Published: 9 April 1977 – 2 July 1977
Artist: Trini Tinturé
Translations/ reprints: Katy 8–9; In de macht/ban van een broche [Under the Spell of a Brooch], Tina 1979 and Tina Topstrip 60 1984. Indonesian translation Dalam Cengkeraman Sebuah Bros [In the clutches of a brooch]
Jean Crawley is the star pupil of St Bridget’s. She always wins at everything and is very proud that nobody has ever beaten her. Then Jean meets her match in Mandy Collier, the team captain of the rival team at a hockey match, and is stunned to lose for the first time in her life. Then Mandy – horrors! – transfers to Jean’s school. So now Jean under serious threat from the girl who always seems to beat her, and she is not taking it well.
Then Jean stumbles across an antique shop and is drawn to an Egyptian scarab brooch. The owner tells her it belonged to an Egyptian princess named Neferitta, who lost her throne to a rival but used the power of the scarab to recover it. Jean disappears out of the shop with the brooch before she receives the book that accompanies it – or the owner’s warning that the brooch changed the princess’s personality for the worse while helping her regain her throne.
The brooch begins to push back Jean’s rival at school, but there are warning signs that it is dangerous and evil. For example, mysterious swarms of insects start hanging around Jean. Jean asks the scarab to help her against Mandy when Mandy starts to suspect her of underhandedness, whereupon bees attack Mandy and leave her badly stung while Jean is unharmed while going to the rescue. Jean’s misgivings – and guilty conscience – grow worse when she goes back to the shop to get the book about the brooch. Unfortunately most of the pages are tantalisingly missing. What remains warns that the power of the scarab gives its wearer power over all insects, which Neferitta used to defeat her rival. But the scarab also brought a curse to the land and not even the defeat of the rival stopped it. Terrified, Jean stops wearing the brooch.
However, when Jean is reminded of the threat Mandy poses to her, her jealousy resurfaces and she goes back to using the brooch. And after Jean saves Mandy from the bees, Mandy is fooled into thinking Jean is her friend, which makes it easier to work against her. Mandy is even more fooled when Jean is the only one who seems to be friendly to her when the other prefects send her to Coventry because they think Mr Collier bribed the headmistress with a grant to make Mandy a prefect. Which is precisely what Jean led them to think, of course.
Mysterious help from insects keeps cropping up to destroy Mandy whenever she threatens to score one over Jean. Termites destroy her wooden sculpture in an art competition, so Jean wins. Gnats attack Mandy while the class is on a pony trekking weekend.
However the latter backfires on Jean when it unwittingly puts Sheila in danger. Jean has to move fast to save her. Jean has a pang of conscience, telling the scarab it has changed her for the worse and now nearly killed Sheila, and wishing she’d never summoned its powers. Jean does not realise Sheila overheard what she was saying – and believes it.
But the power of the scarab is getting too strong for any twinge of conscience, as both Jean and Sheila discover when Sheila tries to hide the brooch. Another swarm of insects mysteriously appears and Jean finds herself compelled to open the window for them and they direct her to the brooch’s hiding place. Jean realises someone is on to her, but does not know who.
The pony trekking turned into a fiasco because of the insects, and the girls blame Mandy for it. As a result Mandy loses her prefect’s badge while still thinking Jean is her friend. The rival is being defeated, but now Jean suspects the scarab will not stop there.
Jean discovers it was Sheila who had rumbled her. After another incident with the scarab Jean decides she cannot destroy the brooch without destroying herself. So she now plots to get Mandy expelled in the hope this will break its power (obviously, she did not remember what the book said about nobody being safe from the scarab even after the defeat of the rival). And she scares and tricks timid Sheila into helping her do it, with blackmail. Jean’s plan is to wreck the costumes for the play and frame Mandy for it, with Sheila’s unsuspecting help.
Sheila caves in, wishing she had the confidence to stand up to Jean. Then she finds Jean’s incomplete book on the scarab brooch and recalls another copy somewhere. Next day, Jean’s plan succeeds in getting Mandy suspended. Worse, Jean engineered her plan so cleverly that Mandy thinks it was Sheila who framed her, and was behind all the trouble she has had. Too late Sheila realised what Jean’s plan was, but of course nobody, including Mandy, believes her when she tries to explain about the scarab.
However, Jean soon finds out she has miscalculated. Even with Mandy gone, she cannot break free of the scarab. Its power over her is getting stronger as it makes her ever more evil and turning her into a tyrant (like it had done with Neferitta, as it turns out). Jean is forcing all pupils to wear blazers at all times, even when the weather is boiling hot. When one pupil swats a fly Jean assaults her, because all insects are sacred to the scarab. Everyone, including the headmistress, now have second thoughts about Jean because of her strange conduct.
Sheila, now having read the other copy of the book, which was in her father’s library, knows Jean is going the same way as Neferitta after she deposed her rival, and every evil action she makes is strengthening the power of the scarab. But the worst is yet to come: the scarab has designs of power and conquest. It had Neferitta lead an invasion of insects, which means it intends to do the same with Jean. Sure enough, the scarab has Jean go to the insect house at the zoo to let all the insects loose for the invasion.
The scarab’s power over Neferitta was broken by her rival forgiving her, which means Mandy must do the same with Jean. But how can Mandy even forgive Jean when she does not even realise what Jean has done and thinks Sheila is responsible for her expulsion? Sheila goes to Mandy’s house to try to explain, but Mandy still does not listen. All Sheila can do is leave the book with her and hope. Eventually Mandy reads it, but she is not convinced.
Meanwhile Mandy’s parents have gone to a garden party at school to speak to the headmistress about getting Mandy reinstated, but are not successful (yet). Then the insect invasion strikes the school, and it’s got real nasties in it. There are locusts that make short work of the school garden and drive everyone into the school building, and bees and wasps that keep them trapped there, with Jean laughing at them. They all realise Jean is in the power of the evil scarab brooch.
Realising her parents are overdue, Mandy goes to the school to check things out. She sees the insect invasion and is finally convinced. She gets past the insects by way of an old air raid tunnel. When Mandy confronts Jean, Jean brags how she got rid of her. This clears Mandy’s name, but it does not make her conducive towards forgiveness. However, she does so when Mrs Crawley points out that the scarab brooch was responsible for Jean’s conduct.
Mandy’s forgiveness frees Jean, but it is only for the time being. Jean has been so weakened by the scarab that it could possess her again, and the insect invasion is still out there. The only way to stop the scarab altogether is to put it in a pyramid.
Fortunately Sheila checked out for a pyramid, and there is a pyramid-shaped summerhouse in the neighbourhood that was built by a Victorian eccentric. So Sheila, Jean and Mandy race to get to the pyramid, but find the insects have blocked the air raid tunnel. Jean uses the power of the brooch to command the insects to step aside.
As the pyramid comes into sight, Jean has grown so weak that she faints, and Mandy hurts her ankle. So it’s up to Sheila to bravely make the last lap of the journey while running the gauntlet with the insects. With the aid of a lucky accident, Sheila gets the scarab into the pyramid and its power is broken. The insects disperse and Sheila crushes the scarab underfoot to make sure nobody uses it again.
The school takes the view the scarab was responsible for everything, so no action is taken against Jean. However, Jean voluntarily steps down from her position as head girl – and announces that Sheila is her replacement. Sheila is surprised at this because she sees herself as a coward and timid person. Jean and Mandy say she is far more courageous than she thinks, and she proved it with her heroic deed.
Evil objects that take possession of girls and force them to do terrible things have a long tradition in girls’ comics. But this evil object has a far bigger agenda than simply making the protagonist its slave and forcing her to act nasty, or to enact revenge as some evil objects do, such as in “Slave of the Mirror”. This evil object is out for world conquest, and it is doing it by controlling all insects. When you think about it, that’s a really scary thought; there are millions more insects on the planet than there are people, and there are thousands of species of insects that can do untold damage to humans, from disease-spreading mosquitos and fleas to stinging bees and wasps. During the story we see the damage that even small groups of insects can do, such as Mandy’s wood carving being devoured by termites. If that is what the scarab could do with insects in small numbers, what could it do if it grows strong enough to control all the insects on the planet?
The scarab clearly could not do it unless the person who fell into its power had negative feelings that could be fed upon, nurtured, twisted, and intensified to turn that person into an evil personality who could be controlled while believing the scarab was helping her (or him) to get whatever she wanted, crush the person she hated, and raise her to power beyond imagining. It is unlikely that the scarab could have possessed either Jean or Neferitta if they had lost gracefully to their rivals. They needed to have feelings of hatred, anger and jealousy to begin with if the scarab was able to take control of them at all. As we watch how Jean’s personality worsens under the power we have to wonder if what the scarab is really doing is bringing to the surface what had always lurked there.
If the scarab was sentient (and perhaps it is) we see how extremely crafty it is in ensnaring Jean and gradually entrapping her as its slave. Jean surprises herself at how brilliant her schemes in defeating Mandy are getting and puts it down to the brooch. She thinks it is doing her tremendous favour. Even when Jean has surges of conscience or terror at the power of the scarab, it does not take much for them to be overcome. Jean senses the power of the scarab is growing, but at this stage it is getting too strong for her, and it is corrupting her with temptations of power. She does not realise that the scarab is just using her as a tool and playing upon her jealousy and increasing corruption to feed its strength and carry out its own agenda. One suspects that the scarab’s power would reach the stage where it would not even need Jean anymore.
Jean’s dominance over Sheila is not unlike how Stacey dominates Tania in The Slave of Form 3B. There is no mind control (though the scarab displays some powers of hypnotism, such as making the zoo keeper forget Jean’s break-in at the insect house), but it is still the power of an intimidating personality over a weaker one. Much of it stems from Sheila’s timidity and lack of self-confidence. She looks upon herself as a coward and has no backbone. Even after her heroism she still looks upon herself as a coward. It takes pep talk from Mandy and Jean afterwards to make her see the light. Sheila replacing Jean as head girl is akin to Tania replacing Stacey in the same position at the end of Slave of Form 3B, except that unlike Tania, Sheila has actually earned it. And it’s not just because of her heroism in getting the scarab to the pyramid. Though timid like Tania, she is more proactive than Tania and she is the one who is crucial to the resolution of the story by tracking down the full history of the brooch and (eventually) informing the others what they need to know. Though she knows Mandy will most likely slam the door in her face she bravely tries to talk to Mandy about the brooch and failing that, leaves the book with her.
The artwork of Trini Tinturé is always popular in Jinty, and it does a brilliant job in illustrating the evil that is growing in Jean as the brooch increasingly corrupts her. Tinturé has a long tradition of drawing evil flint-eyed brunettes in Jinty who have insanity or evil exuding from their very eyes and facial expressions, and this one is no exception. Tinturé would have done an amazing job of drawing the corrupted Princess Neferitta herself if she had been allowed some flashbacks instead of being just briefly discussed in the book. One does feel that there is an untold story in the case of Neferitta and it could make quite a story to see the story of the scarab-enslaved Neferitta and her rival told in full. Prequel, anyone?