairy House-Mother over the matter, so don’t you go giggling at me as well, she says to readers.

We didn’t know Jinty was brilliant at tennis as well as gymnastics, but it turns out she is. She is helping out Louise, who has her heart set on Wimbledon. But it looks like an arm injury could put an end to that.

Bessie is trying to hide a dog at Cliff House for the sake of its owner, who can’t afford to keep it. But the dog’s a huge bumbling menace whose appetite rivals Bessie’s own. Eventually the school pitches in so the owner can keep the dog.

The Grays are out on the street after their horrible landlord threw them out (at least they’re well rid of that landlord), and they’re not having much luck finding anything suitable. Worse, their mum is fit to come home now – but there is no home for her to come home to. So they have to find one, and fast!

Sindy has the task of turning the ugly duckling daughter Melinda of the Mayor-elect into a swan, um mayoress, with a makeover. Melinda hasn’t been cooperative until she discovers her cousin Angela is playing dirty tricks to replace her. And lack of confidence is now proving to be a problem too, but everything works out splendidly – except for Angela, of course.

Tina is doing spring-cleaning. But it turns into disaster when a kitten interferes, followed by a dog that Lucky tried to use to dry the washing. Maybe leave it to Lucky next time eh, Tina?

“Orphans Alone” try their luck with a theatrical company, and they handle rubbish-throwing hecklers like troupers. But it turns out that wretched beadle is in the audience, so they’re back on the run.

This week “Call Me Cupid!” tells the story of how her efforts to help Cherry went so badly wrong that she got a row from the folks that just about broke her eardrums, lost her pocket money and has to do washing up every night. But she isn’t giving up on finding the man for Cherry.

In “Wild Girl of the Hills” Naomi has been wrongly accused of theft while the real thieves have tied up Jean on the moor – and a wildcat is threatening her!

Entry Forbidden! [1981]

Entry Forbidden cover

Published: Commando War Stories in Pictures #1493

Artist: (updated to add) Gordon Livingstone

Writer: Unknown

Here’s another of our dips into something different. I have some Commandos in my collection, and “Entry Forbidden!” is one of my particular favourites.

Plot

In 1944, two sons on both sides of World War II say goodbye to their parents and go to war: Arnold “Scruffy” Scroggs of England says goodbye to his mother as he goes off to join the Downshires and Max Rudel of Germany says goodbye to his father Erich as he goes off to join the S.S. The two sets of parents and sons are polar opposites of each other.

Entry Forbidden 1

Max Rudel and his Nazi scientist father Erich Rudel are both evil and fanatical Nazis. Personality-wise, Max has everything it takes to go far in the S.S., which he is soon doing although his version of iron discipline does not make him popular with his men. Max’s only real shortcoming, which earns him the nickname “Old Sniffy”, is a perpetual running cold that never goes away.

Max’s cold is the legacy of germ warfare that Erich Rudel is having one Gustav Dietrich develop against the Allies. Gustav, being a more principled man than the Rudels, is troubled by the ethical and destructive implications of the virus he is being pressured to develop against the Allies. Gustav’s conscience grows worse when a series of leaks occur and the virus gets loose. Among those who fall foul to the virus is Max Rudel. Max survives, but his immune system is compromised so badly that he is left with that permanent cold he can never shrug off. When another leak occurs, which kills people, it is the last straw for Gustav. He disappears from the lab and goes into hiding in shabby flats in the back streets of Berlin. Erich Rudel is furious at this because the project is stalled without Gustav.

Another reason for aggravation between the Rudels and the Dietrichs is that Max and Gustav’s son Oskar have been enemies since they were children because Oskar stood up to Max when he bullied smaller boys in the playground (figures). Oskar now serves in the Wehrmacht. He is an honourable soldier and disapproves of the way the S.S. is infecting the Wehrmacht with their S.S. ways. When Oskar is put in charge of his own unit later in the story he does his best to counter that influence as much as possible and ensure his men behave honourably. Unlike Max Rudel, Oskar is popular with his squad.

Entry Forbidden 2

Back to Arthur Scroggs now. Personality-wise, Arthur Scroggs is everything Max Rudel is not: kind, helpful, good-humoured and considerate. He is also a bit clownish and has an amiability that helps him cope with the grind of basic training and heckling discipline. The influence of Arnold’s mother on him is so profound it will resonate throughout the story. For example, Scroggs gets on the nerves of everyone in the barracks with the pearls of wisdom his mother gives him in her letters, and they are just about strangling him.

When it comes to basic training, Scroggs is a regular Gomer Pyle. The heart and enthusiasm are there, but wearing a uniform unsettles Scroggs and he cannot seem to get the hang of basic training, which he constantly makes a mess of. This drives Sergeant “Corky” Carew to constant distraction. All the same, Corky is determined to make a soldier out of the ungainly Scroggs “even if it kills him” – “or me” he adds inwardly. Yep, Corky is definitely the Sergeant Carter of the piece.

Somehow, Scroggs makes it through basic training. Under Corky’s command, Scroggs and his regiment start fighting on the Continent in the wake of D-Day. He still has problems with his awkwardness, such as keeping his helmet straight. The story has said that Arnold Scroggs will be more than a match for Max Rudel, but there seems to be no sign of that yet.

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Then Corky finally succeeds in making a soldier out of Scroggs, though not quite in the way he imagined. Corky’s nerves and mental capabilities begin to deteriorate from war-weariness as they fight pockets of German resistance. Corky finally goes to pieces during one such attack at a critical moment when his regiment need him to get them out of the tight spot they are in. Seeing this, the gawky Scroggs suddenly becomes a courageous soldier with a calculating mind. Scroggs assumes command himself while pretending to the others it is Corky’s plan. He decides grenades are the answer, but there are not enough. So he throws potatoes, which the Germans mistake for grenades. As planned, this scares them out into the open for the Downshires to mop up.

Fortunately Corky returns to his old self. He is impressed with Scroggs’s cleverness and is relieved to see Scroggs is not telling tales on him. From then on he respects Scroggs – though of course he does not show it, and Scroggs is still a bit of a klutz in any case. Corky remains the same old barking sergeant towards Scroggs, which Scroggs is glad to see again.

Meanwhile, Oskar Dietrich comes home with a war wound. He knows through coded messages what his father has done and where he is hiding. But Max Rudel spots Oskar and puts a tail on him. Despite Oskar’s best efforts to shake off the tail, the tail succeeds in following him all the way to Gustav’s hideout. After Oskar leaves, Max arrests Gustav. The germ warfare research has been relocated to an old house miles from Berlin because of Allied bombing. Gustav flatly refuses to resume work on the virus, so he is kept in a cell there.

Oskar recovers and resumes fighting, now as a sergeant in charge of his very own squad in a strikeback at the Allied advance. (As will be seen, Oskar’s new command means he is having even more clashes with the S.S. and their evil influence over the Wehrmacht.) They are going up against the Downshires, and the strikeback is proving too strong for the Downshires. Corky and Scroggs become separated from their unit and run out of ammunition. This leaves them no choice but to surrender – to none other than Oskar Dietrich.

Then S.S. Major Helmut Meyer (whose unit is nicknamed “The Vultures” by Oskar’s squad) arrives on the scene. He and Oskar have clashed before, and they do so again over the POWs. Oskar wants them dealt with according the rules of war and it’s his battle zone after all. But Meyer has orders from the S.S. to have them shot, and furious at Oskar’s stance, draws on him. A struggle ensues, which ends with Meyer’s gun going off and he is shot dead. Oskar is in big trouble over this, for Meyer was a big man in the S.S.

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Scroggs and Corky take advantage of the Germans being distracted by Meyer’s death to break free and make a run for it. The Germans put up little pursuit; the two units are on the verge of fighting each other. Wishing to avoid a bloodbath, Oskar orders his men to stand down, and goes into custody of the S.S. Ostensibly, this is to clear the matter up, but in reality Oskar and his squad know there is little hope for him.

Oskar soon finds that things have gone from bad to worse for him once Max Rudel learns what happened from the dispatches. He orders Oskar to be brought to the new laboratory and use him as a hostage to blackmail Gustav into resuming the research. Gustav agrees to give in for Oskar’s sake, but secretly he decides to find a way to destroy his work if he does make the breakthrough. For this, Gustav is about to find he has help.

Meanwhile, a burst tyre gives Oskar the opportunity to make a run for it. The S.S. men are soon hot in pursuit and are on the verge of recapturing Oskar by putting a bullet in his leg. However, Corky and Scroggs, who have been trying unsuccessfully to find their lines, chance upon the spot. Realising what is going on, they knock the S.S. men out and save Oskar.

Oskar can speak English. He explains to Corky and Scroggs about his father and the virus development and asks for their help. Of course they agree to it. They set out for the house, which Oskar’s guards had informed him about.

At the house, Gustav finds a friend in Johann the butler. Johann informs Gustav about Oskar’s escape, which he overheard from the guards. Johann hates the S.S. (his nephew got shot by Max Rudel) and the way the S.S. have commandeered the house. He shows Gustav a secret passage down to a cellar, which is full of crates containing dynamite that he secretly transferred from an old quarry after the hated S.S. took over the house. The idea is, of course, to blow them and the entire house sky high.

Oskar and the Allied soldiers arrive and work their way in by taking out the guards one by one. Max Rudel, who has also arrived, recognises Oskar’s voice and conceals himself in a cupboard to cut them down, which he almost does with Oskar. Fortunately for Oskar, violent sneezing from that persistent cold alerts Scroggs to Max’s hiding place. He now fulfils the story’s promise that he will be more than a match for Max Rudel by riddling the cupboard with gunfire. Max Rudel dies before he even hits the floor.

When Oskar and the Allied soldiers find Gustav, he explains about the dynamite and Johann has rigged it to go off in a few minutes. He declines to go with them, saying he has a score to settle with Erich Rudel, who is due any moment. Oskar realises his father has chosen to die with his work and he says his last goodbye.

Then Oskar and the Allied soldiers find a squad of newly arrived S.S. soldiers have cut off their escape. Scroggs scares them off with his ‘potato bluff’. He throws a bottle at them that he has led them to believe contains the deadly virus (in fact, it is a bottle of his mother’s cough remedy). Once the house is clear of the S.S. soldiers, Oskar and the Allied soldiers are free to escape the house and take refuge in the woods, and the soldiers are too preoccupied to pursue them.

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Erich Rudel arrives, knowing nothing about what is going on or his son’s death. He is concerned by the house looking deserted and no guards seem to be around. This puts him in a particularly nasty mood when he finds Gustav appears to be about to desert as well. So he pulls a gun on Gustav and threatens to shoot him. Gustav tells Erich he is too late – they and the project are all about to come to an end. Misunderstanding this, Erich shoots Gustav, saying he will continue the work himself. With his dying breath, Gustav tells Erich: “I think not. You haven’t the time now.” Again misunderstanding Gustav, Erich laughs crazily, and he gloats over Gustav’s dead body that he is going to go on with the project until he brings victory and glory to the Reich…

But then the dynamite goes off. It blows up the house, Erich, Gustav’s work, and also Johann, who chose to die with the house as well. From the woods, Oskar and the Allied soldiers watch the devastation. Oskar throws in his lot with the Allied cause because of his trouble with the S.S., and heads off with Corky and Scroggs to find the Allied lines.

Thoughts

Commando was very strong on pointing out that not all Germans who fought in World War II were evil, cruel and brutal Nazis, nor did they all support Hitler. Many soldiers who fought in the German armies, navy and airforce fought for their country rather than for Hitler. The Wehrmacht and the S.S. were at constant odds because the former did not approve of the brutality of the latter, and Commando often used this to create sympathetic soldiers who fought on the side of the Germans. But of course it never showed any sympathetic officers in the Gestapo and S.S. Commando made that distinction very clear, and arguably none more so than the characters of Sergeant Oskar Dietrich and S.S. Max Rudel, who are the epitomes of it in human form.

The story makes a further point that not all German civilians supported Hitler or Nazism either. There were good Germans who did not approve of Nazism and its cruelties, and many of them went against it, such as the resistance group “The White Rose”. We see this portrayed in the characters of Gustav Dietrich and Johann the butler, whose courage is so immense they are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the germ warfare. Like the Allied soldier Arnold Scroggs, the good Germans are the opposites of the Rudel men and the other S.S. Nazis.

Cruel and rabid Nazis are all the villains are shown to be; it is the heroes of the story who are given the character development, and for this we are shown their progress on both sides of the war. Arnold Scroggs starts off as a humorous, good-natured character, which gives us light relief from the grimness of Gustav’s situation and the rise and cruelties of Max Rudel in the S.S. But the story tells us that Scroggs is destined for far more than a Gomer Pyle/Seargeant Carter career in the army. He is going to be the ultimate match for Max Rudel, so we all read on eagerly to see how that happens.

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Scroggs’s leap from gawkiness to a courageous and clever soldier is convincingly done, and it has a dash of humour (bluffing German soldiers with potatoes), which blends in with Scroggs’ genial character. We are shown that Scroggs has not changed completely and is still a bit clumsy, but he is finding his feet now in the army (when he doesn’t get them tangled on the march).

The story does not shy away from showing the horrors and PTSD effects of war either, as we see when war-weariness causes the heckling Sergeant Corky to have a breakdown and lose his grip in battle. It gives a more human dimension to Corky, and makes us all the more grateful to have the old Corky back. Afterwards, Corky is still given the odd touches to show he is a human being, such as a reference to his mother.

The artwork has a loose, angular style, which really brings out the gawkiness of Arnold Scroggs. Even in the more serious panels there are dashes of humour. One example is a panel (above) of the S.S. soldiers who corner our heroes at the house. The panel showing their reactions to Scroggs’ threat to throw the virus at them does raise a chuckle. The frightened expressions on the guards’ faces have a kind of goofy look, and the S.S. officer almost looks like he’s got buck teeth. It would be really great to know who the artist is (updated to add: we have been informed it is Gordon Livingstone). Commando would print credits in the latter part of its run, but this issue is not part of it.

Judy & Tracy 19 January 1985, #1306

Judy and Tracy cover.jpeg

Cover artist: Norman Lee. Judy is on the left. Tracy and her budgie Elton are on the right.

  • Big ‘n’ Bertha – cartoon
  • Sandra of the Secret Ballet (artist Paddy Brennan) – first episode of a reprint
  • Little Amy
  • Georgie and the Dragon (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Junior Nanny (artist Oliver Passingham) – first episode of a return appearance
  • Twin Trouble (artist Paddy Brennan) – first episode
  • Microgirl (artist Hugh Thornton-Jones) – first episode of a sequel
  • Hard Times for Helen (artist Bert Hill)
  • Debbie at the School for Horses (artist Oliver Passingham)
  • Find the Hidden Headphones Competition
  • Harvey – Go Home!

Here’s another dip into DCT. This time we are going to take a look at the issue where Tracy merged with Judy on 19 January 1985. Judy is also celebrating her 25th Jubilee, which makes the issue even more significant. Her competition is being run because of the Jubilee, not because of the merger. It is not surprising that Judy is also looking back on her past. This week she begins to repeat one of her very first stories, “Sandra of the Secret Ballet”. She also brings back another established Judy favourite: “Junior Nanny”.

The merger is unusual in that the merger issue came out the same week Tracy published her final issue. Well, at least Tracy readers didn’t need to wait a week to see their stories continue in the merger. Or rather, more than a week, considering that Tracy came out on Saturday and Judy on Thursday. Perhaps it was done out of consideration to the readers.

However, one odd and annoying thing about the last issue of Tracy is that she began a new story in it, “Little Amy”. Why the first episode of Amy couldn’t wait until the merger issue so all readers could read the serial in its entirety is something I don’t understand.

Other Tracy stories that came over were: “Harvey – Go Home!”, where a lost dog has adventures while trying to find his owner; “Georgie and the Dragon” a humour story about a baby dragon; and “Microgirl”, which is a sequel to an earlier Tracy story about an evil scientist who can shrink people. Tracy’s budgie, Elton, also came over, and he appeared on Judy’s covers for quite some time.

Judy also begins a completely new story, “Twin Trouble”. The trouble is about an accident girl who causes trouble for her twin sister because she blames the twin for the accident – quite wrongly, of course. Judy’s other stories are “Hard Times for Helen” and “Debbie at the School for Horses”. In the former, Helen Shaw suffers not only from the fallout of an over-busy mother but also from bully teachers who constantly compare her unfairly with the mother and make unjust accusations of bad behaviour against her. In the latter, Debbie Marsh is on a steep learning curve on how to look after horses at a riding school.