In this issue, Alley Cat and Gypsy Rose return for 1980. This week’s Gypsy Rose story (recycled from Strange Stories) brings readers some Robert MacGillivray artwork, which has not been seen in Jinty since “Desert Island Daisy”.
It looks like Laura’s task is to liberate a captive Viking princess in “When Statues Walk…” from these walking Viking clay statues. Another one of them gets broken, and Laura is worried a teacher will discover the secret if she puts the pieces together.
In “The Perfect Princess”, bratty Princess Victoria gets rid of another rival, Isabella. Sally, the remaining rival, is pleased about that, as Isabella was the favourite. But she doesn’t realise Victoria plans to get rid of her next by making it look like she pulled that trick on Isabella.
Dragon hijinks abound in “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”. First it’s a dragon teacher, and now Roger’s playing St George with some visitors dressed as a Chinese dragon.
The latest Pam of Pond Hill story adds to the increasing presence of sport in Jinty. Marty Michaels has a big problem: her sister Trina, who goes overboard with crazes, and thinks she either knows it all or can gain it from books. Trina’s latest craze is to become an athlete. Although she eventually realises it’s not for her, it’s the immediate springboard to her next craze: interfering with Marty’s athletics by becoming her self-appointed trainer. Marty thinks this sounds ominous, and she can only be right. We doubt books alone would make anyone a good sports trainer.
In the other sports stories:
Sneaky Cynthia is doing a stakeout to find out what this accelerated learning is that’s turning Karen into a brilliant ice-skater. Of course she can’t see “The Spirit of the Lake”, who’s giving Karen coaching – and as a result, she gets a shock that causes her to have an accident. This could make things awkward for Karen.
More sabotage for “Toni on Trial” from jealous Julie. This week, she loosens the spikes in Toni’s shoes, and when Toni falls on top of her as a result, she accuses Toni of doing so on purpose. And with so many people thinking badly of Toni because of her mother’s disgrace, it’s all too easy for the accusation to gain traction.
And finally, Bridie has to resort to some “equal rights for women” arguing to get into a canoe club for Boy Scouts. They make their own canoes, which could give her the canoe she needs, but then she discovers there’s a snag – their canoes are for troop use only.
For World Holocaust Memorial Day we present this Commando, with comparison to Jinty’s Holocaust story, “Song of the Fir Tree”.
In the closing days of World War II, Nazi Germany is being fast invaded by the Allies from the West and the Russians from the East. However, in between are territories still under German control and lingering pockets of Nazi evil that intend to survive one way or other. Among them is the Secret Research Centre at Badfelden, run by the “hardened” S.S. Colonel Hartmann and “merciless” (but “abject coward”) nuclear physicist Bernhard (or Hans on the back cover) Gruber, and slave labour consisting of concentration camp prisoners and Airman Carlo Fabrizzi, an Italian who defected to the Allies and then got captured. As well as the usual Belsen-style treatment, the prisoners suffer an additional cruelty that adds to the high death toll: being forced to handle radioactive material without protection.
Gruber and Hartmann been trying to develop an A-bomb to score victory for the Reich, but Gruber hasn’t had much success, and now they’re out of time with enemy closing in so fast on Badfelden. So they activate “Plan Cuckoo”. As part of this plan, Gruber is to immediately head south and surrender to the approaching Allies. But they left an office window open, and it’s right next to where the prisoners are working, so Fabrizzi overhears them. Dummköpfe! Didn’t they ever read the posters? Vorsicht bei Gesprächen! Feind hört mit! [Careful when talking! Enemy is listening!].
Realising Gruber and Hartmann plan to dispose of the prisoners and the sinking ship before the Allies arrive, Fabrizzi organises the prisoners into a revolt against the guards, which takes Badfelden by storm. However, after the initial surprise, the guards are quick to recover, and they are soon on the verge of crushing the revolt. Fortunately, the Allies arrive in the nick of time, and Badfelden is liberated. However, Hartmann has already fled, and there is still the matter of Gruber and Plan Cuckoo.
Fabrizzi informs the Allied Commander, Ken Horton, about Gruber and his heading south to surrender to the Allies. Horton says Gruber is more likely to bump into the Russians, who are in between, and they are in a very nasty mood against Germans. They head off together to find Gruber and bring him to justice. Gruber is cornered by the Russians and, being the coward he is, starts snivelling, blubbering and grovelling for the Russians to spare his life. He is saved by Fabrizzi and Horton, who persuade the Russians to let them take him into custody. The mystery of Plan Cuckoo still puzzles Fabrizzi, but it looks like Plan Cuckoo is a dead duck now that Gruber is all set to stand trial.
Unfortunately, the Americans have other ideas. They are secretly recruiting scientists, engineers and technicians from the former Third Reich for employment, to gain advantage in the Space Race and Cold War (Operation Paperclip). They want Gruber for their own A-bomb development. Under pretext of wanting him for special interrogation, they smuggle him to the US. Under a new name (Smith), Gruber is soon working for the Manhattan Project. The Americans put up a false report in the press that Gruber killed himself in American custody. Horton is surprised to read it, as he thought Gruber was too gutless to commit suicide.
Meanwhile, the Americans don’t realise their actions have unwittingly put Plan Cuckoo back on course. Gruber is cribbing as much top secret information from the Manhattan Project as he can for Plan Cuckoo to succeed. As soon as he is ready, Gruber makes a call to Germany, and a car is sent for him. He nearly gets caught, as he is carrying an implosion trigger and suspicious guards want a search, but then his car arrives. His helpers whisk him away to Nazi haven Argentina and an old friend, shooting the guards as they do so.
Two years later, Fabrizzi summons Horton to Argentina, where he is running an air freight business. At Buenos Aires airport, Horton sadly reads about the growing Cold War in the paper, and now the Soviets have the A-bomb. Then he is surprised to spot Gruber, whom he thought was dead. Gruber boards a private plane. In exchange for a nice sum of money, a mechanic tells Horton the plane is bound for San Miguel, Patagonia, Southern Argentina.
When Horton meets Fabrizzi, he is shocked to see him in a wasted state. Fabrizzi says it’s radiation sickness from being forced to handle radioactive material unprotected in Badfelden. He won’t last much longer and has summoned Horton to carry on his work after he dies. No, not the air freight service – Nazi hunting. Gruber is at the top of the list. There’ve been other sightings of Gruber, and US contacts have told him what happened. But Horton’s lead is the first to link Gruber to San Miguel. Fabrizzi is still able to fly despite his illness, so they fly to San Miguel.
They arrive at San Miguel, but there is no sign of Gruber’s plane at the airport. They soon learn that many ranches have private planes and airstrips, and they file a flight plan for the airport for the sake of convenience. To find the plane, Fabrizzi and Horton have to do some aerial reconnaissance around the area. But at the airport, a Nazi spy spots them, recognises Fabrizzi, and reports them to the boss. He then plants a bomb on their plane. The explosion has the plane crash on a ranch belonging to Rhys Griffith and his son Manuel, who save the men from the crash.
The Griffiths tell Horton and Fabrizzi about a landowner named Alfonse Klein, a dangerous man of suspected German origin, who arrived straight after the war with a group of thugs. Klein forces his neighbours into selling their ranches to him by threatening to set them on fire. When Horton and Fabrizzi investigate Klein, they discover he is Colonel Hartmann from Badfelden.
Everything fits now, and the answer to Plan Cuckoo must be on Klein’s ranch. But when Horton, Fabrizzi and Manuel Griffith try to infiltrate the ranch, they discover it is fortified to the teeth and booby-trapped to set off any intruder alarms. When they try to cut through the wire fence, they discover it’s electrified and rigged to set off an alarm, which alerts Klein’s thugs. They manage to shake off the thugs, but they take revenge by setting fire to the Griffith ranch, killing Rhys.
The men take refuge at a ruin and decide they need reinforcements. No problem – Klein has made more than enough enemies for that. Manuel calls in his father’s friends and the local people who fell foul of Klein. Fabrizzi calls up his fellow ex-prisoners from Badfelden, and his airline flies them in. The black market supplies weapons and explosives.
Alerted to the booby traps, Horton and Manuel take a team of gauchos on a more planned infiltration of the ranch. This time they get past the fence and come in distance of the ranch, where they see barracks and Gruber’s plane. They decide to withdraw, but one of the gauchos trips an alarm, alerting Klein and his heavies. Only Horton and Manuel escape the slaughter. Manuel is dispatched to get help while Horton draws Klein off. He is captured, and Klein, instead of finishing him off quickly, decides to take him alive and show off his little Nazi operation to him.
Yes, Gruber and Klein have a cosy Nazi shrine/bunker set up in the cellar for building the A-bomb they had failed to construct at Badfelden. They had known from German intelligence how advanced the Americans were in developing the A-bomb and their being on the lookout for German scientists to help them. Hence Plan Cuckoo: plant Gruber “like a cuckoo’s egg” to learn their secrets and then fly him to their secret base to develop their own A-bombs. Now their first test bomb is ready. Their plan is to take advantage of the growing Cold War by using their A-bombs to trick the Soviets and the West into an atomic war so “the three wartime Allies will be laid waste”. Then they will move in with their new Nazi order. “It sounds crazy enough to work,” Horton thinks.
Klein then tells Horton that in the morning that he and his heavies will make sport of him in a great manhunt – they will give him 15 minutes and then chase after him. Yes, when he could have just finished Horton with a bullet there and then…and it’s given Horton one advantage – more time for his rescuers to organise themselves.
Manuel has made it to airstrip where Fabrizzi’s Badfelden buddies have arrived. They are all like Fabrizzi: living skeletons dying from radiation sickness, out for Gruber’s hide, and have nothing to lose by joining a deadly fight. They call themselves The Society of the Living Dead. Fabrizzi flies them into the ranch by planes fitted with machine guns to quickly clear the area. They and their guns soon have the manhunt on the run and rescue Horton.
They head for the cellar, where Gruber threatens to detonate the bomb if they come any closer. Knowing the cowardly Gruber has no real gumption for that, Horton calls his bluff and seizes him.
There is now the question of what to do with the atomic arsenal, as they don’t trust the local authorities. Fabrizzi comes up with an idea, and as Horton wouldn’t agree, he has to apply strong arm tactics to get his way. He will give them 15 minutes to clear the area. Then he himself, who is already doomed anyway, will detonate the test bomb, taking himself and Gruber with it. Horton reluctantly respects Fabrizzi’s wishes.
Most of the men clear the area by plane, but Manuel and Horton are trying to leave by jeep, where they run into Klein, who blocks their escape route. Their two jeeps head on a collision course with each other, in a crazed game of chicken, guns at the ready. Klein’s driver is the one to crack and swerve, giving Horton the scope to shoot Klein dead. It’s then a mad drive to get clear before the coming of the mushroom cloud and the fallout.
The authorities never report the atomic explosion, so the world never learns what happened or how close things came to an atomic war. Fabrizzi dies an unsung hero.
It was a surprise to find a Commando that not only uses the Holocaust theme, an extremely rare thing in Commando, but also shares some parallels with Jinty’s “Song of the Fir Tree”.
Both stories open in a concentration camp setting where its days are numbered because of the approaching Allied-Soviet advance into Nazi Germany. Although the concentration camp itself is swiftly liberated early in the story, it establishes the setup for the rest of the story. Its legacy casts casts a long shadow, which refuses to be dispelled until the final panels, and in both cases it is told against the backdrop of post-WW2 and its fallout. In Fir Tree, it’s a war-shattered Europe and the emergent Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In Nightmare, it’s the growing Cold War and its companion threat of nuclear war, and post-war obstacles in bringing down Nazi war criminals.
The setup for both stories are very similar. It’s Nazis vs their former victims, which takes the form of pursuit and conflict between them right up until the end of the story. The victims may have been liberated from their concentration camps, but there are lingering unresolved issues from the concentration camp because the Nazis responsible were not caught and punished. They escaped and are still on the loose, getting away with their crimes and committing even more. Justice has been denied for their former victims, but it’s not just the past that affects their lives – it’s also the present. In Fir Tree, the two liberated children from the camp have to run for their lives from the Nazi collaborator Grendelsen, who is out to silence them. In Nightmare, Fabrizzi and his friends have to live with radiation sickness from their Badfelden days.
Though the setup of both stories is very similar, the two types of pursuit between the Nazis and their former victims are on opposite ends of the spectrum. In Fir Tree, Grendelsen is the pursuer and his former victims are the quarry. He wants to silence those meddling kids because they are the only ones who can identify him as a war criminal. In Nightmare, the former victims are the pursuers and the Nazis are the quarry, in a Nazi hunt. In both cases, the authorities can’t be trusted to help. In Fir Tree, it’s because they think Grendelsen is respectable and wouldn’t listen to stories that he is a Nazi collaborator. In Nightmare, it’s because they are helping the Nazi fugitives, out of connivance, greed, sympathies, or even fear. In both cases, the victims can only depend on each other, whatever help they manage to find, and strokes of luck. When it comes to dealing with the Nazis, in both cases it’s a final confrontation and fight with them. Conventional legal proceedings are of no use, but in both cases the Nazis receive poetic justice that satisfies all round. Grendelsen is killed by a falling fir tree just as he is about to kill his victims. Klein dies in conflict and Gruber by his own bomb, and their victims, both old and new, finally get the chance to settle the scores.
Commando often drew on historical events for inspiration and realism, and this story is no exception. Even Klein and Gruber’s secret atomic bunker was based on something real – the Huemul Project in Patagonia. Unlike Klein and Gruber, it is questionable as to whether the Huemul Project was even serious atomic research, much less producing a bomb. The threat of nuclear war makes the story even more intense although the Nazis’ plan to carry it out sounds more like television than reality.
Having Fabrizzi die an unsung hero when he deserved so much more seems so unfair and sad. Still, one of the strengths of Commando was that not all its heroes ended up with military honours. As with Fabrizzi, the only recognition they received was in the grateful hearts of their companions, and some Commando heroes did not achieve even that. Some died with their feats unknown, for security reasons, the authorities not knowing what happened, or whatever. Such a thing must happen so often in warfare.
This week’s episode of “When Statues Walk” takes the cover spot, and it is one of Jinty’s best covers. One look, and you can’t take your eyes off it. In the episode, all this haunting by creepy Viking statues is giving Laura nightmares, and the nightmare includes a wolf with a demon tail. But the excavations reveal the body of the wolf in question. Was there more to it than just a dream?
Brother Herbert, the ghost monk from way back in part one of “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” who gave Sir Roger the power to materialise for more effective haunting, is not pleased to find Sir Roger over-familiarising himself with the living instead. He sends in a ghost bulldog to deal with the matter, but one plate of food from Gaye and he’s their best friend.
In “Pam of Pond Hill”, Terry threatens disco trouble, but Pam strikes at the very heart of the problem – Terry’s brother Stan. His prejudices against teachers, due to bad school experiences, have prompted Terry to become the school troublemaker. Giving Stan a piece of her mind completely turns the corner, and she really surprises Stan in how his prejudices against teachers get challenged. In fact, they get so much challenged that he himself prevents the dreaded disco disaster from happening.
In “Spirit of the Lake” Karen takes to midnight skating to keep things up with her mystery coach. “The Perfect Princess” (not) is now trying to get rid of Sally by tying her up and taking her place at a ball to make trouble for her. In “Toni on Trial”, Toni thinks she’s got the hurdling layout sussed for the trials, but she doesn’t know jealous Julie set up the hurdles at the wrong distance, to make her screw up at the trials. In “White Water”, Bridie disobeys orders not to do canoeing practice unsupervised and gets expelled from the club. Undeterred, she’s going to get her own canoe.
It’s New Year, and Jinty celebrates with part one of a pullout calendar, in verse, which also takes the cover spot this week. Starting “Winning Ways”, a feature on sports tips, was also fitting to start at New Year, and part one is this issue. “Winning Ways” was written by Benita Brown, who is thought to have written “Spirit of the Lake”, Jinty’s only ice-skating story. No new stories can begin for New Year in this issue, as the current ones still have a way to go, and “The Perfect Princess” is only on its second episode.
Jinty sure has been getting bigger on sports over the December–January period. She now has sports pages, “Winning Ways”, and three sports serials: “Spirit of the Lake” (ice-skating), “Toni on Trial” (athletics), and “White Water” (canoeing).
There are disco problems in “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”, in the form of a ghost jester. When Sir Roger unwittingly upstages him at the disco, he’s riled and is going to lodge an official complaint.
Sally Smith steals a girl’s identity to get into the contest for “The Perfect Princess” to replace Victoria, the princess who’s been deemed unfit to inherit the throne because she’s a real terror. Knowing girl’s comics, Sally can only get away with that deception for so long, and she’s had one narrow escape already. Meantime, Sally has an even bigger problem – Victoria is trying to get rid of her and the other candidates, and she’s got rid of one already. But Victoria may find Sally is not so easy to get rid of.
Another terror, Terry, threatens trouble in Pam of Pond Hill. Pam is helping her form teacher, Miss Peeble, to find her feet. She’s lacking in confidence and assertion, has a lot of unruly kids in her class and other pupils walk over her, and now she’s in charge of the school disco. But Terry is bringing in even more larrikins with him to the disco and says it’ll be a riot. Disco dread for Pam, and will it be disco disaster for Miss Peeble?
And speaking of terrors, terror really ups the scale in this week’s episode of “When Statues Walk…”. A statue walks all right – right into Laura’s flat for the pendant in her possession! Thanks to Laura’s dog, it doesn’t succeed. And now there’s a very tearful call for help coming from the pendant.
Molly Mills and the Festive Season (artist Douglas Perry, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
My Terrible Twin (artist Juliana Buch)
The Trickling Sand (artist Peter Wilkes) – Strange Story
Boomtown Rats – feature
Wee Sue (Hugh Thornton-Jones)
Tuck-In with Tammy – feature
Christmas is coming and Tammy is gearing up for it in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This is part 3 of her Christmas collection feature, which is on making things for Christmas. This was one of the last Christmas-themed covers with the Cover Girls.
The Bessie Bunter story (below) looks like it was originally written to advertise the (very rare) June Comic Annual of Strange Stories where the Storyteller got his own book, judging by all these spooky references to the book in question and Strange Stories. In the reprint here, it’s been bodged to advertise the Tammy annual. The Tammy annual was a common gag on the Cover Girls covers around the Christmas period. Molly also has a Christmas-themed story to tie in with the festive season. It is now on its penultimate episode and will conclude in the Christmas issue. It was reprinted in the 1985 Tammy annual.
The Wee Sue story this week isn’t tied to the Christmas theme. Instead, it’s a football theme. Meanwhile, the Storyteller takes us on a historical tale in the Highlands. Soldiers sent to seize a Scottish rebel against James II try to force his whereabouts from his daughter, but help comes from – spiders?! We’re told the Storyteller will bring us a Christmas story next week.
Around Christmas time, it was common for some serials to end to make room for new stories in the New Year period. The one about to make way for the New Year lineup is “My Terrible Twin”, now on its penultimate episode. Bella has finished for the year, and as she won’t appear again until the second quarter, there’s more room for serials.
However, “Cindy of Swan Lake”, now on its second episode, will carry on into the New Year. Feedback in the letters page and Cindy’s appearance in Tammy’s 10th birthday issue indicate it was a very popular story. Cindy Grey has started ballet school, but her jealous rival, Zoe Martin, has come along as well, and now she’s seized her chance to play really dirty. She’s taking advantage of Cindy being constantly worried about her swan friends, who are being poisoned by pollution.
“Make Headlines, Hannah!” (an overshadowed girl is trying to prove herself, but her spiteful sisters keep sabotaging her) and “Daughter of the Desert” (a school is plagued by strange phenomena that are making it revert to a desert pattern) look like they still have some episodes to go yet.
Published: Jinty 22 December 1979 to 19 April 1980
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Benita Brown?
Translations/reprints: None known
The Christmas season is a good time to look at serials with winter themes and snow settings, so we bring you this ice skating story from Jinty. Jinty herself must have thought the same way, as she started publishing it over the Christmas period. It sure made for a beautiful Christmas season cover!
When Karen Carstairs’ father dies, her mother thinks it’s so kindly for their Graham relatives to take them in. But when they arrive, Karen soon discovers it’s not so kindly. Aunt Margaret, a mean woman in both senses of the word, only wants Mum as unpaid help around the house and gives them the less comfortable apartments upstairs. Cousin Cynthia, the best ice skater in the county, is a spiteful minx and clearly her mother’s daughter. Only the uncle is kind to them, but he is too good-natured to see how nasty his wife and daughter are to their relatives.
Uncle suggests Cynthia take Karen down to the lake and teach her how to ice skate. Cynthia doesn’t look too thrilled at this as she hands Karen a pair of skates. At the lake, she and her friends are laughing at how badly Karen is doing and don’t bother with her anymore. Then a mysterious woman comes skating up, tells Karen she did badly because the blades are in poor condition (surprise, surprise!) and offers to teach Karen herself. Under her guidance, Karen is soon doing much better. Cynthia sees this and immediately smells a rival. But she doesn’t seem to be able to see the lady.
Back home, Uncle spots how poor the skates are and gives Karen good ones from the dozens of pairs they have. Cynthia says she didn’t notice the state of the blades (yeah, right).
For Karen, the lady and skating are now the only bright moments in what is clearly going to be a miserable time with her aunt and cousin. But Mum doesn’t realise she’s being taken advantage of with all these dogsbody tasks Aunt keeps finding for her. Karen tries to tell her this and helps her out wherever possible; the work is very hard and it’s telling on Mum. Even though Mum eventually gets some inkling of it herself, she feels she has to do it out of gratitude for the home they’ve been offered.
The strange skating lessons continue, with Karen making strides and Cynthia thinking Karen’s making things up or something with this mysterious lady. Karen begins to realise the lady only appears when she’s alone, and only she can see her. And she’s miles better than Cynthia. She now takes to going to the lake early to make sure she’s alone with the lady, but this gets her into trouble at home and she’s banned from skating for a week. This makes things awkward; the lady has warned the ice will thaw soon and Karen must come as often as she can before that happens, and the lady can’t guarantee coaching her at the ice rink. However, when Karen saves a farmer’s child’s life, Uncle graciously lifts the ban.
Now it’s skating by moonlight, which Karen now deems the safest time to meet the lady. Karen is surprised to briefly see a man skating with the lady, but he disappears as mysteriously as the lady herself. And the lady insists Karen ask no questions about her. And there are a lot to ask – like who is she, and why and how does she seem to disappear into thin air?
Meanwhile, it doesn’t take Cynthia long to catch on to the moonlight skating. She sneaks out to spy on it, and soon detects something very odd is going on. When it looks like Karen is just flying through the air (the lady is holding her), Cynthia faints dead away and takes a bump on the head. She mumbles about what she saw to Karen before fainting again, and now Karen knows something really strange is going on. Karen gets the farmer to help Cynthia home. As well as getting trouble over this and skating at night, which Uncle says could be dangerous, there are damned awkward questions for Karen to answer about just what happened.
Cynthia says she can’t remember what happened after that knock on the head, which helps Karen to cover up about what happened. And Cynthia suddenly going nice to Karen, even urging that Karen go on skating when Aunt tries to ban her. But of course it’s just an act. Sneaky Cynthia remembers everything and is determined to find out just who is coaching Karen, which is the only way she could have made such strides so fast with skating. Then the lady appears and warns Karen that Cynthia is speed-skating into danger, as the other end of the lake is thawing fast. Karen saves Cynthia in the nick of time, but Cynthia is suspicious as to how Karen knew about that thawing ice in the first place. For her part, Karen is suspicious as to why Cynthia didn’t notice the sludging ice, a warning of dangerous ice ahead. She noticed it herself when she went after Cynthia, and Cynthia is a far more experienced skater than her. Good question, but it’s never answered in the story.
Anyway, the lake is finished for skating and now it’s the rink for both of them. Aunt agrees to allow Karen to skate at the rink, but she will only pay for her skating sessions, not extra coaching like Cynthia. Meanwhile, Karen is worried as to how she will cope at the rink without the lady coaching her, but in a dream, the lady reassures her that she will try to find a way to help her.
At the rink, Karen soon discovers Cynthia is not at all grateful to her for the rescue. She isn’t having her friends making a heroine out of Karen over it and tries to play down Karen’s heroism by lying about what happened. Nonetheless, Karen makes a friend out of one girl, Diane, who gives her the skating outfit and tights Karen didn’t know she should have (and Cynthia obviously didn’t tell her). The coach, Miss Baker, spots Karen’s talent and wants her in Cynthia’s class. Pretending to be the nice aunt in front of everyone, Karen’s aunt agrees to pay for the extra coaching after all.
Also, Miss Baker says something that could be the first clue to the lady’s identity: “I see you’ve inherited the family talent, Karen. You remind me of the Great Margot!” Later, Aunt tells Karen the great Margot must be her husband’s great aunt, Margot Graham, who was an Olympic skating star in the 1920s. She became a very rich and famous film star and died just after the war. At home, when Karen reflects on the day’s events, she realises the lady did find ways to be there at the rink for her.
After the first lesson, Karen stays on her own for extra practice, and the tune “The Haunted Lake” from a Margot Graham film, starts playing. Once Karen’s on her own, the mysterious lady appears and skates to the music, saying it’s her music. Now Karen realises the lady is Margot Graham – but she is dead, which means…oh, finally caught on, have you, Karen?
Under Margot’s tuition, Karen makes further strides that impress the girls, but this odd talking to herself (actually, the ghost that the others can’t see) is making Cynthia suspicious. And she is so jealous at how her cousin is upstaging her as best skater that she decides it’s time to bring out her big guns.
Cynthia makes her move when Karen is given a record of “The Haunted Lake” by another friend at the rink, David, who operates the control room. She smashes the record, but then the music starts playing from somewhere else.
No, it’s not ghost music. It’s the television set, which is screening “The Haunted Lake” – and talk about life (or death?) imitating art! In the film, Margot plays a ghost haunting a lake who teaches a girl to ice skate. This has Karen babbling about Margot is now doing the same thing with her. This provides Aunt Margaret with her excuse to stop Karen skating, saying she’s ill. Meanwhile, Uncle says that the lake was where Margot first learned to skate. She always wanted to return there but was too busy with her career. Eventually, she booked a flight home to do it, but the plane crashed, killing everyone on board.
Mum shows Karen a book she has found about famous skaters. Karen now learns the name of the male skater she once saw Margot dancing with. He was another Olympic champion, Rudi Linde, and after Margot’s death he opened a skating school in Switzerland before dying just after the war.
Cynthia snatches the book away and says she’s going for an audition to win a scholarship at that skating school, now run by Rudi Linde Jnr. Karen then overhears an argument between her aunt and uncle over whether she should audition as well. Miss Baker had suggested it, but Aunt told her Karen was ill. Moreover, allowing Karen to audition could spoil Cynthia’s chances. Rather weakly, Uncle gives in. Furious, Karen decides to go for the audition.
So Karen makes her way to the rink to put a programme together. But she has to walk to the bus stop, which means a long in the snow. Worse, Cynthia and Aunt have discovered what she’s up to and give chase. They lose her, but are confident she’ll end up lost or too tired for any auditioning. Sure enough, snow is now falling and Karen’s in danger of getting lost. However, they have reckoned without Margot, who guides Karen to the town and the rink, presumably through a short cut. But then comes another snag – the rink is closed because of the upcoming audition, which means no practice or chance to put a programme together.
David comes to the rescue. He helps Karen slip in to prepare for the audition, and as she is alone, Margot appears to help her. Cynthia, Mum and Aunt burst in, with Aunt trying to block Karen from the audition again. However, Miss Baker saw Karen skating brilliantly, and as Karen is clearly not ill, she insists she take the audition, which can now begin as Linde Jnr is here.
Cynthia goes first, and she’s definitely on form. Karen is off to a somewhat uncertain start, but when “The Haunted Lake” music comes on, it gives her the boost to narrowly beat the more experienced Cynthia and win the scholarship. Karen now learns Margot was Linde Jnr’s mother; Linde Snr and Margot married, but kept the marriage secret from their fans, a common thing for film stars at the time. So Linde Jnr and Karen are relatives, and the family talent is now explained – the skating genes of Margot Graham run through both Karen and Cynthia.
Mum is given a job at the Linde school, so she’s coming to Switzerland with Karen and is no longer Aunt Margaret’s drudge. Uncle apologises to them for how his wife and daughter made their stay unhappy. At the school, Karen makes brilliant progress, and she still feels the presence of Margot when she’s skating alone.
This is a good, solid read, and the letters page indicates it was a popular story. It certainly has plenty in it to make it so: a Cinderella theme, a nasty cousin who is utterly irredeemable, a wicked stepmother type, ghosts, ice skating, a fairy godmother figure, and a girl with a wonderful secret. There’s also the Phil Townsend art, which is always popular and can be turned to a variety of genres. It is perfect for the snow settings in the story and does a good job on bringing the skating to life.
Some of the story elements we have seen many times before, but it’s nice to get some new takes on them. For example, it’s the mother who’s the Cinderella of the story rather than the heroine, who takes the more novel role of Buttons. We have no doubt if Karen had arrived alone to her relatives’ house, she would have been the Cinderella, with the Aunt using far more blackmail tactics to keep her in line as Karen isn’t falling for her tricks the way her mother does. It’s nice to see one relative who’s nice instead of both being horrible and exploitative, which is the usual case in Cinderella serials. The only problem with the uncle is that he’s a bit naive in not being able to see how horrible his wife is being, and he may also be lacking a little backbone. For example, in the quarrel with his wife over whether Karen should go to the audition, he gives in a little too readily despite his reluctance and what should have been a red flag: his wife saying Karen shouldn’t go to the audition because it would spoil Cynthia’s chances. We have to wonder why he married her at all, as he is far nicer than she is.
Unlike regular Cinderella protagonists, the mother in the Cinderella role is not even trying to fight or break free of her exploitation because she can’t see it for what it is, despite Karen trying to tell her. She thinks it’s fair exchange for the home they’ve been given and doing it is an expression of gratitude. Even when the uncle apologises for it in the end, her response is more gratitude for the home they were given.
Oh, what kind of home? It’s clearly a dismal one with Cynthia and her mother. Karen’s pursuit of skating and the mystery lady are the only bright spots and relief in what is otherwise a miserable situation. And when Cynthia’s response to Karen saving her life is more jealousy and spite, it’s established once and for all that this is a home they must break away from. Those two are beyond redemption and will never change, so there is no living with them.
It’s also good to see the ghost/fairygodmother figure is not a deus ex machina. There are limits to her powers because she can only appear when Karen is on her own, so she can’t always be there to bail Karen out. She can still find ways to help where possible, but it’s done in subtle ways, without Karen even realising she’s doing it, which actually helps Karen even more that way. It gives Karen scope to stretch her own development in skating and not be too dependent on her mystery lady. In the audition scene we sense Karen really is winning it all on her own, without Margot’s help, except for a last-minute boost of needed confidence.
The story makes a fine job of explaining how Margot came to be haunting the lake, but it’s a real surprise twist to have the haunting inspired by a movie she did in life. The family connection was clearly another reason why she appeared to Karen, but that’s not to say she can’t appear to anyone who needs it. For all we know, Margot is still haunting the lake, waiting to help another prospective skater to stardom as she did with Karen.
It is now December, and Jinty is starting off the countdown to the festive season with a feature on how to make your own Christmas cards. Sadly, the rest of her Christmas countdown got cut off by a strike, causing her to miss three issues that December. In the New Year, Jinty belatedly printed the episode of Fran’s Christmas party, which must have been intended for the Christmas issue. Strangely, Tammy was not affected and had all her issues that month. Perhaps the IPC strikes did not affect their titles all the same way.
As we see on the cover, things are getting stormy in “Sea Sister”, and she’s not the only serial with it this week. Storms and floods are turning the tide in both “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Human Zoo” and helping our heroes to escape their respective confinements. In the former, it’s a cruel children’s home. In the latter, it’s an alien lab, which is also demonstrating that the aliens, so advanced compared to Earth, are light-years behind Earth when it comes to a flood crisis. Their technology is not made for water except in avoiding it. There’s no water drainage, no boating vessels, no flood control, no rain gear or umbrellas. They can’t even swim although they have seen it from humans. All because they are afraid of water, presumably because of their evolution.
The Girl Who Never Was is given some magic spells to help her survive in the magic world, but there are drawbacks. The biggest one is a limit on the number of spells, so Tina has to really use her head in how she uses them – or avoid wasting them. Will it help the selfish Tina acquire the good sense she badly needs?
In “She Shall Have Music”, good sense is still very far from Lisa’s thinking. Her parents have given her an electronic piano so at least she has something for piano practice, but the arrogant Lisa considers it way beneath her and angrily kicks it to pieces like the spoiled brat she is. Her parents are deeply hurt, but all she can think about is piano, piano, piano. Then she tracks down her original piano, which is going up for auction. Knowing how obsessive she is about getting that piano back, this can only mean more trouble.
Sue and her fun-bag are annoyed at how Aunt Thora goes on and on at how you should spread a little happiness wherever you go and keep a smile on your face at all times…with Henrietta around, that is asking for it!
In Alley Cat, Spotty Muchloot thinks he’s foiled Alley Cat at last when he bells the cat, but it backfires on him because of unforeseen consequences.
Fran plays Dick Turpin and “ghost” to keep a horse safe from crooks, but they track her and the horse down all the same. Better come up with something fast to fix them, Fran!
Cherry’s luck finally seems to have changed, with a big chance that could finally break her free of the relatives that she doesn’t even realise are exploiting her. But we’re not counting our chickens with her still in the clutches of those sneaky relatives.
Fran sure deserves the cover spot this week because of her latest potty antic – landing a horse she’s trying to protect in the school swimming pool! She’s really excelled herself this time.
Spotty Muchloot pulls another trick on Alley Cat, this time to keep him tracked and stop him pinching his food. But of course Alley Cat’s fast to detect it and turn the tables on Spotty.
Tina (The Girl Who Never Was) and Lisa (She Shall Have Music) continue to make their difficult situations even more difficult for themselves because of their selfish attitudes, because of which they can’t see beyond themselves or realise there could be different ways to handle their situations. At the end of it, it looks like Lisa’s in trouble in front of the whole school, but there’s a strange development for Tina.
This week, our space aliens in “The Human Zoo” demonstrate that in some ways, they are not as advanced as we first thought, and Earth has the upper hand over them in some areas. Shona and her friend Laika glimpse the aliens’ farming methods – which is done by hand ploughs and tools, and captured humans as (cruelly treated) beasts of burden – while Earth, far less advanced, has long since gone over to mechanised farming in developed nations. These aliens have the flying saucer, food replicator robots, a time machine and the flying skateboard, but they don’t have the frikkin’ tractor?! The logic to it is that farming machines would need repair and maintenance, whereas slave humans can be quickly replaced. Oh? For how much longer? The aliens are driving native humans to extinction, and it is getting too expensive to take ones from Earth. Considering how efficient and cost-effective Earth’s mechanised agriculture is by comparison, these aliens would do well to take a leaf or two out of our book. Well, on to the alien city, where things take a surprising but weird twist in Shona’s search for her lost sister Jenny.
A police cell? That’s the latest shelter for our runaway orphans in search of the home “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, as the police haven’t anywhere else to put them. Don’t worry, the door’s not locked. The police have to do their duty and send them back where they started, but our orphans are working – well, singing – their way to the policemen’s hearts.
Cherry gets an audition, but whether by accident or design, her mercenary relatives have dolled her up to such ridiculous levels that Cherry’s not on form for it. Can she recover and turn things around, or will there be no cheers for her again?
“Sea Sister” finds the stone she came for. The trouble is, it’s been set into a wall to fix a hole. And she’s growing attached to her new friend, Jane Bush, but she can only stay until she retrieves the stone. Things are definitely getting problematic.
As the winter season is approaching, we take a break from girls’ comics and bring you a Commando with a winter theme.
In Verdalsora, occupied Norway in World War II, Major Walther Brandt has been ordered to crack down on any Resistance activity. As Brandt is an utter psycho, his methods are insane as well as brutal. He forces locals to clean off the anti-Nazi graffiti that keeps appearing – then has them all shot. When a suspect (who looks like the correct one) refuses to talk, Brandt goes berserk, kills the man with his bare hands, and then orders more suspects to be rounded up.
Hauptmann Georg Fischer, recently transferred to Brandt, can’t bear to watch his atrocities, and Brandt has noticed “he has a bad habit of disappearing at times like this”. Though Fischer still wants to serve his country, he does not want to go on serving that “madman”, or the Reich if it’s producing people like him. So, one winter’s night, Fischer puts on his skis and deserts.
When Fischer’s desertion is discovered, it puts Brandt’s promotion on the line, as it came just when the Oberst (Brandt’s commanding officer) was making an inspection. So Brandt is demanding a swift recapture, but his goons lose the trail in the falling snow, which forces them to abandon the search. They are confident the winter conditions will soon deal with Fischer, but this cannot save Brandt’s promotion, and he is left seething over it.
Meanwhile, Fischer is having problems finding proper shelter against the winter conditions, which are indeed threatening to finish him off. When he tries to get help from some Norwegians in a remote area, he gets shot at because of his German uniform. Eventually, he finds a mountain hut. As he can’t travel any further in the winter season, he winters at the hut and passes the time surviving, growing a beard, and learning what Norwegian he can from a phrase book he brought along.
As winter turns to spring, Fischer’s thoughts turn to how to get out of Norway. He notices an increase in Allied/Resistance activity in the area, in the form of Allied reconnaissance aircraft and a seaplane using a fjord as a landing strip to make deliveries to the Resistance, at the place where he was shot at before. He considers approaching the Allied aircraft to surrender and make safe haven in Britain, albeit in a British POW camp.
Then Fischer observes one Allied plane being shot down. He rescues the only survivor, the wireless operator Peter Blance, who has sustained a foot injury. When a German patrol approaches, Fischer downs them, but does so while wearing German uniform himself. One of the soldiers survives to report this. When Brandt receives the report, he realises the truth. Hellbent on revenge for the lost promotion, he takes a party into the region in search of Fischer.
Meanwhile, Fischer brings Blance to the hut. Blance is rather surprised at a German helping him, but guesses Fischer is a deserter. Neither can speak the other’s language, but they both have some knowledge of Norwegian and establish rough communication and an odd Allied-German friendship that way. Fischer does what he can for Blance’s injury, but he does not have the proper resources to treat it, and then infection sets in. The only way to get treatment is to ask the Resistance at the fjord for help. Fischer takes Blance to them on a makeshift sled and this time engages in a more prudent approach to avoid being shot at: the white flag of surrender and calling for help in his limited Norwegian.
Blance’s injury is soon being treated, and he helps to convince Resistance leader Ivan Petersen that Fischer, who has been locked up by the Resistance as a precaution, is friendly and wants help out of Norway. Petersen trusts Fischer enough to explain his Resistance movement is growing but still incipient, and they need the Allied supplies to make more impact. The remoteness of the fjord makes it an ideal place to set up shop, as theirs are the only houses for miles. They arrange to help Fischer and Blance get to Britain via the seaplane. But when the seaplane arrives, Brandt spots it too. Realising the seaplane is how the Resistance gets its supplies, he sees his chance to impress the Oberst.
Brandt utterly blows that chance once he sees Fischer on the boat to board the seaplane. As with the graffiti suspect, rage overtakes him and he goes utterly berserk. He orders his men – only a small party – to open fire. Fischer and the seaplane return fire, decimating Brandt’s goons. The revenge-crazed Brandt orders his remaining goon to cover for him while he takes an outboard motor and goes wildly after Fischer himself, firing his gun all the way. Fischer fires back, rupturing Brandt’s fuel tank. Brandt’s boat erupts into a mass of flames and he perishes in the icy waters. Nobody in Brandt’s party is left to make a report, so operations are still safe.
After his final confrontation with Brandt, Fischer changes his mind about seeking refuge in Britain. Deciding he should now fight instead of run, he wants to join Ivar’s Resistance and fight men like Brandt in the Reich. And so he does, under the codename Snowbound. To protect his identity, British Intelligence only ever refers to him by his codename.
Commando always made a strong point of showing there were good Germans in World War II, German soldiers who served out of loyalty to their country rather than Hitler and were repulsed by the atrocities committed by the SS and such. The Wehrmacht was one, and for this reason they and the SS were so often at odds with other. Commando often used this to have stories featuring sympathetic German soldiers, and always made the distinction between them and the likes of the SS or Major Brandt very clear indeed.
World War II Resistance stories in Commando usually focus on the POV of the Resistance and/or the agents dispatched to help them, and their reactions and responses to the brutalities of the Nazi regimes. The Holocaust is never mentioned, but even without it, Commando can depict the horrors of the Nazi regime clearly enough; it does not spare the scenes of the brutal arrests, torture, executions, and mass slaughter of innocent civilians in retaliation for anti-Nazi activity. One example of this is “Night and Fog” (Commando #4464).
However, “Snowbound” takes a different approach with WW2 Resistance by focusing more on the Germans than the Resistance fighters and has us thinking: What might the reactions of the Germans themselves be to these brutalities? Were there any German soldiers of conscience out there who said, “No, I can’t do this, I don’t want to be part of such barbarities”? Historically, the answer must be yes. Even in Auschwitz, there were examples of good Germans, such as Hans Wilhelm Münch, known as “The Good Man of Auschwitz”.
The case of Georg Fischer illustrates what must have been a common dilemma for German soldiers with a conscience: What can you do if you find yourself serving under a commander like Brandt? Or in a place like Auschwitz? Fischer initially chose to run from it, but eventually he decides to fight it. His initial decision to desert was a wise one. It was not just to stop being part of evil he despised – it was also because Brandt sensed Hauptmann did not agree with his “methods”, which in time could have put Fischer in serious danger if he had stayed much longer. When he meets the Resistance, he now has the option to fight, but still chooses to run and seek sanctuary. It takes the confrontation with Brandt for him to look at the fighting option, and make him realise he would achieve far more productive things in joining the Resistance than spending the rest of the war in a POW camp. Besides, he deserves far better than a POW camp.
Peter Blance is a very engaging person, and the Khato artwork of his somewhat dumpy appearance really brings him to life. He is a guy you instantly like and want to know more about, maybe even see again in a future Commando. His Norwegian exchanges with Fischer as they begin to communicate gives us some insight into their backgrounds and fleshes their characters out more. It’s an odd friendship, between a German and an Ally, but one that would have Blance realising there are good Germans, ones who are not like the psycho Brandt. When Blance and Fischer are forced to say goodbye, they hope they will meet again. Blance’s parting comment is that he thinks Fischer is the bravest man he has ever met.
Brandt’s lunacy is also brought to life by the Khato artwork, particularly the close-ups of his killer eyes and the rendering of his big square jaw when he’s in a crazy mood. The Khato artwork is also perfect for the harshness of the winter and living rough settings. The only artwork that lets things down a bit is the cover. The scene, which is not a snow scene at all, is a jarring match against the title “Snowbound”. Fischer in a winter scene of some sort (fighting in the snow as Snowbound or fleeing on his skis, for example) would have worked far better. Also, it is not very inspiring, showing someone’s back against a seaplane. Surely Commando could have produced a more exciting cover.
Ultimately, Brandt’s madness leads to his own destruction (what other kind of destruction is there?). His insanity, when a cool head would serve him far more, is also why he is not all that good at seriously crushing the heart of the Resistance. We see this twice, first with the suspect and then discovering the Resistance in the fjord. In both cases he throws a golden opportunity away by turning into a raving loony instead of keeping his head and using his brains more. He lost the suspect as a source of valuable information by just killing him in a rage instead of looking for other means to make him talk. When he spots the Resistance activity in the fjord, at first he does things right by observing it discreetly. But once he sees Fischer, he goes crazy again and starts blasting, alerting everyone to his presence and opening up their own fire. Even when he’s being fired upon and losing men, he recklessly chases after Fischer, not thinking or caring he’s only one man who’s outgunned and outnumbered. That sort of conduct would most likely get him killed, and it did. If the Oberst had been watching, it is hardly likely he would have been impressed.
The ultimate irony is, by compelling Fischer to desert and then to fight, it was the psycho Brandt who turned him from loyal German soldier to the Resistance fighter Snowbound. If Fischer had been transferred to, say, a front instead of Brandt, things could well have taken a far different turn for him. No turning away from the Reich once he’d seen what monsters it was producing, no desertion, no joining the Resistance, and still fighting for Germany, but for Germany rather than the Reich.
Cathy Sampson lives for running – which she does barefoot. It’s her only joy in the miserable life she leads with her parents (or foster parents, as they referred to at one point). They treat her worse than Speed, their racing greyhound, who gets expensive steak to keep fit for racing, whereas Cathy gets a cheap diet. Living off Speed’s winnings is the only way they live, as neither of them are bothered to work. But even Speed is prone to being ill-treated.
Cathy’s ambition is to join the local athletics club and beat the local champion, Helen Douglas. Helen and her fellow athletes have heard of Cathy, but they, along with the rest of the neighbourhood, look down on her because she lives in a slum house and her parents, known as “the smelly Sampsons”, have a bad reputation. As a result, Cathy has no friends, except for Speed. Cathy also has a reputation among the athletes as a wild girl, and she is tagged with the moniker “common”, which comes as much as from her spending so much time on the common as the way she lives.
Cathy uses her time on the common to train secretly while helping Speed to do the same; training Speed is something her parents constantly lumber her with. She has also learned how to forage for nutritious food growing there to compensate for her home diet, which is hardly suitable for training on. In the garden, she has a secret stash of money, which are her savings to join the club.
One day, Helen and the other athletes drop by Cathy on the common and tease her. Cathy gets her own back by setting Speed on Helen. She then chases after Helen herself, and discovers she is a match for Helen and could even best her. Unfortunately, Helen has realised it too, which sets the stage for what follows: not allowing Cathy to prove it to the club or overtake her as local champion.
After her race against Helen, Cathy heads to the club to get the enrolment form for joining up. But Dad finds her secret stash for the joining fee, which all goes on steak for Speed, of course. However, after reading the enrolment form, Cathy discovers that if she can demonstrate exceptional talent, she can join without a fee. The club secretary, Mr Bennett, is a bit reluctant, as this rule is seldom applied, but eventually agrees to Cathy’s deal: if she beats Helen, she can join. What can be more exceptional than beating the club champion? The race is set for the following day.
Helen isn’t having this, and knowing Cathy could beat her, tries to make trouble for her by reporting Speed’s attack to the police. The police warn Cathy’s parents that Speed will be destroyed if there is another complaint. This really gets their backs up as they depend on Speed for their livelihood. They go around to Helen’s place to read out the riot act to her and her family, and the scene they make gets really ugly. Mr Bennett, after seeing their conduct, is put off allowing Cathy to join, and she realises it. It looks like Cathy’s parents have ruined things for her again.
Cathy decides to go back to apologise for her parents’ conduct. There she meets Mrs Mirren, who agrees to pull a few strings. However, Dad is so angry at Cathy going back to apologise that he forces her and Speed through extra-hard training, which leaves her too exhausted to perform well against Helen, and she fails the test.
However, Mrs Mirren can’t forget Cathy and has Helen take her around to Cathy’s place. She is appalled to see the house Cathy lives in and senses Cathy is in desperate need of money to join. Cathy sees them approach. She doesn’t know if it’s jeers or second thoughts, but eventually assumes it’s the former. Meanwhile, Dad sees them both off with Speed. Mrs Mirren still won’t forget Cathy, so Helen is desperate to find a way to put her off Cathy altogether.
Deciding money is the problem, Mrs Mirren decides to loan Cathy the money for the joining fee, encloses a note to join in time for the inter-club competition on Saturday, and has Helen deliver it. But, as Helen plans, Cathy’s parents pocket the money, which they intend to put on Speed’s race the following day. When Cathy asks questions, the parents spin a lie that Mrs Mirren doesn’t think she’d make a runner and sent 25p to feed her up as she looks skinny. Cathy’s left heartbroken and raging at Mrs Mirren for such an insult. Meanwhile, Helen tricks Mrs Mirren into thinking Cathy conned her out of the money. Now both mistakenly thinks badly of the other.
Then, a newspaper informs Cathy that Mrs Mirren is one of Britain’s top coaches and Helen is one of her discoveries. This renews Cathy’s hopes of beating Helen and getting her chance. Meanwhile, back at the stadium, which is also used for the greyhound racing, Mrs Mirren discovers how horrible Cathy’s parents are to Speed. He’s lost the race and the money they put on him, and they’re beating him. She then overhears them rage on how they lost all that money they took from Cathy and now suspects the truth.
Sensing Mrs Mirren has overheard them, the parents make fast tracks for home and silence Cathy, fearing Mrs Mirren will come asking questions. But Cathy overhears Mrs Mirren asking what happened to the money she sent for the joining fee. The parents try to fob Mrs Mirren off with more lies, which she doesn’t believe, but she can’t do much without seeing Cathy. Cathy, of course, now realises her parents have tricked her and is desperate to explain to Mrs Mirren, but doesn’t know where to find her. After making enquiries, Cathy realises her only hope of finding Mrs Mirren is the championship on Saturday. But when Cathy sees the crowds at the event, she realises finding Mrs Mirren will be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Then, when Cathy sees Helen running in the 800 metres, she gets a crazy idea on how to get Mrs Mirren’s attention. There’s nothing to lose, anyway. She jumps straight in and races after the competitors. The spectators are initially angry at Cathy gatecrashing the race, but they soon start cheering at her amazing speed, how she’s narrowing the gap and “going through them like a hot knife through butter” – and doing it barefoot! And this time, Cathy beats Helen.
Of course, Cathy’s win isn’t official, so the medal goes to Helen. But it’s a hollow victory for her because she’s been beaten at last, and Cathy is the hero of the event. She’s made her point, gotten Mrs Mirren’s attention, and soon explains what her parents did. Mrs Mirren replies that she guessed as much. Mrs Mirren not only takes over Helen’s training but her welfare too, so Cathy leaves her horrible parents forever. Sadly, Speed’s still in their clutches, and Cathy can only hope he wins enough to keep safe from ill-treatment.
This story was published in the weeks leading up to the June merge with Tammy on 22 June 1974 and ended, along with all the other running Tammy serials, the week before the merger. Yet it does not give the impression it is intended as a filler story, even if it was. The length of eight episodes feels right, and the pacing is good. Nothing feels rushed or underdeveloped. It would have worked well as a reprint in an annual somewhere.
Common Cathy was one of many serials to follow the Cinderella format, but it does have some differences from the formula, which makes it refreshing. The main one is that there is no wicked stepsister/cousin who gets the lion’s share in everything at the expense of our ill-used Cinderella protagonist. Instead, there’s a dog who gets the lion’s share of the food expense, but he’s far from spoiled. In fact, he’s as liable to be as ill-treated as Cathy herself. He’s only there for profit and income, and the parents don’t care any more for him than they do for Cathy. His racing is the only means of income for the parents, who are too lazy to work, but his winnings are subject to hit and miss, and he suffers if it’s a miss. And he serves not only as Cathy’s friend but also in helping her to become the speedster that she hopes will be her salvation from her miserable life.
Cathy does not seem to be as much of a drudge as other Cinderella protagonists, such as Bella Barlow. For example, we don’t see her being forced to do all the work her parents are too lazy to do. The drudgery seems to be more focused on training Speed, as her father is too lazy to do it, and getting the leavings of the food expense. She is also very innovative in how she makes up for the poor diet she gets at home, so she is not underfed as some Cinderella protagonists are. But there is no question she is not well treated, and the RSPCA ought to have serious concerns about Speed too.
The parents’ nickname, “the smelly Sampsons”, sure makes us laugh. It’s not quite clear if it’s their B.O., their slum house or what, but there is no denying they are stinkers in everything they say and do. They would live better than they do if they made their own income instead of depending on Speed’s racing, but they are too lazy for that. It’s surprising they are not involved in any criminal activities, given the type of people they are.
Again, we have abusive parents that are not punished in any way for how they treated Cathy. But what’s even more concerning is that they still have Speed. Mrs Mirren has seen for herself that they mistreat the dog, but nothing is done in that regard. Being left on the hope Speed will win enough to stay safe is not very reassuring, especially as Cathy is no longer there to train him. The story would have ended on a much happier note if Speed had been removed from his abusive owners and maybe come along with Cathy.
A race to win is always an exciting resolution to any serial, and making it unofficial, with Cathy crashing the race out of desperation rather than being officially entered, makes it even more so. Seeing Helen seething over a hollow victory and a medal that means nothing while Cathy is cheered as the real winner gives us a whole lot more satisfaction than seeing Cathy claim an official victory and the medal. Moreover, Cathy not being officially entered in the race gives Helen no time for dirty tricks, as she’s been taken by surprise. Readers would be reading Cathy’s race to win over and over.