Category Archives: Stories

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 thinking about what people will say instead of thinking about Stella. 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.

FW Hijack 1

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.

FW Hijack 4

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.

FW Hijack 6

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.

Rita, My Robot Friend [1980-1981]

Sample Images

Rita 1Rita 2Rita 3

Published: Tammy 6 December 1980 to 28 February 1981

Episodes: 13

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Orphan Jenny James has grown up in orphanages. Her grandfather, a scientist named Professor James, is finally traced and agrees to take her in. Jenny now hopes she will never be lonely again. As it turns out, her hopes are to take a very odd turn.

The Professor is kind enough, and he is your typical absent-minded professor. But he has a big problem that shapes the course of the entire story: He does not get on with his neighbours. In the neighbours’ view, his property is an eyesore. His laboratory house looks as eccentric as he is, and it must be said that it is untidy. This is because he does not make the time to maintain it because he gets so absorbed in his work. Moreover, sometimes his experiments go wrong, which aggravates the neighbours even more. They also regard him as a mad scientist, and they scorn him and call him names like “the old fool” and “the old goat”, despite his renown in scientific circles as a genius. (Did Thomas Edison have problems like this with his neighbours, we wonder?) Snobbery may come into it too, if the family next door have anything to go by. They are so rich that when their daughter Angelina rips a seam in her blazer they buy her a new one although it is a simple matter to repair the current one.

When Angelina finds out Jenny is Professor James’ granddaughter, she turns all the girls against Jenny at her new school, for no other reason than who Jenny’s grandfather is. Unfortunately for Jenny, she is in the same class as Angelina, which makes it even easier for Angelina to keep Jenny an outcast. It looks like Jenny will be lonely again after all.

But then Jenny accidentally brings a robot her grandfather had just created to school, and it is in the form of a human girl. Jenny dubs the robot “Rita” and uses her as an ‘instant friend’. The robot can be taken apart and reassembled, so it is portable. This is very handy for Jenny. She can take Rita anywhere in a bag, assemble Rita in order to play with her, then quickly dismantle her and hide her in the bag (or somewhere that’s handy) again. Angelina (and some teachers) can’t understand how this girl seems to be able to appear and disappear so quickly. Jenny also contrives a school uniform for Rita (acquiring and mending that discarded blazer of Angelina’s) so Rita can blend in at school.

However, Angelina is determined to find out who this mystery friend is that is defying her campaign against Jenny and is constantly trying to get a close look at her. This leads to the story rollicking in misadventures and close shaves when Jenny assembles Rita to be her companion, and then she has to find quick, resourceful ways to keep ahead of Angelina and dismantle/hide Rita quickly whenever Angelina gets too close. Jenny also has to improve her own science (which is less impressive than her grandfather’s) for Rita’s maintenance and odd repair from their brushes with Angelina. Sometimes Angelina’s attempts to find out the truth about Rita backfire on her too, such as getting into trouble with teachers. But sometimes things get a bit dangerous. On one occasion Angelina is skulking behind a cabinet to look at Rita, only to send it toppling and almost causes a nasty accident. Fortunately Rita has super-strength and stops the cabinet from falling altogether.

Jenny and Rita also begin to have the odd close call with the new science teacher, Miss Watt. Jenny is worried that Miss Watt, being scientific, will realise Rita is a robot. Eventually she decides not to take Rita to school anymore because she thinks Miss Watt is getting suspicious. She does not realise Miss Watt is an old student and admirer of her grandfather and therefore a potential ally.

Jenny decides to use Rita outside school and takes her out on a weekend trip to the beach. But even there she bumps into Angelina and there are more close calls. At one point Jenny even puts Rita in a Star Wars-style film display so Rita is concealed in plain sight among other robots. Sometimes pulling the wool over Angelina’s eyes has its lighter moments.

However, Jenny does not get away with it altogether. When Angelina sees Jenny return alone but the mystery friend appears with her at the house the next day, she realises the secret of the mystery friend is in the house. And when she remembers the Professor does not bother locking his door, she realises how easy it will be to get in there.

One evening Angelina’s family hold a barbeque and invite the entire neighbourhood. Another of the Professor’s disasters has upset the neighbours again, so they are all too happy to sign a petition Angelina’s mother is now circulating to get rid of him for good. Jenny overhears everything from her bedroom window and seethes at the names that they are calling him while not understanding what a genius he is.

Later, Angelina seizes her chance to sneak into the Professor’s house to find out the truth about Jenny’s mystery friend. And this time, she succeeds. She laughs at Jenny for using a robot like a doll (and when you think about it, Angelina is right). She is all set to have everyone at school teasing Jenny rotten over it.

But outside, Angelina’s friends have discovered that the barbeque has started a fire, which sets the Professor’s house ablaze. The Professor, Jenny and Angelina are trapped in a raging inferno and their only chance is the rocket capsule he has just invented. Using Rita as a heat shield, they make their way to the Professor’s laboratory, where he has the rocket capsule. Angelina collapses from the smoke and Jenny has Rita pick her up. Unfortunately there is no room in the capsule for Rita herself. So there is a heart-wrenching scene as Jenny watches Rita’s outward human shell being burned away to expose the metal automaton underneath, before debris begins to fall on her.

The Professor’s house burns to the ground, much to the horror of the neighbours who had tried to get rid of the Professor before – and Angelina’s parents, who think she died in the fire too. Everyone is thrilled to see Professor and the girls have survived thanks to the rocket capsule. Their rescue even makes TV news, and Miss Watt is delighted to reunited with the professor she had so admired as a student.

There is a deeply moving, tearful scene when Jenny goes back to the disaster site to look for Rita. But there’s no response on the controls and Jenny realises Rita must have been destroyed. She is heartbroken and thinks she is going to be alone again. But Angelina comes up, full of remorse and apologies, and offers to be Jenny’s friend. Jenny joyfully accepts Angelina’s offer.

When Angelina’s parents hear they were responsible for the fire, they offer to pay for a new house and laboratory. But the Professor spares them of that because he can rebuild himself with the money he makes from the sale of his rocket capsule to the United States (at Miss Watt’s suggestion). The Professor can also afford to employ staff to help delegate his work and keep his property maintained, so he gets along with his neighbours better now. Jenny is not lonely anymore because she has a real friend now, in the changed Angelina.

Thoughts

“Rita, My Robot Friend” was one of my favourites when it came out. It must have been with others too; I saw a comment on the Internet somewhere that somebody hoped it would appear in a reprint.

The story uses the “secret companion” formula i.e. a secret companion who helps assuage loneliness and bullying the protagonist suffers, and sometimes helps in other ways, such as clearing a relative’s name. But unlike other secret companion stories – or robot stories for that matter – that I have encountered in girls’ comics, Rita is not interactive. She has no consciousness, artificial intelligence or speech, while many other robots in girls’ serials are capable of it e.g. “The Robot Who Cried” (Jinty). Nor does she speak a word of dialogue in the entire story although the Professor says she can talk. Perhaps the writer/editor thought the story would get too complicated if Rita was interactive, and it was complicated enough what with all things Jenny had to do to keep Rita’s secret safe from Angelina. Or perhaps they thought an interactive Rita would detract too much from Jenny and they wanted to keep the focus of the story on Jenny vs. Angelina.

The story has a definite “love thy neighbour” message. We can understand the neighbours being annoyed at the Professor’s untidy property. But ridiculing him as a kook despite his renown as a scientist shows just how little they have actually tried to be friends with him. And being related to the Professor is no excuse for how Angelina treats Jenny and turning everyone at school against her. We get a definite hint that a mean streak is involved as well when Angelina says, “It must be horrid not to have a friend! Haw, haw!” She knows Jenny is in earshot and Jenny realises it is meant to hurt her. Angelina is clearly a spoiled child too, and her parents are also intolerant of the Professor. Neither of these would help matters.

In deception stories, the ruse always unravels in the end, even if there is some justification for it. This one is no exception. There was no way Jenny could have kept up the deception indefinitely and she herself found it increasingly complicated to keep it up. Fortunately, as with so many deception stories, it unravels at the point of the story where everything can be set up for the resolution – in this case, the fire. Although it destroys the house it also resolves all the antagonism between the Professor and his neighbours that started the trouble. And there are very compelling scenes in the final episode to make it a strong one. For example, although Rita’s lack of interaction meant she could never be developed as a character, the panels showing her being destroyed in the fire because she has to be sacrificed are heart-breaking ones. As a matter of fact, these panels are so poignant that I am showing them below. The panels showing Angelina’s reconciliation with Jenny are also deeply moving and tearful ones, and are not in the least bit trite.

Rita destruction

 

No Haven for Hayley [1981]

Sample Images

Hayley 1Hayley 2Hayley 3

Published: Tammy 21 March – 23 May 1981

Episodes: 10

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

Mrs Moore’s home is known as “the Haven” because she works so much for charity. Unfortunately Mrs Moore is exhibiting symptoms of a workaholic. She is so busy and over-zealous with charity projects, and cramming her life with so many charity works that she is neglecting her own daughter, Hayley, and letting her down all the time. She takes Hayley for granted and makes her a dumping ground for tasks she has agreed to take on but has no time for because her schedule is too crowded. Worst of all, Mum never stops to listen to Hayley or help Hayley with any problems. Even if Mum does listen a bit, she just doesn’t seem to understand what Hayley is talking about and Hayley just can’t get through to her. Ironically, one of Mum’s campaigns is for “latch-key” children.

The situation gets worse when Mum decides to foster problem children – on top of all her other work. Typically for Mum, she applies for fostering without consulting or even telling Hayley beforehand; she takes it for granted that Hayley will help out.

Also typically for Mum, she lumbers Hayley with the job of minding the foster children because she won’t make the time for it with all her other charity work. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the fostering itself is a nightmare for Hayley. First she is saddled with a pair of horrors who take over her room, mess up her things and constantly play tricks on her, but Mum won’t let Hayley even raise her voice to them.

But if Hayley thought those two horrors made her life hell, they are nothing on the real problem child to follow, Fenella Briars. Fenella comes from the long line of scheming foster children who take advantage of anyone who fosters them and push out the protagonist with sneaky tricks. This is what she proceeds to do with Hayley and succeeds in turning Mum and everyone at school with her tricks while taking advantage of them all and playing on their sympathy and gullibility.

Then, when Fenella tries to con hospital patients out of money during another of Mum’s charity works, a Nurse Harris catches her out. Fenella tries to put the blame on Hayley, but senses Nurse Harris has seen through her. Indeed Nurse Harris has, and tells Hayley to put Mum in touch with her so she can put her straight about Fenella. But Fenella makes a hasty exit from the Haven before they can do so, on pretext that Hayley is making her feel unwelcome there. And communications being what they are between Hayley and her mother, Mum is not put straight about Fenella and thinks Hayley’s ‘spite’ is the reason for her fostering failure. As a result, Mum loses faith in Hayley, thinks Hayley is turning selfish, and their relationship and communication problems grow even worse.

This misunderstanding has devastating consequences when Hayley organises a door-to-door collection for her school. Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. But worse, Mum never told Hayley that she had been running three door-to-door collections along the streets that Hayley is using for her collection because of her lack of faith in Hayley because of Fenella. The result? People are angry about yet another door-to-door collection so soon after the others, so the collection turns into a disaster. Hayley’s fellow collectors blame her for it and don’t listen to her protests that Mum never told her about the other collections.

When Hayley confronts her mother over the door-to-door collections, Mum explodes over her fostering disappointment and shouts at Hayley. This is too much for Hayley. She blunders out of the house in tears and gets hit by a car. During a semi-conscious state Hayley rambles her problems with Mum to Sister Harris, who then has a serious talk with Mum. Presumably she also puts Mum wise about Fenella at long last, though the serial does not record this or Mum’s reaction.

Mum tells Hayley that she has used “a whole host of good deeds” to fill the gap left in her life following the death of Hayley’s father. But she now realises she has overdone it so much that she crowded Hayley out. Hayley agrees to forgive Mum and they are reconciled.

Six months later, everything has improved for both Hayley and her mother. Mum and Hayley now co-operate as a team on charity projects, with Mum listening to Hayley and even asking her for suggestions. For Hayley, “The Haven” is at last living up to its name.

Thoughts

This is a disturbing and well-crafted exploration of the damage that poor listening and breakdowns in communication can inflict on a relationship. It also proves that effective communication is essential not only for the people in the relationship, but also for the people surrounding them. As the communications between mother and daughter break down, it is not just Hayley who suffers. The bad communications also have an effect at Hayley’s school and, ironically, they undermine Mum’s charity work as well. Perhaps the greatest irony is when Hayley wants to organise her own door-to-door collection, but Mum, as usual, is too busy to listen or help. If Mum had just spared a few moments to listen, all that would have been avoided and she would have taken great pride in seeing Hayley run her own charity collection.

The serial makes deft and almost cruel use of irony to reinforce its points; for example, Mum remonstrating Hayley for being “selfish” on that fateful night, while she herself is selfish in thinking only of her work. It shows there is more than one kind of selfishness, and parents can take their children for granted, too.

The introduction of the foster children, and also a gang of yobs who attack Hayley, add the villainy that intensifies Hayley’s already-existing problems with Mum to the breaking point in the climax. Fenella’s ‘cuckoo-in-the-nest’ scheming has been used countless times in girls’ comics, especially in DCT titles. On this occasion it is used as a plot element rather than driving the plot itself, which makes it a bit different. But even without Fenella’s scheming, Mum’s fostering plans were clearly doomed from the start because she was just too busy, lacked the cohesion with Hayley to work effectively with a problem child for the reasons stated above, and it is obvious she never even thought the idea through properly in the first place.

The reason Mum made herself way too busy with charity work – to compensate for the death of her husband – is credible and rooted in realism. We can even imagine that Mum became addicted to charity work. But she became so consumed with charity work that she lost sight of other things in life, especially Hayley. Girls’ comics have frequently warned about not taking things to extremes (e.g. Jinty’s “Worlds Apart”) and do things in moderation. Apparently, even good things like charity work or generosity should be done in moderation as well, because taking them too far could do more harm than the good they are meant to do. DCT made similar points with stories like “Hard Times for Helen” and “Minnie the Meanie”, both from Judy.

The resolution of the story – Hayley getting hit by a car, rambling her problems to a person in authority who then has a word with Mum – is hardly new in girls’ comics. For example, “Hard Times for Helen” used a similar resolution. But what makes the plotting better in this case is that the accident occurs at the end of the penultimate episode. This enables the whole of the final episode to be used for the resolution of the story instead of a few panels crammed onto the last page, so there is more scope for development of the resolution. We are even shown panels of just how things have changed for Hayley after she was discharged from hospital, not just Mum apologising and promising things are going to be different, as Helen’s mother does at the end of “Hard Times for Helen”. The only shortcoming is that we are not shown Mum’s reaction when Nurse Harris tells her the truth about Fenella and that she had been wrongly blaming Hayley. Considering that the misunderstanding over Fenella is what caused the accident in the first place, not showing how the misunderstanding is resolved is glaring. Perhaps they felt they didn’t have the room to cover it, but couldn’t they have tried to squeeze in an extra line or two to do so? It would have made the ending more satisfying for the readers.

 

Entry Forbidden! [1981]

Entry Forbidden cover

Published: Commando War Stories in Pictures #1493

Artist: (updated to add) Gordon Livingstone

Writer: Unknown

Here’s another of our dips into something different. I have some Commandos in my collection, and “Entry Forbidden!” is one of my particular favourites.

Plot

In 1944, two sons on both sides of World War II say goodbye to their parents and go to war: Arnold “Scruffy” Scroggs of England says goodbye to his mother as he goes off to join the Downshires and Max Rudel of Germany says goodbye to his father Erich as he goes off to join the S.S. The two sets of parents and sons are polar opposites of each other.

Entry Forbidden 1

Max Rudel and his Nazi scientist father Erich Rudel are both evil and fanatical Nazis. Personality-wise, Max has everything it takes to go far in the S.S., which he is soon doing although his version of iron discipline does not make him popular with his men. Max’s only real shortcoming, which earns him the nickname “Old Sniffy”, is a perpetual running cold that never goes away.

Max’s cold is the legacy of germ warfare that Erich Rudel is having one Gustav Dietrich develop against the Allies. Gustav, being a more principled man than the Rudels, is troubled by the ethical and destructive implications of the virus he is being pressured to develop against the Allies. Gustav’s conscience grows worse when a series of leaks occur and the virus gets loose. Among those who fall foul to the virus is Max Rudel. Max survives, but his immune system is compromised so badly that he is left with that permanent cold he can never shrug off. When another leak occurs, which kills people, it is the last straw for Gustav. He disappears from the lab and goes into hiding in shabby flats in the back streets of Berlin. Erich Rudel is furious at this because the project is stalled without Gustav.

Another reason for aggravation between the Rudels and the Dietrichs is that Max and Gustav’s son Oskar have been enemies since they were children because Oskar stood up to Max when he bullied smaller boys in the playground (figures). Oskar now serves in the Wehrmacht. He is an honourable soldier and disapproves of the way the S.S. is infecting the Wehrmacht with their S.S. ways. When Oskar is put in charge of his own unit later in the story he does his best to counter that influence as much as possible and ensure his men behave honourably. Unlike Max Rudel, Oskar is popular with his squad.

Entry Forbidden 2

Back to Arthur Scroggs now. Personality-wise, Arthur Scroggs is everything Max Rudel is not: kind, helpful, good-humoured and considerate. He is also a bit clownish and has an amiability that helps him cope with the grind of basic training and heckling discipline. The influence of Arnold’s mother on him is so profound it will resonate throughout the story. For example, Scroggs gets on the nerves of everyone in the barracks with the pearls of wisdom his mother gives him in her letters, and they are just about strangling him.

When it comes to basic training, Scroggs is a regular Gomer Pyle. The heart and enthusiasm are there, but wearing a uniform unsettles Scroggs and he cannot seem to get the hang of basic training, which he constantly makes a mess of. This drives Sergeant “Corky” Carew to constant distraction. All the same, Corky is determined to make a soldier out of the ungainly Scroggs “even if it kills him” – “or me” he adds inwardly. Yep, Corky is definitely the Sergeant Carter of the piece.

Somehow, Scroggs makes it through basic training. Under Corky’s command, Scroggs and his regiment start fighting on the Continent in the wake of D-Day. He still has problems with his awkwardness, such as keeping his helmet straight. The story has said that Arnold Scroggs will be more than a match for Max Rudel, but there seems to be no sign of that yet.

Entry Forbidden 3

Then Corky finally succeeds in making a soldier out of Scroggs, though not quite in the way he imagined. Corky’s nerves and mental capabilities begin to deteriorate from war-weariness as they fight pockets of German resistance. Corky finally goes to pieces during one such attack at a critical moment when his regiment need him to get them out of the tight spot they are in. Seeing this, the gawky Scroggs suddenly becomes a courageous soldier with a calculating mind. Scroggs assumes command himself while pretending to the others it is Corky’s plan. He decides grenades are the answer, but there are not enough. So he throws potatoes, which the Germans mistake for grenades. As planned, this scares them out into the open for the Downshires to mop up.

Fortunately Corky returns to his old self. He is impressed with Scroggs’s cleverness and is relieved to see Scroggs is not telling tales on him. From then on he respects Scroggs – though of course he does not show it, and Scroggs is still a bit of a klutz in any case. Corky remains the same old barking sergeant towards Scroggs, which Scroggs is glad to see again.

Meanwhile, Oskar Dietrich comes home with a war wound. He knows through coded messages what his father has done and where he is hiding. But Max Rudel spots Oskar and puts a tail on him. Despite Oskar’s best efforts to shake off the tail, the tail succeeds in following him all the way to Gustav’s hideout. After Oskar leaves, Max arrests Gustav. The germ warfare research has been relocated to an old house miles from Berlin because of Allied bombing. Gustav flatly refuses to resume work on the virus, so he is kept in a cell there.

Oskar recovers and resumes fighting, now as a sergeant in charge of his very own squad in a strikeback at the Allied advance. (As will be seen, Oskar’s new command means he is having even more clashes with the S.S. and their evil influence over the Wehrmacht.) They are going up against the Downshires, and the strikeback is proving too strong for the Downshires. Corky and Scroggs become separated from their unit and run out of ammunition. This leaves them no choice but to surrender – to none other than Oskar Dietrich.

Then S.S. Major Helmut Meyer (whose unit is nicknamed “The Vultures” by Oskar’s squad) arrives on the scene. He and Oskar have clashed before, and they do so again over the POWs. Oskar wants them dealt with according the rules of war and it’s his battle zone after all. But Meyer has orders from the S.S. to have them shot, and furious at Oskar’s stance, draws on him. A struggle ensues, which ends with Meyer’s gun going off and he is shot dead. Oskar is in big trouble over this, for Meyer was a big man in the S.S.

Entry Forbidden 5

Scroggs and Corky take advantage of the Germans being distracted by Meyer’s death to break free and make a run for it. The Germans put up little pursuit; the two units are on the verge of fighting each other. Wishing to avoid a bloodbath, Oskar orders his men to stand down, and goes into custody of the S.S. Ostensibly, this is to clear the matter up, but in reality Oskar and his squad know there is little hope for him.

Oskar soon finds that things have gone from bad to worse for him once Max Rudel learns what happened from the dispatches. He orders Oskar to be brought to the new laboratory and use him as a hostage to blackmail Gustav into resuming the research. Gustav agrees to give in for Oskar’s sake, but secretly he decides to find a way to destroy his work if he does make the breakthrough. For this, Gustav is about to find he has help.

Meanwhile, a burst tyre gives Oskar the opportunity to make a run for it. The S.S. men are soon hot in pursuit and are on the verge of recapturing Oskar by putting a bullet in his leg. However, Corky and Scroggs, who have been trying unsuccessfully to find their lines, chance upon the spot. Realising what is going on, they knock the S.S. men out and save Oskar.

Oskar can speak English. He explains to Corky and Scroggs about his father and the virus development and asks for their help. Of course they agree to it. They set out for the house, which Oskar’s guards had informed him about.

At the house, Gustav finds a friend in Johann the butler. Johann informs Gustav about Oskar’s escape, which he overheard from the guards. Johann hates the S.S. (his nephew got shot by Max Rudel) and the way the S.S. have commandeered the house. He shows Gustav a secret passage down to a cellar, which is full of crates containing dynamite that he secretly transferred from an old quarry after the hated S.S. took over the house. The idea is, of course, to blow them and the entire house sky high.

Oskar and the Allied soldiers arrive and work their way in by taking out the guards one by one. Max Rudel, who has also arrived, recognises Oskar’s voice and conceals himself in a cupboard to cut them down, which he almost does with Oskar. Fortunately for Oskar, violent sneezing from that persistent cold alerts Scroggs to Max’s hiding place. He now fulfils the story’s promise that he will be more than a match for Max Rudel by riddling the cupboard with gunfire. Max Rudel dies before he even hits the floor.

When Oskar and the Allied soldiers find Gustav, he explains about the dynamite and Johann has rigged it to go off in a few minutes. He declines to go with them, saying he has a score to settle with Erich Rudel, who is due any moment. Oskar realises his father has chosen to die with his work and he says his last goodbye.

Then Oskar and the Allied soldiers find a squad of newly arrived S.S. soldiers have cut off their escape. Scroggs scares them off with his ‘potato bluff’. He throws a bottle at them that he has led them to believe contains the deadly virus (in fact, it is a bottle of his mother’s cough remedy). Once the house is clear of the S.S. soldiers, Oskar and the Allied soldiers are free to escape the house and take refuge in the woods, and the soldiers are too preoccupied to pursue them.

Entry Forbidden 6

Erich Rudel arrives, knowing nothing about what is going on or his son’s death. He is concerned by the house looking deserted and no guards seem to be around. This puts him in a particularly nasty mood when he finds Gustav appears to be about to desert as well. So he pulls a gun on Gustav and threatens to shoot him. Gustav tells Erich he is too late – they and the project are all about to come to an end. Misunderstanding this, Erich shoots Gustav, saying he will continue the work himself. With his dying breath, Gustav tells Erich: “I think not. You haven’t the time now.” Again misunderstanding Gustav, Erich laughs crazily, and he gloats over Gustav’s dead body that he is going to go on with the project until he brings victory and glory to the Reich…

But then the dynamite goes off. It blows up the house, Erich, Gustav’s work, and also Johann, who chose to die with the house as well. From the woods, Oskar and the Allied soldiers watch the devastation. Oskar throws in his lot with the Allied cause because of his trouble with the S.S., and heads off with Corky and Scroggs to find the Allied lines.

Thoughts

Commando was very strong on pointing out that not all Germans who fought in World War II were evil, cruel and brutal Nazis, nor did they all support Hitler. Many soldiers who fought in the German armies, navy and airforce fought for their country rather than for Hitler. The Wehrmacht and the S.S. were at constant odds because the former did not approve of the brutality of the latter, and Commando often used this to create sympathetic soldiers who fought on the side of the Germans. But of course it never showed any sympathetic officers in the Gestapo and S.S. Commando made that distinction very clear, and arguably none more so than the characters of Sergeant Oskar Dietrich and S.S. Max Rudel, who are the epitomes of it in human form.

The story makes a further point that not all German civilians supported Hitler or Nazism either. There were good Germans who did not approve of Nazism and its cruelties, and many of them went against it, such as the resistance group “The White Rose”. We see this portrayed in the characters of Gustav Dietrich and Johann the butler, whose courage is so immense they are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to destroy the germ warfare. Like the Allied soldier Arnold Scroggs, the good Germans are the opposites of the Rudel men and the other S.S. Nazis.

Cruel and rabid Nazis are all the villains are shown to be; it is the heroes of the story who are given the character development, and for this we are shown their progress on both sides of the war. Arnold Scroggs starts off as a humorous, good-natured character, which gives us light relief from the grimness of Gustav’s situation and the rise and cruelties of Max Rudel in the S.S. But the story tells us that Scroggs is destined for far more than a Gomer Pyle/Seargeant Carter career in the army. He is going to be the ultimate match for Max Rudel, so we all read on eagerly to see how that happens.

Entry Forbidden 7

Scroggs’s leap from gawkiness to a courageous and clever soldier is convincingly done, and it has a dash of humour (bluffing German soldiers with potatoes), which blends in with Scroggs’ genial character. We are shown that Scroggs has not changed completely and is still a bit clumsy, but he is finding his feet now in the army (when he doesn’t get them tangled on the march).

The story does not shy away from showing the horrors and PTSD effects of war either, as we see when war-weariness causes the heckling Sergeant Corky to have a breakdown and lose his grip in battle. It gives a more human dimension to Corky, and makes us all the more grateful to have the old Corky back. Afterwards, Corky is still given the odd touches to show he is a human being, such as a reference to his mother.

The artwork has a loose, angular style, which really brings out the gawkiness of Arnold Scroggs. Even in the more serious panels there are dashes of humour. One example is a panel (above) of the S.S. soldiers who corner our heroes at the house. The panel showing their reactions to Scroggs’ threat to throw the virus at them does raise a chuckle. The frightened expressions on the guards’ faces have a kind of goofy look, and the S.S. officer almost looks like he’s got buck teeth. It would be really great to know who the artist is (updated to add: we have been informed it is Gordon Livingstone). Commando would print credits in the latter part of its run, but this issue is not part of it.

A Leap Through Time… [1978]

A Leap Through Time

Click thru

Published: Misty 26 August 1978 – 7 October 1978

Episodes: 7 (part 1 almost the length of a double episode spread)

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Elena Hare is on a school trip in Crete. The school party is not far from an old amphitheatre. As usual, Laura picks on Elena, calling her “rabbit”, a cruel twist on her surname, because Elena is no good at sport, has no confidence, and keeps herself buried in books.

Elena takes refuge in the old amphitheatre and begins to daydream. She then has a vision of herself in the amphitheatre in the days of ancient Crete. She is performing a sort of bull-baiting dance with a live bull (as explained in the text that describes life in ancient Crete) and wearing a crystal bull pendant. Elena’s final challenge is the bull leap, which means taking the bull by the horns in order to perform a somersault straight over the bull’s back. The leap is demonstrated in the story’s most striking panel below:

bull-leap

The crowd cheers her victory and someone throws her the crystal bull pendant, saying “wear it for me!”

The girls catch up and Elena tells them what she experienced. They all ridicule it, but the crystal bull is there. Elena is seized by a sudden impulse to shut up that sneering Laura once and for all. Still clutching the crystal bull, she performs amazing somersaults that take the girls by surprise.

It is time for the school trip to leave, but Elena does not want to go. She feels like she belongs there, and she has been having odd dreams about some Cretan girls pleading with her to stay.

Back at school, Elena takes everyone by surprise. Last term she was useless at gym. But now, with her new confidence – and crystal bull pendant – there is no stopping her from going to the gym and her new gymnastics skills are stunning. In fact, Elena feels she knows every trick in the book about gymnastics now and is a cert for the inter-schools gymnastics contest. But then she has more visions of the Cretan girls. This causes her to take a fall while performing on the parallel bars and she ends up in hospital.

In hospital, the doctors are puzzled as to why they can’t wrench the pendant away from Elena, who is in a coma. Elena’s visions grow even more terrifying. In them, she has taken a fall while showing the Cretan girls the bull leap. But she must recover in time to teach it to them, or they will all die on the day of the sacrifice. Crete is being plagued by quakes. The King of Crete thinks the quakes are due to the bull god being displeased and must be placated with sacrifice. So the girls (Iris, Hebe, Melina, Eyria and, of course, Elena) have been selected for sacrifice to the bull god.

The girls don’t understand Elena’s protests that she is a girl from England who doesn’t understand what the hell is going on; they tell her she is the most famous bull-dancer in Crete and will teach them how to face the bull. Elena soon finds there is no escape because the girls are too well guarded.

Elena finally understands she is on some sort of time trip to ancient Crete. The pendant was bequeathed to her from another Elena, an ancestress who wore the pendant before her and successfully leapt the bull. Elena decides she must help the girls.

Upon entering the hall of the bull, Elena realises the bull is a fake. It is just a man-operated wooden machine disguised as a bull, and it has been provided for practice. Treating it like the school gym vault, Elena begins to train the girls, but they don’t have much success with the vaulting. They too are lacking confidence. Moreover, they are being fattened up for sacrifice, which does not make them fit for athletics or somersaulting over bulls. Elena imposes serious training, with intense exercise, eating only wholesome foods, and says that she used to lack confidence as well. If she can overcome that, they can too!

A real bull is brought in, and Elena takes the girls down to practise on him. She is warned the bull is extra-dangerous because of an injury. But the warning comes too late – she’s already in the pit with him, and he’s coming too fast for her to do the bull leap! However, the other girls find their courage and distract the bull enough for Elena to get out.

Following this, the girls bond together as a team and overcome their fears. The bull handler planned it that way and continues to help them by bringing in another bull for them to practise with. Elena makes progress with the bull leap and coming up with strategies to defeat the bull on the day of the sacrifice.

However, the continuing quakes have the people so terrified that the King advances the date of the sacrifice. It will now be the following day, which cuts the time the girls needed to be properly prepared, and the four trainees have not learned the bull leap.

Elena manages to orchestrate a breakout through old sewers. But they get recaptured when they reach the harbour in search of a boat. Moreover, the harbour is high and dry because the water has receded drastically. The Cretans believe it is a sign that that the bull god is angry because the sacrifice girls tried to escape. But Elena recalls from geography lessons that the sea receding in this manner means a major earthquake is coming within 24 hours (uh, shouldn’t it mean that a tsunami is coming?).

But not even the girls listen to Elena’s warnings about this. They too believe the bull god will be appeased and the quakes stop once they are sacrificed, while Elena knows that no amount of sacrificial blood will stop what is coming. Even the birds are taking fright from the impending quake and fleeing.

In the arena, Elena faces the bull alone because the others are too frightened. Elena realises the bull is too big for the bull leap, so things look even more hopeless. Then fate steps in – a small earthquake strikes and opens a deep rift in the ground that cuts the bull off from Elena and makes it run away in terror.

The King takes this as a sign that the bull god does not want the girls to be sacrificed after all, and he orders them to be set free. But a few minutes later the huge earthquake strikes, killing everyone in the arena. Elena does not look much better off.

Elena now wakes up in hospital. She has been in her strange coma for 15 days. She finds her crystal bull is now smashed and is worried she will lose her newly discovered skills for gymnastics. But when she gets back to school she is relieved to find she still has them.

In another time and place, Iris, Hebe, Melina and Eyria watch Elena perform her gymnastics with the aid of a mystic. They are glad to see Elena so happy in her own world and thank the mystic for it.

Thoughts

This story certainly gets off to an unconventional start. Before we even start reading the first episode we are actually given a page of historical background on ancient Crete and the bull leap to give us some context and help us understand the story better. Seldom have girls’ comics had such foresight. The first episode itself is even longer than Misty’s usual four-page spreads.

At first it looks like the story will go off in the direction of a timid no-hoper girl who gains confidence and talent when she is given a magical object. The formula has been used over and over in girls’ comics, and is sometimes given an edge when the magic object turns out to have a dark side or causes awkward problems. But instead of having Elena and her crystal bull continuing to wow everyone at school while arousing jealousy in rivals, which is the more usual convention, the pendant takes Elena off on an abrupt time travel journey to ancient Crete to save four girls from death. It certainly is quite a departure from convention.

Elena, who is barely out of her own shell and only just acquired a talent for gymnastics, must now impart her new skills to these four girls who are pretty much like herself not long ago – lacking confidence and think themselves hopeless at such acrobatics. It’s a race against time against the date for the sacrifice, it’s a matter of saving the lives of four girls, and then it looks like a futile cause once Elena realises there is going to be a huge earthquake anyway, regardless of what happens in the arena. But Elena takes everything firmly in hand, even when it looks like it’s all pointless because of the impending earthquake. Surely no serial has made a more sterling message about having confidence in yourself and keeping the faith than this one.

The mechanics of the time travel and the crystal bull pendant are not really explained, which is not really surprising. At first it looks like Elena might be reliving some sort of past life or becoming possessed by the spirit of the other Elena. But at the end it is revealed that the four girls and a mystic are watching her from another time and place. So could the mystic have somehow engineered the whole thing? We are not told, and it probably best left to the imagination because it would give you a headache trying to figure it out.

Feito’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing off the story, such as those huge sweeping panels of the amphitheatre, the bull leap acrobatics, and the bulls themselves. Drawing animals was always one of Feito’s greatest strengths. The story also shows that Feito’s artwork lends itself well to period stories that use settings of ancient civilisations. Another Misty story, “When the Rain Falls…”, which uses a Roman setting, also demonstrates this. Though John Armstrong remains unmatched for drawing gymnastics, the Grecian-style panel demonstrating the mechanics of the bull leap is one of Feito’s best ever.

 

 

A Spell of Trouble [1980]

Sample Images

A Spell of Trouble 1A Spell of Trouble 2A Spell of Trouble 3

Published: Jinty 5 July 1980 – 30 September 1980

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Writer: Unknown

Episodes: 12

Translations/reprints: translated into Dutch as Anne Tanne Toverheks [Anne Tanne Sorceress] in Tina 1984-85

Plot

For centuries, the Black family have been the richest and most successful family in Witcham. Nobody realises that this is due to their being a family of witches, and that is because they take great care to guard their secret.

Carrie, the youngest Black, urges her mother for a lesson on how to look into the future. But they get a shock when they do, because the sight that greets them is of a homely, stupid-looking girl. Even the two witches are revolted at how ugly she looks. Her name is Angela White and she is an orphan that Matron is desperate to get rid of because she’s a bungling, walking disaster area who can’t do anything right. Her stupidity and well-meaning ‘help’ in combination with her klutziness make her even more of a menace than “The Jinx from St Jonah’s”, who at least had a brain and could do some things right. Now Matron has finally traced Angela’s relatives, so it looks like she will be rid of Angela at last.

Consultation with Uncle Bertrand the family ghost confirms the worst: Angela is descended from the Whites, the ‘black sheep in reverse’ of the Black family, and she is on her way here to live with them. The Blacks grow even more repulsed at that thought when Uncle Bertrand foretells, “the Blacks shall fall by the hand of a White!”

But it’s too late for any spells to stop Angela, because she is already outside with Matron. Matron ‘persuades’ them to take Angela in by dropping hints of unpleasant PR for them in the neighbourhood by not doing so. So the Blacks take Angela in while concealing their dislike of her and being witches. After all, says Mrs Black, Angela is family, and instructs Carrie to be nice and use no magic on Angela.

Carrie pretends to be friendly but is finding Angela blithely aggravating. For example, Carrie’s cat Jasper gives Angela a wide berth after the klutzy girl accidentally steps on his tail. Uncle Bertrand walks out on the Blacks and refuses to return while Angela stays after she cleaned up his nice, dusty, cobwebby attic – and also ruined the broomstick that was the Blacks’ family heirloom. Carrie tries to scare Angela with her pet spiders, but the joke is on her when Angela compassionately sets them free in the garden. We have a sneaking sympathy towards Carrie when Angela tries to have her watch “Marmaduke Mouse” (bleech!) because she thinks Carrie’s pop programme is unhealthy; Carrie snaps and turns Angela into a mouse. But she didn’t bargain on Jasper trying to eat Angela while she is a mouse and the spell has to be removed – fast!

The Blacks try a spell to foist Angela off onto another couple. But it fails because soppy Angela thinks the Blacks will be heartbroken if she leaves.

A further complication then comes up: the witches’ coven has a rule that a non-witch cannot live with a witch family. So when the Witch Inspector finds out about Angela, she says that either Angela has to become a witch or the Blacks will have their powers removed.

Now Angela knows the truth about her relatives, and once she hears what the Witch Inspector wants her to become, she is repulsed: “I’m not a horrid witch like you and I never shall be either!” she tells Carrie. She won’t have a bar of becoming a witch. Carrie tries to find ways to make Angela change her mind, including an evil Egyptian ring to corrupt her personality and make her amendable to becoming a witch, but nothing works. The failures are due to Angela’s bungling as much as her resolve, and sometimes spells exploding in Carrie’s face as well, including the evil ring. The Blacks manage to stall the Witch Inspector with a spell to make Angela and Carrie switch bodies so Carrie, in Angela’s body, will impress the Witch Inspector with Angela’s ‘progress’.

But of course the witches eventually find out Angela has not become a witch and strip the Blacks of their powers, which fulfils Uncle Bertrand’s prophecy. No magic is very hard on the Blacks because they’ve never got by any other way and they depended on magic to be successful and rich. Mum can’t use magic to pay the bills, so she has to take a job, which she isn’t strong enough for. Carrie’s self-esteem plummets and her schoolwork deteriorates because she can’t do it magically (all right, perhaps cheat through it magically would be a fairer description).

Seeing this, soft-hearted Angela decides to become a witch after all so the witches will return the Blacks’ powers. Unfortunately she does this without consulting her Black relatives beforehand or getting their advice. They only find out once they find Angela’s note explaining what she’s done and has now gone off to the witches’ coven to show it – and also find themselves attacked by brooms that dopey Angela bewitched to clean up the place and then forgot to un-bewitch afterwards! Mrs Black tells Carrie to get after Angela, because anything could happen now that bungling idiot is a witch.

Sure enough, Angela is bungling witchcraft, just as she bungles everything else, and she hasn’t got the brains to use her powers wisely or discreetly. Realising her train is going in the opposite direction from the coven, Angela casts a spell that makes it go backwards, which leads to confusion and chaos for the angry passengers and the hapless stationmaster. Then she asks the stationmaster where the coven is – as if he would know – which makes him suspicious, and the witches’ secret is in danger.

The witches have seen it all in their crystal ball. They now realise Angela should not be a witch because she is too much of a bungler to do it right. So they agree to return the Blacks’ powers, but on strict condition that Angela is depowered and never allowed to become a witch again.

Now that the non-witch rule is no longer a problem, the road is clear for non-witch Angela to get along with her witchy Black relatives.

Thoughts

The Jinx from St Jonah’s meets Bewitched. Well, it sure has all the ingredients for a sitcom, having a family of witches meet their match in a bungling oaf of a relative who always goofs up, sometimes without even realising it. There are always loads of laughs for the reader in every episode, no matter whether it’s the Blacks or the White who get the upper hand. But it is always the non-magic bungling White who wins in the end, much to readers’ delight.

Trini Tinturé’s artwork is the perfect choice in bringing out both the witchiness of Carrie Black and the goofiness of Angela White, often in the same panels. Not to mention all the hijinks that ensue from Angela’s bungling and the sometimes-bungling magic as well. Tinturé was a very popular Jinty artist, and having her draw this story would have really added to its popularity. Indeed, “A Spell of Trouble” was one of my personal favourites when it first came out.

The Blacks themselves add to the humour too, most often when some things, including their own spells, go a bit wrong for them. They are not all that nice and can be mean, but they can’t really be described as evil or villains although they are witches. Anti-heroes, er, anti-heroines would be the best description. They’ve got their human touches and can come across as sympathetic, such as Carrie enjoying pop music programmes, and thinking the boarding school Angela tries to enrol at in one episode “belongs in a museum”.

When the pressure to make Angela a witch begins, the story becomes a battle of the wills, albeit still in a hilarious way. Angela may be a bungling idiot, but we have to give her full marks for resolve when she adamantly refuses to become a witch. We have to wonder where it will all end up. Perhaps Angela will end up as a toad, a transfiguration Carrie threatens her with several times. But considering Uncle Bertrand’s prophecy, we get the impression the Blacks will lose the battle. In fact, it all ends up where nobody foresaw, though the warning signs were there – that Angela is too much of a bungler to make a competent witch. The witches should have made an exception to the non-witch rule in her case, which they do in the end. It is fitting enough, and everything ends happily for both the Blacks and their White relative after all.

Minnow [1980]

Sample Images

Minnow 1

Minnow 2

Minnow 3

Published: Jinty 3 May 1980 – 30 August 1980

Episodes: 12 (skipped one issue)

Artist: Peter Wilkes

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Minna Purves’ class starts swimming lessons. For some reason Mum is totally against Minna going to the swimming class. She says it’s wrong for Minna, but won’t explain why. However, nobody is excused from swim class without a note, so Minna’s off to it anyway – behind Mum’s back.

Minna has no swimsuit, so she has to make do with an unflattering swimming costume from lost property (no wonder nobody claimed it!) that makes her a butt for teasing, especially from Sharon. They call her “tadpole”, but the swim coach, Miss Garrett, more kindly calls her a “minnow”, and so her nickname is born. Emma is Minna’s only friend in the class.

Surprisingly, Minna soon finds she is a natural in the water and Miss Garrett even thinks she will become a very good swimmer. But when the waves machine comes on, Minna has a strange panic attack that she can’t explain (hmm, could this be what Mum was on about?). Following this, it becomes obvious Miss Garrett will have to give Minna some special attention if she is to regain confidence and carry on swimming.

Mum finally tells Minna that her father was drowned at sea, which gave her a phobia about water and losing Minna to it (but is that all there is to it?). In Minna’s view, this is all the more reason to improve her swimming. The coach for the local swimming club, Mr Byrnes, comes scouting out the class for new members, and Minna wants to join. They do trial laps to get into the club, but the noise from the cheering has Minna going off into another panic attack. This time there is a flashback too, of clouds and seagulls. Minna is pulled out and despite the mishap, Mr Byrnes wants her to join. But there are two problems: first, Minna has to pay fees, and second, she needs the signature of a parent/guardian. Minna addresses the first with her savings, which is easy enough. As for the second, well, she has little choice but to forge Mum’s signature.

While looking for something to copy Mum’s signature from, Minna finds other surprises that deepen the mystery: old letters in a foreign language, and a photograph of her mother and father holding swimming trophies. Later, when Minna wonders why her mother never lets her handbag out of sight, not even indoors, she can’t resist opening it – and finds an Olympic gold swimming medal with her father’s name on it. When Minna tackles Mum about it, Mum says it’s best for Minna not to know why.

That evening Minna goes to the swim club. To her consternation, bully Sharon is there too, but at least Emma is there also. When trying to dive off the diving board, the faces in the water and their voices yelling for Minna to jump set off another panic and she runs off, screaming that she has got to get away or she will drown like her father. As Minna runs off she unwittingly knocks Sharon into the pool, which makes Sharon hate her even more. Minna is encouraged to return to the water later, when there are no voices or faces, and her love of water returns.

Miss Garrett gives Minna a better swimsuit so Sharon will stop teasing her over the old one. But Miss Garrett also wants to question Mum about the strange panic attacks, not realising Minna is swimming behind her mother’s back. Minna does some quick thinking and says Mum is not in – which turns out to be true, as she’s late home from work.

At the next swim session, Sharon has the girls all teasing Minna by splashing water at her – which triggers off another panic attack. Sharon is stricken with remorse when she sees she nearly caused Minna to drown and she has to be pulled out. From then on she gives Minna no more trouble. Minna remembers more from the strange flashback: this time she saw mist over the water. But it all fades again. Miss Garrett says she seems to remember a bit more each time, and Minna finally tells her not to approach Mum about the matter because of the upset it could cause.

Newspaper reporters come in to do a feature on the swim club – and they would take a photo of Minna jumping off the diving board, which makes the front page the next day! Minna tries to hide it from Mum, but of course she finds out eventually. After the initial shock and anger, Mum agrees to let Minna continue with swimming, but she says something odd: “I think the damage may already be done…” Now what can she mean by that? Mum also says that she couldn’t save Minna’s father from drowning, but then Minna wonders how this could be if Mum and Dad were champion swimmers. She realises Mum is not telling her the full story and there is more to it. Mum also seems to be getting more overprotective in her behaviour when she suddenly starts collecting Minna from the swim club. While she does so, Mr Byrnes seems to think he knows her from somewhere.

Then two suspicious-looking men take a photo of Minna and Mum outside the club and drive off in a hurry, and they are clearly not reporters. The strange men send Mum off into a real fright. She whisks Minna off home and locks the place tight. She says it’s something she’s been dreading all of Minna’s life but still won’t explain what the hell is going on.

That night, Minna has more nightmares of the strange flashbacks, and this time she dreams she is a drowning baby with yelling voices all around her. One voice yells, “Leave me. Save the baby!” But as always, it fades.

Next day, Mum goes out to withdraw all their savings and tells Minna not to let anyone in. But the sinister men return and, with the unwitting help of a neighbour, make their way in and kidnap Minna. They tie her up and take her to a ship, which has notices written in the same language as Mum’s letters. They won’t explain what the kidnapping is about because they assume Mum has done it already (which she hasn’t). And then the ship starts sailing.

However, Minna manages to break out when a man brings her food (stupid idiot left the door open while untying Minna’s hands!) and she dives off the ship. (You will find it all on the Peter Wilkes page in the panel gallery.) The swim back to shore in the cold water tests all her new swimming skills to the limit, but she makes it – just.

Minna arrives home, where Mum and Mr Byrnes are so relieved to see her. Mum says the men were using Minna as blackmail to force her to return home, which is an Iron Curtain Eastern European country. Mum met Minna’s father at the Olympic Games, where he won his gold medal (and Mr Byrnes a bronze, which is how he came to know her). When Mum’s home country would not allow her to go to England with her new husband and newborn Minna, he tried to help her escape by boat. But it all went horribly wrong when fog caused the boat to founder against some rocks. Mum managed to save baby Minna from the water, but Dad was killed. Minna realises that this disaster was what she had been recalling in her flashbacks, and now she can see it in its entirety for the first time.

Mum made it to England with Minna, but has always lived in dread of her Iron Curtain home country catching up with her and dragging her back. This was the real reason why she had been so opposed to swimming, and she even gave it up entirely. She also realised her home country would try to grab Minna once they realised what a good swimmer she was, because they never give up.

Sure enough, the men come back to try again. However, the police are waiting for them this time. The police say they will arrange for Mum to remain in England. Mr Byrnes says it would be easier if she married another Englishman (hint, hint!).

A few weeks later, Mum is back in the swim with her new husband (Mr Byrnes, of course). Minna’s panic attacks have disappeared, and she is learning more and more about swimming from her Olympic champion parents.

Thoughts

This story must have been popular, because it prompted one reader to write to Jinty on how she loved the mystery and leaving everything unexplained until the last episode so readers could keep having a go at solving it. She also asked Jinty to write more mystery stories, which was a suggestion Jinty didn’t seem to take up much for the remainder of her run.

Girls always loved mystery serials. It does not take a Sherlock Holmes to guess that Minna’s strange flashbacks, Mum’s opposition to Minna learning to swim, and Dad’s death from drowning are all connected. The mystery is just how they are connected. It deepens when Minna finds evidence that both her parents were swimming champions, so what’s turned Mum off the swimming that made her a champion? It gets even more tantalising when it becomes more and more obvious that Mum is not telling the whole truth. Not even when the sinister men show up, which makes the situation cry out for her to tell Minna everything.

When the creepy men appear in the story, their introduction makes it evident that Mum is not just some problem parent who is unreasonably opposed to the swimming because she was traumatised by a tragedy associated with it, as other parents in similar stories are. It becomes even more so when Mum starts behaving that she is clearly in hiding and making preparations to run away. This not only deepens the mystery still more but also makes it even more exciting. And when Minna is kidnapped by the strange men who won’t tell her what’s going on either and have her bound for some unknown destination, it all comes to a very exciting and dramatic head.

This is the first Jinty story since “Curtain of Silence” to use the topic of the Iron Curtain. As with “Curtain of Silence”, it uses sport and kidnapping as part of the Iron Curtain oppression. Unlike “Curtain of Silence”, however, the Iron Curtain element is not revealed until the end of the story, and it’s all part of the mystery that permeates the story right up until the final episode. We don’t even know the name of the Iron Curtain country or exactly who the kidnappers are. It also raises the disturbing question of just how much people who manage to flee the Iron Curtain ever fully escaped from it. Even in a democratic country, did the shadow of the Iron Curtain continue to hang over them in one way or other?

Nothing To Sing About [1979]

Sample Images

Nothing to Sing About

Nothing to Sing About 2Nothing to Sing About 3

Published: 9 June 1979 – 25 August 1979

Episodes: 12

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: Girl Picture Story Library #15 as “I’ll Never Sing Again!”

Plot

Linette Davis dreams of being a top singer like her father Gary, who is a very famous singer. As far as Linette is concerned, things couldn’t be better. But there are warning signs of storm clouds ahead. Dad had been receiving medical advice to take it easy, which he is not heeding. Dad’s adoring fans have an unfortunate tendency to get carried away when they mob him for autographs and souvenirs, and have even torn his jacket off. When Mum and Linette watch Dad’s concert in Croxley, there’s an ominous poignancy about his singing…as if he’s doing it for the last time. Afterwards Linette hears that Dad went ahead with the concert although he was feeling poorly.

After the Croxley concert the fans mob Dad again, but he suddenly collapses. He dies in hospital, and Linette’s world is shattered. Mum says it was a heart attack, which had been coming for some time. But Linette blames the fans, saying they crushed and trampled him to death. This causes her to turn into an extremely bitter and irrational girl. She calls the fans murderers and lashes out at any fan of Dad’s that she encounters.

Moreover, Linette now can’t stand singing or music in any form, and she wants to block them out of her life. Whenever she hears Dad’s music being played (at record shops etc) she can’t stand it and wants to run away. Linette locks up Dad’s piano and throws the key away so it will never play that music again. She even goes as far as to try to stop birds singing in the garden. And she herself refuses to sing anymore; she gives up her singing lessons and burns all her singing books.

Linette refuses to listen to Mum’s urgings that Dad’s death was due to a heart attack and nothing to do with the fans, and that she shouldn’t give up on singing. As far as Linette is concerned, singing stopped the day Dad died.

Dad’s death has brought on financial difficulties too. They cannot afford to keep up their big house. Linette suggests they take in lodgers, as long as they are not singers. But singers are precisely what Mum takes in and she is helping them with their singing too. Linette can’t stand it and tries to get rid of the lodgers. But she ends up with Tom Bruce, the secretary of Dad’s fan club, and his daughter Anna.

Linette promptly starts taking her anger against the fans out on Anna and her Gary Davis fan club. Despite this, Anna tries to reach out to Linette. And Linette is forced towards Anna even further when the financial situation means Linette has to transfer to Anna’s comprehensive school.

At Anna’s fan club, Linette tries to crush it by yelling accusations about their being responsible for his death at their meeting. However, she is interrupted when a sudden fire breaks out, which nearly claims her. She won’t believe that it was one of Dad’s fans, Lucy, who saved her from the fire. And it’s too much for Linette when Mum agrees to let the fans hold their meetings at her house because they’ve lost their meeting place from the fire.

So Linette decides to run away, to a place where nobody sings and Dad’s music is not played. Silly girl; there’s no place like that, short of running away to a desert island or something. Sure enough, everywhere Linette turns she finds Dad’s songs and fans, and music. And she is forced to break her vow never to sing again after she loses her money and has to raise some at a talent show with her singing.

More problems come when Linette seeks lodgings. The landlady, Mrs Huggins, turns out to be a dodgy woman. Once Huggins realises Linette is a runaway, she starts blackmailing her into being the hotel skivvy, with no pay. And there is still no escape from Dad’s music when Linette discovers the Gary Davis impersonator that Huggins has hired for a cabaret evening. By the time the embittered Linette has finished with the impersonator, the cabaret evening is ruined and Huggins is furious because it cost her a fortune. In fact, Huggins is so furious that she is going to turn Linette in. But Linette runs off before Huggins finishes the phone call to the police.

Linette is forced to take shelter at a record shop, where she finds there is still no escape from Dad’s music because it is full of Gary Davis merchandise. The record shop owners, Mike and Sue, take her in, and Linette is a bit ashamed when she finds their disabled son loves singing and it brings the family sunshine. At first it’s extremely painful for her to work in the record shop, which sells Gary Davis merchandise, and it’s a hot seller. But to Linette’s surprise, hearing Dad’s music begins to bring comfort. Her experience in the record shop has her realise that he lives on through his songs and will never really gone altogether.

However, Linette still blames the fans for Dad’s death and refuses to go home because of the fan club. Then Linette sees her mother making a televised appeal for her to return. Appalled at how ill her mother looks, Linette returns immediately. She realises it was her conduct that has made her mother ill and is ashamed. Unfortunately she still blames the fans for Dad’s death and can’t accept their staying at her house. She lashes out at Anna over it, which causes her mother to collapse altogether.

In hospital, Mum urges Linette to sing her one of Dad’s songs. Linette can’t bring herself to sing, but does so when Tom tells her to stop being so selfish. A man from a record company overhears Linette singing and asks Linette if she would be interested in a contract, but she refuses. Singing is still off as far as she is concerned. Back home she still snubs the Bruces and the fan club, and even calls in the police when they hold a disco at her house. But the police find they have permission for it. Linette is ashamed when told they were raising money for her father’s favourite charity and begins to soften towards the Bruces a bit.

But Linette still blames the fans. Her hatred flares up again when she discovers that Mum and Tom are now engaged and she is going to have Anna for a stepsister. And when she finds Anna playing Dad’s songs on his piano (reopened with a new key) she yells that she does not want one of the fans who killed her father for a sister. When Mum asks Linette why she can’t accept that the fans did not crush Dad to death, Linette says she knows better than that. And to prove her point, she’s going to see Dad’s doctor about it – he should know.

And the doctor does. In fact, it’s the doctor who finally convinces Linette that Dad was not crushed to death by fans. It was indeed a heart attack, which was already on the way and could have struck at any time. It was just unlucky coincidence that it did so while the fans were crowding Dad.

Linette goes home ashamed and anxious to apologise – but it’s too late. The engagement’s been called off and Tom and Anna have moved out, all because of Linette’s conduct.

To put things right, Linette arranges a surprise that means resuming the singing she had tried to eschew. She then gives Mum, Tom and Anna tickets to a concert at Croxley (yes, where Dad died), where they all hear her sing. Tom and Mum get the message of the lyrics “We’ll always be together, you and I…” and resume the engagement. The records company boss is also there and repeats his offer, which Linette accepts this time. At Mum and Tom’s wedding, Linette does more singing honours and welcomes the cheering fans she used to hate so wrongly.

Thoughts

No sooner had Alison Christie finished one emotional story about a misguided, grief-stricken girl (“I’ll Make Up for Mary”) for Jinty when she started on another, “Nothing to Sing About”, which replaced Mary. The story also reunites the Alison Christie/Phil Townsend team, a combination which has been a long-standing stalwart in Jinty, especially when it comes to emotional stories such as “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”, and would continue well into the merger with Tammy e.g. “A Gran for the Gregorys” and “It’s a Dog’s Life!”. Jinty sure liked to keep Christie cranking out those emotional stories to give her readers a good cry.

Although not as classic or well-remembered as Stefa or Rainbow, Linette’s story is still a strong, solid one. It is also more psychologically complex because it combines two emotional problems to compound Linette’s grief rather than the one problem that Mary and Stefa had. And they both have to be untangled and resolved if Linette is to get past her father’s death and learn to live her life again.

The first is Linette shutting all music and singing out of her life because she finds it too painful in the wake of her father’s death. This is not unlike how Stefa tries to shut all love out of her life in the wake of her friend’s death. This alone is enough to carry Stefa’s story.

But in Linette’s case there is a second problem that carries the story even more intensely  – the hatred that has consumed her because she blames the fans for Dad’s death. Her hatred is making the grieving over Dad’s death even worse, not only for her but also for everyone around her. And to make it worse, she is quite wrong to do so, but she won’t accept that.

Irrational hatreds that stem from wrongly blaming someone/something for a loved one’s death are a common feature in Alison Christie’s Jinty stories. More often, though, it is on the part of the antagonist of the story and the protagonist suffers because of it. Examples where this has occurred include “The Four-Footed Friends” and “Cursed To Be a Coward!”. But here Christie takes a more atypical step of having the protagonist carry this hatred. And by insisting on believing it was the fans when Mum pleads it was a medical condition, Linette does not understand that she is making things even worse for herself and hurting everyone around her even more, or that she is dishonouring her father’s memory by lashing out at his fans. Nor does she realise that she is the architect of her own misfortunes, such allowing her irrationalities to have her run off and getting into all sorts of scrapes, including being blackmailed and exploited by Mrs Huggins.

It does make a change to have the voice of authority (the doctor) being the one to bring the misguided, aggrieved girl/woman to her senses instead of the more usual shock treatment, such as their conduct causing an accident or something. Readers might have expected Linette’s time on the run to provide the cure, but it doesn’t, which makes another change. Though Linette finds running off is no escape from Dad’s music, it does not sink in that his music is impossible to run from or be silenced. In fact, there would have been a swelling of popularity of Dad’s singing in the wake of his death, but Linette does not realise that either. Nor does seeing her mother ill really make Linette see reason, though she realises she is responsible for it because of the way she is behaving. Once she does see reason and the damage she has caused, she is forced to go back to the singing she had tried to erase from her life. And in so doing she learns to appreciate singing all over again, become much happier by letting go of her pain, and honour her father by following in his footsteps.