Category Archives: Stories

The Body Snatchers [1979-1980]

Sample Images

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

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

Episodes: 10

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/Reprints: The Best of Misty Monthly #4

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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The Black and White World of Shirley Grey [1981]

Sample Images

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Published: Tammy 7 February 1981 to 23 May 1981

Episodes: 16

Artist: Diane Gabbot

Writer: Jake Adams?

Translations/reprints: Tammy annual 1986

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Betta to Lose [1978]

Sample Images

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

Published: Tammy 13 May 1978 – 15 July 1978

Episodes: 10

Artist: Tony Coleman

Writer: Unknown

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Proto-Bella Barlow?

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Fairground of Fear [1976]

Sample Images

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Publication: Tammy 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Black Widow [1978]

Sample Images

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

Publication: Misty 17 June 1978 – 16 September 1978

Episodes: 14

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Writer: Unknown

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

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

Plot 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mouse [1979]

Sample Images

Mouse 1Mouse 2Mouse 3

Publication: Tammy 13 January 1979 to 3 March 1979

Episodes: 8

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

Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our Big BIG Secret (1972)

Sample Images

(from Sandie 15 April 1972)

Published: Sandie 12 February 1972 – 15 April 1972

Episodes: 10

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further thoughts

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

Blood Hostage [1993]

Blood Hostage cover

Published: Commando #2721 (1993)

Reprinted: Commando #5086 (2018)

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

Writer: Alan Hebden

Plot

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

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

Blood Hostage 1

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Hostage 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Hostage 3

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

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

Thoughts

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

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

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

Blood Hostage 4

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

The Button Box [1982-84]

Sample Images

Button Box 1Button Box 2Button Box 3Button Box 4

Tammy: 20 November 1982 – 16 June 1984

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Main Writer: Alison Christie

Sub-writers: Ian Mennell and Linda Stephenson

The button box is a Jackson family heirloom, and every single button in the box has a story behind it. When Beverley Jackson becomes confined to a wheelchair after a road accident, Gran gives her the box so Bev can use the stories to occupy her mind and cheer herself up whenever she is feeling down. Bev knows all the stories by heart (she must have a photographic memory or something) and every week she dips into the box for a story to tell. The stories have accumulated not only over the years, but the centuries as well – and they are still growing as Bev makes her own additions from her assorted holidays, friends, teachers, penpals, and even celebrities. Some new additions are being made even as an episode unfolds. In these cases the narrator is the donor, who is telling Bev the story before donating the button to the box.

The buttons come from all walks of life, social classes and cultures across the world and centuries. Therefore the buttons can be used as vehicles to explore a multitude stories that are set in a whole variety of backgrounds, cultures and eras. Since people of both sexes and all ages use buttons, readers get a multitude of different types of people starring in a Button story, including soldiers, beggars, teachers, celebrities, performers, lovers and even a boy or two. The buttons are also educational. For example, readers get snippets of information about the history of buttons and the things people used to do with them. Among them are the game of “touch buttons”, from the bygone days when kids played with everyday items, and charm-string buttons, which were popular with American ladies in the 19th century. The person to add the last button to the string and finish it was the husband-to-be.

A number of the buttons are directly linked to Bev’s family history. The Black Glass button tells the story of how her grandfather and grandmother met; the Black Op-Art button does the same for Bev’s parents. If Bev gets married, no doubt there will be yet another button to tell that tale. The very first button story, that of the Broken Pink Button, tells readers that Bev’s gran wanted a sewing kit for her sixth birthday but her mother said she is too young for it. Gran proved otherwise by sewing the pink button on her cardigan. Sure enough, she got the sewing kit for her birthday. During her birthday party the button got broken, but grandmother keeps it as a “precious memory”.

The buttons tell stories to entertain, educate, inspire or chastise, but nearly always they have a moral of some kind. For example, many buttons tell rags-to-riches stories, such as the Coin Button and Imitation Jewel Button. In these cases their owners kept the buttons to remind them of their origins and keep their feet on the ground. Pity coachman Billy Lowe of the Coachman’s Button tale didn’t do that. Lowe marries into the nobility and becomes so arrogant he turns into a monster. Then, when he is given a coachman’s button (a shopping muddle) it reminds him of his coachman origins and thereafter he wears the button inside his sleeve to keep reminding himself. Bev’s friend, Prue Holt, who has overheard the story and realised she let her own good fortune go to her head, starts doing the same.

Even when a button starts as a mere novelty item it ends up teaching the very message it exhibited as a novelty. One is the Liar Button, which is inscribed with the words, “YOU LIAR”. It is a novelty button but it was actually used to punish a girl who told lies to impress her friends. The T Button is simply a button inscribed with a letter “T”, but it became attached to a story featuring “T’s”. Tara is nicknamed “The Tomorrow Girl” because she is an habitual procrastinator. Then Tara gets a shock when she thinks she has put off one thing too many and become indirectly responsible an accident. Fortunately it turns out to be a false alarm, but Tara resolves to become “Tara the Today Girl”.

Bev is only too happy to give buttons away to people who need them. The Walnut Button which Bev gave to a newcomer named Tara is unusual because the button came into her collection with no known story to tell, but left her collection with one: “The Cracking of Tough Nut Tara”. Tara is so affected by grief that she freezes up and refuses all offers of friendship to avoid further hurt. On her birthday, when the only presents she has received are from her parents, the tough nut finally cracks, realising that she has only made herself even more miserable. Bev takes pity on Tara and gives her a special birthday card with the walnut button sewn on to make a point about what a tough nut she has been. One can just see Tara showing the walnut button to another girl who is rejecting friendship and telling its story to her.

Other buttons tell stories of inspiration, courage, and even equal rights. The motto of the Ladybird Button is “never give up”. The Dog’s Nose Button is an instruction in overcoming stage fright, which Bev uses to buck her mother up when she is nervous about giving a speech. Southpaws will cheer the story of the Daisy Button. In the 1920s, Lena Brown loves sewing but hates her school sewing lessons because the teacher keeps forcing her to sew right-handed although doing so makes her sewing suffer. The teacher is silenced when Lena wins a prize for sewing a blouse left-handed after breaking her right arm.

There are heaps of buttons that warn against judging on appearances. The Volcano Button tells us not to underestimate people who seem shy. The Rusty Raincoat Button and Snake Button warn against intolerance and not being hasty to judge people just because they seem different.

On a related theme, some button stories leave you thinking about something in a different light. The Warden’s Button reminds us that traffic wardens are human beings just like us; they just do an unpopular job. If you think Girl Guides are stuffy and uncool, the Guide Button will have you thinking again; its story relates how a lost dog was reunited with its owner thanks to guide training.

Button stories about kindness and generosity being returned manifold are one of the most popular themes in the strip. For example, the story about Austrian “Tinies” Buttons is about a selfish girl who learns to share her toys when she sees what a poor girl has for a toy – a lump of wood done up as a doll. And if you think you are not talented at anything, the story of the Imitation Jewel Button teaches you that if you are kind, you have the greatest talent of all.

The Acorn Button and Ivory Buttons teach environmental messages, and you could say the Barrel Button has a message about recycling. When a friend is about to throw an old barrel on a bonfire, deeming it useless, Bev stops her with the barrel button story to demonstrate how useful a barrel can be. In the story, a water barrel helps save the day when an American pioneering family is hit by rustlers. The barrel gives its name to the frontier town that springs up soon afterwards.

Even when the button story conveys no explicit moral, one can still be implicit. For example, Bev tells the story of the Eye Button to entertain a child, but we can hear a moral in the story: think outside the box. Nina’s dream of becoming a nurse is shattered because she does not meet the physical requirements. Nina’s parents advise her to set her mind on something else, but she cannot. Then, when Nina uses an ‘eye’ button to mend a toy, an astute neighbour spots the solution. Through her, Nina does become a nurse – at the dolls’ hospital. The Eye Button is one of the button stories on how some of the buttons got people launched on new jobs and careers.

One of the more amusing button stories is the Mattress Button, and its story of how greed (and not caring for your relatives) brought its own punishment. A grasping couple are waiting for their uncle to die so they can seize the fortune he has stashed somewhere. What they don’t know is that the money is hidden in his bedroll – which they have just thrown into a bonfire!

Not all the button stories come from Bev’s collection. She collects button stories during visits, holidays and public exhibitions. A golf club exhibits buttons that were specially made to promote equal rights for women golfers. A priceless dress decorated with pearl buttons is being auctioned and the pearl buttons carry another rags-to-riches story. The Button Church gets its name from three silver buttons given by a poor girl because they were all she had to give. The buttons become an inspiration for the vicar when the church is bombed during the war and has to be rebuilt. The three silver buttons are set in the wall of the church, reinforcing Christ’s message of giving all you have.

Since we have a disabled girl as the star of the show, it is not surprising that a number of the buttons tell stories about the disabled. One example is the Star-Shaped Button. When Emma Drake goes blind she spends a whole year brooding, calling herself a “useless cabbage,” refusing to help herself and spurning her parents’ every attempt to buck her up. Finally, Emma changes her mind when her enhanced sense of feel leads the police to the robber who burgled the house. Bev gives the star button to her friend Alison to give her confidence in starting blind school.

Perhaps the best button story of all is the Salvation Army Button, which is reproduced above. This story even prompted a letter to Tammy. The button’s appearance is dull, but Bev considers it her brightest button because the Salvation Army brightens lives, as it did for Milly Hawkins, the daughter of a Victorian beggar-woman. After being orphaned, raised in a cruel orphanage, turned out to learn her own living and finally driven to the brink of suicide, everything turns around when a retired Salvation Army officer gives Milly her jacket. Naturally, Milly joins the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army Button may have brightened lives, but there are buttons in Bev’s collection that have actually saved lives. For example, the Soldier’s Button is about a World War I soldier who is dying from his injuries. His buttons save his life: they reflect moonlight and get him spotted by friendly locals. The Horn Buttons (made from the hooves of cattle) save the life of a tearaway boy who has got himself into one scrape too many: he is dangling by his braces and could plunge to his death unless those horn buttons live up to their promise.

The only thing missing from the button collection is the supernatural. However, Alison Christie said in an interview that she intended the strip to end with Bev regaining the use of her legs while reaching for a button, implying that there was something supernatural about the buttons all along. If this ending had been used, it would most likely have been in Tammy’s final issue before her merge into Girl. However, it never happened due to Tammy’s sudden disappearance after 23 June 1984 from a strike. The last published Button Box story appeared 16 June 1984 and was a regular story. No Button Box story appears in the last published issue of Tammy.