Monthly Archives: May 2018

Mouse [1979]

Sample Images

Mouse 1Mouse 2Mouse 3

Publication: Tammy 13 January 1979 to 3 March 1979

Episodes: 8

Artist: Maria Dembilio
Writer: Unknown
Translations/Reprints: Tammy Holiday Special 1984

Plot

Mary Malloway is nicknamed “Mouse”, and it’s not just because she wears a mouse pendant. She is an extremely shy girl as a result of her upbringing with her solo mother, who has taught her to beware of strangers. Mary’s life is constantly disrupted because her mother changes locations so much, and always goes for shabby backstreet flats; she says it’s because they cannot afford decent accommodation – well, that’s what she says anyway. She is stringent with security, having them lock themselves into their bedrooms at night, and Mary has to be home from school on the dot. Mary feels as if they are in hiding and suspects Mum has a deeper motive for her actions.

At Mary’s latest school, Mary’s friend Sukie is determined to bring her out of her shell, and persuades her to enter a fancy dress competition. When Mary finds what looks like a peasant girl’s dress in her mother’s wardrobe, she enters the competition in it. Sukie is placed first, Mary second, and a reporter takes their photograph. Curiously, having her photo taken is another thing Mrs Malloway has never allowed Mary to do.

In a London hotel, two Sicilian brothers, Innocente and Salvatore Malvia, see the photograph. Salvatore recognises Mary as his daughter from the mouse pendant he gave her at her christening. He says they can now take her back to Sicily as La Mamma intended.

Meanwhile, Mary finds out that the peasant costume is actually her mother’s wedding dress. Mum explains that she married Salvatore Malvia on a holiday in Sicily, in defiance of her parents (who disowned her as a result) and Salvatore’s tyrannical mother, La Mamma. As a result, La Mamma did not make Mum welcome in her home, the Casa Malvia. Her attitude forced Mum to run away with Mary as soon as she was born. But ever since, Mum had lived in terror that the Malvia family would come and snatch Mary away from her. Hence the upbringing Mary has had. So Mary had been right about them living in hiding – in hiding from the Malvias. But that photograph had been the one slip that enabled the Malvias to find Mary. Soon after, Mum’s worst fears come true when Salvatore and Innocente abduct Mary and drag her off to Sicily.

At the Casa Malvia, Mary discovers that La Mamma only wants her back for one thing – to to marry her off to one Rico Cefalu in exchange for a vineyard from his family. La Mamma is a domineering matriarch who rules the Malvia household with an iron fist. She keeps her entire family under her thumb, treats them like servants, and expects them to obey her without question. Indeed, Salvatore and Innocente are terrified of her and completely under her thumb although they are now grown men. The Malvia family themselves rule Sicily with an iron hand and are all-powerful.

Mary is desperate to find a way to escape before the betrothal ceremony (fortunately she is not old enough for the marriage itself). She finds some stalling tactics, and also takes solace in a mouse she has befriended. But she can find no real way out of the iron grasp that La Mamma keeps over everyone, and finds people are too scared of La Mamma to help her. However, she does make it clear to her father that she is not happy about her forced betrothal to Rico.

Back in England, Mum has realised the reason for Mary’s disappearance. But the police say they cannot do much because it is the Sicilian court system that will apply, and they are known to be sympathetic to fathers. Mum knows it is up to her, but she does not have the wherewithal.

Meanwhile, Mary’s father teaches her to row during a fishing expedition. He also shows her Santa Agata where he married Mum. Mary is surprised at this, because she realises he will surely guess that she will use her knowledge about rowing to steal a boat and get to Santa Agata. She suspects her father is secretly helping her to escape.

But then the betrothal ceremony finally comes. Mary is particularly annoyed that she has not even met her arranged bridegroom beforehand (an all-too-common thing in the world of arranged marriages, Mary). When Mary steals a glimpse of an approaching boy who may be Rico (it’s not established if it is him), she becomes even more desperate to escape – he looks a cruel, bullying boy who would make an abusive husband. Mary takes a boat and tries to row to Santa Agata. But the currents are too strong and force her back. She nearly drowns but her father, who had anticipated this, rescues her.

However, Mary was right about Salvatore wanting to help her. For the second time in his life (the first was marrying Mum) he defies La Mamma. He found the courage after realising how unhappy Mary was. In so doing, he will be leaving La Mamma and the Casa Malvia forever, for there is no going back. “Innocente can take over there as La Mamma’s heir – as La Mamma’s walking, talking puppet!” He takes Mary to Santa Agata so she can telephone the British consul. When they arrive at Santa Agata, Mary asks to see the church where Salvatore married Mum. But when they arrive at the church, they are surprised to see Mum there too! Sukie’s father loaned her the money to fly to Sicily after Mary. Salvatore insists on repaying the loan himself as he feels guilty about kidnapping Mary. Mum, Salvatore and Mary are now one family and go for their first-ever meal together.

Thoughts

International parental child abduction and forced marriage – these things must have been a shock for the Tammy readers when they read this. It was pretty strong, daring stuff for a girl’s comic. Today, these themes in the story feel more relevant because international child abduction and girls being sold into forced marriages are so topical in the wake of cases like Not Without My Daughter, Sold, and the mass abduction of the Nigerian girls. For this reason, this serial now looks really ahead of its time and could be regarded as an underrated gem.

The story also touches on the issue of solo mothers who raise their children on their own. In real life, they often face disadvantage and even stigma, particularly in the welfare system. Mrs Malloway, who had defied her parents in order to follow her heart in marrying the man she loved, has her marriage blown apart by her unfriendly mother-in-law and her husband not having the guts to stand up to her. Plus there are differences in cultures that she clearly did not take into consideration, but the reality must have sunk in fast after the marriage. For example, this culture has arranged marriages and indebted slaves (the boy Seppi, for example, works for the Malvias in payment for a debt his family owes them). Mrs Mallory’s flight to England with Mary and having to raise Mary on her own, without a father or parents to help is far grimmer than what most solo mothers have to face because she also has the constant fear that her in-laws will come back for Mary.

There is no mention of the Mafia, but this is Sicily, the home ground of the Mafia, after all. The power the Malvias wield in Sicily sounds as tyrannical and frightening as that of the Mafia, though without the violence. Indeed, if the Malvias were the Mafia, La Mamma would be the Godfather. Come to think of it, there is a similarity in the names: Malvia and Mafia.

The story also touches briefly on the fate that so many girls sold into forced marriages so often face – cruel husbands and domestic abuse. When Mary sees the boy who may be her betrothed husband (the boy’s identity is not clarified) she realises she will be sold into one such marriage if it is indeed Rico, and she will have a very lucky escape if she can pull it off. Even if the boy is not Rico, we feel for any girl who gets betrothed to him, because he is a cruel boy who would make a cruel husband.

In the end everything works out happily, with Mary not only escaping but also helping to reunite her parents and mend their broken marriage and years of separation. We can see they on their way to becoming one complete, happy family unit. Seldom does any child abduction that arises from a marriage of mixed cultures end so well for the parties concerned.

 

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Our Big BIG Secret (1972)

Sample Images

(from Sandie 15 April 1972)

Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 – 15 April 1972

Episodes: 10

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot summary

Poppy and Daisy are sisters who are both mad-keen on having a dog, but their parents are too poor to consider it. Even giving the sisters (and their rather less keen brother Ted) 10p each to go to the local fete is a bit of a stretch for poor old Mum. But at the fete, Poppy and Daisy put their money into the prize raffle – and (of course) end up winning the mystery prize. It’s… a pedigree Pyrennean Mountain puppy! Not only is it a dog but a huge one, bound to be hungry all the time. A bystander tries to buy it off the girls and they turn him down, but that’s a decision that will certainly cause them difficulties.

As soon as they get the puppy, now named Pedro, back home, they have to decide where to keep him. The shed won’t do for long, as Pedro clearly knows pretty well what a nice comfy indoor bed looks like and he is determined to get inside to the girls – who have to trick their parents while Poppy nips downstairs to let Pedro in. A kindly lady looks like she can help out by keeping Pedro during the day, but it doesn’t take long for him to escape. A white lie saves them – “Isn’t he the puppy you met in the park, Poppy? With that old lady, Mrs Jenkins?”

In any case the family are about to move house to a much bigger place (though with the reputation of being haunted) and perhaps this will give the girls the answer they need – Pedro can sleep in the cellar! Well, maybe so – and in the meantime there’s the problem of how to pay for his food. Poppy already has a baby-sitting job (or, well, she does until she turns up with Pedro in tow – and he takes the little kids for a ride on his back!) and tries to get a paper-round. Again it isn’t long before Pedro jinxes it. But a turn up for the books – Pedro also stages a heroic rescue of an old man from a house on fire! Great! Though, yes, you guessed it… the evening papers carries the whole story, plus a photo, and so the girls have to try to keep this secret safe too. A hard job, made harder when the son of the man whose life was saved comes round to say thanks and to pay a reward!

Again the problem situation is averted (though not in a very convincingly-explained way) and the action moves on to the new house – a possible place to hide Pedro. And not before time – the grumpy old neighbour of the nice old lady who was trying to help them has made a complaint, and she isn’t able to put Pedro up overnight any more. Why’s the grumpy guy also showing up round at the new place, though? Could it be related to the sighting that young Ted makes – of a while ghostly shape in the very house they are moving into?

Poppy shuts Pedro into the cellar anyway as she runs out of ideas and it’s getting very late – but in the meantime the grumpy neighbour has gone back to the family’s old place and told everyone that there is indeed a ghost in that there house! Mum in particular is sobbing her heart out to hear it – “Our new house! How can we go and live there now?” The neighbour leads everyone over to see the ghost for themselves, but in the meantime Daisy has run back, spirited Pedro out, and left the neighbour to look like a fool. Not so much because the house is free of ghosts, but because Poppy is in on the action too – she has dressed up as a ghost to pretend that it was all her doing all along!

It works, but finally Mum and Dad find out (they notice that both girls have ended up kipping in the new house snuggled up to Pedro). Mum is determined that Pedro MUST GO, but a final incursion by the nasty neighbour has her changing her mind after all when Pedro proves what a good guard dog he would be.

Further thoughts

The story starts promisingly, with hectic scenes at the fete, and bops along at quite a pace throughout. The plot itself feels fairly thin and it didn’t ‘grab’ me all that much on first read, but it’s quite solid on re-read. The best bit about it is the Jim Baikie cartoonish  artwork, with lots of characterful images. I particularly liked the way he does little signs on Pedro himself, such as in the last panel where Pedro is very pleased with himself! The art does get a bit scrappy in places and it doesn’t feel like it is Baikie’s best, but there is lots to like about it nevertheless.

Sandie 15 April 1972

Stories in this issue:

  • No-one Cheers for Norah (artist John Armstrong)
  • Slaves of the Sorcerer (artist Desmond Walduck?)
  • Wee Sue (artist Vicente Torregrosa Manrique)
  • Brenda’s Brownies (artist and writer Mike Brown)
  • Odd Mann Out (artist A E Allen)
  • Silver Is a Star (artist Eduardo Feito)
  • Not So Lady-like Lucy
  • Our Big BIG Secret (artist Jim Baikie) – last episode
  • The School of No Escape (artist unknown artist ‘Merry’)
  • Sandra Must Dance (artist Douglas Perry)
  • Bonnie’s Butler (artist Richard Neillands)
  • Anna’s Forbidden Friend (artist Miguel Quesada)
  • A Sandie Pop Portrait – Dave Cassidy (artist Bob Gifford)

The cover competition offers a chance to win a ‘fabulous electric sewing machine’, though I think that a battery-powered machine probably won’t get you very far through sewing anything other than the dolls clothes mentioned in the competition blurb.

Norah loses her home twice over in this episode – after an emotional visit to see her father, she stays overnight in her old house, but in the morning she is turfed out by a new family who have just rented the place. On returning to her cousin’s house she isn’t allowed back in there either! As is so often the way, though, the horrible relatives have played a mean trick too far – Norah has to stay in her uncle’s clothing factory overnight, and of course she finds a document that shows pretty clearly that the culprit who stole the money that her dad was blamed for – was probably her uncle all along!

Orphan Beth Williams is well and truly in the clutches of the evil sorcerer Caspar, along with three other hard-done-by girls. It seems that Caspar’s act is ‘so dangerous he’d never get anyone to volunteer. That’s why he has to have slaves.’ Beth is a spirited girl who is keen to run away at the first opportunity, but I suspect it won’t be as easy as that.

It’s the last episode of “Our Big BIG Secret” – a story post will be forthcoming.

At the end of the previous issue’s “The School of No Escape”, Dale was pushed over a cliff. Luckily she falls onto a ledge, which though small is enough to save her. The next morning, Miss Voor thinks that her last obstacle is out of the way and so she summons all her specially-chosen pupils to her side. They are all to write farewell letters to their parents and then to follow Miss Voor to Hangman’s Copse – which is where they meet up with the exhausted Dale, who has crawled up the cliff face to seek help.

This week’s episode of “Bonnie’s Butler” is drawn by Richard Neillands instead of regular artist Julio Bosch.

Blood Hostage [1993]

Blood Hostage cover

Published: Commando #2721 (1993)

Reprinted: Commando #5086 (2018)

Artist: Richardo Garijo (story); Ian Kennedy (cover)

Writer: Alan Hebden

Plot

Aboard a warship at Gibraltar, senior British officers are holding a top secret meeting. They are unaware a German spy is taking photographs of them doing it, so Berlin is alerted to the Allies planning something there, but they don’t know the details. Commodore Henry Dorning is one of the privileged few to know the officers were discussing plans for Operation Torch, the upcoming Allied invasion of North Africa.

Dorning has two additional problems, both of which have direct bearing on the story. The first is his nephew Ralph, who is trapped in the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands. The second is just being diagnosed with a heart murmur. Unfortunately the doctor cannot determine the severity of the murmur and advises a heart specialist. But there is no heart specialist in Gibraltar available for Dorning to consult.

Blood Hostage 1

While Dorning is being flown home aboard a Mosquito a German plane shoots it down. Dorning manages to bail out, but unfortunately he unwittingly parachutes into the Channel Islands. By the time he realises this, he has been captured by German naval officers.

The shock turns Dorning’s heart murmur into a full-scale heart attack. His condition is so serious that the usual Gestapo interrogation methods are out of the question, much to the chagrin of Gestapo rep Joachim Stoltz. After exchanging notes with Berlin, Stoltz knows Dorning is carrying vital information about what was discussed aboard that warship, but has to find another way of getting it out of Dorning. Then, while sifting through Dorning’s belongings, Stoltz finds out about Ralph. Immediately he hits on the idea of using Ralph as a hostage to blackmail Dorning into giving the information.

Meanwhile, Ralph has been using his catapult to help Dimitri Solkhov, a Russian prisoner, escape Nazi slavery. The Nazis give Dimitri up for dead after he goes over a cliff, but arrest Ralph for helping him. Ralph is sentenced to death, but is rescued from the firing squad in the nick of time by Stoltz’s order to turn Ralph over to his custody.

Elsewhere, Dimitri survived long enough to be rescued by Flyn MacCreedy. Flyn is wheelchair-bound after being wounded in action, but despite this he is as strong as a bull. Flyn has managed to hide a boat, “Beauty”, from the Nazis. Unfortunately Beauty has no fuel and Flyn, being paraplegic, can’t go out and steal any from the Nazis. Dimitri enthusiastically offers to do the job.

Flyn directs Dimitri to a local airstrip as the best place to steal fuel. Dimitri is aided by the fact that the guards have grown slack with security because they find the Channel Islands Occupation one great big bore. (Even for Stoltz, it was Dullsville before Dorning came along!)

Blood Hostage 2

After loading several stolen loads of fuel for Beauty, Dimitri sees Ralph being flown in to be delivered to Stoltz. Dimitri immediately recognises the boy who helped him escape and naturally wants to help him. Fortunately one of the escort guards stays behind because his just-about-had-it motorbike is acting up. Dimitri clobbers the guard and takes his uniform and motorbike.

At the hospital, Stoltz shows Dorning he has Ralph in his clutches. He informs him of the death sentence that hangs over Ralph and how it will be carried out if Dorning does not tell him what he wants to know by next morning.

But as Stoltz and Ralph come out of the hospital, Dimitri catches up. He bowls down the Gestapo and tells Ralph to get on. It’s then a matter of fleeing through town while keeping ahead of the Gestapo with a double load and a sub-standard motorbike. They make it back to Flyn’s, but don’t realise the defective motorbike has left an oil trail, which the Nazis soon find.

After comparing notes they realise the Gestapo is trying to force vital information out of Dorning. As they can’t make their escape until dark anyway, they fill in time by hatching a plan to rescue Dorning. Ralph and Flyn put together their combined knowledge of the hospital for Dimitri and Ralph to get into Dorning’s ward and rescue him (they are further helped by carelessness from yet another bored guard).

Meanwhile, the oil trail has led Stoltz straight to Flyn. Despite his wheelchair, Flyn puts up quite a fight, including breaking Stoltz’s wrist. He then sends himself over the cliff, and Stoltz assumes he’s dead. In fact, Flyn had swum his way to Beauty.

However, Stoltz guesses what Ralph and Dimitri are up to. He arrives at the hospital just as they are about to make their getaway with Dorning in an ambulance. They put up enough fight to stall Stoltz and get in the ambulance. They head back to the wharf where Flyn and Beauty are waiting, but Stoltz is right behind.

Blood Hostage 3

Stoltz commandeers the whole German flotilla on the island to go after the fugitives. The naval commander is furious at this because Stoltz is non-military, but knows it is no use protesting. Knowing the fugitives are heading north, Stoltz has the flotilla drive them west, where they will run out of fuel and be sitting ducks for recapture.

After being informed what the date is, Dorning persuades Flyn to play into their hands and do exactly what they want. When Beauty does run out of fuel in the western approaches it looks like Stoltz has won – but then he runs right smack into the first wave of Operation Torch crossing the Channel. Of course this was Dorning’s plan all along. The German flotilla disappears into the mist. Stoltz’s vessel turns the wrong way and gets dashed to bits against the approaching convoys. The convoys rescue the fugitives. They don’t yet know the fugitives saved them from “a hot reception” at the hands of the Germans (though it’s not clear on whether it was because they actually diverted the German flotilla at a critical moment or stopped Stoltz from forcing Operation Torch out of Dorning).

Thoughts

One of the most striking things is how the artwork makes Stoltz the star of the show in every panel he appears. In his first panel he looks like a dapper old man that could be taken for a clerk. But as his character develops he looks more like a weasel while the artwork still gives his face a dash of humour. And then there are brilliant panels where he looks truly sinister, such as where he stares down at where Flyn went over the cliff.

The Channel Islands occupation holds a particular horror about Nazi rule because it was the only British territory occupied by the Nazis and therefore a microcosm of what would have been if Hitler had conquered Britain. We certainly see horrors in the slave labour of the Russians and the Ralph, the meagre rations the islanders get, and Ralph, a mere boy, almost getting executed by firing squad.

Yet there is humour too, in the way the Germans are so bored stiff with an unexciting occupation that they have grown sloppy in their security. This has the bonus in that it is so easy to take advantage of. And so we get to see some of the resistance activity on the island. It begins with Ralph and then Flyn who by turns help Dimitri to escape. Both Ralph and Flyn show real courage in the face of their physical deficiencies against the Germans (Ralph being so young still and Flyn being wheelchair-bound). These acts of resistance turn into full-scale action when Dimitri rescues Ralph and then all three set out to rescue Dorning. The motorcycle and ambulance chases are real highlights. They would look really exciting on a movie screen, perhaps even more so than a battle scene. Putting the motorcycle chase on the cover is a master stroke. It immediately catches the reader’s eye and the angry German in the background is a hoot.

Blood Hostage 4

The action scenes make a nice change from the battlefield scenes that appear in so many Commandos. In fact there are no battlefield scenes at all until where the flight on Beauty ends up. The escape on Beauty is not just a mere chase; Dorning actually turns it into part of Operation Torch itself and helping the operation to succeed. It is also turned into an ironic punishment for Stoltz where Dorning actually gives him what he wants to know – Operation Torch – but in a manner that causes Stoltz’s downfall.