Walking the Line [2018]

Walking the Line cover

Published: Commando #5147

Art: Morhain & Rezzonico (story), Neil Roberts (cover)

Story: Andrew Knighton

Here is another recently published Commando in its new trend of featuring a female protagonist.

Plot

In July 1943 Flight Lieutenant Alan Freeman leads a bombing squadron against Germany. Unfortunately Freeman has an obsession about winning back his ex, Sarah, whose photograph he carries on every mission, by impressing her with a huge scorecard of daring, heroic war deeds. Freeman does not realise that his drive to make his missions as daring as possible to impress Sarah is clouding his judgement and causing him to take ever-increasing risks with his squadron.

One night the inevitable happens – Freeman takes one risk too many to impress Sarah. This has the Luftwaffe bearing down on the plane fast and Freeman and his comrades get shot down. Knowing the situation is partly his fault, Freeman tries to rectify it by flying his plane for as long as possible and be the last to bail out. He takes care to retain Sarah’s photograph as he jumps. As he watches his burning plane go down, he tells Sarah it’s all been for her.

Walking the Line 1

Right – so putting your squadron in a position to get shot down, losing planes and possibly lives that way, and bailing out over occupied territory, which could mean capture, have all been for impressing Sarah, Alan Freeman? You tell that to your superiors when you get home.

Well, back to the story now.

Freeman parachutes into occupied France, which is of course very dangerous for him. Moreover, the crash his plane made was heard for miles, so the Germans are bound to come running. At least Freeman paid attention in French class and also had training in evading capture. As per training, Freeman hides all trace of his parachute and military uniform. Well, nearly all – he forgets his boots, which are clearly military issue. Fortunately the Frenchman (Henri Chaput) who spots this oversight is friendly and hides him from the searching Germans.

Walking the Line 2

Henri’s daughter, Juliette, runs an underground escape line for Allied soldiers, which runs through the Pyrenees and Spain. However, Juliette warns Freeman there is a risk in taking it: she suspects the Gestapo have compromised it somehow because some of their people have gone missing recently. Freeman gladly accepts that risk, just because it will be another thing for him to impress Sarah. That night he takes a moment to think of Sarah and how going through an underground route will impress her.

Escapee reports are vital to the war effort. So next evening they radio London to inform them of what Freeman had seen during the bombing run. Unfortunately the Germans trace the signal of the illegal radio (the Achilles heel of the Resistance) and soon have the place surrounded. Freeman and Juliette are the only ones to escape when the Germans open fire – and kill Henri.

They make it to a town in search of a safe house. There they spot a Gestapo agent, and he is looking at them in a way that indicates he has realised Juliette is on their wanted list. They take advantage of this to lure him into a trap and capture him. At the safe house Juliette interrogates the agent to find out what happened to their missing numbers and why they have gone missing. The agent sneers that those missing people are all dead of course. And in reply to her other question, one of their number is a traitor but he does not know which one. Juliette now gags him and leaves him for the local Resistance to pick up.

Freeman comes up with an idea to flush the traitor out: use him as bait by taking him down the escape line and spread the word through it that he carries vital British intelligence. And for the first time, Freeman is not taking a risk to impress Sarah. He’s taking it to help Juliette and the war effort.

Two days later Juliette and Freeman are at a café waiting for their contact, Claude the forger. Juliette suspects Claude is the traitor because he is in the perfect position to be. But Claude is soon eliminated as a suspect when another contact, Celine arrives, and tells them the Germans have arrested Claude, along with several more members of the Narbonne cell. Freeman and Juliette head for Narbonne and the remaining cell members.

On the way Juliette tells Freeman that the Germans killed her sister, Lucile, who was not even a Resistance member, along with nine others, in revenge for a Resistance attack. Lucile is the reason why Juliette fights the Germans. Now that sure is a far more worthy reason to fight than trying to win back an ex who keeps trying to tell you she’s moved on.

In Narbonne they meet Louis, leader of the Narbonne cell, and Julio, the guide through the Pyrenees. A fight breaks out when Louis says that before they helped Juliette’s escape line they lost nobody and now the Germans are picking them off, and Juliette angrily accuses him of being the traitor. Freeman breaks up the fight and is not convinced Louis is the traitor.

Walking the Line 3

Whoever the traitor is, he soon strikes again; that night the Germans arrive and arrest Freeman and Juliette, who had no chance to flee or fight. They are taken to an Abwehr (Army) run prison, and are soon joined by other Resistance fighters. Louis joins Freeman and Juliette in their cell. This convinces Freeman that Louis is not the traitor, but not Juliette.

Freeman is first to be interrogated. His interrogator, Colonel Weber, makes a remark that will be of major plot significance later: “Some of your predecessors may have got away, but you would not like to end up like Lieutenant Davies, would you?”

A Gestapo agent interrupts the interrogation. An argument erupts between him and Weber, and this makes them careless in how they are guarding Freeman. Freeman takes advantage to seize Weber’s gun and shoots both Germans dead. He makes a dash for it, taking the cell keys that were attached to Weber’s belt. He frees the others and a mass prison breakout ensues, but the Germans are gathering forces with gunfire. Louis bravely covers for them while they make their escape until he is finally mown down. To Freeman, this is the ultimate proof that Louis is not the traitor and he convinces Juliette of it.

They head for Julio’s hideout and persuade him to take them over the Pyrenees. It’s a hard journey, made all the harder by having to avoid border guards on both sides, and no short cuts or easy routes. As they go on, Freeman realises he has no further taste for daring adventures to impress his ex and will just be glad when it is all over. And it’s only the first day of their escape through the Pyrenees.

Walking the Line 4

After the first day, Julio goes ahead to check the trail while Juliette and Freeman settle down by the fire. Recalling what Weber said about Lieutenant Davies, Freeman asks Juliette if she knew him. Juliette says Davies was the first pilot she helped, before she had even started her escape line. She took him to Julio and Julio got him to Spain – Julio said so himself! But that’s not what Weber said…unless…

All of a sudden, everything falls into place.

When Julio returns, Juliette and Freeman have an ambush prepared for him. He puts up a terrific fight, but once he is overpowered he does not deny being the traitor at all. His motive was self-preservation by making himself useful to the Germans, but no doubt the rewards must have been an additional motive.

The problem is, what to do with Julio? Where they are right now, they can’t leave him for the Resistance to pick up as they did the Gestapo agent. But Juliette can’t kill a man in cold blood and Julio takes advantage to plead for his life. Juliette agrees to hand him over for trial and execution but Julio is not having that. He lunges at Juliette, and in the ensuing struggle Juliette is forced to make her first kill. Juliette is deeply upset at this, and realises it has not given her the satisfaction of vengeance that she thought it would.

But Juliette can’t dwell on that – they still have to get across the Pyrenees. This is now even harder because they have lost their guide. Juliette has a fair knowledge of the Pyrenees, but it is not as extensive as Julio’s. The further they go, the less Juliette knows the terrain, until Freeman remembers he has a compass hidden in his boots. And there are still those pesky border patrols they have to dodge all the time.

Eventually they reach Juliette’s contacts in Spain. From there, the British embassy smuggles Freeman to Gibraltar and a waiting ship to Britain. Juliette will go back to continue her work. It would not be surprising if Juliette takes Julio’s place at the Pyrenees end of her escape line as there has been a strong buildup towards it. Besides, there is nobody else on her escape line with enough knowledge of the Pyrenees to navigate that route. In any case, Juliette can’t go back to her hometown with her family gone and the Gestapo looking for her.

Before Freeman boards his ship he discards Sarah’s photograph, saying she’s not worth it. He now realises that he has long since stopped thinking about Sarah and fighting just to impress her. As he sails home he thinks about more important things and far better reasons to fight. Among them is the inspiration Juliette has given him.

Thoughts

This story is another in a growing trend in female protagonists in Commando. They have ranged from partners to the male protagonist to the star of the show. The cover of this issue indicates that the male and female protagonist will be pretty much equal in how they are developed.

The thrust of the story is still on the male protagonist, Alan Freeman, as he battles to escape from occupied France through an escape line. It’s not only a struggle for survival and escape through the underground and past the difficulties of Pyrenees and enemy patrols. There is also the added worry of an unknown traitor compromising the escape route, whose treachery could get them captured and killed if they don’t get to him first. So there is a mystery to this story as well that needs to be unravelled. But until they do, paranoia and suspicion run through the escape line and are setting the cell members against each other, as shown in the near-fight between Louis and Juliette.

It could have been a pure adventure/mystery story for Alan Freeman. Instead, it develops his character by taking him on an emotional journey where he has to stop dwelling on his ex and trying to win her back with heroics because it’s affecting his performance. It’s causing him to take thoughtless risks that are putting missions, his comrades’ lives and his own in jeopardy, and he does not even seem to care. And his reasons for it are not only selfish but also pathetic, and they may not even succeed in getting her back. After all, will Sarah even be there to impress when he returns – if he returns – with all his tales of heroics? For all he knows, she could now be married to a medal-laden war general or died aboard a ship sunk by some U-boat. He’s just got to move on, as Sarah has done.

Walking the Line 5

As Freeman’s journey through the Underground progresses, we see him changing from taking risks to win back his ex to taking risks for the war effort and the Underground. After his first night in Juliette’s house he stops thinking about Sarah pretty quickly, because once the Germans strike he has more pressing things to think about. He stops looking at Sarah’s photo all the time. The next risk he takes is for unselfish reasons that have nothing to do with impressing Sarah. Furthermore, as Freeman hears the horrors Juliette and the French people are going through under Nazism and sees some of them first hand, he begins to discover the real reasons why he should fight. By the time Freeman is finally reminded of Sarah, he has grown mature enough to let her go and realise there are more important things than getting back your ex when you’re in the middle of a war.

Freeman also goes from cavalierly going through adventures to impress Sarah to understanding it’s not a bravo adventure of risk and daring. He has to learn things like keeping cool when he’s in disguise when Germans are prowling close by, and persistence when he has to go through the Pyrenees the hard way to avoid capture. All the while he is fighting for his life and his freedom.

Although we never see Juliette’s thought bubbles, she’s clearly going through an intense emotional journey too. It shows through her words and her actions. As we learn more about Juliette’s escape line, we realise that while she is brave and competent, it sounds like she is still pretty new to this game and there are some hard lessons she still has to learn. One is learning to kill when she has to, because this is war. And when it’s war, sometimes you have to kill or be killed. This lesson Juliette is forced to learn when at first she tries to avoid killing Julio but eventually she has to make her first kill with him.

Another lesson Juliette has to learn is not get emotions cloud her judgement, as her handling of Louis proved. She had no real reason to suspect Louis is the traitor and there was no proof. All he did was make a very pointed observation that suggests the traitor is connected to her escape line, but she went too much on the defensive over it. For his part, Louis acted with too much emotion in handling his suspicions about Juliette’s line. In so doing, Louis and Juliette both missed a vital clue to the identity of the traitor – he was someone linked to both Juliette’s escape line and the Narbonne cell.

Walking the Line 6

Juliette’s reason to fight – to avenge the sister the Nazis killed – is better than Freeman’s selfish reason to fight. But it sounds like Juliette is dwelling on it too much as her reason to fight. Like Freeman, she has to get beyond it and realise that there are other reasons why she should fight. And Juliette does when she realises that when she finally gets her revenge for the death of her sister, she gets no satisfaction over it. But she has to go on and get Freeman to safety. In so doing, Juliette has to grow as she develops her own experience and knowledge of the Pyrenees.

At the end of it, Juliette has a whole new reason to continue with her work – keeping downed pilots like Alan Freeman out of Gestapo clutches. Moreover, she will do it even better, and it’s not just because she has removed the traitor who had been sabotaging her escape line before it had even started. Rooting him out has also helped to develop her experience, competence, and also shown her that you really can’t afford squeamishness in a job like this. After all, enemies like the Gestapo agent or the dirty rat Julio won’t have any compunction in killing you.

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Scream! #15, 30 June 1984 – last issue published

Scream 15 cover

  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • The Dracula File – (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Ken Noble)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: The Man They Called Dr Death (artist Jim Watson, writer Ian Rimmer (but credited as Rick Hunter))
  • Library of Death: Out of the Fog! (artist Rafael Boluda, credited as Bollida, writer Angus Allan)
  • A Ghastly Tale – Blood Track! (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • The Nightcomers – final episode (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)

This was the last issue of Scream ever published. Like Tammy, it abruptly disappeared in the 1984 IPC strike, never to be resumed. Exactly why it was not resumed is not clear. One factor could have been the Ghastly Tale “Blood Track!”, which prompted a threat of legal action, though it was eventually dropped. That story will be omitted from discussion here.

Later, Eagle picked up the tab with Scream to some extent. The Thirteenth Floor and Monster continued in Eagle to reach ultimate, respectable conclusions, and are now enjoying their own reprint volumes. The Ghastly Face competition continued in Eagle and the top prize was eventually split between two contestants. I have no information about whether or not the new Creepy Caption Cartoon Competition in this issue was concluded there as well.

When The Thirteenth Floor and Monster stopped in Scream, the former was about to deal with an extortionist who charges heavy fees in return for not breaking bones. In the latter, Uncle Terry and Ken have just fought their way through yet more bounty hunters and the police, and now they are taking a boat.

At least “The Nightcomers” managed to complete their story in this issue, so that was not left dangling. The Nightcomers, with eager help from Edna the ghost and unwitting help from Baphomet the demon when it kills Cutler, destroy the evil that haunts Raven’s Meet. We are told the Nightcomers will start a new adventure in the next issue, so they must have been planned for an ongoing series. Sadly, they did not get it in Eagle. Fortunately the second Nightcomers story was reconstituted and finally published in “It’s Ghastly! The Untimely Demise of Scream!” in 2016. Better late than never.

However, The Dracula File was left open by the cutoff, which is annoying. Dracula does at least manage to complete the flashback of his clash with vampire hunter Alexander Quinn, but we don’t find out where things end up with his new adversary, Colonel Stakis. And just when it sounded like it was about to get really exciting, because Drac says he’s getting really pissed off at living on the run because of Stakis and he’s jolly well going to turn things around!

The Tales from the Grave story was also left on a loose end. The last episode of “Dr Death” got cut off entirely and the story was never finished. It was left forever dangling on the penultimate episode (below), just like “Cora Can’t Lose” in Tammy.

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Fortunately, in “It’s Ghastly!”, writer Ian Rimmer (writing as Rick Hunter) was able to say he thinks the ending went something like:

“Fox turns up at Phillary’s lab, only to be startled and attacked by the re-animated hand. Phillary hears the rumps and enters too. He desperately tries to intervene, but Fox is killed and equipment is knocked over. Suddenly the lab bursts into flames…I think in a panic Phillary looks to escape, yet is prevented from doing so by the hand. The conflagration consumes the hand, all of Phillary’s notes, and Phillary himself. We then have the Leper tending to his fire at the cemetery at the end, saying something suitably caustic.”

In the Library of Death (fortunately not another two-parter like the previous story), Barry Holls is on the run from an orphanage where everyone picks on him because his father is in prison for murder. Barry knows his dad’s innocent – and so does the murder victim. He returns from the grave to guide Barry to the crucial evidence that will clear his father. Awww…

Later, Scream produced two holiday specials, which actually produced some unpublished material from the parent comic. This included Black Beth, who returns in the Scream & Misty Halloween Special II, the actual face of Ghastly McNasty from the Ghastly Face competition, and what looks like part 16 of The Dracula File. Here, Stakis finally gets a shot at Dracula with a stake and Dracula gets pinned. Unfortunately Stakis fails to get one in the heart, and Dracula escapes on a train.

Scream did not produce an annual.

 

Scream #14! 23 June 1984

Scream 14 cover

  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)
  • Library of Death: The Sea Beast part 2 (artist J. Parkhouse, writer Simon Furman)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: The Man They Called Dr Death – first episode (artist Jim Watson, writer Ian Rimmer (but credited as Rick Hunter))
  • A Ghastly Tale – Dumb Animals
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Simon Furman)

 

Scream 14 From the Depths

Nobody has hit the jackpot with Ghastly’s face, so he’s dropped another clue to help things along. Ghastly also reveals some facts about the popularity ratings of the serials. The Thirteenth Floor is first, Monster second, and The Dracula File and Library of Death are close behind. The letter page this week indicates The Nightcomers are also popular.

Looks like Ghastly really did not care much for opera – he gagged the latest victim in the London Dungeon for opera singing rather than have her sing high notes as suggested.

Dungeon

This week’s Ghastly Tale feels even more relevant today, where we are in an era of accelerating mass extinction, with poaching and animal trafficking being among the reasons. Yet some people still hunt endangered animals for trophies – and post it proudly on their Facebook pages – or for body parts, animal trafficking and so on. So the story has been posted here.

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Ghastly insisted that the artwork of the sea beast from the Library of Death tale be the best it could be, and they must have shown him the cover to prove it. The sea beast, a giant mutant created by radioactive waste dumped in the ocean, certainly makes for a magnificent cover. Once the beast is ashore, it’s “The Horror of Party Beach” Scream style. After the party’s over, with the aid of antidotes to the radioactive waste and the sea beast mutation, the authorities are relieved that at least the radioactive waste did not come into contact with a human being. Unfortunately the final panel indicates they may have spoken too soon…

Max is cheesed off to find a kid nicknamed Cheezy has taken to spraying graffiti on the walls of Maxwell Towers. Needless to say, it’s the Thirteenth Floor for Cheezy, where Max forces him to spray graffiti on the Empire State Building in increasingly dangerous conditions until he falls right off. Don’t worry – Cheezy will only land where he will be well and truly painted.

Dracula is still reminiscing on a prior encounter with another vampire hunter, Alexander Quinn. The flashback may be interesting and adds something to Dracula’s character, but really, it’s not doing much to advance the plot of Dracula vs. his current vampire hunter, Colonel Stakis.

“The Nightcomers” finally reaches the stage in the plot where the villain Simon Cutler captures our heroes and explains everything. Yes, he did dabble in demonology and summoned a demon, Baphomet. He did it for the power Baphomet would bring him, but instead found his life has been hell ever since he summoned that demon. The unhappy ghost is his wife Edna, who was accidentally killed when she stumbled onto his rituals, and he dumped her body down the well. Cutler believes the only way to satisfy Baphomet is to sacrifice the Rogans to him. He is not listening to Beth’s pleas that what Baphomet is really doing is using Edna, who can’t rest without proper burial, as a conduit to fully enter the world as a corporeal demon.

The Leper begins a new story with a Frankenstein theme. Dr Phillary has invented a machine that can bring body parts back to life, but is having trouble finding decent body parts for it. Phillary finally stumbles across an arm that’s a perfect specimen, but the body was whisked away to the graveyard before he could amputate the arm for his experiments. Undaunted, he’s turning to a bit of grave robbing to get it, and recruiting a couple of criminals, Fox and Hopkins, to help him.

It finally happens – Uncle Terry finally comes face to face with the policemen who have been pursuing him and Ken. The policemen – and their patrol car – come off the worst after trying to tackle Uncle Terry, but at least they are alive. Then Ken spots a means to get them to their destination – a boat. But how is Uncle Terry up for sailing? He doesn’t even know what a boat is.

Scream! #13, 16 June 1984

Scream 13 cover

  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)
  • Library of Death: The Sea Beast part 1 (artist J. Parkhouse, writer Simon Furman)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: The Escape – final episode (artist Jim Watson, writer S. Goodall)
  • A Ghastly Tale – Unlucky for Some
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Simon Furman)

Scream hits its 13th issue, which is a celebration for a comic like that, and that is precisely what Scream does. On the cover, The Thirteenth Floor (what else?) kicks off the theme of 13 and unlucky for some. In the story itself, Mr Bullock the callous housing official is subjected to a shark-infested ocean and being attacked by giant crabs on a desert island until he agrees to give five-star treatment to the family he treated so badly.

Scream 13 dungeon

The Ghastly Tale also has an “unlucky for some” theme, with a boy showing the yearly pictures of his birthdays. They progressively show his life going on a downward spiral that includes falling strangely ill and being put in a top secret MOD establishment, until he hits his nadir with – you guessed it – his 13th birthday photograph shows what he has become by then. There are no photographs of his 14th birthday.

Dracula’s a bit unlucky as well, you might say. Having a vampire hunter on his tail is giving him horrible nightmares of his previous experiences with vampire hunters, which range from torch-wielding lynch mobs attacking his castle to a professional vampire hunter, Alexander Quinn.

In this episode of “The Nightcomers” Raven’s Meet is really throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Rogans to destroy them. The Rogans dodge everything but clonks on the head from Simon Cutler. He’s taken them prisoner and he intends to sacrifice them to Raven’s Meet. At least it sounds like they’re going to hear the full story now.

The Library of Death does something new – a two-part story. It’s about a giant sea beast that emerges from the depths of the ocean and lands on the beach – and boy, is it a whopper! Eat your heart out, Jaws! Of course it’s scaring the hell out of everyone. The sea beast was probably inspired by “The Horror of Party Beach” as it was created from radioactive waste dumped in the ocean.

In the final episode of “The Escape” from Tales of the Grave, Barry White thinks he has gotten away with murder (which becomes double murder in this episode) and his booty by stowing away in a coffin that is sailing away to America. But he finds out too late that the coffin was intended for a burial at sea! Well, there’s his execution.

Unlucky for some, they say, but in this week’s episode of “Monster”, Uncle Terry and Ken turn out to be lucky – for a while, anyway. They finally met a more friendly person, a lady named Mrs McCrone who is not fazed by Uncle Terry’s appearance. Mind you, that’s because she’s blind. Mrs McCrone wants to turn them over because she says Uncle Terry needs help. But when Ken insists, she gives them a motorbike to help them along. But then they bump right into the police! Luck’s run out again.

Scream! #12, 9 June 1984

Scream cover 12

  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Ken Noble)
  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: The Escape – first episode (artist Jim Watson, writer S. Goodall)
  • A Ghastly Tale – The Final Cut!
  • Library of Death: Terror of the Tomb (artist José Casanovas, writer Simon Furman)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)

More attempts at Ghastly’s face, and another clue is dropped. The fourth entry is the one that is paying more attention to the clues already dropped, but Ghastly makes no acknowledgment of it. Nobody is in the London Dungeon this week.

Ghastly Faces Scream 12

Here we have another wrap-around cover, this time of this week’s Library of Death story. The story is rendered by the ever-popular José Casanovas. Well, we don’t often see Casanovas drawing ancient Egypt and walking mummies, so here is the story for Casanovas fans.

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Dracula is using some surprising tactics in his quest for blood tonight: first he turns bus driver (now where did he get his HT licence?) and later he lies in wait in a post box. But he’s also rumbled that vampire hunter Stakis survived his trap, and it’s rousing memories of another vampire hunter. Woo…has our Dracula actually been traumatised by his experiences with Van Helsing?

The Nightcomers make their way into Raven’s Meet and discover the first evidence of why it is so horribly haunted. Someone was clearly messing around with the supernatural and unleashed forces they couldn’t control, and it could only have been that Simon Cutler. Beforehand, they found a very unhappy woman haunting the well, and think she might be the key to the mystery. But now there is a more pressing problem they haven’t seen yet – a bony hand reaching for Rick…

Max is at it again. This time it’s with a pompous housing official, Mr Bullock, who made a blunder in the booking for new tenants, the Sopers, and is not exactly anxious to correct his mistake. Instead, the remedy he offers splits the Soper family up and he doesn’t care squat. The punishment of the Thirteenth Floor has Bullock washed up on a raft and headed for a desert island, with sharks right behind him. Not quite sure how this punishment fits the crime, but let’s see how it plays out next week.

The Leper begins a new story about another nasty undertaker, Old Jeb, who likes taking rich pickings off corpses and counting them each night (talk about Scrooge!) and his ill-used apprentice, Billy White. But don’t spare any sympathy for Billy; he’s just as bad and greedy as Old Jeb. So bad in fact, that he murders Old Jeb, takes his pickings, and puts himself into a client’s coffin, which is intended to carry the corpse away on a ship. It looks like a great way to escape, but we suspect this will only have grave consequences for Billy…

In “Monster”, a bounty hunter has a go at Uncle Terry with a rifle. The result is another death at Uncle Terry’s hands and Ken being shot. Uncle Terry carries the injured Ken to a house in search of help. Unfortunately for him he has no concept of what “Beware of the Dogs” means and can’t read the warning sign because he has never been taught to read – and the dogs are lunging for him already.

We also get an Uncle Terry type in the Ghastly Tale, who takes the film director’s call to “cut” a bit too literally…

Next issue is #13, and for a comic like this, that’s a call for a special celebration. Indeed, we have a half-page blurb on how Scream will celebrate its 13th.

Scream! #11, 2 June 1984

  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Ken Noble)
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: A Fatal Extraction – final episode (artist Jim Watson, writer R. Hunter)
  • Library of Death: Ghost Dance (artist Mario Capaldi, writer Angus Allan)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • A Ghastly Tale – Behind the Door! (artist Eric Bradbury?)
  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)

More attempts at Ghastly’s face this week. None succeed, but one extracts another clue and a second has the honour of being on the back cover (above) because it is so well drawn.

Scream 11 From the Depths

Scream 11 Dungeon

Stakis manages to escape Dracula’s trap and put the stake into one of his servants. That’s one down, but there are two more and Drac himself to go. Meanwhile, Drac has to resort to a condemned house for his new hideout, and shows that even he turns up his nose at drunks because booze makes their blood unfit to drink. He throws a good scare into them instead.

Groan. Uncle Terry kills again. This time it’s self-defence against two men who tried to kill him because of his appearance.

Max shows mercy to the latest visitor to his Thirteenth Floor, who is being punished for shoddy repair jobs, because he begged for it. This shows Max is learning where to stop with the Thirteenth Floor and trying not to let it go too far, as happened in some of the earlier episodes.

The (yeouch!) cover gives you an idea of how things end up for Sweeney Todd dentist Thorpe in the final episode of the Leper’s tale, doesn’t it? Yes, it turns out Makepiece the ghost had more than just revenge on his mind in killing Thorpe’s assistant Grimes. He uses his dark magic powers to turn Grimes into an animated corpse to wreak his revenge on Thorpe. Makepiece sends Grimes and Thorpe straight to Hell through their own Sweeney Todd chair – after having Grimes give Thorpe a taste of his own dental treatment, of course.

This week’s Library of Death tale is an intriguing one. It raises a few eyebrows and is full of surprising ironies, some of which you may find amusing as well as scary. The lead of a pop group mocks his fellow members for believing in ghosts although they use a ghost gimmick. So what happens when they shoot their latest video in a place with a reputation for genuine ghosts? Read it and find out.

(Click thru)

In a Ghastly Tale, a boy dreads what is behind the door. And what is behind the door? It is a common thing that boys don’t like. Clue – there is a lot of steam coming out from the door.

In “The Nightcomers” Beth rescues her brother Rick just as Cutler and his flunky are about to burn him alive, along with the house and the demon haunting it. However, it’s the flunky who gets burned alive and he throws himself down the well. Then another entity appears, and appears to be an unhappy female. Cutler clearly knows who it is and is terrified of it…but why do we sense it is more friendly than the demon?

How do you know who’s the hero (in British girls comics)?

I have been thinking about how you can tell who is the hero, or at least the main character, in British girls comics. I’m sure that as readers most of us can tell who’s the hero most of the time, but there are always some odd cases that test the boundaries. Perhaps we will learn something about some underlying rules of British comics storytelling if we have a deeper look?

Below I suggest five key tests to check who is the main character in a story. These tests aren’t anything to do with how nice or kind the person is – they would apply to an anti-hero as much as to the most perfect hero. Rather, they should tell us whether or not the story is about that person.

Reference in title

You would think the title of the story would be a dead giveaway as to who the story is about – but it’s not always as simple as that, of course. The main villain might be the one featured in the title (“Angela Angel-Face“, “Wanda Whiter Than White“) or, particularly in the case of Jinty, the title may be fairly allusive (“The Valley of Shining Mist“, “Waves of Fear” and many others).

For most stories, though, it’s true – the title does give away who the main character is. Often her name is right up front as the first element of the title along with the key struggle of the story: “Gwen’s Stolen Glory“, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone“, “Glenda’s Glossy Pages“, “Cora Can’t Lose“. But is Amanda Blay the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled“? And in “The Slave of Form 3B“, is the main character weak-willed Tania or the villainous (and rather more interesting) Stacey?

Hearing their words

A more important test than the title of the story seems to me to be whether we know what the character thinks and says. Do we see the character’s words (spoken or thoughts) directly on the page or not?

  • The sample episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” has Amanda’s words showing (in speech or word balloons) in only 10 out of 28 panels in the episode. Her antagonists, Jane and Marty, have their words or speech reported in 22 of the 28 panels (including ones where Amanda also speaks).
  • The sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B” does not include any words or thoughts of Tania’s, but only those of Stacey (in the 26 panels shown, we hear Stacey’s thoughts or words in all bar 5).

amanda must not be expelled crop

Seeing their face

Similarly to the test above of whether we hear their words directly, do we follow them on the page and see what they do, in each panel or the majority of the page?

  • You might think that it comes to a fairly similar outcome if you check how many panels the person appears in;  I would expect the main character in a British girls comic to be in most of the panels (and that, by some way). However, in the same episode of “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, Jane and Marty are visible in 23 of the 28 panels while Amanda is in 18 of the 28 panels. Amanda is visible in quite a lot more panels (18 panels) than just the ones where she says or thinks something (10 panels): she is a focus of the reader’s attention without actually being the main person that you put yourself in the place of.
  • In the sample episode of “The Slave of Form 3B”, Stacey appears in slightly more panels than she speaks in – there are only 3 panels that she does not appear in, compared to the 5 that she does not speak in.

 

Active doer, or passive done-to?

This can be a bit harder to determine, I think. Does the hero (or the person who might be the hero) kick off the actions and make things happen, or is she ‘done-to’ rather than actively ‘doing’? In girls comics there is a definite theme of the downtrodden underdog hero, whose heroism lies in her endurance and persistance rather than in solving the world’s woes, so this may be a less definitive way of singling out the hero of the story. What happens if we look at the two sample stories to check how active the characters are?

  • Jane and Marty ensure that Amanda gets back to the dorm without being spotted and expelled (foiling her intent), and even sneak back the gown and mortar board that Jane dressed up in, to remove all evidence of what they were up to. But Amanda is pretty active too, by the end of the episode: she takes a pair of scissors from the needlework room and sets out to pick herself a bouquet of the headmistress’s prized tulips, as a way to get herself expelled. Honours are relatively even, though I think that on the showing of this single episode, Jane and Marty feel like the initiators of more action than Amanda does.
  • In “The Slave of  Form 3B” Tania is unconscious throughout the whole sample episode and therefore as passive as she could possibly be. Stacey initiates the action throughout: she hides Tania out of sight of possible rescuers, and she makes it look as if Tania has run away. The teachers initiate a search of the grounds, but again Stacey’s action is the decisive one as she lies to the other searchers to decoy them away from where she has hidden Tania.

Slave of Form 3B pg 1 crop

Who has the emotional journey?

Pat Mills is currently writing a series of blog posts on storytelling, and one of the recent entries is on the Emotional Journey. Many thanks to him for this post, as it was something I nearly overlooked in this series of tests. We can sensibly ask, is there a shape to the story and if so, who does that story-shape belong to? There are a number of fairly well-worn story ‘shapes’ and these also help to identify the main character. ‘Spoilt girl redeems herself’ is one of them, and ‘brave girl beats her bullies by enduring’ is another – and by phrasing the story in this way you immediately understand who the hero is. But another way to think of it is, who undergoes the emotional journey – who is changed by the end of the story? Not all stories necessarily have change as part of their core structure, but many do, and it can provide an interesting contrast to the answers derived from the other tests.

  • To answer this question you need to think about the story as a whole, not just individual sample episodes, so it can be harder to determine unless you know the story reasonably well. I don’t know “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled” very well but Mistyfan has provided a detailed synopsis. From this it does look very much to be the case that it is Amanda who has the emotional journey – going from desperately wanting to be expelled to being glad she never managed it, and from hating even being at school to being proud of it and wanting her team to win. Jane and Marty do not obviously seem to change throughout the story, their motives and psychology remain pretty consistent.
  • In “Slave of Form 3B” then again, when we look at the overall story, the sense of who is the hero is rather different from when we look at the details. Tania, who starts off the story weak-willed and very passive indeed, ends up still pretty ‘done-to’ rather than actively bringing about Stacey’s downfall. It is Tania who is acclaimed by her schoolfellows due to her persistence and survivorship, so at least she is changed from being a timid outcast to being someone that all her fellows know and think well of. Stacey, in contrast, has not changed her motivation or aims at all; if anything she has just become more fixed in her ambitions. The arc of Tania’s emotional journey is rather tacked-on in the final episode or two though, which dilutes the effect considerably.

 

Summary

I called the above ‘five key tests’ but of course most of the time it’s hardly necessary to apply a series of tests to determine who is the hero or main character in a story. For more unusual cases like the two stories chosen here, it can however shed some interesting light on aspects of the story.

  • Is Amanda the main character in “Amanda Must Not Be Expelled”, or are Jane and Marty the real heroes? If you just look at the sample episode then Jane and Marty are acting much more like the main characters – they are the ones that the reader sees and hears, and the ones who move the action forward more substantially. But taking the story as a whole, especially when you consider the intention signalled by the story title, it is Amanda who the story is most ‘about’, as the person who has the significant emotional journey.  Perhaps if we re-ran the tests on who we see and hear, and who initates the action, based on a later episode, she would be more obviously marked as the main character?
  • Is Timid Tania, who is the Slave in question, the hero of “The Slave of Form 3B”, or is it wicked Stacey? Stacey is by far the most active and most visible character throughout the story, though there may be other episodes where she does not dominate the action quite as fully as in this sample epsiode. The final part of Tania’s emotional journey feels very tacked on at the end, though there are earlier points in the story where she stands up for herself to some extent. Even taking the story as a whole it does not feel like Tania is ‘really’ the main character; possibly the writer intended her to be so, but had much more fun writing the frankly rather evil Stacey instead!

Scream! #10, 26 May 1984

Scream cover 10

 

  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Simon Furman)
  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: A Fatal Extraction – (artist Jim Watson, writer R. Hunter)
  • Library of Death: Night of the Cobra! (artist Julian Vivas, writer Angus Allan)
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • A Ghastly Tale – Goodbye Uncle George!

The latest attempt at Ghastly’s face is more successful than most so far because it actually hits on something about Ghastly’s face. Reckon the entrant should have been given extra money for that?

Scream 10 From the Depths

Dracula’s latest feedings are in the headlines as murders, but only Stakis realises their true nature. Unfortunately, Dracula has realised there is a vampire hunter on his tail after Stakis has a close encounter with Dracula’s new servant. Dracula does a runner while setting a trap for Stakis in his abandoned hideout. And Stakis walks straight into it!

The Rogans finally make their way into Raven’s Meet. While disposing of Cutler’s dead dog, Rick gets knocked out by Cutler and his flunky – who looks like Frankenstein’s Monster, minus the bolts on his neck.

This week’s Thirteenth Floor story is one that everyone who has been hit by a dodgy repairman should love. Two sleazy plumbers, who did shoddy work that actually hurt someone, find themselves on the Thirteenth Floor where pipes burst and threaten to drown them. Then they are trapped by raging fire.

In part two of the Leper’s story, the ghost of George Makepiece is out for revenge against dentist Thomas Thorpe, who murdered him Sweeney Todd-style. Too bad for Thorpe Makepiece was an occultist, as he and his assistant Grimes discover when they try to rob Makepiece’s house. Makepiece uses his powers to kill Grimes with a Sweeney Todd stunt of his own and sends him to the bottom of the river!

In the Library of Death, a laboratory in Malaysia is home to every species of snake. A newcomer on the science team is an unpleasant type who is only in it for the money that will get him out of debt. He is warned never to underestimate a snake. He would also be well advised not to underestimate a place that is nicknamed “the house of death”. But of course he doesn’t heed those warnings.

Scream 10 Dungeon

Oh dear, Uncle Terry’s done it again. He’s trashed a café with that horrible temper of his. At least he didn’t kill anyone this time. But now there are enough eyewitnesses for the police to get an identikit of Uncle Terry. And it’s one that will stick in anyone’s mind, because he looks just like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Uncle Terry and Ken continue on their way to Scotland to find the doctor who could help.

In the Ghastly Tale, the Jordans aren’t shedding a tear at Uncle George’s funeral. They think they are well rid of their kooky scientist relative and those crazy experiments of his. They throw the last one he made, labelled “life potion”, down into his grave as he is being buried – er, life potion?!

Scream #9, 19 May 1984

Scream 9 cover

  • The Dracula File (artist Eric Bradbury, writer Simon Furman)
  • Library of Death: Ghost Town (artist Steve Dillon, writer Simon Furman)
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artist José Ortiz, writer Ian Holland)
  • Tales from the Grave: A Fatal Extraction – first episode (artist Jim Watson, writer R. Hunter)
  • A Ghastly Tale – The Summoning (artist Tony Coleman)
  • Monster (artist Jesus Redondo, writer Rick Clark)
  • Fiends and Neighbours – cartoon (artist Graham Allen)
  • The Nightcomers (artist John Richardson, writer Tom Tully)

The cover for Scream #9 is one of Scream’s gorgeous wrap around covers, so both back and front cover are produced here. In addition to the regulars on the cover we see some familiar faces from complete stories in previous issues (The Punch and Judy Horror Show, The Drowning Pond and Beware the Werewolf!). No attempts at Ghastly’s face are published in this issue. Ghastly launches a second creepy captions competition because the first was so popular.

Scream 9 From the Depths

The writing credits for The Dracula File change again. Was Gerry Finley-Day writing under pseudonyms for this or were some of the episodes farmed out to other writers?

In the story, Drac’s a bit put out to find his servants have housed his home soil in the (hee, hee!) bathtub because there is no coffin in his new hideout. Waahh! Wanna coffin! While his servants scramble to find one Drac is off in search of more victims to feed on. Meanwhile, Stakis arrives in Britain to hunt the vampire down, and he’s assembled a full vampire-hunting kit.

The Library of Death story is about an American ghost town, which is haunted by skeletal ghosts. The ghosts constantly set a deadly trap – which includes lynching – for unsuspecting motorists. It’s their revenge for a motorcar causing a catastrophe that destroyed their town years before, albeit accidentally.

Max demonstrates a new power – the power to hypnotise people. He uses it to get a tenant to take the latest victim of his Thirteenth Floor back home because he can’t risk any more Thirteenth Floor victims, dead or otherwise, to be found in that lift.

We know going to the dentist in the 19th century must have been murder, but this is ridiculous. In the new Tales from the Grave story, dentist Thomas Thorpe isn’t “too particular” in how he treats his patients, but for the rich ones he has an extra-special treatment – murdering them Sweeney Todd-style in order to rob them. However, Thorpe’s latest victim, George Makepiece, is rising up from the river swearing revenge, and he looks kind of ghostly…

This week’s Ghastly Tale has some dark magic practitioners in a graveyard trying to summon a demon. Instead, they get one angry corpse telling them to stop making such a racket.

Ken and Uncle Terry went on the run without any place to run to. But in this week’s episode of “Monster” they finally find a destination from a newspaper – a doctor who could help with Uncle Terry’s temper problems that can cause him to kill. The trouble is, the doctor is in Scotland, which means a long trek to get there. They manage to sneak aboard a lorry, but while Ken is buying food the lorry takes off – with Uncle Terry on board. Oops!

In “The Nightcomers”, Raven’s Meet is making The Amityville Horror look like a G-rated film. First, the Rogans meet an enormous demon. It is obvious that this demon is what is haunting the house, and Beth’s psychic powers tell her it killed their parents too. Next, blood comes pouring down the front steps of the house!

Spell of Fog [1983]

Sample Images

Fog 1

Fog 2

Fog 3

 

Published: Tammy 29 October 1983 to 17 December 1983

Episodes: 8

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Jake Adams

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

A film crew arrives in the village of Wolfen to make a film about Alice Compton, a victim of witch persecution by none other than Mathew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. Her so-called crimes included bewitching cattle and an artistic style that was ahead of its time and dubbed “the Devil’s likeness”. Nobody spoke up for her because they were too scared of Hopkins. Hopkins applied the usual junk witch tests of the day, which were sometimes augmented by fraud, to ‘prove’ Alice was a witch. After Alice’s burning at the stake her ashes were scattered on the marsh. Predictably, her ghost is said to haunt the spot.

Sally Groves, who feels very strongly about Alice’s fate, is shocked to hear the film director is going to depict Alice as the “devil’s handmaiden” with a “dark, malignant force beneath her almost angelic appearance” who brought evil to the village instead of “the innocent victim of ignorance and superstition” she really was. When Sally protests against this portrayal, the film director has her thrown out. Several people, including the film director, are saying Sally is stupid to get worked up over something that happened centuries ago. Nobody else speaks out against the way the film portrays Alice.

Alice’s self-portrait in the vicarage shows that Sally bears a striking resemblance to her – oh dear! That never bodes well for the protagonist in a serial that features witch-hunting. It is never established as to whether the resemblance is due to Sally being a descendant of some sort, which is the usual assumption in other witch-hunting stories. The self-portrait is the only one of Alice’s pictures to survive; the rest were burned with her. It shows her looking really sad, but that’s all there is. No sign of any malice or evil is present in the portrait.

A mist arises on the marsh where Alice’s remains lie. Sally and her friend Jenny immediately notice it is coming towards them when the wind should be blowing it away. Believing this is Alice’s angry reaction to how the film depicts her, Sally tries to spread the warning, but the director does not listen and continues with his version of Alice Compton. However, the mist comes into the village, stops the filming cold, and has a lot of people running scared.

The mist soon has the film crew trapped in the inn run by the Groves family – and then breaks a window and makes its way in. And they’re not the only ones – the mist has everyone trapped in their homes and nothing keeps it out; it is even breaking down doors to get in.

That’s only the beginning, of course. Next, the mist cuts Wolfen off from the outside world and forces it to revert to a 17th century pattern. All modern technology, including running water, stops working. All modern clothes rot while the 17th century costumes from the film remain intact so people have no choice but to wear them, and they have to cook, clean, fetch water etc the way they did in the 17th century.

But the fog is making one conspicuous exception – Sally Groves. Her modern clothes are the only ones to stay intact. This not only makes her stick out like a sore thumb but also makes her a target of the hysteria, panic, confusion and terror the fog has aroused. These are bringing out the primeval instincts that can turn even civilised people into hysterical idiots and witch-hunting mobs. Gradually, people mutter and then scream that Sally has something to do with the fog, she summoned it, that she’s a witch, she’s Alice Compton returned for revenge etc. Sally becomes the target of persecution, with kids throwing things at her and such. Jenny defends Sally at first, but then goes as nutty as the rest of the villagers when the fog shows up at the attack on Sally. Sally herself has an awful nightmare of the villagers taking her for Alice Compton because of the resemblance they share and burning her at the stake, and is terrified it will become reality.

Sally believes Alice must be behind the fog and what’s happening but can’t understand why Alice is doing this to her when she was speaking up for her. Was she wrong and Alice was a real witch after all who is out for revenge? The portrait betrays no clues and just continues to show Alice looking sad.

There is no doubt in Sally’s mind that the film production is what started it all. When she tells villagers this they try to remove the film crew and equipment in a most violent manner, much to Sally’s horror; she did not mean that. In any case, when the villagers try to throw the film crew out of the village, actual figures appear in the fog and block them, saying there is no escape. The figures look like Puritans from Alice’s time, but Alice herself is not present at all. However, nobody grasps the significance of this clue (that maybe it is not Alice who is behind the fog?).

Then the fog touches everyone in the village, causing intense pain as it does so. Again, Sally is the exception. After this, the villagers think they are the actual 17th century villagers from Alice’s time. They talk, think and act like 17th century people. They can’t even see the now-useless 20th century technology whereas Sally can. These Puritan-thinking people react with horror and outrage at her 20th century clothes. They also believe she is Alice Compton the witch, and Sally’s efforts to convince them that this is the 20th century are misconstrued as further proof of witchcraft. Sally’s parents, which are likewise affected, change her “godless apparel” for 17th century dress, and again try to help her escape, but are blocked again. This time, it is by the possessed villagers and the film director, who now thinks he is Mathew Hopkins the Witchfinder General (it sure is perfect casting!).

The stage is set for the re-enactment of the persecution of Alice Compton and so it ensues (above): sham trial; crazed, ignorant hysterical people on all sides providing testimony; Witchfinder General twisting everything Sally says about this being the 20th century to prove she’s a witch and taking advantage of the villagers’ hysteria; the junk tests/fraud to prove witchcraft; and only sporadic, token protests (from Jenny). The Witchfinder General declares Sally a witch and she is tied to the stake to be burnt.

At this moment the fog reappears, extinguishes the fire, and returns the villagers and film director to normal. The villagers are shocked and ashamed at what they almost did to Sally.

The figures in the fog reappear. They are the original persecutors of Alice Compton. In death they came to realise what they did to Alice and how Hopkins took advantage of them. They cannot rest because they are so ashamed of their crime. And when the film production started it was too much for them and brought them back. With apologies to Sally, they had the villagers re-enact the Alice Compton persecution, right down to the thinking behind it. This was so they too would emerge from it feeling the same way and understand that witch-hunting is not just something ignorant, superstitious people did in times past. All humans, in any age, are capable of it because they all carry the same primeval instincts that fuel it: unreason, prejudice and fear of what they do not understand. The ghosts also did it because they want to entrust with the villagers with two things: first, consecrate Alice’s remains on the marsh so both she and they will find rest; second, a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of them too.

When Alice’s remains are consecrated her own foggy figure finally appears in the story. Alice tells Sally she knows about her sharing the same pain of persecution and hopes they will now share the same joy. She says farewell and departs for the next world.

Within days Wolfen returns to normal and everything modern is back and functioning. The film director (who must have realised the ghosts also did it to teach some people a lesson) scraps the film and makes one about the recent events so as to spread the warning. Sally approves of this film and is sure Alice will too. The vicar finds Alice’s portrait has gone from looking sad to all smiles, but reckons Alice will be even happier if the portrait was gifted to Sally.

Thoughts

Tammy started this story in her last Halloween issue because it is a spooky one. It sure is; it’s got themes about ghosts, witches, the Devil, possession, a grip of terror and hysteria, persecution, a historical setting, and above all, that mist. No villager from Wolfen would look at mist the same way again after this experience.

As the mist takes hold, it gets creepier and creepier. It is clear that this is no ordinary mist. It is intensifying in thickness and intenseness, and it is taking over the whole village. It can even break down windows and doors. It is forcing people back into the 17thcentury, but its reasons for this are hard to discern. Is it Alice returning for revenge? If so, she seems to be taking a very odd approach, including making the girl defending her a target of persecution. When those figures in the fog appear, it suggests it may not be Alice after all. Or are these figures trying to protect the villagers from the mist? And where is Alice? Nothing has been seen or heard from her at all during all the time the mist is taking over the village. It’s all very confusing; we don’t know what to think (or have we guessed?). All we know is, it’s a time bomb that has been ticking ever since Alice was burned, and the film production has detonated it. The question is: where will the fallout from the blast end up?

This story has been mentioned before on this blog, in the Shadow on the Fen entry, as there are echoes of Fen (Witchfinder General references, girl threatened with burning for witchcraft, modern villagers turning into witch-hunting idiots, strong message against the evils of witch hunting and a fog that cuts a village off from the outside world) in this story that has me wondering if it was the same writer.

There have been plenty of stories of murdered witches, both innocent and guilty, returning from beyond the grave or leaving a curse behind them. Examples are “Secret of the Skulls” (Tammy), “Sharon’s Stone”, (Bunty) “The Painting” (Bunty), “Witch!” (Bunty), and “Bad Luck Barbara” (Mandy). There have also been stories that condemn superstitious people for persecuting people in this manner and ones portraying witch hunters as the true evil, including “Shadow on the Fen”. Misty took delight in complete stories about witch hunters and witch-hunting mobs meeting their downfall at the hands of a protagonist with genuine powers.

But this is the only serial I have seen where former witch persecutors return from the grave because they are remorseful and want to make amends and find peace. Their repentance is far more believable than the repentance of witch-persecuting villagers in stories like Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!”. The villagers in these stories just change their minds when they see the girl they persecute perform a heroic act, while the ghost villagers learned it in the afterlife where, we presume, were condemned until they had made amends for their act.

It certainly is a twist to have the former persecutors to be the ones behind it all. From the outset we expect Alice to be behind any creepy stuff that ensues in the story, especially when we hear how the film is going to depict her. To our mind it’s not who’s behind it but what she intends to do and where it’s all going to lead. But then, making it Alice is a bit too obvious and clichéd, isn’t it?

The way the ghost villagers go about their redemption certainly takes you aback. Forcing modern people to re-enact the witch persecution of long ago? Putting an innocent girl through a terrifying ordeal of being persecuted for witchcraft? Inflicting terror on an entire village and forcing it to revert to the 17th century? Wow! But anyone going through that would emerge never assuming witch hunting is just a thing of the past ever again. It can occur anywhere, anytime, because the mechanisms behind it (hysteria, fear, prejudice, hatred of the other) are part of human nature, regardless of the day and age. When the atmosphere is right (such as the terror the fog induces or fear of the growing threat of Communism) all that is needed is the spark to strip away all common sense and sanity and turn apparently reasonable, civilised people into hysterical, witch-hunting idiots and for someone to rise and take advantage of it. Just look at the examples of the Communist witch-hunts and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scares. Or look at the hysterical villagers. It didn’t take much for their common sense, sanity and belief that Alice was just a victim of superstition to be stripped away and for them to become witch-hunting idiots, even before the fog had turned them into complete persecutors.