Publication: 5 November 1977 – 11 February 1978; reprinted 3 January 1981 – 11 April 1981 as a result of Pam’s Poll.
Artist: Guy Peeters
Writer: Pat Mills
Cassy Shaw was born with one leg shorter than the other and a consequent bad limp, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself; what’s more, she is quite happy to play on the sympathies of those who do. Her parents have different ideas: they arrange for her to have an operation that will correct her disability. In the operation, something very unusual happens: Cassy is whirled away through time into the future, a cruel future in which girls who are less than utterly perfect are treated as second-class citizens. She is greeted (with something very different from the sympathy she is used to) by Alpha girl Perfecta, who takes her to the nearest communal home or hive, run by a ‘hive mother’, who takes in children from the age of four and turns them into emotionless, physically perfect “superior girls”.
Cassy quickly revolts against this harsh treatment, where the Gamma girls are dressed in shabby clothes, treated like skivvies, and given literal scraps from the Alpha girls’ tables while the latter hone their mental and physical perfection and live in luxurious surroundings. She urges the Gamma girls to train at sports in order to beat the Alphas and win the Golden Girl award, proving that ‘rejects’ like them can’t safely be despised and humiliated. At first the Gamma girls are understandably sceptical, but Cassy finds allies first in her fellow Gamma, Miranda, who would have been an Alpha if her robo-nurse hadn’t left her too near a radiator which caused her to have a bald patch; and subsequently in Miranda’s mysterious mother, who wears heavy make-up and is clearly hiding a secret, but who is a fantastic trainer. Cassy herself has always been good at swimming and finds that the hive pool has a pace-setter – film of Perfecta swimming. “Racing against Perfecta is just what I need to spur me on. I’ll do anything to beat that stuck-up snob!”
Things initially look sticky in the first round of the Golden Girl trials, but Cassy wins her swimming heat, causing Perfecta to sweat as she realises “She’s better than me! She’s better than me! Those wretched Gamma girls could get through to the final… Could even win the Golden Girl award. I feel sick!” Not so fast – an announcement comes over the tannoy saying that Cassy has been disqualified – there are no records for her, and so the authorities think she must be competing under an assumed name. A reprieve happens when the computer fails to match her up with anyone else – as indeed how could it, as Cassy’s voiceprint and fingerprints never got recorded in this future time. However, this has brought suspicion on the hive generally and further investigations are promised.
Miranda’s mother appears in time to watch her gymnastics performance, which starts off lacklustre but is spurred on by her mother’s presence. This gives the Golden Girls another win, but the mother is furious – with Cassy. “Thanks to you, the Hive Inspector is coming down to investigate. He’ll ask questions about everyone. He’s certain to find out I’ve been meeting my daughter in secret. And then they’ll take her away from me, for ever!” (Yes, that was her secret – or at least, part of it…) Because of this, Miranda feels she can’t be friends with Cassy any longer; and Perfecta, desperate to train as hard as possible, breaks off with her best friend too, setting things up for a head-to-head between the perfect girl and the 20th century “reject’.
It’s a head-to-head that seems doomed to failure for Cassy, not because she is slower than Perfecta, but because Perfecta is about to spill the beans to the visiting Hive Inspector about having seen Miranda’s mother where she wasn’t supposed to be. “When I tell him, he’ll have Miranda and her mother put into a special prison… and serve them right, too!” Cassy can prevent this – but only by promising to lose to Perfecta in the Golden Girl finals. Miranda’s mother comes, sobbing and grateful, to thank Cassy for this sacrifice; the heavy make-up comes off with her tears and reveals … Miss Norm, the Hive Mother! That’s how she has managed to appear and disappear so unexpectedly at times.
Miss Norm tells the story of how the robo-nurse was left to look after Miranda when she was a baby, because Miss Norm wanted to enjoy herself without the responsibilities of motherhood; but as the nurse’s heat sensors were faulty she put the cot too close to the radiator and Miranda’s head got scorched. “If it hadn’t been for the accident, Miranda would have been an Alpha girl. She was perfect…” – Miss Norm doesn’t regret the cruel system of Alphas and Gammas, she just regrets the accident that placed her daughter on the wrong side of the divide. “I had to make things up by protecting her now… When the time came for her to be taken away to the Hive, I changed my name and got the job of Hive Mother.”
Cassy is out of the running because of her promise, but she hasn’t told any of the other Gamma girls, who do well in the final heats. Perfecta draws inexorably ahead as Cassy lets her win, but suddenly Perfecta screams in pain – she has done something to her spine by pushing herself faster and further! She is out of the race, and Cassy speeds up to try to make up for lost time. Even the crowd are on her side, now, despite the Hive Inspector urging them to “Remember your conditioning… “Feelings – bad! Bad! Self-control… Good! Good!” In a final surge, Cassy pips the other racers and ensures that the Gamma girls win the award – to the cheers of the crowd, who push the protesting Hive Inspector out of the way and into the pool.
In the aftermath, Miranda and Cassy are chatting about the changes that have happened since their win: “it seems people were pretty fed-up with things. When a bunch of “reject” girls won a top sports award, they realised they’d had enough of being bullied.” But Cassy is still stuck in this future world – until their walk takes them near to the ruins of the hospital, the place where Cassy first emerged and met Perfecta. She falls down a crumbly part of the ruined site and… wakes up in her own time, with the leg operation having been successful. Was it just a dream? No, because she is still clutching her Golden Girl medallion. “Then everything did happen… the Hive, the Gamma girls, Miss Norm, Miranda! I’ll always have this to remember them by… and the time I spent in the land of no tears.”
Themes and further comment
I keep on comparing Jinty stories with other media items: Children of Edenford with The Stepford Wives, Almost Human with Superman. Not without reason – this revisioning of stories from elsewhere was an acknowledged policy of girls’ comics, as Pat Mills explained to me back in 2005. Well, this story is nothing so much as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s sf classic, done schoolgirl-style. The future is cold, regimented, divested of family feeling, inhuman; the people in it are divided into superior types and inferior “rejects” (even the Alpha and Gamma terminology is taken from Brave New World).
However, the main point of the story is picked up in the word “elitism” that Mills mentions in that interview. Like “Children of Edenford”, the newcomer is faced with a group that creates and values a certain set of élite qualities, though the specific qualities are different in this story, focusing as they do more on physical perfection. Protagonist Cassy is fired up by the injustice of this; her response to this society is not just selfishly wanting the sympathetic response she was used to in her previous world, but to tear down the whole evil structure – a true class warrior response. (In fact, although her normal world is much more comfortable for her, it also did her few favours by not making her challenge herself in the way that she is clearly capable of, not that she would necessarily have seen it that way.) Cassy’s journey from selfish manipulator to crusader is quick: in the first episode she is shown cannily and coldly getting her own way, but as early as the second episode she is already thinking of the wider picture (she comforts one of the crying four-year-old new Hive entrants by giving her a doll).
Again as with “Edenford” and other stories of this kind, some of the interest is in the sheer outrageousness of how far the writer is prepared to ladle it on. The future girls are called ‘Perfecta’ and ‘Divina’; they take showers in icy-cold water; the girls wear big As or Gs on their clothes to denote their status. This verve moves the story on quickly, still including touches of realism, such as the bitchy relations between the lower-class Gamma girls, who have no-one but each other to pick at. If you are picky, there are indeed plot holes to poke at. How did we get from our current soft-hearted society to the future hard-nosed one? Does the setup apply across the world, and if so what will happen given the collapse of the hive society at the end of the story? (And if it wasn’t world-wide then what happened in terms of collaboration between different types of society?) And most of all, how can it be that positive human emotions such as the love shown between Miranda and her mother is at all sustainable, even in hiding, in this repressive set-up? These are however side-issues that don’t occur as you avidly read through this exciting story.
Unlike almost all other Jinty stories, in this case we know both the artist and the writer. Pat Mills is well-known for writing science fiction and anti-establishment stories, so it comes as little surprise to assign his name to this story. Artist Guy Peeters has a distinctive style that makes it easy to link his uncredited art to the stories he did later on when credits were published. I would say that this is one of Peeters’ best works, with varied layouts, expressive features on the characters, and a solid depiction of the uncaring future society. It is little surprise to me that this story was shortlisted in Pam’s Poll for readers to vote on a reprint of, nor that it should have emerged a winner.