Category Archives: Stories

Monster Tales [1982]

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Published: Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982 to 10 July 1982

Artists: Hugo D’Adderio, Phil Townsend, Mario Capaldi, Ken Houghton, Jaume Rumeu, John Richardson, Peter Wilkes, Manuel Benet, Tony Coleman

Writers: Roy Preston? Others unknown

Monster Tales was a very unconventional feature that started during the Tammy & Jinty merger. As the name suggests, it was a series where a monster of some sort was central to the tale. The monsters included gargoyles, sea monsters, man-eating plants, possessed objects or elements, dolls, demons, werewolves, freaks, and even the innocuous proving it could be monstrous.

Some of the monsters were just plain evil e.g. “Hearts of Oak”, and the forces of good did not always win against them. Others, such as “The Gargoyle” (below), were used for comeuppance purposes and punishing/reforming unpleasant characters, in the spirit of Misty. Some were even friendly monsters, or at least not as bad as originally thought, that saved the day. One example of this was “The Fire Monsters”, (below) which turned the cruel punishment of burning at the stake right around. Another was “Curse of the Werewolf”, where girls are left wondering if a feared werewolf from the Middle Ages was all that bad after vandals get captured in a manner that nobody can explain – except that the werewolf lent a hand.

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Being a monster was also used as a punishment. For example, in “The Devil’s Mark”, a man is transformed into a demon dog as a punishment for his cruelty to dogs. The curse could only be lifted by making up for his cruelty, which he does by getting help for the dogs he neglected.

Monster Tales worked in rotation with the Strange Stories, which now alternated between the Storyteller and Gypsy Rose. In fact, at least two of the Monster Tales (“Stones of Light” and “The Fool on the Hill”) were recycled Strange Stories, so other recycled Strange Stories must have made their way into the Monster Tales too.

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As neither Tammy nor Jinty were likely to have conceived such an idea, I wonder if it was a carryover from Misty, which had merged with Tammy earlier. Perhaps Monster Tales was originally drafted for Misty, but no room emerged in the merger until Wee Sue, Molly and Bessie had stopped their individual strips and the characters were being rotated with Tansy of Jubilee Street in the “Old Friends” slot. Some of the Monster Tales were indeed so dark that they could be straight out of Misty herself. The cruellest of them all was arguably “Freak Tide” (above), where cruel owners of a Victorian freak show are abducted and taken to a sea-monster world. There they become the freaks in a cruel freak show, and unlike the freaks they once mistreated, they have no chance of escape. What’s more, they have nothing to wear but their nightshirts.

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When the new-look Tammy was launched on 17 July 1982, Monster Tales stopped running. However, there were still monster-themed stories appearing for a while such as “Black Teddy” and “Bird of Fear”. I suspect these were unpublished scripts from Monster Tales being used up. These stories credited Roy Preston as the writer, so it is reasonable to assume Preston wrote a good deal of the Monster Tales too.

Moonchild [1978]

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Published: Misty 4 February 1978 – 29 April 1978

Episodes: 13

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Pat Mills

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Stranger in My Shoes [1973]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 26 May 1973 to 28 July 1973 (skipped 7 July 1973)

Episodes: 9

Artist: Miguel Quesada

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

At Oldfield Orphanage School Lucy Townsend is the school klutz. She is constantly late, making a mess of things and putting her foot in it. So Lucy is really surprised when she is chosen for a benefactor-paid school trip to Switzerland. The headmistress says this is because Lucy has been deemed the most in need of a change of scene and it is hoped the trip will help her change her ways. As it turns out, it does. But of course it is very far from the way everyone thinks – or even expects.

An escort is supposed to be waiting for Lucy at Victoria Station. But the man is an imposter who proceeds to kidnap Lucy and render her unconscious. When Lucy regains consciousness, she finds herself in the household of Mrs Sage, who hired the man (and doesn’t pay him) to switch Lucy’s identity with that of her daughter Sandra. Sandra is facing borstal, so Mrs Sage pulled the identity switch in order to send Lucy to the borstal in Sandra’s place. Eventually it is revealed that Mrs Sage’s job at the orphanage enabled her to acquire the information she needed about Lucy and the trip to pull off the switch.

Sandra, disguised as Lucy, goes to Switzerland in her place. But although Sandra looks like Lucy, in Switzerland she makes no attempt whatsoever to act like Lucy or convince anyone that she is a nice girl. In terms of behaviour she is still the same old Sandra. Her difficult behaviour is soon getting on everyone’s nerves. They are really surprised to discover she cannot even read or write properly. So, assuming Sandra is not dyslexic or something, this shows how much the Sages have bothered with schooling. Indeed, Sandra not even trying to be a good imposter implies that she is not very clever. In fact, Sandra even brags to one girl about the switch. Unfortunately the girl does not believe it and thinks it’s just a leg-pull. Sandra is soon up to her delinquent behaviour too, and people are soon finding things are going missing.

Back in England, nobody listens to Lucy’s protests that she is not Sandra and how she has been kidnapped and her identity switched with Sandra’s – except one. In the courtroom, probation officer Mrs Bolfry has doubts because Lucy does not sound like Sandra, but she is not 100% convinced. The Sage parents pull all sorts of tricks and lies to convince the court that ‘Sandra’ is unmanageable and delinquent. Lucy tries to escape from them, but is recaptured with the help of a criminal friend of theirs. The court sentences her to six months in borstal.

Mrs Bolfry had made a tape recording of Lucy’s voice. The more she listens to it, the more her doubts grow. She takes the recording to the orphanage for the headmistress to listen to and get her opinion. But the headmistress is away on a school camp in Wales, and the receptionist does not offer any help.

At the borstal, Lucy meets an old friend of Sandra’s, Babs Brown. Babs is a tearaway and a hard case, and she is not impressed to see ‘Sandra’ looks like she is trying to go straight. Lucy gets two days in the detention room because of Babs’ tricks. Then, when Babs comes into the cell with food, Lucy uses strong-arm tactics to get something out of her – anything – that will help prove she is not Sandra. Babs recalls that Sandra has a birthmark on her right shoulder, and when Lucy shows that she has no such birthmark, Babs becomes the first to believe she is not Sandra. After hearing Lucy’s story, Babs helps to smuggle her out of borstal in a laundry basket. It’s a hoary trick, but it works. The trouble is, the laundry man sees her get out of the basket and calls the borstal.

Lucy plans to get back to the orphanage where everyone knows her and can help her prove her identity. But all the people there who knew her are away on the camp and the man at the door tells her to clear off. Mrs Bolfry is Lucy’s only hope now and she heads off to find a phone box.

Meanwhile, the police inform Mrs Sage about the escape. Guessing that Lucy is heading for the orphanage, she and her accomplice head out there, where they intercept Lucy at the phone box before she can put the call through to Mrs Bolfry. However, Lucy manages to scare them off with a bluff that she got through to the orphanage and they are on their way to collect her.

Lucy decides to jump a train to Mrs Bolfry instead, but the Sages see her trying to do so and realised she tricked them. Lucy sees the flunky chasing her and manages to get aboard the train before he nabs her. But when Lucy arrives at the Law Courts she finds the police informing Mrs Bolfry about her escape, and from the sound of things, this is making Mrs Bolfry doubt Lucy’s claims that she is not Sandra.

However, when Lucy appeals to Mrs Bolfry, she finds Mrs Bolfry still has sufficient suspicions to give her a chance. They contact the orphanage to find out where everyone is gone. They find everyone has gone to the Welsh mountains and head out there. Unfortunately Mrs Sage and her accomplice have guessed Lucy was heading for Mrs Bolfry and managed to trace her to the Law Courts. Worse, Lucy spots the man who had foiled her when she first tried to escape from the Sages. And she realises he has seen her head off with Mrs Bolfry.

Back at the borstal, Babs tells the governor that the escapee is not Sandra Sage and urges her to check out a girl going under the name of ‘Lucy Townsend’ at a school in Switzerland. The governor puts a call through to Mrs Bolfry about it and finds she has disappeared.

The man catches up with Mrs Bolfry and Lucy when the car breaks down. He tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry for aiding and abetting. She calls his bluff and tells him to clear off, because she is convinced enough to take the risk. They fix the car and are soon on their way again. When they stop at a motorway café, the man tries to blackmail Mrs Bolfry again. This frightens Lucy into running away and head out to the school camp on her own. Meanwhile, the man is frightened off when the local inspector overhears and gets suspicious. Mrs Bolfry informs him of her suspicions.

Lucy makes her way to the school camp and convinces the headmistress of who she is despite her altered appearance. Mrs Bolfry and the inspector arrive in time to overhear this, which finally convinces Mrs Bolfry that Lucy is telling the truth. But when they tackle Mrs Sage, she denies everything. So they head to Switzerland to check things out, dragging the protesting Mrs Sage along.

Meanwhile, the girls have realised that ‘Lucy’ is doing the stealing. Hearing this, Sandra does a runner on skis. The girls give chase, as do the police when Sandra tries to sell the stolen goods and the man gets suspicious. A snowstorm is setting in, so Sandra takes refuge in a ski hut. She still has the stolen goods, which she intends to deal with after the weather clears. The girls cannot pursue because one of them has been hurt. So they head back to inform the headmistress, who has now been met by the police inquiry from England.

Lucy insists on being the one to confront Sandra, despite the snowstorm. The owner of the hut, Marcus, takes her there in his dog sleigh. They see warning signs of a potential avalanche on some chalets and Marcus sets off to warn the chalet owners. But there is no stopping the dogs from going to the hut, and they are dragging Lucy along on the sleigh. And without Marcus, Lucy is all on her own against Sandra.

At the hut, Lucy confronts Sandra and gives chase when Sandra tries to run. Then the avalanche starts and they get caught in it. Lucy manages to get out, but Sandra is unconscious. Seeing this, Mrs Sage finally gives herself away when she cries out for her daughter, and it is clear she is referring to the girl who looks like Lucy Townsend. Mrs Sage and the recovered Sandra (still looking like Lucy!) are sent back to England to face charges. The judge calls the whole plot “deplorable”; the sentences he passes are not revealed. Lucy is finally able to enjoy Switzerland. She still looks like Sandra, but the alterations should fade in time.

Thoughts

Serials about fugitives and escapes from prisons and other corrective institutions have always been popular and are one of my own favourite types of serials. Added to this one you have the identity switch, the protagonist battling to prove her identity and escape the borstal she has been thrown into, and double trouble in the form of an imposter who is blackening her name with the crimes she is committing under the identity she has stolen. There is plenty of action and excitement, with chase scenes on both sides, and the final confrontation that occurs in the face of danger for both Lucy and her evil double. It all occurs at a cracking pace that is very tightly plotted. It does not get drawn out with Lucy encountering constant setbacks and failed attempts to prove her identity, though of course the road to get there is not smooth sailing. This is a story you just have to love.

There have been plenty of stories where a girl’s identity is switched with another’s. Sometimes it occurs accidentally (Daisy Drudge and Milady Maud), and sometimes it’s deliberate, as is the case here. Most often the girl faces constant frustration and failure in her attempts to prove her identity, which are sometimes compounded by the handicap of losing her voice (Curtain of Silence), and she makes no headway until the end of the story. It’s a very common way of spinning this type of story out. But this story is an exception, and it makes a refreshing change. Lucy is more fortunate in that she makes progress early on in the story, despite the Sages, what with planting the seeds of doubt in Mrs Bolfry’s mind. At the borstal, Lucy is quick to make a breakthrough – not to mention a breakout – by meeting Babs, who happened to know Sandra and could provide Lucy with information to help her distinguish herself from Sandra. Lucy herself knows people who can help her prove her identity. Unfortunately they all just happen to be away at the moment, and she has to chase them up before the police or Sages chase her down.

By helping Lucy, Mrs Bolfry becomes in effect a fugitive herself. As the blackmailer said, what she is doing is technically aiding and abetting, and she is putting her career and freedom on the line by helping Lucy. But Mrs Bolfry persists because she has enough faith to take the risk, and we all applaud her for her courage and balls in doing what she felt was right, and really putting her neck out in order to do it.

Commendations must also be given to Babs Brown. She is initially set up as a rough, delinquent, and unsympathetic character. To make her even more unsympathetic, she gets poor Lucy sent to the detention room for something she did. But Babs redeems herself once she believes Lucy is not Sandra by helping her make the escape she so badly needed to do. Babs also tries to make headway with the authorities in helping Lucy prove her identity. It does not sound like Babs got very far there, but at least she tried and she redeemed herself even further.

The story does not dwell on the borstal much; the plotting is kept very tight and brief there, and it moves quickly to Lucy’s escape. This is very sensible story writing. From what we see of the borstal, it is not a sadistic reformatory that tortures its inmates with cruel severity as in Merry at Misery House, nor do we see any cruel guards who like to torment the inmates for their own amusement. But then, Lucy does not stay there long before her escape. There is no constant frustration with failed escapes. No, Lucy is out and running from the borstal on the first attempt.

The reason Lucy is in the borstal is unconventional. Usually the protagonist is in the borstal or other penal institution because she has been wrongly convicted, such as Merry Summers in “Misery House”. But in this case the protagonist is there because her identity has been switched with the true delinquent’s. The battle is to prove her identity, not prove her innocence or expose dreadful prison conditions, as Merry is constantly trying to do.

Once Sandra gets to work in Switzerland, we have to wonder why her mother even bothered to pull the switch in the first place. Sandra just hasn’t got the brains to be a good imposter. Although Sandra looks like Lucy she does not even bother to act like her or even try to fool the girls into thinking she is nice. She remains her horrible self, so it’s very easy for suspicion to fall on her once the thefts start. She’s soon on the run as a wanted thief and can’t carry on at the school, which she would be expelled from and sent home. She’s in trouble with the Swiss authorities and could face their version of borstal. She is causing the whole plot to unravel at her end, all because she did not have the brains or inclination to pull off a convincing impersonation. In effect, Sandra just transferred her criminal traits to a new setting under a new identity instead of using her new identity to start a new life in hiding from the borstal as her parents intended. Evidently, although Sandra is a criminal, her mother did not teach her much in how to be a clever one. But it was all just as well for the real Lucy Townsend; it helped her to convince people about the identity switch.

It is pretty predictable that the ordeal turns Lucy around. She is not a problematic or selfish girl as many other protagonists start out as before their nightmare begins. She’s just a klutz and a bit thoughtless, which makes things a bit different. These faults are aggravating, but they are very minor and they don’t make Lucy unsympathetic at the beginning of the story. Naturally, these problems disappear instantly once Lucy’s ordeal begins and she becomes courageous, resourceful, quick-thinking girl. On the whole, Lucy is a good sort right from the start. This would have helped her even more in distinguishing herself from the delinquent Sandra and proving her identity.

 

Time Trap! [1977]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 11 June 1977 – 13 August 1977

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Highmore

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Jenny and Leonie Page are fraternal twins who live at Ploughshares Farm. Their Uncle Brian, a Professor of Paranormal Studies, wants to perform an experiment for his Physical Society to prove the existence of reincarnation. The experiment will use hypnotic regression, and Leonie is to be the test subject.

The hypnotism regresses Leonie back to a previous existence as a girl named Susannah. Susannah says she is in hiding because her life is in danger. But then Uncle Brian collapses from a heart attack and is taken to hospital, where he is soon in intensive care. Without him to bring Leonie out of the trance, she remains in it, reliving her previous existence as Susannah.

In the trance, Leonie is experiencing confusion of identity. While initially speaking in Susannah’s voice, her mind reverts to her own while she is stuck in the past. So it is in effect Susannah’s body with Leonie’s mind, in what turns out to be the 14th century. So Leonie is confused by the medieval surroundings she is in and all these medieval people all around her who call her Susannah and tell her that her life is in danger.

Leonie gets her first taste of the brutality of the times when a gang of men try to kill a boy because he is a lackey of John of Gaunt. Leonie sticks up for the boy, but she uses 20th century references, which of course the men don’t understand and they call her a “crackbrained daughter of Eve”. Indeed, Leonie’s lack of experience with the 14th century continues to lead to very awkward and even dangerous moments. As the time travel wears on, Leonie’s awareness of her 20th century identity becomes blurred and filters through in flashes. Sometimes she does not know what century her mind belongs to anymore. However, she never loses sight of getting home to Ploughshares Farm and Jenny.

Then another man comes, says Susannah is his sister and pulls her away. The lackey thanks Susannah for saving his life and says he won’t forget it. Susannah’s brother turns out to be Wat Tyler, the leader of the ill-fated Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Tyler also has a feud with Tyler and John of Gaunt; the former is accused of attacking the latter and burning his home down.

Now and then Leonie mumbles things while in her trance, which give Jenny clues as to what is going on. One of them is Leonie saying Wat Tyler is her brother. When Jenny reads that the king, Richard II, ordered all members of Tyler’s family to be executed after the Peasants’ Revolt failed, she is really afraid for Leonie. A doctor is called in but can’t help. They can only hope Uncle Brian recovers, but Jenny fears time is running out.

Back in the past, the Peasants’ Revolt is underway. They intend to march on Smithfield where Tyler will give an address to Richard II that will demand rights for peasants, equality for everyone and an end to serfdom. However, a fellow rebel named Tom Quintain fears Tyler’s address is sounding too radical and will not go down well with Richard. He sends Leonie/Susannah over to Tyler with a warning to tread more carefully with Richard and treat him with the utmost respect. But Leonie/Susannah fails to get to Tyler in time, and soon Quintain is proved right. Richard II is outraged at Tyler’s address, which really is too far ahead of its time. Worse, Tyler discovers that he has fallen into a trap set by Richard and his men, and gets struck down.

The revolt now falls apart and Tyler’s supporters abandon him. Leonie/Susannah and Quintain take Tyler to a monastery for medical attention. Mayor Walworth, a King’s man, bursts in to arrest Tyler. Walworth shows no respect for the sanctuary of the church; his men brutally murder the monk who was nursing Tyler and drag the already-dying Tyler out to be executed. Leonie/Susannah escapes with the help of Quintain.

As they pass the Tower of London, Quintain shows her a cage hanging from walls. It is a gruesome relic of what happened to the sister of another man who offended the king. They locked her in the cage while keeping her alive by lowering food to her. She was exposed to all elements for seven months before she finally perished.

Now understanding the merciless fate that awaits her, just because of who her brother is, Leonie/Susannah eagerly goes on the run with Quintain. Their plight grows even more desperate when they find out the soldiers have their descriptions and are now on the lookout for them. Quintain and Leonie/Susannah now head for the Tylers’ home in Kent.

Hearing this from Leonie’s mumblings, Jenny realises the fugitives are heading straight into a trap because Kent will be the first place Richard’s men will look. She has the University Library Service send her all they’ve got on the Peasants’ Revolt. She is sent one item that is very helpful: the original parish register of Twaintrees, which the sender thinks Tyler originated from. She finds the record of Susannah’s birth and realises that in 1381 Susannah would have been the same age as Leonie.

Fortunately, when Leonie/Susannah and Quintain arrive in Kent, they see the soldiers looking for them. The soldiers have orders to execute people for participating in the Peasants’ Revolt, on the mere pretext that they were out of the area recently. They drag off one innocent man because of this, and then they start offering rewards for names of anyone else who was absent from the village of late. Then the soldiers spot Leonie/Susannah and Quintain, but they mange to escape and get to Twaintrees, where Quintain wants to warn Tyler’s supporters to flee.

When they arrive at Twaintrees, Leonie/Susannah begins to hear Jenny’s voice. Jenny has been trying to contact Leonie, and has finally succeeded. Leonie/Susannah can now hear Jenny across the ages. She tells Leonie/Susannah that Uncle Brian is still in no state to bring her out of the trance.

Tyler’s friends take some persuading to believe Richard has betrayed them and they are in danger of their lives. They are finally convinced when a dying escapee from another village arrives and, before he dies, says Richard’s soldiers are already burning other Kentish villages and killing innocent people. Jenny tells Leonie/Susannah to tell them to head for Standfast Castle; the books she is consulting say the Kentish rebels held out by occupying the castle. They head for the castle, and Leonie/Susannah is standing by them; she is now convinced she has a part to play in their fight against Richard. The rebels get ready to fight against Richard’s men, and a sortie unfolds when the royal soldiers arrive.

Meanwhile, Jenny has made her own way to Standfast Castle. She finds the castle is broken down and incapable of holding out an army. She can only hope it was not that way in 1381. Then she finds a plaque saying the sortie was a big mistake and many of the Kentish rebels and their leaders were ruthlessly killed. Oops!

In 1381, Quintain is among those killed and Leonie/Susannah is cursing Jenny for what turned out to be bad advice. And now the soldiers are after her and all the survivors. They retreat back into the castle, where the men start to quarrel about whether their revolt was right and wondering if they will be saved or killed. The quarrel centres between Quintain and the hypocritical, cowardly turncoat Hedge Priest. Then they get a horrible shock when they see Richard’s men are now bringing on their “black thunderbolt”, a battering ram that no castle gate has ever withstood. Leonie/Susannah can only hope Jenny will come up with better advice.

Jenny goes to the Custodian of Standfast Castle and gets a historical map of the area. She is astonished to find Ploughshares Farm on it and it is in the vicinity of Standfast Castle. She contacts Leonie/Susannah and starts using the map to guide her back to Ploughshares Farm.

However, Leonie/Susannah doubts she can do that, because the black thunderbolt has now done its work and the soldiers are pouring into Standfast for the final slaughter. Moreover, the sycophantic Hedge Priest offers to betray both Susannah Tyler and all the loot the rebels have hidden. The soldiers shoot an arrow through him before he gets the chance to tell them. The final battle between the soldiers and the rebels begins.

Leonie/Susannah now proceeds to make her escape. She gets surprising help from the lackey she had saved earlier. He has come to repay his debt, and his name is now revealed to be Giles Lamport. Giles uses a rope to get Leonie/Susannah off the castle walls and down into the marshes. The soldiers do not believe Giles when he says he found no sign of Susannah in the castle. But they have grown sick of all the slaughter and decide to just leave. Leonie/Susannah is pleased to finally see some chivalry in these soldiers.

Using the map, Jenny guides Leonie/Susannah through a causeway in the marshes towards Ploughshares Farm. Unfortunately this turns out to be more wrong advice. Jenny does not realise the marshes had been drained in the 17th century, but they were not in the 14th century, so Leonie/Susannah is now getting caught in the marshes. Worse, some of the soldiers have seen the escaping Leonie/Susannah and go after her. They head towards the marshes and block her escape.

Then Leonie/Susannah overhears the soldiers saying things. They have been spooked by rumours from the rebels that Leonie/Susannah is a witch because she seemed to be talking to a spirit from another world (Jenny). So Leonie/Susannah turns it to her advantage by playing ‘spirit’ to scare them off: “Woe unto Richard, the second of that name – and thrice, thrice woe to the brutes who murder in his name!” This gets rid of the soldiers (and by 1400 they should be saying that the prophecy has come true).

Leonie/Susannah is now safe to go on her way. But she is in a very bad state from lack of food, hypothermia and getting covered in marsh mud. When she reaches the end of the causeway she has no idea which way to go, so she calls on Jenny. Jenny begins to guide Leonie/Susannah in. Along the way the girls get to see what their farm looked like in 1381: pig pens that no longer exist, oak saplings that are now trees in the 20th century, and wattle-and-daub dwellings.

Uncle Brian, though still an invalid, comes home to bring Leonie out of the trance. He arrives just in time to see her come out of the trance of her own accord now she is home. Leonie is rather confused by her change of clothes and surroundings, and it takes some moments for her to get her bearings on what century she is in. They deduce the people at the 14th century Ploughshares Farm took Susannah in, so she found safety from Richard II. The parish register reveals that Susannah married Stephan Fairman of (then) Plowshares Farm and had three sons: Wat, Tom and Harry.

Thoughts

This story could well be regarded as one of Tammy’s underrated gems. Girls’ serials featuring reincarnation have appeared elsewhere, such as Misty’s “Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel”, but this is the only serial I know of that features past life regression. This is a very fresh, innovative idea, and it’s a whole new take on the hypnotism formula, particularly hypnotism gone wrong.

Using past life regression as a time travel device is both an ambiguous and clever one. At times we are not sure as to whether Leonie is just recalling her past life as Susannah or if she is actually changing and shaping the past itself, especially when Jenny begins to interfere with well-meaning but not always well-researched advice. Is Jenny actually responsible for the deaths of all those rebels in the ill-fated sortie with the wrong advice she gives Leonie/Susannah? Or is it something that just happened anyway and what is unfolding in Leonie/Susannah’s mind just confusion from the hypnotism and the girls’ identities? After all, it is still debatable as to whether past life regression is actually true regression or if the hypnotism is playing tricks on the mind.

Once the links to Ploughshares Farm are revealed, there is a “so that’s it!” from readers. It becomes apparent as to why Susannah has reincarnated as Leonie. The story not only uses the Peasants’ Revolt and its aftermath to give us a time travel adventure but to also shape the history of Ploughshares Farm and (we suspect) the family history of the Page family.

The Middle Ages is a time period that did not seem to receive much attention in IPC’s period stories, which concentrated more on the 19th century. But this one is a powerful, relentless exploration of the Middle Ages that is so realistic because it does not spare the brutality of the age. This begins straight away with a gang of brutes who are on the verge of killing an innocent boy just because he is a servant of John of Gaunt. And it continues with people being brutally killed. Even the clergy and perfectly innocent villagers are shown no mercy. Whole villages are razed to the ground and their inhabitants left to burn, just because of Richard’s vendetta against Wat Tyler. The gruesome, barbaric punishments of the period are also featured. Though they are kept cleverly off-panel, they make their presence keenly felt, particularly in the scene where Tom shows Leonie/Susannah the cage used to torture a girl to death, just because of who her brother was.

The story totally debunks the chivalry that medieval people romanticised so much. There is no chivalry in any of the soldiers and knights in the story who do nothing but murder, pillage and vandalise in Richard’s name. They are, in the words of the rebels, “devils in armour” and “killer(s) on horseback”. The chivalry and honour comes from most of the characters that go against them, from Tom Quintain to Giles Lamport the lackey who always remembers his promise to repay Leonie/Susannah for saving his life.

Tony Highmore was a June artist whose artwork was seen most often in Strange Stories after the merger. “Time Trap” was his only serial for Tammy (apart from a mini-serial Strange Story) and it is one of his crowning moments. The medieval atmosphere is brilliantly wrought through the linework and inkwork of Tony Highmore. They are quite heavy and not fine or delicate, which really brings out the roughness and coarseness of the characters, the harshness of their environment, and even the types of dentures that prevailed at the time.

The story makes strong statements that heroes do not always survive or get things right. Readers must have cried when Tom Quintain, the brave, honourable man who takes up the mantle of Wat Tyler, becomes one of the rebels slaughtered in the Standfast Castle sortie. And Jenny, whom we expected to be the saviour of the piece once she gains the power to contact Leonie in the past, turns out to be indirectly responsible for it because she gave the wrong advice. Readers would have been even more gutted because of that. The writer sure was breaking moulds there.

The characterisation of the medieval people is also wonderfully depicted. Even minor characters get their moments. For example, Richard II only appears in a few panels but it is enough for him to make his point that he is a man who should not be underestimated although he is still young – as the rebels discover to their cost. And although Richard is shown as a handsome man in appearance, his actions show he is one of the worst tyrants and not to be trusted. Hedge Priest is another minor character who makes his mark – as a coward and weasel despite being a man of the cloth. What a contrast to the poor hapless priest who is murdered for nursing Wat Tyler!

The way in which the writer uses the Peasants’ Revolt for the time setting is very ingenious. Instead of just telling the story of the Peasants’ Revolt through the time travel element, the story uses the aftermath of the failure of the Peasants’ Revolt to bring us a fugitive story filled with bloodshed, lots of fighting, and overlap between two centuries that are six centuries apart. What makes it an even more interesting take on the Peasants’ Revolt is that the story does not focus on Wat Tyler himself, who gets killed pretty early in the piece. Instead, it concentrates on the supporters and family of Wat Tyler and the consequences they suffer from the failed revolt and gives them a chance to shine.

 

E.T. Estate [1983]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 15 January 1983 – 16 April 1983

Episodes: 14

Artist: Guy Peeters

Writer: Jake Adams

Translations/reprints: De kristalmonsters [The Crystal Monsters] Tina 1984, #45

Plot

Keats Estate used to be a great estate, but it has been plagued by hooliganism ever since Tony Jenkins and his gang arrived. However, one night far worse arrives when a meteorite shower hits the estate, and the damage is so extensive the estate looks like it got bombed out. Following this, the estate is nicknamed “E.T. Estate”.

But nobody realises this is no ordinary meteorite shower. The “meteorites” carry crystals, each of which contains a gaseous alien life form. Being gaseous, the crystal alien can only leave its crystal by creating a synthetic body that replicates the body of the first life form it comes into contact with – in this case, humans. The real life form is trapped within the crystal while the alien double takes its place. The alien feeds by progressively siphoning off the life force of the host trapped inside the crystal until it dies. Then the alien moves onto another life form…

As the story progresses, the aliens demonstrate other abilities. They have telekinetic powers and can also plant hallucinations into people’s minds. The energy for these powers is also drawn from the hosts’ life forces. The aliens are not telepathic, though; in fact they have to use Earth equipment such as radios.

Their main weakness is that they have to carry their crystals at all times to maintain their synthetic bodies. If the crystal is removed from them or fails to transfer the host’s life energy, their synthetic bodies disintegrate and they return to gaseous form. They are particularly vulnerable to this if the life force of the host is nearing exhaustion. Their powers also weaken if the host is nearly spent. And sometimes the transfer between the host and the duplicate fails, as will be seen later.

Jenny Holmes stumbles onto the aliens when she sees her sister Sarah being replaced by one of these crystal aliens. But of course nobody believes her when she tries to tell them what happened. Jenny soon finds it’s not just her sister – these crystal alien doubles are replacing other people on the estate. Like Sarah, Tony Jenkins was among the first. The duplicate Sarah and Tony Jenkins try to dispose of Jenny by attacking her with telekinetic powers. This causes Jenny to have an accident, but fortunately the police intervene and put her in hospital before the duplicates can finish the job.

In hospital, the Sarah duplicate slips Jenny a crystal so as to replace her too. But sometimes the transfers fail because the energy from the host fails to come through. And fortunately for Jenny, this is precisely what happens. The energy transfer failure causes the alien’s synthetic body to disintegrate, making it return to gas. The crystal dies and Jenny manages to escape from it.

Jenny is confident that someone will believe her now that she has the dead crystal for evidence. However, when she shows it to her parents when they visit, they make remarks that indicate that they, too, are crystal aliens (the duplicate Sarah must have passed crystals to the Holmes parents too). But the hospital staff don’t believe Jenny when she starts screaming about this and put it down to some sort of mental disorder from the accident. So Jenny runs away from the hospital and heads back to the estate to get some evidence.

However, the crystal aliens anticipate this and are on the lookout for her. They spot her and Jenny overhears the duplicate Sarah’s orders to ‘neutralise’ her (the duplicate Sarah is clearly emerging as the leader figure). Jenny finds a hiding place where she also finds a human who has not been replaced – a bag woman whom everyone calls “Old Mad Dora”. Dora tells Jenny that the aliens do not sleep and work non-stop. They do not eat either (Jenny and Dora do not yet realise how the aliens do eat). Dora also witnessed Mr Holmes being replaced by his duplicate. Unfortunately people think Dora is mad (hence her nickname), apparently because she’s a bag lady who keeps her belongings in a pram and keeps a pack of cats around her. Although she now comes across as sane, they would not take her seriously as a backup witness to Jenny. so they would not take her seriously as a backup witness to Jenny. On the other hand, the crystal aliens are leaving Dora alone because they also assume she is mad and therefore of no use to them. They do not realise Jenny is hidden in Dora’s pram.

Jenny soon finds the crystal aliens have hollowed out an entire building. She can’t understand the point of this. But it is now that the aliens corner Jenny.  They try to kill her by sending her upwards telekinetically and then letting her fall to her death. Dora saves Jenny by using a pile of mattresses for Jenny to land on safely and whisks her away before the aliens find her. While searching for Jenny’s body, the duplicate Sarah recognises Dora’s bags, which she carelessly left behind. She realises what happened, so now the aliens are after Dora too.

Yobs from a neighbouring estate then attack the Sarah double and take her crystal, mistaking it for a diamond. This causes the alien’s link with Sarah to break and she collapses on the ground. The other aliens just go after the yobs and leave the alien’s synthetic body to disintegrate. Jenny and Dora are watching. They now understand the aliens’ power to siphon off the life force of the hosts they capture and duplicate – and what it means for those hosts.

Jenny is able to find the yobs before the aliens do because she knew where to find the yobs whereas the aliens did not. The yobs are stunned at how the crystal begins to grow, and it grows until it is large enough for Sarah to emerge. Sarah collapses, looking completely emaciated. The yobs are too terrified of the police to call for help, so Jenny takes it upon herself to call for them and an ambulance. By the time she returns she finds the crystal has disappeared. She does not realise that one of Dora’s cats has become the new host, and the cat she is about to pick up is the duplicate. Moreover, the duplicate can still speak although it is now in cat form, and it’s still the leader of the alien swarm although its form has been reduced from human to animal.

Sarah’s condition is so severe that she has gone into a coma. She is taken to hospital but the police still don’t believe Jenny and think she is crazy. They take her off in their patrol car, but the duplicate cat uses its telekinetic powers to make the car crash. Everyone escapes relatively unscathed. Jenny goes back on the run from the police with the cat, but still does not know it is a duplicate. She finds out, though, when the aliens finally capture her.

The aliens have also captured Dora and tie both of them up. While doing so, they explain about their crystal pod, which is what they hollowed out the building for. They intend to make the pod grow large enough until it is ready to shoot millions of these crystals all over Earth. When that happens, what happened to E.T. Estate will happen everywhere, and it will go on happening until Earth is stripped of all life. Then the crystals will go into outer space and search for another host planet. Their justification for all this is the right to survive; they cannot live on if they cannot consume the way that they do. To feed the pod, the aliens surrender their own crystals, although it will mean sacrificing their own synthetic bodies. Of course all the people trapped in the crystals will die in order to feed the pod. A few aliens remain behind to guard the pod and the prisoners.

Meanwhile, in hospital, Sarah awakens and convinces one policeman enough to send a patrol force out to E.T. Estate. However, the aliens trick the police into leaving by hypnotising them into seeing everything is normal on the estate. On the other hand, performing this trick weakens the aliens. In fact, two of them somehow disappear (and their hosts later emerge from the pod for some reason) and all that is left is the duplicate cat. The real cats now start attacking it, which gives Dora and Jenny their chance to escape their bonds. Jenny goes into the pod to get the crystals out and the duplicate cat realises it is now too weak to stop her. Then Dora takes its crystal, which causes its synthetic body to disintegrate.

Jenny comes out with the crystals, which promptly expand to full size and release the prisoners within, including Jenny’s parents. Without the crystals to feed from, the pod disintegrates. The flood of gook it makes is so massive it just about drowns all the humans. The crystals disintegrate too, which means the aliens are no longer able to duplicate anyone else.

At the hospital, the doctor says the people will recover, but it was close. Jenny wants to put E.T. Estate behind her, so she hopes the council will demolish what’s left of it and put them elsewhere.

Thoughts

E.T. Estate was Guy Peeters’ one and only serial for Tammy (The Human Zoo reprint during the merger is not counted as it came from Jinty). It was one of my biggest favourites, and it must have been very popular as one reader wrote in to say she liked it so much she cut the pages out and pasted them on cardboard.

This was the only story in Tammy to use the alien invasion theme. Jinty never used it, despite her strong emphasis on science fiction. The setup for this particular invasion is very well thought out. In many alien invasion stories in girls’ comics, the aliens just invade for no apparent reason or are driven by power. But here the aliens’ motive is straightforward, credible and realistic: They are doing it to survive. They need the life energy of other life forms in order to keep themselves alive and fed because that is how they have evolved. For this reason they invade ‘suitable’ planets and strip them of their life forms in order to feed. In other words, they are a form of intergalactic parasite.

Although the crystal aliens do what they do in order to survive, they are not at all sympathetic. Indeed, they come across as totally irredeemable creatures with constant evil and cruel expressions on their faces. They may have the right to survive as they say, but so do the other life forms they try to feed off. They are a death warrant to any world they land upon if they are not stopped and eradicated in time. One hopes that at the end of the story, the whole species has been wiped out and not just a swarm of them. But we can never know for sure.

The aliens are very insidious and frightening invaders. A large part of this is due to their ability to replicate the body of whatever host they come across. Fortunately they are not good actors or bother with the culture of whatever planet they encounter. Part of this would be not having telepathic abilities, but perhaps they have little need of it. Their MO is not to infiltrate but to take over their victim planet as quickly as possible with their pod once they have established a launch site for it. What makes them even more dangerous is their telekinetic and hypnotic powers. Their ability to duplicate also transcends the human boundaries of human society, which can make for some odd scenes. Jenny, for example, finds it weird to see ordinary people working alongside workmen. She realises they must all be duplicates, but it is still a strange sight. Boundaries between good and not-so-good people are also transcended, such as the hooligan Tony Jenkins apparently working alongside Sarah Holmes because they are both duplicates. We can also feel pity for hithterto unsympathetic people like Tony once they fall victim to the crystal aliens.

Jenny falls into the long-established category of the protagonist who’s the only one who realises what’s going on but can’t convince anyone else. Nobody is listening and people think she is crazy. So she has to act on her own. Fortunately Jenny finds an ally in Dora. Dora would also fall into the same category as Jenny, not least because everyone calls her mad. Jenny used to do the same, but once she gets to know Dora better, Dora becomes established as a perfectly sane woman and a clever and courageous woman. We hope others will respect Dora and stop calling her mad after E.T. Estate.

The environment of E.T. Estate itself also adds to the creepy, grim atmosphere of the story. Even before the invasion begins, there is foreshadowing that the estate is going to go on a downward spiral because a gang of hooligans have moved in and threatening to destroy once was a great estate. This is reflected the story logo itself, which also lends itself to the yob theme that runs in the story. The opening blurb says the sun is setting on the Holmes sisters’ way of life, which implies their lives are never going to be the same again after the events in the story.

Then actual destruction on the estate begins with the meteorite shower, which causes intense damage to every building and leaves craters everywhere. The estate now looks like a bombed-out World War II city. However, eventually the people inside the estate are no longer survivors but the conquering duplicates, which makes the estate even more frightening. When Jenny finds Dora, the only human left on the estate, she finds her under the rubble of a car park, which is reminiscent of a WW2 bomb shelter. Dora’s hungry, scavenging cats, which can’t even find scraps to live on because the aliens don’t leave any, are reminiscent of scrounging, desperate survivors in a war zone. And when you think about it, E.T. Estate has become a war zone. Taking all these together, Jenny’s hope that E.T. Estate will be demolished altogether sounds prophetic.

There are a couple of weaknesses in the ending – like how did three aliens suddenly get reduced to one – and it’s the one the cats could conveniently beat up? How did the two hosts those duplicates used come to be rescued from the pod when their crystals were not even put in there? It also feels a bit convenient that the crystals dissolved too and were not able to move onto other hosts as Sarah’s crystal did. But then, perhaps the aliens only get one shot at whatever planet they land on. At one point, they did hint they had limits on their resources after all. So maybe if the pod fails, that’s it for the swarm and they die. If so, it can be explained away, plus it is very fortunate for Earth or any other planet these crystal aliens land on. It’s not the more common and more trite ending where the aliens just give up and go home.

Glenda’s Glossy Pages [1975]

Sample Images

Glenda 1

Glenda 2

Glenda 3

Published: Tammy 13 September 1975 – 15 November 1975

Episodes: 11

Artists: Mario Capaldi, plus Tony Highmore as a filler artist in one episode

Writer: Pat Mills

Translations/reprints: Tammy 1 October 1983 – 10 December 1983; De geheimzinnige catalogus [The Mysterious Catalogue] in Tina Boelboek 4, 1984

Plot

Glenda Slade lives with her widowed mother. Mrs Slade works in a low-paid job, so they live a poor existence. They are so poor that the only thing Glenda has to wear is her school uniform (which Mum had to scrape for). At school, spoiled and snobby rich girl Hilary loves to bully Glenda over her poor background.

Then one day a woman knocks at the door and shows Glenda a beautiful catalogue that is packed full of gorgeous items to order. Glenda is blown away and wants to order from the catalogue immediately. Her mother reminds her that they cannot afford it. Glenda decides to keep the catalogue in secret so she can at least dream about the items. The woman agrees and gives Glenda a strange, ominous smile as she leaves.

Glenda is surprised when the items she circles start appearing at her front door for real and there is no apparent bill to pay. Thrilled at having nice things for the first time in her life, she starts circling more and more items, which continue to appear with no apparent price to pay. At school, the items make her the centre of attention and she is pleased to get one up on Hilary, who is being pushed out as the one to admire because the girls now swarm around Glenda and the things she is getting. Even Glenda’s face is beginning to change, and she is amazed that she is beginning to look like the model in the catalogue. Hilary is jealous and then suspicious about these items of Glenda’s.

But odd, worrying things start happening to Glenda. Among them, Hilary calls the police in to investigate the items (more of her spite towards Glenda). Of course they do not believe Glenda’s story about the catalogue. But when they try to take the items they get a strange electric shock, which frightens Glenda.

Then, at the swimming pool, Glenda discovers a shocking, inexplicable change in her personality and behaviour. Hilary is having an attack of cramp in the pool, but Glenda, who is the nearest, just leaves her to drown and makes no attempt to save her at all. Glenda herself cannot understand why she acted in this way. When she realises there can only be one answer, the catalogue begins to well and truly scare her. The girls save Hilary, and in the wake of this incident, Hilary rises again as the centre of the girls’ attention while Glenda is sent to Coventry. Hilary is delighted at Glenda’s downfall. In fact, when Glenda tries to apologise to Hilary, Hilary just pulls a false act of Glenda bullying her in order to get her into even deeper trouble with the girls.

Finally, the police arrest Mrs Slade over the mystery items. They have no evidence against her, but she has a criminal record, and that is enough for them. They don’t know or believe she has reformed to the point where she has raised Glenda to be extremely strict about honesty.

Glenda is appalled at how everything is getting just worse and worse for her. And worst of all, she has a feeling the catalogue is not even through yet.

The woman appears again. Glenda confronts her and urges her to tell the police how she got the items from her catalogue for free. The woman tells Glenda that nothing in the world is free and she has to pay. Glenda then realises that she has paid after all – with all the misery and trouble she has gone through because of the catalogue. She now understands that the woman and her catalogue are evil, and they were all out to play on her greed to get her into trouble. The woman tells Glenda that she will go on paying. But Glenda is determined to beat the woman. When Glenda finds she cannot destroy or dispose of the catalogue, she tries to break its power by getting rid of the all the lovely items it brought her and sending them to a charity shop. It’s a wrench for poverty-stricken Glenda, turning her back on those beautiful things, but it does the trick. She is now able to throw the catalogue out and leaves it for the dustmen.

But Mrs Slade, who is released for lack of evidence (or maybe because of the temporary break in the catalogue’s power?) finds the catalogue and now she is the one who is tempted. Ignoring Glenda’s warnings, she orders as many items as possible so as to win the mystery prize the catalogue is offering. When the prize arrives, it is a lighter in the shape of a skull. Later, Glenda realises that a skull stands for death, and gets a horrible thought as to the price Mum is to pay. She manages to get out of school (thanks to nasty Hilary ripping her one and only skirt for a ‘joke’), rushes home to check up on her mother, and finds the skull lighter has started a fire.

The fire is spreading fast, and the skull itself seems to be fanning the flames. All the same, Mum is reluctant to evacuate and leave her lovely things behind, so Glenda has to do some persuading to make her agree to do so. However, they discover all the glossy pages’ furniture has suddenly moved to block all the exits and won’t budge. Clearly, the price the catalogue intends them to pay is for them both to perish in the fire. However, Glenda manages to create an exit by throwing the catalogue itself out the window, which makes the flames at the window die down enough for them to escape through the window. Across the street, Glenda sees the evil woman is watching, and the woman is looking absolutely furious that she and her glossy pages have failed. However, the emergency services whisk Glenda and her mother away before Glenda gets a chance to retrieve the book and stop someone else from falling into its power.

A few days later, Glenda and her mother are discharged from hospital. Their old house got destroyed, so they are given a new one. Glenda’s mother is relieved that at least their new start will be an honest one, even if it is from scratch. Glenda went back for the catalogue, but failed to find it. Glenda does not know that Hilary picked up the book while dropping by to gloat over the destruction of her home, and recognised those mystery items of Glenda’s in it. And rich girl though she is, Hilary is tempted by the catalogue and sets out to make herself the envy of all the girls with it…

Thoughts

This particular “wish-fulfilment with the inevitable catch in it somewhere” story has been an enduring one in Tammy. On the Internet it still attracts positive comment and is clearly well remembered. One reason has to be that Pat Mills wrote it. Pat Mills has established himself as one of the best writers in British comics, such as in 2000AD, Battle and Misty. He has written many classics in girls’ comics, including ones from Jinty herself, such as “Land of No Tears” and “Concrete Surfer”.

The themes the story explores also help to make it an enduring one: greed, fantasy, temptation, rags-to-riches, bullying, jealousy, the supernatural, the macabre, and the threat of the Grim Reaper. The protagonists themselves are ones who remain sympathetic, even when the power of the catalogue leads them so much that their personalities begin to harden, they lose common sense and sight of themselves, and become increasingly consumed by the temptations the catalogue is offering. Glenda at least has enough sense and virtue to notice the warnings. It takes a while for her to heed the warnings enough to stop using the catalogue, not least because it is so hard to break away from having nice things for the first time in her life. But as the nightmare intensifies and the evil increasingly obvious, she finally finds the strength to do so.

Mrs Slade becomes even more consumed by greed than her daughter. This would be partly because she has not received increasing danger signals as Glenda had. But it could also be rooted in her once being a criminal. Glenda’s birth made her go straight and she clearly resolved to bring Glenda up so strictly about honesty that she would not follow that deviant path. Mum was successful there until the catalogue came along. The catalogue did not make Glenda an outright criminal, but it did corrupt her and make her stray off the honest path her mother set her on. Mum, meanwhile, is tempted because although she had stayed honest, she felt that going straight had not lifted her out of the poverty she and Glenda had always lived in and it never seemed to do her any real good. It was these feelings that made it so easy for the catalogue to tempt her.

The only truly good thing to come out of the catalogue was Glenda and her mother being given a new home and a new start. We hope it will be the start of a better life for them. In any case, we know Mum has returned to the straight path when she says that at least they will start honestly. And after they have been through with the catalogue, we imagine they will stick to the honest path even more assiduously.

At the end of the story, Hilary also falls into the grip of the catalogue. Unlike the Slades, however, we do not sympathise with her when she does so. In fact, we feel like hoping the catalogue will give Hilary her comeuppance. She already has plenty of things of her own, and unlike the Slades she can afford them because she is so rich. She has no real need for the catalogue, yet she is tempted all the same. The catalogue is clearly playing on Hilary having far less moral fibre than Glenda Slade and being a more nasty character. Throughout the story Hilary has been portrayed as nothing but a spoiled, bullying snob who is always out to stick her knife into Glenda, just because she is poor. Hilary does not even have an ounce of sympathy at Glenda losing her home: “What a shame the scruff’s house was burnt down – I don’t think.” If there were a sequel to this story, which there isn’t, we would like to see how the trouble Hilary gets into with the catalogue improves her personality and makes her nicer to Glenda by the end of the story.

The ending itself is a skilful one that makes the storytelling even more powerful. Instead of the catalogue being destroyed and never able to tempt anyone again, the story ends on a grim, ominous reminder that evil is continuous. In fact, we would not be at all surprised if this woman distributes these evil catalogues all over the place, targeting the people she thinks would be the easiest to tempt, like the poverty-stricken Slades.

A Girl Called Midnight [1980]

Sample Images

Midnight 1Midnight 2Midnight 3

Published: Tammy 16 February 1980 – 29 March 1980

Episodes: 7

Artist: Juliana Buch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #30 (final issue); Tina Topstrip #14  as Het meisje Middernacht

Plot

Melissa and Martin Bright and their parents decide to become a foster family. The foster girl they are to adopt is named Midnight Meredith. The name “Midnight” has the kids pondering as to whether it might be a portent for something creepy. It turns out they are not far wrong.

No, Midnight is not a witch, and she has no supernatural powers. But there is something weird about her that she herself cannot understand. These are Midnight’s “moods” i.e. inexplicable trance-like states where she wanders off, not knowing what she is doing. She appears to be looking for something, but she does not know what, but she always babbles about the search in terms of “we” – not “I” – who are doing the search. Triggers for these moods include the moon ring (a gift from her mother) that she always wears, looking at her own reflection, hearing the sound of her own voice on playback, or sleepwalking. These moods are not only problematic but also dangerous at times. Melissa worries that Midnight might wander into heavy traffic or a railway line because she does not know what she is doing when she is in a “mood”. During one mood, things get even more dangerous. Midnight tries to force the family car down a road towards a place called Steepling Parva, yelling to Mr Bright that he’s going the wrong way. This sends the car crashing into a hedge! Fortunately everyone emerges with little more than cuts and bruises.

These moods are the reason why Midnight never lasts long in any foster home. Midnight had expected the Brights to be no different, and she does want to stay with them. Not surprisingly, her behaviour is a bit difficult at times, even when she is not in a “mood”, and she finds it hard to settle and ease up.

Fortunately for Midnight, the Brights are a more understanding foster family. A doctor has told them there could be a medical reason, most likely due to something traumatic in Midnight’s past, which also helps. When Midnight tries to run away in shame after the car accident, the family persuade her to stay. They want to help Midnight get to the bottom of the mystery of these moods. As Melissa observes these moods, she notices a pattern: Midnight always goes off in the same direction, going a little further each time. After the car accident, that direction seems to point to Steepling Parva. When Midnight has another mood, the family follow Melissa’s hunch and go to Steepling Parva. There they find Midnight in a field called Marsh Meadow near Steepling Parva. This mood is a real performance – Midnight is yelling and screaming “It isn’t here!”, and her clothes are in rags because she tried to look for whatever she was looking for in thorny bushes.

Next day, Melissa and Midnight return to Steepling Parva to do some investigating. They learn that many years ago, a tragedy occurred in that meadow called “The Marsh Meadow Flood”. A river burst and flooded the meadow, and it washed a lot of campers’ caravans away. Their next call is the cemetery where the flood victims are buried, and this brings on another mood. Midnight starts babbling about her mother, and how she gave her the ring before the flood separated them. Midnight’s mood takes her the grave where her mother, Margaret Meredith, is buried. There is another girl there, and each briefly mistakes the other for a ghost. When Midnight and Melissa investigate the girl, whose name is Dawn, Midnight feels that this is who she has been looking for. Dawn’s parents are there and say they have just about had enough of her “moods”…

Just then, Marsh Meadow begins to flood again. The vicar calls upon the girls and others to help get the sheep to higher ground. Once that is done, the vicar recognises Midnight and Dawn as the Meredith twins and explains that the first flood separated them as babies. Midnight was found crying in her drowned mother’s arms and put in an orphanage, while the flood waters carried Dawn away in her cot. The police found her, assumed she was abandoned, and she was adopted. Dawn also wears a ring that is a gift from the mother, who was an artist. This ring has a rising sun, just as Midnight’s ring has a moon, so the rings represent each girl’s name.

Upon questioning Dawn’s parents, Melissa discovers that Dawn has been having “moods” too; wandering off and getting closer and closer to Steepling Parva ever since her family moved to the area. Melissa realises that these moods have been the twins’ way of trying to find each other. And now they have, Melissa is confident their moods are now a thing of the past. The twins stay on with their respective families, but they can meet whenever they want.

Thoughts

This story was another of my favourites from Tammy. It appeared in the early months of the Tammy & Misty merger, so I have wondered if this story was originally written for Misty, although Juliana Buch was not a Misty artist.

The very name “Midnight” tells us it’s going to be a spine-chilling story and it enhances the mystery and weirdness of the story. Until Midnight appears in the story, we, along with the Bright children, wonder if she is going to be a witch or something. It would have been less effective if the story had been told from Dawn’s perspective and watching her “moods” unfold, because her name does not imply creepiness as “Midnight” does.

The reveal at the end – long-lost twins trying to find each other through a twins’ telepathic link – is not a great surprise. Twin telepathy has appeared before in girls’ comics. Until then, though, it must rank as one of the most potentially dangerous twin telepathy links ever used in girls’ comics. More than once it came close to causing serious injury, either for Midnight or for someone else. If nothing else, it could have put Midnight into some sort of psychiatric care or made her a target of bullying, as not everyone would be as understanding or helpful as the Brights. Midnight has lost a string of foster homes because of her moods (not surprising, because they do make her look a real weirdo) and the fact that it is due to something she does not even understand would make it even worse. Midnight was very fortunate to have more understanding people in the Brights, and this really helped her to solve the mystery of her “moods”.

Sister in the Shadows [1980]

Sample Images

Sister in the Shadows 1Sister in the Shadows 2Sister in the Shadows 3

Published: Tammy 5 January 1980 to 22 March 1980

Episodes: 12

Artist: Giorgio Giorgetti

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Stella Weekes is a girl born with the golden touch. She comes out top at everything she does, she is always a winner, and she has never lost at anything. At her old school Gatecombe Comprehensive, Stella was the star pupil and even the headmistress virtually hero-worships her; there are displays of Stella’s school achievements everywhere. Now Stella is the star of a TV sports series, Goldengirl. Stella’s parents just never stop bragging about her and they “kill the fattened calf” for her whenever she shows up.

This causes huge problems for Stella’s younger sister Wendy when she starts at Gatecombe. Wendy has grown up in the shadow of Stella’s success, and at Gatecombe she becomes overshadowed even more. Everyone, including the school staff and Wendy’s parents, expect Wendy to be another Stella and keep comparing her with Stella. On Wendy’s first day alone, she is constantly embarrassed and humiliated because the school staff make a huge fuss over her, push her to the front at everything, and give her all the plum roles and expect her to be just as brilliant at doing them as Stella. The headmistress even compares Wendy’s appearance with Stella’s – and it’s not a favourable comparison either. They only see Wendy as “Stella’s sister” instead an individual, and they expect her to be just like Stella. At home, Wendy’s parents, who are just too full of pride about Stella, are just as bad at expecting Wendy to be just like Stella. At least they do it in a somewhat more light-hearted manner. But they are too consumed with pride over Stella to even take in interest in what Wendy tries to do or lend her any support. For the parents, Wendy always takes second place to Stella. Nobody will respect Wendy for herself.

But Wendy does not have a golden touch like Stella. She suffers from poor self-esteem because she is being constantly expected to follow in Stella’s footsteps when she considers herself the opposite of Stella. Worse, it does not take long for the other girls to pick up on how Wendy pales in comparison to her sister. They understandably resent how the big fuss over Wendy is not giving them a chance, while not understanding that Wendy does not like it any more than they do.

As a result, Wendy becomes a target of bullying, with the girls constantly teasing her because she isn’t living up to Stella’s reputation while all adults around her keep expecting her to do so. Wendy’s worst enemies are Angela and Honey, who also like to play dirty tricks on Wendy whenever she tries to prove herself, so as to make her the laughingstock again. Furthermore, they have the whole class send Wendy to Coventry and they call her “weak sister Wendy”. Even their families get in on the act; Angela’s brother Adam helps them play a trick on Wendy to get her into trouble with the headmistress. There seems to be no limit to their bullying; at one point they cause Wendy to take a fall during a bar exercise and land on top of the gym teacher, and then they have the nerve to blame Wendy when the teacher has an attack. Fortunately for Wendy, the doctor sorts them out. At least there is one person who is sticking up for Wendy, but nobody else is there to talk to the parents or help sort out the bullies.

Following a misunderstanding, Angela and Honey think Wendy tricked them out of their chance to meet their heartthrob Gregg Vanderley, who is Stella’s co-star. After this, their spite grows even worse. They try to frame Wendy for stealing exam papers. When this fails, they trick Wendy into an old tower and intend her to have a nasty accident. Wendy breaks her wrist because of this. The doctor has her stay off school until further notice.

But even while laid up in bed with a broken wrist, poor Wendy gets no respite from being constantly compared to her sister. Instead of offering sympathy, Wendy’s mother scolds her for missing out on the end-of-term school exams because of her injury while Stella always came out top in them. All the same, it is just as well the bullies’ trick had Wendy miss the exams, because the constant comparison with Stella and the bullying had inevitably impeded her progress during the term. From the sound of things, the parents have been getting reports that Wendy is not doing well at school.

While in bed, Wendy ponders over another thing she has noticed: Stella has not contacted her family of late, not even when she was in the neighbourhood recently with Vanderley. Also, the TV network is running repeats of Goldengirl instead of the new season, which Wendy finds suspicious. So Wendy takes advantage of her remaining time off school to go to London and do some investigating.

Wendy’s suspicions are confirmed when she discovers Stella has lost the Goldengirl job and been evicted from her exclusive flat because she could no longer afford the rent. At the TV studio Wendy learns Stella lost the job because she became a victim of her own success: viewers got bored of her and lost sympathy with her because she kept winning all the time. It looks like Stella’s replacement is having similar confidence problems to Wendy, which explains why the new season has not screened.

Stella disappeared instead of going home, because she was too afraid and ashamed of what the parents will say because they’re so full of themselves about her. Also, Stella has not experienced disaster before, so Wendy realises she must be taking it extremely badly. Furthermore, Stella is completely broke; Wendy later learns Stella frittered away her salary on the high life instead of investing it, except for a trust fund.

At Vanderley’s suggestion, Wendy investigates a derelict house that other out-of-work actors are using to squat in. When Wendy sees the house, she cannot believe her sister would even set foot in such a smelly, run-down, graffiti-smeared place that is falling to pieces. But Wendy soon finds that this is indeed where Stella is shacking up now. Moreover, Stella, who once earned a top salary as Goldengirl, is now working at a grotty café for an obviously very low pay. Wendy finds Stella working there, and she looks absolutely miserable.

Despite the depths she has sunk to, Stella cannot bear the thought of going home and facing her parents, or what people are going to say behind her back. But it is here that Wendy finds a whole new confidence when she persuades Stella to do so. She gets very bold and assertive in not taking “no” for an answer and insisting on taking Stella home. And screw what people are going to say; Wendy loudly describes what she has been through at school to illustrate that if she can put up with that sort of treatment, Stella can too. Stella listens, and begs Wendy to go on helping her. Wendy does more in that regard when their prideful parents start whining about what the neighbours will say when they hear what happened. Wendy retorts, “Bother the neighbours!” She describes the situation she found Stella in and says, “Would you rather I’d left Stella where she was, Mum?” The parents are humbled at this and offer comfort to Stella. Once Stella recovers, she becomes determined to work her way out of her bad patch.

Then Stella expresses concern about the bullying Wendy is experiencing at school and how it is bound to get worse once the bullies hear about her losing the Goldengirl job. Wendy, emboldened by her new assertiveness, says she has the confidence to deal with them now.

Sure enough, Angela and Honey get a real surprise when Wendy returns to school. When they try to bully Wendy over Stella’s dismissal, she comes right back at their teasing. She also threatens to go to self-defence classes if there is any more of their bullying (a bluff). To reinforce her point, Wendy pulls an arm lock on Angela that Stella had taught her, who in turn had learned it from Angela’s idol Vanderley. Wendy tells the girls she is going to try out for the school choir (she hopes that will help her become respected in her own right) and she jolly well hopes she will have more fun next term than she has had so far. Angela and Honey are humiliated, especially when the other girls begin to laugh at Angela’s humbling.

Thoughts

This is a Tammy story I have come to appreciate more upon revisiting it. It’s not that I disliked the story initially; it’s just that I was more taken with other stories in Tammy at the time.

Girls’ comics have frequently run stories where a girl suffers because she is compared unfairly and unfavourably with a more successful sibling, or, in some cases, a parent. This one is a bit different than most. The more common formula is for the protagonist to constantly strive to prove herself and win some respect, which she eventually does with some talent she discovers or an act of heroism (e.g. “Make the Headlines, Hannah!”, also from Tammy). Of course things don’t go smoothly and she frequently comes up against an enemy who is always trying to sabotage her.

This serial has that theme, but runs it to a slightly lesser extent than most. And the ending breaks the formula completely. The heroine does not prove herself at long last with some talent/heroic act, winning respect and everything ends happily. Instead, Wendy gains confidence by learning to stand up for herself. This starts with standing up to the sister who has always overshadowed her, and using everything she has short of physical force to stop hiding in that miserable run-down hovel, come home, get back on her feet again, face up to those parents of theirs, and deal with what people are going to say about her. Wendy’s new assertion continues with the parents when they start to whine about what others will say, and it gives her a whole new confidence in standing up to the bullies. And instead of school changing overnight for the protagonist, which is the more common ending, the story ends on the hope that school will improve for Wendy, but whether it does so remains to be seen. This is a more realistic ending that avoids the clichéd “new improved school ending”, which makes a very nice change.

It is easy to understand why Tammy went with this ending when we examine Wendy’s home life. Having Wendy prove herself somehow just would not have been enough, because the parents were just too consumed with pride over Stella to even notice what Wendy does. They need to have that pride of theirs deflated before they start taking Wendy more seriously. And they get it when they find out about Stella’s job loss and Wendy tells them off for thinking about what people will say about Stella’s downfall instead of thinking about Stella and what she is going through. We sense that they will become better parents to Wendy after this.

Stella, too, needed a lesson, and she gets it from the story’s resolution. There is no evidence in the story that Stella’s success turned her into an insufferable big head, which has happened in other stories e.g. “Last Chance for Laura” from Bunty. It is possible that Stella had become a big head, but there is no evidence of it. But even if Stella was not big headed, it sounds like she was in serious need of a fall if she was squandering her salary on high living instead of using it wisely. Further, she had never developed the emotional and psychological tools to deal with failure because she had not encountered failure until she loses the Goldengirl job. Wendy’s whole new assertiveness not only saves her from the miserable squatting but also helps her find the courage and inner strengths to rise above her bad patch. In so doing, we sense Stella will emerge an even bigger success than ever because she gained strength, new coping skills and lessons from that bad time.

Stella had also neglected Wendy because she was always too busy. So Wendy rescuing Stella and helping her to get through her trouble would definitely get Stella finally paying more attention to Wendy. Stella in turn becomes the one to help Wendy stand up to the bullies, by teaching her self-defence techniques, and being a more thoughtful sister towards her.

My Strange Sister [1981]

Sample Images

Strange Sister 1Strange Sister 2Strange Sister 3

Published: Dreamer #1 (19 September 1981) – 10 (21 November 1981)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Photo story

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Monthly #25, June 1988

Dreamer is a little-known photo story comic. Like many other new IPC titles of the 1980s it did not last long, and it became the first title to merge into Girl 2. It looks like Dreamer liked to have cute little animals decorating her bottom margins too. “My Strange Sister” was one of the stories in Dreamer’s very first lineup. Another of her first stories, “Who Stole Samantha?”, was written by Alison Christie.

Plot

Joanne Baxter tells her own story. She had once been an aspiring gymnast. But she has been confined to a wheelchair ever since a car knocked her down when she came out from her last gymnastics display. Joanne’s older sister Eve has been a tremendous help to her since the accident. Joanne is making attempts to walk again, but her legs won’t obey her.

Joanne can’t avoid reminders of her old life, such as a window display of sports gear or music from her last gymnastics display playing. She finds them painful reminders of course, but they are having even more bizarre effects on Eve. Eve seems to go off into a sort of trance, disappears and leaves the wheelchair-bound Joanne deserted, and then reappears with no apparent memory of what she did. Incidents like this are becoming ever more frequent. Joanne is baffled and concerned at Eve’s strange behaviour and can’t understand the reason for it at all. Eve’s behaviour is also putting a real strain on their relationship; they begin to quarrel and Joanne feels they are becoming like strangers.

Eve’s strange behaviour grows even more bizarre when her best friend Candy tries to take her out to the disco. Eve becomes inexplicably terrified and hides herself from Candy. Eve takes Joanne out to the disco instead, but another odd incident occurs along the way. They see a cat walking along a wall, which makes Eve inexplicably upset and she shoos it away. She says she does not want to be reminded, she wants to forget how it was…

At the disco, Eve’s strange behaviour acts up again when the music from Joanne’s last gymnastics display is played. This time she phones up Candy and arranges to see her outside. Joanne is watching them, but can’t hear the conversation. When Eve sees Joanne is watching them, she carts her off home in a bad temper, and accuses Joanne of spying on her.

On the way home, a police siren makes Eve’s strange behaviour act up again, and this time it is a real performance: Eve screams “Aagh, no!”, and then she runs off. When Joanne finds Eve, she is trying to hide. When Joanne asks her who she is hiding from, Eve snaps at her. She says Joanne knows that and she wouldn’t be surprised if Joanne had sent them after her. Eve’s outbursts prompt Joanne to attempt to walk, but she fails. Eve gets her back into her wheelchair and home, and again acts like she does not remember what happened.

The fact that it was a police siren has Joanne thinking that Eve is acting this way because she has done something wrong and is feeling guilty. Realising it must have something to do with Candy, Joanne phones Candy for an explanation. But Candy acts just as strangely. She says to stop pestering. More tellingly, she says: “Just because she feels guilty, that’s no reason why I should…even if I was with her that night.” When Joanne asks what Candy is talking about, Candy tells her that she jolly well knows and “Eve’s just being stupid about it”. She then hangs up, saying she isn’t saying anymore and wants to be left alone.

Eve realises Joanne was phoning Candy and accuses her of spying again. When Joanne says phoning Candy is not a crime, Eve’s odd behaviour acts up again at the word “crime”. She starts rambling about where she can go, where she can hide, and she must get away… Joanne realises that Eve seems to be hearing some weird voice in her head when she has these strange bouts of behaviour.

Next morning, Eve runs away. Joanne finds a note saying: “I don’t want your hatred as I couldn’t face that and I just can’t forget that night. It haunts me more and more so I’ve got to leave home for a while. Tell Mum not to worry.”

Joanne has not been telling her mother what is going on because she did not want her to worry, and she does not tell Mum about Eve’s disappearance either. But when Candy comes around to apologise for that phone call, Joanne shows her the note. Candy says she was afraid something like this might happen. Candy takes Joanne out to look for Eve while she explains what is wrong: Eve is blaming herself for Joanne’s accident. On the night of the gymnastics display, she and Candy slipped out to the car park. They found an unlocked car and played around inside for a bit with the steering wheel. This happened to be the car that knocked Joanne down as she came out from the gymnastics display. Eve thinks their fooling around in the car did something to it that caused the brakes to fail.

Joanne says that’s ridiculous. Candy agrees, so she does not blame herself in the way Eve does, but Eve evidently can’t stop blaming herself. The reason she was so helpful after the accident was to help her forget what happened. But now her guilt is resurfacing and intensifying, particularly at any reminder of the accident, such as the music, the cat on the wall (like Joanne on the beam), and emergency sirens.

After a long search they decide to check out the scene of the accident. Sure enough, there is Eve in one of her trance-like states. A car is approaching, but Eve is not moving or listening to Joanne’s warnings about the car. Joanne realises Eve thinks the only way to pay her debt is to get herself run over too. Desperation to save Eve prompts Joanne’s legs to move and she manages to push Eve to safety. Joanne can use her legs again, and tells Eve the accident had nothing to do with her; the car just skidded on a patch of oil. Joanne is very grateful to Eve for curing her, and Eve is relieved to be free of her guilt.

Thoughts

There have been many stories in girls’ comics where the protagonist is the architect of her own misfortunes because she keeps blaming herself for an accident. Usually it’s for some ridiculous reason or something that was not entirely her fault e.g. “The Black-and-White World of Shirley Grey” (Tammy), “Tearaway Trisha” (Jinty), and to some extent, “Tricia’s Tragedy” (Jinty).

But in this case the guilt complex formula is turned right on its head because it’s being told from another person’s point of view. This gives it a whole new take that’s completely different. In this case it’s the sister, Joanne, who’s also the accident girl. In so doing, the guilt complex story is turned into a mystery story because Joanne does not know Eve is blaming herself for the accident. She can’t understand what the reason is for Eve’s strange conduct and clearly unravelling mentality. Eve’s strange conduct and the mystery of it all are also putting severe strain on the sisters’ relationship and causing a rift between them, which compounds the situation. Having Joanne telling the story herself gives the reader further insight into Joanne’s emotional and mental reactions to the situation as well as seeing things from her point of view. This heightens the drama and tension of the story.

Adding to Joanne’s distress over her oddly behaving sister is that she is pretty much on her own, and she’s further impaired by being confined to a wheelchair. Joanne just won’t tell her mother what is going on, not even when Eve runs off. If the mother had known, she would certainly have screamed at Joanne for not telling her sooner.

It is fortunate that Candy knew the reason, but it would have made things simpler if she had spoken up, especially if she was worried that Eve might do something really stupid like running away. Her rudeness to Joanne on the phone could have come from growing exasperation at Eve blaming herself for such a ridiculous reason. We can just hear her saying, “Oh, come on, Eve, what could you have possibly done to the car to make the brakes fail? For God’s sake, will you please stop going on about it? It’s ridiculous!” All the same, why she says what she says to Joanne is a bit hard to fathom. But of course the mystery has to be kept up for as long as possible.

It is odd and rather unbelievable that Eve did not know the car just skidded on some oil while Joanne knew it. It would have been more convincing for it simply to have been bad luck or something. The way in which Joanne suddenly regains the use of her legs is a bit clichéd, but the story wisely gave hints that Joanne might regain the use of her legs if some blockage could be overcome. Desperation to save a loved one would be a most effective way of shifting it, and we are not really surprised to see Joanne lose the need for her wheelchair in the end. It would also help Eve to shed her guilt, something she may not have done even if Joanna had simply told her to stop blaming herself.

 

Focke-Wulf Hi-jack [2012]

FW Hijack cover

Published: Commando #4543

Art: (story) Rezzonico; (cover) Janek Matysiak

Writer: Alan Hebden

Everyone seemed to like our last dip into Commando, so now we are having another. This Commando comes from when Commando was running credits.

Plot

Ever since 1941 the much-improved MkV Spitfire has given the RAF superiority over the skies and their confidence is running high. But then the Germans unleash their new addition to the Luftwaffe fleet: the Focke-Wulf 190 (Fw 190 for short). It is soon obvious that even the much-improved Spitfires are no match for the Fw 190, and it makes short work of them. By 1942 the Fw 190 is giving the Germans the superiority in the skies. Now it is the turn of squadron commander Major Armin von Richter to feel confident and triumphant from all the shot-down Spitfires he is chalking up with his Fw 190.

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The British have to find a way to counter the Fw 190 threat fast. But to do that they need to capture one so they can learn all about its design, strengths, and above all, its weaknesses. They barely know anything about it from the Fw 190 debris at crash sites. So they hatch a plan for a commando mission to raid an airfield in German-occupied France, hijack an Fw 190 and bring it to Britain. Even they realise it is a crazy idea, full of difficulties and has no guarantee of success, but they approve it anyway.

The pilot to fly the Fw 190 to Britain is one Tam McDermott. But first, Tam is sent to a commando camp for CO training. Tam is in for a shock when he discovers who is in charge of his CO training: Laurie Crawford. Laurie and Tam knew each other at school but never liked each other: Laurie looked down on Tam as a “swot” because he liked to read books, and pushed Tam into the school sports teams instead. Laurie was school captain, and a slave-driving fitness fanatic who showed no mercy with his team, no matter what the weather. He tolerated nothing that he regarded as shirking, especially in “Swot”. He kept driving Swot on and on until Swot was ready to collapse, and even then still keep pushing him.

Laurie still has the same old contempt for “Swot”, and he makes Tam’s commando training just as gruelling and relentless. Tam is pushed until he is ready to drop and then some. But then Tam notices the training is beginning to pay off for him and he is starting to earn respect from Laurie for the first time.

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Then Laurie makes a sarcastic comment that he thinks the pilot will have the easiest job in the mission in flying the plane to Britain. Tam is so angry that he has Laurie drive them to an airfield full of captured aircraft – at gunpoint. Actually, Laurie is really impressed with this because he now realises CO training has turned the diminutive swot he used to deride into a whole new tough and confident man. Tam realises that Laurie is right about that.

At the airfield, Tam shows Laurie just what will go into flying the Fw 190 to Britain. First, he will be flying a plane he barely knows anything about, and nobody on the Allied side has ever flown an Fw 190 before. Moreover, it is not just a matter of jumping into the cockpit and taking off. There are all the checks, fuelling, arming and so many other things that go into preparing a plane for takeoff, which they will have to allow the Germans to do for them. Plus there’s donning a flying suit, waiting for the engine to warm up, have a path cleared to taxi for takeoff, commandos to cover fire in case the Germans try to stop them…and so many other things he cuts down to bare essentials for the benefit of non-pilot Laurie. Once Laurie has a better understanding of the pilot’s point of view, he apologises to Tam. He now realises that Tam will be the one man they simply cannot afford to lose on the mission. Both men agree to forget the past and work together as friends. Laurie still calls Tam “Swot”, but now it’s a friendly nickname.

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The mission is set for late May and an airfield in Normandy is selected for the raid. It is going to be a double mission: a raid on a major radar installation as well as the airfield, and the former will also serve as a diversion for the latter. Tam also packs some indelible ink to mark the enemy plane as “friendly” and hopefully avoid another problem: being mistakenly shot down by his own side. A.A. Batteries on the coast have been ordered not to shoot at Fw 190s until further notice because of the mission, but there is the matter of fighter command.

Unfortunately, landing in occupied territory does not go smoothly because of those huge hedges the French call blocage. One of the two Allied gliders crashes into the hedge and there are several casualties. Laurie says this is why they bring twice as many men as they need (spares!). Resistance takes care of the casualties until they can be picked up. The remaining Commandos, including Laurie and Tam, set off for the airfield. The journey makes Tam realise the benefits of his CO training and why it had to be so gruelling. Tam’s training pays off further dividends when they run into a German patrol and there is a fight, though the skirmish shows Tam the full reality of combat and kill or be killed.

Further along, they see evidence that the radar mission is starting. Laurie is pleased to see it is indeed drawing the German forces from the airfield, so its security will be much reduced now. Silencers (a new invention at the time) enable them to shoot guards without raising the alarm, and help delay raising it being raised (it is a case of the later the better). They make their way to a hangar, where Tam selects Von Richter’s Fw 190 as the one to take: the Germans have it ready, and it will be the newest and best one in the squadron. They make their way in, and force the Germans to start the Fw 190 while Tam changes into a flying suit. Tam is relieved to see the controls and instruments are pretty much how the British experts have figured. The COs splash the ink on the wingtips.

But there is a delay because the engine has to warm up, which loses time for the COs. Now they have to deal with a lorry and car full of newly arrived pilots. The car gets away, so Laurie knows reinforcements will now be on the way. Von Richter happened to be in that car and, using his binoculars, realises what they are trying to do.

Laurie directs the COs to start blowing up the other planes. The plane is finally ready for Tam to take off. While he does so, he sees Laurie take a bullet in the arm. Moreover, an Fw 190 in another hangar is ready for immediate takeoff, so Von Richter is soon in hot pursuit of Tam, along with every other German fighter available. Tam manages to confuse the German fighters by waggling his wings to give the impression he is friendly. The fighters, having not been given the registration number of the stolen Fw 190, are fooled long enough for Tam to open fire on them. Tam encounters Spitfires too, and some also open fire until they recognise the friendly markings. Von Richter is still on Tam’s tail, and the gap is closing fast because Von Richter has far more experience than Tam in flying an Fw 190. Von Richter is getting close enough to open fire. To throw him off, Tam pulls a difficult manoeuvre called an Immelmann turn, which takes Von Richter completely by surprise. As Tam planned, this trick makes Von Richter to use up so much fuel that he has to turn back.

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It looks like Tam is home and dry now, with an Fw 190 for Britain. Unfortunately, although higher command told the coastal AA Batteries not to open fire on Fw 190s until the mission is concluded, they forgot to do so with the training units. So now a training unit opens fire on the Fw 190. Tam manages to eject, but the Fw 190 they worked so hard to steal for Britain is lost. Von Richter sees this, and he leaves with a parting remark to Tam that he won’t get another chance to steal an Fw 190 and their airfields will be made impregnable in future. Moreover, Tam later learns the COs were not able to retrieve Laurie and he is now MIA.

A few weeks later, Von Richter and his new Fw 190 are in another dogfight. This time he is having a hard time of it. So he pulls the trick he learned from Tam: the Immelmann turn. This turns the tables for Von Richter, but it also causes him to lose his bearings. Instead of flying south to German-occupied France, he unwittingly flies north and lands in Wales. By the time he realises his mistake, he and his Fw 190 have been captured. So the British get an Fw 190 after all. Tam is dispatched to collect the Fw 190 and bring it to the airfield for captured German planes. While doing so, he takes the opportunity to actually come face to face with Von Richter.

Laurie also returns. He had managed to elude capture despite his wound. The Resistance picked him up and made arrangements for him to be smuggled back to Britain. Laurie is delighted to hear that Tam has been assigned to the first squadron of the new Mark Nines. The Mark Nines have just been developed to match the Fw 190 after the British acquired Von Richter’s for comparison.

Thoughts

The details in this story sounded so authentic and well researched that I wondered if the story itself is based on true events. So I googled, and found this was indeed the case. The characters in the story are fictional of course, but the Fw 190 was such a threat for the RAF that they actually conceived a dangerous plan to capture one by hijacking one from German-occupied France. The operation was codenamed Operation Airthief, and it was inspired by an earlier Commando operation to steal a German radar installation (which succeeded). But on the very day Operation Airthief was to be submitted for approval, it suddenly became unnecessary and was never attempted. The reason? An Fw 190 pilot really did lose his bearings after a dogfight and landed in Wales by mistake. After the Fw 190 had been analysed and dissected, the British began to overcome the threat it posed. More information can be found here.

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Naturally, the question “What if Operation Airthief had gone ahead?” has caught popular imagination and spawned works of fiction such as Operation Airthief by Jerry Shively. Such is the case with this Commando, though it never actually uses the name “Operation Airthief”. Having it being a nearly successful operation, only to be whipped away at the last minute, is far more effective and compelling than having the operation beat the odds and being a complete success. But even though the operation itself fails, in an ironic way it does help to capture an Fw 190 in the end, so it was not a total loss.

Exciting and dangerous though the mission might be, the true power of the story comes from the incredible development of Tam McDermott, Laurie Crawford, and the relationship between them. Laurie is initially set up as the character you love to hate: a cruel slave driver and a bully as school captain, and not much nicer as captain of a CO training camp. (To be fair, CO training really was so dangerous that some people actually died on training.) But as Tam discovers, if you can earn Laurie’s respect, he’s pretty much all right. Once this is established, Laurie becomes a sympathetic character and he’s a hero, not an anti-hero.

The way in which Tam earns Laurie’s respect is absolutely priceless – pulling a gun on him to get him to listen! Tam taking Laurie on a tour of the captured enemy aircraft is an extremely clever way to incorporate essential information about what will be required for piloting the hijacked plane in a manner that informs not only Laurie but the reader as well. And it’s done in a manner that is showing, not telling with dry dialogue and text boxes. It also engages and delights the reader because it is teaching that hard case Laurie a lesson into the bargain. When the actual hijack comes, the reader is already well informed about what will be required in regard to preparing the plane for the hijack and what could go wrong, so the hijack scenes are even more intense.

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As for Tam, he would never have expected that old bullying, slave-driving school captain to be the one to teach him confidence. But once Laurie tells him that CO training has given him a whole new confidence, Tam realises Laurie is right, and for the first time in his life he feels he can move mountains. But it’s not just the CO training that’s done it – it’s also being stung by Laurie’s remark and still feeling the old resentments towards Laurie from their school days. Putting his CO training into practice gives Tam further confidence and toughens him further as he realises the benefits of the training, and then learning to confront the brutal realities of combat – something he never quite encountered as an RAF pilot although he must have shot down his share of enemy planes.

Even before the hijack, Von Richter is established as the nemesis of Tam McDermott, though the men do not know each other personally, and they do not even meet until the end of the story. For example, at the beginning of the story Von Richter leads the Fw 190 squadron against a Spitfire squadron that Tam is part of. Unlike Laurie, Von Richter is never developed as a character. He is not a cruel Nazi, but he is not portrayed as a sympathetic character either. He is a smug, arrogant enemy pilot whom we hope will get his comeuppance, which he does by becoming the disoriented Fw 190 pilot who mistakenly lands in Wales and unwittingly providing the much-needed Fw 190. Plus, it’s a really nasty twist for Von Richter that the man who comes to collect his new Fw 190 is none other than the man who stole his previous one! It’s no wonder he’s a bit upset (above) when he hears, but there is no doubt his threats of vengeance are in vain.