Published: Tammy & Misty 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980
Artists: Jaume Rumeu 19 January to 1 March 1980; Mario Capaldi 8 March to 22 March 1980
Writer: Bill Harrington
Translations/reprints: Misty Presents: The Jaume Rumeu Collection (2021)
In the last entry we briefly touched on the subject of Spider Woman. So here she is for the final entry in our Halloween lineup.
Mrs Webb, the villainess from Misty’s “The Black Widow”, returns. She has abandoned revenge for her husband’s death in favour of world domination, and has established a base on an island in Australasia that was once a leper colony. Her new weapon is a strain of man-eating spiders she has developed, and her plan is to use them to scare the whole world into submitting to her and her spiders.
Accidentally stumbling into this are Paula Moore, on holiday in Australia, and her grandparents. Their boat got blown off course by a storm and they discover the ship that was the first test for Mrs Webb’s man-eating spiders. It’s a ghost ship, with crew stripped to the bones from the spiders, which are still on board.
Sensing danger from the spiders, they quickly head back to their boat and radio mainland to report the incident, but Mrs Webb is watching them on her monitor. Posing as naval authority, she kidnaps them and strands them on her island base, with nothing but decrepit old leper huts for accommodation and tales of leper ghosts to frighten them. Gran is bitten by one of the spiders Mrs Webb left to guard their boat and falls gravely ill. In her delirium she raves about spiders and ghosts of lepers who don’t want them around. They are forced to take shelter in one of the leper huts.
Paula goes in search of the woman who stranded them in the hope of treatment for gran. Mrs Webb has her servant, Gorza, who looks like some sort of weird, lumbering cross between a dumb waiter, Frankenstein and a ogre, capture Paula and bring her to her base. She introduces herself and her plans to Paula, and she wants Paula’s full cooperation if her family is to stay alive. She knows the Navy will soon discover the ghost ship, and she wants Paula and her family to tell them of her great power. Mrs Webb then releases Paula.
Paula finds her gran is now recovering from the bite. She tells her family who they are up against, but they discover their boat, previously guarded by the spiders, is now gone altogether. And in the bushes, something or someone is watching them. Later they find a chimpanzee in the bushes, which is not native to the island, and they conclude he must have escaped from Mrs Webb’s experiments. But gran is convinced someone else is around and raves about leper ghosts and the previous inhabitants being into voodoo and black magic. Back at the hut, they do find evidence someone else could be around, but it’s in the form of a delicious meal waiting for them.
Back at the ghost ship, the Navy have found the horrors on board and guess who they are up against before Mrs Webb even sends her first message to them on her TV monitor. She informs them she has hostages. They are to return to the mainland and report what her spiders are capable of, and she is going to do the same to the whole world if there is no global submission to her. The Navy radio her message back to HQ and start a search of all the islands in a 30-mile radius for the hostages. However, Mrs Webb is using her helicopter to see whether they are obeying her orders or not, and when she sees they are not, she drops a case of her man-eating spiders on the ship, who are soon doing their deadly work. The Navy hose the spiders off the ship and their radar tracked her helicopter. They are now hot on her trail.
Paula and her family now discover who else is on the island: an ex-leper named Jarvis. He remained on the island after being cured of leprosy and wants to join the fight against Mrs Webb. He shows Paula and grandpa a secret entrance into her lair, and they take advantage of her absence to sneak in. But they discover the entrance is guarded by an enormous killer spider. Jarvis quickly dispatches the spider, and they enter Mrs Webb’s lair to use her equipment to call for help.
Unfortunately it’s at this point that Mrs Webb returns and catches them. Mrs Webb straps Jarvis to a table to be the first test of her latest serum – one that can turn a human being into a spider! She adds that she has not developed an antidote.
Then a bombardment from the Navy shakes the base, causing Mrs Webb to accidentally inject the serum into herself. And like she said, there is no antidote available. Gorza is knocked out by falling debris. Mrs Webb makes a run for her helicopter, but as she prepares to take off, the serum starts to take effect and one of her arms turns into a spider’s leg.
Paula impulsively makes a rush for the helicopter but is captured by Mrs Webb. Mrs Webb uses her remaining arm to get the helicopter into the air and tries to use Paula as a hostage against the Navy. When Paula yells at them not to give in to the threat, Mrs Webb angrily throws her against the controls, causing the helicopter to pitch. Mrs Webb makes another lunge at Paula to kill her with spider venom, causing another pitch that makes her fall out of the helicopter and into the sea. The Navy fail to find her, dead or alive, or in what form. They pick up Paula and her grandparents, but Jarvis wants to stay on the island.
Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain to return for a sequel, and one of the few who could. Misty being Misty, she liked to send her villains to sticky ends (an end Mrs Webb finally meets in this story!). Not all Misty villains met this fate, and Mrs Webb’s first story hinted she escaped and might be back. It’s a bit odd this followup didn’t appear in Misty when there was still time for it to do so before the merger. At IPC, a sequel tended to appear within a year after the original, and the first Mrs Webb story appeared in 1978. Perhaps the sequel had not been written at that stage? Did they decide to save the sequel for the merger? Or did ye Editor trawl through old issues of Misty to see what could be brought into the merger and ordered the sequel?
When I first read this follow-up, I found Mrs Webb way too camp and over the top for my taste, an opinion that has not changed much. Also, she was more into demented grandstanding than menace, which made her even more annoying. In her first story her planning showed shrewdness and cunning despite her insanity, but now her plans don’t seem to be well thought out. She seriously believes she can scare the whole world into submission by threatening them with spiders, even if they are ones capable of eating people alive? All the Navy had to do to stop her man-eating spider attack was bring out the hoses, and the world has insecticides and fumigation as well.
Also showing lack of proper planning is how Mrs Webb wants to make use of Paula. She captures Paula and demands her cooperation, but she does not enslave her or ever make any real use of her as she did with her two slaves Sadie and Freda in her first story. After making her demands she just lets Paula go. She does not even use an enslaving device on Paula, which she did with Sadie and Freda. Doing so would have added even more punch to the plot. Instead, one is left feeling Mrs Webb capturing Paula at all was rather pointless, and the only purpose it serves in the plot is to inform Paula what’s going on. Okay, when comparing Mrs Webb now to what she was like in her first story, it is obvious that her insanity has increased, very likely at the expense of clear thinking. So perhaps it is understandable.
Also coming across as a bit improbable is the amazing recovery gran makes after the spider bite. Her recovery, without any medication, is so miraculous it’s unbelievable. She actually leaves the island looking hale and hearty, as if she had never been bitten at all. Was she lucky and only received a sublethal bite, or did she have some kind of fluke resistance to the poison?
The story could have done with a fuller explanation of who Mrs Webb was for the benefit of readers who had not read her original story, particularly the Tammy readers. We’re given the impression she has struck before and the Navy captain says she’s “the fiend who terrorised England some years back”, but there are no details. Some flashback or explanation would have been welcome by readers who sensed another story here and wanted to know the gist at least, and it would have enhanced the story more.
On the plus side, the story sure is high on the gross-out factor, which is so rare and bold for girls’ comics. Panels showing people being eaten alive by spiders, one being driven mad with pain and throwing himself overboard, and corpses that have been eaten to the bones must have shocked Tammy readers and given them nightmares for days. It’s also high on creepiness and sinister atmosphere, and it’s not just those spiders that are genetically engineered to be dangerous weapons. It’s the setting on the leper island itself. Those sinister-looking, decaying huts that were once home to lepers and the island graveyard full of leper graves creep us out immediately. Mrs Webb and then gran’s delirium set everyone high on anxiety and terror that there could be ghosts lurking around that are every bit as evil and dangerous as Mrs Webb’s spiders. And in a place like that, we’re more than ready to believe there are ghosts or something even more diabolical. Winding us up even more is the buildup to something or someone else on the island who is watching the stranded family. It’s quite a twist to have it turn out to be benign and friendly instead of menacing.
The apex of the horror is definitely the experiment to turn a human being into a spider. A human actually turning into a spider of unknown hybrid? Cor blimey! Having Mrs Webb herself not knowing exactly what the end result will be really adds to it.
It is a great Misty-style comeuppance to have this backfire on Mrs Webb and set her on the path to turning into a spider herself. It is a pity we don’t see the final form of this transformation. It feels like another missed opportunity and we’re rather left dangling as to how it would have turned out. It would have really turned the story up a few notches to have our protagonists up against a totally transformed Mrs Webb. We can just see her as the biggest Black Widow spider you ever saw, but still with a human mind that is totally insane, rampaging like Godzilla, and maybe laying clutches of eggs that hatch into swarms of giant killer spiders. That would have turned it into a really exciting story that would have readers on the edge of their seats while giving them the stuff of nightmares.