Moonchild [1978]

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Published: Misty 4 February 1978 – 29 April 1978

Episodes: 13

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Misty annual 1983; Misty Vol. 1 2016, published by Rebellion

Plot

All Rosemary Black wants is to lead a normal life and have friends, but she does not get much chance at home or at school. Her mother (no father is present) is severe and abusive, and she shows Rosemary no love or affection at all. She is always beating Rosemary black and blue with a cane because she thinks there is a “dark wickedness” in Rosemary that must be beaten out. What dark wickedness? Rosemary is clearly not a bad lot.

At one point Mrs Black is hauled up before the magistrate because of her treatment of Rosemary. But the magistrate dismisses the case without even a slap on the wrist. He believes parents should use more discipline, and just tells Mrs Black not to overdo it in future.

Mrs Black is not only abusive but strange as well. She does not allow gas or electricity at her house (Rosemary has to do her homework by candlelight). She does not allow Rosemary any freedom or dress fashionably like other girls, and she clamps down on any bids for these with more abuse, and bigotry to rival any fundamentalist. She doesn’t even allow Rosemary to have birthday parties (something that will have dire consequences later). Strangest of all, Mrs Black sometimes looks at Rosemary as if she’s afraid of her – now what could be the reason for that? Mrs Black’s dress sense is just as bizarre; she always goes out wearing a black cloak. This makes her look like a witch, which is precisely what everyone whispers whenever they see her.

Yes, Mrs Black has clearly got quite a reputation around the town for weirdness if not witchiness. It seems Rosemary does too; there is graffiti on a wall that says: “Rosemary Black is a weirdo”. It looks like someone else wrote “true” underneath that.

We get a pretty good idea on who wrote that graffiti when we get to Rosemary’s school. Girls pick on Rosemary because there’s something strange about her that nobody can really pinpoint. The worst bully is Norma Sykes, who’s a bad lot and got ‘delinquent’ written all over her (and where does she get those fags of hers when she must be underage, like Rosemary?). Her reason (or excuse) for tormenting Rosemary is that in her view Rosemary deserves it for being so weird, and her daily fix is getting Rosemary to cry. Norma has two cronies, Freda and Dawn, and she constantly holds them to their oath of loyalty to her.

Anne is Rosemary’s only friend at school. Anne gives Rosemary a more fashionable hairdo, which exposes a crescent moon-shaped mark on her forehead. After Rosemary finds the moon mark, strange things do begin to happen to her in earnest. It’s like there’s some sort of power growing inside her; small objects move and a television set goes on the blink for no apparent reason when Rosemary is around. The power gets stronger when the moon is full, and the school nurse finds the mark is burning red hot although Rosemary has no temperature. But the first really spectacular event occurs when one of Norma’s tricks (match in a piece of chalk) sets Rosemary’s hair on fire. Rosemary seems to subconsciously lash out at Norma – and then a bookcase starts toppling towards the bully. Norma narrowly avoids being flattened.

Rosemary is sent to the school nurse, who refers her to the school doctor, Dr Armstrong, about the moon mark. Afterwards, Rosemary and Anne discuss this strange power that seems to be growing. It grows even more when it enables Rosemary to save Anne from a nasty accident and they realise strong emotion is key. That night, a full moon prompts Rosemary to practise with the power, and she gains more control over it.

When Mrs Black sees what Rosemary is doing, she really goes berserk. She yells that she knew it would happen and it was the evil she had been trying to beat out of Rosemary all along. She really brings the cane on this time to teach Rosemary not to use her “wicked gift”. However, Rosemary snatches the cane away with her powers: “No! You will not hit me…ever again!” And wouldn’t you know it – Mrs Black never beats Rosemary again!

Meanwhile, Norma wants revenge on Rosemary because of the punishment she got for the match trick (although her cronies did the lines for her) and brings out her big guns. Norma’s plan, called “Operation Rosemary”, is intended to hurt Rosemary where it hurts most by crushing the thing that Rosemary desires the most. In order to find out what this desire is, Norma directs Dawn to become ‘friendly’ with Rosemary. Anne is to be pushed out of the way in order to help this along. Dawn is to gain enough of Rosemary’s trust for her to say what the desire is. Then they will concoct the way to ruin it.

Next day, Rosemary is surprised at Dawn suddenly coming all over friendly and helpful to her. Even Norma is leaving her alone. Rosemary wonders if the other girls are starting to accept her. Anne is suspicious at this sudden friendliness from Dawn and warns Rosemary to be the same. Anne’s suspicions make things too difficult for Dawn to break them up. Norma decides hard measures are required to get rid of Anne, so she fouls Anne at a hockey match to put her in hospital.

Meanwhile, Dr Armstrong is intrigued at Rosemary’s moon mark. He becomes even more intrigued when the needle bends inexplicably when he tries to give Rosemary an injection. He wants to refer her for further testing. For this he gives Rosemary a consent form for her mother to sign. Mrs Black throws the form away, saying the gift is evil and she does not want that sort of interference.

That night Rosemary has a strange nightmare of a raging fire where Norma, Freda, Dawn, and even Anne are laughing hysterically at her. Then she falls into the fire. Upon awakening, Rosemary checks on her mother, and is surprised to find a photograph of a beautiful woman who also has the moon mark. Mrs Black explains that it is Rosemary’s grandmother. Grandmother also had the “evil” gift and something terrible happened to her because of it. Mrs Black tells Rosemary not to use that gift or something similar will happen to her. Rosemary can’t really believe it because Grandmother looks a nice woman to her and she is soon feeling a bond with her. Mrs Black goes crazy and tries to burn the photograph, but Rosemary rescues the photograph with her powers. At this, Mrs Black washes her hands of Rosemary entirely, though just what she means by that is not clear. To help decide things, Rosemary retrieves the consent form and forges her mother’s signature on it so she can have the tests.

Dr Armstrong watches Rosemary’s powers in action at the tests. This includes her powers going berserk and smashing up the laboratory when she gets distressed at the sight of Anne being carried away on a stretcher. Dr Armstrong tells her that her power is called telekinesis. Rosemary tells him about her grandmother having the power and the mother’s attitude about it. So Dr Armstrong now wants to interview Mrs Black. Unbeknownst to Rosemary, Dr Armstrong is getting greedy and wants to use his discovery to catapult him to the heights of fame in science.

Dawn finally convinces Anne and Rosemary of her friendliness with a get-well present (flowers raided from the park flowerbed) in hospital. However, Dawn is still having problems obtaining the information Norma wants. And Rosemary is also getting the impression that they are being shadowed. At Dawn’s house, Rosemary uses her powers to distract Dawn’s kid brother from a tantrum by moving his toys telekinetically. He is thrilled with these fascinating antics with his toys. Then Rosemary is very surprised when another power, which is even stronger than hers, takes control of one of the toys and throws a scare into Dawn. Now where could that power have come from? Well, there is one other person with the power who’s been mentioned in the story…could that be a clue?

Mrs Black is called up to the school. She tells the doctor and the nurse that the power and accompanying moon mark had run in the family for generations. Apparently she is the black sheep in reverse because she is the only one in the family without it. She says she was lucky in escaping the “curse” (pull the other one, as we see later!). As a child, Julia (Mrs Black’s first name) did not really mind her mother’s power and just thought it was strange.

Then one night the power caused a terrible tragedy in the family. Grandmother was surprised by an intruder in the house, panicked, and used her telekinesis to hit him with an iron, which unwittingly caused his death. Too late she discovered that it was her own husband, who had gone AWOL from the army and was sneaking back to see them. Julia saw how her mother’s telekinesis had unwittingly killed her own father. From that moment on, Julia went against her mother, who was imprisoned because the police did not accept it was an accident (probably because they did not believe how it happened). Mrs Black had not seen her mother since then (she was raised in child welfare after that) and believes she died in prison. She blames the power for her father’s death, and calls both it and her mother evil. When she had Rosemary, she was horrified to discover her baby had the power too. Her harshness (which she begins to regret a bit) was meant to crush it and stop another terrible thing happening.

The doctor and nurse try to reason with Mrs Black, saying the tragedy was not really her grandmother’s fault. The power itself is not evil; such thinking does not belong in this day and age. She does not listen and tells the doctor she will not have any more of his tests on Rosemary.

Rosemary’s 13th birthday is coming up. This finally prompts her to tell Dawn what she would really like – a birthday party, which is something her strict mother has never allowed. So now the next phase of Operation Rosemary is planned. Norma says she will be Rosemary’s fairy godmother (a very evil fairy, of course) and give Rosemary “a very special birthday party” where they “give her da woiks!” Soon after, Dawn tells Rosemary they are organising a birthday party for her, and her house will be used for it. Dawn has arranged for her parents and kid brother to be absent from the house (to get them out of the way, of course).

Mrs Black now tells Rosemary the story about the grandmother and just what she means when she says something terrible will happen if she keeps using the power. Rosemary gives in and promises not to use the power.

But that night, Rosemary is surprised when that other power returns, and it is trying to enter the house. Being stronger than Rosemary’s, it wins the fight. The door opens to reveal…Grandmother (died in prison, huh?).

Grandmother says she has been watching Dawn, figured out her game (that toy terror was an attempt to scare Dawn off) and come to warn Rosemary. Mrs Black finds Grandmother in the house and is not making her welcome. Grandmother rebukes Mrs Black for the way she treated Rosemary. When Rosemary says it was meant for her own good, Grandmother says that’s not the real reason. The truth is that Mrs Black is jealous because she was the only one in the family without the power, and she took it out on Rosemary. One look at Mrs Black’s face confirms this, as do her comments that if she had inherited the power she would have used it for evil: “Oh, what I could have done with the power!” Rosemary goes upstairs all confused and just wanting to be ordinary. After Grandmother’s visit, the relationship between Rosemary and her mother becomes so bad that they are hardly speaking to each other.

Unfortunately, Rosemary does not heed Grandmother’s warning about Dawn. In her view she can trust Dawn because Anne does now (haven’t you heard of misplaced trust, Rosemary?). So the party/final stage of Operation Rosemary goes ahead at Dawn’s house.

At the party, Norma and her gang lock Anne up so she cannot interfere with Operation Rosemary. It is a birthday party where everything is designed to be horrible and reduce Rosemary to tears. The birthday ‘surprises’ include presents filled with nasty things such as worms, and a birthday cake laden with the most vile ingredients Norma could find: fag butts, cat meat, fish bones, rotten eggs and the like. The bullies ruin Rosemary’s newly made party dress by spraying all over it, and all over her as well. Upstairs they bully Rosemary further with ‘party games’. But they didn’t mean the balustrade to break and Rosemary fall off the staircase.

Then the bullies are really surprised to see Rosemary floating in mid air! (We learn later that Grandmother was holding her telekinetically.) Rosemary says it’s her turn now, so Operation Rosemary now meets Rosemary’s revenge as Rosemary’s real party begins. Rosemary starts using her telekinesis to attack the bullies. One of the best moments is where she telekinetically throws the vile ‘birthday cake’ right into Norma’s face. Talk about a taste of your own medicine! As she goes, Rosemary shouts that she is now figuring out their whole plan, and she also finds and releases Anne. The bullies are terrified, terrorised and trying to run. Norma exposes herself as the coward she really is with ludicrous excuses for what she did and attempts to sacrifice her cronies to save herself (and she has the nerve to expect them to swear perpetual loyalty to her!).

But the worst is yet to come. Norma lights a fag to calm herself, which starts a fire that spreads fast. The girls begin to laugh hysterically as they become trapped in the fire, which fulfils what Rosemary saw in her dream. Rosemary tries to extinguish the fire telekinetically – but finds that she can’t! She has over-extended the power and now it has burned out, rendering her powerless.

Then Grandmother appears, and extinguishes the fire with her own powers. However, the strain on her powers has been too much, and she dies in hospital. Grandmother dies content, as she feels she has made amends for that other tragedy, which blighted her life with guilt. Rosemary regrets not listening to her grandmother’s warnings, and also that she did not get the chance to spend longer with her.

The police collect enough evidence on the nightmare party to send Norma to approved school. The fates of Dawn and Freda are not recorded, but no doubt these will include the reactions of Dawn’s parents to the state of the house and trouble with the police.

Mrs Black disappears, leaving Rosemary on her own. Anne’s family gladly take her in. So Rosemary finally has the normal life she wanted, but is saddened at the price she has paid for it.

Thoughts

This was one of the stories in Misty’s first lineup. Like Misty’s other first serials (“The Sentinels” and “The Cult of the Cat”), “Moonchild” still endures and is well remembered. There are strong indications that it was very popular, and writer Pat Mills attributes much of this to the artist, John Armstrong.

Many of Misty’s stories drew on popular literature and films. This one is definitely based on Stephen King’s Carrie. There is no mistaking the parallels. The protagonist is a bullied girl who possesses the power of telekinesis. The telekinetic is the product of a broken home, family tragedy, and an abusive, bigoted mother and absent father. The telekinetic uses her telekinesis to wreak a terrifying revenge on tormentors who tried to destroy her big night with cruel tricks. There are also some Rosemary’s Baby references thrown into the mix (the name of the protagonist and the Mia Farrow hairstyle she gets). And is Dr Armstrong named after the artist, John Armstrong?

There have been zillions of stories about bullying, but the drawing card of this one is – what if the bullied girl has the power? Yes, wouldn’t we love to have a power like that to strike down a bully! We want to follow this story as soon as we read the blurb on the splash page because it is just something we would love to do ourselves.

The exact origins of the power are not defined and the grandmother herself does not know where it came from. All she knows is, the power has been in the family for generations. The telekinesis is clearly hereditary, but it is not just some genetic mutation as in Carrie. It is linked to the moon mark and the moon itself, which the telekinesis draws its power from. This suggests some sort of supernatural or SF origin, and the undefined but clear connection with the powers of the moon makes the story even spookier. The insinuation of a supernatural origin also suggests that the power passing over Rosemary’s mother is not simply a genetic mutation skipping a generation. The grandmother tells her daughter she was probably not given it because she would have used it badly, and she could just well be right.

Mrs Black is at least saner than her counterpart in Carrie, who may have a borderline personality disorder as well as being a religious fanatic who should feel right at home at Westboro Baptist Church. When we learn the reason for Mrs Black’s attitudes about the power Rosemary has, she even becomes more sympathetic and her conduct more understandable, although not excusable. It is easy to understand how the shock and grief of losing her father, her mother becoming his killer, her happy family life shattered forever, and spending the rest of her childhood in orphanages could affect her mind and cause her to become so twisted and irrational. Thereafter, she became terrified of the power, regarding it as an evil thing, and fearing that it could cause another terrible thing to happen in her life. Regarding the power as an evil thing that had to be crushed in Rosemary is not unlike the Dursleys’ attitude towards magic and why they treated Harry Potter so cruelly because of it. Mrs Black could also share the same roots as Tamsin’s grandmother in “Combing Her Golden Hair”. The grandmother outwardly treated Tamsin in harsh, unfair and even absurd ways. However, it turned out that the grandmother in fact meant well. She was just not going about things in the best way. Moreover, she did not realise that she was fighting a losing battle against a supernatural heritage.

Unlike Tamsin’s grandmother though, Mrs Black loses that sympathy she ultimately gains when we learn that the real reason for her treatment of Rosemary is jealousy because she was denied the power. And after saying that the power is evil, we learn that Mrs Black would have used it for evil herself if she had been born with it (what a nerve!). Neither Rosemary nor her grandmother use the power that way. No, the power itself is not evil; it is the way that it is used.

Those eccentricities Mrs Black has are more difficult to understand. Her attitude towards Rosemary’s power does not explain why she bans gas and electricity at her house and keeps the place in the dark ages with candlelight. Does she have some weird thing about modernity? Or is it to save money by not having to pay power bills? And why does she wear that weird, sinister cloak when she goes out instead of a simple coat, which makes her such a magnet for gossip that she’s a witch or weirdo? And if Mrs Black hates her mother so much because of the telekinetic accident that killed her father, why does she keep a photo of her around the house? And why does she just disappear at the end of the story? It certainly is a very quick way to get rid of her (and good riddance!), which would open up a new life for Rosemary where she can live happily and normally. And given the way things were going between her and Rosemary it is probably not too surprising. But it is not really explained at all. Doesn’t she even leave a note? We have to wonder just how much Mrs Black really loved Rosemary in the first place – if she ever loved Rosemary at all.

The evil in the story does not come from the power but from people’s cruelty. This comes in the forms of the abusive mother, and the bullies at school, though we see some other abusive people around, such as a kid who taunts Rosemary and calls her a witch. Norma is always saying to her cronies that Rosemary deserves to be hurt because she’s so weird, but that’s just her excuse of course. She just does it because she is a bully, a bad sort, and looks like she is on her way to delinquency. She comes from a line of John Armstrong bad girls with short black hair, leather jacket and knee high boots. June Roberts, who was the bane of Bella Barlow in her 1979 story, is perhaps the best example. Unlike Norma, June changes her ways in the end.

Norma has no compunction about anything she does and will go to any lengths to get her own way. When Dawn and Freda sometimes get qualms about Operation Rosemary, Norma pushes them to continue with it. Norma is also extremely clever and a smooth talker who bluffs or talks her way out of fixes, though she does not always succeed. Her cronies say she would be top of the class if she tried, but the only thing that interests Norma about school is bullying Rosemary. Norma’s tag line to get out trouble is to bluff people with the threat that she will set her father on them as he is the [whatever]. She even tries it on the police when they say they will send her to approved school! As there is only one instance where this bluff actually succeeds, we get the impression it’s more cheek than anything else.

From the brief glimpse we see of Norma’s home life, her misconduct is clearly rooted in her parenting. Although Mrs Sykes suspects the truth about the horrible thing (the ‘birthday cake’) that Norma is making, she does not investigate further because she is heading off to bingo. She wonders if she should send Norma to the doctor to get her head examined, but Norma’s line “Don’t nick any of me fags on your way out” indicate what sort of example Mrs Sykes sets to her daughter.

At times, Norma can be witty and delivers very funny lines, mostly when she is being impudent or planning something. One of the best examples is where she styles herself as fairy godmother to bring Rosemary her birthday party: “Norma Sykes, fairy godmother – dreams come true a specialty. Magic wand no extra charge.” It must be said Norma delivers the only comic relief we see in this unsettling, grim story, even if she is also the main villain.

And now we come to Rosemary herself. All she wants is to lead a normal life where she is loved, accepted, and have lots of friends. But in order to get there, she has to unravel the mystery of why her mother keeps denying them to her, what this thing is that her mother has about ‘wickedness’, and just what the ‘weirdness’ is that nobody can really explain but makes her a magnet for bullying. It is not surprising that they are connected. It all comes from Rosemary’s telekinetic heritage and how it turned Mrs Black into a monster – and eccentric – from grief, hatred and jealousy. It is ironic that the very thing that lay at the root of all Rosemary’s troubles was the only way out of all the abuse and bullying she suffers because of it.

Rosemary does not kill anyone as Carrie does before she herself finally dies in the story. However, this story does not shy away from its own tragedy and deaths. We cry for the grandmother when she finds she unwittingly killed her own husband with her telekinesis. We cry even more so when we see that Julia does not understand that her mother didn’t mean to do it or how bad she feels about it. The grandmother too probably began to hate her own power after that, whereas it is not so much the power but panic that was the problem. A normal person could well do the same thing with a gun or poker if they were in the same situation. It is a relief to see Grandmother finally find peace over the tragedy on her deathbed.

Rosemary’s friend Anne is a real brick in that she not only stands by Rosemary all the way but also does not condemn her power as evil or witchcraft. Rosemary’s power does not frighten her either. Instead, she is one of the people with a more level-headed attitude about it and compares it to Uri Geller, which in her mind must give it scientific validity. She helps Rosemary to explore, develop and understand the power. Anne also tries to encourage Rosemary to stand up for herself more, which is something Rosemary begins to do as the power gives her more confidence. Anne has the sense to rightly suspect Dawn’s supposed friendliness is not all it seems, but eventually she gets duped by a bunch of get-well flowers and how much they must have cost. Didn’t it occur to them that the flowers might not have been bought at all?

Dr Armstrong would also be a real friend to Rosemary if he had a better attitude. He assures Rosemary that her power is not evil as her mother says; it is scientific and he gives her the scientific name for it. Dr Armstrong also tries to reason with the mother and get her to accept that the power is not evil. The trouble is, he starts getting too greedy and ambitious over Rosemary’s power. He wants to make his name with it and has no respect for Rosemary’s feelings over it. The nurse is far more sympathetic and tries to plead with the doctor that she has the right to lead a normal life.

Losing the power in the end is not unusual in girls’ comics. But in this case it really is the only way for Rosemary to start leading a normal life, though not before she is finally rid of all that domestic and school abuse of course. Still, we can’t help but hope that the power of the moon will restore Rosemary’s powers. Maybe they will consider it for a new Moonchild story in the new Misty material that is beginning to come out?

 

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5 thoughts on “Moonchild [1978]

  1. Good review, it’s an interesting story with superb Armstrong art. Mrs Black like you pointed out had the potential to be more sympathetic, until we find out jealousy is the root of it, makes for an interesting character though.

  2. In comics like Misty and Action there’s no doubt that IPC (and Pat Mills in particular) based a lot of their series on blockbuster films of the day. With strips like Moonchild and Hookjaw, however, they went beyond mere plagiarism to create stories that were original enough to stand on their own. Though some dismissed them as lazy rip-offs it seems to me that such stories were part of a serious attempt to reconnect the industry with a readership which had become increasingly uninterested in the old-fashioned formulae that had dominated most British comics since the 1960s. Bearing that in mind one can’t help wondering which currently-popular films and TV series might be used to form a similar creative template for a viable 2017 incarnation of Misty.

    1. Pat Mills says they were going to do a Misty story based on “Flowers in the Attic”, but never got around to it.

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