Category Archives: Stories

Hangman’s Alley [1979]

Sample Images

Hangmans Alley 1Hangmans Alley 2Hangmans Alley 3Hangmans Alley 4

Published: Misty #86, 29 September 1979 – #90, 27 October 1979

Episodes: 5

Artist: Jesus Redondo

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Best of Misty #5

Plot

Mel and Jacey Coombs and their mother move into an apartment above an old alley. It used to be called Hangman’s Alley because condemned criminals were taken through this alleyway from the gaol on the marsh to execution on Gallows Hill. Mum tries to hide this grim past from her daughters, but it’s no use. Their arrival has stirred up the ghosts – literally. The ghost of a servant girl who was wrongly executed returns from beyond the grave when the family move in, and she is full of bitterness and hatred. She is taking out her hatred on Mel, for no other reason than Mel is a dead ringer for her. She almost attacks Mel in the bedroom, and later she lures Mel onto a bridge in a trance and tries to throw her off.

Jacey, the only one who can sense or see the ghost, discovers what the ghost is trying to do, and confronts the ghost in a bid to save Mel. The ghost informs Jacey, through a series of visions, that she was wrongly executed for stealing a pearl necklace from her mistress. The evidence against her was extremely flimsy. She was cleaning her mistress’s jewellery and another servant saw her admiring the pearl necklace while doing so. On this alone, everyone just assumed she stole the necklace when the mistress found it missing later on. She was dragged to the gallows protesting her innocence, but in vain; angry people were yelling for her execution on all sides. Jacey strikes a deal with the ghost: she will clear the ghost’s name if the ghost will leave Mel alone.

Having read up the history of Hangman’s Alley, Jacey knows where to find the old gaol. At the gaol the ghost directs her to her name, which she gouged into the wall: Melinda Walpole. At least Jacey now knows the ghost’s name. However, Jacey is caught for trespass and gets into big trouble with Mum, especially as she skipped school to go there in the first place.

Unfortunately Jacey’s investigation is making slow progress. The ghost is getting impatient and her impatience is making her increasingly dangerous. The investigation is being further impeded by distractions the family unwittingly put up. The family host a housewarming party, but Jacey sees Melinda the ghost while doing preparations and realises Mel has gone. She finds Mel collapsed in the alley and a warning from Melinda written in cherryade on the wall, which Jacey realises is a warning it could be blood next time. The message reads, “Remember the promise or next time…”

Thinking Jacey is off colour, Mum sends her to the doctor, and the wait in reception is interminable. It’s another holdup on the investigation and more strain on Melinda’s patience. But at least Jacey gets another clue while waiting, in a magazine. It is an article on an old house, and one of the photos shows Melinda’s signature etched on the wall. So now Jacey has located the house Melinda worked in. It is now facing development while others want to preserve it.

Jacey goes to the house and heads for the old servants’ quarters to find the etching. Mel follows, and Jacey tells her she’s playing grand lady to cover up what she is really doing. Hearing this, Melinda thinks she has been mucked around long enough. Her patience snaps, and she locks them in the old servants’ quarters and sets the house on fire. While fighting their way out, a wall partition gives way and Jacey finds an old box hidden in there. They make their way out safely and a huge crowd gathers. Among them is a reporter hoping for a story that will help save the house.

He gets it when Jacey opens the box. It contains the stolen necklace and a written confession from the thief (whose identity is not revealed). She had contracted smallpox from the crowd while watching Melinda being executed. She was left to die in the attic, but before she did she wrote the confession. She then put the necklace and confession in the box and hid it in the wall.

The publicity the confession creates in the press saves the house and it is converted into a museum. Jacey is given the necklace as a reward. Melinda, speaking for the very first time to Jacey, puts the necklace on Jacey herself, and says she can rest in peace now her name has been cleared.

Thoughts

Serials about servants being wrongly accused are commonplace in girls’ comics, and serials about wrongly accused servants coming back as ghosts are not unusual either. “Shivery Shirley” from Bunty and “The Sad Ghost” from June are examples of such ghosts. But this one is particularly morbid for several reasons.

First, the wrongly accused servant is actually executed instead of simply dying in miserable circumstances as her counterparts mentioned above do. And she was not merely dismissed, imprisoned or transported – she was executed.

Second, the ghost, while having a sympathetic backstory and situation, is not very sympathetic as a character. Instead of crying out for help she is extremely malevolent and the atmosphere her presence creates is described as “evil”. Her maliciousness may be the product of the bitterness over the injustice, but there is no apparent reason for why she is attacking Mel or why she is taking it all out on Mel. And she simply has no excuse for attacking Mel either, as Mel had nothing to do with the injustice. So why the hell is she doing it? At least with “The Shadow of Sherry Brown”, another malevolent ghost in Tammy, there was a psychology to her behaviour that we could understand and it made her haunting more realistic. In the case of Melinda Walpole there is none and we just don’t get it – why is she acting in that way to Mel?

Finally, the depiction of Hangman’s Alley and the executions are gruesome and atmospheric. The hatching, linework and inking of Jesus Redondo renders it all brilliantly. We hear references to criminals being taken to the “gibbet” and there “die horribly”. And the flashback of Melinda being dragged to execution gives the impression her execution was little more than a lynching.

The story is not long at five episodes. Considering Melinda’s conduct and the slowness of Jacey’s investigation, this probably is just as well, and it does make the plotting very tight. The danger of the ghost gives a sense of urgency to get things done fast but things are just moving too slowly, which makes it even more worrying for Jacey and more dramatic for us readers. However, the ending feels like it came a bit too soon, and the menace of Melinda was too short-lived.

At the end of the story it is not revealed who the thief really was when her confession is found. Was it the servant who saw Melinda admire the necklace or was it someone else? Not being told whodunit is infuriating. The ending would have been better if the identity of the thief had been revealed.

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The Shadow of Sherry Brown [1981-82]

Sample Images

Shadow of Sherry Brown 1Shadow of Sherry Brown 2Shadow of Sherry Brown 3

Published: Tammy & Jinty 28 November 1981 – 13 February 1982

Episodes: 11

Artist: Maria Barrera

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

Katy Bishop is taken in by new guardians, Mr and Mrs Brown, in agreement with her gran, who is no longer capable of minding her. Katy is not impressed to find that the Browns’ interest in her was prompted by her being a dead ringer for their daughter Sherry, who had died eighteen months before. She is upset and angry at the unfairness of being in the shadow of their daughter and being given her room and things, as if Sherry were still alive, and making them feel she is alive again too. But Katy soon finds that is the least of her problems.

The daughter Sherry may be dead, but she is far from gone. Her ghost haunts the place, appearing as a shadow. The ghost is spiteful, jealous and vicious towards Katy whenever Katy acquires something – or someone – that was once hers. There are no limits to what Sherry is capable of to protect her former possessions from Katy, even if it comes close to murder. Even Sherry’s former friends and horse get attacked by the ghost if Katy gets too close to them.

Katy hears that Sherry had an extremely severe jealousy streak when she was alive. If anyone intruded on her friendship with Joan, her best friend, she would fly into a fury, and even attack Joan. She always apologised afterward and “all was all sweetness and light again”, but her jealousy always remained her biggest failing. The source of this information (above) is questionable as the girl who tells Katy this is the only one who did not like Sherry. And Sherry did have loads of friends, including Joan. All the same, it fits the pattern of the ghost’s conduct.

As Katy can’t really leave the Browns, Sherry can’t really get rid of her, short of actually killing her or something. Katy just tries to avoid anything that was once Sherry’s. But no matter how hard she tries she always seems to bump into one of Sherry’s former possessions, and the jealous ghost attacks her yet again. Moreover, the ghost can strike from anywhere; she’s not just confined to the home. The ghost is a shadow in more ways than one. She can stick to Katy like a shadow and be ready to strike the moment Katy finds anything of hers. Katy is forced to give up on things and people once she finds out they were once Sherry’s, including Sherry’s best friend Joan and her horse Snowball – and she liked them both so much.

Of course Katy can’t really settle down with the Browns because of Sherry or be happy living there. She always has the feeling of being threatened and lives in a constant state of fear. She can’t explain what’s going on. When she tries, nobody listens. Nobody else seems to see that shadow or sense the threatening, hostile atmosphere it projects towards her. She daren’t even refer to the Browns as “Mum” and “Dad”, much to their bewilderment and disappointment. But with the Browns now her guardians, she can’t leave the house and be free of Sherry forever.

Matters come to a head when the Browns’ wedding anniversary comes up. Having learned they like collecting miniature houses, Katy sets out to buy one at a gift shop. But then the shadow appears, and smashes all the goods and wrecks the shop. Outside Joan sees what is going on – and this time she does see the shadow, and it’s the shadow that’s causing the damage.

The shop owner thinks Katy caused the damage, of course. Joan backs up Katy’s protests of innocence. As the shop owner would not believe about the shadow, Joan tries to convince her it was vibration from passing lorries. The shop owner agrees not to call the police, but bans them both from her premises, as she is not fully convinced.

Realising Joan also saw the shadow, Katy tells her everything. And yes, Joan can feel the sense of being threatened too. But why did Sherry attack the shop?

Joan explains that it was because of how Sherry died (of which it is now the anniversary). Exactly two years ago now, she bought a wedding anniversary gift for her parents from the shop, but got so excited about it when she saw Joan across the road that she forgot to watch the traffic and got hit by a lorry. With her dying breath she told Joan she was disappointed that her parents would not receive her gift, which got smashed in the accident. By rotten luck it was identical to the one Katy was about to buy, and this must have really pushed the shadow over the edge.

They realise this disappointment is why Sherry couldn’t rest in the first place. So they figure that if the parents do get the gift her ghost will be laid to rest. Fortunately Joan still has the pieces. So they repair it and give it to the parents on Sherry’s behalf. Sure enough, they soon find they no longer feel threatened or have the shadow hanging over them.

Thoughts

This was one of the new stories to be launched when the Tammy & Jinty merger started. The merger gives the impression it was still using unpublished scripts from Misty, and this serial looks like it was one of them. Neither Tammy nor Jinty would have come up with such a malicious, spiteful ghost, but it is something Misty would definitely have gone for. Besides, the story is drawn by a former Misty artist who had not been a regular in either Tammy or Jinty before.

Tammy didn’t have all that many ghost stories (perhaps it was the long-standing Storyteller providing so much spooky material), but there is no doubt that “The Shadow of Sherry Brown” is the most frightening and disturbing one that Tammy ever published. In fact, Sherry Brown is one of the most terrifying ghosts ever to appear in girls’ comics. It’s not just because the ghost’s jealousy is making her so dangerous to Katy. It’s also because she acts so viciously even to those she once liked (Joan, Snowball) if they get to close to Katy or her heart. It’s not just terrifying; it’s repugnant as well. The ghost would be even more despicable if she had attacked her parents in the same way. And what makes the haunting even more miserable for the victim is that there is no escaping it wherever she goes, short of leaving the Browns for good. No matter where Katy turns, she comes up against it one way or other.

It is fortunate for Katy that what caused the haunting in the first place has nothing to do with Sherry’s jealousy. It’s disappointment over a failure (and a pretty minor failure at that). It is something that can easily be fixed once it is explained. In fact, Sherry could have explained it to Katy herself and asked for her help in solving her problem, if only she had thought of it. After all, getting rid of Katy would not get the gift to her parents, which is what she really wants if she is to rest in peace. But it seems Sherry was just too consumed with jealousy and possessiveness to think clearly on that point, and was cutting off her nose to spite her face there.

Danger Dog [1982]

Sample Images 

Danger Dog 1Danger Dog 2Danger Dog 3

Published: Tammy & Jinty 9 January 1982 to 17 April 1982

Episodes: 15

Artist: Julio Bosch

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

It is slightly ahead in the future (from the time of writing). Beth Harris’ town has a cruel practice in regard to stray animals: rounding them up and taking them to High Fell Research Station for experimentation. Her dog Sammy falls foul of this practice when he got lost. His collar got lost as well, so he was taken for a stray and ended up at High Fell. Beth breaks into High Fell to rescue Sammy, and is confident she got him out before the scientists did anything to him.

However, Beth’s father insists Sammy be returned to High Fell in case he is carrying some sort of contamination from that place and is dangerous. Beth does not believe that, and she is not having Sammy returned to High Fell either. She ends up going on the run with Sammy on the moor, intending to come back once she’s proved Sammy’s not dangerous.

Unfortunately for Beth a huge manhunt is soon after her, with men in contamination suits and tracker dogs searching the moors, and the High Fell owner insisting on Sammy’s return. He refuses to disclose details about the experiments performed on Sammy or exactly what sort of contamination he could be carrying. Considering what a horrible-looking man he is, his reticence is very suspicious.

The manhunt is all over the press and big news in town. As the news gathers momentum, there are hints that people who disapproved of High Fell and its animal experiments are beginning to voice their outrage and express sympathy for Beth. On the moor, Beth finds some of these sympathisers helping her whenever she meets them, such as an old lady living on the moor named Old Meg.

Meanwhile, Beth increasingly begins to realise that weird things have been happening to her, and have been ever since she got Sammy back. She is having bizarre bouts of going deaf, going blind, voice going wrong, seeing in the dark, super-strength, super-healing, and the muscles in her body going completely kaput. These wear off, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity. They happen to other people she comes into contact with as well. These include the kindly Old Meg and scheming gypsies who hold Beth and Sammy prisoner, hoping to claim a reward for bringing them in.

At first Beth thinks these things are due to her getting contaminated with chemicals during her rescue mission and she is the one who is dangerous, not Sammy. But eventually she realises these weird things only happen when she is in close contact with Sammy. He is dangerous after all. Whatever was done to him causes peculiar things to happen to any human he comes into contact with. She believes the High Fell scientists must have known this and it is the real reason they want him back.

Beth, the human who stays close to Sammy the most, is feeling the worst of these effects. She soon finds they are getting both worse and weirder. So bad now in fact, that Beth discovers that distance from Sammy is no longer safe. There is no telling where they will lead, and her very life could be in danger. But she can’t bear the thought of Sammy being destroyed or returned to High Fell. She tries to drive Sammy off, but realises that is not the answer either, as he could still come into contact with humans.

After long thought Beth makes the decision to leave Sammy tied up in an old cottage and go back to town to get help from her parents. But by the time she arrives home the chemicals are having such a bad effect on her – despite her distance from Sammy – that she is confined to bed. By the time she recovers, Sammy has been in that cottage without food or water for whole three days.

They get to Sammy in time, and also discover the three-day nourishment deprivation has cured him of the chemical effects. He is safe to go home. It is never established just what High Fell did to Sammy and why. Beth thinks they were developing a weapon of some sort. High Fell is closed down and their experiments stopped because of the bad publicity Beth caused them. Beth hopes that if the research station reopens, it will be to more savoury experiments.

Thoughts

“Danger Dog” was one of the best stories to appear during the Tammy & Jinty merger. It’s strong, dark, subversive, freaky, and chilling stuff. It is possible the story was originally written for Misty as there is evidence (Monster Tales) that Misty was still an influence on Tammy during the merger despite her logo’s disappearance on the cover. The story looks like it was strongly influenced by “The Plague Dogs” by Richard Adams. “The Secret of NIMH” could be in the mix as well.

Danger Dog not only decries the cruelties of animal experimentation but also the dangers of science when it is used for unethical ends. Unlike most evil scientists in girls’ comics it is never established just what those scientists did to Sammy or why. Never knowing exactly what that experiment was about makes the story even more sinister and creepy. As we see those weird effects on Beth, watch them grow increasingly bizarre, and eventually learn it is because of Sammy, it’s even more frightening, because we don’t know just what is behind it. For one thing, is the experiment backfiring or going wrong for some reason? Or is it unfolding as the scientists intended, with perhaps even more results than they anticipated? Are they really developing a secret weapon? Or is it some other chemical experiment?

The effects themselves add to the horror of it all. It’s not just because they are frightening but also because they are just plain weird. Seeing in the dark, and then going blind? All the muscles in your body going flat? Now that is just weeiirrd! And what makes it even weirder is that some of these effects can be described as temporary super powers, such as the super-strength or seeing in the dark. But the final effect turns Beth’s face into an utter horror story, which shocks her parents when they see it. It must have shocked the doctors and authorities as well, and if it didn’t have them tearing White Fells apart to find out just what that research station was doing we would be very surprised. And we can just see the angry demonstrators outside the research station once word of Beth’s condition spread. It would have been no surprise if Beth’s final state had been the final straw that shut down White Fells.

It’s the irony of the story that if Sammy had turned out to be safe like Beth hoped, High Fell might not have been shut down. Having him turn out to be dangerous after all would have been the clincher in stopping the High Fell experiments.

We strongly sympathise with Beth and Sammy, and we cheer Beth for wanting to save her dog from those experiments. We desperately want Beth to emerge triumphant at proving Sammy is not dangerous and not have to return to that research station. And we expect that to happen. After all, this is a girls’ serial. So it is gutting for us all when the story establishes that Beth was wrong all along and her dog really is dangerous like Dad said. It’s definitely not the way we expected the story to go.

After this, Beth is faced with a choice that no girl and her dog should ever face: the love of her dog or risk him being destroyed. And let’s face it: public safety and Beth’s own well-being are at stake, and they have to come first. But it’s an agonising, heart-wrenching decision for Beth, and here the story delivers its most powerful emotional impact.

Setting the story a little distance in an unspecified future year adds a dystopian element to the story. This makes the concept of a town sending strays to a research station for experimentation instead of animal shelters for rehoming a bit more credible. The unspeficied time setting also means the story will work anywhere, anytime, which will be handy if it comes up for reprint.

The Jinx from St Jonah’s [1974-76]

Sample Images

Jinx from St JonahsJinx from St Jonahs 2Jinx from St Jonahs 3

Published: Jinty 11 May 1974 – 30 October 1976

Episodes: 112 episodes

Artists: Mario Capaldi, Mike White, Hugh Thornton-Jones

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

The Jinx from St Jonah’s was one of Jinty’s very first strips, and it was the longest-running at 112 episodes. It was a humour strip, full of slapstick humour and hijinks galore with Katie Jinks. It’s easy to turn that into “jinx”, and Katie is indeed a jinx by name, jinx by nature. She is a walking disaster area; even innocuous things like playing the triangle, practising yoga, or minding a goldfish lead to hilarious catastrophes in the hands of Katie the Jinx. Even the school staff have to really watch out when Katie’s about.

Though Katie’s classmates know they have to watch out for Miss Klutzy too, there are plenty of times when Katie’s jinxing works to their advantage. For example, they all get a day off school when Katie’s jinxing gets all the school staff sent home, including the headmistress. And Katie is not a jinx all the time. There are occasions when Katie does something right, such as when she figures out a girl who won’t swim has a serious problem and she sets out to unravel what it is. But the time to really watch out is when Katie wants to be helpful because that is when her jinxing is at its worst.

There are plenty of occasions when Katie’s jinxing eventually leads to a happy ending and things work out to everyone’s benefit. But of course the road getting there is full of bumps and high jinxing.

On a frequent basis it’s comeuppance time for many a wrongdoer when Katie’s around. Bullies, gluttons, stuffy teachers, snobs, troublemakers and even criminals are among the unsavoury types who get their punishment from Katie the Jinx, whether she plans it or simply jinxes it. Either way we cheer and laugh when the unpleasant type gets jinxed into their long-awaited comeuppance.

Katie comes from a long line of jinx girls in girls’ comics whose blundering causes scrapes that provide loads of laughs for the readers. “Sailor Sally – She’s All at Sea” (Debbie) and “Simple Simona” (Tammy) were other examples. But Katie was one to reach such heights of popularity in Jinty that she not only ran for two years but also became cover girl, leading off Jinty’s cover with jinx hijinks to pull readers in with a huge laugh. The panel exhibiting the jinxy gag itself, such as Katie tripping over something or getting everyone in a heap, was often given jagged edging for emphasis. Examples of Katie’s glory days on the cover are shown below.

(click thru)

 

 


Edited by comixminx to add: the strip has the power to amuse modern readers just as much. My daughter (8 at the time of writing this) loves Katie Jinks’ hijinks more than just about anything in the comic. We have recently had the pleasure of having Trini Tinturé doing a piece of art for the family, and while my son chose to have himself illustrated with one of his favourite youTubers (Dan TDM), my daughter chose to be illustrated alongside Katie Jinks. Here it is, a new piece of Trini art with a direct Jinty link!

Two kids and two idols
Illustration by Trini Tinturé for two avid comics readers

Life’s a Ball for Nadine [1980-81]

Sample Images

Lifes a Ball for Nadine 1Lifes a Ball for Nadine 2Lifes a Ball for Nadine 3Lifes a Ball for Nadine 4

Published: Jinty 8 November 1980 – 21 March 1981

Episodes: 20

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

Plot

The B netball team at Greystreet School needs improvement. Their stuffy coach, Betty, is displeased with their standard and orders extra practice in the gym that evening. However, Sally Smith and Sue Sims realise that what they really need is another good player.

In the gym, the netball team is surprised to find new girl Nadine Nash arrive in disco gear and all ready to dance. She mistook the date of the school disco, but while she’s there they give her a demonstration of how to play netball. She has a go and everyone is surprised at how her disco reflexes are so transferable to netball and she scores a goal on her first attempt. She is a natural netball player. The trouble is, she is not interested in joining the team and cares far more for disco dancing. Undaunted, Sue and Sally set out to find a way to persuade Nadine to join the netball team. Eventually Nadine joins the team as Goal Attack, but is still more interested in disco dancing, which she is brilliant at.

For the most part of the story the episodes follow the format of lightweight exchange between disco and netball as skills and equipment from one helps the other. In one episode, the goalkeeper is in danger of being dropped because she has lost form. At the disco, she gets some unusual training to get her back into form when she, Nadine, Sue and Sally catch rubbish thrown by her unruly rock ‘n’ roll brothers who don’t like the acts in a talent show that aren’t rock ‘n’ roll – especially the disco act, of course. After that training Betty is astounded at how much the goalkeeper has improved.

In another episode Nadine is upstaged by gimmicky disco dancers who depend more on costumes and appearance than skill to clear the floor. But in the end it is the gimmicky dancers who are upstaged and the floor goes back to Nadine when Sue and Sally throw an old netball net to net the gimmicky dancers.

Sometimes netball helps Nadine at disco. In one episode netball helps Nadine to meet her favourite disc jockey, Disco Dave. In another episode the other netball players help rescue Nadine when she’s on the dance floor without a light, by getting a huge strobe lightbulb from one end of the crowded dance floor to the other – in record time – using their netball skills.

At times the disco/netball combination enables the girls to get one up on their stuffy coach, who does not see any value in Nadine’s disco dancing or her combining it with netball. For example, in one episode Betty challenges another stuffy coach of an old-fashioned boys’ school as to whether basketball or netball is better. Each team proves they are the best at their own particular sport but the coaches still argue as to which is best. While they aren’t looking, it’s disco that wins the day, when the girls discover the boys play disco secretly at their stuffy school, and they have a covert disco together.

The 101 uses for disco/netball continue for a long time in the serial and a lot of episodes run to the same format. However, the serial takes a different turn when it comes to its conclusion. The ending comes with a story arc spanning several episodes that not only bring the development of Nadine’s character full circle but also that of the stuffy Betty.

The story arc begins when Nadine discovers that two sisters, Syreeta and Selena, are out to cheat her on two fronts: a disco contest (Syreeta) and netball championship (Selena). They start by putting a lot of nasty bruises in her legs to make her unfit for both events. And that Selena is awfully clever in putting those bruises into Nadine’s legs during the netball events without the referee noticing those fouls.

When it comes to the night of both events Nadine gets a notice indicating that both start at the same time, so she has to choose one. It is at this point that the netball team says Nadine is selfish because all she thinks of is disco and has no team spirit, despite the journey of the 101 uses for disco/netball they have had together. This must have gone to Nadine’s heart because on the night in question she chooses netball over disco. She even spends the money for her new disco outfit on netball gear instead. Everyone is impressed. And Betty, who had unwittingly helped the two cheats earlier, shows a whole new human face and is willing to do everything she can to help Nadine. This includes buying Nadine-style wigs for the whole team to confuse Selena when she tries to nobble Nadine by bruising her bruises. After this, Nadine scores so many goals that her team wins. That’s that one cheat down, but there is still one to go.

Then Nadine discovers that the notice she received was a fake – another trick from those cheats – and the disco contest is yet to begin. The trouble is, the contest is miles away. Moreover, Nadine has no disco outfit, having spent her money on netball gear. Betty is undaunted. At Betty’s urging, they all run across town to enter Nadine in the contest. Betty will use the club money to buy Nadine the best disco outfit they can find.

But the two cheats aren’t beaten yet. Overhearing the team, Selena phones Syreeta to alert her that Nadine is coming. So Syreeta has her cronies block the team’s entry into the venue. To get Nadine past them, Betty and the team wrap her into a huge ball made out of an old billboard poster, and toss it over the heads of the cronies and onto the disco floor. Nadine bursts out of the ball, and the DJ says, “Wow, what an entrance!” That’s extra points for Nadine’s unstoppable, unforgettable performance that wins her the disco contest, hands down.

Before Nadine collects her trophy, she asks Sue and Sally to come up on stage with the netball trophy so they will share their double victory that pays homage to both netball and disco.

Thoughts

The first thought goes to the in-joke in the sample images above. Artist Mario Capaldi seems to be making a reference to himself with “Mario”, and also to his family’s ice-cream business. Mario himself helped out with the ice-cream business when he was younger. Is the in-joke Capaldi just couldn’t resist or was it something arranged between him and the editor? Either way, it is another in-joke in girls’ serials to be noted.

The first thing you notice about this story, though, is that the titular protagonist is black. Blacks and other non-white people did not have a frequent presence in girls’ comics. This was not intentionally racist, but it was a glaring absence that needed to be addressed a whole lot more. Sadly, Jinty was no exception. The only other black protagonists  in Jinty were Jo in “Angela’s Angels“, but she’s just one protagonist among six in that serial, and Mary the Aborigine girl in “Bound for Botany Bay”, who has more presence as a protagonist but she is not the main one. Pam of Pond Hill had a black pupil, Mac, but he didn’t appear much and was not by any means a regular in the strip. By contrast, Nadine is the star of her own serial and she definitely has a far more commanding presence as a black protagonist than Jo. It is a real delight to have a story starring a strong black protagonist, and this alone makes this story one of Jinty’s most noteworthy serials.

Nadine is not the only black presence in this serial either. The two antagonists, Syreeta and Selena, are also black, which makes the black presence even stronger. A few other black people also appear, such as Nadine’s mother and the cleaning lady who alerts Nadine to the trick with the appointment time.

Netball is a sport that was infrequently used in girls’ serials. This is one of the few serials that does feature netball (“Romy’s Return” from Tammy was another), which makes the story even more eye-catching. The way it is used has an amusing side while it is being used to complement Nadine’s disco. You would have never thought disco and netball could have so many uses or give so many people a comeuppance. For a long time this is the way the story runs, which makes it engaging and fun to read.

Recently Comixminx expressed in the entry “How do you know who’s the hero?” that knowing who the hero is in a girls’ serial is not always cut-and-dried. There are some odd stories that have you wonder whether the real star of the show is the titular protagonist or another main character – the antagonist, even. This story certainly can be added to that list. Nadine is the titular protagonist. She is a strong, endearing character throughout the story. Hers is the emotional journey as she learns that disco is not everything and there are other things that matter too. But for the most part it is Sue and Sally who come up with the ideas on how to apply disco to a netball situation and vice-versa, and it is their quick thinking that saves the day. Of course a lot of these situations and solutions arise through Nadine, but coming up with these clever ideas makes Sue and Sally more proactive characters than Nadine and they are serious plot drivers. True, there are times when Nadine is the one to come up with the brilliant save; for example, using goalkeeping to foil the garbage-throwing rock ‘n’ rollers is her idea. But by and large it is Sue and Sally, and, eventually, Betty.

 

Child of the Rain [1980]

Sample images

Child of the Rain 1Child of the Rain 2Child of the Rain 3

Published: Jinty 6 September 1980 – 22 November 1980

Episodes: 12

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Reprints/translations: None known

Plot

Jemma West has always loathed rain. So accompanying her naturalist father on a trip to the Amazon rainforest where he has to navigate mud-soaked tracks in pouring tropical rain is not her idea of fun. What’s more, these driving conditions make Jemma fling out of the jeep and she gashes her leg on a tree.

While recovering in hospital, everyone is astonished to find Jemma suddenly dancing happily in the rain. Jemma is just as astonished. All of a sudden, the rain-hater has become absolutely crazy about rain and she just can’t get enough of it.

That’s only the beginning of Jemma’s strange new association with rain. Jemma soon finds that when it rains she is filled with amazing strength and energy. But when it’s fine she wilts like a flower. As for drought – that sends her right to sleep.

Jemma is one of the best tennis players in the school, but this strange effect that the presence/absence of rain has on her is becoming a real nuisance on the tennis court and hindering her performance. She can’t perform properly on the court when the weather’s fine, and sometimes rain does too good a job on her – her strength rises to such levels that she’s knocking the tennis ball miles out of the court. Everyone is worried she is ill or something, and it looks like she is not fit to enter the championships. And Jemma can’t explain because she can’t understand it herself. Once rain revives her, she’s back in the game, but unfortunately rain is not always present.

Jemma’s lengths to find rain to revive herself when it’s dry get really desperate at times and they get her into constant trouble at home and school. She also finds that she is crazy about anything to do with the Amazon rainforest. For example, when Dad gives a slideshow about the Amazon rainforest, Jemma goes right up and kisses the image on the screen, right in front of everyone. Naturally, Dad is embarrassed and very displeased with Jemma! When Jemma is given tree bark from the Amazon rainforest, she finds the bark has much the same effect on her that rain does.

Things finally come to a head when Jemma suddenly finds a pain starting in her leg where the gash had been. She tries to hide it because the school tennis championships are coming up, but the problem turns into a life-threatening infection and she is hospitalised. Surgical investigation reveals a splinter of wood from the tree was lodged deeply in her leg, which started an infection. It is removed, but Jemma does not respond to antibiotics. The infection is poisoning her blood and on the verge of killing her. The doctors are stumped and helpless.

In desperation, Dad flies Jemma back to the Amazon rainforest to seek help from a local medicine man he knows. The medicine man’s treatment may look like pure mumbo-jumbo, but it succeeds where the antibiotics failed. Jemma is soon waking up, looking much better, and very surprised to find herself back in the rainforest.

Jemma soon finds rain is not having that mysterious effect on her anymore, and concludes it must have been that splinter in her leg. The school kindly held back the tennis championships until Jemma recovered. She has no problem winning the championship, particularly as that rain effect is no longer a problem. However, Jemma retains her love of rain and the Amazon rainforest.

Thoughts

This was the only tennis serial to appear in Jinty. This may seem strange for a comic with a high emphasis on sport, but then several sports only scored one or two serials in Jinty while they were dime a dozen in titles like Bunty.

Child of the Rain also links in with Jinty’s emphasis on environmentalism, with the Amazon rainforest being the force that drives the whole plot, although the story contains little that touches on environmentalism itself. The message of environmentalism is a whole lot more muted than it is in other Jinty environmental serials such as “The Forbidden Garden”. However, the Amazon rainforest is such a powerful influence in the story that the reader would emerge seeing it in a whole new light, as does the protagonist herself. The strange power she gains from the rainforest leaves her with a new appreciation of nature, the Amazon rainforest, and her father’s naturalist job.

Not all protagonists who acquire a strange power in a serial find it beneficial, and this is definitely the case with Jemma. Though the power is beneficial when it rains, for the most part it is just a nuisance that is interfering with Jemma’s life and tennis. In fact it is not only a nuisance but eventually life-threatening as well. In terms of benefit, the power serves more to develop Jemma’s character than help her along with her tennis as she goes from rain hater with little interest in nature to a rain and rainforest lover.

Though this story is not one of Jinty’s classics, there appears to be a lingering fondness for it. Maybe it’s the rainforest elements.

Bizzie Bet and the Easies [1979]

Sample Images

Bizzie Bet 1Bizzie Bet 2

Published: Jinty 31 March 1979 – 1 December 1979

Episodes: 27

Artist: Richard Neillands

Writer: Unknown

A lightweight humour strip that ran in Jinty in 1979. The premise is Bet Bizzel, known as “Bizzie Bet” who’s such a bundle of energy and always working hard, versus her bone-idle friends, the Easies. Each week Bizzie Bet is always coming up with bright schemes to show the Easies the meaning of work and curing them of their lazy ways. But things always backfire on Bet eventually and the Easies win in the end. Such a premise wouldn’t have been out of place in a funnies comic like Buster or Whizzer & Chips. Imagine if this strip was drawn by one of their artists!

The Easies are also very inventive, coming up with their own creative ways of doing things – the very quick and laid back way, of course, but it does save a lot of labour and turns out well. You do have to hand it to them. The fact that sloth always wins in this story is what gives the story its humour. It’s a strip the lazy Garfield the cat would love.

Readers must have had a sneaking sympathy for the Easies. You do wish Bet would stop shoving her oar in all the time, stop trying to force hard work on the Easies, and let them be. Besides, doing all this extra work for Easies is just making Bet working far harder than she needs to and doing everything for the Easies is really not encouraging them to do things for themselves. In fact, if Bet took a leaf out of the Easies’ book and took things easy now and then, life would be easier for her. And she wouldn’t be the one doing all the work all the time, as her holiday dice game below proves. But maybe she can’t take it easy any more than the Easies could turn into balls of energy.

In the end Bizzie Bet and the Easies come to an arrangement where they agree to disagree, accept each other for what they are, and just be friends. It’s a very good, definitive ending. It did not end on a regular episode, which is very satisfying, and readers would have been very pleased with how it concluded.

Bizzie Bet had a fair run at 27 episodes. But in comparison to the longer-running “Jinx from St Jonah’s”, “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag!” or “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” humour strips in Jinty, it didn’t have much staying power. It may have been a popularity issue, and this could well have been the case. Though the strip is fun, it doesn’t feel as strong, engaging or memorable as, say, “The Jinx from St Jonah’s” and is one of Jinty’s more forgettable  strips.

The artwork could have been the problem. A premise like this requires an artist who can really draw exaggerated, stylised cartoony humour, but Richard Neillands is not one of them. His style is for lightweight or sports stories but he can’t really pull off exaggerated comedy or make anyone laugh with his artwork. An artist like Robert MacGillivray or even a Buster-type artist is what’s required here.

Or it could simply be that Bizzie Bet was simply axed to help make way for “Pam of Pond Hill” and “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost”, both of which started shortly afterwards.

Bizzie Bet game 1Bizzie Bet game 2

 

 

 

Boss of Beadle Street [1973]

Sample Images

Boss of Beadle Street 1Boss of Beadle Street 2Boss of Beadle Street 3

 

Published: June & Pixie 31 March to 14 July 1973

Episodes: 16

Artist: Audrey Fawley

Writer: Unknown

Reprints/translations: None known

Plot

Liz Green is a very bossy, pushy girl, especially when she gets bright ideas about helping someone. She barges right in with her “help” without a by-your-leave or do-you-mind and won’t stop until she gets her way – which she almost invariably does, she’s such a steamroller. In Beadle Street where she lives, she is notorious for it. She gets herself into constant trouble with the residents who chase her off for her unwarranted interference. But Liz never learns. As far as she is concerned, she is just trying to help and people just don’t listen because they don’t take take her seriously. Nora, Liz’s best friend, tells Liz her day will come. Nora will come to regret her words.

Before we go on, Nora is Liz’s voice of reason, but it’s a voice that constantly falls on deaf ears against the bulldozer Liz. Nora comes from the long tradition of the good friend in girls’ comics who sticks by the protagonist, no matter what crap the protagonist gives her and drives her to distraction. She takes in quite a bit already with her bossy friend and her bright ideas, but, as you might have guessed, it’s all about to amplify to levels Nora never expected.

It starts when Liz and Nora are researching for a history project and discover the long-forgotten bylaw 381, which says that anyone living on the site where the old beadle’s house once stood can claim the rights and responsibilities of the beadle. After Liz determines her house stands on that site, there is no stopping Miss Bossyboots from enacting that bylaw to style herself as the new beadle, and Boss of Beadle Street. Everyone will have to do what she says now, and doing everything her way will all be for their own good and they will thank her for it.

The residents of Beadle Street just about turn into a lynch mob when they see what bright idea Liz is hatching with them under the bylaw. But the mayor says it’s the law, Liz is within her rights, and they have to obey. He slyly adds that Liz also has the responsibility of solving everyone’s problems as beadle. He appears to be calculating that this will soon have Liz so fed up she will give up being a beadle.

But he has miscalculated. Liz solving residents’ problems goes surprisingly well and she begins to win them over to her side. She sorts out the street tearaway Tony Atkins, which his parents never tried to do and is good at solving neighbourhood disputes. These successes impress the council, the residents begin to take to their beadle, and her fame is growing as a celebrity.

However, as Liz is such a bossyboots, it’s all to easy for it all to go to her head – and it does. Liz is soon acting arrogantly towards Nora and even her own mother. She also neglects her friendship with Nora because the demands of sorting problems is making her too busy for that, and all she cares about is beading Beadle Street.

When Liz goes power mad, the good she does is soon outweighed by the bad. Liz acts like a dictator, imposing unfair rules on the residents, which she posts up for them to see, and fines those who don’t obey.

Among them:

1: Everyone must walk on the left in the street.

2: When meeting the Boss, doff your cap. If you don’t have one, bow or curtsey. When Nora protests against this rule, Liz forces her to sweep the street while wearing a sign that says: “I have disobeyed the boss. I must sweep this street in punishment. Let everyone learn from me!”

3: Every dog must be leashed. Every dog must have a weekly bath. Every dog must have a daily half-hour walk and brush-down afterwards. The Boss is conducting rigorous inspections to make sure this rule is kept, and fines people who fail to do so, regardless of excuse (now what does she do with the money from those fines, anyway?). The people hit back at this rule by lumbering Liz with a litter of eight puppies and say she must obey her own rules in looking after them.

Yes, revenge and backlash are striking back at Liz. On another occasion, it happens when  Liz unwisely makes Tony highwayman at an ambitious street costume party. Tony takes advantage to wreak havoc and Liz gets into big trouble.

But the backlash is too small and piecemeal to make a real dent in Liz’s power. And Liz’s swollen beadle head continues to grow. She actually starts dressing up as a beadle and patrols the street in her beadle costume. This makes her even more of a celebrity and curiosity, and tourists take photos of her. She uses the money from this for more beadle mania, and this time she really goes overboard. She buys beadle runner and beadle servant outfits for Nora and Mum and browbeats them in her usual manner, plus threats of fines, until they agree to wear them. Even worse, she bosses them into painting the house a gaudy gold, which she thinks befits the beadle’s house. Surely even Mr Bumble would be mortified! Liz treats Mum (now forced to do housework in the servant’s outfit) and Nora like slaves, giving them constant orders and having them at her beck and call all the time. What the hell is next – is the Beadle going to bring back the workhouse or something?

Before Liz gets the chance, the residents decide enough is enough and this time they really get together to make a stand. Everyone, including Mum and Nora, empties out of Beadle Street, leaving Liz on her own and nobody to boss around. And they won’t come back as long as Liz stays beadle.

This stance certainly has its effect. It isn’t long before Liz is feeling lonely, miserable, and scared at night. She is also hungry and cold because Mum turned off the gas. It has her ready to give in by the time Nora comes to check up on her, but she is too proud to publicly resign as beadle for that reason because it would mean loss of face.

Nora suggests re-checking the bylaw to see if there is an “out” clause that would enable Liz to quit the beadle job gracefully. They soon find there is one. In fact, if Liz’s enemies had checked the bylaw they could have used it themselves to stop her. A resident may put in an application for cancellation of the beadleship, but the council must hold a vote on it. As Liz can’t put in an application for the cancellation of her own beadleship, she dons a disguise to do so.

You would think the Beadle Street residents would be only too happy to vote to strike Liz down as beadle, but there is a most surprising U-turn from one of the residents, Mrs MacFish. Forgetting what drove her out of Beadle Street, Mrs MacFish starts a campaign to keep Liz as beadle. And Mrs MacFish is such an orator that she soon has the other residents forgetting the bad things and remembering the silver lining, such as Liz the Beadle generating extra custom for the store. So, to make sure everyone votes against her, Liz declares more of those unpopular rules she will impose on Beadle Street.

Liz is quite relieved to not be beadle anymore, just an ordinary girl again. She throws a party to celebrate and renews her friendship with Nora. She is still a big bossyboots though; it’s too much in her nature for her to change there, and she hasn’t really learned not to be such a bulldozer. So when Nora stumbles across “Ye Ancient Right of King of Beadle Street”, she doesn’t say a word to Liz, and hopes that law will stay hidden and forgotten about!

Thoughts

There have been plenty of stories on the evils of “grownups know best”, with what they think they know best being imposed by methods that range from the just plain misguided and narrow to the subversive and even downright abusive. But the message is always that it is totally wrong and choice and free will must not be trampled on in the name of discipline, perfection or whatever. “Dracula’s Daughter“, “Children of Stepford” and “Slave of the Clock” are classic examples.

But here the premise is turned inside out with “kids know best”, which is quite a twist. Liz Green, a mere kid, is just as sincere and adamant that she knows as best as the grown-up meddlers in stories like the ones mentioned above. Yet she turns out to be no better than they are. Although she has her good qualities, most notably in sorting problems, her bossiness and narrow-mindedness in always believing she knows best makes her totally unfit for the job of beadle, especially when she becomes increasingly power mad and her rules and orders become increasingly outrageous and unbearable. Like her grown-up counterparts in “grownups know best” she started out with a degree of well meaning to her intentions, but her intentions became increasingly dark and corrupted as power went to her head. She either has to be brought down entirely or made to wake up in some way.

This time the adults are the ones made to suffer, right alongside the kids. Even Liz’s mother is made to suffer. Mum should give her daughter a jolly good spanking, but Liz always gets her way with Mum because she’s so forceful, and her father, being dead, is not there to have a say, or a belt with him.

It’s not too much of a surprise that Liz does not change all that much in the end; one has gotten the feeling she’s just plain bossy by nature and won’t ever change. Being on her own deflates her power and she finally wants to give up being beadle and go back to the way she was. But she has not really learned her lesson. Although she is pleased to be an ordinary girl again, she does not wake up to how horrible she’s been or really apologise to anyone, and clearly should not be trusted with power.

When reading this story, one is reminded of the words of another (in)famous fictional beadle: “The law is an ass!” Too right, especially if the law is antiquated, has no place in modern society. It should have been struck out years ago and could cause serious, even ridiculous problems if reenacted because the need for that law has long since disappeared.

 

Room for Rosie [1983-1984]

Sample Images

Room for Rosie 1aRoom for Rosie 1bRoom for Rosie 1c

Published: Tammy 13 August 1983 to 7 January 1984 (no episodes 12 November to 17 December 1983)

Episodes: 21

Artist: Santiago Hernandez

Writer: Alison Christie

Translations/reprints: none known

It is the Christmas season. This story from Tammy has been chosen to honour the Christmas theme because its last three episodes were especially themed to tie in with Tammy’s (last, as it turned out) Christmas and New Year issues. Accordingly, the story was put on hiatus to return at Christmas.

As discussed below, this story is also related to Jinty history.

Plot

Everywhere Gran Wheeler goes, so does her beloved pram Rosie (from the roses painted on her sides). Rosie is a tough old boneshaker with a voluminous capacity, both of which have enabled her to work tirelessly at helping people in an assortment of ways as well as being perambulator to a few generations of Wheelers. Gran takes great pride at Rosie being such a toughie and made to last, and not at all like the flimsy contraptions that pass off as modern prams. Gran and Rosie have even won a community award for the work they have done in helping people.

On her deathbed, Gran has her granddaughter Pauline promise to find someone with “room for Rosie” and not let her end up on the scrap heap. Pauline, who cares as much about Rosie as Gran does, earnestly promises to do so.

But there is one big problem. The Wheeler house is too small for Rosie and she is taking up all the space in the hallway. This is a real nuisance for the rest of the family. They are always falling over Rosie (hitting shins, ruining pantyhose etc). They are putting up with it because Pauline was so insistent; she carted Rosie home in pouring rain to the house after they left her outside gran’s house for the dustmen. But there are limits to their patience. If that patience runs out, it’s the scrap yard for Rosie. And because of lack of space in the Wheeler house, there can be no future generations of Wheelers being taken for walks in Rosie. Rosie has to pass out of the family with this generation. So the quest to find someone with room for Rosie is pressing as she is on borrowed time in the Wheeler household.

Now, you’d think Pauline would put advertise for a home for Rosie in the paper, put Rosie in a garage sale, or sell her to a second hand shop or something. But this being a girls’ serial that has to be spun out, Pauline never does any of those things. Instead, it’s a story of the week format where each week Rosie continues to be put to 101 uses as a tireless workhorse with heaps of space and helping people in an assortment of ways. By turns we see Rosie being used as the Princess’ cot in the school Sleeping Beauty panto, being taken on the run by a girl who can’t stand her parents arguing anymore, and catching loot that a crook throws from a window. As shown above, she is even Santa’s helper at one point. Santa with a pram sure makes a change from his sleigh, doesn’t it? Rosie is accumulating quite a fan club out of the people she helps.

However, not everyone appreciates how useful or durable Rosie is. In several episodes Rosie draws a lot a teasing and snide remarks as to what a piece of scrap she is and is fit for the junk heap. In one episode Rosie is pitted against modern prams in a pram race where Pauline is dressed as a baby. The boy pushing her has been deploring Rosie as he thinks she’s just a piece of scrap that wouldn’t last five minutes in the race. But Rosie is soon proving what stern stuff she is made of compared to modern prams, which are soon dropping out like flies. They win hands down thanks to Rosie and Pauline’s partner is taking back what he said about her.

Pauline hopes to find a home for her out of all the people Rosie helps, but they can’t or won’t for some reason or other. Or sometimes fate intervenes to block Rosie from a new home.

When Christmas approaches, finding a home for Rosie becomes even more pressing because Dad says they’re giving Pauline’s brother Ben a bike for Christmas, and the only place to keep it is the hallway. But there is no room for both the bike and a pram the size of Rosie in that hallway. She really has to go now, even if it is to the scrapyard.

Come New Year’s Day, there is still no new home for Rosie. Happy New Year indeed for Pauline; she’s so upset that she’s failed Gran and can’t bear the thought of Rosie at the scrapyard. And that’s where Rosie will go after the family’s trip to the funfair. But it’s no fun at all at the fair for Pauline, of course.

Then Pauline realises that the fair could have room for Rosie – on their carousel. The fairground people are only too happy to take Rosie on board for it and say she will be extremely popular. Sure enough, there is a queue lining up for a ride in Rosie the moment she is put into place on the carousel. So it’s a Happy New Year’s Day after all for Pauline and Rosie.

Thoughts

This is not the first time Alison Christie wrote a heartwarming story about a pram that’s a tough old boneshaker and can be put to 101 uses. There was a predecessor, Old Peg, which appeared in Christie’s 1976 Jinty story, “For Peter’s Sake!” We strongly suspect Rosie and Old Peg were inspired by a real pram somewhere in Christie’s childhood.

As with Rosie, Old Peg is a real workhorse and famous in the locality for community work. Both prams are owned by grandmothers. They bequeath them to their granddaughters upon their deathbeds and charge them with a special mission for it. In Pauline’s case it is find a home for the pram. In the Jinty story it is take the pram to a sick baby brother, Peter, who needs it for his recovery. Towards the end it looks as if the granddaughters have failed in those missions despite all their efforts, and they are heartbroken. But an unexpected turn of events at the last minute changes everything and ensures a happy ending.

Old Peg differs from Rosie in that people believe her to have supernatural powers. Any sick baby that is rocked in her will be cured. Rosie has no claim to have any supernatural powers, though at times she gives the impression she is alive somehow. Curiously, a lot of people call her a “magic pram” for no apparent reason. Maybe she does have a power somewhere after all?

Room for Rosie also follows a similar pattern to “The Button Box”, in using a “story of the week” format. As with the buttons in the box, this accumulates a great deal of stories behind Rosie. This is not surprising as Christie wrote both of them and both were running at the same time. But in the case of Rosie there is always that underlying urgency in finding a home for Rosie and disappointment in how each time a new lead fails to pan out. It’s not a mere “story of the week” as The Button Box is. The urgency is carried right even through Pauline’s Christmas for a luck last-minute turnaround to keep up the suspense and drama right up to the last page of the final episode.

Walking the Line [2018]

Walking the Line cover

Published: Commando #5147

Art: Morhain & Rezzonico (story), Neil Roberts (cover)

Story: Andrew Knighton

Here is another recently published Commando in its new trend of featuring a female protagonist.

Plot

In July 1943 Flight Lieutenant Alan Freeman leads a bombing squadron against Germany. Unfortunately Freeman has an obsession about winning back his ex, Sarah, whose photograph he carries on every mission, by impressing her with a huge scorecard of daring, heroic war deeds. Freeman does not realise that his drive to make his missions as daring as possible to impress Sarah is clouding his judgement and causing him to take ever-increasing risks with his squadron.

One night the inevitable happens – Freeman takes one risk too many to impress Sarah. This has the Luftwaffe bearing down on the plane fast and Freeman and his comrades get shot down. Knowing the situation is partly his fault, Freeman tries to rectify it by flying his plane for as long as possible and be the last to bail out. He takes care to retain Sarah’s photograph as he jumps. As he watches his burning plane go down, he tells Sarah it’s all been for her.

Walking the Line 1

Right – so putting your squadron in a position to get shot down, losing planes and possibly lives that way, and bailing out over occupied territory, which could mean capture, have all been for impressing Sarah, Alan Freeman? You tell that to your superiors when you get home.

Well, back to the story now.

Freeman parachutes into occupied France, which is of course very dangerous for him. Moreover, the crash his plane made was heard for miles, so the Germans are bound to come running. At least Freeman paid attention in French class and also had training in evading capture. As per training, Freeman hides all trace of his parachute and military uniform. Well, nearly all – he forgets his boots, which are clearly military issue. Fortunately the Frenchman (Henri Chaput) who spots this oversight is friendly and hides him from the searching Germans.

Walking the Line 2

Henri’s daughter, Juliette, runs an underground escape line for Allied soldiers, which runs through the Pyrenees and Spain. However, Juliette warns Freeman there is a risk in taking it: she suspects the Gestapo have compromised it somehow because some of their people have gone missing recently. Freeman gladly accepts that risk, just because it will be another thing for him to impress Sarah. That night he takes a moment to think of Sarah and how going through an underground route will impress her.

Escapee reports are vital to the war effort. So next evening they radio London to inform them of what Freeman had seen during the bombing run. Unfortunately the Germans trace the signal of the illegal radio (the Achilles heel of the Resistance) and soon have the place surrounded. Freeman and Juliette are the only ones to escape when the Germans open fire – and kill Henri.

They make it to a town in search of a safe house. There they spot a Gestapo agent, and he is looking at them in a way that indicates he has realised Juliette is on their wanted list. They take advantage of this to lure him into a trap and capture him. At the safe house Juliette interrogates the agent to find out what happened to their missing numbers and why they have gone missing. The agent sneers that those missing people are all dead of course. And in reply to her other question, one of their number is a traitor but he does not know which one. Juliette now gags him and leaves him for the local Resistance to pick up.

Freeman comes up with an idea to flush the traitor out: use him as bait by taking him down the escape line and spread the word through it that he carries vital British intelligence. And for the first time, Freeman is not taking a risk to impress Sarah. He’s taking it to help Juliette and the war effort.

Two days later Juliette and Freeman are at a café waiting for their contact, Claude the forger. Juliette suspects Claude is the traitor because he is in the perfect position to be. But Claude is soon eliminated as a suspect when another contact, Celine arrives, and tells them the Germans have arrested Claude, along with several more members of the Narbonne cell. Freeman and Juliette head for Narbonne and the remaining cell members.

On the way Juliette tells Freeman that the Germans killed her sister, Lucile, who was not even a Resistance member, along with nine others, in revenge for a Resistance attack. Lucile is the reason why Juliette fights the Germans. Now that sure is a far more worthy reason to fight than trying to win back an ex who keeps trying to tell you she’s moved on.

In Narbonne they meet Louis, leader of the Narbonne cell, and Julio, the guide through the Pyrenees. A fight breaks out when Louis says that before they helped Juliette’s escape line they lost nobody and now the Germans are picking them off, and Juliette angrily accuses him of being the traitor. Freeman breaks up the fight and is not convinced Louis is the traitor.

Walking the Line 3

Whoever the traitor is, he soon strikes again; that night the Germans arrive and arrest Freeman and Juliette, who had no chance to flee or fight. They are taken to an Abwehr (Army) run prison, and are soon joined by other Resistance fighters. Louis joins Freeman and Juliette in their cell. This convinces Freeman that Louis is not the traitor, but not Juliette.

Freeman is first to be interrogated. His interrogator, Colonel Weber, makes a remark that will be of major plot significance later: “Some of your predecessors may have got away, but you would not like to end up like Lieutenant Davies, would you?”

A Gestapo agent interrupts the interrogation. An argument erupts between him and Weber, and this makes them careless in how they are guarding Freeman. Freeman takes advantage to seize Weber’s gun and shoots both Germans dead. He makes a dash for it, taking the cell keys that were attached to Weber’s belt. He frees the others and a mass prison breakout ensues, but the Germans are gathering forces with gunfire. Louis bravely covers for them while they make their escape until he is finally mown down. To Freeman, this is the ultimate proof that Louis is not the traitor and he convinces Juliette of it.

They head for Julio’s hideout and persuade him to take them over the Pyrenees. It’s a hard journey, made all the harder by having to avoid border guards on both sides, and no short cuts or easy routes. As they go on, Freeman realises he has no further taste for daring adventures to impress his ex and will just be glad when it is all over. And it’s only the first day of their escape through the Pyrenees.

Walking the Line 4

After the first day, Julio goes ahead to check the trail while Juliette and Freeman settle down by the fire. Recalling what Weber said about Lieutenant Davies, Freeman asks Juliette if she knew him. Juliette says Davies was the first pilot she helped, before she had even started her escape line. She took him to Julio and Julio got him to Spain – Julio said so himself! But that’s not what Weber said…unless…

All of a sudden, everything falls into place.

When Julio returns, Juliette and Freeman have an ambush prepared for him. He puts up a terrific fight, but once he is overpowered he does not deny being the traitor at all. His motive was self-preservation by making himself useful to the Germans, but no doubt the rewards must have been an additional motive.

The problem is, what to do with Julio? Where they are right now, they can’t leave him for the Resistance to pick up as they did the Gestapo agent. But Juliette can’t kill a man in cold blood and Julio takes advantage to plead for his life. Juliette agrees to hand him over for trial and execution but Julio is not having that. He lunges at Juliette, and in the ensuing struggle Juliette is forced to make her first kill. Juliette is deeply upset at this, and realises it has not given her the satisfaction of vengeance that she thought it would.

But Juliette can’t dwell on that – they still have to get across the Pyrenees. This is now even harder because they have lost their guide. Juliette has a fair knowledge of the Pyrenees, but it is not as extensive as Julio’s. The further they go, the less Juliette knows the terrain, until Freeman remembers he has a compass hidden in his boots. And there are still those pesky border patrols they have to dodge all the time.

Eventually they reach Juliette’s contacts in Spain. From there, the British embassy smuggles Freeman to Gibraltar and a waiting ship to Britain. Juliette will go back to continue her work. It would not be surprising if Juliette takes Julio’s place at the Pyrenees end of her escape line as there has been a strong buildup towards it. Besides, there is nobody else on her escape line with enough knowledge of the Pyrenees to navigate that route. In any case, Juliette can’t go back to her hometown with her family gone and the Gestapo looking for her.

Before Freeman boards his ship he discards Sarah’s photograph, saying she’s not worth it. He now realises that he has long since stopped thinking about Sarah and fighting just to impress her. As he sails home he thinks about more important things and far better reasons to fight. Among them is the inspiration Juliette has given him.

Thoughts

This story is another in a growing trend in female protagonists in Commando. They have ranged from partners to the male protagonist to the star of the show. The cover of this issue indicates that the male and female protagonist will be pretty much equal in how they are developed.

The thrust of the story is still on the male protagonist, Alan Freeman, as he battles to escape from occupied France through an escape line. It’s not only a struggle for survival and escape through the underground and past the difficulties of Pyrenees and enemy patrols. There is also the added worry of an unknown traitor compromising the escape route, whose treachery could get them captured and killed if they don’t get to him first. So there is a mystery to this story as well that needs to be unravelled. But until they do, paranoia and suspicion run through the escape line and are setting the cell members against each other, as shown in the near-fight between Louis and Juliette.

It could have been a pure adventure/mystery story for Alan Freeman. Instead, it develops his character by taking him on an emotional journey where he has to stop dwelling on his ex and trying to win her back with heroics because it’s affecting his performance. It’s causing him to take thoughtless risks that are putting missions, his comrades’ lives and his own in jeopardy, and he does not even seem to care. And his reasons for it are not only selfish but also pathetic, and they may not even succeed in getting her back. After all, will Sarah even be there to impress when he returns – if he returns – with all his tales of heroics? For all he knows, she could now be married to a medal-laden war general or died aboard a ship sunk by some U-boat. He’s just got to move on, as Sarah has done.

Walking the Line 5

As Freeman’s journey through the Underground progresses, we see him changing from taking risks to win back his ex to taking risks for the war effort and the Underground. After his first night in Juliette’s house he stops thinking about Sarah pretty quickly, because once the Germans strike he has more pressing things to think about. He stops looking at Sarah’s photo all the time. The next risk he takes is for unselfish reasons that have nothing to do with impressing Sarah. Furthermore, as Freeman hears the horrors Juliette and the French people are going through under Nazism and sees some of them first hand, he begins to discover the real reasons why he should fight. By the time Freeman is finally reminded of Sarah, he has grown mature enough to let her go and realise there are more important things than getting back your ex when you’re in the middle of a war.

Freeman also goes from cavalierly going through adventures to impress Sarah to understanding it’s not a bravo adventure of risk and daring. He has to learn things like keeping cool when he’s in disguise when Germans are prowling close by, and persistence when he has to go through the Pyrenees the hard way to avoid capture. All the while he is fighting for his life and his freedom.

Although we never see Juliette’s thought bubbles, she’s clearly going through an intense emotional journey too. It shows through her words and her actions. As we learn more about Juliette’s escape line, we realise that while she is brave and competent, it sounds like she is still pretty new to this game and there are some hard lessons she still has to learn. One is learning to kill when she has to, because this is war. And when it’s war, sometimes you have to kill or be killed. This lesson Juliette is forced to learn when at first she tries to avoid killing Julio but eventually she has to make her first kill with him.

Another lesson Juliette has to learn is not get emotions cloud her judgement, as her handling of Louis proved. She had no real reason to suspect Louis is the traitor and there was no proof. All he did was make a very pointed observation that suggests the traitor is connected to her escape line, but she went too much on the defensive over it. For his part, Louis acted with too much emotion in handling his suspicions about Juliette’s line. In so doing, Louis and Juliette both missed a vital clue to the identity of the traitor – he was someone linked to both Juliette’s escape line and the Narbonne cell.

Walking the Line 6

Juliette’s reason to fight – to avenge the sister the Nazis killed – is better than Freeman’s selfish reason to fight. But it sounds like Juliette is dwelling on it too much as her reason to fight. Like Freeman, she has to get beyond it and realise that there are other reasons why she should fight. And Juliette does when she realises that when she finally gets her revenge for the death of her sister, she gets no satisfaction over it. But she has to go on and get Freeman to safety. In so doing, Juliette has to grow as she develops her own experience and knowledge of the Pyrenees.

At the end of it, Juliette has a whole new reason to continue with her work – keeping downed pilots like Alan Freeman out of Gestapo clutches. Moreover, she will do it even better, and it’s not just because she has removed the traitor who had been sabotaging her escape line before it had even started. Rooting him out has also helped to develop her experience, competence, and also shown her that you really can’t afford squeamishness in a job like this. After all, enemies like the Gestapo agent or the dirty rat Julio won’t have any compunction in killing you.