All posts by mistyfan

The Body Snatchers [1979-1980]

Sample Images

Body Snatchers 1Body Snatchers 2Body Snatchers 3Body Snatchers 4

Published: Misty 10 November 1979 to 12 January 1980 (final issue)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/Reprints: The Best of Misty Monthly #4

Plot

Nancy Perkins is making a belated return to boarding school after an illness and immediately notices strange things happening. Her taxi is crossed by a teacher, who looks scared out of his wits and in a dreadful state before he disappears into a storm. Yet Nancy later sees him at school, looking perfectly normal and doesn’t know what she is talking about. Certain pupils and teachers act out of character – as if they were imposters. A pupil disappears without explanation. Nancy sees a procession of pupils and teachers heading off to Broughty Manor in the dead of night, although the headmistress has just put that place strictly out of bounds and has reminded the pupils about it twelve dozen times already. We soon learn that these people are the henchmen of “the master”, there is something non-human about their eyes, and they have some sort of affinity with plants. Realising Nancy is noticing too much, “the master” orders them to kidnap her and bring her to his lair at Broughty Manor.

The master, Dr Bracken, explains that the Government and scientific community refused to believe his claim that he could heal people by combining plant serum to human flesh to re-grow body parts. Desperate to prove his theory, Bracken tested it on himself. But the attempt was premature, or so Bracken believes anyway. As a result, the entire left-hand side of Bracken’s body is plant, and now he’s a freak. Bracken blames the Government for his condition, so he is seeking revenge by overthrowing the Government and establishing himself as Britain’s ruler. The first stage of his plan is replacing everyone in the community with special plants that are grown as human clones. The clones are equipped with the brain-patterns of their human counterparts. These include all the staff at Nancy’s school and a considerable number of the pupils. What happens to the real people? They get fed to his man-eating plant, of course.

Nancy makes a run for it, only to nearly fall foul of the man-eating plant when she stumbles into its layer. Bracken sees this on his monitor and laughingly leaves her to the plant. Fortunately Nancy realises in time that sudden movement attracts the man-eater, so slow movements will get her out. After that escape she stumbles into the greenhouse where Bracken grows his plant-people. She is revolted and sickened by this “people factory” and can’t get out fast enough. She did not notice that her own double was growing there too!

Nancy breaks into the school to call the police. However, the plant people detect her before she can complete the call. She tries to escape down the ivy, but the plant people control all plants, which enables them to capture her by commanding the ivy to fall down. They tie her up in the infirmary. Fortunately Nancy’s friend Laura saw everything and gets her out.

After Nancy explains what’s going on, the girls make a run for it together. As they do so, they discover that Bracken almost has the entire district under his control and realise the plant people have a power over other plants, including communicating with them. So it’s only a matter of time before they are caught and have to get right away. They see a plant man preparing truck to drive to London, which is where Nancy’s parents live. Nancy and Laura sneak aboard the lorry, and have to share a dreadful ride with incubating plant people. They can barely keep themselves from screaming.

Nancy and Laura make it to Nancy’s house, only to find Bracken got there before them. He has kidnapped the parents and replaced them with plant clones. While trying to flee the plant people Nancy throws weedkiller at them, which destroys them. Now they know what weapon to use against the plant people.

Laura is dispatched to alert the police while Nancy heads back to Broughty Manor to rescue her parents. The first thing Nancy encounters in the manor is her plant clone! Nancy smashes a pot plant into the clone’s lantern, which causes it to burst into flames. Nancy heads to the man-eater plant room where her parents are sure to be. Sure enough, Bracken himself is about to feed them to it when Nancy bursts in. Nancy shouts at her parents not to make sudden movements, a warning Bracken forgets when he draws a gun on her. Attracted by the sudden movement, the plant seizes Bracken and devours him.

The police arrive (after Laura finally convinced them she was not crazy), but there is little for them to do except mop up. Fire has spread from the destruction of Nancy’s plant clone and is now burning down Bracken’s lair. The plant people just wither and die without Bracken to control them. So Bracken’s operation is now falling apart “like leaves in the wind”.

Thoughts

Mad scientists who tamper with or abuse nature were a common staple in Misty. And this being Misty, they paid the price, usually in the form of nature striking back one way or other. Bracken is no different. First, he suffers grotesque but fitting damage to his body as a result of his own experiments and tampering with nature. Of course he never even considers it was his own fault for not heeding what must have been legitimate warnings. Second, he gets eaten alive by his own man-eating plant and meets the same end he had inflicted on so many innocents.

In terms of weapons or credible invasion plans, the plant people are not all that strong. All you have to do is bring out the weedkiller or flamethrowers and they’re finished. I doubt they would stand up to bullets either. Or if you bring down Bracken himself, the plant people just keel over. The plant people are not good imposters although they carry the brain patterns and memories of those they have replaced. Sure, Bracken’s plan to take over Britain may look credible when he takes over the village and school, but that’s comparatively small and nobody except Nancy has caught on to what he’s up to. Taking over a whole country is vastly different and far more people would realise something’s wrong, and it would not take the army long to figure out the weaknesses of the plant people.

The definite strength of this story is definitely the horror and repulsiveness of Bracken’s experiments, including what he’s done to himself. The incubation of the plant people is nauseating. The plant people themselves are frightening in their somewhat vacant, zombie-like stares, but their real strength is how they have all plants at their command. Imagine if you are at 10 Downing Street and suddenly all the plants outside turn hostile. Or you are a farmer and suddenly all your crop fields go crazy. Of course there is Bracken’s ultimate monstrosity – the monster-sized maneater plant he uses to dispose of people once he finishes with them. And let us not forget the horror of Bracken’s appearance. Half-man, half plant. Urrghh, what a bizarre, grotesque sight he is. One side of his body is perfectly normal, but the other side is wood, twigs, and leaves. You scream out the moment you see his appearance in full! The horror is all brilliantly rendered by the Maria Barrera art in such intricate detail and effective use of shadowing.

I wonder if the Dr Who story “The Seeds of Doom” was inspiration for this story. It was aired three years before Body Snatchers, so it is possible. The story is so reminiscent of the Krynoid menace in the Dr Who story. The Krynoid, for those who don’t know, was an alien plant that not only eats people but also has the power to control other plants and make them turn hostile towards people. Both stories have a mad botanist out for conquest. Both mad botanists use ecological ways to dispose of people; in Body Snatchers it’s a maneater plant and in the Dr Who story it’s a compost machine. And wouldn’t you know it – both of these mad botanists meet their own gruesome ends by those very methods, which backfire on them.

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Top 10 Jinty Villains

I now present my list of the top ten villains from the run of Jinty. Some have been chosen because they are the most obvious choices while others have been chosen as representatives of particular types of villains. The choices on this list are entirely mine, and in making my choices I have tried to keep a broad spectrum of the different types and archetypes of villains that appeared in Jinty. But I am aware some of you may have your own views and some of my choices could be subject to second-guessing. Please feel free to suggest your own lists for the top ten Jinty villains in the comments below if you wish.

And now, counting down…

10: Mr Grand

Story: Village of Fame

Creators: Jim Baikie (artist); writer unknown

Jinty villain 10

Just how far would you go for the highest television ratings? Mr Grand goes to the lengths of spy cameras all over the village called Fame he’s chosen for his location where he can watch every move under pretext of collecting footage, devious publicity stunts, including a faked UFO abduction, genuine kidnappings, blackmail, and even hiring a hypnotist named Marvo to brainwash people to do whatever he wants. At the climax, this takes the form of a widespread television broadcast where Grand and Marvo attempt to hypnotise the whole village in order to restore the television ratings. Mr Grand takes the popular view of television as a one-eyed monster that hypnotises people with junk and intrudes into their homes to a whole new level.

9: Jean Marlow

Story: Waves of Fear

Creators: Phil Gascoine (artist); writer unknown

Jinty villain 4

As you might expect, there has to be a school bully somewhere on the list. There sure have been some nasty ones in Jinty, such as Sandra Simpkins (Tears of a Clown) and Lydia’s ex-friends in Dracula’s Daughter. But the worst of them all has to be Jean Marlow and her hate campaign against Clare Harvey. There can be nothing worse than bullying a mentally ill girl, and just because Jean hates her for some unknown reason. Jean takes advantage of Clare being branded a coward and becoming ostracised and bullied when her illness causes her to flee while her friend is drowning in a cave pool. Jean has the girls throw Clare into the same cave pool, which nearly drowns her. Then Jean plays upon Clare’s illness to get her expelled: she locks Clare into a classroom, forcing Clare to smash her way out once the illness overwhelms her, and then leading the headmistress believe Clare did it out of spite. As if that weren’t enough, Jean vandalises her own orienteering club in order to frame Clare for it because Clare stumbled across her cheating.

8: Miss Marvel

Story: Golden Dolly, Death Dust!

Creators: Phil Gascoine (artist); writer unknown

Jinty villain 5

It wouldn’t be complete without a witchy, cackling crone type on this list either. Jinty certainly had plenty to remember, such as Madam Kapelski (Curtain of Silence), Mrs Tallow (Slaves of the Candle) and Miss Vaal (Girl in a Bubble). However, Miss Marvel has been chosen to represent them all, for she is not only a real witch but also, in modern parlance, an eco-terrorist with her poisonous death dust. The death dust kills all the flora and fauna it touches, and Miss Marvel uses it to bring terror to the district by destroying all the plant life around. In an increasing climate of widespread pollution, mass extinction, environment destruction and, of course eco-terrorism, this sounds more relevant and disturbing than when it was first published. Plus Miss Marvel has one of the most frightening of accomplices – a terrifying Halloween mask that can float around and scare the living daylights out of anyone who sees it!

7: Mrs Siddons

Story: Dora Dogsbody

Creators: José Casanovas (artist); Terence Magee, Pat Mills et al (writers)

Jinty villain 8

Comical villains are a long-running staple in girls’ comics. A popular mechanism was a schemer getting his or her comeuppance every week at the hands of the protagonist. Such is the case with Mrs Siddons. Mrs Siddons runs a dogs’ hotel where all the pooches live in the height of luxury – but she is no animal lover. She only runs the hotel for profit and making extra money out of the dogs’ owners or crafty schemes wherever she can find them. Often these come at the expense of the dogs, such as undercutting their food and heating to save money. Moreover, she can’t be bothered doing the dirty work of running the hotel. So she brings Dora Watson in, ostensibly to adopt her, to do all the work as unpaid servant and treat her worse than a dog. However, it turns into grand hijinks and laughs for the readers every week with Mrs Siddons vs Dora Dogsbody as Dora rises to the occasion to foil Mrs Siddons. And the hijinks, scheming, and animals are all rendered brilliantly and amusingly with the artwork of José Casanovas.

6: Jemima and Agnes

Story: Cinderella Smith

Creators: Trini Tinturé (artist); writer unknown

Jinty villain 3

Cinderella-type stories are long-running staple in girls’ comics, where the heroine is made a drudge at the hands of cruel guardians and seeks solace and escape in a talent. The most famous one is Bella Barlow from Tammy. But surely not even Cinderella herself experienced cruelty like this at the hands of these two wicked stepsisters, er cousins. Locked in chains and deprived of food and water because she tried to tell her father how she was being treated? Being made to wear leg irons while she works? Forced to eat from the dog’s dish? Being tricked into signing away her inheritance? Deliberately given tainted food to make her ill? Made to live in a cold, shabby attic with no electricity, decent lighting,  heating or proper bedding, and forced to wear tatty clothing while the cousins live in the lap of luxury? Forced to paint a huge house from top to bottom? All these and more were inflicted on Cinderella Smith at the hands of her cruel cousins, Agnes and Jemima. They do it because they hate Cindy’s mother for some reason and are so stingy they make or save as much money as they can out of Cindy with free labour and any possessions she has. There have been hundreds of serials with cruel guardians who treat the protagonist like Cinderella. But the cruelties and excesses of Agnes and Jemima are hard to beat, even by Jed and Gert from Bella Barlow.

5: The Aliens aka The Silent Death

Story: The Human Zoo

Creators: Guy Peeters (artist); Malcolm Shaw (writer)

Jinty villain 6

The aliens, also known as the Silent Death, were the only alien race in Jinty to give readers cause to remember them. They may be highly advanced telepathic beings, but advancement has not brought enlightenment. They are a cold-hearted race who disapprove of all sentimentality and emotion, yet revel in bloodsports and animal cruelties. They lock animals – including humans, whom they kidnap from Earth – into obedience collars that give intense pain when activated. The humans kidnapped by the aliens in this story are by turn subjected to the aliens’ equivalents of bounty hunting, pain-induced discipline, cattle markets, zoos, slaughterhouses, circuses, bloodsports, beasts of burden, vivisection and even a hint of animal sacrifice. They regard humans as animals and their attitude is (with welcome exceptions who care for animal welfare) “they’re just animals, for us to use as we like”. These include cruel versions of chimps’ tea parties where they starve humans for the purpose and never let them get the chance to eat any of the food that is thrown at them, and circus acts where the non-swimming protagonist is nearly drowned every night while the aliens clap and cheer.

But what makes them such unforgettable villains is that we see so much of ourselves in them. Humans are guilty of the same atrocities against animals as the ones the aliens inflict on the humans in the story. Even today, particularly in Third World countries, you will see animal cruelties of all sorts that are just as horrible and barbaric as the ones the aliens commit.

Next page…

Spellbound No. 1, 25 September 1976

Spellbound cover 25 September 1976

  • When the Mummy Walks… – first episode (artist Norman Lee)
  • Spectre from the Flame – Damian Darke story
  • The Secret of Silver Star – first episode (artist Edmond Ripoll)
  • Nightmare (text story)
  • Supercats: Meet the Sun God (artist Jorge B. Galvez (possibly with help from Enrique Badía Romero))
  • The Haunting of Laura Lee – first episode
  • I Don’t Want to be a Witch – first episode (artist Norman Lee)
  • Lonely Lucy – first episode (artist Jordi Franch)

Spellbound Supercats

The DCT title Spellbound is best remembered today as the proto-Misty, the first girls’ title to be the first to be a horror/Goth title. Spellbound lasted for just 69 issues and merged into Debbie. Ironically, Spellbound folded in the same month Misty started. In the wake of the lingering affection for Misty, Spellbound is being rediscovered and her issues are becoming serious collectors’ items.

Spellbound is unusual for not having a girl’s name as her title, a la Bunty, Debbie, or even Misty. Because of this, no female host acts as the female the comic is named after or appears as a cover girl. This role is covered by The Supercats, regular characters in Spellbound who originally appeared in Diana as “The Fabulous Four”, and were resurrected in Spellbound to the point of dominating it. The comic’s club is named after the Supercats, they are the fictional writers of the letters page, and the weekly horoscope, the Zodiacat, is Supercat-themed. And when Spellbound merged into Debbie, the Supercats were the ones who carried on in the merger.

The theme of ancient Egypt is running high in the first issue, beginning with its first gift: the mystic sun pendant. It continues with the first Spellbound story, “When the Mummy Walks…”. The gorgeous artwork in its splash page hits you right in the eye and draws your attention straight into the comic the moment you open it. A Victorian museum featuring an exhibition on ancient Egypt incurs the curse of the mummy, which has broken out of its sarcophagus. No, it isn’t King Tut – it’s an Egyptian priestess.

Spellbound Mummy

Next is the other Spellbound regular character, Damian Darke. He hosted the weekly complete stories, which were of course spooky. In his first story, “Spectre from the Flame”, Jane Armitage senses something strange about the latest arrival in the antique shop where she works, an old candlestick. A burglar trying to steal the candlestick finds out too late what it is – the candlestick belonged to none other than the infamous Judge Jeffries! But for once we are rooting for Jeffries when his spectre appears to show the burglar the justice he was famous for. All the same, Jane is relieved when the candlestick gets sold. After Spellbound folded, Damian Darke carried on his stories in Debbie and Mandy.

Damian Darke 1

Spellbound Judge Jeffries

The second serial is “The Secret of Silver Star”. It feels a bit out of place in this spooky-themed comic as there is no supernatural theme about it, not even the titular horse being a spectre or something. Instead it’s about a horse that has to be put into hiding when it is to be destroyed. Perhaps the story’s mystery theme – an unknown saboteur trying to destroy the stables – is what is supposed to tie it into the comic. All the same, it does not feel like it really belongs in this type of comic and would be better off in a more traditional DCT title like Mandy or Judy.

After the text story “Nightmare” (which turns out to be a false alarm for the protagonist), we meet the Supercats in person. They are a group of intergalactic super-heroes: Helen Miller the leader despite her lack of superpowers; Hercula, who is super-strong; Electra, who can generate electricity; and Fauna, who can change colour. Their first adventure in Spellbound carries on the ancient Egypt theme. They land on a planet that looks like ancient Egypt and the Egyptian Sun God wants Helen as his bride. But it isn’t a wedding to make her so – it’s being sacrificed on his altar!

(Click thru)

It would not be complete without a story regarding an evil force of some kind taking possession of the protagonist, and this we get with “The Haunting of Laura Lee”. Laura Lee had only played the piano for fun. But that changes when she acquires a mysterious ring that won’t come off. All of a sudden she can play brilliantly, but she senses it wasn’t her playing. What’s more, she’s playing until she’s exhausted. She doesn’t like it one bit.

In “I Don’t Want to be a Witch”, Celia Winters does not want to follow the family tradition of becoming a witch and insists on going to an ordinary school. However, her Aunt Armida is out to change her mind, which means the story will follow the pattern of who will win the argument.

Finally, we come to “Lonely Lucy”. There is no outright supernatural theme, but it still blends into Spellbound better than Silver Star because it is a dark story, has a period setting, highwaymen, and persecution that stems from ignorance and superstition. Lucy Pilgrim has been dumped in an orphanage, which, as you might expect, is a cruel one. But for Lucy it’s even crueller as the children call her a witch because she’s left handed. She runs away, but runs slap bang into the highwayman himself! Has she jumped from the frying pan and into the fire? And will the branding of Lucy as a witch just because she’s left handed continue?

Spellbound Lonely Lucy

There are no humorous cartoon strips in the first issue to lighten things up a bit, as Miss T did in Misty.

 

 

The Black and White World of Shirley Grey [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 7 February 1981 to 23 May 1981

Episodes: 16

Artist: Diane Gabbot

Writer: Jake Adams?

Translations/reprints: Tammy annual 1986

Plot

Shirley Grey’s best friend, Trisha Morris, has an accident and ends up in a coma because she defied orders and warnings in practising her diving at a dangerous cove, which tempted fate once too often. Although she was acting on Trisha’s instructions, Shirley blames herself because she had covered up about Trisha’s whereabouts to Mrs Morris. Mrs Morris also blames Shirley for the same reason (she does not know Shirley was only obeying Trisha) and lashes out at her whenever their paths cross.

In the wake of the accident Shirley swears never to lie again, but is taking it the extreme of not telling even a white lie, no matter what the circumstances. So what happens? A whole raft of circumstances where this gets Shirley gets into ever-increasing trouble as either a tattletale or a very rude girl. They are summarised as follows:

  1. Shirley twice insults the boss’s wife by giving a too-honest opinion on her clothes (hideous and don’t fit her properly because she’s too fat). As a result, Shirley’s father loses his promotion and his job is on the line, and Shirley’s parents are up in arms against her. Mum is having hysterics because they needed money from the promotion to buy a place away from the estate, which has been terrible ever since a gang of troublemakers moved in.
  2. Shirley begs a nurse to go against the Morris parents’ instructions (no visitors for Trisha except immediate family) and let her see Trisha. When Shirley is caught and the matron demands to know if the nurse let Shirley in, she says the nurse did. The nurse throws Shirley out, raging at how Shirley has repaid her – by getting her into trouble.
  3. Shirley falls foul of the school bully Evie Moore when she tells on Evie for stealing from a teacher because she can’t lie. Evie ruins Shirley’s blazer and demands menaces money of £1 a day, which Shirley can’t possibly pay, of course. When Shirley fails on her first payment Evie and her gang threaten to do something terrible to her. Shirley’s friends find their courage and rise up against the bullies, but Evie gets hurt. When the teacher asks Shirley who did it, Shirley says who it was without explaining why. Furious at how Shirley got them into trouble when they were trying to help her, the girls have everyone at school send her to Coventry. Even the teachers feel the effects of this.
  4. Evie’s final revenge against Shirley is to frame her for shoplifting. Shirley is convicted and the court is awaiting a social worker’s report before passing sentence.

All the while everyone is trying to tell Shirley she is being ridiculous, both in the way she is blaming herself and in thinking she can go through life without telling a lie because everyone has to one way or other. “You’ve got to pack it in,” says Shirley’s friend Hannah. “You can’t go through life without telling a lie – it’s not possible!” Even Evie tells Shirley she is mad about never lying, and around the district Shirley is soon derogatorily dubbed the girl who never tells lies. But Shirley says she can’t help not lying and won’t stop blaming herself. As things get progressively worse, Shirley comes to think it is all a punishment for Trisha’s accident. She fails to realise the trouble all stems from her blaming herself.

The final straw comes when Shirley overhears Mum having yet more hysterics that she can’t take any more of this and is going to have a nervous breakdown. Mum has been having nothing but these hysterics ever since Dad has lost his promotion. But when the false shoplifting charge came up Mum has been extremely selfish about it. Although she and Dad believe Shirley innocent, neither of them show her any sympathy, support or concern about it and treat her harshly. All Mum can think of is the shame of it all, that she’ll be struck on this dreadful estate, what everyone will think and how she won’t be able to hold her head up, etc, etc.

At any rate, Mum’s hysterics have Shirley decide that the only answer is to run away, which she does blindly. Shirley’s disappearance has the parents finally showing concern about her and they call the police.

Shirley finds herself back at the cove where it all started and the very cliff edge where the accident occurred. This gets very dangerous for Shirley when she falls asleep there and then the parents and police shine a blinding light in her eyes. She falls off the cliff, nearly drowns in the sea below, and takes a head injury that fractures her skull. She is rushed to hospital, and when Mum hears that it was her hysterics that made Shirley run off, she realises how selfish she has been.

Shirley finds herself in the next bed to Trisha, and still blaming herself for Trisha’s accident. The medical staff suggest Shirley talk to Trisha about their times together in the hope this will bring Trisha out of the coma. But Mrs Morris, who still blames Shirley for the accident, won’t allow Shirley near Trisha. However the same nurse from before helps Shirley to talk to Trisha secretly, and forgives what happened last time. After two weeks this brings Trisha out of the coma. Shirley finally stops blaming herself and the grateful Mrs. Morris apologises for her conduct. Shirley discontinues her vow never to tell even a white lie because she now understands “that things aren’t all black-and-white”.

But there is still the little matter of the problems Shirley created for herself with that guilt complex, and there is now a wrongful conviction hanging over her head as well. What about those?

Shirley finds most of these problems are now sorting themselves out, albeit in a somewhat contrived manner. Shirley’s remarks shocked the boss’s wife into slimming and a complete makeover. She is so grateful to Shirley that Dad gets his promotion after all. There is new hope that Shirley will be cleared of the shoplifting once the social worker get the courts to reconsider Shirley’s side of things because she was going to such extremes about not lying. What Shirley started about standing up to Evie has continued, despite her “dropping [the girls] in it”. As a result, Evie has lost her power as a bully and is no longer her “cocky, obnoxious self”. However, the girls have not forgiven Shirley. Trisha and the more forgiving Hannah try to persuade them, but they remain unmoved until they see Shirley covering up for them and telling the teacher the Coventry thing was just a misunderstanding that’s been sorted out. They go along with it and are reconciled with Shirley.

Thoughts

Essentially, Shirley has the same problem as Wanda White in Jinty’s Wanda Whiter Than White—she is taking truth-telling to extremes that causes problems both for her and for everyone around her, and it all stems from a huge guilt complex. In the end, Shirley, like Wanda, realises things aren’t all black and white and uses a white lie to help redeem herself. Unlike Wanda though, Shirley knows she is hurting people with all this extreme truth telling and feels terrible about it. But to her mind she can’t help it and she’s got to tell the truth at all times.

Again unlike Wanda, Shirley is a totally sympathetic character. She is tortured by guilt, keeps getting herself and others into constant trouble over her extreme truth-telling, becomes a victim of vicious bullying, a frame-up that gets her wrongly convicted, and nearly gets herself killed.

Like so many protagonists in girls’ comics who are suffering from a massive guilt complex, Shirley is blaming herself over something that is utterly ridiculous. If anyone is to blame, it is Trisha herself. That’s what everyone tells her, but they’re not getting through. This girl needs serious counselling and psychiatric help. But despite initial concerns about how badly Shirley has reacted to the accident and some talk of getting a doctor involved to help sort Shirley out, her parents never do so. Instead they degenerate into the common theme of parents handling things badly in girls’ serials. This is because they’re thinking too much about how the effects of it all are having on themselves. They’re not thinking about Shirley at all until her disappearance shocks them out of their selfishness.

The story also makes a serious statement about bullying and harassment, and ineptness in handling it effectively. It’s not just the vicious bullies at school that Shirley falls foul of. There is also a gang of delinquent girls who have been causing nothing but trouble ever since they moved in and turned a once-great estate into a nightmare for everyone. For example, they set fire to a lady’s washing. But nobody seems to do anything about them and by they end of the story they go unpunished. That’s pretty much how Evie Moore went too with her bullying until Shirley’s extreme truth-telling got her reported for the very first time. However, unlike Evie, they don’t add much to the story. The only time they really do so is when they chase Shirley while she is running off because she shoved one of them over. But she is too fast for them – hurrah! For the most part though, they are just distracting. Perhaps their purpose in the plot is to explain why Mrs Grey is so desperate to get away from the estate and keeps having hysterics that she’s going to be stuck there once Dad loses his chance of promotion.

Evie gets some punishment in that she loses her power and her bullying days are over at that school. But it feels she got off too lightly considering what she’s done, particularly to Shirley. She is not even expelled for stealing from the teacher. The headmaster just gives her a final warning and will expel her next time. “He’s too soft,” says one girl. “He should’ve expelled her now!” We certainly agree, and we feel the story is making a comment about schools not cracking down on bullying hard enough.

Betta to Lose [1978]

Sample Images

Betta to Lose 1aBetta to Lose 1bBetta to Lose 1c

Published: Tammy 13 May 1978 – 15 July 1978

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Library #24 as “Wonder Girl” (abridged)

Plot

Betta James is subjected to a harsh regime to make her the top athlete of St Mary’s School: endless training, and the sports mistress Miss Pearce has no hesitation to lay on extra training sessions where she sees fit; a diet that is so strict that Bella is not even allowed a piece of her own celebratory cake; and no social life whatsoever,  with films, disco dances and even parties all banned. And the other girls are assigned as her watchdogs to see she sticks to it all. It’s nothing but sleep, eat and breathe constant sports practice to beat Deepdale all the time. Added to that, Bella’s education is suffering and she is way behind classwork because she is excused too many lessons for sports practice. But the headmistress does not care about that. All she cares about is beating Deepdale and crowing over her old school rival, who is the headmistress there. And they can’t beat Deepdale without Betta. Betta’s parents are no help either; they are just as win-crazy and beating Deepdale as Miss Pearce and the headmistress.

Betta gets fed up with this life and wants out. She tries going on strike and expressing her feelings to Miss Pearce, but Miss Pearce blackmails her out of it with a threat of extra-hard school exams, which Betta has little chance of passing because she is so behind on schoolwork. So Betta tries another tactic: deliberately losing sports matches against Deepdale in the hope she will be released from the “sports trap” as she calls it.

However, Betta soon finds that losing is not that easy when you are by nature a winner. Plus, her training has made her reflexes too strong to simply louse up. So Betta resorts to sabotage: greasing up a baton exchange; slicing studs off her shoes to lose balance; weighting her swimsuit with lead; and playing with a useless hockey stick.

With tricks like that, it is not long before beady-eyed Miss Pearce gets suspicious. But it is the ironically jealous Leonie Mather who catches Betta out when she mistakenly thinks one of Betta’s tricks was aimed at her and Betta is forced to explain the truth. She does not realise Miss Pearce and the headmistress have overheard her.

The headmistress decides to grant Betta’s wish. She drops Betta from all the teams and Leonie takes her place. However, she is furious over what she perceives as disloyalty to the school (not being able to crow over her Deepdale rival, she means!) and is out to make Betta pay for it. And when the school starts suffering extremely humiliating losses against Deepdale because they are hopeless without Betta, the headmistress’s anger towards Betta turns into downright spite.

And remember that hint Miss Pearce made to Betta about the school exams? That is precisely what the headmistress does – she makes them extra-extra-hard just to spite Betta, who has been slaving hard to catch up on her schoolwork (and because of this, has not found time for the social life she hoped for without her sports life). The headmistress even supervises the exams herself so she can gloat over Betta in person. The headmistress spites Betta even further when she tells her that she failed the maths exam, although she hasn’t even marked the paper. She just assumed Betta failed because Betta handed it in after one hour. On this basis alone the headmistress withdraws Betta from the exams and schoolwork and puts her back into sport. Hmph, more likely that’s just their excuse to start beating Deepdale again with Betta. In any case, the headmistress and Miss Pearce express delight that they are about to beat Deepdale again.

However, Betta’s form teacher Miss Johnson intervenes. She had marked Betta’s paper and says Betta scored 100%. She has always disapproved of how Betta has been made to miss so much classwork because of sport and hints that the education officer won’t approve either. She also says that Betta has exhibited near-genius in how she has caught up on schoolwork to the point where she could pass those exams.

Unfortunately this puts the idea into the headmistress’s head of beating Deepdale with brain matches instead of sports matches, and she goes “overboard” with them – “just as she did with sport”. And guess who she puts in charge of these brain matches? Yep, you guessed it. Before long, poor old Betta is right back at square one: a strict, slave-driving, nonstop training regime to beat Deepdale with no allowances for a life of her own. The only difference is that it’s “the brain drain” instead of the sports trap and with the equally bad Miss Johnson instead of Miss Pearce. This time Betta does not see any way out of it.

Thoughts

This was the first serial Tony Coleman drew for Tammy. From then on Coleman became a regular Tammy artist. His Tammy serials included “Maggie’s Menagerie”, “Nurse Grudge”, “Stella Stirrer”, “The Destiny Dolls” and “Spell of Fog”. Coleman’s run in Tammy ended with “Cassie’s Coach” in 1984.

There have been plenty of stories were brilliant girls start deliberately failing at things, but it’s either because they are being blackmailed into it or have been intimidated by bullies. This time the protagonist does it of her own free will because she is desperate to escape her life of sports slavery. We can see the misery that Betta is suffering because of her harsh sports regime and we worry for her future because she is missing out on too much classwork. But the people who subject her to it don’t, and Betta’s parents are just as bad. All they care about is winning, and all the headmistress cares about is beating Deepdale and lording it over her old school rival. The headmistress and sports mistress have no thought for Betta, her feelings, or her future. The headmistress has the nerve to call Betta selfish when it is she who is the selfish one in the way she treats Betta, just to constantly get one over her old rival all the time. And her conduct with the exams just to spite Betta is just inexcusable.

The headmistress is asking for a serious lesson. Unfortunately, it does not happen. And because of it, Betta ends up back where she started, only in a different form. So this is one of the less common serials that do not end happily for the protagonist. The only way to give it a really happy ending is for the adults in the story to wake up to how miserable they have made Betta in the name of winning and beating Deepdale. That, or have fate intervene and put Betta out of sports events altogether without the headmistress holding a grudge against her.

The story is certainly making a serious statement on how many real-life schools make their sports stars suffer academically and socially the way Betta does by ruling their lives with too much sports practice in the name of winning. We sympathise with Betta all the more because there are so many school sports stars like her.

What makes Betta even more sympathetic is her dialogue, which has a more witty way of expressing things, even in her miserable moments, than protagonists usually do. For example: “Bang goes my freedom bid! Now I’ll probably get ten years of sport without remission!”, “Ignore [Leonie]! Stay losing, kid! Stay losing!” and “Missing swimming’s no punishment for me! I spent so much in that darned pool I started to grow gills!” In so doing, Betta provides the only streaks of humour in the story. We also admire Betta for her ironic determination to win – in terms of beating the sports trap and not giving the headmistress the satisfaction of seeing her fail the extra-hard exams. The same determination must have also applied to her sports once before the harsh training made her lose all enjoyment with sport and winning at it.

So many girls’ serials carry the moral that winning is not everything. The moral comes from Betta herself, who constantly thinks, “Would the world have ended if we’d lost?” or something similar while everyone else at St Mary’s is ecstatic about beating Deepdale yet again. For Betta there is no satisfaction in winning against Deepdale anymore because of the price she is forced to pay for it. Sadly, nobody else in the serial learns that lesson and they remain as bad as ever.

The Proto-Bella Barlow?

A Leap Up for Lindy 1A Leap Up for Lindy 2A Leap Up for Lindy 3A Leap Up for Lindy 4A Leap up for Lindy ad

Once you have read through the images, you will see that this story bears a striking resemblance to Bella Barlow, right down to our ill-used heroine practising gymnastics on makeshift apparatus in the backyard. Mr Barr is even a dead ringer for Jed Barlow. At least the Barrs are nowhere near as abusive towards Lindy as the Barlows are towards Bella. All the same, we are so pleased to see how they are, um, persuaded to support Lindy’s gymnastics in the end.

A Leap Up for Lindy appeared in Girls’ Crystal 1976, yet a panel from it was used two years before in the merger issue of Tammy and June to advertise next week’s episode of Bella at the Bar (above). So A Leap Up for Lindy could actually be part of the history of Bella Barlow and could even be described as a proto-Bella.

But just what is Lindy’s place in Bella’s history? Is it a complete story or is it the first episode of a serial that never was? If it was meant to be a serial, did it get nixed for some reason and what was produced got recycled in the Girls’ Crystal? Was it a serial that was discarded in favour of Bella Barlow? Or was it an unused story from much earlier and elements of it were recycled into Bella Barlow?

Whatever the story was, Lindy looks like a most intriguing part of Bella history that has been sadly overlooked. It is a great pleasure to rescue this proto-Bella from obscurity and hopefully give her more speculation and discussion in Bella history.

 

The Fairground of Fear [1976]

Sample Images

Fairground of Fear 1Fairground of Fear 2Fairground of Fear 3

Publication: Tammy 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976

Episodes: 11
Reprints/translations: Tammy annual 1983; Tina #24 as De wraak van een clown [The Wrath of the Clown]
Artist: Diane Gabbot
Writer: Unknown

Plot

Julie Whitland was adopted as a baby by Sir Edgar Whitland, landowner of Baychurch. But her home life is miserable because Sir Edgar is a dreadful snob who keeps himself aloof from the villagers (who call him the snob on the hill) and expects Julie to do the same. She feels a virtual prisoner in her own home where she is never allowed any freedom or mix with people that Sir Edgar considers too lowly for Whitlands. Whenever she tries, Sir Edgar always drags her off, so she does a lot of going behind his back. He is always telling her that she is a Whitland and must live up to her name by keeping aloof from common people. Also, Julie has always wondered who her natural parents were. But whenever she asks questions, she is always told to leave well alone.

Fraser’s Fairground arrives in Baychurch. It looks a golden opportunity for Julie to have some fun. The clown puts on a special display for her. A brief encounter with the fairgound owner’s daughter Carla looks like another chance for friendship. But as usual, Sir Edgar pulls Julie away. In addition to the usual admonishings about being expected to be a Whitland, Sir Edgar shows her a picture of his late daughter. He tells Julie that he adopted her when his own daughter, and a baby she had, both died. When Julie asks what happened to her husband, Sir Edgar snaps that he is dead and forgotten. Hmm, did Julie hit a nerve there?

That night Julie sneaks off to the fair. But this time it looks sinister. She goes into the House of Memories (“The past will come alive before your very eyes”) and the woman from the photo appears to her in a huge crystal ball. The woman warns Julie to leave well alone, and that the fairground is evil. Then the clown comes up from behind. But this time he looks evil and frightening – and he seems to hypnotise Julie. Julie blacks out, and when she recovers she has no memory of what happened.

The fairground is soon in full swing and the whole village seems to have gone crazy about it – even the adults. Julie sneaks off to enjoy it as well. But the fairground is soon showing a sinister side; for example some people on the ghost train seem to go crazy and start attacking each other and the clown seems to be enjoying it. Carla explains that the ride does not use props but technical gadgets that produce holographic ghosts. A malfunction must have caused the people to see each other as ghosts and monsters. Then the machine malfunctions again, causing Julie to have an accident. Sir Edgar is furious and is determined to shut the fairground down. He sends a magistrate to do the job. But the clown imprisons the magistrate in a weird holographic trap in the Hall of Mirrors. Sir Edgar is annoyed when the magistrate is reported missing, because this means he cannot close down the fairground.

Julie recovers enough from the accident to sneak off to the House of Memories for more clues about her past. There she remembers what happened before. The House of Memories tells her that the only people who know the truth are Sir Edgar, Dr Pearson the village doctor, and Miss Edna Grey, his former nurse. Then it gives her a message: “You must find the fairground’s secret to find yourself.” On the way back, Julie overhears Mr Fraser and the clown talking and it sounds like the clown has a hold over Mr Fraser. The clown says they have a busy day, “a grey day” tomorrow. She races back home, against the tigers the clown has ordered to be set loose as watchdogs.

Next day, Miss Grey is arrested for pickpocketing at the fair. After speaking with Miss Grey’s sister, Julie realises what the clown meant by a “grey day” – he used a hypnotist performance to hypnotise Miss Grey into stealing. When she tries to tell Carla what her father is helping the clown to do, Carla gets angry and throws Julie out. The clown takes advantage by luring Julie back into the fairground with a holographic image of Carla, and hypnotises her once more. While in a trance, she leads Sir Edgar to the unconscious magistrate and there is a note: “Don’t try to get rid of me again, Sir Edgar. We’ve a score to settle. There’s just you and the doctor left.” The signature is a clown’s head.

This note prompts a lengthy discussion between Sir Edgar and the doctor, but Julie cannot hear what they are saying. Afterwards the doctor tells Julie that Sir Edgar is a hard man who means to destroy the fairground. He gives her a key to his house and says that if anything happens to him she must retrieve a file from his desk and give it to the newspapers.

Sir Edgar tries a petition against the fairground; the clown responds by hypnotising the villagers into attacking his home, and Sir Edgar has extra security installed. The doctor is summoned to the fairground because Carla has fallen sick. When the doctor tries to leave, the clown strikes with more holograms and then terrors in the Crazy House. He causes the doctor to have an accident. Following the doctor’s instructions, Julie heads to his house to retrieve the file.

The file reveals that fourteen years earlier the doctor had sent the clown (whose name is now revealed as Alan Barker) to prison on a false charge. Sir Edgar arrives and tells Julie that the doctor was acting on his instructions. Barker was the man who married Sir Edgar’s daughter. The trouble was, the snobby Sir Edgar considered Barker too low for a fit son-in-law: “I couldn’t stand to have that nobody part of the great Whitland family.” So he set out to destroy the marriage by framing Barker, and now Barker has returned for revenge. Sir Edgar then burns the file to prevent Barker’s name being cleared – for if it is, the great name of Whitland will be destroyed and Sir Edgar is not having that. But an image of the clown appears in the flames. Julie realises that Barker knows what Sir Edgar just did and now things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Knowing the clown is planning something against the village, Julie bravely confronts him. For the first time, she catches him without his makeup, and is surprised to find that without it he does not frighten her. She tries to plead with him but fails. The clown says that Sir Edgar can stop it by clearing his name, but Julie knows Sir Edgar will never do that. On the way out she speaks with Carla and learns that the clown is the virtual owner of the fairground; Mr Fraser got into debt and the clown bought out his bills. The clown can take over the fairground at any time and Mr Fraser is powerless against him.

Next day, Miss Grey appears in court for pickpocketing, and Sir Edgar and Julie attend the trial. Julie now realises that Miss Grey knew about the clown’s frameup and this was his revenge on her. The charge is unexpectedly thrown out when the clown strikes again with one of his machines that causes the working age men to act like children. The judge and barristers start playing leap frog, bus drivers play football, the local police play cops and robbers, engineers play cowboys and Indians, and Sir Edgar’s cook reads comics. Of course, the men all end up on the rides at the fairground. The romping men have cut the outside phone wires, and when Sir Edgar drives out to seek help he is blocked by a force field. The clown has cut Baychurch off from the outside world.

The village is in chaos and cut off. Nonetheless, Sir Edgar is unmoved. “That clown can’t beat a Whitland!” And he still refuses to clear the clown’s name, because it would mean destroying the name of Whitland. He heads out the fairground to tell the clown that “nothing he can do to this village will make me give in!” Julie now realises that Sir Edgar is an utterly selfish, ruthless man, and there is nothing or nobody that he will not destroy in the name of Whitland.

Then the doctor arrives and tells Julie that she is the only one who can stop the clown. He explains that she is the baby from the ill-fated marriage and the clown is her true father. It had only been the mother who died. She was leaving home with her baby after a quarrel with Sir Edgar over Barker, only to be killed by a falling tree. Sir Edgar faked the baby’s death to prevent Barker from claiming her. Julie heads out to the fairground to tell the clown.

There she finds Sir Edgar confronting Barker, and telling him that nothing he will do will make him confess. Barker makes one last desperate attempt to make Whitland confess. He starts the merry-go-round at high speed while Julie is standing on it. He shouts to Whitland that the merry-go-round will go faster and faster, putting Julie in ever more danger, until Sir Edgar confesses. But Sir Edgar just says, “I can’t destroy the name of Whitland. I’ve nothing to say!” He stalks off, without lifting a finger to save Julie or waiting to see what happens to her. Barker, finding the machine has jammed, risks his life to save Julie.

Upon learning that Julie is the daughter he thought was dead, Barker becomes a changed man. He stops his revenge, uses his machines to make the villagers forget what happened (though how that is going to explain away all the damage he caused is not discussed), and returns the fairground to Mr Fraser. Julie decides to leave Sir Edgar forever – his conduct at the merry go round showed her just how much he really cares for her. She is going with her father and the fairground and start a new life with them, and refuses the chance to go back to Sir Edgar as they pass by his house when they depart. Barker promises Julie that he will now use his scientific expertise to help people.

Thoughts

Like Jinty, Tammy did not use the circus theme much in her serials. “The Fairground of Fear” is one of the exceptions, though it is more fairground than circus. It can also be regarded as one of Tammy’s best stories and worthy of reprint in a Tammy volume.

“The Fairground of Fear” has the distinction of being the first serial Diane Gabbot drew for Tammy. From then on Gabbot became a regular Tammy artist, ending her run with “Rosie at the Royalty” in 1981. Her other Tammy stories included “Circus of the Damned”, “Selena Sitting Pretty”, “The Black and White World of Shirley Grey” and “Donna Ducks Out”.

“Creepy” was what one Doctor Who companion once said about clowns, and eventually he agrees with her that clowns can be creepy. So do we after the first episode of this story. After initially conveying the impression he is harmless and amusing, the clown is quick to demonstrate that clowns can be creepy and scares the living daylights out of the girl who was so thrilled with him the first time they met. It’s not so much his incredible powers but that makeup of his that makes him so frightening.

Fairground and circus stories also have a long history of demonstrating that they can be as sinister and frightening as much as they are entertaining, and this one is no exception. Even before the fairground demonstrates its strange powers, seeing it in the dead of night makes it so scary. From then on the story is filled with thrills, chills and drama that are delivered at a cracking pace. Everything that is supposed to entertain people in the fairground is instead used to scare, hypnotise, imprison or manipulate them, even from a distance. Sometimes it is in perversely amusing ways, such as when the courtroom staff play leap-frog. Other times it is frightening, such as inciting a mob to attack Sir Edgar’s home. The only beneficial element in the fairground is The House of Memories.

There are also plenty of mystery elements to keep readers engaged. Girls just love mystery, and in this case there are not one but three mysteries here: the mystery of the fairground, the mystery of Julie’s parents, and the mystery of how and why they are linked. Although everyone tells Julie to leave the mystery of her parents well alone, we know the fairground won’t allow that once the House of Memories tells Julie she must unlock its secret to find out who she really is. Julie’s true identity is going to come out, and readers are riveted to find out where it will lead and how it will help with the mystery of the fairground.

The story also has plot twists that take us by surprise as much as shock us. One is where the relationship between Julie and Sir Edgar ends up at the story’s conclusion. When we first see it, Sir Edgar appears to be just an overly strict, over-protective parent who does have his daughter’s interests at heart – in his snobbish way – but is totally misguided, blinded by snobbery, and does not understand how he is stifling his daughter’s freedom and growth. However, we expect the fairground will somehow help him to come around by the end of the story, he will be less snobby, and Julie will be on far happier terms with him. It’s been seen so many times in overprotective problem parent serials such as “The Four-Footed Friends”. However, in this case that does not happen at all. Sir Edgar is not the well meaning but misguided parent he seems to be. Little by little he reveals his true colours (snob, unpopular, arrogant, hard-hearted) until he is finally exposed as the monster he really is. He, not the clown, is the true villain of the story. He would rather his own granddaughter die than dishonour the name of Whitland, and does not lift a finger to save Julie. He is totally beyond redemption and will never change, no matter what. Julie has no hope of getting anywhere with him. In fact, she must get away from him altogether or he could destroy her the same way he destroyed her parents.

The story takes the unconventional step of ending on a bittersweet note. Barker does get his daughter back and can start a new life with her. He also changes into a much nicer man who is not so consumed with hate and revenge that he is capable of terrorism, blackmail, and even physically hurting people. But unlike other wrongly convicted people in girls’ stories, he does not get his name cleared because Sir Edgar just won’t budge on that, no matter what. At least Julie and the fairground people know the truth and the skeleton is out of the closet. But if there is any exoneration for Barker, it will have to wait until after Sir Edgar dies, and the doctor and Miss Grey will be free to tell the truth.

For all the powers the clown has unleashed through the fairground, none of them really bring about comeuppance for Sir Edgar. Sir Edgar returns home to uphold the name of Whitland, the only thing he really cares about. And it’s all he has now. He has no heirs and unless that changes fast, the name of Whitland will die with him, and good riddance to it. Clearly, nobody will miss “the snob on the hill” when he dies.

Perhaps comeuppance will come in another form. After all, being the man he is, Sir Edgar must have made a lot of enemies and likely to have destroyed others. It would not be surprising if his life ends with him being murdered in his bed or something similar.

 

Tammy & Sandie 26 January 1974

Tammy 26 January 1974

Cover artist: John Richardson

  • Two-Faced Teesha (artist José Casanovas) – final episode
  • School for Snobs (artist J Badesa, artist John Wagner)
  • Ballerina in Blue Jeans (artist Escandell)
  • Wee Sue (artist Mario Capaldi)
  • Jeannie and Her Uncle Meanie (artist Robert MacGillivray)
  • Little Lady Jane
  • The Chain Gang Champions (writer Gerry Finley-Day?)
  • No Tears for Molly (artist Tony Thewenetti, writer Maureen Spurgeon)
  • Granny’s Town (artist Douglas Perry, writer Pat Mills)

 

Here we go with an entry on the latest addition to my collection. I wonder if the grey paint or whatever it is that got spattered on the cover actually adds some character to it.

Tammy is quite a few weeks into her merger with Sandie. Although the Cover Girls were touted as Tammy and June (from the June merger) by the 1980s, their origins can be traced to the Sandie merger in 1973.

Two-Faced Teesha, one of the stories that started with the merger, ends this week. Two-Faced Teesha finds her dad does not believe her when she says she is trying to turn over a new leaf, so she has one final round of spite before the girl she targeted in particular helps her to convince him.

Miss Bigger gets an ally in her bullying of Wee Sue – new girl Sophie Scandel-monger. The name says it all, as do Sophie’s repulsive, weasel-like looks. But Sophie’s scheme against Wee Sue backfires so much that she gets a huge ticking off from Miss Bigger. That’s the end of that evil alliance, thank goodness.

Uncle Angus stoops to whole new heights (or should that be lows?) in scrounging to save money. This time it’s at the cinema, much to the embarrassment of Jeannie and her aunt. And when Uncle Angus sets up his own cinema where he passes off his home movies as a blockbuster movie, Aunt Martha is so embarrassed she takes to her bed. However, once the audience catches on to what a cheap cheat Uncle Angus’ cinema is, they pelt him with his own vegetables from his garden.

School for Snobs is a special school designed to cure girls of snobbery. The headmistress is Hermione Snoot, who wears a nightie and slippers with a mortar board, is seldom seen without a cigarette, and talks Cockney. This week Hermione’s in charge of curing a practical joker. I’m not quite sure what that has to do with snobbery, but turning the tables on the girl with practical jokes until she’s cured is right up Hermione’s street. After all, she pretty much does that with every snob every week.

“The Chain Gang Champions” are kidnapped athletes. The Duchess subjects them to training methods that are as bizarre as they are sadistic. This week it’s finish gruelling cross-country training runs in record time – with ever-shortening time periods with each run – or the Duchess will feed her old enemy, the Minister for Sport, to a hungry bear!

As if Pickering weren’t bad enough, Molly has a new enemy plotting her downfall. It is guest Cynthia Swingleton, who is after her fiancée’s money. Molly’s rumbled Cynthia’s game, so now she’s is trying to frame Molly for stealing!

“Ballerina in Blue Jeans” impresses her ballet school with her dancing. Unfortunately her streetwise ways, like turning up at ballet school in a leather jacket and impersonating a motorbike rider as a demonstration of mime, have the teachers just about fainting. It’s not endearing her to the pupils either, and she has one spiteful enemy already. Well, whoever heard of a pupil in a ballet school serial who didn’t have one?

“Granny’s Town” appears to be a take on ageism, but a very sinister one. “Her Ladyship” has become Mayoress of a retirement spot, Crone-on-Sea. She is introducing new measures that look suspiciously like they are striking at the young people of the town and putting old people on top. This week she has the police throwing young people in the nick for no crime other than they are not carrying one of Her Ladyship’s flags, unlike the elderly people. “It’s the orders of the new mayoress!” Gee, whatever happened to human rights in this town?

The Black Widow [1978]

Sample Images

Black Widow 1Black Widow 2Black Widow 3Black Widow 4

Publication: Misty 17 June 1978 – 16 September 1978

Episodes: 14

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Anita 1980 as De Zwarte weduwe [The Black Widow]

Sequel: Spider-Woman, Tammy & Misty, 19 January 1980 – 22 March 1980

Plot 

In “her silken lair, hidden from the eyes of the world” is Mrs Webb, who is to become known to the world as The Black Widow. She calls out to her spiders, “Tonight is the time…the time of the spiders!”

Not far away is Corey End School, where we meet our two protagonists. The first is Sadie Lincoln, who wants to be a scientist. But Sadie has phobia about creepy crawlies, especially (you guessed it) spiders. The science teacher, Miss Dexter, tells Sadie she must overcome this if she is to handle biological specimens and make her way as a scientist. The second is Freda Lawrence, a rather unlikeable girl who thinks Sadie is always sucking up to teachers.

Sadie prefers astronomy as a science, and is spending the night with her telescope. She is surprised to see a type of meteor, which bursts into fragments. She goes out to investigate and finds a capsule containing a spider. She takes it to Miss Dexter, who cannot identify the species, but puts it in an aquarium for study. They are astonished to find it has doubled in size 24 hours later. And it continues to grow. They don’t realise they have captured the spider that should be at the centre of Webb’s new web. Webb goes in search of the spider and says there will be “no mercy for anyone keeping him!”

Webb turns up at the school, suspecting it is the place to start looking for the spider. Telling everyone she is on a mission to save spiders from the cruelty of man, she promises a £5 reward for anyone who brings a spider to her. Figuring she will get more than that if she brings Webb the super-growing spider, Freda steals it from the science lab. Sadie catches Freda and suspects what she is doing. She tags along with Freda to Webb’s house in the hope of grabbing it back.

They are both surprised to find the house is derelict. Inside, they are caught in a mechanical web manned by a giant mechanical spider. But this is actually the mechanism that brings them to Webb’s lair. Webb scares them into handing over the spider.

Webb explains that she and her husband were biological chemists. Her husband was forced to participate in a military biological experiment that killed him when it went wrong. Now she is out for revenge on Britain with the aid of her specially engineered spiders – and with Sadie and Freda, who are going to be her instruments. Freda says if there’s a few bob in it, she will be happy to do it. This disgusts Sadie, who also expresses her fear of spiders. At this, Webb hypnotises Sadie into liking spiders. She then gives Freda a hypnotic prompt “you creep!” This will have Sadie doing whatever Freda commands when she says it. She also imprisons the girls in slave pendants that give them electric shocks whenever they try to remove them. The pendants label Freda as Tara and Sadie as Tula. Finally, Webb gives Freda a bag of spiders for their first test. She then sends them out, with Sadie having no recollection of what happened.

What Webb does not realise is that Freda is not loyal to her because she was too shocked at the sight of the hypnotism done to Sadie. Freda is only playing along with Webb because she does not want to be hypnotised as well.

Using the “you creep!” prompt, Freda has Sadie unleash the spiders at school, which causes a panic. Afterwards, Webb says the spiders have been installed with transmitters, so she can track them on her electronic map.

Sadie has no memory of what happens when the hypnotic power wears off, so she cannot explain her action to her headmistress – or her absenteeism the next day. This is, of course, because they have been directed to their of next target – one Major-General Oliver Bullivant. Webb blames Bullivant for her husband’s death. The girls plant Webb’s spider on Bullivant’s dog. When the spider bites Bullivant, he falls into a paralysis that leaves him incapable of speaking and doctors baffled. However, the investigation, led by Inspector Bird, is soon drawing the right conclusions. Bird is now searching for the spider and the two girls.

Freda wants to call it quits, but when she tries to tell Webb, Webb demands to know the fate of the Bullivant spider. Webb realises the spider is still with Sadie and uses the pendant to summon her – only to find that Sadie has let the spider go. Later, the spider turns up in the papers that a despatch rider is taking to Bullivant’s. The spider bites and paralyses the dispatch rider, causing him to have a crash. Bird realises what happened and is now searching the scene of the accident for the spider. Then Carfax of SI9 turns up and tells Bird that someone stole a batch of spiders that the Ministry had been testing in the stratosphere. The purpose had been to create super-spiders, but the results are unknown because of the theft. Carfax has a pretty good idea who the thief is (guess who?), but is having trouble locating her. The stratosphere theft also explains the “meteor” that Sadie observed earlier.

Meanwhile, the next target is Professor Lawton, who devised the experiment that killed the husband. This time the girls are to plant the spider on Lawton’s baby. But as they leave, they are attacked by rough girls. Freda tells the leader, “Go an’ jump in the lake, you creep!”

Oops – Freda unwittingly used the hypnotic prompt, which has Sadie jumping in the lake and losing the spider. When Webb finds out the spider’s fate, she is hysterical and furious as she regards her spiders as her children. She decides to go out and do the job herself. However, Mrs Lawton intercepts the spider and crushes it, which means another upset for Webb. Also, Lawton compares notes with Bird and they see the connection.

When Webb returns to her base, she gets another shock – Freda has used the hypnotic prompt to get Sadie to smash her tank of beloved spiders. Webb uses her spider powers to turn the spiders on them. Freda pretends that they have learned their lesson and Webb calls the spiders off.

Sadie now understands what is going on and she quietly teams up with Freda. But Webb hypnotises her into delivering a spider to the Prime Minister. Webb plans to use this attack to blackmail Britain into capitulating to her. However, Freda uses the “you creep!” command to bring Sadie back to Webb’s lair to do a more thorough job of smashing the place.

The police arrive. The girls try to explain – and the police are forced to take them seriously when they find millions of spiders crawling all over their car! Soon, the girls are explaining everything to Bird himself.

Meanwhile, there has been a series of blocked drains in London. Investigation reveals an enormous web and equally enormous spider in the drains. It is the spider Sadie captured earlier. It was engineered to be a super-growing spider. It has now grown to giant proportions, feeding on sewer rats – and is still growing! What’s more, it is moving on from rats to people as prey and causing panic in the underground railway station. The giant spider, complete with its web, emerges in Trafalgar Square, which causes even more panic and makes the news. Webb sees the broadcast and gloats, “The day of the spiders is here at last!”

Back at her lair, Webb has less to gloat about when she discovers what the girls have done. But when the authorities arrive, there is no sign of Webb. Then they hear her over a loudspeaker, where she finally delivers her ultimatum: if they want to stop the spider – which is now moving on from Trafalgar Square and travelling across the country via the power lines – they must do what she says. The first of her demands is to bring the girls to a rendezvous point, where the spider is waiting to devour them.

The authorities bring the girls, and Webb orders them to climb up to the spider. But the authorities have prepared a trap. The national grid is down, but the power station is waiting for their signal to turn on the power. Ironically, it is accidentally turned on when an employee is scared by a spider. As planned, the giant spider gets fried. Webb falls to the ground, though not to her death. At the same time, the slave pendants fall off Freda and Sadie. Webb is taken to hospital, but they are surprised when she seems to disappear into thin air from the ambulance. A spider scuttles away from the ambulance unnoticed, and there is a question mark after “The End”.

Thoughts

Misty was huge on scary spider stories and playing on the common fear of arachnophobia. In her very first issue she had “Red Knee – White Terror!” where a girl has many close calls with a poisonous spider without realising it but in the final panel it looks like her luck may have finally run out. Other spider-themed stories included “Web of Lies”, “Dressed to Kill!” and “Spider Woman” (no connection to Mrs Webb) in the 1984 Misty annual. But the Black Widow tops them all. What is not to love – or scare the living daylights out of you – with how she uses spiders as deadly weapons? Poisonous spiders, flesh-eating spiders, and spiders growing to monstrous proportions and emerging from the sewers of London to strike terror into everyone who sees it.

Mrs Webb comes from a long line of mad, evil scientists. However, she is more rounded than most of them as there is a sympathetic element to her. Her insanity stems from the grief of losing her husband, and she believes the military was responsible for it. There may even be some truth to Webb’s suspicions because Bullivant is such a pompous, overbearing, unlikeable git. He forces his unfortunate batman to do jobs that are not supposed to be part of a batman’s job. At any rate, readers must have felt a sneaking sympathy for Webb when she shuts Bullivant up with her spider and felt that she had given Bullivant what was coming to him.

But sympathies for Webb don’t last. After all, she is not just doing it for revenge – she’s doing it for power as well and is out for conquest. In the sequel she will take this a stage further and be out for world conquest. But it’s not just for herself – it’s for the spiders, and she seems to see herself as a champion of them. There are no limits to what she won’t do or the types of spiders she will devise as weapons.

This story gives the military a chance to shine, something it seldom does in girls’ comics. Usually when the military does feature it is in a humorous sense (Annie’s Army in June) or female soldiers (Kitty Hawke in Girl I). But here the military is portrayed more realistically, given plenty of screen time in the story, and more time is devoted to developing the Army characters. This is all for a very credible reason – Webb’s attack is directly against the Army, and it’s personal. Whoever wrote this story must have been one of the Battle writers.

However, although the military is given more spotlight than girls’ serials usually give it, the centre stage is still given to girl protagonists and the true resolution of the story depends on them. Pairing a principled girl with an unsavoury one is not an unusual one in girls’ comics; Fairy Tale in Princess II was one to use it. What is unusual is that it is the unsavoury girl who is proactive against Webb and is key to resolving the story. By contrast, the more moralistic girl is far less proactive and more prone to succumbing to Webb’s brainwashing. The key is in their strength of character. Freda may be the more unpleasant girl, but she is the much stronger and more resourceful of the two girls. She may be greedy, willing to do it for money, but she has her limits. These stop her from turning into Webb’s willing flunky. These also help to redeem Freda as a character. Sadie, by contrast, may be more principled, but she has a weaker personality and is more prone to succumbing to Webb’s power. However, the brainwashing of Sadie enables Freda to turn Webb’s power against her on several occasions.

Mrs Webb was the only Misty villain who was brought back for a sequel. She was not killed off as many of Misty’s villains were, such as Dr Bracken from “The Body Snatchers”. Misty had several of her villains plunging to their deaths, as in “House of Horror”, but Mrs Webb not only survives her fall but escapes as well, with a hint she might be back. Perhaps Misty decided she was too good a villain to kill off. Or maybe it was all those spider menaces that she loved to use time and time again.