Monthly Archives: October 2017

Paula’s Puppets [1978]

Sample Images

Paulas Puppets 2aPaulas Puppets 2bPaulas Puppets 2c

Published: Jinty 4 February 1978 to 22 April 1978

Episodes: 12

Artist: Julian Vivas

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: De poppen van Petra [Petra’s Puppets] (in: Tina 1979, Tina Topstrip 54, 1983).

Plot

Paula Richards has come out top athlete at Handley Athletics Club and has a very jealous rival in Marnie. Paula’s father is a prominent man because he owns the biggest toy factory in town. Unfortunately Dad has spoiled Paula ever since her mother died, so she’s a bit on the selfish side. For example, Paula just finds it boring to hear that her father’s factory has taken a downturn in recent months instead of worrying. She isn’t too worried either when a fire burns Dad’s factory to the ground; she just tells him the insurance will put everything right.

For everyone else, though, the fire was the worst thing that could have happened because the factory was the source of the town’s employment. Now they are rendered jobless and there’s no other work around. Then nasty rumours go around the town that Dad burned his own factory down for the insurance; even the housekeeper Mrs Black believes it and walks out on the Richards family. Dad is getting really down but Paula is merely angry over Mrs Black and thinks it’s just a stupid fuss over a “silly old fire”. She goes off to the burned out factory, where she finds some wax puppets that have survived the fire. She gives vent to her anger about Mrs Black by making one puppet look like her and giving it a big fat wart on the nose.

Then Dad really is charged with burning down the factory and protests his innocence as the police take him away. Everyone turns against Paula when word about it spreads. Dad has no chance at his trial; everything seems to point to his guilt. Even Paula thinks the jury is right when they find him guilty, and she turns on him as well.

Meanwhile, Paula is very surprised to see Mrs Black has developed a swelling on her nose, which looks just like the wart she moulded on the puppet. Paula now begins to wonder if the puppets have some sort of power, and whether she can use it to get revenge on the town.

The only friends Paula has left are club coach Joanne Phillips and her father, who was her father’s partner in the business. They take her in, and Joanne encourages Paula not to give up her athletics. However, the girls, led by Karen Thompson, want Paula out. They refuse to run in the relay team unless Joanne gives Paula’s place in the team to Marnie. Joanne refuses to give in to their blackmail while Paula angrily walks out – and towards the puppets for her revenge. She models one on Karen and mimics Karen getting a sprained ankle from a fall in the high jump. This is precisely what happens to Karen later. So the puppets’ power is definitely for real.

Paula is too angry to realise some of the girls have become apologetic, including Karen before the fall happened. Lindy seems more sympathetic, but something makes Paula so ruthless that she nobbles Lindy during the hurdles. An inquiry is now pending and Paula is in danger of being banned. She begins to wonder if the puppets are a bad influence and she should stop using them. But she does so anyway, with a puppet made to look like Lindy. At the inquiry, she directs the puppet to have Lindy say it was a mistake. It works, but Lindy has now lost her sympathy for Paula. Paula wonders if she should destroy the puppets while Joanne advises Paula to stop thinking everyone is against her.

That advice is hard to take when Paula sees “Get out of Handley, Paula Richards” daubed on the old factory wall. Two girls, one of whom resembles Lindy, wrote the graffiti, and passers by just let them go because they are hostile to Paula too. Paula goes back to the Lindy puppet for revenge, but gets really scared when she gets startled and drops the puppet.

The hurdles race is being re-run, and this time Paula resolves to win it fairly. But the other girls are not, what with hiding Paula’s running gear in the gym attic and taking the ladder away when she tries to retrieve it. Lindy comes in and offers to help by crossing a beam. Paula sees the beam looks dangers, but finds she can’t make a sound when she tries to warn Lindy – and then realises why when she remembers her own words of revenge against Lindy just before she dropped the Lindy puppet. So the beam cracks under Lindy and she falls to the floor, which renders her comatose. The girls confess to the trick on Paula, while Lindy’s brother blames Paula for the accident, but out of the bitterness towards her father: “We heard how Lindy risked her life for the daughter of a jailbird!”

Paula tries to destroy the puppets but finds they won’t burn. So she decides to give up the athletics club because of the hostility towards her that tempts her to use them. However, Joanne is not having that and wants Paula to enter a cross-country championship. Paula agrees, but starts ducking out of school to train for the event because she wants to avoid temptation to use the puppets because of the bullying at school.

Meanwhile, Paula’s athletics club enemies have begun to notice a pattern about the things that have happened to them and are beginning to (correctly) suspect Paula has something to do with it. One girl, Rhoda, puts her name down for the cross-country event so they get another chance for revenge. They also discover Paula is playing truant in order to train, and spitefully sneak on her. When Joanne hears, Paula makes the excuse that it was the bullying, which Joanne finds understandable. She withdraws Paula from school and teaches her at home. Paula also starts getting personal training from Joanne, but does not realise Marnie is spying on her and trying to figure out her weaknesses.

Discovering there is still no change in Lindy’s condition, Paula decides to see if the puppets can be used for good for a change. She dresses one like Lindy and another like herself, and mimics Lindy waking up when she goes to visit her in hospital. She does not realise Marnie is trying to spy on her while she is doing this. After Paula leaves, Marnie investigates the puppets’ hiding place. She thinks nothing of the puppets she finds, but takes the puppet made to look like Paula for her kid sister.

Paula succeeds in waking up Lindy, and in doing so finally discovers the joy of helping people. However, she soon finds this does not improve people’s attitude towards her. Lindy’s brother remains as hostile as ever towards her, and has the hospital ban Paula from seeing Lindy.

Then Paula discovers that Marnie has taken the puppet she had made to look like herself. She manages to sneak into Marnie’s flat and retrieve the puppet without being detected. But she is very surprised to find Marnie lives in such a shabby, rundown place and overhears it’s because that like everyone else in town, Marnie’s family have been driven into poverty and no job for the father after the factory fire. Marnie moans at how Paula does not understand poverty because she has always lived in luxury, and that she had always taunted her for dressing shabbily.

Paula realises Marnie is right and now understands why Marnie hates her so much. Recalling how she had taunted Marnie about wearing tatty plimsolls just before the fire, Paula decides to give her a present of her spare pair of plimsolls to make amends. But Marnie just throws it in her face and Paula soon finds out the reason why – everyone but her (Joanne wouldn’t tell her) knows that her father has just escaped from prison!

Thinking that getting her father recaptured is the only way to make everyone stop hating her, Paula turns to her puppets to do it. Later, when Dad shows up, he protests his innocence and asks for her help in proving it, but Paula turns him in. Dad is deeply hurt, which has Paula believe him for the first time and she now hates herself for what she did.

The newspaper prints the story of how everyone’s hatred drove Paula to betray her father. This has the athletics club girls repenting how they treated her and now wanting to be friends. They invite her to Lindy’s “welcome back” party, but things get ruined when they start whispering as to what a crook her father is. Paula sticks up for her father and then walks out.

She asks the puppets for help in clearing her father, at which one of them walks to the puppets’ prop box and points to it. Inside she finds a letter to Mr Phillips that she cannot understand. The correspondent says that in accordance with the instructions of Mr Phillips’ last letter, he is cancelling all future supplies of raw materials to the factory. Now what the heck does this have to do with Dad’s innocence?

Paula takes the letter to Joanne for help in understanding it. Joanne gets upset when she reads it and demands to know where Paula got it. Of course she does not believe Paula’s story about the puppets and thinks it was all crazy imagination. This leads to Joanne having a big argument with her father; she tells him it can’t go on and it’s having Paula imagining things. Next day, Paula finds them both gone to attend to some business, and nobody to cheer her on when the cross-country event begins. Paula’s heart is not in the race, and it shows – but then Dad appears to cheer her on! Now Paula is spurred on to win, and she does.

Dad explains that Mr Phillips burned down the factory to cover up that he had been embezzling from the factory; the letter was proof he had been cancelling orders for raw materials and withholding the money. He did not mean Dad to take the rap, but had been too frightened to confess. However, Joanne, who has had her suspicions about the embezzling, has persuaded him to do so. So Dad has been vindicated and released.

Joanne now tries to leave town as she thinks Paula no longer wants to be her friend. However, she misses the train because she went back for the puppets as a memento of Paula, which enables Paula to catch up and prove she still wants to be friends. Paula believes it was the power of the puppets that made Joanne miss the train. Joanne seems to believe in their power now and asks Paula if she still needs them. In response, Paula leaves the puppets behind at the station for someone else in need of help. Hmmm…

Thoughts

There have been countless stories in girls’ comics about dolls/puppets with supernatural powers, but this is the only Jinty serial to use the theme. The serial is even more unusual for not following how the formula is used. The cover introducing the serial says the puppets have evil powers, but as the story develops they do not come across as evil. Usually evil dolls/puppets in girls’ either exert an evil power over the protagonist that forces her to act nasty or out of character, or they cause trouble, mayhem or destruction for our protagonist. But that is not the case at all with these puppets. They do have powers, but how their power works depends on how they are used, which can be for good or evil. It depends on the intentions and scruples of the user, and how carefully he or she thinks before using them.

In the hands of Paula Richards, we are deeply worried as to how things will go with the puppets. Paula, though not downright nasty, is definitely spoiled and selfish. Moreover, she has good reason to be bitter and vengeful, what with everyone turning against her because of something that she is not responsible for. This could easily send Paula down an extremely dark path. Even a good-natured girl could find it hard to resist the lust for revenge against the way all these people are treating her.

Admittedly, some of the hostility may have been Paula’s own fault for not being very nice to people to begin with. We see this in the case of Marnie. From the beginning, Marnie comes across as a spiteful, jealous girl who is taking advantage of Paula’s downfall to make things even harder for her. It’s a surprise when we learn that Marnie did have a reason to hate Paula in the first place because Paula teased her over her shabby gear.

It’s also surprising to see that the terrible consequences of using the puppets for revenge and personal gain are what begin to turn Paula around. She tries to stop using them, but really she can’t avoid temptation to use them against the people who hate her because it’s everywhere and there’s no hiding from it. So she hits on the idea of trying to use them more wisely, and it works. Paula also begins to open her eyes to how there are people who are less fortunate than herself and no longer puts them down as she did before. Sadly, her efforts to reach out to them and help them more go unappreciated because they feel nothing but hate and bitterness towards her. Joan’s advice that acts of kindness will make people less nasty towards her proves to be woefully inadequate because everyone’s just too full of hate. It takes the shock treatment of seeing what they drove her to – turning her own father in – to make at least some of them stop and think.

The other theme in this story – clearing a wrongly accused father – also breaks with the formula that girls’ serials usually follow when they use this theme. Usually it is the daughter who believes the father is innocent, sometimes when nobody else does. This is what sustains her throughout the story, but Paula does not even have that. She believes her father is guilty too, which makes her even more bitter because she feels he’s let her down. In effect, she disowns him and does not even visit him in prison. It takes the shock of how she hurt her father and his frantic pleas of innocence to finally get through to her. And she finally does what she clearly should have done in the first place – turn to the puppets for help in clearing up the trouble. And would you believe they held the solution to the problem all this time – the evidence in their box! All Paula had to do was ask.

Having it turn out the protagonist was staying with the people who were responsible for her father’s false imprisonment all this time is not an unusual one; “The Girl with the Power” from Tracy is one example where this happened. What is unusual is that these are people with a conscience who are struggling to find the courage to put it right. Until they do, they are pillars of support for Paula and the only friends amid all the enemies she has in town. Usually they are unscrupulous crooks who not only take advantage of the father taking the rap for them but also take advantage of the protagonist as well. Again, “The Girl with the Power” is one example of this.

The final fate of the puppets – being left for someone else needing help to find – also goes against the usual formula of evil dolls/puppet serials. Usually they either get destroyed or lose their powers, but neither happens. The story ends on a worrying note that they might end up in the wrong hands; perhaps even with somebody with no scruples at all. We can only hope Paula is right in that they can influence whom they end up with because that person needs help.

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Scream! and Misty: Review

Hooray! Another fruit of the IPC copyright purchase has hit the shops – now alongside the reprinting of classic stories from the IPC years, we are also seeing new stories written and drawn by current creators, inspired by those glory days and revisiting old setups and characters. “Scream! and Misty” (also available in a variant cover entitled “Misty and Scream!”) is out now. What’s in it? And – the bigger question – is it any good?

  • Cover: Henry Flint
  • The Thirteenth Floor (artists John Stokes / Frazer Irving, writer Guy Adams)
  • The Dracula File (artist Tristan Jones, writer Grainne McEntee)
  • Death-Man: The Gathering (artist Henry Flint, writer Feek)
  • Return of Black Max: Blood Moon (artist Simon Coleby, writer Kek-W)
  • The Return of the Sentinels (artist Ben Willsher, writer Hannah Berry)
  • Fate of the Fairy Hunter (artist Dani, writer Alec Worley)

First of all, rightly or wrongly, this is more 2000AD than it is Misty (or Scream!, as far as I can tell, though I am not an expert on that title). The art and the story telling is generally much more focused on current styles than traditional ones – and when you flick through this 52-page special it’s noticeable what a variety of styles is included within, much more so than in the 32 pages of Misty. There are traditional elements: John Stokes starts off the issue in the story revisiting “The Thirteenth Floor”: Max the psychotic computer who runs the decrepit building gets us off to a great start, though the ending to the first story is a little clumsily handled. This story is split between the black and white traditional art that Stokes provides and a colourful interlude drawn by Fraser Irving, which is very definitely 2000AD. The combination works well it itself, but I’m left slightly unsure as to what Rebellion are trying to do here – attract an audience for the reprint titles (blurbed as a whole-page advert on the following page), pull their 2000AD audience over to a new title with a different sort of inspiration, or what?

“The Dracula Files”, likewise, is more 2000AD than anything else – and is the most scrappily-drawn of the offerings to boot, I think. It’s quite well-written but some of the visual story-telling is hard to follow, and below in the last panel you can see an example of a very awkwardly-drawn hand, which looks like the artist changed their mind about part-way through.

“Deathman: The Gathering” makes it clear that this is a remix and reworking of the traditional characters. Characters from all sorts of IPC titles, not just Scream!, make it into this one – even alien shape-shifter Paddy McGinty’s Goat does! It’s readable and fun – how often do you get to see the Leopard of Lime Street mixing it up with Blake Edmonds from Death Wish? This is very far from a complete story though, and again I am not quite sure where Rebellion are planning on taking this from here on in. Are Rebellion going to launch a separate line or something? This feels somewhat similar to some of the Vertigo comics from back in the day, when that is what DC did to free themselves from the constraints of their mainstream universe.

“Return of Black Max: Blood Moon” is one of the most successful combinations of tradition and modern styles, it feels to me. The art is bang up to date but the panel sizing, story telling, and even the story themes are just like what you would get in the old girls comics at least. It leads off with a disturbing dream that Maxine Newland is recounting to her schoolfriends the next day – and continues with detention, an absent parent, a spooky item from the past, and an inadvertent trip to another dimension. Maxine even ends the story asking herself, troubled: “He said I wasn’t a girl. That I was a…thing. W-what if he was right?” That self-doubt could have come straight out of a girls weekly comic!

There are only two Misty-inspired stories. The second one (“Fate of the Fairy Hunter”) is a short, complete story that has a lot of similarities to the horror shorts included in that title; less gore though. There’s a twist in the tale but I have to say that the Misty versions would have ended a lot less happily for the female lead – a bit of a shame to have missed out that disinhibited proper horror element.

“The Return of the Sentinels” is the big ticket item for many of the people reading this post, I suspect. It didn’t disappoint me – I loved it. It’s tightly written and the art is great. I can’t give away much about it because I know lots of people will want to read it unspoiled – suffice to say that it doesn’t explain anything about how the Sentinels work or what happened to the characters in the original story, but it compresses the spooky feeling of wandering into a parallel world that is very definitely not right into only a few pages. It’s not clear that there is a chance of writer Hannah Berry developing this modern-day story further, but if that was an option then I can tell you that I’d be there in a flash.

So, yes. Much of this is 2000AD-has-fun: almost a fanfiction reworking of those original characters and stories (and nothing wrong with that, let me clarify). “Black Max” and “Sentinels” feel like they could be the start of something new and great on their own terms, which I’d love to see. Some other bits miss the target to a greater or lesser extent: in addition to the scrappy drawing in the Dracula Files, Henry Flint’s front cover is great on the creepy ghouls (I love Ghastly McNasty holding a selfie stick!) but much less great when depicting Misty herself (who looks like a plastic doll with a blank expression rather than a mysterious one). Overall: a definite ‘yes’, especially as tastes inevitably vary and that is the particular strength of the anthology title.

Nobody Loves a Genius! [1974]

Genius cover

Published: Commando #824, 1974

Reprinted: Commando #2084, 1987

Artist: Ian Kennedy (cover); Pat Wright (story)

Writer: R.A. Montague

Special thanks to Colcool007 for credits

Plot

Sergeant Jim Bates is in a platoon in the 8th army led by Commander Paul Rowland in the North African campaign against General Rommel “The Desert Fox”. But for them, a more aggravating problem than Rommel is Private Hubert Wellington, “the most gormless, useless lump Jim had ever come across”. Hubert is a walking disaster area, which is due to gawkiness and nervousness rather than stupidity. He is arguably the worst soldier in the platoon and seems quite oblivious to it.

However, Hubert has a good nature, and he does have his uses. For example, he has a magic touch with anything mechanical and can repair vehicles. All the same, only Jim has any patience for Hubert and tries to turn him into a soldier; the others all think Hubert’s efforts help Rommel more than them. When Hubert’s gormlessness blows up the lieutenant’s jeep with a Panzerschrecker (the German version of a bazooka), the lieutenant decides he has to go, and puts him into an explosives course in Cairo.

Genius 1

After North Africa, the platoon goes on to fight in the Italian campaign. However, they keep running into booby traps set by a German explosives expert nicknamed “Wehrmacht Willi”. His nickname comes from the signature he always leaves with his work: “Ein Geschenk von Willi” [a present from Willi]. Willi’s booby traps are soon their biggest dread.

Then they run into someone else – Hubert Wellington, who had requested permission to rejoin the platoon. Hubert came out top in his explosives course, and is soon put in charge of setting booby traps for advancing Germans. Unfortunately Hubert overthinks things and does not set the explosives directly on the path but on the sides of it as he thinks the Germans would not take the direct route in case of a trap. They should have, but they take the direct route, bypassing the explosives completely. At least the platoon manages to fend off the Germans.

Next, the platoon approaches an old ruin that they suspect the Germans are using as an observation post. When they investigate the window they set off a booby trap, which alerts the Germans to open fire. After the barrage ends they send in Hubert to check for more booby traps. Jim is amazed at Hubert’s new calmness as he deactivates three more booby traps, which have Willi’s trademark signature.

After this, Hubert is appointed platoon explosives expert, and he gives the impression he is coming into his own at last. Hubert is soon setting up his own booby traps for the Germans and leaving his own signature a la Wehrmacht Willi. The thinking behind his traps is very ingenious and is getting into the heads of what the enemy will think when they approach the traps. Hubert’s nervousness is not a problem when he is busy, such as setting or deactivating traps.

But when Hubert has a lapse into nervousness because he’s not busy, it gives the platoon’s position away to the Germans, and they open up a ferocious barrage. The commander has serious thoughts about throwing Hubert out again, but Jim persuades the commander to give him more time to boost Hubert’s confidence.

Genius 2

The advance starts again. The platoon has the job of keeping a bridge secure, but first they have to reach it. Their advance on the bridge grows fretful because of Hubert getting nervous again, which is what makes him such a problem. But things change when they advance the bridge and Hubert is quick to check the track for booby traps. Sure enough, it’s been rigged with Wehrmacht Willi’s handiwork, and very skilful handiwork it is too. The commander thinks Willi moves around quite a bit and wonders why.

The Germans arrive and prepare to destroy the bridge because of the advance. The platoon soon deals with them. Then evidence emerges that Willi has been setting up charges to destroy the bridge by remote control, so it’s Hubert’s job to deactivate them all. He does so in the very nick of time – the remote control is triggered just as the last charge is defused.

But just as they finish with the explosives, the Germans open fire again. As the advance guard has not arrived, the platoon has to fend off the Germans alone, but they manage to do so. Hubert’s own booby traps repel any returning Germans, and he also gets the final triumph, with another Panzerschreck. The platoon has the bridge clear and secure by the time the advance guard finally arrives.

Genius 3

They then stumble across another building the Germans could be using as an observation post. So they need to check it, but they sense a trap. The German soldiers fire shots from the building and then flee. Nonetheless, they feel this is where the remote control was activated, which means Willi and his booby traps could be around. So it’s a job for Hubert, who makes fast work of deactivating Willi’s traps. But there is someone upstairs, so Jim and Hubert go to investigate. Hubert says he is no longer scared, and from then on his nerves cause no more trouble.

Upstairs they capture Wehrmacht Willi himself, just as he is signing his last-ever booby trap. Jim is astonished to see that Willi is almost a twin for Hubert Wellington, only he looks even more of a nerd. The platoon can’t stop laughing when they see what the dreaded booby trapper actually looks like, but Hubert doesn’t get the joke at all.

Thoughts

Commando definitely meets “Revenge of the Nerds” in this issue. Although Hubert’s nerves and gawkiness gets on everyone’s nerves, the most irritating thing about him is that he is, in modern parlance, a nerd. Even after he overcomes his soldiering problems and becomes a model soldier, the others still find him a bit annoying because he’s “a bit of a genius”.

Genius 4

The same could be said for Willi. When Willi is finally revealed to be a nerd too, and presumably got left behind by the other German soldiers because of it, you can’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for Willi. We have to wonder if Willi’s platoon ridiculed him a bit for being a nerd, despite his genius in setting booby traps. Could Willi have even had similar problems to Hubert and given his platoon aggravation before he discovered his own genius for explosives? Willi and Hubert are such peas in a pod in terms of genius, talent, appearance, and even in the way they think that you sure suspect this was the case.

Many Commandos go for grim and dark stories, but this one goes for more humour with the Gomer Pyle-type. Eyebrows are raised when Hubert is put on the explosives course. It sounds about as prudent as putting the Jinx from St Jonah’s on one. So it’s quite a twist when the explosives course proves the making of the kluzty Hubert Wellington. It doesn’t come all at once though; Hubert still has to overcome the nerves that made him such a disaster area to begin with and he still has lapses into his old jinxing. It’s quite realistic and credible for the making of Hubert Wellington not to come all at once but to develop through the fight against Willi.

Genius 5

Even more humour comes from the final twist in the story and the joke that the irony has pulled on everyone. During the course of the story the commander comments that “Maybe [the Germans] haven’t any Hubert Wellingtons on their side. I wonder if they’d like one – free.” Little does he know that the Germans do in fact have a Hubert Wellington, in the form of the “Wehrmacht Willi” they dread so much. When this is finally revealed, the platoon realises that “even Hitler’s got ‘em!”. So it seems that even Hitler gets his share of nerds.

To Kill a Rat… [1976]

1066_to_kill_a_rat

Published: Commando #1066

Artist: Cortiella (cover); Cecil T Rigby (story)

Writer: Bernard Gregg

Reprints: None, but the story has been reused. The difference is that the uncle lied about killing the soldiers after the nephew talked.

Special thanks to Colcool007 for the information

Plot

Doug Watson is subjected to bullying and psychological abuse at the hands of his cruel, bullying pro-Nazi Uncle Hermann Braugen during his six-month stays with his German relatives (the other six with an English aunt). During one stay Braugen develops his favourite torture of Doug: lock him in the rat-infested cellar to be terrorised by the rats. As a result, Doug develops an extreme fear of rats (musophobia, also known as murophobia and suriphobia), which Braugen just loves to play upon.

Rat 1

After this particular stay, Doug vows never to go back to his German relatives again, though Uncle Braugen and the rat torture continue to give him nightmares. Fortunately the trauma fades in time, and Doug grows strong enough to join the army when World War II breaks out. He rises fast to corporal rank. He is among the British forces that try in vain to stem the Nazi invasion of France and end up being evacuated from Dunkirk. Doug then moves up to second lieutenant, and he leads his men to a sweep forward against the German forces in North Africa.

But what Doug does not realise is that the man in charge of the German forces against him is none other than his Uncle Braugen, now a colonel. Doug’s forces are successful in driving Braugen’s back. They get cut off and soon Braugen is the last man standing, but he isn’t giving up that easily.

Braugen pretends to surrender when Doug’s forces arrive. Doug is shocked to recognise his Uncle, but Uncle Braugen does not recognise his nephew because Doug has changed quite a bit over the years. Braugen is quite surprised to realise it is Doug when Doug speaks to him alone. Braugen pretends to have reformed, repents the past and asks to bury it. Doug falls for it and foolishly allows Braugen to escape.

Rat 2

Doug then continues to press against Rommel in North Africa and eventually the front into Sicily and then Italy, by which time he is a lieutenant. Then they plan to assault the German forces in Italy. But Doug does not realise Uncle Braugen is up ahead with the German forces in the German-held Castle of Monte Lucia. They consider their position impregnable, but they do not have the much-needed information about the strength of the Allied forces.

The carelessness of one of the British soldiers (lighting up a cigarette) betrays the position of Doug’s forces to the German forces, who surround them and force them to surrender. They are taken to Monte Lucia, but none of them yield the information the Germans want.

Then Braugen walks in, and Doug instantly realises how Braugen had tricked him in North Africa. Braugen takes Doug over for interrogation. Beating him up doesn’t work, but then Braugen recalls the musophobia he had instilled into Doug. He locks Doug into a rat-infested cellar where the sewers are, and tells Doug he will not release him until he is ready to talk. In the cellar the phobia is doing its work. Doug can see there is a sewer in the cellar that could be an escape route, but he is too terrified to use it because of the rats. Eventually the phobia makes Doug tell Braugen everything he needs to know.

Braugen shoots all the other Allied prisoners as he has no further need for them. Doug, having recovered sufficiently from the rat ordeal, manages to break free from Braugen’s goons and escape from Monte Lucia. Braugen does not search for him because he thinks Doug is not worth bothering about.

Rat 3Doug makes it back to his lines, where he reports everything in shame at H.Q. The colonel is not at all understanding about Doug talking under torture and has him arrested for court-martial. However, en route to face the court-martial, Doug just snaps, seizes a gun from his guards, and makes a run for it.

He returns to Monte Lucia to avenge his soldiers, get even with Braugen, and make amends for talking under torture. However, the only way in is through the rat-infested sewer pipe Doug saw earlier. He forces his way into it and the rats. This time hatred helps Doug to overcome his fear when it makes him lash out at the biting rats. By the time Doug is back in the cellar, his musophobia has dissipated and he hardly notices the rats now.

Fortunately the trap door into the cellar is not locked, so Doug is free to make his way into the castle. He finds Braugen’s ammunition stores and uses them to rig the castle to blow from petrol trails and improvised rope fuses, which are to dangle through the sewer pipe. When everything is ready, Doug ignites the petrol with his gun and the Germans’ impregnable fortress goes up in flames.

At a distance, Doug waits for Braugen – the biggest rat of them all in his opinion – to show up among the fleeing Germans. When Braugen does, he is scared for the first time his life, and his shots at Doug are wide. By contrast, Doug is calm and quick to shoot his uncle dead.

The British forces have been approaching Monte Lucia with speed. They are surprised to find its impregnable defences broken and burning, and it is deserted except for one British soldier sitting beside a dead German. Doug goes back to H.Q., confident that everything will be cleared up in view of his heroic action in blowing up the impregnable Monte Lucia single-handled.

Thoughts

Historically, the climax at Monte Lucia is based on the Battle of Monte Cassino. Very loosely, mind you, and it has little bearing on the actual battle.

The issue of child abuse in the story feels ahead of its time (1976) when read today. Abusive guardians were a common feature in girls’ comics, but the abusers were, in essence, doing it to exploit and take advantage of the protagonist one way or other. Uncle Braugen, on the other hand, is not bullying his nephew in order to exploit him. This is deliberate, intentional torture inflicted for sadistic purposes. For this reason, Uncle Braugen could well be the most evil child abuser ever to appear in comics. In any case, he deserves to appear near or even at the top of a list of the top ten child abusers in British comics.

Rat 4

It’s a wonder Uncle Braugen didn’t go into the Gestapo or SS. He has everything it takes to rise quickly there and he would love every minute on the job. He likes nothing better than cruelty, bullying, torture, and showing off his arrogance and huge muscles whenever he gets the chance. He torments his nephew because he is British and he also regards his nephew as a weakling because he is not physically strong. There are no redeeming qualities about Braugen whatsoever, unlike his wife Meg. Aunt Meg is kind and tries to protect her nephew, but there is little she can do against her hefty, bullying husband. Thank goodness the Braugens don’t have children of their own. Why the heck did Meg marry Hermann in the first place? Talk about a mismatch.

There is some stereotyping of Uncle Braugen’s nationality with the line: “The German, like many of his kind, was a bully”. Uncle Braugen is a bully because of his nationality rather than his personality and Nazi sympathies? That comes across as a bit offensive. To add to the stereotyping, Uncle Berman has a scar on his right cheek, presumably from World War I, and is also portrayed as your typical arrogant German, with extra-nasty qualities that make him the ideal Nazi.

Rat 5

It is surprising that Doug Watson makes it into the army, much less rise to the status of lieutenant, considering what a physically weak and emotionally abused boy he was in his childhood. But it is a delightful surprise, an ultimate triumph for the abused boy, and it would be one in the eye for Uncle Braugen. Indeed it takes Uncle Braugen himself by surprise when he first meets his nephew as an adult. By the time Uncle Braugen is actually holding Doug prisoner, Doug himself declares that he is not the frightened little boy anymore. Now he has become a man who can stand up to his uncle and the physical torture Uncle Braugen inflicts on him. He does not even call Braugen “Uncle” anymore; it’s just “Braugen”. But all it takes is the rat phobia to undo all that and turn Doug Watson back into the frightened little boy again, for all the confidence, courage and strength he has gained through the army.

It is fortunate that Doug gets a chance to redeem himself and overcome his rat phobia into the bargain. However, it takes more than determination to succeed and shame over breaking down and talking to overcome the phobia. Although Doug tries, it takes another extremely strong emotion – hatred – to counter the extreme terror because it was the stronger of the two. And the rat torture ultimately backfired on Uncle Braugen because it unwittingly exposed the chink in the armour of the supposedly impenetrable fortress.

When Uncle Braugen initially tortured and terrorised his nephew, he never in his wildest dreams ever thought that the boy he considered a weakling would be the one to cause his death. And on the battlefield too! But that is indeed the case, and it is a most fitting and ironic twist. Mind you, what Aunt Meg would say about her own nephew killing her husband in action we can’t imagine.